Side Bar Note

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Bike Parts & Features

You usually have some choice in choosing bike features. A bike shop may swap certain components at little or no cost.

Brakes

Some bikes are available with more than one type of brakes. V-brakes or linear-pull brakes, caliper brakes, and cantilever brakes are fine for most biking. For generally high performance, go with disc brakes, which can be either mechanical or hydraulic.

Disc brakes will spare your wheel rims from the abrasion of muddy braking. A shop may be willing to retrofit some bikes that have caliper mounts with discs for about $100 extra.

Drivetrain

A bicycle's chain runs between the crankset in the center of the bike and the rear cassette attached to the rear hub. Cranksets typically have two chain rings (called doubles) or three (triples). Shifting from one chain ring to another provides coarse gearing adjustments, while shifting among the sprockets in the rear cassette allows fine gearing adjustments. The total number of speeds a bike has is the number of chain rings multiplied by the number of sprockets in the rear cassette. For example, a bike with triple front chain rings and a nine- sprocket cassette has a total of 27 speeds. More speeds generally means more flexibility on various grades.

Handlebars

High-rise handlebars let you sit fairly upright. The drop bars on conventional road bikes allow an aerodynamic, fully bent position. Handlebars and stems can be swapped to improve riding position. Different riders have different preferences. If you can't get comfortable, consider replacing the handlebars or stem with a different type.

Saddle

Some are narrow and firm, others, wide and soft. Some have a suspension seat post, others are mounted rigidly. If you don't like a seat, get one with a different shape, more or less padding, or channels or cutouts to ease pressure. The narrow, firm seats on road bikes and mountain bikes provide more control and let you change position and pedal more efficiently. But the wider, more cushioned seats on comfort bikes and many hybrids are more comfortable for the casual, less-frequent rider.

Shifters

The front derailleur moves the chain between the rings on the crank set, while the rear derailleur moves between the sprockets on the rear cassette. Each derailleur is controlled by a shifter, one for each derailleur. Twist shifters are collars on the handlebars that you twist to change gears. Trigger shifters have one lever for up shifting and another for downshifting--one pair each for the front and rear gears. They click as you shift, so you don't have to guess where the next gear is.

Bike accessories

A helmet can provide lifesaving head protection in an accident. Cycling shoes with cleats can increase your efficiency while pedaling, but you might need to change pedals to accommodate them. Gloves will absorb vibration and help to protect your hands in a spill. Glasses can shield your eyes from bugs and errant pebbles. And a water bottle can prevent dehydration on long rides in hot weather.

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