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Choosing a Bike by fjwuxn


Choosing a Bike

The first thing to consider is what type of riding you are going to do. Will it be on tarmac roads
and cycle paths or off-road? Will it be for utility, commuting, racing, touring or a combination
of uses?

Mountain Bikes
90% of mountain bikes sold in the UK
are never ridden off road. Most are used
for commuting or not used at all. The
popularity of these machines has been
lead by fashion more than anything else
but if you are going to use it regularly off
road then there is nothing better than a
mountain bike because it is designed for
that purpose. But despite widespread
use on the road, they are not the best
choice for tarmac use. This is because
they are generally heavy and have off-road tyres fitted. However, the riding position is very
comfortable, they are easy to ride and have a good range of gears. If you use a mountain bike
mainly on tarmac surfaces then it is a worthwhile investment to swap the off-road tyres for
those with a narrower slick tread. This will make a big difference to the performance of the
bike and the effort required to ride it. Knobbly tyres are designed for loose and muddy
surfaces and proper road tyres give the added benefit of better handling and grip on tarmac,
especially in the wet.

If you decide to use a mountain bike for utility or commuting then do not be tempted by the
very cheap ‘bike shaped objects’ available from superstores. The cost is attractive (often as
cheap as £50 for a new ‘mountain’ bike) and some even come with ‘suspension’ but these are
not good quality machines and you are better off buying a good second hand bike.

For tarmac use, avoid full suspension mountain bikes and go for a ‘hard tail’ model. You might
consider those with front suspension because they ride better over potholes and up kerbs.

Road Bikes
Road bikes have regained popularity in
recent years because they can be used
for a variety of purposes, from
commuting to sport. They are very
efficient machines due to their lighter
weight and more aerodynamic riding
position. There are many types of ‘road
bike’ and you need to think about what
you are going to use your bike for. Do
you intend to commute, go to the shops,
perhaps some leisure rides or even a
cycle tour? The road bike is capable of
all these and is particularly suitable if
you have a range of uses in mind. For utility purposes, look for a relaxed frame geometry that
will often be sold as a commuting or touring or bike. This will have a higher riding position at
the front and will make it comfortable for longer rides. Many road bikes oriented towards
sports use will not come with mudguards. However, for utility and commuting, mudguards
make the experience vastly more pleasurable in bad weather. Also look for eyelets in the
frame for racks and panniers if you are going to carry a load such as briefcase or shopping.

Road bikes will often come with drop handlebars but many commuting models now have flat
bars like those on a mountain bike and sold as a ‘city bike’ or ‘hybrid’.

Purpose built touring and commuting bikes will tend to have larger clearance for mudguards
and larger tyres, a wider range of gears, and the carriers already fitted; whereas racing bikes
will have narrower tyres, higher gears and close clearances.

Folding Bikes
Folding bikes have seen a recent surge
in popularity because most train
services restrict the number or prohibit
the transport of full size bikes (great
heh?!). At the top end you have
Brompton but there are now a large
number of manufacturers out there.
Folding bikes have traditionally had
smaller wheels to ease transport, and
longer gears to compensate for this but
now there are even folding mountain
bikes and racing bikes with ‘breaking’
frames. These bikes are ideal if you
want to travel by bus, train or car to the outskirts of a town and finish your journey by jam-
busting bike. Alternatively, they can solve a storage problem for owners living in a flat or
house with no garage or shed. The modern folding bike is light and easy to ride.

Other Types
There are too many types of bike to cover here in detail but you may want to consider the
Cross Bike – from the sport of cyclo-cross which involves racing on both tarmac and off-road
trails, this is a road bike with drop handlebars but wider tyres and gear ratios suitable for off-
road use. A very good choice if you cycle mainly on tarmac and also use off-road trails.
Tandem - great for touring and particularly good for getting the visually impaired on a bike.
Tandems can also be very
fast due to the ‘twin
Utility Bike – the obvious
example is the traditional
butchers bike but these
days you can buy a bike
designed for carrying a
load on the back, just the
job for shopping. See
bikes.html and
Front Seater – designed
for disabled riders where the front seat gives a superb and safe view. The rider sits behind the
front seat to pedal, usually one wheel at the back and two at the front for stability.
Recumbent – associated with the more eccentric cyclist, but a brilliant design and can be
suitable for those with back problems. The perceived hazard of being low down and difficult to
see or overtake by motorists has prevented their widespread use. The rider is well supported
by a reclined seat. Recumbants are commonly available in two or more stable three wheeled
versions. They are particularly fast due to the aerodynamic riding position and hold the human
powered land speed record, for which they are fully faired in for aerodynamics.
Drop handlebars (drops), like those fitted to racing
bikes provide the widest range of riding positions.
The brakes and gear change levers are now
integrated into one unit – pull for brakes and flick
sideways for changing gear.

Many road bikes now come with flat handlebars
similar to those on a mountain bike. These are
usually sold as ‘city bikes’ or ‘hybrids’ and provide
the best compromise for multi-use because they will
also deal with light off-road use as well.

There are also specialist handlebar shapes for
touring and racing. For the latter they are generally
concerned with getting a more aero riding position.

As a general rule of thumb, handlebars should be
the same width as your shoulders and if buying a
new bike, check this and get the shop to swap the
bars if they do not fit you.

Most road and mountain bikes will come with
derailleur gears. That is a set of cogs and a
mechanism for throwing the chain onto each to
provide different gear ratios. Small cog (chainwheel)
at the front and large cog (cassette sprocket) at the
back provides lower gears for climbing hills. Large at
the front and small at the back for faster speeds.

Commonly on a mountain bike you would have three rings at the front and between 8 and 10
on the back. Older bikes would have 5, 6 or 7 cogs at the back. Any of these will give you a
perfectly adequate range of gears for the road.

On a road bike you would normally have two rings on the front and three on a bike for touring.
Recently, road bikes have become available with a ‘compact’ chainset which has a wide
range of ratios but only two chain rings. The compact chainset is a very good choice if you are
new to cycling or need to use the road bike for a range of different tasks because you will
have lower gears for climbing hills or carrying loads.

Some city bikes and mountain bikes are fitted with hub gears. The benefit is they are
maintenance free and the internals are protected from dirt. These days hub gears have up to
8 gears.

The frame is the heart of a good bike.
Look for a bike with a good frame, even
if the rest of the equipment is not as
good. Remember that the components
can always be upgraded at a later date.
Avoid ‘supermarket’ bikes because the
frame is heavy low quality steel and will
spoil your riding experience. If you are
just starting out cycling, you don’t want
to be put off by a bike that is difficult to
ride or breaks after only light use.

The most common material for a frame
is steel. Look for a frame that is made from a steel alloy such as Chrome Molybdenum
(CroMo) or Manganese Molybdeneum (MangMoly). Most of the frames you should be looking
at will say which company manufactured the frame tubes (as opposed to who constructed the
frame). Names to look out for include Reynolds, Columbus, Dedeccai, Vitus, Oria and Tange.
If you are looking for a second hand bike, then you may find older models from the 80s and
90s with Reynolds 501 or 531 tubing. If in good condition that would be a very good quality

Steel has the advantage of being sturdy, responsive yet forgiving on rough roads, can be
repaired by a frame builder quite easily in the event of damage, and probably represents the
best value.

Aluminium frames are the next most common. They can be lighter than steel but are usually
more expensive. They can also be made stiffer than steel through the use of larger diameter
frame tubes (which increases the fatigue life compared to narrow aluminium tubes) but this
can make for a harsh ride on rough roads or tracks. They will require specialist knowledge to
repair them if they get damaged. Many aluminium frames now include carbon fibre front forks
and seat stays. As well as saving weight (most important if you ride hilly routes), carbon forks
absorb vibrations and make for a very comfortable ride – worth thinking about if you make
longer trips.

Carbon Fibre
This material is usually associated with top end racing bikes. It is very light and strong and
can be given different characteristics (e.g. stiffness) depending on how it is ‘laid up’. It’s
essentially a woven fabric made hard through a process of moulding, lamination and oven
baking. Carbon has come down in price in recent years but is still most common on more
expensive machines.

Titanium is expensive and difficult to work with but is very light and stronger than aluminium. It
also has a natural spring that makes it more forgiving than aluminium. Most common on high
end machines but it does have a following among touring and utility riders who demand a
higher spec frame than steel or aluminium.

Frame Sizes
One of the most important aspects of choosing a bike is whether it fits you properly. A proper
fit will give you the best position for riding and that means comfort, control over the bike and
getting the most power into the cranks for the minimum effort. Whether you are a professional
racer or occasional leisure/commuter/utility rider the latter must not be under-estimated. Why
put in more effort than you need to just because your bike is not the right size or is not
properly adjusted to you?

Frame sizes can be specified in either inches or centimetres. If the frame size is in inches,
then this is usually the measurement from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the
seat tube (or ‘centre to top’). Continental frame sizes are given in centimetres and are usually
measured from the centre of the bottom bracket to a point in line with the centre of the top
tube (or cross bar) (‘centre to centre’). Many road bikes are now specified by the top tube
length from centre of seat tube to centre of head tube.

Another complication is that many road bike frames now have 'compact' geometry where the
seat tube is shorter than usual and the top tube slopes down to the rear. This gives a smaller
and therefore stiffer rear end and you ride the bike with the saddle out on a longer seat post.
You may see such bikes shown with a ‘virtual’ size which is meant to relate to the size as if it
were of traditional geometry.

Anyway, enough detail because the bottom line is you must try a bike for size before buying.
The following table gives a rough guide to the size of road frame you should buy.
Inside leg is measured from crotch to the ground. The most accurate way to measure this is
to stick a book in your crotch and measure from the top of the book to the ground.

Inside Leg       Seat Tube        Top Tube
Inches Cm        Inches Cm        Inches Cm
(C to T)         (C to C)
29       73.5    19.0     47.0    19.0    48.5
30       76.0    20.0     49.5    20.0    51.0
31       78.5    21.0     52.0    20.5    52.0
32       81.5    22.0     54.5    21.0    53.5
33       84.0    23.0     57.0    22.0    56.0
34       86.5    23.5     58.5    22.5    57.0
35       89.0    24.5     61.0    23.0    58.5
36       91.5    25.0     62.5    23.5    59.5
37       94.0    25.5     63.5    24.0    61.0
38       96.5    26.0     64.5    24.5    62.0

You will need to adjust the bike to your own size by adjusting the saddle height and handlebar
extension (stem) height and possibly length.

With mountain bike frames, sizing is more difficult and will depend more on rider ‘feel’ than on
any hard and fast rules. For off-road riding the saddle will normally be a lot lower for control
over the bike. On road you will probably have the saddle higher for better pedalling efficiency.
Mountain bikes have a higher bottom bracket (where the pedals go in) for ground clearance
on rough surfaces and so with the saddle at the right height for road riding you may find you
have to lean over a lot more to get your feet on the ground when you stop.

The longer the top tube, the more stretched out you will be on the bike. Novice riders tend to
prefer to be more upright and so will require a shorter top tube whereas a racing bike’s will be
longer. Also look for a frame that will give you at least 2 inches clearance between crotch and
top tube when standing astride the bike.

There are many ways to make sure you get the right saddle height. The saddle should be at a
height which gives you a slight bend at the knee when at the bottom of your pedal stroke. This
is the most efficient riding position and therefore requires the least energy to ride the bike, or
to put it another way you will be going the fastest for any given effort. The most common
mistake for a novice is to have the saddle too low because this feels ‘safer’ due to being
closer to the ground. However, this can make riding the bike much harder and in extreme
circumstances can lead to knee injury. You should pedal a bike with the ball of your foot, not
the heel. So, put the pedal in its lowest position on one side and place the ball of your foot
along the centre of the pedal. Adjust the saddle so your knee is slightly bent in this position.
You’ll need to check this again with a test ride and repeat until you get it right. Persevere; it’s
one of the most important things to get right to enjoy your cycling.

The best way to find the right size bike for you is to get a bike shop to measure you on their
special equipment. This will usually incur a fee of about £50 although that is normally
refunded if you buy a bike from them. It can prevent an expensive mistake.

Trailers and Tag-Alongs
Tag-alongs are child bikes with an
extension bar allowing them to be towed
by an adult cyclist. They can be towed
by mountain bikes or road bikes and
make a very effective way of getting
your child to school even before they
are of a traffic aware age. It’s a great
fun way of introducing your child to
cycling but you may find some
encouragement is needed to get them
to assist you with the pedalling!

There is a large variety of trailers for
bikes and these allow you to carry utility
loads or extended touring equipment.
Waitrose have been running a very
successful trailer hire scheme for
shopping, although this is yet to be
launched at Eastbourne. See makers of the
Waitrose shopping trailer and much
more. How about a ‘music trailer’ to tow
your tuba? Damn, nothing for my piano…….
Pashley used to make the u-plus-2 trailer for two children. It’s no
longer in production but you may find one second hand.

Where to Buy a Bike
Don’t be tempted buy supermarket bikes. Anything new under £200 is unlikely to be good
quality and could put you off cycling so look for a used bike. £200+ gives you a better choice
new and you may pick up an ex-demo or last years model bargain. £300 to £500 gives you a
very good choice of quality machines. Don’t forget to budget for accessories (see below).

Used Bikes
If you have a budget of £20 to £200 then buy second hand.

Look in local papers such as the Free Ads and Friday Ad. There are many bikes that are only
lightly used. Those described as ‘gentlemans racing bike’ are often very good bikes from the
80s and 90s which will make superb utility bikes.

eBay is another resource but don’t forget to factor in the delivery or collection costs and check
the location before you bid. Many bikes are offered on a collection only basis which is not
going to be economic if it is 200 miles away.

You can also join recycling groups such as Now called or
locally                and bag yourself a
free bike. Be prepared to put in a bit of maintenance before you ride it and particularly make
sure the brakes are in good condition.

Charity groups such as or that send bikes to
Africa often have a surplus due to the costs of container shipping and may agree to let you
choose a bike from their warehouse if you cover the shipping cost – sometimes as little as
£20. Again you may need to carry out some maintenance before riding.

Some shops specialise in used bikes or may offer part-exchange bargains.

Cash Converters often have a selection of bikes but experience suggests that you will get a
better deal buying from a private individual. However, it’s always worth a look in your local
Cash Converters but make sure you come away with an older quality bike rather than a nearly
new ‘bike shaped object’ supermarket bike.

New Bikes
Cycling is a growing industry due not only to increased interest in cycling as a sport due to GB
Olympic success but also of course congestion, the credit crunch and environmental factors.
This means there is a better choice of bike than ever before and the price of a quality
machine has dropped in the last few years (although this may change in 2009 due to the
weakness of the pound).

If your budget extends to a new bike then visit a local shop and benefit from their experience
and advice. You may also be able to ‘test ride’ to make sure the bike is good for you. Only
buy from the internet if you have identified the make, model and size you want because as
with clothes, you really cannot select a bike just by looking at a picture. If you buy from a local
shop then the bike will be assembled by an experienced mechanic and ready to ride. Mail
order and internet bikes may require varying degrees of self-assembly.

Clothing and Equipment
Riding without a crash helmet is not illegal (and long may that freedom of choice remain) but
a helmet is strongly recommended, especially for children.

For winter riding, ensure that you have sufficient clothing as you will suffer from a higher wind
chill than when you are walking or jogging. Wear gloves and a hat. A headband will keep your
ears warm if you are wearing a helmet. To keep your feet warm and dry, a pair of overshoes
will help.

Bright clothing will help to get you noticed, especially in poor light. Fluorescent coloured tops
and rucksack covers are especially good around dusk. For night time riding, add clothes that
have reflective or Scotchlite strips. You can purchase these to sew on to clothes or you can
buy reflective ‘Sam Brown’ belts.

Purchase a good quality waterproof as you can never depend on the British weather! Ideally
this would be one of the breathable fabrics such as Gore-Tex, however they can be

Lights are a MUST when riding after dark. The range of lights available now is bewildering
and you should think carefully about what kind of riding you will be doing before choosing a
light. Consider where you will be riding. In town where there are street lights the main purpose
of the lights will be to be seen. For unlit lanes the primary purpose is to see where you are
going and a more expensive high power front light may be necessary. It is illegal to cycle at
night without a rear lamp. After a successful campaign by CTC, you can now use the flashing
type of LED lamp which is very good at attracting driver’s attention.

Also buy a pump, puncture repair kit and/or spare inner tube and learn how to use them to
avoid getting stranded. A rag or rubber surgical gloves are also useful as you are more likely
to puncture when the roads are at their dirtiest.

Online bike shops
There are of course loads more and you will find your own favourite. I find Wiggle consistently
have the best prices overall, but they do tend to cater more for the sports end of the market.
Evans has a greater range for commuting and utility. However, when buying a bike, you can’t
beat the help and advice you get from your local bike shop.

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