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How To Buy A BMX Bicyle

A Gyro (Cable De-Tangler)Events like the X Games and the Dew Tour have brought a new interest in BMX bikes. Park, vert, dirt jump, flatland: there are lots of styles of BMX riding. And while each style can have its own optimized bike, in the last few years most affordable (sub $500) BMX bikes have morphed into some form of the "freestyle" bicycle, designed to do a little of everything. When shopping for a BMX bike, there are a few general things to look for.

Cost of a BMX Bike

Everyone tries to economize; but when it comes to sports gear, there is such a thing as too cheap. Junky gear can look good, but it seldom performs. For a BMX bike, about $250 is the absolute low end. $350 is better. A bike in the range of $300 to $500 is just about right for a cyclist of serious or semi-serious intent. This would include a budding vert rider or a kid who rides with his or her friends every day and isnt averse to jumping off a curb or trying to grind a railing.

The Freestyle BMX Frame

The heart of any bike is the frame. Almost all freestyle (as opposed to racing) frames are steel. The best steel for bike frames is a chrome-molybdenum alloy, or chromoly (pronounced crow-molly). Lighter and stronger than cheaper steel, which is sometimes referred to in brochures simply as high tensile, chromoly is also credited with a plush feel.

Many bikes are priced according to how many of the tubes (structural members of the frame) are chromoly. A BMX bike may have 1, 2, or 3 chromoly tubes in its main triangle (the 3-tube central triangle of the bike), or the entire bike as well as the fork may be chromoly. An affordable full-chromoly bike will fall in the range of $379-550.

Frames come in a range of lengths (measured along the top tube), designed to fit riders of different sizes. A short bike, for a small rider, might have a 19-inch top tube. A long bike's top tube usually measures around 21.5 inches. Most BMX bikes have 20 inch wheels, though some have 24 inch wheels for taller riders.

BMX Cranks

These are the arms on which the pedals are mounted. The 3-piece crank is the hallmark of a decent BMX bike. The two crank arms bolt onto an axle (hence, the term 3 piece) that goes through the frame. The crank arms are often hollow, making them stronger and lighter. Chromoly cranks are lighter still; ask the salesperson if the cranks, bars, and fork are chromoly. Three-piece cranks Mint Alloys usually can be recognized by the bolt at the base of each crank arm that secures it to the axle.

A cheaper version, generally found in box store bikes, is the one-piece crank, a single piece of steel that is bent to pass through the frame and support a pedal on either end. The one-piece crank is fine on a bike that needs to fit a certain price point or that will be used by a kid to noodle around the neighborhood. But most BMX riders who demand performance from their rides want 3-piece cranks.

BMX Wheels and Tires

BMX wheels come in many variations. Axles are usually 3/8 inch or 14 mm. Some bikes are designed to have different sized axles on the front and rear wheel. There are single-, double-, and triple-walled wheels, which are progressively stronger (and heavier). Spoke count varies, though more spokes dont necessarily mean a stronger wheel; some box-store bikes have lots of spokes but are junky nonetheless. Wheel upgrades ($40 per wheel plus) are a common after-market purchase.

Tires are dirt- or pavement-specific, or a hybrid of the two. Generally, knobbier tires are for dirt, and smoother patterns are for asphalt, concrete, or wood. Most shops will swap tires for free at the time of purchase if the buyer wants a different tread pattern.

BMX Components

Pedals, bars, seats, cables and brake levers will get stronger and lighter as the price goes up. Some freestyle bikes come with a cable detangler, or gyro, which allows the rider to spin the front wheel 360 degrees without constriction by the brake cables. (After-market price for a gyro: $40 plus installed). Axle pegs for tricking or grinding are also a popular addition. Pegs are included with some bikes, but more often they are an add-on ($15-30).

The Difference a Good Shop Makes

Yes, shopping can be complicated and confusing. Thats why its a good idea to buy a BMX bike from a reputable shop, not a box store. First, the bike probably will be a better bike, and a professional will assemble it. Just as important, the shop will have a knowledgeable staff that will consider your needs and budget as well as more arcane subjects such as bike fit; if not, find another shop. Choose a shop that carries recognizable brands and offers maintenance programs, tune-ups, and has a good reputation in its neighborhood. Ask about warranties from manufacturers.

As with most gear, a few dollars added to the purchase price will usually pay off in fun and performance, as well as potentially saving money, time, and irritation later on.

(Updated 2013)

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