How To Buy A Bike

If you think today's bikes are like the one you've got in your attic, you're in for a suprise.

March 1973By Comments

MAN’S SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT bicycle began in 1816, when Baron Karl von Drais put together two wooden wheels on a heavy wooden frame, sat on a torturously uncomfortable wooden saddle and propelled himself forward by pushing with his feet. The “Draisene” weighed 70 pounds, cost $300 ($2400 by today’s standards) and was an immediate hit all over Europe.

By 1885, the bicycle had a chain-driven rear wheel, handlebars, metal frame and 30-inch solid rubber tires, which resulted in a teeth-rattling ride. That year an Irish veterinarian and weekend inventor, Dr. John Dunlop, solved the tire problem by making a pair of air-filled tires for his son’s tricycle out of rubber sheeting and strips of linen. Dunlop’s pneumatic tires smoothed the bike rider’s jaunts all right, but ironically, contributed substantially to the machine that stifled bicycle sales in America for 50 years.

By 1898, four million Americans owned two million bikes, made by 400 American manufacturers. One American out of ten owned a bike that year, compared to one out of 350 in 1971. Membership in the pioneer U.S. cycling organization, The League of American Wheelmen, numbered over 100,000.

However, by 1902 the motorcar had hit the bicycle industry with devastating impact. Sales dropped an astounding 95 per cent and the League's membership dwindled to 8,629. The evolution of technology had continued from Foot to its natural extension, Wheel; and from tandem Two-Wheel to Four-Wheel. America's love affair with the automobile had begun.

After a 50-year hibernation in attics and garages, bikes again are all the rage. Why? Well, for one thing, people have more leisure time. The four-day work week, second vacation home and three- week vacation, have all helped increase bicycle sales. So has rising personal income with its natural result, increased consumption of leisure goods. Bicycle salesmen profited by the ecological movement. Bikes make no noise. There is no exhaust pollution. Insurance and repairs are cheap. Most important, bikes are fun.

People began dragging out the old balloon-tired machine of newsboy fame, dusting it off, and learning to bike again. Cycle historians date the bike boom from 1960. From the 3.7 million new bikes sold that year, the number of bikes has climbed to 74 million today. In 1971, the Bicycle Institute of American reported that 81/2 million new bikes worth half-a-billion dollar's were sold. For the long-suffering bike shop owner, patience, indeed, had its own reward.

There had been some awakenings of bicycle popularity before 1960. Dr. Paul Dudley White, a member of the Bicycle Hall of Fame and President Eisenhower's heart specialist, told us to exercise more and recommended an hour's bike ride as the perfect way to keep arteries from hardening and waists from expanding.

In the 1960s, discount houses and mass retailers began to offer a bewildering array of strange looking bicycles that were fairly cheap and weighed half as much as the old newsboy special.

Thomas Stevens would eat his heart out if he could see today's bicycle. In 1884, Stevens became the first man to cross the U.S. on a bike. Sitting atop the huge 60-inch diameter front wheel that was coupled to a normal 17-inch back wheel, Stevens rode a 75-pound "Ordinary" from Oakland to Boston in 103 1/2 days. In 1954, Richard Berg left the Santa Monica, California, courthouse riding an eight-speed, stripped-down machine and carrying only a water bottle and a rear light. Fourteen days later he arrived in New York City, dog tired and cursing the cactus which had caused as many as 13 flats a day during the trip.

The bicycle of today is light, safe, durable and fun to ride. Its whole is only as good as the sum of its parts, however, and this First Law of Bicycle Shopping must always be kept in mind. No matter if you're going cross country or around the block, to buy a cheaply made bike with shoddy equipment is foolish. You will end up hating it as much as the four wheel clinker that is costing a fortune in repairs.

To help you make the best decision in buying a bike, and to help you get the most out of it once you have bought it, we have compiled some information that should be helpful.

Different spokes for different folks—Which bicycle is best for you? Do you need ten speeds, five speeds or three speeds on your bike? Two factors, aside from price, should be considered: Where and how much you will be riding.

Geography is important. If you plan on riding an hour or two a week and if there are few hills and a flat terrain where you live, then a three or five-speed would be adequate for your needs. If you have decided on a bike in this catagory, an excellent choice would be the Gitane "Tourister", a French five-speed that costs $89.95.

However, in the long run a good ten-speed is probably the best buy for most uses.

Contrary to most kinds of exercise, bicycling is something you want to do more once you learn how. Longer hours on a bike with fewer than ten gears means lots of work and aches and pains.

Another reason for preferring ten speeds is one of the best: price. For example, in the under-a-$1OO range, the Schwinn Suburban five-speed costs $86.95. For only $10 more you get five additional gears added to the same bike. The Raleigh Sprite DL-90 five-speed costs $94.95; the ten-speed, $5 more.

The anatomy—Major parts of today's bicycle include the frame, derailleur, brakes, tires, handlebars, saddle, pedals, and gears.

Frame—The first consideration in bicycle buying. In cycling, as in back-packing, the object is to travel as light as possible. The frame, more than anything else, determines the machine's weight. Secondly, since the frame is the suspension system of the bike, it must be resilient and able to absorb road shock. So the lighter and more resilient the frame, the better. The best frame in the world is made with manganese molybdemum alloy steel tubing, double butted throughout and stamped, "Reynolds 531." Tubing that is double butted has its thickness re-enforced at stress junctures to give it added strength. All bicycles over $200 have such a frame or one made with Columbus tubing. Cheaper frames are made with carbon steel tubing (heavy and stiff) and with chrome alloy steel (a bit heavier and less strong than "Reynolds 531" but perfectly acceptable).

Before selecting the style and cut of a new suit, you determine the correct size. Do the same with your bicycle. Most ten-speed models have frames ranging from 19 to 25 inches. If you are 5'5" tall a 22-or 23-inch frame will work. Six footers and up must have at least a 25-or 26-inch frame. If you can straddle the horizontal frame, or top tube, with your feet flat on the ground, you are close to the right size. Let your bike dealer advise you, however, and don't buy without determining this important factor.

Derailleurs—A front and rear gear shift system which "derails" the chain from one sprocket and "rerails" it to another. Invented by Frenchman Paul de Vivie, who produced the first bicycle in France, this device is the most important part of the gear system. By applying side force to the moving chain and bending it a few inches in front of the sprocket, the derailleur causes the chain to rise from the teeth of the original sprocket and climb into a new position. This chain transfer from one set of gears to another is the essential feature of the ten-speed bicycle, and allows the rider to change pedaling speeds to meet his needs.

The best derailleur in the world is the Campagnolo Nuovo Record Alloy, used only on bikes costing $200 and more. Campagnolo traditionally is recognized as the finest manufacturer of bicycle equipment. The design of the Nuovo Record is sound. The bearings are excellent throughout, the jockey mechanism is attached securely and the cable attachment mechanism is perfect.

Sun-Tour, a Japanese brand, also is very fine at half the price of the Nuovo Record. But the two derailleurs you will encounter most often are the Huret and Simplex, both made in France. They are light, have excellent action, and are reasonably sturdy. Both are excellent derailleurs and are more than adequate for all but the most expensive bicycles.

The "Schwinn Approved" derailleur used on all Schwinn ten-speed models, except the two most expensive (Sports Tourer and Paramount) is a French-made Huret and performs very nicely.

Brakes—Bicycle brakes come in two types: center-pull and side-pull. Center-pull brakes have the cable anchored to a carrier that pulls on a short transverse cable, which pulls the brake arms. Then the brake shoes close smoothly on the tire. The whole brake system is much more evenly balanced than the side-pull variety and makes for smoother stops.

Side-pull brakes have the cable anchored on one side of the mechanism only, thus increasing the chances for uneven stops.

Center-pull brakes are much preferred and are standard on almost all higher-priced bikes. Besides giving a smoother stop and release, they are easier to adjust and stay adjusted longer.

Tires—There are two types of bicycle tires, also. Most ten-speed bikes have 27 by 1 1/4 inch, tube-type lightweight tires that are inflated to 65-85 pounds of pressure. Also called clinchers, these tires are heavier, best for city cycling and are much easier to repair. They are standard on all American ten-speeds except Schwinn's top bike, the Paramount.

Tubular or "sew-up" tires are lighter and used for long distance touring and racing. "Sew-up" refers to the light tube which is actually sewn into the tire casing, unlike the wired-on, wider rimmed clincher tube.

A note here about tire inflating. The proper amount of air needed per tire usually is written on the outer tread. Check this first thing and ride only with your tires inflated to the designated amount. The major cause of blowouts is inflating tires at the service station. It takes only a few seconds to inflate a bike tire using an automatic pressure service station pump, so to avoid the embarrassment of a blowout, use an air pump that has a preset pressure dial. Or else be extremely careful.

Handlebars—Aside from the derailleur-gear system, the turned-down handlebars are the most unfamiliar feature of a ten-speed. Is it necessary and is it comfortable? Yes, both times. Try this familiar example to demonstrate the difference between upright and dropped handlebars: Sit upright in a chair with both feet flat on the floor and try to stand up. Don't lean forward! Now try it by leaning forward, and using more fully your back and leg muscles. The same principle applies to the bicycle. When you lean forward, your breathing comes easier, your weight is distributed more evenly and wind resistance is cut in half. After a couple of rides, you will find the turned-down handlebars much more comfortable than the uprights.

Handlebar adjustment is important for all this to work. The top of your handlebar post should be equal in height to the saddle (seat).

Saddle—The seat on almost every ten-speed is narrow, made of leather or nylon and will give you a sore rear end for the first 25 miles or so. Once you are broken in, the saddle works fine. The mattress-spring wire saddle is used on "cheapies" and is to be avoided at all costs. Leather is preferred over nylon because it absorbs moisture faster. Brooks of England makes the best saddle.

Saddle height is extremely important to get the maximum use of your leg muscles. First, measure the inside of your leg from crotch to the floor with shoes off. Multiply this measurement in inches by 1.09. If your leg measurement is 30 inches, (1.09 x 30 inches = 32.7 inches), then the top of your saddle should be about 32 1/2 inches from the top of the fully lowered pedal.

Pedals—Campagnolo lightweight pedals with toe clips are the best. Get used to the toe clips. They enable you to pedal correctly using the ball of your foot. The pedals are the most abused and, many times, the most forgotten part of the bicycle. Manufacturers trying to shave costs will use pedals made of cheap metal and bad bearing sets. Campagnolo pedals are expensive and unnecessary except on the finest bikes, so look for the Lyotard line or ask your dealer for his recommendation.

Gears—When you pay extra money for a ten-speed, you're getting enough gear combinations to allow you consistency and ease in pedaling and to take advantage of your strength. Simply put, in "high" gear you'll be pedaling slower because you are on a flat surface. In "low" gear you'll be pedaling faster in order to climb a hill or to take off from a traffic light. The derailleur enables the chain to slip from one gear ratio to another depending on the speed you want. One of your early triumphs and an endless source of pleasure will be when you smoothly shift into low gear and pedal up Killer Hill as easy as if you were streaking across the Bonneville Salt Flats.

It is possible to have a four, five, six, eight, nine, twelve, fifteen or eighteen-speed bicycle, although the three, five and ten are most commonly found. Racers use 12-speeds; tourers, the 15 and 18 gear ratios for extremely steep hills. Five-speed bikes give you the middle steps to fill the ratio gap, but you don't have a very high or a very low gear. Ten and twelve-speed bikes have a double front chainwheel with five and six rear sprockets, respectively. With these ten different gear combinations, it becomes possible to have a large range of ratios for the extremes in riding conditions.

Which bicycle to buy and where—Buy the best ten-speed you can afford. Practice your frugality when buying a TV or bridge table, but spend some dough on your bicycle. Secondly, buy from an authorized dealer, not a discount or department store. The dealer will assemble and check your bike before you take it out.

Lured by the attractive price, I bought my first bicycle from a discount store. That attractive price doesn't include assembling, adjustments or repairs until the kinks are worked out. I ended up by paying more, receiving less and getting angry. Also, your dealer has the parts and "know-how" when your bicycle needs repairs. Schwinn is the largest and consistently the best bicycle manufacturer in the country, and if you buy a Schwinn product from an authorized Schwinn dealer, there's a 30-day free check-up and a one-year warranty on defective parts and workmanship.

Under $100 class—You cannot go wrong with a Schwinn Varsity ($91.95) with turned-down handlebars, Brooks saddle, side-pull brakes, "Schwinn-approved" derailleur, and a seamed welded frame. Equal in quality but not made in a 25-or 26-inch frame for tall riders, is the Gitane Gran Sport ($99.95). The Gran Sport is three pounds lighter, (29 Ibs.) than all other ten-speeds in this price range, has a Simplex derailleur, center-pull brakes, turned-down handle-bars, clincher tires and a seamed lugged frame. If you are less than six feet tall, this is the better bicycle.

The $100-$150 class—The French Mercier "Marque de Champions" ($139) is the best bet here. Weighing only 26 pounds, this fine bike has an excellent Simplex "Prestige" derailleur, Mafac center-pull brakes, turned-down handle-bars, alloy frame and brakes. If you can find it, the Japanese Nishiki Olympiad ($103) is as good with the added bonus of a chrome molybdenum steel frame.

High rent bikes: $150-$250—Either the Raleigh DL-160 "Gran Sport" ($200) or Schwinn's Sports Tourer ($198). These two have it all and are perhaps the best buys under $250. Raleigh has been making bicycles for over 80 years and is the only foreign bicycle company offering a warranty. The "Gran Sport" weighs only 23 pounds, has a Simplex "Prestige" derailleur, "Reynolds 531" double-butted tubing, a gear range suitable for touring, turned down handlebars, and narrow saddle. The Schwinn Sports Tourer is my personal favorite and comes with a Campagnolo Gran Turismo derailleur, a wide range of gears for touring, and chrome alloy tubing throughout.

Pick of the litter: $250-$800—If money is no problem and you want the best, you can get it. All these bikes have the finest components: Reynolds "531" double-butted tubing; Campagnolo derailleurs, pedals and cranks; beautiful hand finishing and design. A few of the very best:

Peugeot PX-10 ($250)
Atala Competizone ($250) Four pounds heavier (25 lbs) than the Peugeot.
Raleigh International DL-170($325).
Raleigh Mark III DL-180($425) Designed for road racing
Rene Herse ($750) Completely handmade in Paris to your exact physical requirements. Possibly the world's finest bicycle.

Some reliable bicycle shops—Austin

University Bicycle Shop (The Schwinn retailer)
4225 Guadalupe

Freewheeling Bicycle Shop
2404 San Gabriel

The Spoke
211 East 19th


University Cycle Shop
2452 Times St.

Braeswood Cycle Shop
5869 South Braeswood at HillCroft

Earth Bicycle Shop
1500 West Alabama

San Antonio

The Bike Barn (newest and largest dealer on the North side)
224 East Rhapsody

Charles A. James Co. (French, Italian and English bikes)
213 N. Main Ave.

The Jae Co. (Largest Schwinn dealer in the city)
1932 Austin Highway


The Highwheeler
7800 Spring Valley Road

The Bike Mart-three stores: (one of the top 5 bike retailers in the U.S.)
2817 Forest Lane
9292 L.B.J. Freeway
3645 Marvin Love Freeway

Ft. Worth

The Winged Crank
2704 West Berry

The Toy Chest
4624 Camp Bowie

Brownies Cycle
300 Seminary South

Books on bicycling

The Complete Book of Bicycling by Eugene A. Sloane, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1970, $9.95. The acknowledged encyclopedia of bicycling; covers the waterfront from history to machine repairs.

The Best of Bicycling! H. M. Leete, New York, Trident Press, 1970, $9.95. An interesting anthology of reminiscences and experiences taken from the old American Cycling Magazine. First person accounts of tours and racing contests.

The Bicycle Book, Earth Action Council. U.C.L.A., Price/Stern/Sloan, 410 N. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, Calif. 90048. A groovy 63-page pamphlet. Short items on anatomy, maintenance, accessories, laws affecting bike riders. A nice why-I-ride-a-bicycle personal statement at the end.

The North American Bike Alias, Amercan Youth Hostels, Inc. 1970, $2.25. Bike tour in 47 states, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean are carefully mapped out for you in this excellent book. Tour lengths range from one day to a month. Special attention to road conditions and difficulty of tour.

Repair books

Anbody's Bike Book, by Tom Culbertson Berkeley, California, Ten Speed Press, 1971, $2.95. True to its title, even you can do it yourself.

Fix Your Bicycle, by Eric Jorgensen and Joe Bergman, Clymer Publications. Los Angeles California, $3.95.


1. Ankling—Technique in which the foot puts pressure on the pedal all the way around the stroke.

2. Bottom Bracket—Round tube holding axle to which the seat and down tubes are welded.

3. Brake levers—Levers on handle-bars used to actuate caliper (hand) brakes.

4. Cable—Wire to brakes or derailleur.

5. Chain—Device that ensnares flapping pants. Also transmits power from chainwheel to rear wheel.

6. Chain Stays—Frame tubes going from the bottom bracket to where the rear wheel fits the frame.

7. Chainwheel—Large-toothed wheel on right side of crank that drives chain.

8. Cranks—Steel or aluminum alloy member that pedals are attached to.

9. Derailleur—From French word meaning a thing that "derails." One derailler moves the chain from one gear to another on the rear wheel; the other on the chain wheel.

10. Derailleur Cage—Restraining area for unruly derailleur. Also holds rear derailleur idler wheels.

11. Down tube—Section of bike frame extending from steering head to bottom bracket.

12. Fork Crown—Flat or slightly sloping part at top of fork, located under steering head.

13. Front Fork—Part holding front wheel drop outs, which is turned by handlebars to steer bicycle.

14. Header—Spill taken over front of bicycle by rider when envious pedestrian sticks broom handle in bicycle spokes.

15. Handlebar Stem—Piece of steel onto which handlebars fit.

16. Hub—Front or rear wheel unit drilled to receive spokes and machined to hold axle and bearings.

17. Jockey Sprocket—Top of the two rear derailleur idler wheels that moves the chain from one rear wheel gear to another.

18. Panniers—Saddlebags that mount on rear of bicycle.

19. Quick-release skewer/mechanism—Permits removal of front or rear wheels in seconds.

20. Rear Drop-out—Lug brazed or welded to seat stays and chain stays into which rear wheel axle fits.

21. Rim—Wheel without spokes and hub.

22. Saddle-—Seat.

23. Seat Post—Steel or dural stem onto which your seat is attached.

24. Seat Stays—Frame part extending from under seat to rear wheel dropout.

25. Seat tube—Frame part in which seat is placed.

26. Steering head—Large diameter tube holding front fork and bearings, into which is brazed or welded the top and down tubes.

27. Tension roller—Bottom of two rear derailleur idler wheels. Keeps correct tension on the chain.

28. Tires, clincher—Heavier, conventional tire with wire bead on edge. Tube is easily accessible for repairs.

29. Tires, Tubular—"Sew-up" ultralightweight touring or racing tires. Tube is sewn around inner periphery of tire.

30. Toe Clips—Pedal accessory that foot fits into, making pedaling twice as easy.

31. Top Tube—Horizontal tube between seat tube and steering head.

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