CHOOSING THE RIGHT BIKE
The first, and most important, question to ask yourself is what bike will you be most comfortable riding? On the Ride you will see all different kinds of people riding all different kinds of bikes. Since you will be spending many, many hours in the saddle it is very important that you choose a bike that you'll be comfortable on. The good news is that you don't have to go out and spend a fortune on a slick new road bike (unless of course you want to do that!) -- pretty much any kind of bike will do, as long as it's in good condition. Two of the most important things you'll need to do are to have your bike checked by a reputable mechanic and get your bike fit checked by a bike fit professional.
When you take your bike to a mechanic they should inspect the frame and all the parts to ensure they are in good condition. Be sure you tell them you'll be putting in hundreds of miles both in training and on the Ride in July.
Equally important is making sure your bike is fitted to your body. You should have your bike fit by a professional -- this might not be the same person who sells you the bike. Most bike shops will do a very basic check, but you'll want someone who will look at the nuances of your body, including your physiology, flexibility, strengths, weaknesses and past injuries. A good bike fit will take at least an hour, probably a bit longer. They will look at the frame size in relation to your body, and your saddle, handlebar and cleat positions. For more detailed information on the importance of bike fit and injury prevention, see the section titled "The Importance of Proper Bike Fit."
The second question you should ask yourself is how much and what kind of riding do you expect to do once the Ride is over? Your answer should help steer you towards the right bike for you. Do you plan to do a lot more road riding? If so, then a road bike might be the best choice for you. Or do you think you might stick to those leisurely weekend rides? You might decide that a hybrid is most practical. Maybe you are more into mountain biking, and once the Ride is over you'll probably be hitting the trail a lot more? If that's you, then it might make sense for you to do the ride on a mountain bike.
The third question is how much money do you want to invest? As a general rule, road bikes will be more expensive than hybrids and most mountain bikes. And the more you spend, the better the quality. So, if you decide to go with a road bike, you might want to look at it as an investment and spend the extra money to buy a mid- or higher-end bike, which will give you better components and better durability. It would be a shame to try and save money now by buying a cheaper bike, only to end up replacing it a year down the road (and spending more money).
Many people prefer road bikes. The lighter weight and narrow tires will help you conserve energy, and the handlebars on road bikes offer a variety of hand positions so you can move your hands around to avoid staying in a static position for hours on end. Road bikes come in a wide range of makes and models, and each will feel a little different. A good road bike will run $600 and up, depending on the make, model and components.
Other people find hybrid bikes more comfortable. They offer a more upright position, which can be helpful if you have back problems. Hybrid bikes tend to be heavier than most road bikes, but many people find that the added weight and upright body position help them feel more stable while riding. A good hybrid bike will run $400 and up.
For those who prefer the trail to the open road, a mountain bike might be the best choice. You can make some modifications to help make a mountain bike more road-friendly, such as putting on slick tires and locking the shocks (if you have adjustable shocks). With the lower gearing on mountain bikes, you might even find some of those big hills more tackleable (and some road bikers might be looking at you enviously)! A good mountain bike will run $500 and up.
For those of you looking for real comfort and especially for those of you who might have back or neck issues, you might find a recumbant bike the ideal choice. They might look different with the low to ground riding style, but those who ride them regularly, wouldn't ride anything else.You won't see these riders complaining about a sore butt or back! This is due to the chair like seat which includes a full back rest. It will take a little time to adjust to this riding style, but the more you ride the more you will adjust to the differences in riding style from a more traditional bike. A good recumbant will run $900 and up. Having your bike fit will be less time consuming than a traditional bike, but it is just as important to have a professional bike tech make the adjustments you will need.
If you're shopping for a new bike, we recommend trying as many different brands and models as possible, so that you get a really good feel for the differences in frame size and geometry (which will affect your position and level of comfort on the bike), the different types of gearing systems and the different frame materials (which will affect how the bike feels and how sensitive it is to road texture). Be sure to ask a lot of questions when you visit the bike shops, and tell them specifically what you'll be using the bike for (and how many hours you'll be spending on it). Finally, buy your bike from a shop where you like the people who work there and where you feel comfortable asking questions. This will make a difference down the road when you return to the store for tune-ups, to buy other accessories, or if you simply have more questions about the bike you've chosen.
The next important step is to make sure you get your bike properly fitted.