I got my current bicycle three years ago, when I moved to the East Coast from California. It was one of the first things I bought after I moved into my new apartment, ranking higher on my priority list than a couch or flatware. Spoons could wait. The bike could not.
Like most of my possessions, I got it used on Craigslist. It’s a steel frame Trek road bike, forged sometime in the early '80s. The man who sold it to me was the owner of a local cycling store who made a hobby of acquiring old, rusted frames and restoring them to their former splendor, adding shiny new derailleurs, brakes and wheels until they looked precisely as they did during the Reagan administration.
I adore it, and credit much of my affection for the sport to this particular vehicle. Finding the right bike can mean the difference between loving cycling and, well, driving, and to that end, Patch is here to help you out.
Road Bike: As the name implies, road bikes are built for the road. They’re defined by their thin tires and drop handlebars, and will get you need to go in a hurry.
Pros: Consistently late for work? Enjoy the thrill of racing (and beating) other denizens of the roadways? Consider a road bike. Bonus: Riding a road bike represents the only socially acceptable opportunity to wear spandex in public.
Cons: The skinny tires on a road bike mean you will feel every twig, hunk of concrete and discarded piece of gum that you happen to meet on your journey. They’re delicate and are likely to pop if you thunder mindlessly over a grate or battered stretch of road. And while being hunched over your handlebars will certainly make you more aerodynamic, it won't do wonders for your back.
Mountain Bike: If you had a bike as a kid, odds are good that it was a mountain bike. Mountain bikes have thick, hardy tires and stout, bulky frames good for off-roading (or navigating the pitted streets of New York) and upright handlebars more conducive for the casual commuter.
Pros: Even if you’re riding on the road (as opposed to an actual mountain), these bikes offer a low-key, comfortable journey. Though they range greatly in price and quality, a mid-range mountain bike tends to be less expensive than its road-centric counterpart.
Cons: Do you dream of one day meeting Lance Armstrong at a stoplight and casually challenging him to a 5-mile sprint, first one to the water wins? Forget it. Do you dream of one day challenging an elderly armadillo to a 5-mile sprint, first one to the water wins? Forget it. What mountain bikes have in durability, they sorely lack in agility and speed.
Commuter Bike: To be fair, “commuter bike” is a blanket term for an entire species of bikes, in the same way that the word “dog” absurdly applies to Chihuahuas and Rottweilers alike. For the purposes of this column, roadsters, Dutch bikes, and almost anything to which you can strap a basket or back rack qualifies as a commuter bike.
Pros: Commuter bikes were perfected in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, two cities in which bikes dominate the road and no amount of children or groceries is too great to shuttle down the cobbled streets on two wheels. Commuter bikes, generally, are designed to be lightweight, convenient, and enable you to not only combat the hazards of the road, but lug a bunch of stuff around while you’re doing it.
Cons: Commuter bikes simultaneously lack the rugged quality of mountain bikes and the speediness of road bikes, meaning they’re excellent for their stated purpose, and not much else. And despite their relative simplicity, they're not cheap.
Fixed Gear: Fixed gears traditionally dwell in the flannel-covered dreamscape of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and certain parts of Manhattan. There is little information on whether they can survive outside of their natural habitat, as few beyond the hipster ranks have ever deigned to ride one (exception: these guys.)
Pros: Though they’re notoriously impractical, fixed gears are said to be extremely fun. What’s more fun than a bike without brakes?! They also tend to look sleek in ways in which the average gear-laden road bike can only huffily dream.
Cons: You have to look like this.