General Bike FAQ
Electric Bike Frequently Asked Questions
A hybrid bike describes a broad array of bikes that fall between the mountain bike and road bike categories. Hybrids combine some features from mountain bikes, like flat handlebars, wide-range gearing and improved tire clearance with features from road bikes like lighter weight, and faster-rolling wheels and tires. Many riders prefer hybrid bikes because they are so versatile.
What is a commuter bike?
Almost any bike can be a commuter bike, but the term usually applies to bikes that are designed for the stop-and-go nature of riding in town. Commuter bikes often have a simple drivetrain, with just seven or eight gears, and a frame geometry that promotes a more visible, upright riding position. A coveted feature of some commuter bikes is an internally geared rear hub, which permits gear shifting without pedaling and reduces maintenance. Commuter bikes also will usually come equipped with fenders, a rack, and sometimes even built-in lights.
Correct sizing is the single most important way to have a comfortable bike. Find a bicycle shop that will spend the time with you to ensure your bike is the right size and is properly fitted, and you will have gone a long way towards having a comfortable, long-term relationship with your bike. After that, you can fine-tune your comfort by paying attention to the places your body contacts the bike: make an investment in a quality seat and some ergonomic grips to ease the stress on your hands, and even consider changing the pedals to provide a wider, more comfortable platform for your feet.
An internally geared hub (IGH) is a way for a bike to have a range of gears without requiring a rear derailleur. These hubs use a system of planetary gears contained inside the hub shell, and unlike derailleur-equipped bikes the gears can be shifted while the bike is at a standstill, or while the rider is not pedaling. There are IGHs with as few as two and as many as fourteen gears for riding applications from city bikes to touring bikes. For an extremely thorough discussion of the IGH visit Sheldon Brown.
While nobody can avoid flats completely, there are a number of simple steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of a flat tire ruining your ride. Start by making sure your tires are properly inflated and that the valve stem is perpendicular to the rim. Avoid obvious road or trail debris, and take the time to stop and remove thorns, glass, etc from your tire before they have a chance to work their way through the tire to the tube. Adding a sealant to your tubes can even make the tubes self-healing in the event of a puncture. Definitely invest in high quality tires with a built-in puncture resistant layer below the tread, and consider replacing your thin tubes with thicker, thorn-resistant tubes.
It is always wise to check your tire pressure every time you head out on your bike - a quick squeeze with your hand should tell you if things are ok - but how frequently you actually pump up the tires is very dependent on the size and type of tire and tube. A good general rule is to pump up weekly, but if your tires are high volume such as cruiser or mountain bike tires you may find that you only need to get out the pump every few weeks, particularly because the tires will function well over a fairly wide range of pressures. On the other hand, a narrow, high pressure racing tire usually requires topping off daily to maintain the pressure within a critical range for performance. Generally, the wider the tire, the less frequently it needs to be pumped up.
Do as much maintenance as your confidence allows. Start by making sure you can take care of your tire pressure and chain lubrication, then move up to simple user-friendly adjustments like adjusting your brakes with the barrel adjusters. It is certainly a big confidence-booster to understand how to fix a flat tire, so try doing a practice tire change in the comfort of your home before you find yourself having to learn by the side of the road. These days the internet is a great source of useful tips on how to do nearly every repair imaginable, but there’s no substitute for having a friendly, capable mechanic at your local bike shop.
The easiest way is to spin the crankarms (what the pedals are attached to) backwards to get the chain moving through the drivetrain in reverse, then hold your bottle of lubricant so it drips a thin stream of lube on the chain as it moves past. Be careful not to splash any lube on the wheel, especially the rim if that is your braking surface. Four or five turns of the cranks should be sufficient, after which you will want to stop applying the lube. Now grab a rag and remove the excess lube by passing the chain through the rag as you spin the cranks again.
One of the best ways is to install a set of fenders, which will keep most road grime off your bike (and you). Still, every bike gets a little dirty, but a rag and a spray bottle of window cleaner can go a long way to keeping the frame and wheels shiny. For the drivetrain, a stiff brush, a rag, and some elbow grease will keep the gears clean, which will reduce wear and improve the life of your gears, chain and crankset. There are even tools designed to clean your chain while it is on the bike. Whatever you do, don’t subject your bike to any high pressure washing, as you can push dirt, water and solvents past the bike’s seals and into the bearings. In general, keeping the bike’s surfaces clean will reduce the likelihood of dirt finding its way into the bike’s inner workings.
An annual tuneup is an inexpensive way to keep your bike working in like-new condition. If you are a daily commuter riding through all kinds of weather, you may even have your bike tuned up as often as two or three times a year. For most of us, the winter is a perfect time to bring the bike in for a once-a-year tuneup, as some shops will offer reduced rates in the off-season and can usually get to your bike a little sooner than in the spring or summer. A good tuneup by an experienced mechanic will save you money in the long run because much of the service is preventative maintenance and should save you having to replace parts prematurely.
Nearly every bike still uses a standard bike sizing method, which is to measure the distance from the center of the bottom bracket (the point the cranks rotate around) to the top of the seat tube, where the seatpost attaches to the bike. The distance is roughly related to leg length, and so to a person’s overall height. Typical adult bike sizes run from about 14” to 23”, but it is very important to understand that the bike’s stated size is a very rough starting point for getting fitted comfortably to your bike. There is no substitute for a test ride to determine whether a bike is the correct size and fit for you.
Lights are at least as important as a helmet for rider safety. Even though federal law currently does not require bikes to have lights (only reflectors) many states have enacted laws requiring bike lights, so it is worth finding out what your local laws are. Regardless, a light is the single best way to make yourself visible on the road.