Whenever you buy a new bike, for yourself or for your children, it is important that you get a bike that is the right size. If the bike doesn’t fit, it will ruin the enjoyment of biking altogether, and if you or your child continue to ride the bike, can even cause knee or back injuries, as they try to compensate for the poor fit.
A great many people buy bikes for their children from department stores or discount stores like Target and Walmart. However, this is a bad idea, as the bikes there are the bottom of the range, and are put together by people who are not necessarily properly trained in the task. (Have you ever looked at the furniture they put together?) And if you are fortunate enough to even find someone to help you in the “sports section,” they still probably won’t know anything about how to help you fit the bike properly.
It’s best, therefore, to buy a bike from a bike shop – you’ll be able to get expert advice, and the bike shop personnel will be able to answer your questions. However, it’s also important that you familiarize yourself with the terminology and principles of bike fitting, so that you can appreciate what the bike people tell you. Because there are bikes specially designed for every niche sport, the fit you want differs from bike to bike.
Remember also that the majority of adult bikes are made for adult males, and that adult women are typically shorter then men, and weigh less. They also may have long legs, but shorter torsos. So women have a more difficult time finding bikes that fit. Fortunately in the last several years women-specific bikes have been designed by companies such as Terry (they make only women-specific bikes), and from other major companies with a women’s bike division.
When the average person thinks of a “woman’s bike” – he or she thinks of those bikes in which the top tube is not horizontal, as in a “men’s bike,” but sloping. This type of bike is easier to mount if you’re wearing a skirt, but in the general scheme of things they are not as sturdy as a “man’s bike” and should be avoided.
So, go to a bike shop and look around at their vast array of bikes.
Does the bike fit?
When you stand astride a bike – you’ll want plenty of room between yourself and the top tube. (This is called the “standover height.”) It is best to have around four to six inches of clearance between the tube and your crotch. If you have to come to a stop suddenly, you’ll appreciate that this clearance is important – and you don’t ever want to ride on a bike – even for a few minutes – if you’re too short for it, because you’ll learn your lesson painfully.
Have someone hold the bike still while you sit on it. Extend one leg down to the pedal at its lowest extension…your leg should not be at full extension, but rather slightly bent. Only when this occurs is the saddle at the correct height. Also, always ensure that the seat is level – tilting it forward or backward for whatever reason will ony lead to discomfort.
If you’re planning on mountain biking or going over any kind of uneven terrain, you’ll be rising off your bike seat all the time, in reacting to the terrain. You’ll probably lower the saddle an inch or so to compensate for all that jouncing around.
If you’re a woman, pay careful attention to the length of the top tube, which separates you from the handlebars. You don’t want to have to stretch forward uncomfortably while you ride.
If you already own a bike and want to have the handlebars raised or lower by purchasing a new stem through which the handlebars go, that costs money. But when you’re being fitted out with a new bike, the store employees can exchange those with no problem. And again, this is something that a discount store can’t do.
When you find a bike you like, take it out for a test ride. Indeed, don’t just settle for test riding one bike. There are many different types of bikes on the market – frames made of different materials, full suspension or front suspension, etc. that you’ll want to get the feel of each one of them.
After you’ve had the experience of riding various different kinds of bikes, you’ll be able to make your own decision in a more informed manner.