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Buyer's Guide to Mountain Bikes

 

Looking to put a little excitement into your life? Want to venture off road to escape traffic and congestion? Attracted by friends' tales of sweet singletrack and jaw-dropping overlooks? You've got the mountain-bike bug. Good for you. Now's a great time to be shopping and we've got a showroom full of sweet fat-tire flyers that'll satisfy all your dirt dreams.

Do A Little Homework First
Before you rush in and kick some knobbies, though, think about how and where you'll ride. If you've got mountain bikers for friends, you probably plan to ride with them, which is great because they know the best trails. Just ask and they'll give you an earful about what these rides are, and then we can set you up on a dialed-in rig that'll be perfect for your rides and budget.

Or, if you've got a biking background such as BMX riding and want to try a mountain bike, think about how you'll really use it. For example, if you're interested in popping wheelies, dirt jumping and freeriding, you'll want a different bike than the rider wanting to enjoy scenic forest loops.

If you're new to the world of off-road thrills and hills, find out more about the riding around here (or where you plan to ride). We can tell you about the area's best off-road routes and advise you on bike types and equipment that excels (starting right here!). You might consider asking to borrow a bike from a friend so you can try off-road cycling to get a feel for where and how you'll ride because this information will help you pick the right machine.

Choices Galore
You'll find that there's a fascinating range of off-road bikes and equipment; so much so, that shoppers are sometimes struck with analysis paralysis and have difficulty picking the right bike. We offer lots of tips in this article. But, it'll help you decide (and help us help you decide when you visit our store), if you spend some time contemplating your shopping tendencies. Knowing yourself and what you like is a fine way to narrow down the many new-bike possibilities and ensure that you get a winner.

Evaluate Yourself
What type of mountain biking suits you best?For example, are you the type who has to have the best or would you be happier getting reasonable quality at a pleasing price point? Do you like simple designs or are you infatuated with cutting-edge technology? Will you keep this bike for ten years or more or are you thinking that you'll upgrade as your skills and interests develop?

While you're soul searching, give some thought to how much you'd like to spend on your new bike. Shop our online catalog to view some models and see how prices vary. And, think about what you're comfortable spending. Keep in mind that you often need accessories with new-bike purchases, such as a helmet, gloves, shoes and cycling shorts. Because these will add to the bike's purchase price, include some extra in your budget.

Mountain Bike Types
Now that you've considered how you'll bike and have zeroed in on your buying tendencies, the next step is considering what type of off-road rig best suits your needs. To help, we've provided this simple chart to show what the different types of mountain bicycles offer:

Type Description Features Ideal Use
Rigid The basic no-frills mountain bike Comfy riding position, low maintenance All-around riding on both roads and trails; is very efficient on smooth, flat ground
Front Suspension Also called a Hardtail, it features a suspension fork All the features of the Rigid plus front suspension. Increased comfort and control for riding on rougher terrain
Full Suspension These MTBs sport front and rear suspension Front suspension fork, rear shock and probably disc brakes for superior braking Awesome comfort and better control for rugged trails; less impact on the body, too
Dirt Jumping These Hardtails have strong, low profile frames with short chainstays Built minimalistic and strong to handle numerous crashes, they are often Singlespeed and rear brake only Highly maneuverable with ample stand-over clearance
Freeride Medium travel, Full Suspension bikes designed with a slack, low-profile geometry Built for those who prefer descending and jumping, but also pedal to the top Ideal for gravity-fed jumps, terrain parks and downhill
All Mountain One of today's most-popular and versatile medium-travel Full Suspension bikes Pedaling efficiency, durability and medium-travel suspension All-around off-road riding from epic cross country to downhilling, these do it all
Downhill Rugged, fast Full Suspension bikes specifically built for riders who love to fly downhill Sturdy frames, forks, wheels and components and the longest travel Great for taking the ski lift up mountains and enjoying the trails down, racing, or for any extreme descent
29er Hardtail and Full Suspension bikes but with 29-inch wheels (larger than the standard, which is 26-inch) The larger wheels roll over obstacles better and provide additional traction
All-around and cross-country use
Singlespeed Rigid or Hardtail bikes with only one gear; made for simplicity, low maintenance and reliability Light, elegantly simple bikes with no shifters and derailleurs to foul up or breakdown All-around on- and off-road use; there are even Singlespeed XC races

Understand that within each bike type, there are various designs with significant differences. For example, if you're shopping for a full-suspension bike, you'll decide whether you want one with short-, medium-, or long-travel suspension; whether you want lightness and climbing efficiency; or a beefy frame and rugged components and wheels to withstand lots of air time and hard landings. If you can tell us where and how you plan to ride your new bike, we'll point out the key differences and explain why you might prefer one over the other. And we won't be surprised if over time you end up with several different mountain bikes. Many people do because they're all so much fun!

Frame Materials
Mountain-bike frames today are built of several materials. And, you'll find people who insist that theirs is the only way to go. But, don't put too much stock in one person's opinion. We have bikes at all price points and while their frame materials vary, we're confident you'll find a ride you love. That's what's most important, not what the frame is made of. Keep that in mind and don't decide until you've had a chance test ride some bikes.

Most of our mountain bicycles are built of aluminum, which is a great material for the job. It produces good-looking, affordable, responsive, lightweight and strong frames that won't rust. There are different grades of aluminum and different ways of forming aluminum tubing, which both result in different feels, so there are many aluminum designs and rides to choose from.

Aluminum and steel are common bicycle frame materials!There are also frames built of steel, carbon and titanium. Of the three, steel is the most traditional and least expensive material. Manufacturers still produce steel frames because it keeps the price down while offering excellent ride characteristics, reasonable lightness, and durability and repairability, too.

Carbon and titanium are costly materials and more difficult to build frames with, so they're found on more expensive bicycle models. Carbon frames are sometimes called "composites" because they're often comprised of carbon tubing and aluminum tubing and/or aluminum fittings. Carbon is actually a fabric that's saturated in glue and formed into tubes that are then built into a frame. Or sometimes the carbon sheets are placed in a mold and crafted into a monocoque design, which is essentially a one-piece frame. Because carbon is a fabric it's possible to align it in different ways, to layer it, to change the number of threads and to include different types of fibers, too, all of which allow designers to extensively fine-tune the frame to dial-in the ride.

The advantages of a carbon frame are super-light weight, excellent vibration damping and top-notch corrosion resistance. The shortcomings are cost and durability. But don't get the wrong idea: Carbon is extremely strong and under normal use will hold up as well as any other material. However, if you're prone to crashing and ride hard enough to bash your bike, you run the risk of your frame striking the ground or trees or rocks, and a severe impact could damage the structural integrity of the frame since carbon is more prone to impact damage than metal frames (these may dent but that's more a cosmetic than a structural problem).

Unlike carbon, titanium is a metal like aluminum and steel. This strong, light tubing makes a lively and comfortable frame. Also, because titanium frames are impervious to corrosion and rust- and scratch-resistant, they're often brushed or polished instead of painted, which means there's no paint job to worry about. Additionally, titanium holds up to abuse and hard riding quite well and, while not invulnerable, can handle a lot. The chief disadvantage is cost. Titanium frames tend to be among the most costly because titanium is expensive and difficult to work with.

Front suspension mountain bikes are also called hardtails.Suspension
Most new mountain-bike buyers purchase a model equipped with suspension. Ironically, even if you buy a rigid bike (one without front or rear shocks), you actually get a certain level of suspension thanks to the cushioning effect of the fat tires, which float over bumps (if you don't pump them up too hard).

It's likely, however, that you'll prefer the additional bump-busting ability of a bike with a suspension fork or one with front and rear shocks. These machines offer many advantages for trail riding. Because the wheels are sprung and can travel up and down, they remain in contact with the ground on even the most technical terrain. This results in more speed, traction and control and safer rides. Plenty of mountain bikers in fact, discover that they can easily ride trails they used to fear simply because they have a good suspension system.

Another wonderful thing about suspension is that it greatly reduces the amount of beating your body takes. If you're suffering from a stiff neck or sore lower back on rides, you'll be amazed at the difference a suspension makes. Jolts from big hits are absorbed by the shocks and never have a chance to slam your body so you finish rides relaxed and comfortable (think of the money you'll save on chiropractor bills).

Front or Full?
There are two main types of suspension mountain bikes, those with front suspension (called hardtails) and those with front and rear suspension (called full suspension). Deciding which to get is the bicycle world's equivalent of whether to buy a PC or Macintosh computer, though full suspension tends to be the more popular choice for most riders.

Ride the whole mountain on your bike!Traditionally, front-suspension mountain bikes have been lighter and a tad more efficient, which is why hardtails had pretty much dominated the cross-country racing scene. As weights have dropped and full-suspension efficiency has improved, even World Cup pros are pulling out fully suspended bikes for rough courses.

Because front-suspension bikes have only one shock, the frames are simpler than full-suspension models, which means they're lighter and a little easier to clean and maintain. There are also dirt-jumping hardtails made for air time, wheelies and urban assault (riding on and over obstacles you find almost anywhere), which feature low, beefy frames and suspension forks.

Full-suspension machines are becoming more the norm because they offer speed, comfort and control, which is so much fun that most people don't mind the slight weight penalty. Plus, any pedaling efficiency lost in the rear suspension system is more than made up in faster downhill and flat-terrain speeds. You'll also find your rear wheel sticking to technical climbs better than on a hardtail. And, you'll have more energy on long rides because you're taking less of a beating.

Short Or Long Travel?
There are different types of full-suspension bikes defined by the amount of travel the shocks provide and what the bike is designed to do. Short-travel models offer one to three inches of suspension to take the bite off the rough stuff while retaining impressive efficiency. They're popular for cross-country and all-around use.

Slopestyle and gated-racing bikes utilize about three to four inches of travel. The frame’s geometry, however, more closely resembles that of a dirt jumper. You're standing up off the seat when riding these bikes, and the ample stand-over height allows them to be highly maneuverable. These bikes fly fast and high on dirt jumps, drops and gated racecourses.

Two types of medium-travel suspension bikes are the all mountain and freeride. The former is great for riding challenging cross-country courses with its 4 to 6 inches of front and rear suspension. Plus, its efficient frame and components channel most of your energy into forward motion. The freeride bike has a frame that’s oriented more for downhill with steeper, technical descents and possibly drops and jumps. Full suspension bikes excel in rough terrain!It too climbs to the top, but its durable components and wheels may add extra weight.
Downhill bikes have long-travel suspension (7 to 10 inches) and are designed for descending steep and technical terrain. The slack head-tube angle and long wheelbase stabilize the bike at speed and over rough terrain. The plush suspension absorbs both fast chatter bumps and big hits. This bike is a beast to pedal uphill and is better suited for gravity-oriented rides.

We can show you some of these different bike types and demonstrate how they vary and how the different suspension systems and components work. The important thing is to think about how and where you'll be riding the bike to have an idea, which type of suspension and how much suspension you want/need.

Mountain biking with friends is a great way to spend the day!Component Choices
Today, most off-road bicycles come equipped with components from the major manufacturers Shimano and SRAM. Shimano makes a full line of components. So does SRAM, however, they make drivetrain components and shifters under the SRAM brand name, while their brakes carry the Avid brand name, and their crankset brand is TruVativ. Our chart below displays the various parts groups these companies offer, how they differ and what level rider each is designed to suit.

Note that, depending on the components you choose you may have an option of a double- or triple-chainring crankset. Choose based on your riding and shifting preferencesBicycle components today will amaze you!. A triple is the traditional mountain bike setup excellent for all-around use. Doubles are popular with competitive riders who prefer the simpler, faster shifting they offer. (Please ask us if you have any questions about the components on the bicycle you're interested in and we'll be happy to explain more.)

Keep in mind that bicycle companies don't always use the same level of components on a bike. For example, as a nice upgrade, sometimes they'll put on a Shimano XT rear derailleur on a bike that's mostly equipped with Shimano Deore components. And, you may also see bicycles with a mix of SRAM, Avid, TruVativ and Shimano components. Also, the larger bike makers like to "brand" their bikes by installing components made in house. So you'll often find pedals and cranks bearing the company's name or the name of their in-house brand.

Level

Shimano

SRAM

Features

Benefits

Entry Alivio X-3/X-4 8-speed cassette, great braking and shifting impressive function at a sweet price
Active Deore X-5 9-speed cassette, great braking and shifting, stylish looks better shifters, sleeker shapes, less weight
Sport SLX & SLX DynaSys X-7 & X7 9- or 10-speed cassette, great braking and shifting, light, durable sweet parts and price
Race Deore XT X-9 & X9 9- or 10-speed cassette, great braking and shifting, lighter, fine finish, durable shifts and brakes as good as the best, excellent durability, great looking, affordable, not as light as top-line parts
Race Deore XT DynaSys X.0 & X0 9- or 10-speed cassette, great braking and shifting, lighter, beautiful, durable works as well as the best, almost as light, excellent durability
Pro XTR XX 10-speed cassettes, phenomenal shifting/braking, super-light, gorgeous and ultra reliable world's lightest and highest-tech off-road parts groups, designed for awesome function, lightness, appearance and durability
DH/freeride Saint none 9-speed cassette, great braking and shifting, extreme durability Shimano's downhill/freeride-specific components


Rim Or Disc Brakes
In the past few years there have been impressive advances in brake designs and today you'll find amazing stoppers on every bike you buy. There are two types, rim (usually called "linear-pull," "direct-pull," or "V-brake") and disc (the common types are "mechanical-disc" and "hydraulic-disc").

Rim brakes are the traditional brake design that rub on the rim to slow and stop the bike. These work great, usually weigh less than alternatives and are simple to service and repair.

Rim brakes have some weaknesses, however. Because they rub on the rims, they gradually wear the rims, which may damage them in time. Also, muddy and wet conditions rapidly wear rim-type brake pads and also reduce gripping power, sometimes significantly.

For these reasons, many off-road bikes today come with disc brakes, which grip a disc (also called a "rotor") attached to the center of the wheel and work similar to some car brakes. These are affected less by wet and muddy conditions (so you don't lose much braking power) and they don't wear the rims so your wheels will last longer. Some models utilize hydraulics for awesome modulation, stopping power and reliability.

Like the brake pads on rim brakes, disc-brakes have brake pads (sometimes called shoes), that wear, too, however, these tend to last longer and hold up far better in muddy and wet conditions so the pads don't need replacing as often. Plus, with hydraulic discs, there are no cables to worry about so with just a little simple maintenance you have amazing brakes always at the ready.

Mountain bikes feature rugged wheels!Wheels
Mountain bikes come with impressively reliable wheels and tires that are designed to withstand the rigors of off-road riding. The rims are wide and shaped for optimum strength. And they're protected by fat tires containing a good cushion of air that prevents impacts from damaging the rims/wheels. Rider weight, terrain and technique are also factors in how long off-road wheels last. With just a little care, they'll run true for years.

Off-road tires provide awesome traction and control and they're soft enough to lessen the jolts you feel riding over ruts, roots and rocks. They're tough and reliable to cut down on punctures, too. But, if you're riding in super-rough or thorny areas, talk to us about additional tube protection for preventing flat tires. Sometimes it's just a matter of running the correct tire pressure. Other times you may need special tubes or sealant or heavier tires, but we can solve the problem and ward off those ride-ruining flats.

Wonder Wheels
All our mountain bikes comes with sturdy wheels you can depend on. As you spend more money the wheels get lighter because reductions here are most noticeable on the trail due to the fact that wheels are rotating weight. Strip a few ounces from the wheels and the bike will pedal much easier.

So, as you pay more, you see wheels with fewer spokes and lighter hubs and rims. At the highest price points, you get wheelsets, which have been custom designed and built to be super reliable and ultra light using such gee-whiz features as featherweight materials, fewer spokes, trick spoke lacing, and hidden nipples.

New bikes come with tires suited to the bike's intended purpose. Tires
Our MTB tires are spec'd by the manufacturer to handle the way they believe you'll ride that bike. So, a rigid mountain bike, which they think will see road and off-road use, might come with a dual-purpose tread that rolls smoothly on pavement but also delivers a decent dirt grip.

Our hardtails and full-suspension bicycles sport tires geared toward trail use with tread patterns that provide excellent traction, control and handling. Interestingly, these vary from heavy tread patterns to semi-slicks, which appear almost bald.

Tire choice is a function of where you ride. While speed or race-oriented riders might ride semi-slicks because they appreciate reduced rolling resistance and higher speeds, more riders prefer deeper tread for better grip on slippery surfaces.

If you're wondering how different tires work on the trails around here, just ask. We've ridden all the different rubber and can offer advice on how various tires handle.

Look Ma, No Tubes!
A great feature you'll find on high-end and mid-level bicycle models, is tubeless tires. They offer two significant advantages over conventional knobbies:

By eliminating the tube, pinch flats (a common puncture that's caused by a hard impact that pinches the tube against the rim) are eliminated. Even better, because pinch flats aren't possible, you can run lower tire pressures, which provide better traction, cornering, control and a more comfortable ride, too. As tire choices increase and the technology gets better, expect to see these tires on most bikes in the future.

A great-fitting bike is an extension of your body!Creature Comforts
You won't ride much if your bike doesn't feel right, which is why we spend time checking you to make sure you're on the perfect frame size before we start recommending bicycles. Three other important considerations are your contact points with the bike, the handlebars, seat and pedals.

Handlebars
You'll find two common handlebar types on mountain bikes, flat and riser bars. Flat bars sit lower (depending on the frame design and stem) and are slightly lighter. They're usually favored by cross-country and long-distance riders.

Riser bars come in different shapes, but they're all higher than flat bars, typically a little wider, and swept back a bit making them easier to reach. Riser bars let you sit a little more upright, and give you a wider stance from their greater width, which many people prefer on technical terrain and for downhill riding because it provides more control. You can get a feel for which you like by sitting on different bikes in our shop with the different bars and feeling them for yourself.

Seats
Here, it's mainly a matter of personal preference. The saddles on our bicycles are excellent but it's crucial that the one you get fits you properly and everyone's a little different. The best thing is to give it a try to see how it feels. Keep in mind that it takes several rides to get your body used to riding. It's also an excellent idea to ride in cycling shorts, which include a layer of padding in the crotch area and transfer moisture away for optimum comfort (regular shorts have seams in them that you sit on when biking causing numbness and pain). Don't worry, we have excellent cycling shorts that resemble your favorite baggies. There's no need to wear skintight Lycra shorts unless you want to.

Pedals
On basic mountain bikes you'll find basic pedals, sometimes simple, flat, platform models and sometime models equipped with toe clips and straps. These are perfectly adequate and comfortable for most all-around riding.

As you ride further or more athletically, clipless pedals will allow you to spin the pedals faster and put more energy into your cycling. Which is why on better mountain bikes, riders prefer clipless pedals. These require cycling shoes with cleats on the bottoms that lock your feet to the pedals when you step on them offering the ultimate in pedaling efficiency.

While the idea of being locked into your pedals my seem dangerous, it's as easy to get your feet out of clipless pedals as it is to get in. Just swing your heels to the side to "click" out of the pedals and get your feet down. It takes a little practice to get the hang of entering and exiting the pedals (we recommend practicing a lot standing next to the bike before doing any serious riding). But, once you've mastered the foot action, we think you'll love the additional control and efficiency of clipless pedals.

The exception is if you're purchasing a dirt jumper and intend on doing lots of stunts. Riders with these skills tend to prefer regular flat, platform pedals and standard shoes, too. If you're not sure what type of We'll help you every step of the way!rider you are yet, we're happy to show you the different pedals and help you decide what's right for your new machine.

Visit Soon!
We hope this overview helps you pick out a great new mountain bike. Feel free to surf around and kick some virtual knobbies on our website. And, please contact us if you have questions about anything in this article or anything else bicycle related.

Be sure to visit our store, too, where you can see all our bicycles up close and personal and take a test ride to actually try them out!

Happy shopping!

Buyer's Guide to Road Bicycles!

You couldn't pick a better time to shop for a new road bike. Today, manufacturers offer more models than ever in a wider variety of price points. And component companies make an exceptional array of top-notch wheels, brakes and shifting systems that operate like never before. For example, it's possible to get 20-speed drivetrains that shift blink quick, and wheelsets so light that pedaling is effortless. In fact, there are so many attractive choices today, that if you just walked into our store, you might be overwhelmed.

Don't be. Having a lot of choices is a wonderful thing because it drastically increases the likelihood you'll find the perfect bike — as long as you know a little about what's available.

To help, we've put together this comprehensive guide for finding the ideal road rig. We explain the decisions you need to make and offer advice on everything from frame materials and wheels to gearing and component choices. To start, though, you need to do some self analysis (therapist not required).

Answer These Questions
Before visiting our showroom, define yourself a bit. Consider how you'll use the new bike once you get it, as well as where you'll pedal once you've had the machine for a while. And ask yourself a few questions to figure out what model's right. Are you:

  • A new cyclist?
  • Into improving fitness (medium to long rides)?
  • Interested in touring?
  • Training for an event?
  • Getting into road racing or triathlon?
  • Thinking of commuting to work/around town?

Analyze Yourself
Also, consider how many miles you might log per week, or year. And think about your tendencies in purchasing other things. For example, do you demand the highest quality, or are you more apt to look for reasonable quality and lower cost? Do you dig trick, high-tech gadgets or are you satisfied with simpler designs? Additionally, it helps to know about how much you want to spend because that's a quick way to focus the selection process on the appropriate models.

    Answering these questions will ensure that you get the best bicycle. We'll be able to show you models with the right features for your needs, interests and budget. And you'll soon be sailing down the pavement with a big grin on your face. There are lots of fascinating variables in choosing a modern road bike. The rest of this article explains these choices so you'll have an easier time selecting your dream machine.

    Frame And Fork Materials
    Although over the years there have been such interesting designs as bamboo (still available!) and plastic frames, current road bikes are made of one or blends of these four materials: steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber (carbon). We get into the differences below.

    But first, realize that fine bicycles are built of all these materials. Also, two frames can be constructed of the same material yet have entirely different ride qualities due to differences in geometry, assembly, tube shapes, and material manipulation (reinforcing a tube, for example). Some bicycles have a sticker describing the materials and design of the frame.Which is one of the reasons it's so important to test ride and feel the bikes you're thinking of buying.

    A tip for inspecting frames: Look for a tubing decal on the seat tube or down tube. Sometimes manufacturers provide these and they usually help explain what brand and type of material is used in the frame. We're happy to elaborate if you have questions. Just ask.

    Steel
    The most traditional frame material, steel, has been used by framebuilders for well over a century. Many types of steel tubing are available and the material is easy to bend and shape. Plus, there are myriad methods of assembly making steel very adaptable to cyclists' needs. It also offers excellent ride quality, durability, is easily repaired and affordable. If there's a knock on steel, it's that it tends to be heavy when low-quality tubing is used (found on bikes sold at department stores). And, while there are new steels almost impervious to corrosion, most types can rust if treated carelessly (protect that paint job!).

    Entry-level steel-frame bikes are usually less sophisticated than those typically favored by discerning cyclists and steel fanatics. But, the affordability of the lesser steel frames usually allows you to get a better level of components. And, it's possible to make a fine-riding steel frame on a budget by cutting back on some of the frills that add cost. For example, such a frame might feature less-costly TIG welding and straight-gauge tubes compared to the fancier lug construction and butted tubes (varying tube wall thicknesses) on the higher-end model.

    High-quality steel frames integrate great design, superior assembly, and better alloys in the tubing. A popular quality steel for bicycle frames is American SAE 4130 steel, better known as "chrome molybdenum," and referred to as "chromoly" or "chrome-moly." And, there are plenty of other impressive alloys offered by tubing suppliers such as Columbus, Tange and True Temper. Frames built of these materials are famous for their combination of responsiveness and comfort.

    Steel is an excellent fork material. It can be formed into any shape; even aero ones. It's plenty strong. And, it also absorbs shock to soften rough roads. Steel forks are heavier than those built of lighter materials such as aluminum and carbon.

    Aluminum
    Aluminum was first used in frame construction in 1895. But, it didn't come into wide use until the 1980s when large-diameter tubing was conceived and construction processes were perfected. Now, it's the most popular of frame materials.Aluminum bicycle frames are light and relatively inexpensive. It's subject to the same variances in assembly and quality as steel. And, like steel, as you spend more, you get higher quality tubing and better construction.

    You may hear that aluminum has a more jarring ride than the other frame materials. But, while this used to be the case in its early years, it's not a problem today thanks to new aluminum alloys, tubing enhancements and improved construction techniques like hydroforming (shaping tubes with high-pressure water). These allow the frames to absorb shock better than ever while still offering the lively ride that makes aluminum so popular.

    This magic ride is attributed to aluminum being one of the lightest frame material. It makes aluminum frames great choices for racing and time trialing. And, unlike most steels, aluminum won't rust; another advantage.

    There are various types of aluminum tubing in use by manufacturers. Some common types are 6061 and 7005, numbers that refer to the alloys in the aluminum such as magnesium, silicon and zinc (pure aluminum isn't strong enough for bike use). And, there are some super-light tubesets such as scandium.

    Aluminum forks are generally stiff and light, and can be shaped aerodynamically. They also offer good vibration damping to smooth the ride.

    Titanium
    Titanium (also called "ti") is one of the longest lasting, lightest, and most expensive frame materials. Some cyclists and experts feel that it combines the best characteristics of all the other frame materials. It rivals aluminum in weight, is as comfortable as steel and it has a sprightly ride and electric handling that many riders swear by. Titanium road bikes have a great feel!The frames feel "alive," as if each pedal stroke gets a boost from an inherent springiness in the frame.

    Titanium is hard on metalworking tools, requires expensive titanium welding rod and must be joined carefully in a controlled environment. Consequently, titanium frames are expensive to produce, which helps explains their higher typical purchase price over aluminum and steel.

    The two common types of titanium are 3Al/2.5V and 6Al/4V. These designations refer to the amount of aluminum (Al) and vanadium (V) alloys used in the titanium. 6Al/4V is more expensive, lighter, harder to machine and stronger. But both titanium alloys are excellent; they may even be combined in a frame.

    Titanium forks are rare and very expensive due to the additional costs in material and construction. Also, because extra strength is needed in the fork steerer (the upper tube), ti forks usually outweigh other high-tech tillers. These two considerations are why most ti frames come with carbon forks.

    Carbon Fiber
    Carbon fiber (also called "carbon," "composite" and "graphite") is unique because it's not a metal. It starts out as a fabric (or sometimes just a thread that's woven into fabric) that's impregnated with a glue called resin. The resulting material can be turned into tubes or shaped in molds and is usually cured with pressure and heat, turning the material into a solid structure. Frames made of carbon are extremely light, stiff and durable.

    Carbon fiber can be shaped in numerous ways!Carbon's greatest advantage is that it can be manipulated essentially in endless ways (because builders can orient the fabric strands however they want), which means it can be fine-tuned to provide just about any ride qualities desired. So it's possible to achieve supreme lightness with outstanding rigidity (for maximum pedaling efficiency) and top-notch compliance for comfort, too. What's more, carbon is impervious to corrosion and can be built into beautiful shapes producing Ferrari-like looks.

    Like titanium, because construction is somewhat complicated, and because carbon fabric and resins are in high demand by other industries, carbon frames can be on the top end of the cost spectrum. To describe these frames manufacturers use terms such as "high modulus" and "void free," which tells you that it's high-quality carbon material and stellar construction. Sometimes, these designations appear on frame "tubing" decals.

    Carbon is a popular material for forks due to its lightness and natural ability to absorb shocks. Plus, carbon forks are built for optimum handling too. As you spend more money you get full-carbon forks. There are also carbon forks that use steel or aluminum for the steerer (the fork tube that's inside the frame). And, there are tapered carbon forks that are wider at the base of the steerer for enhanced handling.

    Wheels And Tires
    Not too long ago, when you bought a new road bike, you got fairly run-of-the-mill wheels comprised of decent rims, spokes and hubs. These wheels were reliable and worked just fine. But, they didn't really add any pizazz to your new two-wheeler.

    All that has changed. Today, many if not most road bikes feature wheels that are marvels of engineering. They're prettier, more aerodynamic, durable and light, sometimes super light. Why is this important, you ask?

    Because when you cut wheel weight, you drastically improve a bike's climbing, acceleration and handling. This happens because wheels are rotating weight. And this type of heft is felt most by the rider. In fact, a few-hundred grams reduction at the wheels feels more like a few pounds reduction. On the road, it's an amazing feeling, like suddenly dropping 10 pounds of body weight.

    Box- Versus Aero-Section Rims
    One difference in these new wheels is rim type. There are two basic designs named after their cross sections: conventional box-section rims (square or rectagonally shaped; right rim in photo) and aero-section rims (triangularly shaped; left rim in photo).The aero rim is on the left and the box rim is on the right.

    Box-section rims are light, accelerate quickly, and provide the most comfort. Aero-shaped rims are stronger, have less wind drag, and are stiffer (less comfortable). It's important to consider wheel feel when you're test riding bikes. You might prefer one type to another.

    When choosing a rim or wheel type it's also important to consider where and how you ride, as well as how much you weigh. For example, a 140-pound rider who spins leisurely mostly on rough pavement, will probably prefer a box-section rim for its additional comfort. But, a competitive 200 pounder on smooth roads will much prefer the stiffness and speed of aero-section hoops.

    There are many wheelsets on the market designed for general and specific types of riding. Most use minimal spoke counts (traditional wheels have 32 spokes), which cuts wind drag and wheel weight. Super-light wheels are excellent for climbing. Aero wheels are usually a little heavier and intended to cheat the wind for an advantage during long rides and time trials.

    Tire Talk
    Bike companies use a variety of different tires on their road models and usually, the tires are good for 1,000 to 2,000 miles, depending on your weight, riding style, and whether the tire is located on the front or back. So, the chances are pretty good that you'll be fine riding on the tires that come stock on your new bicycle.

    You might consider upgrading however, if the tires are the wrong width or design for your predominant type of riding. One important difference is bead type. Beads are found in both edges of the tire. They're the parts that grip the rim to hold the tire on the wheel. Less-expensive tires use wire beads, which add weight (remember that rotating weight is the most important kind). Better models have Kevlar (a super-tough fabric) beads.

    Tires with Kevlar beads are called "folding tires," and they're a great upgrade if you want lightweight wheels and lively handling. These tires cost more, so expect to pay for them. But, the additional expense is worth it if you want optimum ride quality.

    Another reason to swap tires is to get a different width. Tire width determines how much air it holds, which in turn decides ride softness. It also affects how the bike handles, and rolling resistance and durability.

    You'll find the tire's size written on its sidewall as "700 x XXc," where XX is the tire width in millimeters (700 refers to the nominal outside tire diameter in millimeters, a European standard called "700c"). We're happy to discuss tire ride differences with you. Here's how the sizes compare:

    Size What it's good for
    700 x 20c thin, primarily for time trails and lighter riders
    700 x 23c normal, for most conditions, racing and training
    700 x 25c thicker, longer wearing, more shock absorption
    700 x 28c thick, longest lasting, ideal for touring, commuting and heavy riders

    About 650c Wheels
    Some time-trial bikes, as well as some compact, smaller models come equipped with 650c wheels, which are smaller diameter than 700s. These are a little lighter and slightly stronger, and they accelerate faster than standard 700c wheels. But, 650c wheels sometimes ride a bit rougher (smaller, lighter riders can compensate by dropping tire pressure slightly), lose momentum a bit faster and cover less distance per revolution (strong riders will require taller gearing). So, if you're comparing bikes with both wheel sizes, be sure to test ride them to feel the differences for yourself. That's the best way to decide.

    Tubeless And Tubular Tires
    Most road bicycles today are equipped with tires called "clinchers," which contain tubes inside. These tires are held on the wheel with a mechanical fit. The tire beads "clinch" the rim.

    The top bicycle tire is a clincher, and the lower is a tubular.There's another type of tire found on some road bicycles and available for wheelsets with rims made for them. It's called a "tubular" and also known as a "sew-up," (you'll see why in a second). Tubular tires are common in professional road racing because they have a true round profile, which offers a slightly smoother ride than standard tires, something favored by those who spend entire days in the saddle.

    This round profile is due to the tubular's casing being sewn together at the bottom. There's a tube inside just like inside standard tires, but it's sewn inside, which means repairing flats requires a lot more work. (On the road, you simply replace the tire; to fix the tire, you must do minor surgery on it.) Besides the smoother ride, tubular wheels and tires are usually slightly lighter than standard models, too, because of the fact that tubular rims are simple box sections.

    Tubulars aren't common on our road bikes because of the hassles involved in fixing flats and also the fact that to mount the tires, you must glue them on the rims. However, if you're racing, you might like to give them a try. And, if that's the case you'll want to learn about tubular tire gluing and tire repair.

    The newest road tire type is "tubeless." Just like motorcycle and car tires, these are run without tubes, which eliminates pinch flats, saves a little weight and significantly improves ride quality. These, too, require a special rim, so bikes with wheels with tubeless-compatible rims will accept tubeless tires. This is because with tubeless tires the tire and rim fit together with an airtight bead lock. And, there are no holes inside the rim, and a special Presta valve that's installed in the rim. We expect to see tubeless on more road bikes in the future. Right now, they're only found on a few of our models.

    Component Groups
    You can always upgrade road bike components over time.The main companies making full lines of road components (sometimes called "groups" or "gruppos") are Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM. These makers offer different levels of components to suit the various rider levels from entry-level to pro racer. A group is typically comprised of brakes, hubs, chain, cassette, bottom bracket, crank, derailleurs, shifters and headset.

    Keep in mind that many road bikes come equipped with wheelsets, which include hubs so you may or may not get hubs from the same manufacturer as the rest of the components on your new bike. Also, some bicycle manufacturers make or have made their own components, and you might see these on a bike instead of the brand found on most of the other parts. And, it's a common practice to upgrade certain components where the company feels it's beneficial. So, for example, you might get the next-level rear derailleur on a bike as a way for the bike company to add a little extra value.

    Electronic Shifting
    The most recent advancement in drivetrain technology is electronic shifting.Electronic shifting uses small motors and a battery! First introduced to the mass market by Shimano, these shifters and derailleurs use lightning-fast electrical impulses to change gears. This shifting is reliably precise and quick. The integrated computer unit ensures that shifting is perfect for both the front and rear derailleurs by monitoring their position without sacrificing any shifting speed. And because there are no cables involved, contamination and cable stretch are non-issues. Surprisingly this technology only tacks on a handful of grams of weight too.

    Choosing Components
    As you spend more money, parts get lighter (with the use of less material; and carbon at the higher price points), and the bearing quality (bearings are what the hubs, headset, pedals and crankset spin on) improves. Higher-level components shift and brake slightly better, too — though even entry-level braking and shifting is exceptional on modern systems.

    So, how do you decide what to buy? It comes down to your price range and which group offers the features you want (i.e. weight, number of gears, appearance, quality). Usually, you can narrow it down to a couple of groups. And, at that point, a great way to decide is to ride and compare. If you can feel a difference in braking and shifting, go with the bike you like better.

    To help you understand what's what with modern parts packages, here's a brief overview (we're happy to go into detail so please contact us or visit if you'd like to learn more or have questions):

    Level Brand Components Drivetrain Comments
    entry Campagnolo Veloce compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs nice function and finish
    enthusiast Campagnolo Centaur compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs almost Athena-quality function and finish
    serious Campagnolo Athena compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs almost Chorus-quality function and finish
    race Campagnolo Chorus compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs almost Record-quality function and finish
    pro Campagnolo Record compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs almost Super Record-quality function and finish
    pro Campagnolo Super Record compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs among the world's lightest components
    entry Shimano Sora compact double or triple chainring w/9 cogs sweet shifting, braking and reliability at a nice price
    enthusiast Shimano Tiagra compact double or triple chainring w/9 cogs nice function and finish, lighter
    serious Shimano 105 compact double or triple chainring w/10 cogs almost Ultegra-quality function and finish
    race Shimano Ultegra compact double or triple chainring w/10 cogs almost Dura-Ace function and finish
    pro Shimano Dura-Ace compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs among the world's lightest components
    pro Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs Dura-Ace quality w/revolutionary electronic shifting
    enthusiast SRAM Apex compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs almost Rival function and finish
    serious SRAM Rival compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs almost Force function and finish
    pro SRAM Force compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs almost Red function and finish
    pro SRAM Red compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs among the world's lightest components


    Gearing
    Regardless of what bike you choose it won't be much fun riding it if the gearing isn't appropriate for your fitness level and where and how you pedal. Fortunately, all component groups offer a variety of different gearing options. And we can also modify things if needed to suit your needs. Here's what's involved:

    Chainrings and Cogs
    A combination of chainrings and cogs gives you a variety of gears.There are sprockets on the front and back of the bike. The fronts are called "chainrings" and they're located on the crankset, the part that the pedals are attached to. The crankset comes with 2 (called a "double") or 3 chainrings (called a "triple"). Triple cranksets include a small inner chainring (sometimes called a "granny") that offers easier hill-climbing gears. There are also cranksets called "compact" that have only 2 chainrings but have a smaller small chainring for easier climbing. These are more common than triples today.

    The sprockets on the rear of the bike are called "cogs," or, if you're referring to the entire cluster of gears, it's called a "cassette" or "freewheel." The cassette is attached to the rear wheel and drives the bike as you pedal. Depending on the components on the bike, there will usually be from 8 to 11 cogs on the rear cassette.

    How Many Gears?
    To figure out how many total gears are on a bike, simply multiply the number of chainrings by the number of cassette cogs. For example on a model with a triple crankset and a 10-cog cassette, you have 30 gears — quite an upgrade from the 10-speeds so popular years ago.

    How many gears to get depends on how and where you ride. If you're reasonably fit and bike in flat to rolling terrain, you'll probably be fine with a double chainring and 9 to 11 rear cogs. If it's hilly and you're getting into shape, consider a compact crankset. They provide the simpler double-chainring shifting up front with a small enough small chainring for easier climbing, too. Triple cranksets are an option for those who climb high and aren't super strong, too. The third chainring (sometimes called the "granny gear") offers even easier climbing than the compact crankset's smallest chainring.

    When considering how many rear cogs to get, keep in mind that you'll have plenty of gears even if you get a 9-cog cassette. If you go to a bike with more cogs (you can't increase the number of cogs unless the bicycle accepts that cassette), you can either choose a wider range of gears or more-closely spaced gears. The latter is excellent for racing and training because it makes it easier to fine-tune pedaling effort. Wider gearing offers easier low gears so it's ideal for mountain riding and for when you're not in tip-top shape.

    How the Gears Feel
    To figure out how easy it is to pedal the gears, you have to know a little more about the chainrings and cogs. They are referred to by the number of teeth on them. So, you might read in bike specifications about 39/53 chainrings and 12-23 cassettes. This means that the small chainring has 39 teeth and the large has 53 teeth and that the cassette has a small cog with 12 teeth on it and a large one with 23. Meanwhile, a compact drivetrain could have a crankset with 34- and 50-tooth chainrings and the cassette might be the same 12-23. To know the size of every cog and chainring, you usually have to count each one (cogs and chainrings are often marked but the marks can be hard to see).

    Know Your Numbers
    Don't let the numbers confuse you. Make sure you have a gear that’s adequate for your toughest climb!The key thing to know is that for chainrings, larger numbers mean it's harder to pedal and vice versa. For cogs, it's the opposite: the larger the number, the easier it is to pedal and vice versa. By keeping these rules in mind, you can quickly see that a 30/42/52 triple crankset and a 12-30 cassette will offer much easier gearing than a 39/53 double with a 12-23 cassette.

    Pondering A Compact Or A Triple 
    Many people wonder whether or not they need a compact crankset or a triple crankset. Our advice is that it depends a lot on how and where you ride. If you like the hills, ride fairly long distances, sometimes carry gear and aren't training all the time to be in optimum fitness, a compact is a nice way to go. You get the easy shifting of a double crankset with gears that make most climbs manageable.

    A triple crankset gives you a third, even smaller chainring than what's on a compact crankset. So, it's great if you scale steep climbs, carry loads and travel long distances. Even if you don't use the small chainring all that much, it can be a lifesaver at the end of a long ride when a tough climb stands between you and home. Triple-chainring drivetrains shift slightly more slowly than doubles, which is a consideration if you're riding for a good time in a century, for example.

    If you're not sure which is right for you, we recommend coming in and trying the various drivetrains to feel how they work for you. It's also helpful to talk to your friends who ride and see what they recommend since you'll likely be hitting the road with them and enjoying similar rides.

    12-25flat-to-hilly12-28flat-to-mountains

    Cassette Considerations
    You also need to decide on the range of gears on your rear cassette. In the table to the right is a guide to some commonly available sizes and what they're designed for:

    The Fun Part
    Now that you have an idea how to decide what type of road machine to get, it's time to come into our store and do some tire kicking and test riding to see how the models compare in person. This will complete the picture and give you a chance to see what you get at the various price points. Here are a final few helpful tips:

    Shopping Guidelines

    • Buy once. It's less expensive to get the frame, wheels and components you want initially than to upgrade later.
    • Proper fit is much more important than getting a good deal. And only by coming in to see us can we size you and ensure that you're looking at the right size bicycles.
    • Manufacturers pack as much value as they can into each bike model. But, sometimes compromises are made in component specification or frame quality to reach a more attractive price point. If a bike you're interested in has parts or features that appear to be uncharacteristic for its price, try to figure out if any corners were cut. Or ask, and we'll explain why the price is so good.
    • It's best to pick out the features and components that best meet your needs, then see what the bike costs.
    • Be prepared to spend a little extra because usually you'll want a few important accessories with a new bike such as a bottle and cage, a cyclo-computer, a new helmet, etc. Also, if you don't already have pedals, you may need to purchase these too.

    Thanks for reading. We look forward to helping you select the perfect road bicycle!


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