Cycling: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What does frame (versus wheel) sizing mean?

A. Many people confuse frame sizing with wheel sizing. Generally, kids' bikes are measured by the size of the wheel in inches. Adult bikes, which have either 26" or 700 c wheels, are measured by frame size. With the exception of our Kids' Pathfinder and some women's bikes, L.L.Bean bikes will have either 26" wheels on mountain bikes and cruisers, or "700 c" wheels on hybrid/cross bikes. Adult road bikes are measured in centimeters.

The bike measurements listed on our Web site and in our catalogs refer to frame size which is designated by the length of the seat tube on the frame (the part that holds the seat) and can range from 13" to 22". The top tube, the highest part of the frame which runs parallel to the ground, will be higher or lower depending on frame size.

Q. How do I determine which frame size is best for me?

A. The goal is to purchase a bike with adequate clearance over the top tube when you stand over the bike. When using a recreational trail bike, a rider should be able to stand over the frame and have 2" to 3" of clearance. A rider on a more aggressive mountain bike might want as much as 4" of clearance if the bike is used primarily for demanding off-road riding. A cyclist on a hybrid/cross bike who rides primarily on the road needs only 1" to 2" of clearance, but should size down to 2" to 3" of clearance if riding primarily off-road.

Q. What are recreational trail bikes?

A. Recreational trail bikes offer a little more comfort yet still have most of the attributes of a mountain bike: a wide gear range, strong brakes, tires that are suitable for riding either on pavement or off and an upright riding position. Wheels are commonly 26" for adult bikes and 24" for kids' bikes. Frames are built of chrome-moly steel and/or hi-tensile steel. These are good bikes for casual riding around town, trail riding on smooth trails at state and national parks, like the carriage trails at Maine's Acadia National Park, and the occasional longer road ride.

Q. What are hybrid bikes?

A. Hybrid bikes feature an upright riding position similar to mountain bikes, making them more comfortable and suitable for riding around town, touring and carrying racks, panniers, etc. The big difference is in the wheels. The wheel's rim diameter is "700c" (close to 27") which is the same diameter used on road-racing bikes. The tires used on a hybrid are wider than those used on road bikes, but narrower than mountain bike tires. The advantage of this type of wheel/tire combination is that when riding on paved roads there is less rolling resistance making the bike easier to pedal and more efficient. For a rider wishing to ride longer distances it is a more enjoyable and faster ride. The tires are wide enough and have ample tread for riding on dirt roads and on smooth hard-pack trails. They are not suitable for soft conditions such as sand or mud

Q. What are mountain bikes?

A. Mountain bikes or ATBs (all-terrain bikes) feature a frame and fork that are more rugged than those found on general recreational trail bikes. Their frames are often built of aluminum so they are lightweight and stiff, making them efficient to ride. The fork has a suspension or shock-absorbing feature to reduce hand/arm fatigue. The wheels are built with stronger rims than on recreational bikes and the component selection (cranks, derailleurs, etc.) are more durable. This bike will take on most any terrain.

Q. What are "clipless" pedals?

A. A popular type of pedal favored by many riders is the clipless pedal, which attaches to a cleat on the sole of the shoe. Cleats are usually sold with the pedals. Most cycling shoes have predrilled holes in the soles to attach the cleats. One popular clipless design has the cleat recessed in the sole so the shoes are easier to walk in.

Q. Do I need to wear cycling clothes?

A. Clothing designed specifically for cycling can make riding more comfortable and enjoyable. There are two basic categories of cycling clothing:

  • Performance clothing is generally worn by cyclists who ride at a faster pace for an aerobic workout. This clothing is tighter fitting for more aerodynamic performance.

  • Recreational bike clothing is looser fitting and more casual looking when worn off the bike. This type of clothing is also suitable for riders who might stop for lunch or to go sight-seeing.

Q. What about cycling shorts?

A. Shorts are usually made from a nylon/Lycra elastane blend, are skin tight and have a moisture-wicking padded crotch for comfort in the saddle. These are worn next-to-skin (without underwear) to reduce chafing. The close-fitting fabric reduces chafe-causing wrinkles as well. Shorts with loose-fitting outer shorts attached at the waistband to Lycra shorts are available for mountain bikers and recreational riders. While these add another layer, they are shaped to be comfortable while riding and are made of quick-drying fabrics.

Q. Are there features common to all cycling jerseys?

A. All cycling jerseys should be made of moisture-wicking fabrics that will keep you cooler in warm weather and warmer in cooler weather. They are usually cut with a longer tail for better coverage in the riding position, and feature a zip placket for ventilation. (Cotton fabrics should be avoided as they retain moisture which can weigh the rider down and cause chills.)

Q. What accessories should I have along when riding?

A. When going for a ride of any distance, a few accessories should be carried. These would include a small frame pump, tire levers or irons and a patch kit and/or innertube. These allow a rider to fix most flat tires. They can be carried in a small underseat bag. Riders going on longer trips, or mountain bikers who may subject a bike to harder use, may want to carry additional tools including a chain tool and assorted wrenches. There are compact tool kits available that will have these tools and will also fit under the seat. A water bottle and cage or a hydration pack are a necessity to avoid dehydration and don't forget to bring a first-aid kit..

Q. Why is wearing cycling shoes important?

A. Cycling shoes have rigid soles that disperse pedal pressure, reducing foot fatigue. The uppers are often made of moisture-wicking materials and have ventilation built in. The soles may have cleats or ridges to grip on to the pedals when toe clips are used. Toe clips make pedaling more efficient by allowing the rider to pedal in a circular motion, as opposed to strictly pushing downward for forward momentum.

Q. Are bikes ordered from L.L.Bean easy to assemble?

A. Assembly of L.L.Bean bikes is quite easy. Most models simply require the installation of pedals (an adjustable wrench is needed); installation and alignment of handlebars in the steering tube (an allen wrench is provided); and adjustment of the seat height.

Q. What is bike suspension?

A. Suspensions differ from bike to bike. For the casual rider, the suspension system provides increased comfort through the absorption of minor bumps. For mountain bikers,it also helps to maintain control and speed on tricky descents.

Q. How does bike suspension work?

A. There are at least two components to any good suspension system on a quality mountain bike: the "suspension" (or "spring") part, and the "damping" (or "shock absorbing") part. "Suspension" keeps the rider floating, or suspended. "Damping" slows the action of the spring, or absorbs its energy. The best suspension systems combine these two functions. The spring can literally be a metal coil spring, an elastomer spring or a chamber of air. The damping can be as simple as friction, or as complex as a piston traveling through oil. Some more expensive bike forks actually have both compression and rebound damping.

Q. What are preload adjustments?

A. With the exception of the least expensive bike forks, most have some type of "preload" adjustment. This allows you to adjust or tune the spring rate to your weight. Spring rate is how much force is required to get the spring moving. A heavier rider will require a higher preload adjustment than a lighter rider.

Q. What are damping adjustments?

A. The damping adjustment helps control the suspension's speed of travel or rebound. Less expensive forks simply rely on friction, and thus are not adjustable. With more expensive forks, damping adjustments are made to match the terrain. If you ride terrain that has big bumps, and ride at higher speeds, you'll want more damping. You need to slow the travel of the fork so that it doesn't bottom out, or launch you when it rebounds. If you ride terrain that has frequent, smaller bumps, you'll want less damping so the fork can travel quickly and be ready for the next impact.

Q. How do I maintain my bike's suspension?

A. The best overall advice is to keep the suspension system clean. This applies to all forks, even the "maintenance-free" ones. For more detailed maintenance information, consult your Owner's Manual or a reputable bike shop. Today's forks are much easier to maintain than they were 10 years ago. Easy-to-change cartridges have replaced most of the "open-bath" models of the past. Also, there are more elastomer and coil-spring forks on the market, and "air" is making a comeback on some of the higher-end bikes.