How to choose a bike + necessary cycling gear and how to train for a big ride

April 19, 2024
How to choose a bike and what safety gear you'll need. Here, a dad helps put a bike helmet on a young girl. Photo: Getty Images.
Riding a bike is a great activity for people of all ages. Learn which type of bike to buy, what safety gear you’ll need — like a helmet — and how to train for a big ride. Photo: Getty Images.

Motivation and two wheels can get you just about anywhere you want to go in Colorado.

Whether you’re interested in a leisurely ride around the neighborhood or you’d like to train for a long bike touring trek, you can find bikes in all shapes, sizes and prices.

Getting from Point A to B, or even to Y and Z is a lot easier – and safer – when you have the proper gear, safety equipment and positive outlook to get you there.

Cycling is excellent exercise. It helps burn calories, gets blood pumping and builds muscle because of the resistance from pedaling. It also helps decrease stress hormones such as adrenalin, while releasing “feel-good” hormones like endorphins, which stimulate relaxation and happiness.

It is low impact and doesn’t put as much pressure on joints as other weight-bearing activities like jogging.  Still, it raises the heart rate and is a good way to increase aerobic capacity.

Cycling also is accessible for people of all ages and thus, is a great lifetime sport for everyone from toddlers on tricycles to competitive racers on road bikes, commuters on cruisers or electric bikes, or even a recumbent bike for those with back issues. People of all ages and abilities can find a bike to fit their budget and skill level.

So now that you’re convinced of the health benefits of bike riding, what’s next?

Before you climb on board

Bikers should understand how to use hand signals, should know their route, should take weather into consideration when planning a ride and should have proper gear to stay warm and dry when weather changes quickly, as it often does in the Rockies.

Wearing bight clothing, even jackets with flashing lights and reflective tape, is a good idea if you’re biking in early morning or twilight hours and you’re sharing the road with cars.

Padded shorts make for a more comfortable ride, and for long treks, you might want to apply some chamois butter skin lubricant (available at bike shops or online) as it helps reduce skin rubbing and irritation after many miles on a small, uncomfortable bike seat.

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen on your face and arms and legs. And lastly, while it’s tempting to tune out to traffic noise around you by tuning in to some music while you ride, be careful. Music might be fun to listen to but save it for when you stop, as it impedes your ability to hear traffic and other hazards.

You’re dressed for the bike lane, but let’s make sure your bike is equipped too.

The right equipment

First on the list is a bike helmet that fits well, with straps that snugly secure under your chin. Your helmet is the most important item besides a bike and is essential for safety no matter what type of riding you do. Too many recreational cyclists don’t wear a helmet because they don’t think they need one. And too many of them suffer head injuries after a fall, collision or some other accident.

Helmets come with nifty features, including lights on the front and back as well as blinkers that signal your turn direction.

A helmet should be worn at all times – even for a short ride around your neighborhood – and it needs to be on your head, not dangling from your handlebars because you’re hot or nearing your destination.

A handy checklist of additional useful bike gear includes:

  • Flags if riding a reticulated bike or hauling a trailer
  • Handlebar rearview mirror
  • Water bottle
  • Gloves
  • Eye wear
  • Front light and rear reflector
  • Bell to notify people when passing. (A shout of “on your left” is helpful too.)
  • Bike bags
  • Frame locks

With a bike bag, you can store a cell phone, spare tire tube in case of a flat and a small bike multi-tool for repairs and adjustments.

Cycling apps on phones or watches help measure distances, track calories and heart rate and set goals. And don’t forget to stay hydrated with your water bottle (s) with either plain water, or with some added energy drink, diluted to decrease the sugar level. A good rule of thumb is to consume at least one liter of liquid for every one to two hours of exercise.

You’re almost ready to ride – but which bike? Not to worry, as there’s a bike for everyone.

What bike is best for you?

A proper bike “fit” is a must. A bike shop expert can help determine the best bike frame size, seat width and handlebar height. If you are getting your bike out of winter storage, your brakes might need a tune up and the tires likely need to be inflated to the proper pressure indicated.

Whether you are new to cycling or an experienced biker who wants new challenges, consider your riding preference when choosing the right bike. Prices for new adult bikes vary widely, typically starting at about $250 and climbing all the way to $5,000 or more for competitive road bikes and high-end electric bikes. Here are the most popular cycling choices:

  • City/Commuter: Designed for riding on pavement or packed trails, they typically have between 1 and 27 gears, handlebar brakes, fenders, a chain guard and can include accessories such as lights, a rear rack and a kickstand.
  • Cruisers: They have become more popular in recent years for riders who like their comfortable ride, retro styling, simple design with bigger seats and typically only a few gears.
  • Road: Built for speed with lightweight aluminum or carbon frames, narrow tires and swept handlebars, these are for paved surfaces and are best if fitted to your size and position by a bike technician. They come in several types such as “adventure” bikes able to traverse gravel and rough terrain or touring bikes designed for riding multi-day long distances.  
  • Hybrid: A combination of commuter and road bikes, they are designed to be more versatile than either of those with 21-27 gears, straight handlebars, a more comfortable riding position with larger wheel diameters than road bikes and can travel on or off pavement.
  • Mountain: Long popular in Colorado, they have large knobby tires, a durable suspension frame, strong brakes, lower gears and excellent traction in rugged off-road terrain.
  • Cargo: Characterized by a large profile with a storage area in the front or back – or both – and designed to carry loads such as groceries, goods, kids and pets. The heavy frame is usually steel and they have only one or a few gears.
  • E-Bike: Perhaps the fastest growing sector of the cycling world is electric bikes, with a battery-powered motor to boost speed and assist rider pedal power, especially uphill. Typically, with bigger frames and tires, they can travel up to 20 mph or more depending on design, with some resembling a moped rather than a bike.

How to choose a bike. Focus on your goal. 

No matter if you ride a bike for recreation or commuting to work or school, it is a good foundation for building endurance and fitness. Setting more ambitious goals can include training for longer distances and more challenging rides.

Whatever your motivation, nothing beats the exhilaration of riding your bike as you bask in the sunshine and soak in Colorado’s natural beauty.

About the author

Mary Gay Broderick is a Denver-based freelance writer with more than 25 years experience in journalism, marketing, public relations and communications. She enjoys telling compelling stories about healthcare, especially the dedicated UCHealth professionals and the people whose lives they transform. She enjoys skiing, hiking, biking and traveling, along with baking (mostly) successful desserts for her husband and three daughters.