Bike School Part 2: Choosing and Fitting the Right Bike

bike school

Bike Shopping 101 … It’s time to pick out your bike!

So you’ve decided to give cycling a spin! Congratulations! Now, choosing the right bike for comfort can seem intimidating.

Sports Medicine Surgeon, Dr. Andrew Bries, ORA Orthopedics, and Rock Valley Physical Therapist, Anna Perry, welcome you to “Bike School,” a four-part series designed to inspire everyone to take up cycling.

Anna gets a bike fitting demonstration from Jeff Bradley of The Trek Store in Davenport.

Bikes come in a variety of shapes and sizes – each one designed to meet the requirements of bikers who want and need their bike to perform a certain way in specific conditions. It’s important to know the differences in order to find the right bike for you!

But where to begin?

In the video below, Rock Valley Physical Therapist, Anna Perry, meets Former Olympic and Tour De France Cyclist, Jeff Bradley, at his Trek Bike Store,  Davenport, Iowa.


Q: How do you decide which bike to buy?

Bikes for beginners will fit into 4 main categories: road, mountain, hybrid, and e-bike.

RAGBRAI riders most often choose road bikes for long distance comfort, versatility on roads and hills, and the most efficient energy use for long hauls.

Road bikes are the most common type. They are lighter, have thinner tires, and have rounded handle bars allowing for a more aerodynamic stance.  They are made for longer distances on hard, smooth surfaces.

Becky Bernard rides Quad City mountain bike trails through the organization, Friends of Off Road Cycling

Mountain bikes are made to ride on dirt or rock trails They have thicker, knobbier tires. They also have a suspension fork in the front and sometimes in the back. These features allow the bike to grip the natural surface and ride over objects, however they lead to inefficiency and harder work than a road or a hybrid bike on a hard surface trail.

Hybrid bikes are great for in-town leisurely riding on streets or paths.

Hybrid bikes combine the best features of road and mountain bikes to make for a comfortable ride on a hard surface.  They have flat handle bars, medium thick tires, and sometimes suspension on the front.  They allow a more comfortable, upright posture for in-town, medium distance riding on the trails.

An E-bike or electric bike is a bike that is built like a hybrid but has a small electric motor that assists in propelling the bike.

Electric bikes are built like a hybrid but have small electric motors that assists in maintaining the bike’s forward momentum. Most are set up to only assist when the rider is actually pedaling.

These are ideal for those who physically need assistance to keep up with their riding partners or to do the same distances they used to do. These bikes expand riding opportunities to those with conditions like heart issues, stroke, or lung disease.


Q: What are the pros and cons of buying bikes online, in a big box store or local bike shop?

Anna Perry, Physical Therapist, Rock Valley Physical Therapy

When buying a bike, there are 3 main places to look: big box stores, online garage sale sites, and local bike shops.  I’ll point out some pros and cons of each.

Big box stores are likely the cheapest option for a new bike. However the bikes are of low quality, heavy, not built to be maintained, and not made to be adapted to really fit a rider.  They will wear out and are not always a smooth ride.  But, they are inexpensive and that may be the bottom line.

Online garage sale sites like Craig’s list are popular to buy and sell bikes.  You can find some really good deals here. However, you are at the mercy of what is available at the time you are looking.  It may be hard to find the right type of bike in your size in a price range you can afford. It may take some patience to get what you want this way. Take a friend who likes to ride with you to check out the bike if you are feeling unsure.

Local bike shops will have a variety of bikes available all of the time.  They can help you select the right type and size of bike for you.  These bikes are going to be lighter, easy to maintain, and can be modified to fit the rider.  They are more expensive on the front end, but will last much longer. They will provide a much more comfortable ride as well.


Q: What are the bike fitting basics? Do women and men require different considerations?

Getting set up with a good fit starts at the foot. The ball of your foot should be right on or in front of the pedal spindle. This allows you to use more muscles to move the bike.  This contact must be consistent every time you have your foot on your pedals, so having cages on the pedals or the type of pedal that hooks to your shoes as you advance can help you with this.

Vital measurements for getting a good fit when it comes to selecting your next bike.

Next we look at the seat height and fore/aft to get your knees set up in good position.  Riding with the seat too low is the most common mistake.  You should not be able to sit on your seat and have your feet flat on the ground. When your pedal is in the 3 o’clock position, the front of your knee should be just over the spindle of the pedal.  Your knee should still have a small amount of bend in it when it is at its most extended.  This is the trickiest part and you may need help from the bike shop or someone trained in bike fitting to help you.

Once you have your legs set, you turn to your trunk. A beginner will often be most comfortable if his/her trunk (waist) is bent forward about 45 degrees with a soft bend in the elbows.  This is achieved by changing out the stem of the bike if necessary.  (Box bikes often do not have this capability.)  The hands and wrists should have a neutral position on the bars, avoiding being cocked in any direction.

Women’s Specific Design bicycles are not just a low step over height.  Though not mandatory, they are built with female proportions in mind. They have a shorter top tube, narrower handle bars with smaller drops, and brake levers with a smaller reach to fit a typically smaller hand.


Q: What are the most important accessories and why?

The basic accessories for riding on the road or path are:

  • Helmet: Slow or fast speed; Experienced or just starting out; Accidents happen to everyone and you need to protect your most important asset, your brain!
  • Gloves: Gloves have padding and recesses to protect the nerves that run your hand, decrease discomfort, and improve grip on the handle bars.
  • Padded shorts: Padded shorts can make a big difference in the comfort of your ride. They are often the answer to pain in your rear end.  A big fat cushy seat on the bike is not.
  • Shoes: Cycling shoes have a very stiff sole which decreases pain from pushing on pedals and improves the transfer of power from your legs to the bike. You benefit from wearing cycling shoes even if you choose not to have the type of pedal that you “click into.”
  • Lights: A red blinking light on the back and a headlight improve visibility to other trail or road users to improve your safety while you are out riding.
  • Bright clothing: This is a time to wear “loud” clothing to help you be seen by others on the trail or road.


Special Bike Fit Offer from Rock Valley Physical Therapy

If you think you’re a candidate for a medical bike fitting due to physical challenges or concerns, Rock Valley Physical Therapy will assess your needs and personally measure you for the right type of bike and frame.

Email Rock Valley Physical Therapy, for more information.


Watch Part 3: Road Safety and Bike Etiquitte