It can be a pretty nerve-racking experience shelling out more than 20k on a bicycle. I know because I went through the process. There were the endless sessions poring over a catalogue wondering about whether Shimano trumps a SRAM when it comes to gears or whether Chennai's pothole-laden roads warrant a RockShox-laden mountain bike. I came out of the process firstly, with a great sense of appreciation for how much goes into building a simple bicycle (and it's not easy). Second, it's a process, which given the deluge of brands, specs and components in the market, is rather susceptible to over-thinking.

We take a look at a few points to help you declutter the process of picking up - as unempathetic folk would call it - a fancy bicycle.

Over the last few years, several global brands such as Cannondale, Trek, Schwinn, Orbea and others have made their way to Indian shores through tie-ups with Indian companies such as TI, Firefox and passionate bicycle importers such as Ride2026. Domestic firms TI and Firefox have also taken a crack at the segment with offerings labelled Montra and Firefox.

A BIG SPEND

The big decision to pick up on these expensive bikes usually starts with wanting a smoother ride on a local 50 km trail which you enjoy doing during the weekends for fitness' sake or a more gorgeous bike for the commute to work or a quick grocery stop. Then, there are those crazy ones who discover that riding a 200 km brevet ride or doing a month-long ride in the Himalayas or in Vietnam is what floats their boat. There is a bike for every one of those causes. Broadly, bikes are categorised as road bikes, mountain bikes or hybrid bikes. Niches exist such as ‘beach cruisers' and those optimised for touring. Your choice should come with a lot of soul searching and experimentation.

“Wow, way to be precise,” you say? Well, for a start, mountain bikes are the most tempting looking bikes. They are the Hummers of the bicycle world equipped with a front and in certain models, rear shock absorber to trample over forests, mountains and rough terrain. Well, here's the problem: Many Indian riders like to believe that the rough terrain category includes their pot-hole infested roads. This is a misplaced belief which leads well-meaning aspiring riders to put their money on brawny bikes which ill-suit their need for a ride down Chennai's ECR or the Bangalore-Krishnagiri route.

The frame is the core of a bike and should serve as one of the primary considerations for a potential buyer. There are provisions for attaching a seat, fork, wheels, pedals, drive train, gears, cables and handle bars onto this frame. But the frame is a constant; you can change practically everything on a bike but its frame. Most bike frames feature three aluminium tubes which are welded into a near triangular shape. Road bikes tend to have the lightest frames. This is to keep the frame as light as possible to prioritise speed over all else. The hunched over posture with aero-bars and choice of components are all geared towards a quick ride which encounters least resistance in the form of rocks, bumps and so forth. The thin tyres and rims on these bikes exist for the sole purpose of minimising friction with the road and accelerating as fast as possible. The road bike is the vehicle of choice for a rider looking at races and long rides where speed is the key.

DON'T MOVE MOUNTAINS

Mountain bikes on the extreme are built to be strong and take a knock or two from small errant stones knocking the gear derailleur.

The aluminium tubes which go into the frames are thicker with heavier welds to take a hard beating on terrain bereft of luxuries such as roads.

A shock absorber is fitted on to absorb blows and the knobbly large tyres grip unlike their road engineered cousins can grip on to the least bit of loose terrain. Even components such as the gears, wheels and so forth are slightly heavier to make them sturdier.

So now you're thinking, that's exactly the ride I need to get past that road with the obstacle course in the form of a few rocks and a speed bump rivalling the Niagara Falls for a drop off the top. The short answer: No!

Bicycle makers came up with a category labelled Hybrid bikes. The frame literally looks like the guy welding the bike confused himself with two sets of drawings: one of a road bike, another of mountain bike. The wheels and tyres are a little thicker than on a road bike but not quite as knobbly as those on a mountain bike.

The handlebar is flat like on a mountain bike to make sure getting around town and keeping an eye open for what's around the corner is easier. The bike's themselves are more versatile than either of the parent type bikes which inspired them. You're not hunched over awkwardly pedalling on a visit to the local juice shop.

They're quick enough to outpace heavier mountain bikes on a long ride and a lot more durable than road bikes on monstrous roads we so often encounter.

SO WHAT'S WITH THE INFORMATION OVERLOAD?

Well the basic point of all the talk is to ask you to look and ride before you leap and buy. Local bicycling clubs are sprouting up in all major metros giving you a chance to chat with experienced hands. This gives you a chance to participate in various kinds of rides ranging from a mellow-paced weekend ride to a time-trial or an off-road ride. Figuring out what you intend to do with your bike is a big step towards actually picking the right bike for yourself.

If you can get a friend or company to loan you a ride and figure out what you enjoy doing on a ride, it will help you make a better choice. When you walk into a bicycle store ask for a trial ride.

Also, make it a point to find out how well the frame fits you in terms of size and comfort. Spending time trying to figure out how comfortable you feel on a bike will pay off by lowering the odds of getting injured due to bad form and worse yet, an uncomfortable ride. A good paint job or beefy-looking bike should not be the deal-maker for a bike purchase. Obsessing over whether a Shimano or SRAM shifter feels better without paying heed to the basic fit of a bike is akin to planning for your retirement when you're barely scraping through on a daily basis. Going for a mountain bike for the daily commute to work is a bad choice when a hybrid would have done the trick with more comfort and aesthetics.

POPULAR HYBRID BIKES: Cannondale Quick Series, Cannondale Badboy, Trek 7.1 FX, KHS Vitamin B, Schwinn Sporterra

POPULAR MOUNTAIN BIKES: Cannondale SL series, Trek 4000 series, Trek Gary Fisher, KHS Alite, GT Aggressor

POPULAR ROAD BIKES: Bianchi Via Nirone, Cannondale CAAD series, Trek Road Bike series

adarsh@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on May 29, 2012)
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