That's a great idea. So, where do we start? Well let's see, you can pick up a bike at most any of the major department stores, like Wal-Mart or Kmart maybe Sears and even some hardware stores. All ranging from $50.00 to $200.00 or so, not a bad place to start. However these are the cheap ones, sort of designed to break down and wear out rather fast. If you could get five years of use out of them you would be lucky. Personally, I would say that if your funds are rather short, and whose isn't these days. Grab a cheap bike to begin with. Then shop around the local bike shops for your next replacement. Mind you these will end up running you a few more coins, something like $400.00 to $800.00 range. But still cheaper than an internal combustion engine running vehicle would set you back.
To begin with ... we need to answer some pertinent questions, To better understand how to proceed. So, why do you want to ride -- to exercise; commute to work; run errands or just for a leisurely country ride? Where do you want to ride -- potholed city streets; open roads; gravel bike roads or maybe a mix of environments? Finally, how do you like to ride -- in an upright position; leisurely paced or leaning hard forward as in a race mode where ever you go? Answering these questions will help you to figure out which bike may better suit your needs. Oh, before I forget, you may want to look into a recumbent bike or trike, they are like sitting in a recliner.
Let's look at some options here. Mountain Bikes. If your main terrain to travel on is a pockmarked city street or rough bike trails, a mountain bike might be your best choice. Chances are that you will not need a dual suspension bike, but you may feel better with front shock absorbers if the streets are really bad. Semi-slick tires grab blacktop better than knobby mountain bike tires. So if riding mainly in town, get a pair of those. Kona, Specialized, Trek and other manufactures make excellent mountain bikes that sell for $500.00 or less. Check out Mountain Bike Review (www.mtbr.com) for ratings on the latest models.
Touring Bikes. If you take to the open road more often, you will probably want a road or touring bike. These have different features than mountain bikes. Like drop handlebars, larger wheels and narrower tires. Also the frame geometry is different than other bikes. I understand that the entry-level touring bike costs a bit more than the mountain bikes, but check around with your local bike shops ~ they may have last year's model on sale. Road Bike Review (www.roadbikereview.com) has ratings on the latest models.
Cruiser & City Bikes. If you are just into leisurely riding around town and like the upright sitting position, check out what are called cruiser bikes. These are curvalicious, fairly heavy,with balloon-tires, swept back handlebars that are fun to ride, as long as the road is more or less flat. A closely related bike style is the city bike. Which is a little bit lighter than a cruiser, with narrower tires more gears and higher gearing. Googling cruiser & city bikes should give you many more sites and information on these bikes.
OK, let's fit the frame to you. Most frames - as long as they are appropriately sized for the rider's height - can be made to fit almost anybodies particular body geometry. This is, of course, absolutely specific to each person. So the only way you are going to figure out what is best for you, is to sit on a few bikes and see what is comfortable, what needs adjusting like the handlebars or the seat positions. Most bike shops are more than willing to help with adjustments, some may even loan a bike for a day. So that you will have time to figure out if the bike is right for you.
Now as for Recumbent Bikes & Trikes. These are not as well known about as a normal bike or trike is, so their price tag tends to be quite high. However (www.atomiczombie.com) is a good place to start your research on their forums as a lurker. This site sells plans for you to build and adjust your ride with a myrid of possibilities. Their form discussions are both interesting and informative. They also have a gallery that show off other people's creations from around the world.
OK, now on to some Useful Accessories. Once you have your new bike or trike, hit the road. It may not be to long before you end up wanting a few accessories, particularly if you are using your bike or trike for commuting. Full-coverage fenders are a necessity and a rack with pannier bags can be a convenient relief from wearing a backpack all of the time. A bell is handy and fun to scare the squirrels with. Lights are a must if you ride at night or early morning, also they may help to showcase you in storms and/or fog. Don't forget reflectors, they are a must by law in most places now. Now don't forget about hydration, with cup/can and bottle holders. You may even consider installing a large water hydration bag that you can sip from while you keep on pedaling down the road. Helmets claim to save lives and most places now have it on their books as the law of the land ~ That all bikers whether pedal or motor ... any cyclist must wear a helmet. At the very least a helmet gives a cyclist more places to install lights, mirrors and reflectors.
All right, you bought or built it and tricked it out. Now ride it. The brakes may stick, you may be unable to shift through the full range of your gearing, the wheels may feel to "flexy", etc. These are pretty much normal symptoms of breaking in your bike. Most of your problems will occure with in the first 200 miles or so of you riding your bike or trike. If you bought your ride, take it back to where you bought it. Most reputable bike shops will do post break-in servicing for free. Even if it is not free, the small charge to readjust, tighten, realign or whatever is well worth the piece of mind to fix your wheels. If you built it (www.atomiczombie.com) is a good place to get advice on how to go about fixing your wheels on your own.
Speaking of fixing things on your own. Learning to perform basic maintaince is fun and can save you some of your hard earned coins. Also it may open up another stream of an income for you as a bicycle repairman(woman). Here are a few great on line resources: Park Tool's repair help section (www.parktool.com/repair); articles from the late bike expert Sheldon Brown (www.sheldonbrown.com) and the "Bicycle Mechanics" section of bike forums (www.bikeforums.net).
Sometimes though ~ when your hands are coated in grease and grime, and "she-who-must-be-obeyed" won't let you in the house (much less any where near the computer) ~ you need a hard copy helper. Here some excellent paper-based references: "Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance" (Velo-Press,2005), "Bicycling Magazine's Basic Maintenance and Repair" (Rodel Press, 1999), and "Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair" (Rodel Press, 1999) to name a few. If you buy any of these from (www.amazon.com) they will also suggest other possible choices that may also help you out of your dilemma.
Whew, will you look at that, another week has slipped me by. It seems that the longer posts take more time to prepare and to get them into a readable posting. Sorry about that my friends, but I am trying to get the facts straight so that everyone will get out of my posts, what I try to put into them. Which almost makes me glad that I am not an editor for a daily paper of some kind.
I must add a thank you to Mother Earth News Magazine for help with this post as some of the information was gleaned from an article, written in their wiser living series a "Guide to Living on Less and Loving It" in the summer of 2009. Yes I save old magazines, you never know when an article or subject will come in handy. So thank you Mother Earth News.
As I close this post my friends,
Let's all try to get a little healthier while saving some of the environment,
Maybe also some of our hard earned coins,
All by pedaling our arses off ...