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Best bikes Performance & comfort

Easy rider The Schwinn Sierra GS comfort bike, $340, is ideal for leisurely cycling on mostly flat roads.
We took to the streets and hills on 19 bicycles, including an intriguing new type called a performance road bike, to find which models offer the best performance for different kinds of riders.

The performance road bike is aimed at cyclists who like the racy look and performance of a conventional road bike but may not want to hunch over so far on the handlebars. The main design differences are a shorter top tube (the horizontal one) and a longer head tube (the vertical one under the handlebars). That configuration lets riders sit slightly more upright, which should help reduce fatigue on long rides.

Our tests found three CR Best Buys among these new road bikes, two costing about $1,000 and one priced at $650. More money will buy you a bike with lighter, higher-quality components and/or a frame made from materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, or high-strength steel.

In addition to road bikes, we tested fitness bikes and comfort models. Here's a quick rundown of each category, starting with the most expensive:

• Road bikes, conventional as well as peformance, feature skinny tires, a narrow seat, a lightweight frame, and drop handlebars. These bikes are for riders who want to log serious miles, including multi-day touring. They're typically sold in bike shops, where buyers can often customize their bike's pedals and seat. All of the road bikes we tested this time are performance models except for the LeMond Propad, which is a cross bike. Cross bikes are essentially extra-durable road bikes with wider, knobby tires for better off-road traction. Our price range for road bikes: $650 to $1,800.

• Fitness bikes blend the slim tires, narrow seats, and lightweight frames of road bikes with the horizontal handlebars and the more upright riding position of mountain bikes, a type mainly for off-road use and not covered here. Fitness bikes can be the right choice for someone who wants to burn calories, improve cardiovascular fitness, or commute to work. Our price range: $630 to $830.

• Comfort bikes, on which you sit in an upright position, are for leisurely recreational riding. These bikes offer creature comforts such as shock absorbers in the seat and/or fork; a cushiony, wide seat; and low gears for easier uphill pedaling. Our price range: $330 to $600.


How to choose

Decide what kind of riding you'll do. That will narrow your choice to one of the three basic categories in this report or to a mountain bike. If you're an avid cyclist you may prefer a conventional road bike, which differs from most of the models we tested mainly in how low you have to bend over the handlebars.

Find a good bike shop. You'll pay more, but we think you're more likely to be satisfied. Bikes from big-box stores might not be properly assembled or well matched to your body. If you don't like the pedals or seat on a particular model, some bike shops will swap components at little or no cost.

Take a test ride. Before you buy any bike, ride it far enough to make sure that the brakes and shifters are easy to use, the fit is comfortable, the gears can go low enough for climbing hills, and the frame and suspension adequately smooth the bumps.

Consider these extras. A good bike helmet (see our June 2006 bike helmets report, available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) is essential. Special cycling shoes and cleats can ease your pedaling. Gloves will absorb vibrations and help protect your hands in a spill. Polycarbonate glasses can shield your eyes from slow-moving bugs and errant pebbles. A water bottle will be handy to have on long, hot-weather rides.


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