Somewhere out there is the ride that suits your speed, shape, and style. Find it.
• The more movement on a mountain bike’s front shock, the more bumps you’ll gobble. Rigs with rear shocks devour dips, but the extra weight can sap pedal power. Both use either air springs (pricey) or coil-and-rubber spring combos (simpler). Better suspension uses oil damping to adjust shock action.
• Good fit is critical. Your leg should be slightly bent while resting on a pedal, in the six o’clock position. Off-roaders need at least three inches of clearance when straddling the top tube. Your reach to the bars should be comfortable.
• Adjust handlebars so your wrists aren’t positioned awkwardly and the squeezing is easy. Most mountain-bike bars come wide; have your shop cut them to fit comfortably.
• Strong roadies and flatlanders can choose two chainrings (usually offering 18 speeds), while mortals and hill dwellers need three (27 speeds).
• Shimano dominates the components market. Their hierarchy for road bikes, from basic to better, goes: Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, Dura-Ace. In the dirt, the range is Altus, Alivio, Deore, LX, XT, XTR. Campagnolo parts work equally well.
• Rim brakes (a.k.a. V brakes) are light and easy to adjust. Costlier disc brakes shine in gunky mud and water.
• Clipless pedals fit cleated cycling shoes. They increase stroke efficiency and release with a gentle twist.
• Each frame material has merit: Aluminum is ubiquitous, stiff, and light; steel is smooth-riding and classic; titanium and carbon fiber are durable and light but pricey.