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Old 02-21-12, 07:10 AM
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1. I would go with clipless right away. Using the pedals isn't tough at all; you just have to be able to turn your heel out when you want to stop. People make to big of a deal of it, which is a shame because it scares others away from trying them. The benefits you'll see from clipless pedals will far outweigh the short learning curve. All you need to do is practice clipping in/out a few times next to a wall/bench/etc and you'll be ready to go. Purely psychological. When I first used them I knew I'd never go back. You might fall once or twice at first but it's not a big deal; just practice in a parking lot/driveway/yard.

2. For helmets under $100, anything you find comfortable from a major manufacturer (Bell, Giro, Specialized, others) is fine. I'd stop at your local bike store and just try one on.

3. For a $1200 bike (if you buy new), you will be looking at an aluminum bike with entry-level SRAM or Shimano components (this would be the crank, derailers, brakes, and shifters). At that price level most if not all bike frames are made in China and are essentially the same. Trek, Specialized, Giant, and Cannondale all make bikes that fit what you are looking for, and the best answer is to go to a reputable bike shop and try one out. (Cannondale aluminum bikes are made in the US). Again, the bikes at this level all have very similar frames, and the quality of components is the main difference from model to model. For instance, if it came down to an aluminum Trek, Specialized, or Giant with say, Shimano Tiagra components, prices should be similar and you'd probably go with the best deal (or go with the brand your LBS sells). I would recommend searching the forums here to read about what the differences in component levels are.

Carbon fiber frames are next up from the aluminum bikes and you are going to be out of the $1200 budget.
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