Tips from a retired bicycle mechanic/salesman

Once upon a time Glenny Kravitz had dreams to become the first Filipino Greg Lemond. In high school I dreamed of racing professionally and hoped to someday get sponsored to ride in the Tour De France. Although my dream never came true…it led to my six-year career as a bicycle mechanic.  So if anybody needs some quick tips on purchasing the right bike…read on. I’ll also go into the basics of proper form and posture for casual to serious riders.

First of all, it’s important to get fitted by a salesperson who also rides bicycles. Some bicycle shops hire young college students who’ve been given a quick crash course about proper bicycle fitting, form and posture. It’s better to deal with a person who actually rides for sport or fitness. So don’t be afraid to ask the salesperson if they ride bikes to give proper advice. You’re usually better off shopping at a smaller private owned pro shop vs. a large chain sporting goods store. Usually the larger chain sporting goods stores have good deals but clueless sales people who are running between the fishing department to the bicycle department.

Choosing your bicycle: First decide what type of riding you will be doing. Are you buying a bicycle to race in the Iron Man triathalon? Are you buying a bicycle to go riding on the nearby dirt trails down the street from your house? Are you buying a bike to ride on the weekends only…along the beach highway with little or no hills? Are you buying a bike to commute everyday to work? You might also want to consider the terrain or road conditions around your house. Are the roads smooth or do they have pot holes and train tracks everywhere? Do you plan to ride on both street surfaces and off road dirt trails? These questions will help determine precisely what type of bicycle you need.

Here are the different types of bikes to choose from. I’m going to do a brief description of children’s bikes assuming that most of you are adults.

Mountain Bike: The mountain bike is the Jeep Renegade on two wheels, specifically designed to ride on dirt trails. They come with wide knobby tires for better grip on dirt and gravel surfaces. Mountain bikes usually come with a front fork suspension with powerful cantilever brakes or even disc brakes for effective downhill braking.  The frame is smaller in design, similar to a BMX frame to reduce flex.  This makes the frame stiff for maximum pushing power from the pedals.  A mountain bike is generally meant for a person who will be mostly hammering on the pedals, jumping over stumps and pot holes, bombing downhill grades and even riding through shallow streams.  Mountain bikes have a wide price range between $299-$1,500. Usually the $299 range offers a cross thread tire good for both street and easy dirt trails. They also offer a wider, more comfortable seat for leisure easy riders.  The higher end priced mountain bikes from $500 to $1,500 usually have very knobby tires and disc brakes. The seats are narrow and lighter assuming that the rider won’t be sitting very much. The pro mountain bikes also cost more due to high end components and lighter/expensive metal.  If you plan to ride on both street and dirt trails…I highly recommend a mountain bike around the $500 range.  For people who plan to ride dirt-only with some steep downhill grades and log jumping…I’d recommend a full suspension mountain bike with both front and rear shocks equipped with disc brakes.

Road/Racing bike: Back in the 1970’s we called these bikes 10 speeds. Today road bikes are like the sports cars of the road.  They now come with 28 speeds! Road bikes generally come with the curved drop style handlebars that give you 3 riding positions. The drop position is for sprinting or accelerating, the brake lever position is for a higher visual range and releases some tension on the back muscles, and the top cross bar position is for a relaxed cadence spinning.  The 3 positions is designed for long road rides or races. It is useful during long rides where the hands get numb. A road bike allows you to adjust for comfort depending on how you are riding. Most road bikes come with aluminum frames for lightness, and stiffness for sprinting.  The tires are usually very thin and smooth for maximum speed and aerodynamics.  If you plan to do long rides with touring bags and multiple water bottles, I highly recommend a Road/Touring bike with a cromoly frame.  The lightweight steel frames offer a more comfortable ride allowing just enough flex for the long haul. Aluminum frames are very stiff and your body usually takes the beating because road bikes don’t come with suspension (shocks).  Price ranges are from $350-$3,000, or more.  You can purchase a good quality road bike for about $500-$700.  The high end priced road bikes are for serious triathalon and racing athletes. They come equipped with shoes that snap into the pedals kinda like ski bindings. You don’t need that stuff unless you plan to be racing and sprinting.

Hybrid/Cross bike: This is kinda like the Toyota RAV 4 of bicycles. It’s not quite hardcore enough for dirt riding but comfortable enough for easy street-riding. They come with a more upright riding position for people who don’t plan to sprint or do uphill climbing.  Hybrids come with up to 28 speeds as well, with a wider comfy seat. Some of them even have spring loaded seat posts for rider comfort on hard surface streets.  Hybrid bikes are perfect for recreational (state park riding) or around town with minor hills and bumps. You can take a hybrid on easy dirt trails that don’t require much maneuvering or jumping.  I recommend this bike for people who do shorter recreational riding on the weekends.  Hybrids are also good for people with back discomfort.

Beach Cruiser bikes: These are the single-speed, wide balloon-tired, funky-looking beach cruisers, perfect for making an herb run or a quick trip to the liquor store. You usually see surfers riding these bikes towards the beach with surfboard in hand.  They come in funky colors and flashy crome (hot rod) looks these days. With only one fixed gear…you must have strong legs or simply walk the bike up a hill when the pushing gets overbearing.

BMX/Freestyle bike: These are the dirt bikes that every boy had in elementary school. Young adults ride these bikes too but usually on a half pipe during the X-Games.  In general, younger people like to ride BMX bikes around the city simply for fun and kicks.  They do tricks or jump ramps between trips to the burrito shop and 7-11. This is a perfect bike for a girl or boy to learn on before completing their major growth spurts. All you have to do is raise the seat post as they grow.  Price range: $180-$600

Bikes with rear internal speed hubs: I’m not sure what to call these bikes. They are basically the drop top T-Birds of the bike world.  Or lets say the PT cruisers on 2 wheels. They look similar to a beach cruiser frame but they have fenders and chain gaurds (so your pants don’t get caught in the chain). Anyway, these bikes usually come in funky colors with Retro/art deco-eeey designs.  Some of them come with a Shimano internal hub (basically internal transmission) eliminating the greasy cogs located on the rear traditional style hub.  This bike is mainly for flatland use, is perfect for short city rides, and looks good at the same time.

Children’s bikes come with different choices these days. Depending on how old you child is, they now have bikes with low slung frames with 24-inch wheel bases. This allows the kid to straddle the frame without getting an owie! And at the same time they benefit from the larger wheel base of an adult-size bike as they grow taller.  The seat usually comes with a quick release lever to adjust the seat as they grow.  I wouldn’t spend too much money on kids’ bikes because they grow so fast. Focus on function and safety when shopping for your kid’s bike.

Posture and form while riding: Getting sized and fitted for your bike is important for your body posture and form.  A good knowledgeable sales person will help you choose the right size bike. What’s really important when riding is your leg positioning in relation to the height of the seat post. When your leg is in the fully extended low position on the pedals, you should have just a slight bend in the knee. The idea is to get a full range of motion with your legs without reaching. You want a slight bend in the knee, that way your butt doesn’t sway on the saddle from reaching, due to a seat post that is too high.  When you are seated with both hands on the bars, your feet should be able to touch the ground by the balls of your feet. If your feet touch the ground flat-footed (while seated), then you know the seat post is too low.  If you have the standard frame (generally referred to as a men’s frame), your crotch should not be touching the frame.  The frame size also differs depending on what type of bike you bought. I’ll leave that to the sales person to describe to you before I put you to sleep.   A good website to look at different types of bikes is Specialized Bicycles.  Also check out Trek Bicycles.com

Bicycle riding is a fun way to get exercise with fresh air and low impact on the body. Cheers and happy safe riding.

-Glenny Kravitz

3 thoughts on “Tips from a retired bicycle mechanic/salesman

  1. There appears to be a gaping hole in this bicycle list. Where o where is ye olde uni-cycle? Or the kind that I currently own which some people mistake as being only a reflector.

  2. Hey Glenny,

    What of those death traps the hipster kids love to ride? You know, those no gear having, no brake having suicide machines. What are they called, Fixies? What is the real deal behind those things? Why are they such a fad?

    -Rob

  3. Fixies are precisely what the kids call them these days. You’ve seen the Olympics velodrome track sprinting events right? Those bikes are fixed gear with no brakes. The kids think it’s cool because bike messenger’s in New York started using them years ago. Hardcore bike messengers destroy their bikes rapidly from so much wear and tear. A simple road bike with gears would get torn up pretty fast the way these pro messengers ride on a daily basis. Gradually messengers started stripping down bikes to make them more solid with less moving delicate parts. They figured a fixed gear bike was the simplest and most durable design for the work they do. Usually their legs are strong enough, that 1 gear is all they need. The kids who ride them just for show probably just want to look hardcore. The bike compliments their tattoos and punk rock gear from Hot Topic.

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