As a cyclist, the question that inevitably comes up in casual conversation is “What bicycle should I buy?”
My counter question is “What are you going to use it for?”
Some people will want a bike for sport, some for fitness, some want to lose weight, some for getting around the city, some want adventure, some want to go up and down mountains, some want to be speed demons on the road, and some just want to get from one place to the other.
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My first bicycle, like a lot of other cyclists, was a BMX. As a kid who knew nothing about bikes, this was sufficient for going around the neighborhood. However, as I started to want to go further and faster, and I had a little more money to spend, I outgrew that bike and stopped biking in favor of other hobbies.
Fast forward 30 years and I find myself buying a bike out of peer pressure. The people I used to play badminton stopped hitting shuttlecocks and started riding bikes. As I learned then, there are primarily three types of bikes available at your local friendly bike shop: the mountain bike, the road bike, and folding bikes.
The first bicycle I ever bought with my own money was a mountain bike or MTB. For adults, it is a safe entry into the world of cycling. It’s relatively thick tires will safely roll over but the deepest pothole and the upright sitting position is pretty friendly. I still ride that bicycle and have logged over 6,000 kilometers on that bike doing crazy rides like the 200km Audax Subic-Masinloc and Manila to Angeles.
Miles Saavedra, a 46-year old Sales Manager whose part of my High School Alumni cycling group, like me, bought a mountain bike. He says that he “chose an MTB over road bike as it is flexible on different terrains during rides. You can use it for both paved roads as well as for mountainous trails. I also feel safer riding a bike with wider tires.”
Mountain bikers move on to use their bikes on trails, communing with nature or careen down mountains at insane speeds.
When you say bicycles, a road bike is what a lot of people picture in their heads thanks to events like the Tour De France. Curved handlebars provide a number of positions and skinny tires provide less resistance on concrete. However, the riding position and skinny tires might be a little intimidating to newbies. The ride can be rough because of the tires have to be inflated to very high pressures. You will feel every bump and pothole on the road.
Doc Andro Umali, a doctor working at one of Manila’s busier hospitals, uses a road bike to commute from BGC to Pasig every day.
In his words, “Road bikes are faster in terms of geometry, gearing, and handling. It's trickier to maneuver at times and the ride geometry makes stop go traffic a bit harder to manage. But it's faster especially on open roads, the handle bars make it easier to squeeze through traffic. Downside are the narrow tires so extra care is needed.”
If you’re planning to compete in road races or triathlons, then a solid foundation in pedaling these lithe speed machines is a must.
On the more practical side, I’ve written about my love for foldies in an earlier bike commuting article. Its compact size and short handle bars make it agile around traffic. Their downside is their relatively smaller wheels. Because of these, they are a little slower and if you’re not careful.
Nerica Joy Sim, 26, an ERP implementation consultant is a hardcore folding bike rider. If there was a poster child for women bike commuters, she would be one of the people who’d come to mind. “I prefer foldies simply because of convenience," she says. "I can bring it anywhere with me without the hassle of parking it outside. Also, in case of emergencies, I can just chuck in the trunk of my Grab car or a bus.”
However, Sim has tortured her folding bike like very few others using ingenious ways to fasten cargo of all shapes and sizes. And besides that, regularly brings her foldie up to the mountains of Sierra Madre and has ridden the 200km, 300km, 400km, AND 600km Audax around Northern Luzon.
These are just the basic types of bikes as there are further sub-classifications and combinations of mountain bikes, road bikes, and foldies. The key thing about buying a bike to is to try one first.
For a first-time buyer, I’d really recommend patronizing your local bike shop. The prices online might be cheaper, but nothing beats personally scouting around, getting on actual bikes, and riding them for a bit to check it out comfort and fun factor. Bike shops will often have mechanics, too, who’ll gladly help make basic adjustments and maintain your prized steed.
Lastly, set aside a couple of thousand pesos for safety gear and accessories. Do not scrimp on a helmet and if you’re planning to ride on the city roads, headlights and tail lights are an absolute necessity. Sunglasses may seem like a cosmetic accessory but after riding around, I’m grateful for having protection against dust and nasty stuff like small stones that could have caused major eye injury. Sunscreen, arm and leg protectors for skin protection are also recommended.
After that, I wish you the best of luck avoiding the dreaded cyclist’s disease known as “upgraditis.” It’s the state of mind where you see your bike as a bottomless pit you throw money into to make your bike lighter, faster, or just look cooler. You have been warned.
In the end, the worst bicycle you can get is the one that you will never use. The one that’s forgotten in some deep dark corner of your house rusting its way to the scrap heap. The bicycles that are dirty, well-worn, and have seen kilometers upon kilometers of riding are the stuff memories are made of.
See you on the road.