Buying a Bike: the essentials
Bikes are vehicles, not toys. You shouldn't be rushed into buying one.
There are a lot of pre-purchase decisions to make before you find the
bike that's just right for you.
Comfort, practicality, lightness, price,
durability, and other considerations have to be taken into account.
Before you head for the bike shop use this guide to work out which features
you think you'll need.
What do you intend to use the bike for? Will you be commuting to work
on it every day? Just nipping down to the shops now and then? Showing
the kids your knowledge of the local disused railway paths at the weekends?
Will you be using it on city streets or off-road? For long periods on
cycling holidays or short trips every day?
Probably it's a mix of many of the above. Bikes are very flexible creatures
and can cope with whatever you throw at them, but it can't be escaped
that many bikes have been designed for certain purposes and if most
of your riding fits that criteria you've got a bike that will do what
you want it to do.
Here are the basic types.
Expensive ones are used by Tour de France
riders; cheaper ones are ridden by fast club cyclists. They come fitted
with razor slim saddles (which you get used to in time, honest) and
thin tyres. Commonly, and mistakenly, known as
'ten-speed racers' by those who were around before mountain bikes were
Road bikes are designed to be ridden at high speeds on smooth road surfaces.
Because of this they are lightweight, with tyres pumped up to over 100psi
to minimise friction, and dropped handlebars to force your body into
that aerodynamically efficient Tour de France tuck. Road bikes can be
easily damaged and are prone to punctures.
When you're not used to it, you will probably find the hunched forward
riding position uncomfortable. This is not to say road bikes are for
fit young people: plenty old-timers do hundreds of miles per week on
their road bikes. It's just a matter of getting used to them.
If your primary aim is to get fit or do any kind of road racing then
you need a road bike, even mountain bike professionals use them as part
of their fitness training. If you're going to be commuting more than
ten miles each way then a road bike - fitted with mudguards and a rack-
can be a benefit because of its speed and the low rolling resistance
of the tyres.
These now make up 70 percent of all bikes
sold in the UK but that doesn't mean they are the right kind of bike
for you. Very few mountain bikes - MTBs for short - get to see mountains
but the chunky tyres, 26-inch wheels,
strong frames and flat handlebars are pretty good for city streets too.
Because they are designed for going up (and down) steep slopes, MTBs
have lots of low gears and highly effective brakes. For off-road comfort
many MTBs feature front suspension forks; some also have suspension
for the bum, too. These are called full suspension bikes and were originally
designed for crazy downhill mountain bikers although suspension adds
to any riders comfort.
Even without suspension products, the fat tyres on MTBs soak up the
shocks and jarrs of off-road trails and city potholes. The knobbly tyres
found on MTBs don't puncture easily but can rattle and hum on tarmac,
slowing you down. By adding 'slick' tyres (ie fat tyres without knobbles),
mudguards and lights you could convert your mountain bike into a good
urban bike during the week and change back to knobblies for weekend
Hybrids are a mix between mountain bikes
and road bikes and offer the advantages - and disadvantages of both.
They look like mountain bikes but with thinner wheels and tyres, and
offer a slightly more upright sitting position, suited to urban riding.
They are faster on tarmac but can handle weekend off-roading. Not all
come with mudguards, a rack and lights, but these can be easily fitted
by the shop.
Some hybrids come with internal hub gears. Component manufacturer Shimano
calls hybrids 'Sports Touring Bikes' or STBs for short. Germans call
them trekking bikes. Some people call them city bikes. Raleigh, and
other companies, call them 'comfort bikes' because they equip them with
seat posts with added bounce and suspension front forks.
The so-called Dutch roadster is a perfect utility bike, a real workhorse.
They are virtually bombproof , very low maintenance and great in all
weathers, although only really suitable for short journeys in flat areas.
A touring bike is a chunkier, more laid back
and more comfortable version of the road bike. It normally has drop
handlebars and mudguards and pannier racks for luggage. The wheelbase
- the distance between the hubs - is
longer than in either a road bike or an MTB, giving a smooth ride, ironing
out all the bumps and potholes and making it easier to handle when loaded
up with panniers.
Bicycle origami is thriving. Before we
get to the dream of a fully integrated transport system the best way
to get a bike onto a train, bus or underground service is to pack it
down. There's even a theory that come ten years hence every new car
will come with a folding bike in the boot because city-centre gridlock
means cars will be next to useless and the only way to
get about will be by bike!
Cheap folding bikes are heavy and don't fold down too well. More expensive
ones fold down tiny in just 15 seconds. Because they are designed for
the first and last legs of a commuter journey they sacrifice speed,
and comfort for convenience. Typically they come with hub gears and
may also be fitted with mudgurads and lights. Optional extras include
What size do I need?
To get the most out of cycling it's vital to have the right sized bike.
Before setting off to the bike shop you need a tape measure. Your inside
leg measurement determines what size frame you're going to need. To
find your frame size for road bikes and hybrids, multiply your inside
leg measurement by 0.65, this will give you an approximate frame size
The frame is measured by the distance along the seat tube from the centre
of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top tube.
When you get to the shop, stand over and sit aboard a number of bikes.
When you stand over the bike there should be 2cm clearance between your
crotch and the top tube for a touring bike, 3cm for a road bike, 4-6cm
for a hybrid and 6cm+ for a mountain bike.
The reach of the handlebars should be comfortable and neither cramp
you or strain your back. To pedal comfortably, the length of the crank
should be about a fifth of your inside leg measurement. When you pedal,
your leg should have a slight bend in it and never be extended fully.
The old rule that you had to be able to touch the ground when sitting
on the saddle is a load of tosh: if you can, your saddle and seat post
need to be raised.
(Note: this is not the case for children). Do this in small increments
over a number of days so you get used to the new, higher position. Once
you're used to it, you'll find you can cycle faster and for longer and
with more comfort with less effort.
Am I pedalling right?
Cadence is important. This is the number of time your pedals go round
per minute, your 'revs' if you will. Tour De France cyclists can pedal
all day long and at great speeds because they 'spin'. Aim for something
similar. Your legs should whizz round rather than strain in a high gear.
And don't pedal with your heels. Your toes should be just over the lip
of the front of the pedal.