Nowadays, bicycles are easier to ride than ever before. Lightweight frames, indexed derailleur gears (which click-click into place) and strong, reliable brakes mean the bicycles of today look great, are easy-to-use and, if kept in good nick, will be highly efficient. Considering the amount of moving parts they are made up of, and the enjoyment to be gained from them, bicycles are remarkably good value for money.
There are many types of bicycle available – ranging from the ever-popular mountain bike, which can cross hill and dale with ease, through to the sleek road racing bike as used in the Tour de France. In between, there are bicycles for touring, racing against the clock, for transport and, of course, for simply having fun.
Which you’ll buy depends first on the depth of your pocket and then on what you want your machine to do.
How much to spend? Prices range from under £50 to £5000 and way above. The cheapest bikes will not be as sturdy or as safe or as long-lasting as more expensive ones.
It is best to buy the best bike you can afford: it will last longer and will need less repairs in the long-run. A good, entry-level hybrid/city bike with quality components will cost at least £240.
Spending more gets you:
- Lighter weight
- More precise gear shifting, braking and handling
- A more lively, responsive frame
- Comfort features such as suspension
MOUNTAIN BIKE (MTB)
Strong frame with a basic shape (‘geometry’) that allows for good hill climbing and plenty of mud clearance. Fat, knobbly tyres for grip, straight handlebars for leverage, lots of gears for getting up hills or over rough ground. Most MTBs also come with suspension forks for comfort and for extra speed over rough terrain. Many also come with rear suspension. On cheaper MTBs, suspension – especially rear suspension – adds weight for little actual benefit.
Lightweight frames with very little ‘give’ so every ounce of pedalling energy is converted into forward motion, losing little in flexing the frame. Road bikes are built to travel fast so come with ‘drop handlebars’ which give the characteristic ‘dropped’ riding position for aerodynamic efficiency. Thin tyres mean as little rubber as possible is touching the road, leading to low rolling resistance and greater speed.
A sturdy frame and strong wheel with either drop or straight bars and with lots of gears to get the bike and luggage up hills. Thick treaded tyres add comfort and will cope with rough road conditions. Good tourers also come fitted with mudguards and pannier racks.
(Also called hybrid)
A mixture of mountain bike, tourer and road bike that is an excellent all-round machine. It has similar frame geometry to an MTB, straight handlebars, but with higher gears and thin tyres so it can travel fast on roads yet still be able to cope with gentle off-road routes.
Small wheeled, small framed bike with a single gear designed for short-course track racing, ramp skills or riding over and on street obstacles. BMX stands for Bicycle Moto-Cross. BMX racing became an Olympic discipline at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The rider is low to the ground in a reclined position, sitting on a seat with a backrest with the legs pushing forward on the pedals situated at the front of the bike. The slungback position is very aerodynamically efficient. Racing recumbents were banned from road racing in the 1930s because they were faster than ‘conventional’ bicycles. Recumbents come in all shapes and sizes, including trikes. These are sometimes ‘fully faired’ – ie covered – to increase aerodynamic efficiency.
Very aerodynamic riding position usually on ‘tri-bars’ (ie handlebar extensions that mimic the position of a down-hill skier). These sling the rider well forward leading to an aerodynamically efficient position. Triathlon/time trial bikes are designed for travelIing fast on flat straight roads.
Twice the pedalling pleasure. The ‘captain’ steers. On the back is the ‘stoker’.
Three wheels leads to stability, useful for special needs bikes.
Fat-tyred beach bike, often with wide handlebars, tractor saddle and single gear.
Travelling with a full-size bicycle isn’t easy. They don’t fit well into cars and many trains either charge cyclists extra money to carry their bicycles or refuse to carry them at all. Folding cycles are therefore excellent for getting around these restrictions. The best fold quickly into small packages.
Cycling with extra zip thanks to rechargeable batteries (lithium ion batteries are best) and a motor. MTB, hybrid, trike and folding versions are available. Click here for much more info on electric bikes.
Got a fridge to move or a barrel of beer? Want to deliver a gournet meal for ten door to door? There are bikes that can handle all these tasks and more. Ever since the bicycle was first invented, ingenious innovators have been creating cycles that can carry surprisingly heavy and bulky loads. The newest on the scene is the high-tech ‘pedicab’, a rickshaw for the 21st century.
Sizing is important for both comfort and safety. You must not feel too stretched or hunched to reach the handlebars. Legs must be slightly bent when pedalling to get the most power out. If you can touch the ground with both feet when you’re sat in the saddle, the bike is too small for you or the saddle needs to be raised higher via the seatpost. In an attempt to save money, parents often buy a bike that’s too big for their child, hoping he or she will grow into it. But an ill-fitting bike is no fun to ride nor learn on, and can be dangerous. Buy a bike that fits. A bike shop will advise.
WHERE TO BUY
The best place to buy a bike is from your local cycle shop where the staff will be knowledgeable and the choice of machines will be wide. The added benefit of buying from a reputable local bike shop, rather than a supermarket or a garage forecourt, is that they will be able to ‘service’ your bike (usually for free to begin with) and will look after you as a customer. Buying a cheap bike in a box, with instructions to assemble it yourself, is not a good idea: a bike may not up to ‘CEN standards’ unless assembled by a competent mechanic and only saves a few pounds. Pounds that you will have to spend later on fixing your mistakes if you’re not a qualified cycle mechanic. Most British bike shops are members of the Association of Cycle Traders and will have mechanics with CyTech qualifications. Look for the CyTech and ACT stickers on shop doors.