Which Bike Is Right For You?
We always say that every trail is different, and so are the people who ride them. The "right bike" is the one that suits your needs the best, and nobody else’s. If you're riding around the Bay Farm Island trail with your family, you're going to want a different bike than if you're sprinting down Fruitvale to catch a BART train or going for a weekend bike camping trip with some buddies.
With that said, here are the first three considerations:
Size: A properly sized bike is vital. You may be in between sizes, but do not buy a bike that doesn’t fit. No matter what. Bicycle sizing is similar to purchasing clothes - manufacturers measure their bikes differently and geometry differs from bike to bike. A 56cm frame from one brand doesn't necessarily fit the same as a 56cm frame from another. We can help you narrow down your search via text or email, but nothing beats a test ride to really get the size right.
Type: The type of bike to get depends upon how much versatility you want, where you will be riding, and how the ride feels to you. Some bikes are super versatile, while others do one thing really well. There are often a few options based on where you want to ride - don't forget to consider a pedal-assist electric bike. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of all the options that could work for you.
Price: The more you spend, the nicer the bike - that's pretty straightforward. The best value bike for you will depend on your budget, how often you’ll ride, and personal feedback based on where you're going to ride. Talking about money can be a little awkward at times, but we will always be honest with you about the bike you'll need.
Once you know the type of bike, you can move on to specifics like bike weight, shifting and brake systems, suspension, and component quality - all of which play a huge factor in both ride quality and price. Factors like your body type and where you ride also play a part in how much you should spend. Keep in mind also the essentials you’ll need to ride safely and comfortably.
Narrow down the type of bikes
We'll probably ask more questions than you'd typically get on a first date, but listening is more important than talking at this point (that's good dating advice too). Here's some things we've got to find out about you and your future ride:
Where do you want to ride? This is where it all starts. Are you looking to ride down Shoreline to Crown Beach with your kids? Cruise out to the base to grab a growler at Faction? Do an all-out sprint down Harbor Bay Parkway and Ron Cowan to the airport and back before you start your workday? Replace your car? The possibilities of what you can do with a bicycle are endless - honing in on what you want to do narrows down the search.
How often will you ride / how long do you want to keep the bike? The more miles you put on your bike, the sooner parts will wear out - it’s that simple. This may not mean getting the most expensive bike out there, because the highest end bikes are not necessarily the most durable. There's a fine balance between low weight and high durability. It's important to also consider how long certain components last, and how they operate as they get older.
Depending upon where you’ll ride, and other factors such as your budget and potential for theft, you may even want a lower-priced bike with certain upgraded components - such as sturdier tires for daily commutes on Oakland streets.
Will you be riding with others? And what do they ride? Silly as it seems, it’s important to have the right tool for the job. If all of your friends are doing dirt laps in Joaquin Miller and Redwood on the weekends, you’ll want a bike that is up to the task. This affects both bike type and level of bike we may recommend. It’s important also let us know your personality type - if you’re the type of person that takes weekend rides with buddies as a personal competition, we’d like to know.
Consider us your cycling psychologist; your secrets are safe with us, and we can only improve our diagnosis if you’re honest.
What are your goals? Your personal goals absolutely affect what type of bike we recommend; alternatively, we may recommend altering your goals to meet hard constraints such as your budget. Be willing to share your long-term goals; we’re not being judgmental, but quite frankly many of us have radically transformed our lives and our bodies through cycling. So we’re here to help.
Has it been a while? If you’re new to cycling, or you catch yourself saying, “I remember when I used to ride a…” be ready to be blown away by all the options and innovations that have gone on -- and don’t dismiss ebikes, they’re light years better than they used to be. Technology has not passed the bike industry by, so be prepared to dig in deeper into our Buyer’s Guide or let us help you out by coming in or filling out a Custom Quote.
Changes aren't limited to the bike industry. Your body and life from are likely different than they were way back when. Be realistic on what you can handle and how you’ll ride, we’ll likely be able to get you on a better bike for less than you’d spend otherwise.
Are there any injury or flexibility concerns? Certain types of bikes are more performance-oriented than others, which affects the riding position on the bike. Even amongst bike categories - such as road bikes - a wide range of bikes are available, from those with super aggressive positions to others which can be very relaxed.
While certain parts can be swapped to obtain a more upright position, it’s always better to start with the right bike type and frame geometry. Bikes are purpose-built, and making alterations to a bike may drastically alter ride quality and aggravate pre-existing injuries. We’ll help recommend the right type of bike and sub-category to match your body conditions.
How hard are you on your things? This can be a sensitive topic to broach, and we’re sure to tread lightly. That said, it’s important to consider your riding style and your body type - the more aggressively you ride or the larger you are, the more durable your bike needs to be. The pavement in Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley is no joke, and can be hard on bikes. We want to make sure you've got a bike that is durable enough to keep you rolling.
Do you tend to replace things often? Or are you the type of person who would rather buy one thing that lasts forever? With bicycles, money spent up front on a complete bike with nicer parts will always cost less than an upgrade later. Bicycle companies have a lot more spending power than any of us do, and they get their parts at a better deal we can offer you on an upgrade later.
What Essentials do you need? No, we aren’t in the used car business (apologies to the honest car salespeople out there). There are certain accessories that are truly essential to bicycling - imagine of trying to ski without goggles or going for a hike without boots. We’ve compiled a list of Essentials that everyone should have when they ride -- we own at least one of every item on the list -- and recommend that you set aside room in your bike budget to get everything on the list.
Now Test Ride the Bike(s)
There is no substitute for getting on a bike. Don’t buy a bike without riding it first, and trust what you feel on a test ride. Few of us are “car experts”, but we all honor what we feel when taking a car out for a test drive - the same goes for a bike. We can only tell you so much - you do have to go out and spin the cranks.If you’re ready to begin test-riding some bikes, fill out a Custom Bike Quote, text us or stop by when we’re open.
Buyer's Guide By Category
A road bike is the perfect bike for exploring the open road, for feeling the bliss of long climbs in the saddle, for getting out with your buddies on a weekend spin, or for racing. Road riding is a sport that you can pick up at nearly any age, and stick with it for years to come. If you’re wanting to ride with a local cycling club, such as Team Alameda or Alameda Velo, this is the kind of bike you’re likely to want. Within the road bike category, there are a few different types of bikes to look at.
Not sure where to start? Fill out our custom quote form and we can help you pick out the right bike for your road.
Endurance Road Bikes
Built to ride all day. Endurance road bikes put your body in a position where you’re able to pedal efficiently and comfortably over a period of several hours. Bikes in the endurance road category have frame geometry which allows you to sit a bit more upright than many other road bikes. Endurance geometry also allows the bike to handle poor pavement with a little extra comfort. They also have built-in clearance for wider tires, which we love. More rubber on the ground equals more traction, and thus more speed. That said, they still accelerate quickly and handle well in the corners. A large percentage of century riders and multi-day event riders (such as AIDS LifeCycle) are on endurance road bikes.
Road Racing Bikes
Road race bikes are designed to be light and fast. A road race bike is usually the lightest bike a manufacturer offers. They put the rider in a more aerodynamic position than an endurance road bike, and offer more total all out speed. In turn, race bikes tend to require a bit more flexibility in the rider to fit comfortably, as the frame is designed with a shorter headtube and usually a longer top tube. Race geometry is formulated for the bike to smoothly handle corners at high speed. With stiffness in mind, these bikes tend to deliver a bit more chatter to the rider while minimizing flex and power loss. These bikes capture every watt of power that the rider puts out and turn them into blistering speed.
Built with endurance road geometry but the ability to ride dirt as well as pavement, Gravel bikes have risen into prominence in the bike world. Gravel bikes have the ability to run tires more than twice as wide as an old-school road bike, which opens a lot of doors to an adventurous cyclist. Want to keep on pedaling when the road turns to dirt? Or maybe you feel like our East Bay roads are barely paved at all? A gravel bike, equipped with low gearing and disc brakes, allows you to get off the beaten path while still handling like a champ on the road.
If you want to ride all day, and then the next day, and then the day after that, you should look at a touring bike. Touring bikes are built with geometry that handles comfortably while loaded down with weight. Where to carry all that weight? Tourers have mounts on the frame for adding racks to carry all the stuff you could dream of carrying, as well as fender mounts to keep you dry in case of rain. Touring bikes are built stronger than other road bikes, and as such tend to weigh more. Stronger wheels are the cornerstone of a good touring bike, with more spokes than other road bikes for extra strength. Touring bikes are often made of steel, a frame material that minimizes road feedback to the rider and offers a comfortable ride.
Want to explore into the woods? Pedal out on a dirt path with no route in mind? Or explore the vast network of trails in our regional parks and beyond? A mountain bike might be what you’re looking for. There are a lot of different types of mountain bikes, built for everything from jumping off of logs and flying over rock gardens to cruising down a groomed dirt trail. If your level of daredevil is anywhere from nonexistent to Evel Knievel, there’s a mountain bike out there for you.
Mountain bikes are heavily driven by technology and innovation. Yesterday’s high end bikes seem like dinosaurs when compared the newest models - it can seem like the greatest, newest things are being rolled out all the time. The upside here is that technology and innovations for high end bikes trickle down to the middle and entry level quite quickly. Things that used to be standard on only the fanciest bikes (hydraulic brakes, dropper seatposts, etc) are now found on mountain bikes a quarter of the price. This is good for all of us.
Not sure what kind of mountain bike suits your needs the best? Fill out our custom quote form, and we’ll follow up with some guided recommendations to let you hit the trail as soon as possible.
Most of the mountain bikes that we sell fit into this category. Cross Country bikes truly cover a wide range of mountain bikes, from an entry level hardtail for a first time rider to a super lightweight dual-suspension race bike.
If you’re a beginner looking for your first mountain bike, likely it will be a cross country hardtail (that is, a bike without rear suspension). They offer enough suspension to help tackle technical descents while still being efficient and nimble on the way up. These kind of bikes tend to have a relatively neutral geometry - a sort of jack of all trades type of ride.
If you’re a more seasoned mountain biker tackling all day rides, or looking to get into racing, a higher-end cross-country bike is likely the ride for you. These come in both hardtail and dual suspension models. The geometry, components, and ride quality are very different from entry level type bikes, but still fall under the cross country umbrella. These bikes go fast, climb well, and minimize flex to keep as much of your power in the bike as possible. We also see people looking at cross country mountain bikes as commuter bikes for places where the pavement is awful or nonexistent. These kind of bikes are designed to be ridden off road, and can be good for commuters who value durability over speed.
If you’re looking for one mountain bike to do everything, the trail category is where you should look. Bikes in this category have different geometry than cross country bikes - designed to handle aggressive downhills with a lot more comfort and control. These are bikes that can go over stuff as well as around stuff. You don’t always have to pick a perfect line here.
Many trail bikes are fully suspended, with anywhere from 120mm to 150mm of travel in both the frame and fork. There are also trail hardtails, with geometry similar to a full suspension bike and only a front suspension fork. Dropper seatposts, which allow you to adjust your saddle height with a push of a button, are often found on trail bikes. Droppers get your saddle out of the way to make technical descents a lot more comfortable. When it’s time to start pedaling again, hit the lever and go back to your normal saddle height. They’re a game changer. If you’re the kind of rider who doesn’t mind grinding out a climb in order to have some real fun on the way down, a trail bike is what you’re looking for. They don’t climb quite as quick as a cross country bike, but with modern suspension design and geometry innovation, they’re definitely catching up.
All Mountain and Enduro Bikes
These have longer travel than a trail bike and are definitely designed more for the downhill than anything else. They’re heavier, are more rugged, and are designed to take a beating. Climbing will be more of a chore here with their geometry and weight, but still not impossible - they’re not pure downhill bikes. After all, a true Enduro race is only timed in the downhill sections. These bikes eat up larger rocks and big rooty sections, handle bigger drops, and do well in big mountain situations. While they may be a bit overkill for general East Bay riding, Enduro bikes shine in places like Tahoe and Santa Cruz, where the trails are generally more rugged and technical.
Downhill, Freeride, and Dirt Jump Bikes
We don’t do a lot of these at our shop, but they’re certainly a segment of mountain bikes that has a lot of popularity worldwide. Our terrain doesn’t really call for downhill bikes, but if you’ve got the need for speed and fear isn’t something you’ve ever heard of, a downhill bike may be just what you’re looking for. Go to Northstar at Tahoe, get a lift ticket, and bomb your way down. These bikes have more travel than any other category and can handle whatever is thrown their way, as long as it isn’t climbing.
Freeride bikes and Dirt Jump bikes are even more niche - designed usually for jump parks or pump tracks, and built with geometry and equipment that is genre-specific. Dirt Jump bikes are often single speed, and have about as much in common with mountain bikes as they do BMX bikes. We do see a segment of riders on dirt jumpers who are simply people that are too tall or feel too adult to comfortably ride a BMX bike. Dirt jump bikes can be a fun short distance cruiser for people who like to jump curbs and ride like they did when they were a kid.
Commuter and Pavement Bikes
Commuting to work on a bike has so many benefits. You save money on gas, you don’t have to pay for parking, you rarely sit in traffic, and you get exercise every day. It’s also good for the environment - you’re one less car on the road. Be careful though, you will spend more money on food. Where you live and where you work will help define what kind of commuter bike you need. Whether you’ve got a short spin on either end of a BART ride, or a long trip complete with potholed roads and hills, we’ve got a good bike to get you where you need to go. Don’t need a bike to get to work, but just want a bike to get around town? To run errands, ride through the city, and take in the view? We’ve got plenty of bikes for that too.
City and Street Bikes
Good for shorter commutes and city riding. These bikes tend to have straight or swept back handlebars, a wide range of gears, and wider tires than your standard road bike. You sit relatively upright, which makes riding through traffic more comfortable than being hunched over. The wider tires help mitigate potholes and give you more stability, which helps if you’re carrying a bag on a bike rack. These type of bikes make up the majority of what we sell, be it for commuting to work or just riding around. There are city and street bikes to fit everyone’s needs and budget. They can be as basic or deluxe as it gets - the possibilities here are endless.
Great for people who have a limited amount of space. Can’t take your bike into work? Put it under your desk. Riding on a crowded BART or Caltrain car? Need to put your bike in the trunk of your car for part of your commute? Folding bikes take up very little space. They do have smaller wheels than your average bike, so they’re best suited for people who don’t have to ride long distances. Smaller wheels spin up to speed quickly, which is nice for stop and go riding - they feel snappy from the get go.
Got a long commute that feels more like an adventure? A road bike will let you cover that distance faster than any other type of bike. Traditional road bikes make good commuters if you don’t have to carry a lot of stuff with you, but flat bar road bikes and gravel bikes may be better due to greater stability and comfort. Have a laptop, a change of clothes, and your lunch? Check out a gravel or touring bike - it’ll let you put a rack on and carry your gear with ease.
Casual Riding Bikes
Just want to get out there and ride? If you’re looking to get a little bit of outdoor time or get outside with your family, we’ve got a lot of different options to get your legs moving. Head out on a paved path, cruise along one of our local bike trails, or just head out along the beach. Bikes don’t have to be that serious - they’re supposed to be fun, after all!
Cruisers are great for riding comfortably on flat surfaces. They’re upright, have wide tires, and wide handlebars. Cruisers are often single speed, but do come in multi-speed options. Looking for the bike equivalent of a Cadillac? Start here.
Comfort bikes are great for people looking for a ride similar to a cruiser, but with more versatility. You’ll find wide tires and upright geometry on comfort bikes, designed to make the ride as smooth as possible. They take the strain off your neck, wrists, and back, with ergonomic components and a very upright position. These bikes are better for longer rides than a cruiser, as they’ve got a wider range of gears. Comfort bikes are great for people looking to take their bikes to a park or on a family camping trip. They can usually handle light dirt paths as well as pavement.
You’ll hear the term hybrid used often in the bike world. A true hybrid bike bridges the gap between a street bike and a mountain bike, borrowing a little bit from each category to make a bike that does well in various conditions. You’ll find the straight handlebars and shift levers like a mountain bike, but a wheel and tire size closer to a road bike. Hybrids have semi-knobby tires which give you enough grip to ride on dirt but are smooth enough to not drag you down on pavement. Disc brakes give you stopping power on various surfaces and light suspension forks smooth out the ride. They’re not meant for technical off road riding, but they can hold their own on dirt. Hybrids are relatively upright as far as bikes go, but less so than cruiser or comfort bikes.
Similar in position to a hybrid but designed for the pavement. There are a ton of options in this category, from basic around town bikes to high end, deluxe commuters with all the trimmings. City bikes tend to be faster and smoother on the pavement than hybrids. They’ve got smoother tires, no suspension, and usually weigh less than your average hybrid. We stock a ton of different bikes in this category - it’s our most popular, for sure.
Cycling is a fantastic way to get some exercise. Whether you’re an ex-runner whose knees are saying “no more” or someone who is looking to make their lifestyle more active, riding a bike is a fun and engaging experience. It’s also refreshing to feel the wind in your hair and smell the ocean when compared to the environs of your local gym. Any bike you ride will totally get your heart rate moving, but some types of bikes are better than others when fitness is the task. We’ve got a bunch of different bikes that are tailored to different levels of aerobic activity. Your own workout goals will help us get you on the right one.
Not sure which bike is right for you? Fill out our custom quote form and one of our salespeople will look over your information and give you some personalized recommendations.
Flat Bar Road Bikes
When someone comes in and says “I’m looking for a bike to get some exercise” this is the first place we usually start. Pairing the smoothness of a road bike with the familiarity of a hybrid’s flat handlebars, these bikes give you the best of both worlds. They’re lightweight and efficient on the pavement, yet a bit simpler and more purpose built than a road bike. Not necessarily designed for a 3 hour effort, a flat bar road bike (also called a fitness road bike) is better for an hour of power on the road. With a flat handlebar you get a position that is more comfortable for people who are less used to riding in traffic - good for anyone who is active but new to cycling.
Endurance Road Bikes
An endurance road bike makes a great fitness bike for someone who is ready to dive deep into a new sport. While the majority of endurance road bikes that we sell are to cycling enthusiasts looking for an upgrade from their first road bike, they also make great bikes for people who see fitness as an endurance challenge. If your idea of a “run” used to be more like a “half marathon” then an endurance road bike might be a good place to start?
Comfort bikes make great fitness bikes for new riders or older folks whose bodies demand a more upright position. A comfort bike may be a little slower and a lot more relaxed than a flat bar road bike or hybrid bike, but in many cases, your body’s happiness comes first. You can’t get any exercise if getting onto the bike is a chore.
Need some more help?
Fill out our custom quote form and one of us will get back to you within 2 working days. We'll give you the best advice and feedback you'll find at any Bay Area bike shop, and do our best to get you rolling on a new bike.