1. Know the kind of riding you’ll do, and get the right bike. Do you love the rugged off-road trails? A mountain bike is the way to travel. Do you like the styling and the seating comfort of a mountain bike but plan to ride mostly on pavement? Get a less-rugged commuter bike with solid-center treads. If distance and speed are your goals and you’ve got your eye on competitive racing, consider a more aerodynamic choice: A road bike.
2. Get a bike that fits you. Many department stores offer bikes in one frame size and try to adjust the seat height and the tire size to make the bike “fit” every customer.
Don Massey, owner of Oxford Bicycle Company, said, “Someone who is 5’2″ gets the same size bike a 6’2″ person gets.”
By contrast, a bike shop offers custom-sized frames ranging from 13 1/2 inches to 24 inches on mountain bikes, and other sizes can be special ordered. Mike Olmstead, owner of Bicycle Shop & Racquets Inc. in Tupelo, said the 16- to 18-inch frame is the most common. (A rider should be able to straddle the bike’s top tube and leave 2 to 3 inches clearance over the bar.) Tires are standard sizes.
“Getting a frame that fits you is important because it can be set up to be the most comfortable,” Olmstead said.
3. Decide on a price range. A true mountain bike will start around $400, and you can watch the price climb and head for the hills after that.
4. Pick a manufacturer. Your bike shop dealer can help distinguish between the features emphasized differently in similarly priced brands, said Brian Piazza, owner of Paceline Bicycles in Tupelo.
5. Pick the component package that suits you. Do you want to shift gears using the more common Grip Shift (twisting a portion of the handlebar like the throttle on a motorcycle handlebar), or do you like using a trigger shift with its thumb-and-index-finger pincer movement? (Hint: Don’t let this option dissuade you from picking a bike you otherwise love. Olmstead said this can be changed out.)
Do you want suspension? Bikes are available with partial (front) or full suspension for a cushier ride. The option makes a big difference for off-road riding and even for commuters who jump the occasional curb. Expect to pay more for this. Olmstead has one full-suspension bike for $814, and Piazza said suspensions also can be added to an existing frame.
It’s been a popular option, especially among the aging Baby Boomer crowd, Olmstead said. “They just like the comfort. It just doesn’t rattle their bones as much.”
Also ask about brand names, features and durability of other components.
6. Ask about the warranty and availability of expert in-house service. Massey said this is a major feature for bike owners to consider, and he said bike shops can provide the expert repair and maintenance work that more diversified general department stores cannot.
7. Try it out. Ask for a bike test ride in the store’s parking lot, Olmstead said.
8. Get the necessary tools and know how to use them. For example, the bike shop can demonstrate how to change a flat or use a chain tool to repair breaks; these are skills every roadworthy cyclist should know. It’s particularly important for those who’ll be biking on distant trails.
9. Know how to practice safe, comfortable biking. Get a helmet, gloves, cycling shorts and water bottle for maximum safety and comfort.
10. Find a good place to ride. If you’re into touring, try roads with lighter traffic. Some cyclists prefer the Natchez Trace, while others enjoy scenery along Mt. Vernon Road in Tupelo.
For off-roading adventure, trails around Natchez Trace Lake in Pontotoc lure a mixture of cyclists, horseback riders, motorcycle fans and hikers, Olmstead said.
Stephen Valliant, a bike mechanic at Base Camp in Oxford, recommends the estimated 20 miles of trail on University of Mississippi land just off Old Taylor Road in Oxford. (It includes old logging roads and narrow footpaths.) National and state parks are also good choices if the biker treats the trails with respect and doesn’t damage the paths. Valliant’s favorite off-road trail site is Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County.
For other off-road trail recommendations and information on races, call the bike shop nearest you.