Gas prices are up, and so is the summer sun. Helping the environment, getting in shape and saving money are some of the many reasons that make now a great time to invest in a bike. Oh, and it can be fun, too! Whether you are ready to connect with your inner child or inner Lance Armstrong, this guide should help get you started in finding the perfect set of wheels.
There are a handful of different types of bikes, and knowing how you plan to use yours—riding across campus or across the county?—will help decide which is best. For most commuters and casual bikers, a hybrid bike with upright handlebars and wheels that can handle both pavement and a little off-road is a good place to start. For more specific info on choosing a bike, check out the bike-buying tips on The Bicycle Chain's Web site.
The Triangle has a wide range of locally owned and chain store bike shops. They are great places to talk with informed staff not only about bikes and bike gear, but also about local events, rides and safest commuting routes. The majority of their gear will be new, though many carry a few used bikes. Bikes will be priced as high as $3,000, which pays for lighter materials, more gadgets and custom frames and accessories. These are used more by serious road cyclists and mountain bikers, but feel free to ask to take one for a spin around the parking lot. For a casual rider and commuter, a new hybrid bike will cost somewhere between $250-$300.
The cheapest and most interesting way to get a bike in the area is through one of the local bicycle co-ops, which tune up old donated bikes and bike parts. All of the co-ops run Sunday workshops you can attend to learn about bike care and maintenance, and you can earn a bike by volunteering to help out with their programs (no previous bike knowledge necessary). At the Durham Bike Co-op, you can earn a used bike with the sweat of an afternoon of volunteer work (plus the elbow grease of putting yours together) or buy one for $50.
And though it may be tempting to go with any free or cheap bike you find, make sure it fits you well to avoid unnecessary aches, pains, spills and thrills. Yes, bikes come in sizes, and one does not fit all. Try out different bikes and consult with an employee or volunteer who can size you correctly to a frame.
Once you have your bike, taking care of it is necessary to not lose your investment. Good economy or bad economy, bicycle thieves abound in all areas. The best way to protect yours is to store it inside your home, work or garage (door down, of course) anytime you aren't using it. This also keeps it from getting continually wet with dew and rain, which will cause the bike to rust.
If limited space or narrow stairwells prohibit inside storage, you must invest in a lock. Chris Phillips at the Durham Bicycle Chain says a cable lock alone should be fine during the day in an area with high foot traffic, but suggests using both a U-lock and cable lock to secure both the frame and the wheels of your bicycle if you plan to leave your bike outside overnight (even right outside your apartment). A porch overhang or a tarp can keep outside bikes from being dumped on, and regular tuneups (at your local bike shop or learned at one of the co-ops) will keep it clean and working smoothly.
Of course, the most important piece of any successful bike ride is you, the rider. Obey all safety laws, pedal smart and wear your helmet. Happy riding!