You might just want to ride around the neighbourhood, or on trails. Or, you might want to eventually ride to work, and have a bike that can serve both purposes. You might like to sit upright, or you have trouble lifting your leg, or have a balance issue. There are bikes for all purposes and needs: comfort bikes, city bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, adult trikes, e-bikes. (Did I mention unicycles? haha).
From someone who has encountered and taught hundreds, if not thousands of new cyclists, I have some general wisdom to share:
Don’t rush into it.
It’s better to get the right bike from the start, rather than find out two weeks later that it is actually too heavy or too slow or too hard to get on & off or doesn’t have enough gears, etc. Although you may be able to return an almost-new bike for a restocking fee (~20%), you might have to take a bigger loss by selling it used. (Still – it is better to sell it and start over than give up the idea of cycling!)
Never let a salesperson pressure you into a bike purchase. Although bike shops don’t work on commission (as car dealerships do), for some, there is still pride in getting bikes out the door. Private sellers might be just as pushy, and there is a real possibility that the bike may be stolen.
* Get advice from friends or co-workers who ride, particularly those who you can identify with.
* Visit some bike shops and see what is out there. Ask questions (but don’t commit).
* Read about bikes on the internet (if you're into that).
Test ride some bikes
Test riding bicycles at bike shops is an excellent way to try out a bike that fits you and that is in good running condition, and to try out different kinds of bikes. A reputable bike shop has salespeople that will want you to find the right bike for you. They won’t pressure you to buy a bike. Don’t feel obliged to buy a bike just because you have taken a test ride or two (or three!).
If you can, visit bike shops on weekdays and avoid the end of the workday. This way, salespeople will have more time to spend with you.
Take the long view
Right now, it can be hard to know what kind of cycling you may eventually like to do. You may find that you enjoy it more than you originally thought you would, and want to do more, or for longer distances. Your fitness and confidence will improve, making other kinds of trips possible: for example: to work, or longer recreational rides, or fundraising challenge rides, or cycling tours in foreign countries (guided or not), or trips ferrying your children or grandchildren to school or daycare. There are many possibilities!
If this happens, you have a couple of options: sell your current bike or get a second bike for a different purpose. Bicycles are one of the best investments you will ever make – for your health, peace of mind and the environment. It’s OK to have more than one!
Read Part 2 for more specifics about buying a bike