As I ride my bicycle around the local area I see a lot more people riding bicycles, I think, “ How great is this!!” First it seems people on Marco Island are using the more than 20 miles of bike lanes that have been installed in recent years and secondly we are really helping the environment, but most importantly I know it is great for our health.
As I see the varying styles of bicycles people are riding a few things always pop into my head, first “that bike doesn’t seem to fit them right” and with that “is that the type of bicycle they really need for the type of riding they seem to be doing?” I do notice a lot of people riding bikes that don’t seem to be fitting their cycling needs or what I perceive to be their needs based on my many years of selling and riding bicycles myself. For nearly every customer that strolls into one of my shops I always try to understand what type of riding they want to do or are currently doing, or even maybe their long-term goals.
Once I get an understanding of what type of goals people are looking for I try to set them into the bike that would best fit their cycling needs and with that there are many different styles of bicycles in today’s market to fit all of those needs and then some. Being here on Marco Island and even Southwest Florida some of the cycling needs are a bit different than someone riding Colorado, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a few that are exactly the same either. So with that I will try to go over a few of the top styles of bicycle today, starting with the most basic.
Beach Cruiser bicycles, as the name says, is a cruiser not necessarily for the beach, because that is illegal in most towns, but its sole purpose is to cruise. With that notion it’s not to say someone can’t ride 10- 30 miles a day or more on a cruiser, a lot of people do and get great exercise that way but its basic idea was for around the town cruising. Cruisers come in all shapes and sizes and also from one speed to 21 speeds.
Hybrid bicycles are a cross between a mountain bicycle (26 inch height and knobby tread) and a road bicycle (700 cm tall and slicker tread). This style of bicycle is intended for more on street use or packed dirt, where faster speeds and more distance are your main goals. These bicycles also come in varying gear ranges, but mostly you will find them with 21 speeds and most with front shocks and seat post suspension. The handlebars are higher as well so you are sitting more upright.
Mountain bicycles, or ATB’s are pretty much what their name suggests, designed for use in mountains or mountainous type terrain. Most mountain bikes come with 26-inch knobby tires, and in recent years some have started coming with 29-inch wheels for more traction and control. Handlebars on ATB’s are more flat so you are bent over them, so not as comfortable as a hybrid or a cruiser, but this position is designed to assist in steering and control while on the rough terrain. Most mountain bikes have some sort of suspension system either on the front or rear and even both and they are usually geared with 21 speeds or more.
Road bicycles are designed for use on the roads at usually higher levels of speed and much longer distances. These are the bikes that we see being used by Lance Armstrong and company. They are usually light in weight and come in 18 speeds and up to 30 speeds. There a re varying styles of road bikes as well, some are built with more comfort where the brakes are on top of the handlebars as well as on the drops (the curved part of the handlebar). Also some have higher head tubes (where the handlebar stem and fork meet) so it puts the rider in a higher riding position, so not to be as bent over.
Recumbent bicycles are a longer wheel based bicycle, which puts the rider much lower to the ground and in a position where they pedal forward. The seats have backs to them as well, which makes it more comfortable for riders with back issues. There are many variations to this style of bicycle as well, some have handlebars that are more in front of the rider, and some have a steering mechanism that sits below the rider’s seat. Some designs even have very unique uses of three wheels.
Track bikes which is the style my grandfathers used to race on, have drop handlebars, light weight, no gears – no brakes, and the one gear that is used is fixed so the rider cannot pedal backwards (freewheel) only forward, but stronger proficient riders can stop these bicycles if need be. A variation of a hybrid bike and a track bike or some culmination of both is the messenger bike, which started to be used many years ago by the bigger city bike messengers. The simplicity of this style made the bicycle easier and lighter for them to ride the busy streets and get their packages delivered in a more efficient and faster manner.
There are also many variations of all the above bicycles that have been designed over the years, there is cyclocross which is basically a road bicycle designed to be ridden on dirt trails. There are downhill mountain bikes, which have beefed up suspension to be used strictly for downhill style racing. There are also unicycles, which only have one wheel and there are variations of the unicycle as well. The list goes on and on.
So as you can see their many different styles and designs of bicycles that have been built over the last 150 plus years. The most important thing is to have the right type of bicycle for your intended use. So if you just really wanted to comfortably cruise the local streets of your community you might not want a mountain bike or a track bike, but more than likely a cruiser or hybrid or even a recumbent. So if you’re in the market for a new bicycle, first and most importantly ask yourself, “Self, what type of riding am I really looking to do over the long term?”
Matt Walthour, a Marco Island resident since 1985 is a graduate from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and is the owner of Island Bike Shop and Scootertown on Marco Island and Naples. He is also a member of the Marco Island bike path ad-hoc committee.