Information for new cyclistsThis page is intended for those new to cycling or just thinking about getting into it. The information is intended to be a starting point for additional research. It is in no way intended to be comprehensive and it does not replace talking to someone at a bike shop.
Written by Chris. Last Updated 5/22/2022.
- Mountain - Good if you'll be riding mostly off of pavement on rough terrain. They are OK on pavement, but they'll be slower than hybrid or road. Note: If you want a mountain bike for actual off-road mountain biking trails (rough terrain), this page will not be the best resource for you.
- Hybrid/Fitness/Dual-Sport - a mix of both mountain and road bike. Faster gearing and wheel sizes closer to a road bike, but a more comfortable upright seating position like a mountain bike. Versatile bike for recreational cyclist or commuter as it travels well on pavement, but can handle some light gravel trails and dirt roads as well.
- Road - Designed for more speed on pavement. Body position is leaning forward more and optionally tucked for better aerodynamics. Gravel bikes are an interesting sub-category here as they can go more places than a traditional road bike, though they will be slower. GCN video guide for buying first road bike
- Proper size - Very important! Bikes are measured by frame size and are generally designed for people with specific inseams and overall height. A bike that fits you will be more comfortable to ride, so you'll enjoy it more and want to spend more time riding it.
- Axle Type:
- Quick Release - allow for quick removal for transportation or fixing a flat. Does not require any tools.
- Thru-Axle - Similar to quick release. Requires an allen key from your multi-tool or may come with one.
- Bolt-on - not ideal... you need a big wrench to remove the wheel for transport or fix a flat
- Weight - A lighter bike will be easier to handle when riding and when transporting. If it's too light, you might need to be more careful when transporting. i.e. if the tubes have thin walls, you should avoid hanging type racks.
- Transportability - if you plan to travel with your bike, you'll either need to be able to stow it in your car (see axle types above) or purchase a car carrier. The cheapest car carriers require the bike to hang from the frame, so you'd want a top tube that's somewhat level, not too wide, and sturdy.
- Number of gears - Aim for at least 7 sets of gear cogs on the back wheel. 2-3 up front by the pedals is normal. If you're going to be climbing a lot of steep hills, you might care about gear ratios.
- Brand - Name brands will generally have better components, be more repairable, and will therefore last longer. Name brands frequently offer a strong warranty on the frame itself for the original owner.
- Brake type - Rim brakes have been around for decades and are cheaper, but the future is disc brakes. Each have their pros and cons.
- Shifter type:
- Hybrid/Mountain bikes will either have grip (twist) shifters or trigger (finger) shifters. Some might find the grip shifters difficult to twist, especially kids.
- Modern road bikes have shifters integrated with the brake levers for easier/safer shifting. Other designs require you to move your hands away from the brakes to shift.
- Rack/fender mounts - You'll need a frame with mount points if you want to add these accessories.
- Pedals - High end bikes frequently do not come with pedals, because there are so many different types and everyone has their own preferences. Pedal Types
- Freehub? - If you're going ride your bike thousands of miles, you'll need to replace the rear gear cogs from time to time. This is cheaper if the rear wheel has a freehub/cassette rather than a freewheel.
- Woman's Specific Design (WSD) - A real WSD will often have a different saddle, handlebars, stem, and/or crank length, designed to be more comfortable for most women. WSD does not necessarily mean that it will have a "step through" frame, which honestly just makes it harder to mount the bike onto a car carrier. WSD is not necessarily required. Watch a GCN video on WSD
- Avoid Walmart/Target/etc - Adult bikes are usually only sold in one size at these stores. Bikes from these stores are usually heavier, lower quality using older/undesirable technology/features, and are generally assembled very poorly. Be prepared for wheels that are grossly out of true (not straight), brakes that don't spring back, gears that aren't indexed, general improper torque (tightening) on everything. This means the bike will be unsafe. (more info)
- Sporting Goods Store (Dick's, L.L. Bean, REI) - The quality of the bikes are OK and should be assembled better than Walmart/Target if they have an actual maintenance section of the store. However, you're still likely to find wheels that aren't true.
- Online store - avoid unless you know what you're doing. Not only do you need to determine the right size, but you'll need to put it together properly.
- Private Sale (Craigslist, FB Marketplace, eBay, etc) - Many listings don't include the frame size. Sellers may think their bike is worth more than it is, and might think "vintage" is always worth more. Like a car, buying from a private party can be risky unless you know what to look for. (See our old bike section)
- Local Bike Shop - The prices are higher initially, but you'll end up with a higher quality item that is assembled properly and won't need an immediate tune-up. A bike from a shop will usually cost less in the long run. They will sell you a bike in the right size for you which will be more fun to ride. Note: some bike shops will sell used bikes.
- What size bike do I need? Why?
- Does it have all of the features I want? (see above)
- Can I go on a test ride?
- What makes it a woman's model? Different components or is it just the appearance?
- What's the warranty / return policy?
- Do I get free adjustments on the bike within the first few months? (e.g. spoke & cable tension)
- If you've ridden this bike before, but it's been a couple of years, watch the GCN video on essential bike checks or browse our maintenance section
- If the bike has been unused for longer, or you don't know it's history, watch this GCN video on inspecting a used bike
- Fully cleaned - It's easier to identify issues/tune a bike if it's clean
- Frame/fork not bent, dented, or cracked
- spin freely in frame
- spin mostly straight (true)
- do not rub against braking surface
- spokes are tight
- no cracks in the rims (specifically near the spoke nipples)
- Tires/tubes *
- not cracked/punctured
- have ample tread life (may be harder to tell on road/slick tires)
- Hold maximum air pressure plus your body weight
- Brakes *
- stop the wheel from spinning
- rim brakes close to rim without rubbing (wheel must be true) and pad centered on the rim (not rubbing tire)
- disc brake rotors not warped
- ample brake pad life remaining
- rim brake pads not hardened/flaking
- ample braking surface remaining on wheel rims or discs
- pads spring back after releasing the lever
- Headset (where the handlebars turn in the frame)
- tight (no play)
- turns easily/smoothly (not too tight; greased)
- tight, but not too tight (no play)
- turns easily/smoothly (bottom bracket and pedals greased)
- Chain *
- no rust, cleaned and lubed so individual links turn freely
- not "stretched" from a lot of use
- Seatpost not seized in the seat tube
- Front/rear Derailleurs indexed properly (1 click = 1 clean shift)
- does everything else look/function as you'd expect it to?
- Rust. If there's a lot of rust, it may indicate poor riding conditions, improper storage, etc, and you may find more rust or encounter other issues.
- All bolts tightened to proper torque specifications. A loose bolt can come undone and an overly tightened bolt can stretch and break. If you remove a bolt, add a dab of grease to the threads so you can remove it next time.
* If the bike has been sitting for many years and seems fine otherwise, it wouldn't hurt to get new tires/tubes & rim brake pads because they deteriorate over time. perhaps a new chain because of the chance of rust, which weakens it. The faster/stronger/heavier you are, the more important these items are.
The web site operator does not necessarily have any experience with the products referenced; they are listed purely as an illustrative starting point for product research.
Helmets are critical for safety! You want to be certain to purchase a helmet that fits properly and breathes. Helmets should be replaced after a crash or every few years. Helmet upgrades can offer superior ventilation, protection (including MIPS), aerodynamics, and reduced weight. Don't forget to wash your helmet sometimes in the shower with shampoo.
Unless you can fit the bike inside your car (video), you'll need a way to transport your bicycle(s) to your cycling destination, or the occasional trip to the shop. Cheaper car racks have bikes hang by the top tube, so the bike frame needs to support it (near-level/narrow top tube, non-carbon frame, etc). Depending on your bike, you may want a platform style rack, but they're the most expensive of them all. See rack warehouse for a wide selection of racks/types. If you have a really light or really expensive bike, you want a really expensive carrier.
You'll need to refill your tires from time to time. On a road bike, you'll want to top off the air 1-2 times per week. If you run tires that aren't properly inflated, you run the risk of getting pinch flats. If you run wider tires (hybrid or mountain) on pavement, you can usually go longer between refills. Be sure to get a pump that has both presta/schrader valves and a built-in gauge.
|Emergency Tire Inflation|
If you have a flat tire on the road/trail, you'll need to put air back in your tire after fixing the flat. Pumps are good and cheap, but they're bulky and take a long time to operate. CO₂ fills up tires quickly but requires you to carry cartridges with you. Also, it's common for CO₂ to seep out of the tube overnight so you'll need to deflate/pump up the tire before your next ride.
|Spare inner tubes|
Carry a spare inner tube on your rides. If you ride a road bike, you may want to purchase a multi-pack of tubes. Be sure to purchase the right size!
Tire levers help you remove the tire from the rim. Plastic ensures you don't damage the rim. Be sure to get a color that you can find when you drop it in the grass.
|Tube Repair kit|
If you use your spare tube and get another flat, you'll need to repair a tube to get home. Replace the tube as soon as possible. These repair kits degrade over time and will need to be replaced.
|Tubeless Tire Repair kit|
If you use you run tubeless tires and have a bad puncture away from home, you'll need a tubeless repair kit. Don't forget to carry some extra sealant with you and refresh it at the beginning of every season! Although I don't personally run tubeless, I understand you'll want to perform a better repair after the ride. Also, for those really bad flats, carrying a spare tube on rides is still recommended.
If you slice your tire and tube, you'll need a boot for the ride home. Replace the tire as soon as possible. Tire boots will degrade over time and will need to be replaced. Alternatively you can carry a small piece of road tire or use a folded dollar bill.
You can skimp on some things, but don't skimp on tools. The "good" item includes all tools you should need, including a mini-wrench for removing a bolt-on wheel to repair a flat. It is ENORMOUS however. If you have a Quick-Release or thru-axle, get the cheaper/smaller/lighter "better"item. Even that is on the bigger side Learn how to properly use a chain tool.
A saddle bag is usually used to store necessary (but hopefully not needed) items, including spare tube, tube repair kit, tire boot, tools, CO₂ cartidges & chuck, tire levers, etc. Be sure to get one that is big enough but not too big. A bag with a loop on the back is nice so you can clip a rear light to it. Don't try to store your phone or food in here.
Stay hydrated! Make sure your bike frame has mounts for these.
|Rear view mirror|
Looking behind you while riding is not safe. The "good" item attaches to your handlebar but if you ride a road bike, you may want the "better" item which mounts to your helmet. (hint: use heavy-duty double sided outdoor tape and rough up the helmet)
Whether you want to "see" or "be seen" it's difficult to find the perfect set of lights at a decent price point. Be sure to get something bright enough with a long enough battery life. Best bicycle lights.
For rides up to 45-60 minutes, you might be able to get away with regular athletic apparel. If you ride longer than this or are heavier, you may want to consider padded bicycle shorts. The "better" shorts are called bib shorts, which feature built-in "suspenders" to keep the shorts in place. Cyclists who are heavier or ride greater distances will wanted even better shorts than those listed here, with a more specialize chamois. Notes: Some cyclists use "chamois cream" for less chafing; bike shorts are intended to be worn directly against your skin.
This is a special shirt with pockets in the back, which makes carrying keys/wallet/phone/food easier. A jersey should be somewhat tight, especially for road cycling, so the fabric doesn't flap too much in the wind. Flapping fabric is not only annoying, but will slow you down. If you're going to ride on the road, consider a color/pattern that will make you visible.
Some people like bicycle gloves to help reduce numbness and wipe away sweat. If you pick the correct color, it can make your hand more visible for hand signals. Don't forget to wash these!
|High visibility socks|
To a driver behind you, a cyclist's feet appear to move the most, so high visibility/high contrast socks will help you to be more visible. Even a white sock with black stripes will help, but there are also cycling specific socks too. These particular socks don't seem to be available anymore, but if you find a similar pair on amazon, please let us know.
Sunglasses not only protect you from the sun, but from wind and bugs. If you're going to be riding at dawn/dusk, you may want a pair of glasses with interchangeable lenses or a separate pair of clear glasses. A cheap pair of safety glasses might work if they have a good nose piece that won't constantly slide down your face.
Basic cycle computers ($30) are wired and will tell you speed, distance, time, etc. You run the wire to the front wheel, put a magnet on the wheel, enter your wheel circumference, and you're good to go. More expensive models include cadence (pedal RPM), are wireless, and/or are GPS based. If you really want to explore the roads, you want a GPS cycle computer which allows you to pick a route on a map and use turn by turn navigation on the computer, but those can cost hundreds of dollars. (Garmin,Wahoo) Some cycle computers will alert a contact if it detects a sudden stop (i.e. Garmin) but so do newer Apple watches. A friend has a Garmin which routinely detects a hard stop and he needs to disable the alarm before his wife is notified.
|Home Storage Solution|
In case you want/need to store your bicycle off of the floor
Here are some starting points for choosing rides:
- Bike path riders:
- Road riders:
|Route Planning to find bike paths, elevation gain, satellite and StreetView. Use StreetView to approximate road conditions (surface, shoulder, traffic)||Paid
Good (no satellite / street view)
|turn by turn navigation to follow complicated routes and get alerts prior to turns. Use a Garmin or Wahoo if you want this feature.||No||Paid (Basic)||?|
|Live Location Sharing in-app so your emergency contacts will know where you are.||Yes||Paid (Basic)||Paid (MVP)|
|send SMS to up to 3 numbers at start of each activity||visible to your in-app friends only|
|Segments to compare yourself with other riders who have ridden identical sections of road/trail||Paid||Yes||No|
|Post-Ride analysis for general tracking, actual/estimated power, heart-rate, cadence, splits, etc||Yes *||Yes *||Yes *|
|* some (but not all) features require a paid membership|
|Ride Privacy to limit ride visibility; Privacy zones so people can't see your defined addresses (e.g. home, work) Tip: create free account to test privacy of your main account for non-members, non-friends, friends||Ride / Zone||Ride / Zone||Ride only|
|Sharing to external users overriding some privacy controls||Good (Summary)||Best (Summary / details)||Good (Summary)|
|Internal Social Media to interact with friends, including activity feed||Best||limited||Good|
|Large User base for segment comparison and social media aspect.||Yes (Athletes)||fair||fair|
|Battery usage for recording activities. Results may vary by device.||?||?||?|
|Optional subscription annual cost
** renew at Christmas time as there will sometime be a deal
As a road bicyclist, my opinion is none of the big three excel at everything. Strava is the de facto logging/analysis service. My bike computer uploads to all three, but I use free RideWithGPS for route planning/sharing and Strava premium for post-ride features. I only use MapMyRide because some of my friends use it.
- Roadside toolkit (see 'accessories' section) Optionally include nitrile gloves, small tube of sun block to reapply on longer rides, OTC pain pills, Hand sanitizer
- Food and drink - more than you think you'll need
- Money/card for extra food or other supplies (include a small bill or two)
- Face mask (during the pandemic)
- Photo identification
- Health Insurance card
- Emergency contact information
- List of known allergies
- Cell phone! Both to log your ride and to make emergency phone calls
- Eat better! Eating better and exercising will help you to lose weight. Less weight will help you go faster, especially up those hills!
- Aerodynamics - Starting around 13-15MPH, aerodynamics becomes a consideration.
- Don't wear baggy clothes
- use the drop handlebars when practical
- Keep all of your gear stored tight and neat; avoid using a backpack
- Always ride with a tail wind. 😀
- The Bike:
- Make sure you have a proper bike for the type of riding you do. Make sure it is the right size, and adjusted to fit you properly.
- Make sure you have proper tires for the type of riding you do. If you have a hybrid or mountain bike and ride it on smooth pavement, consider "slick" tires.
- Make sure you maintain proper tire inflation!
- Make sure everything is properly maintained, cleaned, and lubed properly. Note: If you're riding a properly maintained 20 year old bike, an expensive new bike won't necessarily make you noticeably faster.
- New bikes - if you purchased from a bike shop, they may offer a free simple tune up.
Take advantage of it because:
- spokes on new wheels may need to be tightened after a break-in period
- cables stretch and will need to be adjusted (also see below)
- shifter cables - new cables stretch a lot, but in order to maintain crisp indexed shifting, cables will periodically need to be tightened. Rear derailleurs usually have a barrel adjuster on them. Front Derailleur adjustment vary depending on the brand/model. Only adjust a tiny bit at a time! Note: people frequently adjust the limit screws in error, but they seldom need adjustment if the bike was assembled properly. Tip: be sure to clean the drivetrain before adjusting cables to ensure gunk isn't affecting your shifting. Videos: Rear, front
- brake cables - new cables stretch a lot and brake pads wear over time, so you will need to tighten over time. there are several adjustments that can be made on them depending on the brake model. Videos (see also wheel truing)
- brake pads - clean any debris that may have collected in the brake pad. This debris affects braking performance, can grind down the braking surface, and may destroy a rim. Also make sure the pad itself has plenty of life left and is fully touching the braking surface only (e.g. the rim brake is fully on the rim and not touching the tire)
- Wheel true (straightness) - wheels periodically lose their straightness. You'll see the wheel wobbling back and forth. The most noticeable impact is brake rub if on rim brakes, but excessive wobbling can be a safety issue at high speeds. Truing a wheel is tedious work at and there are numerous factors to consider (left/right, up/down, spoke tension, dishing) so it's usually best to leave this to a qualified bike shop.
- clean your drivetrain - you should regularly clean the chain and all of the gear cogs, including the jockey wheels on the derailleur. Follow up with applying a proper chain lube and wiping excess. Frequency depends on the conditions that you ride in and how much you care about performance and part longevity. Videos: Quick Cleaning, Deep Clean
- replace the chain - Chain longevity depends on your riding style, conditions, the size of the chain (number of speeds), and how frequently you clean the drivetrain (above). Videos: When, How
- replace the rear gear cogs - If you just replaced a chain and it's skipping on some of the gears, you need a new
cassette or freewheel depending on your bike wheel. It's common to replace the cassette after every 3 chain replacements
if you replaced the chain as needed.
Freehub/Cassette or Freewheel?,
Front cogs (chainrings) will last longer.
- replace tire(s) - Rear tires wear faster; Keep your best tire on the front for safety. There are two approaches:
- replace both tires when the one tire wears out; Keep the good old tire as a spare.
- discard the worn tire, put the new tire on the front wheel, put the good old tire on the rear wheel
- Professional tune-up! Depending on how much you ride your bike, you should take your bike to a local bike shop every 1-2 years to true the wheels and check all of the things on the list above, and other things. At the end of the riding season is actually a good time to get the bike tuned up if your shop is open year round. Some shops may offer a discount for off-season work.
- Depending on the part, use thread lock or grease on threads (video)
- Don't make common mistakes, watch this video
Tools to consider owning(beyond the accessories listed above)
- General: Quality set of metric allen wrenches. Poor quality might round off bolts or tools
- Chain checker to verify your chain isn't too stretched.
- Chain replacement: chain breaker tool, quick link wrench
- cassette removal tool (if you ride a lot and have a freehub/cassette) and chain whip
- General: bike torque wrench set with metric allen bits, especially if you have a carbon frame.
Spare parts/supplies to consider keeping around(if you ride a lot):
- inner tubes! (verify the correct size)
- chain (verify the correct size)
- cassette (same size as old cassette unless you know what you're doing. You usually don't know that you're going to need a new cassette until you replace the chain.
- tire(s) - (verify the correct size)
- batteries for any sensors
- degreaser, grease, chain lube
- isopropyl alcohol (cleaning brake surfaces), lemon pledge (clean frame)
- Have fun!
- Make sure someone is aware of the route you'll be riding (or use live location sharing). Ideally they would be familiar with your route and average speed, and would check your status from time to time to make sure you're still moving.
- Follow the rules of the road & use hand signals.
- Follow bike path rules/etiquette (speed limit, single-file, "on your left", etc)
- Learn how to repair a flat tire (video). Don't just assume you'll figure it out if you need to. If you have a tire failure, be aware of the dollar trick (video) or carry a small piece of road tire with you
- Everyone finds hills tough. Obviously you want to use a lower gear when going up a hill, but it's easier if you pedal faster and switch to an even lower gear. Note: You use a lot of energy by standing & pedaling.
- Don't make these riding mistakes (video)
- Keep your bike properly maintained
- Have more fun!
- Join a club for group rides! Use Strava to find clubs. Bigger clubs are more likely to have different groups for different skill levels. MHCC is one of the bigger clubs in the area.
- Participate in an event! Popular non-race events are:
- Five Boro Bike Tour in NYC
- Farmer's Daughter Gravel Grinder in Chatham, NY
- Capital District Transportation Committee Bike-to-work challenge.
- The American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure, a fundraising event.
- If you're up for an 8 day, 400 mile challenge, Cycle the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany.
- You can never have enough bicycles! If you think you want a road bike,it's totally OK to start with a hybrid/fitness and then purchase a road bike later. Keep the hybrid/fitness for slower or gravel rides or as a backup/winter bike. Alternatively you can get a gravel bike with a spare set of road wheels and have one bike that does it all, but it will be slower than a traditional road bike due to geometry.
- Looking to learn more? Follow to GCN (YouTube & Facebook) or GMBN (YouTube & Facebook)
- Capital District Social Media content to check out:
- skip training wheels; kids will learn to rely on them instead of learning to balance
- balance bikes are bikes without pedals and help kids learn balance first. Alternatively just remove the pedals from a regular kids bike.
- GCN's tips for buying a kid's bike (video)
- GCN's tips for teaching a kid to ride (video)
- BikeRadar's tips for teaching a kid to ride a bike (video)
If you think I got something wrong, let me know.