You want to buy a bike, and are looking for advice. Great - you have come to the right place. We're a pretty helpful bunch, but we are not going to spoonfeed you and do your work for you. So before you ask a question like "I have Rs XXk to spend, what bike do I buy", pease read this in detail. This will help you understand a few concepts and will help you ask more informed questions, which in turn will generate more useful answers.
Fellow BZers - please feel free to add meaningful content, different opinions, etc to the end of this post to provide a broader spectrum of views. Let's try to keep all the posts in this thread content-rich for beginners who are reading it, and minimize non-relevant content.
STEP 1: DECIDE UPON YOUR USAGE - WHAT WILL YOU USE THE BIKE FOR
In theory, there would be 1 bike that does everything well. In theory, Katrina Kaif and Angelina Jolie should also be fighting over me. Alas, reality can be irksome. Angelina is not interested in fighting over me and no single bike does everything either. You can try to get a bike which tries to do a bit of everything, and end up with a compromise that does nothing well, or you can be honest with yourself and decide what the primary function of the bike is going to be, and get something suited for that.
So here are some potential uses (we will get into bike types, features, etc in more detail later):
(a) Commuting or general usage -- it is a good way to get exercise, be environmentally-friendly and save money as well. A commuting bike will focus on comfort, have space to carry a change of clothes/briefcase, have mudguards and will be easy to ride in a city
(b) Fitness -- a fitness bike is likely to be ridden on tarmac and pretty much any bike can be used for this purpose. You can look a the list of bike features later and decide what works for you
(c) Racing/long rides -- here, the emphasis is on efficiency, comfort and speed. Usually, you want a bike designed for road use.
(d) Off-road riding -- if you want to ride trails, climb hills, fly down dirt tracks, you want a mountain bike.
And sometimes, the answer may be to buy 2 bikes that specialize in 1 area each, rather than 1 bike that does neither well.
STEP 2: DECIDE UPON YOUR BUDGET
Now, this gets tricky. A lot of people have a price expectation of bicycles that is based on the Rs 1500 Hero cycles that are common everywhere. The fact of the matter is, high-quality bikes are not cheap. A top-end hardtail mountain bike runs $3000 or Rs 1.5 lakhs. A top-end full-suspension bike runs Rs 2.5 lakhs. Top-level racing bikes range from Rs 1.5 lakhs to Rs 6 lakhs. Dont run away... I am not saying that you have to spend this much money to buy a bike. I am just saying that bikes are pretty high-tech pieces of equipment, something that is not immediately obvious to a newcomer who has only seen the iron behemoths that are prevalent in India.
What your extra money generally gets you is:
- lesser weight
- higher quality components: suspension (high-quality suspension, front or rear, is NOT cheap), better wheels (roll faster/lighter), smoother gear shifting, etc
I will talk about specific price points in a separate post b/c that is more subjective and my opinion may be different from other people's opinions. But generally speaking, there are 2 approaches here: one is to get an inexpensive bike so that you know whether or not you are really into it. The other is to get as nice a bike as you can afford - this is not only cheaper in the long run, but also - if you have a nicer bike, you are going to enjoy riding it a lot more. Sometimes, a really low-end bike, especially one loaded with useless features and junk components, can actually put you *off* biking. Anyway, you now know the tradeoff and are intelligent enough to figure out how much you can afford.
STEP 3: SELECT YOUR REQUIRED FEATURES
From section (2) above, it should be clear that for a given price point, the more features you want, the less the quality of each of those features is going to be. And if you want a lot of features and high quality in each of them, you are going to have to pay more. So be careful about selecting features that you really NEED, as opposed to WANT. Sometimes, it is better to have fewer, higher-quality features than a lot of features of shoddy quality. Of course, there is also the argument that sometimes having a bike that you really like can inspire you to ride more - lot to be said for that, but if you think you fall in this category, loosen up those purse strings.
So let's now talk about features and where you need them.
(a) Rear Suspension: Let me keep it simple. You dont need it. Full suspension is for extreme trail riding, with lots of roots, rocks and bumps and a good full-suspension design is *not* cheap. If you are on BikesZone as a first-time bike buyer, and your budget is under Rs 1 lakh, avoid rear suspension like the plague. It is going to suck, it is going to make your bike heavier and so slower and it will NOT make the ride any more comfortable. Trust me on this.
(b) Front Suspension: You need front suspension ONLY if you plan to ride a lot of trails. You do not need front suspension to ride on tarmac, no matter how potholed it is. Yes, it helps a little on rough roads but imposes a weight penalty, cost penalty (top-end full suspension forks cost over Rs 35,000 - even a decent budget fork costs over Rs 10,000), handling penalty and speed penalty (not as efficient as a rigid front). You *especially* don't want a cheap front suspension -- it has all the disadvantages above and doesnt even work very well. Tire type, tire pressure and choice of bike frame (steel vs aluminum) will make a bigger difference in ride quality. In mountain biking, one of the hottest new bike styles is a rigid (ie, no suspension whatsoever) steel bike. If expert MTBers can use this to ride trails, you can use a rigid bike to ride on the road. Yeah, I know - where you live, the roads are crap. Newflash - that is true for most of us in India. Trust me, you dont need suspension to ride on these roads.
(c) Disc brakes: Disc brakes are nice to have, but by no means a necessity. Remember those Rs 5 lakh racing bikes I told you about? They dont have disc brakes and they are ridden a lot faster than you or I can manage. Disc brakes are useful in the sense that they work better in rain and mud (esp mud) but by using proper techniques, you can stop quite well with rim brakes as well (and besides, unless you are a loco MTBer, how fast are you going to be riding in the wet anyway?). Good rim brakes are better than cheap disk brakes, are easier to adjust, easier to maintain and better value, especially if you are on a budget.
(d) Bike frame: Most modern frames are made of Aluminum these days b/c it is lighter (high-end frames for racing are made of carbon fiber, but I am assuming you are not at the stage of spending Rs 1.5 lakhs on a bike yet). But steel is making a comeback and for a good reason - steel absorbs road vibrations a lot better and so makes the ride a lot more comfortable (atleast in the sub-Rs 50k bike range). A steel bike with a steel fork in the front (so no suspension) can actually be a lot more comfier than a cheap Al bike with crappy front and rear suspensions. Yes, you pay a weight penalty compared to a similarly-specced Al bike, but unless you are racing (and often, even then), the tradeoffs can be worth it.
(e) Tires: Tires typically come in 2 flavors: 26" diameter, which are the fat bad boys that go on mountain bikes and are used for off-road riding, or 700c, which are the larger, skinnier tires that you see on road bikes and which are intended for tarmac use. There is a second number along with this, representing the width of the tire (in inches, for 26" tires or mm for 700c tires). So a sample tire may have its size given 26x2.0 or 700x25. Typical mountain bike tires tend to be in the 2.0-2.2 thickness range (thinner tires are more for racing). In road bikes, 700x23 and 700x25 tires are for racing, 700x28 to 700x32 tires are for general use and 700x35 or fatter tires are for touring, where you are carrying 15kg+ of cargo on the bike.
Everyone likes those big, fat mountain bike tires. They look bad-ass. They look big (and we are mostly guys, so bigger is better...). They look hardcore. And they are great for off-road riding, where they provide extra cushioning and oodles of grip.
However, on tarmac, skinny tires roll a lot faster (with less effort, to boot) and can have a deceptive amount of grip: a lot of people avoid them b/c they are afraid of falling or skidding out, but that fear is unfounded. It does take a ride or two to get used to them, and the difference in speed compared to a mountain tire is mind-blowing (I say this from personal experience, having compared the basic, low-end 700c tires on my road bike to the high-end racing trail tires on my MTB - the cheap 700cs destroy the MTB tires on the road. It isnt even a contest). So if you want to go fast, get skinnies.
However, fat tires add a big degree of comfort. Larger air volume + lower pressures == built-in suspension and a plush ride. If you are going to be riding relatively short distances, or comfort is more important than going very fast, then get fatter tires. Try to get them in a slicker tread (less knobs) if you are going to be riding on the road, to reduce the rolling resistance - you dont need heavy knobs for road riding.
(f) Handlebars: A lot of people prefer straight handlebars (which are used predominantly in Mountain Bikes). The benefit of those is that you ride in a more upright position, which can be comfier, especially if you are not very flexible or have a few extra pounds on the waist. A lot of people are also put off the thought of drop bars (those curved, rams horn like bars you see on racing bikes), thinking that they are harder to handle, and you need more practice/skills in order to manage. Rubbish. It takes 1 ride to get used to drop bars. Drop bars give you a few more hand positions, which is nice for extended rides. And if you want to go fast, drop bars let you get into a lot more aerodynamic position and let's face it, they look pretty cool to see and to ride - even for a staunch MTBer like me, there is a great thrill of being hunched over in the drops and flying at speed. Ultimately, however, go with what makes you comfortable - just make sure you get it for the right reasons and not based on misconceptions that one is harder to manage than the other.
(g) Gears: Gears are good. If you are riding mainly in flat terrain, you dont need too many gears (or even any gears). But if you want to ride hills, gears are your friend. Gears are advertised in a range of numbers, with 24 speed or 27 speed being quite common these days. These are typically written as 3x8 or 3x9, which means 3 gears at the pedals, and 8 or 9 gears in the rear. More gears typically means smaller spacings between each gear, not necessarily a greater *range* of gears. This means that with more gears, you are better able to fine-tune and get the perfect gearing for any situation - it doesnt mean that it will necessarily become easier to climb a big mountain with a 27 speed geared bike vs a 24 speed geared bike.
Also, without getting into a lot of details on gear ratios, even a 27 speed geared bike really has around 14 distinct gear ratios, more or less - there is a lot of overlap, and there are some combos which are not supposed to be used. So dont fret too much about the number of gears - focus, instead, on how easily the gears shift (especially the ones in the front - those tend to be a bit temperamental, especially with budget gear shifters).
STEP 4: SOME RECOMMENDATIONS:
When you go to a bike showroom, it is hard to not get seduced by mountain bikes. They are amazing pieces of technology, they are brawny, they look cool and they had macho names like Sultan, Jet, Leviathan and more. Road bikes are slim, svelte and have names like Pista, Madone and Roubaix. So naturally, you are going to want to buy a mountain bike.
Umm. Think again. Are you REALLY going to be bashing around on mountain trails? REALLY? Or will you just do it once or twice, and then stick to using this bike as an urban commuter? Remember what we started this thread with - know thy intended usage.
If you want to go trail riding, by all means buy a mountain bike. Expect to pay atleast Rs 15,000+ (Rs 20k+ if you are heavier than 70kg) for a good, trail-worthy mountain bike with front suspension that works, and which is robust enough to withstand the shocks and impact of trail riding. The more rough your intended trails, the more money you will need to spend, but for most beginners, this is a good starting point. Yeah, there are cheaper options but they will more or less suck. Companies to look at: Trek & Cannodale are 2 top global brands in India - they may cost a little more than generic brands, but you will get a quality product that works well (compared to a lot of other bikes which look like mountain bikes but which will die within half an hour on the trail). Merida is the world's largest manufacturer of bikes and is also a good option to consider, although it is not as much of a premium brand as the other 2. If you are on a tighter budget, then consider the B'twin Rockrider bikes sold by Decathlon. Some of the specs look good, but there is a lot of generic componentry on them as well and there isnt a lot of feedback on these bikes yet. Avoid Firefox for actual trail riding. I have yet to see a Firefox bike that I would take on a trail. I'd much rather walk, thank you very much.
If you want to race/go fast, get a road bike. These are not going to be cheap. Expect to spend north of Rs 30k for a Merida, closer to Rs 40k for a Trek or Cannondale. But now you are getting a bike that is built for speed and with components that, while on the budget end of the scale, will still give you years of service and performance. Cheaper options include LA Sovereign (no reviews of it, however) or Firefox (couple of happy users here on BZ).
However, most people seem to be looking for a bike that they can use to go to work, to ride around for exercise and maybe even go on an occasional trail or two, but primarily use on tarmac - a general-purpose bike. For such people, the ideal bike is a hybrid bike, which combines the best of both mountain bikes and road bikes. Some features of hybrids:
- thinner tires than found on a mountain bike (but fatter than on race-oriented bikes) - typically 700x28-700x35 or 26x1.5-26x1.8 slicks, depending on the wheelset. This gives you a good mix of speed and efficiency.
- upright handlebars - comfier position
- front suspension or all rigid - on a cheaper end, you want all-rigid; at a higher budget, you can go for a front sus if you want, but remember what I rode earlier: it is a tradeoff.
Bianchi and Trek both make good hybrid bikes for a fairly reasonable price of approx Rs 20,000 or so and these are again, international-standard bikes.
To use a car analogy: Mountain bikes are the SUVs of the bike world - powerful, tough, go-everwhere bikes. And just like SUVs, a lot of people buy them to ride on tarmac... which works, but there are other choices which are better for this application. Road bikes are the convertible sports cars of the bike world - fast, sporty, not very practical for general usage (but daaaammmn, did I mention "fast"? As in, put-a-grin-on-your-face-and-make-you-think-you're-Lance fast?). Hybrids, on the other hand, are the minivans and sedans on the bike world. More utilitarian, good value for money, practical for daily usage, etc.
Hopefully, now you have a good idea of what features you need, etc. etc. I am hoping other users will chime in with suggested buys in the Rs 5000, 10,000, 15,000 and Rs 20,000 range.
I will end with an editorial. A lot of people think we are insane to spend the money we do on bikes. My friend, who lives and drives in Delhi, is planning to buy a Ford Endeavor (when he can get by with a Zen) and shakes his head in puzzlement at my mountain bike's price, even though my bike costs a LOT less. My response to that - I ride my bike daily, it keeps me fit, it gets me outdoors, it reduces my carbon footprint and it is FUN.
Compared to the many other things we spend so much money on (clothes, mobile phones, cars, holidays, etc), a bike is shockingly good value. And if you buy a good bike, you are more inclined to ride it, have fun and stay fit. Something to think about...
A REQUEST TO PEOPLE READING THIS THREAD:
I hope you found this FAQ useful and that it helps you find a properly-sized bike.
I am ok if people PM/email me with any specific questions they have about what I wrote here. However, please do not get all excited and send me an email asking me "what bike to buy" or something like that, which defeats the entire point of the FAQ. I cannot, and will not, give specific advice on bikes for you.
For one, I dont have the time to answer every email on this topic or to look through the specs of the bikes you are considering and help split hairs as to the difference between Acera and Altus or whatever. Second, I dont know what current entry-level models, what their specs are or what the differences between them are. I haven't bought an entry-level bike for 4+ years, nor do I keep up with it.
And if you do send me an email asking for advice/clarification, please do your homework first.
Sorry for the curt nature of this post. I do want to help (which is why I wrote the damn FAQ in the first place), but I've had it with people sending me emails going "thanks for the FAQ. I need guidance about what bike to buy, what prices, what location. Expecting a speedy reply" [summary of a recent email I just received]
It is not my job to be your personal shopper or to spoonfeed you, and this demanding tone of voice irritates me.
Last edited by Minkey Chief
on November 14th, 2012, 12:52 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Reason: 1. Made sticky, formatted. 2. Edited on request by author. 3. Added message at end
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