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The Prince & the Pauper 

Bikes are for everyone—and every budget


by erin rook

Petie Thom, sales manager at the Eastside Hutch's Bicycles, says she usually starts by asking customers a series of basic questions to guide their search for the perfect bike, components, and accessories: Have you done any research? Where do you want to ride? What are your friends riding? Have you been to other shops, and why didn't you buy there?

"People think they can just buy a bike and ride it anyway," she explains. "But if you buy a bike you don't like, you aren't going to ride it."

Particularly in bike-crazed Central Oregon, options abound, and can be overwhelming. For example, Hutch's, which is just one of many bike shops in the area, carries bikes ranging from entry-level commuter bikes ($350) to professional-level road and mountain racing bikes ($10,000).

The best way to predict if you'll like a bike—it follows—is to ride before you buy. And shops like Hutch's offer demos for just that reason, starting at about $30 a day.

Commuter bikes or cruisers (which are typically a little less expensive) can be a solid option for someone starting out, who is most interested in around-town riding, explains Thom. Though many newbies are drawn to hybrid bikes for their apparent versatility, Thom says she advises against them.

"People always think hybrids are the way to go," she says. "But they're bad at everything."

While hybrids can technically be ridden on both paved and dirt roads, she says they are generally heavy and don't have sufficient suspension for real mountain biking. And when it comes to road cycling, once a person's rides start to surpass 15-20 miles, she recommends upgrading from a commuter bike to a traditional road bike.

"It's kind of an investment," Thom explains. Entry level bikes for mountain biking start around $550 and road bikes start around $1,000. However, she adds, "there's always a stepping stone."

Cyclists looking for versatility, for example, can buy a mountain bike and put hybrid tires on it for commuting.

For those looking for the best and the lightest, titanium and carbon are the materials to know. But she cautions against obsession when it comes to shedding bike weight. Thom says she has seen people, often referred to as "weight weenies," going beyond all carbon everything and using aluminum bolts and other materials that seem to trade safety for svelteness.

But just as some people go overboard with lightness, others think they can buy a bike at a garage sale and expect it to meet their needs. While it's not impossible to buy a decent bike from your neighbor's driveway, Thom says there are a few things to keep in mind. First, many people only sell their bikes after they've been run into the ground. And if the bike is rusted out, it may not be salvageable.

If you have your heart set on a sweet yard sale find, see if you can have it checked out by a bike mechanic before committing. Hutch's bike mechanics offer free estimates, and tune-ups start at $70.

And no matter where you buy your new set of wheels, or how much you pay for them, keeping them in tip-top shape is key to a long, happy life together.

"Bikes are like cars," Thom explains. "You have to maintain them."

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