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The new bikes and the new bike riders; here's help matching your needs with today's bike choices.

The new bikes and the new bike riders

In the bike boom of the '70s, cyclists were smitten with the lightweight, 10-speed sport-touring bicycles that seemed to make so much sense in an era of health-consciousness and high gas prices.

But in this decade's bike boom, people are a lot more picky about what they want. Racing and all-terrain bikes are fast gaining popularity, while touring and sport-touring bikes have a steady following.

If you're looking for a new bike, read on to make sense of the mind-boggling array of bicycles and components out there. If you're more interested in upgrading what you already have, turn to page 71; new kinds of seats, pedals, brakes, gear shifters, and other components can make riding easier and much more fun on your existing bike.

The prices listed are averages for production bicycles and components. Customized equipment can cost two to three times as much.

Racing bikes: is the name a misnomer?

Like fine sports cars, racing bikes are lighter, stiffer, and generally more fun to ride than other bikes. Built with sport wheelbases for quick handling, these also have aluminum wheels and narrow, 1-inch-wide tires for fast acceleration and minimum friction against the ground.

With relatively high gears (as in a car, low gears are for getting going and climbing hills, high gears for going fast) spread over 12 speeds, these bikes are good for staying in shape. In fact, some dealers call them fitness bikes instead of racing bikes. Handlebars are down-turned to reduce wind resistance.

The trade you make for high performance is a less comfortable ride (you feel bumps more) and somewhat less stability. To an inexperienced rider, a racer's handling may seem skittish and too sensitive. Gears are higher than many people like, especially in hilly areas. In addition, most racing frames aren't built to accept fenders, a necessity if you want to commute in wet weather.

Prices run $300 to $1,600. Serious racers buy in the top half of the range, while fitness buffs and occasional racers can find what they need for less than $800.

Bicycles for grand tours, heavy loads

Made to carry a rider and loaded panniers (packs) for hours at a stretch, touring bicycles have long wheelbases and sturdy frames that trade off some weight and responsiveness for comfort and stability.

They usually have 15 or 18 speeds--some low enough for steep climbs. Seats are comfortable, and tires, at 1 1/4 inches wide, have better traction and a smoother ride than racing tires. Handlebars are mostly downturned.

The differences between racers and tourers may seem subtle in the shop, but they loom larger after you've been riding for an hour or two. Cost is $300 to $700

All-terrain bikes and cruisers

The bicycle phenomenon of the '80s, allterrain bikes (or ATBs, also called mountain bikes) are probably used most in town. Commuters like them because fat tires and tough, heavy frames stand up to potholes and bumps. Their upright handlebars allow heads-up visibility in heavy traffic and rough country.

Because some cyclists use ATBs on streets and others on trails, manufacturers have started to specialize. Off-road ATBs have shorter wheelbases, while street ATBs offer more comfort and sometimes slick instead of knobby tires (see page 73).

Seats on ATBs are usually wide and comfortable, frames are oversize for strength, and gears given you 15 or 18 speeds.

A subcategory of mountain bike, called the cruiser, is the old fat-tire, single-speed (usually) coaster-brake bike of your youth (if you're over 35), now embraced for its simplicity and utility. Consider one if you don't want to fiddle with multiple gears or hand brakes, and if you plan to ride in fairly flat terrain.

Mountain bike prices run from $200 to $800; cruisers are $150 to $200.

The sport-tour: made for the generalist

Neither as light as racers nor as tough as touring or mountain bikes, sport-touring bicycles are springtly and comfortable enough to be an excellent compromise. They have traditionally been the most popular multispeed bicycles.

Most sport-touring bicycles are 12-speeds, with lower gears than racing bikes for easier climbing. On most, seats are padded, aluminum rims are fitted with 1 1/8-inch tires, frames are medium-weight, and handlebars are downturned.

If you're interested in everything from regular workouts to occasional weekend rides, this is probably the bike for you. At $200 to $600, it's a bargain.

Some things to know about frames

Fortunately, when you decide what kind of bike you want, most of your decisions about frame geometry will automatically be made for you. True women's frames are uncommon, but still available, especially in sport-touring and ATB models. There is also the French-designed mixte frame, which is intermediate between the traditional women's and diamond (men's) frame.

Of the two frame materials you're most likely to encounter, steel is the most common. Inexpensive frames are made from high-carbon steel, better ones from chrome-molybdenum and managanese steel. Both are stronger than high-carbon steel and worth paying extra for.

Frame tubes are either straight gauge (same wall thickness throughout) or lighter and more expensive double butted (thicker at ends, thinner in middle).

Aluminum frames have come of age in the last decade. In the 1970s, welded, heat-treated aluminum frames were fairly expensive, but manufacturing experience and volume have brought the price down. The newest bonded aluminum frames (joined with space-age adhesive) are also much less expensive than their precursors. You can spot aluminum frames because their tubes are usually fatter. Aluminum flexes more than steel, but with fatter tubing, aluminum frames are stiffer. The best way to judge is by riding both. Aluminum versions of all kinds of bikes are now made.

Components: buy a package or mix and match

Bike shopping is like buying a car: you can pick what you want off the showroom floor, or specify absolutely everything for a made-to-order model. But if you have to order a lot of changes to make a stock bicycle work for you, you're probably looking at the wrong one to start with.

Seats. Because many bike manufacturers skimp on seats (even on $300 to $500 bikes), one bicycle store manager told us that "the best upgrade you can make on a new bike is the seat.' We agree.

The new, anatomically designed seats (separate versions for men and women) are comfortable from the first time you sit on them. Most are made with a nylon shell padded with foam and covered with soft leather.

The most advanced seats have viscous padding (commonly polymers). These form to your body when you sit on them and distribute your weight over the whole seat. Cost is $30 to $50. Two are leather-covered, but the gel version (shown at right) is covered with elasticized nylon. Traditional hard-leather saddles breathe and form to your body. But they have an uncomfortable 200-mile break-in period, and can stain cycling shorts (that's why many cyclists wear black). Staining is not a problem with all brands. Consider leather if you ride a lot.

All-terrain bike and cruiser seats are usually wide, comfortable, and maybe spring-cushioned. ATB seats often have a quick-change lever (seat high for hill climbing, low for descents).

Handlebars. Upright handlebars are comfortable at first, but less so as the ride lengthens. They let you sit up and see, though, so they are first choice for city riders.

Downturned "racing' handlebars are best if you cycle long distances, since they take some of your weight off the bike seat, and offer several positions for your hands (down on the drops, on top behind the brakes, and on top near the center).

Gears. The news in 1986 is indexed shifting. Before now, you shifted 10 speed bikes by feel and sound, adjusting the shifter until the grinding stopped. With indexed shifting, you click to preset positions, so you're never between gears.

Designed for racing bikes, these have caught on with nonracers as well. You'll find indexed shifters on a few new bikes (more in 1987), or you can retrofit your old bike with one (new rear derailleur, gears, levers, and chain) for around $90.

When you shop for a bike, you'll find mostly 10-, 12-, 15-, and 18-speed models. The number of advertised speeds is deceptive, since some may be duplicates, and others unusable (you shouldn't, for example, have the chain going from a far right-hand sprocket to a far left-hand sprocket --it puts too much stress on the drive train). In reality, a 12-speed bike may have only 8 or 9 usable speeds.

If you'd rather have more, fewer, higher, or lower gears on the bike you own, you can change them by buying new front or rear sprockets. In some cases you'll have to change derailleurs at the same time.

Brakes. With the right pads, almost any brakes can quickly stop the wheels from turning. But what you need are brakes that give you the most possible control over the rate at which you slow down.

Ten years ago, many caliper brakes were center-pull models: the cable that controlled them was attached to the brake at top center. Side-pull brakes have gradually taken over because they are easier to center over the wheel and give more control; now old-style center-pulls are rare.

Cantilever brakes (an increasingly popular kind of center-pull, shown top of facing page) have larger pads, more stopping power than side-pulls, and extra clearance: they won't collect mud on mountain bikes. For these reasons, you'll find them mostly on mountain and touring bikes.

Roller-cam brakes, shown top left of facing page, are gaining favor on ATBs because they have great stopping power and provide good control.

If you want miximum stopping power (especially in wet weather) without switching to cantilevers or roller-cams, try one of the high-friction brake pads sold by many bike stores. They have breathtaking stopping power; try them gingerly at first or you may send yourself into a skid.

Tires and wheels. The newest trend is in slick or smooth (unpatterned) tires. They have better traction in dry weather because they have more rubber on the road than same-size patterned tires.

How well they hold in wet weather is still being debated: one slick tire manufacturer says they hold better than patterned tires; another says they don't.

Much has also been done recently in puncture resistance. Both systems shown at right are effective--many commuters and touring cyclists find them indispensable --but they add weight to the tire. Puncture-risistant Kevlar tires are lighter but cost about 50 percent more. Another new choice, the polyurethane tube, works best at temperatures above 40|.

Sew-up tires--super-light glue-on tubulars --are still popular among competition cyclists, but lightweight slicks are gaining ground because they cost less and are easier to install.

Rims are either aluminum alloy or steel. Steel rims are common on inexpensive bikes; they are cheaper, but heavier and don't stop as well in wet weather.

There are great weight differences among aluminum rims too, but don't automatically go for the lightest: you may need heavier rims for rougher riding.

Pedals, bearings. Most pedals on racing, touring, and sport-touring bikes are designed for use with toe clips--which greatly increase riding efficiency--and cleated shoes. But people who don't use cleated shoes find that pressing ridged pedals can numb toes after a few miles.

You can avoid that by ordering platform or touring pedals ($15 to $80), which are slightly dished to accommodate ordinary sports shoes. They also accept toe clips.

Ball bearings only interest most people when they break down or seize up. If you want to avoid maintenance, or if you ride in dusty or wet conditions a lot, order a bike with fully sealed cartridge bearings. They're expensive but turn more easily than the unsealed kind and can go thousands of miles with no attention.

Paint, restorations. The easiest way to spruce up an old frame is with new paint. Specialists (bike shops can direct you) will usually do the job for $70 to $130. If you want a restoration, original paint-matching and decals included, there are specialists for that too. One that's here in the West is CyclArt, 410 Cribbage Lane, San Marcos, Calif. 92069. Restoration averages $175, shipping $10.

Where to buy a bike, how to get more involved

Lots of places sell bicycles, but if you're shopping for your first good bike, try an established local shop. They'll assemble the bike, fit it to you, and take care of problems you might have later.

To get more involved in touring, racing, or group and family rides, write American Youth Hostels, Box 37613, Washington, D.C. 20013. They'll put you in touch with the AYH Council nearest you (some, like the San Diego Council, sponsor 50 rides monthly). Or write to Bicycle USA, 6707 Whitestone Rd., Suite 209, Baltimore, Md. 21207.

For more information on off-road cycling, write National Off-Road Bicycle Association, Box 1901, Chandler, Ariz. 85244.

Photo: All-terrian bikes, for city streets or mountain trails

"These bikes are well named. Mine sees the most action on city streets, where ruts and curbs don't slow it down, but my son does most of his riding in the mountains. For a teenager, the bike's built-in strength is never wasted'

Photo: Made for the road, touring bikes are strong, comfortable

"Bicycle camping, a little commuting, and a lot of local riding make a touring bike the best choice for me. And the 15 speeds I've got really flatten out the hills.' A stronger frame and longer wheel base make her touring bike a little more stable under heavy loads than her friend's bike, which is a 12-speed sport-touring model

Photo: All-purpose, easy-to-find, it's a sport-touring bike

"I don't ride in time trials, but I do cycle to work every day. For that and some weekend rides, a sport-touring bike is perfect.' The one she's on is a bonded (glued) aluminum-and-ateel bicycle made in Seattle

Photo: Racers: light, fast, and great for fitness

"I enjoy keeping fit, but my real love is competition; I use this 12-speed lightweight road-racing bike to train for track races. Its gears are on the high side, and components are all light and top quality'

Photo: One of many choices, handlebar style is up to the buyer. On new bikes, most shops will trade uprights for downturned bars, or vice versa, often for just a labor charge

Photo: One-speed cruiser is what you ask for if you want the fat-tire easy rider of old. It's uncomplicated, great for flat country

Photo: Differences between racing bike (top) and touring bike (bottom) are in length of wheelbase, frame and fork angles. Steel frame weighs 20 percent more than aluminum--as you can see above, that might only be a pound difference in a 25-pound bike

Photo: Traditional brazed frame shows ornate lug wherever tube ends are joined. Brazing should be clean, smooth

Photo: Joined with high-tech glue, this bonded frame is strong, has no visible lugs (welded aluminum frames are also lugless)

Photo: Innovations in shifting: thumb shifter (above) lets you change gears without moving your hand from upright handlebars; indexed shift lever (below) clicks cleanly from gear to gear, never lets you get caught in the middle. They're sold for new and old bikes

Photo: Waterbed principle makes this seat comfortable: viscous gel inside moves to relieve pressure points, distribute load

Photo: Look closely: front sprockets are slightly out of round for more efficient pedaling. You can add these to any bicycle

Photo: Most recent brake on the market is the roller-cam. It offers best stopping power, good control; look for it on mountain bikes

Photo: Cantilever brakes have greater mechanical advantage that helps them stop loaded touring bikes, mountain bikes, and tandems

Photo: For aerodynamic efficiency on racing bikes, cables are routed under handlebar tape

Photo: Slick tires offer maximum contact with the road, seem superior in dry weather. Wet-weather performance is still being argued

Photo: Platform pedal has no ridges to hurt your feet, keeps you comfortable in any athletic shoes. Use it for touring, casual riding

Photo: Here are two ways (shown in cross-section) to fight flats: by placing a thorn-resistant strip between tire and tube, or with special tubes that are extra-thick on the puncture-prone side
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1986
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