Bicycle sales are surging in Canada as more and more people seek alternate transportation options. Even while shops and non-essential services begin to slowly open up, COVID-19 has ensured many of us will remain at home for the foreseeable future. For those heading back into communal spaces, bike riding is a way to avoid public transportation. For those at home, it’s a great way to get your cardio in while avoiding the gym and getting some fresh air.
One important caveat: that’s if you can find one. There’s reportedly been a country-wide shortage of bikes, so make sure you call around to see if any are available or comb your neighbourhood Facebook buy and sell.
If you manage to find a bike, it can be hard knowing what to look for. We talked to Claire McFarlane of the cycling advocacy group Cycle Toronto to get advice on how to get started biking.
What type of bike should I buy?
McFarlane says the most common type of bike is a hybrid. “They’re a great starter bike.” They typically have a more upright riding position. Along with being great for commuting due to its comfortable design, she says they’re also versatile to suit rougher landscapes. In her experience, she says an entry-level price range for a good hybrid bike is about $500.
For traveling longer distances, there’s also road bikes—which have a drop-bar handlebar, putting you in a bent-forward, aerodynamic position. Most road bikes are good for fitness, event rides, racing and travelling. “If you’re going to be commuting during these times … or you just want to do some longer, faster rides on the weekends, something like a road bike would better suit your riding style.”
If you’re interested in checking out trails or traversing different terrains, a mountain bike might be more your speed.
“If you’re going to be doing more slower, just-for-fun trips around the city, you can look at more of a cruiser-style bike,” she says. “They have the more upright riding style [and] tend to be a little bit heavier.” They tend to be around $600 upwards.
Each bike is different, but weight is worth considering if you’ll be hauling your bike up a set of stairs—road bikes are generally lighter than mountain bikes, and hybrids fall somewhere in between.
Where should I buy a bike from?
Again, It’s important to note that finding a bike right now might pose some issues.
While department stores like Walmart and Canadian Tire sell an array of bicycles, McFarlane suggests people check out local bike stores instead. “Bike shops are going to be employed by people [who are the] most knowledgeable about good products. They’ll be able to make a solid recommendation about a bike that works best for you.” She says they’ll also likely have better products, as they’re assembled by qualified mechanics. When it comes to buying from department stores, they likely don’t employ dedicated bike staff and the products themselves might be assembled by workers who are not experienced in bike assembly. The same goes for buying online. Your local bike shop might be backed up with requests for bikes, but it’s worth checking in with them and seeing how long the wait is.
What should I look for when buying a used bike?
“You can definitely get some great used bikes,” McFarlane says. You should go into your search with an idea of what you’re looking for, and request a test drive if possible. “These days [you can] request a porch pickup, to maintain some distance between you and the seller.” Requesting a test drive is a fairly reasonable request, as you’ll want to know what’s comfortable for you before you purchase it. You might also be able to get used bikes from a trusted bike shop as opposed to a private seller through sites like Kijiji. This might be the best option for biking newbies as the shop can advise you on your choice, and ensure you’re getting a quality product.
How do I know if a bike fits properly?
When you’re standing over the top tube of the bike—the part between the seat (saddle) and the handlebars—you’ll want to be able to plant your feet flat on the ground with a bit of space between your crotch and the bike. If you don’t have enough space, or you can’t put your feet flat on the ground at all, you should probably go for a smaller bike. Similarly, if there’s a lot of space between you and the bike, consider a bigger size. If you have a step-through bike, McFarlane says you can use the reach to the handlebars as an indicator for good fit.
When you’re sitting on the seat, you should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably with a bit of a bend in your elbows. (Make sure your elbows aren’t locked.) As for seat height, it should be high enough that your leg will almost fully extend when on the lowest pedal (with a slight bend at the knee). She notes that if your seat is the proper height for you but also at the lowest it can go, you might want to think about a smaller bike. Similarly, if the seat is at the best position while it’s close to the minimum insertion line on your seat post, you might want to think about getting a bigger bike. “If you pull the seat post out of your bike frame, you’ll likely see a line that indicates the highest you can have your seat before it threatens the structural integrity of your bike frame. Sometimes your bike’s warranty is actually voided if you’ve been riding with the seat above the minimum insertion line.”
What are some accessories I can add to my bike?
First, you’ll want to get the mandatory accessories like lights and bells out of the way (more on this later). Aside from the bike itself, you can add some cool accessories to make it a more comfortable and easy experience. Take fenders, for example, which stop any mud from flying up. “Sometimes when you’re riding in wet weather, you can end up with a stripe of mud down your back. Fenders are the accessory that will stop that from happening and just help keep you dry.” You can also get a rack, which typically is added to the back of your bike. It allows you to put a basket or a pannier (a bag that clips onto the side of the rack) to help you transport things as you ride.
What helmet should I buy?
Comfort is key, says McFarlane. If you look on the inside of the helmet, there should be some kind of certification. There are a number of certifications that are good. A Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved helmet, for example, would offer multiple levels of protection. The rule for helmet sizing is the 2-V-1 rule. When you put the helmet level on your head, it should cover the top of your head and sit two finger-widths above your eyebrows. The side straps should meet to form a V shape around your ears. The last step is to ensure you can fit only one finger between the fastened strap and your chin.
What type of bike lock should I buy?
A study lock can go a long way, especially if you live in a metropolitan area where bike theft is an issue. “U-locks start around $80, which I know sounds kind of crazy, but it’s really worth the investment.” She says a more expensive lock typically has thicker materials, which take longer to cut through. Many also comes with handy features, like anti-rust coating and a key replacement program in case you ever lose your set.
As for locks to avoid, McFarlane says cable locks can be quite flimsy. The braided core is easy to cut through with cable cutters, so they make a good secondary lock, if anything.
How firm should my bike tires be?
“The old trick is that you want to be able to press down on the top of the tire and it should feel like your forehead, not like your cheek.” Though if you want a more accurate way of determining tire pressure, McFarlane says you can also look at the sidewall of your tire, there will be a recommended pressure range—something like 80 to 100 PSI, which is pounds per square inch. You’ll want to fit within that range.
“If you’re somebody who wants to do a little bit more of an easy going, comfortable ride, you can go towards the lower end of the range. If you want something super efficient or speedy, you have to go towards the higher end of the range,” McFarlane advises.
What type of brakes should I have?
“For normal, every day riding, I’d say your regular V-brakes are great. If you’re somebody who wants to do more commuting and you’re going to be riding through wet weather, or sometimes through the winter, you can think about a bike that has disc brakes that gives you better gripping power in wet conditions … they also last a lit bit longer, so that’s a bonus, as well,” says McFarlane.
What laws do I have to follow when I’m riding my bike on streets?
It depends on where you’re riding. In Ontario, it’s law for your bike to be equipped with a bell or horn. They’re important for traffic safety, as well as alerting parked cars you’re passing to ensure they don’t hit you as they’re exiting their cars. If you’re riding half an hour before sunset or half an hour after sunset, you need a white or amber light on the front of your bike and a red light or reflector on the back of your bike. (The fine for improper lighting is $110 in Ontario.) “Nowadays they make rechargeable lights, which are much brighter and far more convenient,” McFarlane says. As for gear, anyone 18 or younger is required by law to wear an approved helmet. Make sure you look up the road bylaws relevant to your city and province before hitting the road.
What are some beginner tips to staying safe on the road?
McFarlane advises planning a safe route ahead of time that uses cycling infrastructure (bike lanes and trails) that your city has to offer. Knowing your route beforehand can help alleviate some anxiety that first-time riders feel, she says.
“I’d also say that riding in a predictable way is a great way to keep all road users safe. That means riding in a straight line as much as possible (avoid weaving in and out of spaces between parked cars), avoiding riding on the sidewalk as much as possible (people pulling out of driveways are usually looking for pedestrians, not someone travelling fast on a bike), and signalling before you turn or change lanes.”
And, of course, making sure to get your bike tuned up routinely—a couple of times a year if you ride regularly—by a reputable bike store to keep it in good (and safe) condition.