MARRIN: Your Welcome To The Wonderful World of Bikes


In addition to some backpacking trips, I get my outdoor fix from lots of biking and I’ve come to love the technology that has created this mechanical wonder of biped self-propulsion. We’ve come a long way since the first verifiable bike dated back to 1817. Wooden with two thin wagon wheels, the “Dandy Horse” had no pedals and was propelled with Flintstone-style running while straddling a wooden seat.

Sadly, Johnson & Johnson wouldn’t invent Baby Powder for another 76 years. Two hundred years later, bicycles are now made of materials unknown to its creators – steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, plastic, titanium, nylon, and of course rubber . Myriads of components and styles make for myriads of choices when it comes to getting a bike. So where’s a newcomer to start? If you go to a bike shop (and you should), they will match your cycling interest to the proper machine and you’ll love it as much as a wolf loves to run free. Here’s a starter:

LEASURE/COMFORT BIKES: You’re out mainly for the sheer enjoyment of being outdoors. You want to be active but not working out. The bike will have a few simple gears, wide tires for paved or unpaved surfaces, and a big seat supporting your vertical upright sitting position. You can easily hold a conversation while riding.

RECUMBENT BIKES: If biking sounds like a lot fun but the idea of being hunched over like a Notre Dame Gargoyle doesn’t, or if you have back concerns, the chair-like seating of a recumbent might be the bike for you. Although they are famously comfortable, these bikes can be as much of a workout as you want them to be as well. As we say in the wolf pack, “It’s your ride.”

The “Dandy Horse” bike was certainly … something.

HYBRID BIKES: You want to be outdoors and want it to be the beginnings of a workout. These bikes have gearing for more speed and enough power for inclines that won’t leave you feeling like Sisyphus endlessly rolling that boulder uphill. You’re good to ride on paved or unpaved surfaces such as gravel roads or gentle trails such a Rail-to- Trails. The frame geometry has you slightly leaning forward to add a little more power to those legs. You can hold a conversation or easily speed up into breathlessness.

ROAD BIKES: You want to slip your leash and run. The curled handlebars and frame geometry lean you over into an aggressive position that’s puts the most power into your pedal stroke. The larger gear ratio lets you cover more distance with each revolution. Thin tires reduce road friction to further maximize the conversion of effort into power. In the den of biking culture, you are growing into a speed and distance geek unleashing with the hydrant-like enthusiasm your latest and/or greatest stats when asked,

“How was your ride?” You love the rush of wind in your face and scenery passing by.

MOUNTAIN BIKING: You probably like rock ‘n roll, folk or metal, which is what I listen to depending on my mood and how hard I want to ride. It’s a great cardio interval workout alternating between max heart rate on short climbs and recovery on the descents. Flats are spiritual ecstasy. None of it feels like a workout. The rush of passing trees, streams, ponds, meadows, and lakes distracts you from the exertion.

The smaller gear ratio and frame geometry is built for hammering over roots and rocks of mountain biking trails without the bike falling to pieces. However, you don’t have to ride like you’re chasing your next meal. Most don’t in fact. Walk your bike up hills if you want. Nobody cares. Enjoy your day.

A hybrid bike.

The rules to the seemingly complex world of biking are actually very simple:

1) Match the bike to your ride.

2) It’s your ride.

Do it right. Go to a bike shop. Get the right match and the right size. Welcome to the pack.

Doug Marrin covers education, business, and lifestyles reporting for, while occasionally blogging about the outdoors and religion from local perspectives. He can be reached via email at

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