Introduction to Cycling—Part 1

Included in this article:

    Advantages and disadvantages
    How to choose your bike
    How to buy a bike
    Gear to have

Advantages and Disadvantages

Bicycling offers many advantages. (1) Here are a few:

They are cheap. Compared to a vehicle, cycling is only a fraction of the cost. You save on parking, repairs, gas, and insurance. And because of the health benefits, you will also likely save on healthcare costs and a gym membership.

Bicycles are very healthy. They boost your immune system. They let you take advantage of fresh air and sunshine. You can stay away from germs in public transportation. They are known to be very good for the heart, reduce the risk of cancer, boost brain power, build muscle, help you lose weight, reduce fatigue, and improve bone density among other things. A study found that the average cyclist lives 4 to 5 years longer.

They are fun. Cycling reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. They are a great way to enjoy nature. You can create memories with friends and family, and you can become part of a new community of bicycle enthusiasts.

They boost productivity. You are multitasking a workout and a commute. You may also save time by not getting stuck in traffic. You can improve your mechanical aptitude, which is useful in a lot of other areas in life. You can improve your discipline and fortitude by pushing yourself to overcome obstacles. With the boost to your circulation, you can have more energy, get more done, and think more creatively.

Here are some disadvantages, and ways to address them:

One is the physical danger when driving in vehicle traffic. The bicycle is less visible and more damage is done if you are hit. Mitigation strategies include having a good helmet and wearing it, having a horn, reflectors and visible clothing, a mirror to see behind you without turning your head, and good lights for the night. Cyclists should always drive defensively, keeping an eye on vehicles turning at intersections or coming out of driveways. They should take slower and wider roads where available. Fortunately, many towns and cities are installing bike lanes and paths.

Some are not as good at handling road hazards like potholes or branches. Riders should keep an eye on the road and have good lighting, know how to dodge objects, and carry a repair kit to handle flats.

Bike theft. Bikes are stolen more often than vehicles. Some things you can do to prevent and prepare is to find your bicycle’s serial number and keep a record of it. You should take pictures of your bike from several angles. If you have a cheaper bike—especially cheaper than the ones around it—it is less likely to be stolen. If it is worth it, you could consider insurance. When you park it, you should lock it up. The best way to do this is with a good U-bolt through the front wheel and frame, and a chain through the back wheel, frame, and seat. When you lock it, don’t attach it to something like a post where it could easily picked up and thrown in a van. Remove lights and other valuables when you leave it. If it does get stolen, put the bike with the serial number and pictures on a directory for stolen bikes like

Bikes are more limited in terms of where they can travel, with what, and with whom. Going long distances and going uphill are more challenging by bike than by car. To make this much easier you can consider using an electric or gas powered bicycle. (Check local laws) While some cyclists do travel long distances, it is a challenge for the beginner. For some trips it is better to have a vehicle as an option. Bikes do not store as much as cars, but they may have storage on their baskets, seat or frame bags, rear rack and bags, backpack, or bike trailer. Small children can be transported in an attached baby seat, passengers can be carried in a trailer, or they can bring their own bikes.

The last disadvantage is that the rider is exposed to the weather unless you have a bike like this one. Dress for being outdoors, but dress in layers so you can remove some as your body warms from the exercise. For sunny days, there are a lot of clothes designed to be breathable for cyclists, and you can wear sunglasses or a visor and stay hydrated. Keep a good raincoat or poncho handy, and in cold weather I have found ski goggles, oversized mitts, and insulated winter boots go a long way.

How to Choose Your Bike:


    Know What You Plan to Use the Bike For

There are two main categories of bike, and a variety of combinations in between. If you want to spend a lot of time on the road for fitness, racing, or commuting, you’ll want something designed for the roadway. If you want to use it in the woods or on gravel roads, mountain bikes are better suited. If you need the speed of a road bike with the agility of a mountain bike for city traffic, a hybrid may be a better choice. Special types include cargo and trick bikes.

Road Bikes

    • Light weight frame.
    • Thinner tires with less tread, higher air pressure reduces friction with the road, making it easier to go fast on flat surfaces. Does not fair as well on loose surfaces like gravel or dirt.
    • Lack of shocks transfers more energy into the road. This allows you to go faster but does not tolerate bumps and holes as well.
    • Handlebars have more positions so you can lean forward and be more aerodynamic. Offers less visibility and agility to deal with the unexpected.
    • Rim breaks are easier to observe wear and replace, but weaker, slower, and less effective in wet weather. They can also wear out the rim.

Mountain Bikes

    • Has a thicker frame that can take a beating.
    • Wider tires with deeper tread are more stable and have better traction with loose dirt, gravel, and rain. It also increases friction with the roadway making it harder to move forward.
    • Shock absorbers on the front and back cancel out rough terrain, keeping smoother forward movement. On the road these sap energy.
    • Handlebars keep you upright so you can see what is coming, but this means your body acts like a sail catching the wind and slows you down as compared to a more aerodynamic position.
    • Disk brakes are easier to clutch, stop the bike faster, and work well in different weather conditionals and grades. They do not wear out the wheel like rim brakes do, but they are harder to see wear on and more expensive to service.


    • Uses a lighter frame and tires the same as a road bikes for ease on the pavement.
    • May have shocks in the front for additional comfort.
    • Handlebars allow you to sit more upright so you can see traffic, and has better agility than a road bike, though is not as fast.
    • Comfortable seat.
    • May have rim or disk brakes.

To see other subcategories and special bikes, check out this article by REI.

    Choose a Bike Frame that Fits You

A number of things on the bike can be adjusted to fit you better. One thing that is fixed is the size of the frame. If you have a frame size that doesn’t fit you, you won’t be able to make that bike work optimally for you. To calculate what your frame size should be, you need to calculate your inseam height. This is the height from the bottom of your biking shoes to your sit bones while standing. Stand against a wall in your biking shoes with a book between your legs spine up, as if it were the bike seat. Mark the top of the book’s spine against the wall with a pencil. Use a tape measure to see the distance between the floor and the pencil mark.

Once you know your inseam height, you can now calculate the frame size you are looking for. This should match the measurement of the bar that is most vertical in the frame. Different types of bikes can be calculated differently.

The equations are (2):

    Road: inseam (cm) x 0.70 = frame size
    Mountain: inseam (cm) x 0.66 = frame size
    Hybrid: inseam (cm) x 0.685 = frame size

You can also use this chart.

For road bikes you might also want to think about a comfortable fit with the length of the frame. To do this, you should sit on the bike with your hips angled towards your back at 45 degrees, and back to arms at 90 degrees. Bend your arms a little and rest your hands on the handlebars and see if the fit is comfortable to you. You may want to have the fitting done by a professional. Stores like REI or MEC can do these. For mountain or hybrid bikes, this measurement is not crucial.

Other things on the bike that can be adjusted are the seat and stem length.

    • Seat height: When your pedal is at the bottom, your leg should be slightly bent, 80-90% extended. Poor seating height can make it hard on your knees to pedal.
    • Seat position: When the pedals are at 3 and 9 o’clock, going straight down from your knee you should reach the ball of your foot.
    • Stem length: This is the part that connects your handlebars to your fork. If it is not the right size, it can be replaced. When you are sitting with your hands on the handles, your back should lean forward at a 45 degree angle. Weight should be evenly distributed between the handles and the seat.

Take several kinds of bikes for test rides. Many bike shops like REI and MEC should allow you to do this. Ask friends if you can try out their bikes. Perhaps look into visiting a local biking group or community workshop and see if you can try any there.

How to Buy a Bike

For the lowest cost, you can buy a used bike from ebay, Craigslist, or Kijiji. The disadvantage is that it is hard to find just the right bike. If you are purchasing off of Craigslist, you can set up a time to meet. First you should check Craigslist and see if the bike was also advertised as stollen. Check online directories with its serial number as well if you can. Be sure to carefully inspect a used bike. While repairs can usually be made, they will affect the overall price of the bike.

You should also take at least one bike for a test ride before buying it. Try to schedule a time with good weather that isn’t too busy. Ideally you want a safe location that has a few hills to climb. Wear what you normally wear biking. Make what adjustments you need, inflating the tires or moving the seat up. Check to see how the bike accelerates, handles turns, and climbs hills. Check to see how responsive the breaks are. Test all the gears. If you are doing this test run at a brick and mortar shop, you will probably have to bring ID or a credit card to leave with the sales associate as collateral while you ride. You should take at least 15 minutes per bike.


For superior service, look for your local bike shop. You should be able to get expert advice about what you need, take the bike for a test ride, and get bike parts exchanged or adjusted. Your bike shop will most likely be the place that you go to for repairs, and you may be able to get a service plan with the purchase. In that case, you aren’t just assessing what bike you want, but also what shop you want to work with. The drawbacks to local bike shops are that these tend to be a little more expensive, and the selection is more limited than some other options.

For the best selection, you can find the bike you want online from the manufacturer, then look up their closest dealer, and make sure they have the model and size available. You should be able to set up a test ride as well. (3)

Buying directly from the dealer or from an online retailer is not as good as there is no test ride or service package. If you buy from a big box store, you are likely to get a poor quality product that lacks variety and customization, as well as the expert advice and service you could get from a specialized shop. (4)

Gear to Have

Besides your bike, there are a number of other things (5) you’ll want to purchase:


    Spare inner tube(s)
    Patch kit
    Emergency tire boot
    Tire levers
    Portable pump
    Standing pump (for home)
    Chain lube (for home)
    Extra masterlink or connecting rivett for the chain
    Cycling multi-tool with Allen wrenches (or equivalent tools)
    Front and rear lights with extra batteries
    Bell or horn
    Water and bottle cage
    Plastic bag (to throw over the seat so it doesn’t get rained on)


    Eye protection
    First aid kit
    Emergency contact
    Rearview mirror



    Basket or cargo rack and storage bags
    Mud guards

Cycling is a low entry point to becoming more independent, more conscious of the mechanisms that you rely on, more adventurous, and more healthy. It is an easy way to open up the world and explore. It doesn’t come with the baggage that vehicles do—the good, but also a lot of the bad. And the experience of getting out on your bike brings you in closer contact with the world around you—to nature, community, and the idiosyncrasies of day to day life. It is one of those things that made warm childhood memories, and it still has much to add.

Part 2 will cover getting out and riding your bike, keeping it in good shape, and the community of bicycle workshops.




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