Shane White with Brad White and Rob Oswald in the repair section of White’s Bicycles in downtown Westminster. Photo by Phil Grout

Written By Jeffrey Roth

For many people, receiving a bicycle for Christmas is a cherished memory.

The secret of making that moment special requires the gift buyer to choose the most appropriate bike. Getting it wrong may spell disaster. Out of all the elements that compose Christmas, returning a bicycle to the store is one that no one wants to do.

How to find the perfect bicycle “depends on whether it is a surprise gift for a child or adult,” said Shane White of White’s Bicycles in Westminster. If the buyer knows exactly what model the gift recipient wants, the process is simple and straightforward.

“If you are buying the bicycle for someone else; i.e., for your wife, and you are not sure what she would be happy with, we start by determining how much you want to spend. Then, one looks for a model the buyer thinks she wants. The wise thing to do, is give her a gift certificate and bring her in the day after Christmas and let her pick it out. That saves a lot of headaches.”

When it comes to sizing the bicycle that is intended as a gift, White “grills them,” to determine where the bike will be ridden, the length of the rider’s inseam and biking needs. If the bike will only be ridden around the block, then a street bike may be the answer. Or, if the recipient plans to ride off-road, a mountain bike might be appropriate.

White, whose business has served Carroll County residents since the spring of 1982, said there are a lot of factors that need to be considered when purchasing a bike. That is doubly true when buying a higher-priced bicycle.

“It’s like buying clothing for your wife,” said White. “Typically, you bring it home and it’s not her color or her size. When it comes to bicycles, you really have to be careful.”

White’s shop carries favorite brands, such as Fuji and Giant. In addition to clothing and accessories, a portion of the business is dedicate to bicycle repairs, White said.

Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications for the League of American Bicyclists, which is located in Washington, D.C., agreed with White that the amount a person is willing to spend for the gift is the first decision. The trick is to match bicycling needs and budget. The higher the price, the higher the quality. What kind of riding the person will be doing and where the riding takes place are two other questions that need answering.

“If you plan to ride on the road and want to focus on speed, consider a road bike,” Szczepanski said. “These bikes are designed for people who want to race, tour, commute and have fun. They are typically lighter than most bikes and have dropped handlebars and thin tires.

“Manufacturers equip road bikes with different gearing based on their intended use. Mountain bikes are ideal for riding on unpaved terrain. They provide a heads-up riding position; have larger, lower-pressure tires, and a wide range of gears. Those components, along with suspension, allow for a comfortable ride on challenging terrain.

“Then there is the hybrid/comfort bikes: If you are going to be riding in the city or on multi-use trails, hybrid bikes are a blend of road and mountain bikes — they typically have an upright ride and narrower tires. These bikes are generally more comfortable than road bikes and are not capable of handling off-road conditions.”

Then there are more unusual choices, such as recumbent bicycles, on which the rider is in a reclined position. There are a large variety of recumbent bicycles. An electric bike that uses a battery for added power on steep hills might be appropriate for some people. Or a bicycle built for two; tandem bikes are another option.

“There are a number of other types of bike out there designed for specific purposes such as time-trials, triathlons and cyclo-cross racing,” said Szczepanski. “Over the past decade, there have been an increasing number of beach cruisers and fixed wheel bikes that are great for particular uses, but may not be where you want to start looking. It’s important to visit a bike shop and let them know what kind of riding you are planning on doing.”

A bicycle should be properly fitted to a rider, Szczepanski said. Bike frames come in fixed dimensions, with the frame usually measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the center or top of the top tube. Manufacturers may measure bike frames slightly differently, so it is always advisable to test ride the bike and size that you are thinking of buying to make sure the fit is correct.

The “biggest mistake” people make when choosing a bicycle is acting on emotion or impulse, said Larry Black, founder of Mt. Airy Bicycles.