If you are, this is the time to do it. Most of the bike shops in town will have sales on their 2011 lines, in time to bring the new year’s lot in for the spring. And while many cyclist have already stored their bikes for the winter, the fall is actually a lovely time to ride. It’s not too hot, we have yet to experience any really cold or terribly wet weather, and the roads are still clear. When I arrived in Toronto, my first big purchase was my beloved bike, in the fall of 2001.
While doing the interviews this year, I got a lot of excellent advice on what to look for in a bike, from a variety of interests and angles. This is by no means intended as a comprehensive list, but the tips I received should give you a good starting point when shopping.
First of all, you want to find the style of bike that suits your intended cycling activity. Are you planning to ride to work and to do a few errands? Do you have an urge to ride trails or travel cross-country? Are you hoping to do some long-distance rides, where speed matters? Or, maybe you want to practice trick-riding!
Most people I interviewed are dedicated commuters, meaning they cycle through town to work every week day. Many of these people recommended getting what is known as a commuter bike. Commuter bikes are heavier, more durable. This is Evelyn’s commuter bike.
These bikes offer the rider a sense of safety and tend to stand up to being left outside all night in any weather. A good commuter bike offers an internal hub so the more delicate structures are protected from damage and therefore don’t require as much maintenance. Things like bells, lights and chain guards typically come standard with these bikes. The bike may cost you a bit more, but it lasts a lot longer and you don’t lose money having a mechanic at it all the time. And if there’s one word I’ve heard repeatedly that describes a commuter bike, it’s glamorous.
You can also get what’s known as a city bike, which is less equipped but still pretty glamorous. These are closer to the average bike people tend to ride for commuting, and unlike the commuter bikes, these tend to have their own personality. This John Deere bike belongs to Brian.
Commuter and city bikes aren’t for everyone. I don’t own one. Lots of people prefer the sleek French racing style, with the lighter frame, the drop handlebars and the thin tires. They’re sexier and faster.This is Megan’s, my personal favourite.
You feel more independent. A racing bike is ideal if you’re travelling longer distances, especially on inter-city rides. James rides in from Oakville every day, so this style suits his commute better. The cost of the independence and the sex appeal is you tend to want to know about bike maintenance (not a bad thing, by any means). Because these bikes are lighter, you can carry them upstairs and store them inside your apartment or office. And Frank and Vivian assure me that thin tires work well in the winter: they can cut right through freshly fallen, relatively deep snow.
Then, there are the Frankenbikes. These bikes are usually beater bikes that have been personalized and adapted to other purposes, like Bike Polo. If you know what to look for, you will see these around town, used as commuters when not pressed into competitive service.
These cheerful bikes are fun, but they work hard. I even saw one in Reykjavik when I was there at Easter.
I don’t own a racing bike or a Frankenbike. I ride a mountain bike. My mountain bike has thicker, knobby tires for when I want to travel off-road or do some trail work. The frame is slightly heavier, giving me a sense of security on any poorly paved streets, yet it’s not so heavy I couldn’t carry her up four flights of stairs to a loft office.I ride her in pretty bad weather and park her inside where she dries out, ready for the next trip. And when we get a light snowfall, the knobbies ride on top of the snow. My bike is reliable.
There’s yet another option, one that Michael Barry espouses. It’s the cyclocross bike. These bikes are a lovely blend of racing bike and mountain bike.
They’re slightly heavier but still sleek, giving them a lighter feel with a sense of security. You can ride the roads with little exertion, and then head into a pasture for a heavier workout. These are extremely functional bikes.
And what about those people who want to practice tricks? Well, get a BMX bike.
They’re set up ideally for work on flat land or atop constructed frames. They can be customized easily depending on what you want to do. And they’re nifty bikes to ride around town if you’re not travelling far.
There is no wrong style of bike, just people using a style the wrong way and then blaming their problems on the bicycle. Get a bike that you love, that suits your lifestyle. You can ride any bike style for any purpose, as long as you feel safe, comfortable, and happy.
Now, if you already own one of the bike styles above and are looking for something dramatic, I recommend you get yourself into the world of bike building. I met several people this year who build either tall bikes or chopper bikes, and these things are a sweet ride.This is Sara’s tall bike, before she painted it.
And this is Sam’s chopper bike.
If you’re wondering why anyone would aspire to riding something taller or longer than the standard frame, I’ll tell you why: to draw attention to cycling. I speak from firsthand experience. It works. People are riveted to the bike as you travel past. They can’t help starting a conversation with you. They want to hear all about it. I rode both of these bike styles this summer and they were a hoot.
Whatever style of bike you buy, be sure to get it equipped with good lights (not just reflectors) and with a bell. These things are required by law, but they make sense. Most people recommend getting a helmet, but if you’re an adult, it’s not required. Still, having a helmet reduces your risk. And finally, many of my interviewees strongly urge everyone to get a really good lock. If you don’t want to spend too much on a bike, at least spend some cash on the lock so you don’t suffer the heartbreak of losing the bike.
My final piece of advice comes of interviewing people who work in bike shops. I only ever approached two shops intentionally, and those were my own. I wanted my readers to have a sense of shop loyalty, how someone should feel about the people who sell and maintain their equipment. There were several shops I entered because an interviewee had been recommended to me, and these shop names I happily include in the book because their attitude made me feel confident. There are other shops in town that I mention in the book, not because I’ve experienced them firsthand, but because I have heard good of them. I don’t intend to visit every shop or speak with every cyclist, but I don’t intend to ignore good workmanship if I can help it, either.
We all know there are legion lousy bike shops around town. Negligence is just part of the human condition. You want to avoid those. Here are just a few shop names I can proudly recommend from this year’s experiences. Some excellent downtown options are shops like The Bike Joint, Curbside Cycle, Cycle Couture, Duke’s on Queen, or Bateman’s Bicycle Company. If you don’t have a lot of cash or prefer to work on your own bike, visit the DIY shops in town, like Bike Pirates or Bike Sauce, or Bike Chain if you’re a U of T student.
How do you know if you have a good shop? Well, they’ll be listening, not telling. Whomever you speak with, they should be asking you what kind of riding you want to do and how much experience you have. They should then lead you to a bike that suits your lifestyle. They won’t rush the sale. They won’t be pushing accessories on you. And if they try to sell you something top of the line or suggest you wait until spring, they probably don’t have your best interests at heart.
Still not sure? Get out there and talk to anyone on a bike. They’ll tell you it’s the best form of transportation, that you will feel fitter, calmer, more alert. Once you’re convinced, get on a bike. And then call me. I want to hear your bike story!