FAQ: What is the right bike for the job?

July 10,2013

These (usually) 2-wheeled, (mostly) people-powered objects provide a means of transportation, adventure, speed, and even some very affordable therapy.  They come in so many varieties, it’s easy to be overwhelmed.  Let me break down some of the more common varieties for you.

Disciplinary action.   Some bikes built for very specific tasks, and others that are the essentially “Jack all of Trades” type rides.  Most people grew up riding hybrid bikes around the neighborhood.  These are bikes with flat handlebars like a mountain/trail bike, but are built to go from the road to the rails to trails to the more-tame forest trails.  I usually used mine to get ice cream sandwiches at the family-owned supermarket a few miles from my parent’s house.

Mountain bikes are built to go over the river and through the woods.  They have wide tires with deep treads (think winter tires for your car).  Most mountain bikes have suspension on the front fork and maybe under the seat to absorb some of the shock that occurs whilst riding over boulders, logs, roots, or fallen riders.  (Just kidding, I wouldn’t ride over a fallen rider… I’d “bunny hop” my bike over them!)

Road bikes are built for speed.  The rider usually assumes a position where their back is almost parallel to the road; this reduces the wind resistance and the probability of experiencing this face:

Road bikes are always made as light and stiff as possible so that each pedal stroke produces the optimum ratio of get-up-and-go to exertion.   Team PHenomenal Hope will be riding Cervelo road bikes to cross the country in 2014!

Cyclocross, or “cross” bikes are somewhere in between the mountain and road bike.  Cyclocross racing mixes disciplines of trail riding, road riding, and 6th-grade gym class-like obstacle jumping.   The tires are wider than a road bikes to provide better traction in the dirt and mud, while the riders stance on the bike is still pretty aerodynamic, just not as aggressively so as on the road bike.  Cyclocross bikes may also double as touring bikes.  Touring is actually self-explanatory, rides usually go from town to town and require long days in the saddle and multiple coffee shop stops.

Cyclocross barriers are just one of the obstacles racers endure

Cyclocross barriers are just one of the obstacles racers endure

Material girls.  Some are aluminum, some are steel, some are titanium, some are carbon.   Each material provides slightly different benefits depending on the type of riding to be done.  The majority of bikes are aluminum because of its more affordable price point and durability.

Steel is heavier than aluminum, but it is stiffer which translates to better power transfer from the pedals.  Titanium is strong like steel but much lighter and a little more resilient than carbon.  Carbon is the lightest material that is used for bike manufacturing (right now), but must be treated with care because it is more fragile and prone to cracking if it’s crashed.  Most mountain bikers chose to ride titanium frames when their budget allows, while road racers would chose carbon.  Touring bikes are more comfortable when they are made with steel because it absorbs more of the bumps in the road, providing a smoother ride and a less-sore behind.

But, sometimes you don’t choose a bike at all, it chooses you.

"Rock gardens" test a mountain biker's technical skills.

“Rock gardens” test a mountain biker’s technical skills.

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