In the market for a new bike? We’ve got you covered.

Getting around on a college budget can be rough. One of the most cost-effective forms of transportation is riding a bike; one initial investment can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent on gas or bus fare. Plus when you’re living off of pizza and beer, it’s a great way to burn off those extra calories. But with all the different kinds of brands, types, and sizes available, it’s easy to get confused and end up buying something that you’ll regret. Here are some tips for how to choose the right bike to suit your needs.

Choose the Type of Bike that Works for You

There are many kinds of bikes available for purchase, and the kind you choose should always reflect how you intend to use it. Buying the wrong kind of bike could lead to excessive strain when riding, or unnecessary wear and tear. The four main styles are: mountain bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, and hybrid bikes. For whatever type you do choose, however, always remember that a good bike can last years, so don’t skimp on cost if you can avoid it.

Mountain Bikes

The most popular style, you’ll find that most department stores will carry these bikes more so than any other kind. Mountain bikes have wider tires with lots of tread on them to help maintain traction on uneven paths, wide handlebars for extra grip and balance, shock absorbers, lots of gears, and are significantly heavier when compared to other bikes. While this is the go-to choice for the novice biker, riding a heavy mountain bike in town can be more trouble than it’s worth due to how much harder you’ll be pedalling to get up to speed after a stoplight, and especially when going up hill. If buying a mountain bike, it’s best to only do so if you intend to take it off road, as you will likely be paying for features that you’ll never actually need or use.

Road Bikes

With the advent of biking as a popular form of transport in the last decade or so, road bikes have seen an increase in urban use in the United States, and rightly so. These bikes are almost the antithesis of a mountain bike; they are designed for speed over durability and sport narrow tires with very little tread, a lightweight frame, fewer gears, and handlebars (usually “drop style”) that position your body bent over the top to help improve aerodynamics while riding. However, the lack of shock absorbers on these kind of bikes can lead to the rims becoming bent if you’re going over a bump, so it’s best to stick to paved bike lanes and avoiding the sidewalk while riding. Additionally, the lack of shocks also make the ride on these bikes are decidedly less comfortable than other options.

Fixed-gear bikes are a sub-genre of road bike that have also seen a rise in use recently, but often as more of a fashion statement than anything else. These bikes are single-speed and lack a freewheel, meaning that you must always be pedaling in order to keep the bike moving. While fixed-gear bikes are generally extremely light and can be great for flat areas, most fixed-gears don’t have handlebar brakes, and the rider must slow-down and backpedal (called a “skid stop”) in order to stop the bike entirely. This causes riding a fixed-gear in hilly areas to be extremely dangerous, and as a result, fixed-gear bikes are the cause of more biker fatalities than any other type.

Touring Bikes

As the name suggests, these bikes are designed to go long distances, and can carry a heavy load of baggage, such as camping gear. While they look quite similar to a road bike, touring bikes have a much more durable and flexible frame, a wider set of gears, and are more comfortable. Although these are less popular in the U.S., these are a favorite for trips abroad or going on long rides that would otherwise have required a car.

Hybrid

These bikes are a cross between road bikes and mountain bikes, and are made as a compromise between the advantages and disadvantages inherent in both. Hybrids utilize the upright handlebars of mountain bikes and sometimes have shock absorbers, but also have tires similar to those of a road bike. The weight of the frame and number of gears also fall somewhere between what you would find on a road bike or a mountain bike. For these reasons, hybrids are one of the best choices for riding in the city, as they sport the comfort of a mountain bike while capable of achieving speed near the level of a road bike.

Choosing the Right Size

It’s extremely easy to end up with the wrong sized bike for your height, particularly if you’re buying used. Additionally, different styles and models of bikes will be sized using different methods than others, so always consult the sizing guides provided on websites for the brand you intend to buy. However, a good rule of thumb is to base the size of your bike against your inseam, which is the length between your crotch and the ground. When standing over the frame of your bike, you should have about  2-4 inches between the top of your inseam and the top bar of the bike for mountain bikes, and 1-2 inches for road bikes. While adjusting the bicycle seat height, make sure that your leg is bent at a 25 to 30 degree angle when in the full downstroke position in order to avoid leg cramps.

Height Inseam Length Bike Frame Size
4’10″ – 5’1″ 25.5” – 27” 46 – 48 cm
5’0″ – 5’3″ 26.5″ – 28″ 48 – 50 cm
5’2″ – 5’5″ 27.5″ – 29″ 50 – 52 cm
5’4″ – 5’7″ 28.5″ – 30″ 52 – 54 cm
5’6″ – 5’9″ 29.5″ – 31″ 54 – 56 cm
5’8″ – 5’11″ 30.5″ – 32″ 56 – 58 cm
5’10″ – 6’1″ 31.5″ – 33″ 58 – 60 cm
6’0″ – 6’3″ 32.5″ – 34″ 60 – 62 cm
6’2″ – 6’5″ 34.5″ – 36″ 62 – 64 cm
(Source - about.com)

Accessorizing

When sharing the road with cars, which you might have noticed are considerably larger than a bicycle, it’s important to always be safe when riding. It should go without saying that you should always wear a helmet while riding a bike, especially in the city. Flashing front and tail light are also recommended for riding at night to maintain visibility, as is a rear-view mirror that can be affixed to either your handlebars or the front of your helmet so you can always see drivers even when they can’t see you.

Other important gear for your bike is a fender, which can help prevent the bike wheel from kicking up mud, dirt or water onto you while riding in adverse weather, while also helping in keeping mud out of the wheel arch and gears. A bike rack is an extremely handy item for commuting, as it can allow any type of bike to carry small bags.

A biker should also always be prepared for a flat tire, so make sure to buy a frame pump, a spare tube, and basic tools that include tire levers and a multitool. It’s also quite helpful to buy some instant sealant, such as Slime, which can immediately patch a small hole in the tire when you’re in a rush.