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by Gabrielle deGroot Redford, AARP The Magazine, May, 2008
Electra Townie Balloon 3 Tangerine
Modeled after the city bikes used in Europe, the Townie (pictured above) has what Electra calls flat-foot technology—you can literally put your feet down while seated. With eight speeds, it’s great for hills. And fat tires ensure a smooth ride.
Jamis Allegro 3X
A cross-training bike that can be used on- and off-road, the Allegro has a shock absorber in the fork, disk brakes for stopping instantly, and flat handlebars to help riders stay upright.
Imagine an automatic-transmission bike. That’s pretty much what Raleigh has engineered in this model, which features three speeds and coaster, or backpedal, brakes.
A performance road bike, it has a bunch of comfort-driven features—a more upright seating position, plus shock absorbers in the front and rear for comfortable cruising over bumpy terrain.
The Proper Bike Fit
Getting a bike that fits well can mean the difference between enjoying your time in the saddle and viewing it as a pain in the you know what. That’s because a poorly fitting bicycle really can be painful—and may even cause injury to your back, neck, knees, and—yes—your bottom.
Perhaps the easiest way to get a bicycle that fits your particular body shape and type is to go to a reputable bike shop and have the staff take some measurements. They’ll have you sit on the bike that you’re interested in, and then they’ll make recommendations about what size might best fit you. Once you have the bicycle in hand (or if you already have a bicycle that you like), your local bike shop mechanics will make additional adjustments to your handlebars and seat height to ensure a comfortable ride.
In general, though, you want to be conscious of several factors:
1. Proper saddle height Riders who haven’t been on a bike in a while may feel like they want to be able to touch the ground while seated. With the exception of the Electra Balloon 8—with its specifically engineered flat-foot technology—being able to touch the ground while seated is going to throw your body into all sorts of contortions when you’re actually riding the bike. Ideally, you want to have just a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of your pedal stroke, says Loren Mooney, executive editor of Bicycling magazine. “The advice I typically give to beginners is to set your saddle at a level that lets you feel confident and start riding. Then, after you become a little more comfortable on the bike, experiment with raising the seat until you have only that slight bend in the knee.”
2. Comfortable reach to handlebars Ideally, you should be able to maintain a slight bend in your elbows while your hands are on the brakes. (A reputable bike shop can adjust your handlebars to this effect.) “You don’t want to be so stretched out that your arms are straight,” says Mooney. “And if you’re putting a lot of weight on your hands, you’re probably not sitting upright enough.”
3. Some wiggle room A quick way to tell if the bike you have is too big for you (or too small) is to check the distance between you and the bike. Straddle the bike with your feet flat on the ground. If the bar is touching you (or you have to stand on tiptoe), the bike is too big. Unfortunately, there’s no way to adjust this—you’ll need to get a smaller bike. If there are at least a couple of inches to spare between you and the top bar, you’re fine. Once you start riding more often and more frequently, you may want to consult a bike-fitting expert for further refinements. Ask for names at your local bike shop.
Photo credits from top: courtesy of Jamis Bicycles; Earl Harper/Harper Studios; courtesy of Specialized Bicycles
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