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Buying a bike 1, 2, 3. (2 of 3)

Home / Equipment and Set-Up : The Bike

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Article posted: 01/05/2013

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Step 2 - What Type

You have fixed your budget but what type of bike should you buy and how will you know if it fits? The next step is to understand what bikes are best for getting you through the training and sportive events and how to get the bike of your dream to fit the way it should.

What type?

To understand what type of bike you need, you need to understand the characteristics of your event and personal needs, the quote “horses for courses” is very relevant at this point.

There is no one answer for this and, if there was, it would make buying a bike very dull and wouldn’t allow you to show off your new steed to your riding mates. However there are a few general choices to be made.


No, hybrids will not propel you up mountains with green emissions. Hybrid bikes are part mountain bike, part road bike. They’ll have flat bars, upright position, easy gearing and may even have disc brakes. They’re a popular choice for commuters, who need the comfort of a MTB but the speed of a road bike.

For shorter distance sportives, these compromise bikes will be fine but completing a longer sportives in a decent time will need a different bike. Do not fall in to the trap of getting these bikes just because you’re starting off just to get round a shorter distance event and are maybe intimidated by drop handlebar skinny tyred racers. Read on and you’ll probably see that a hybrid isn’t a wise long term purchase.


Road bikes are made for road racing. They’re built to be aggressive, bringing the rider’s chest and head low over the front of the bike, making them more aerodynamic at high speeds. These bikes can be fantastic for sportives but their aggressive geometry and high gearing can be too much for some riders.

An aggressively set up road bike for a sportive could be damaging to both your enjoyment and performance. A fast and aerodynamic position is great but only if you can hold it comfortably for hours on end. If you’re having to constantly sit-up, back off and stretch out, any time gains will rapidly be lost.

Having a professional bike fit including an assessment of you flexibility will determine if an aggressive racing frame will suit you.


With the boom in sportives, major manufacturers are bringing innovations to the road bike industry and developing bikes specifically with that market in mind. You’ll get the go-faster benefits of a racing thoroughbred but with ride all day comfort.

A more relaxed riding position, sensible gearing and even vibration absorbing technology are combined with top end components which would not be out of place on a major UCI World Tour Team.

“The comfort revolution of sportive bikes has gone full circle and we’re now seeing pro riders and teams adopting more relaxed geometries, spinning lower gears and releasing that a comfortable rider is a faster rider.”

What size?

We are all different shapes and sizes, have little niggles in different joints and muscles, and enter different types of events ranging from 10-1000 miles. Sizing a bike is not a one shop stop for every bike rider, micro adjustments will always be needed to meet your needs both personally and for the events you plan to tackle.

However when sizing a bike there are a few things you need to consider when buying and sizing your bike, here are our top 5 tips:


You are not Super man or woman and you shouldn’t look like them on the bike. Reaching for the handlebars should not be a struggle, as this will put unnecessary stress on the lower back and neck muscles.

When reaching for the handlebars you should be able to keep your head stable without stretching and you should not feel any tension in your lower back.

Saddle height

A saddle that is too high or low will have a big detrimental effect on your cycling performance, putting pressure on your hips or knees and potentially causing lower back issue. A saddle that is too high will be indicated by the hips excessively rocking leading to lower back tightness and discomfort. When a saddle is too low, the knee joint will not extend putting pressure on the muscles around that joint. A good starting point is that, with the pedal at the bottom of the stroke and your foot flat on it, there should be a slight bend in your knee.

Handlebar width

Handlebar width is something you might not be familiar with but women who have had their bike passed down to them by their partner will definitely understand the difference in widths. Bars should be chosen with the shoulder width of the rider in mind. Too wide bars will drop the upper body lower and be uncomfortable. Too narrow will result in the riders back becoming hunched and less control over the bike. Generally bar widths correlate with frame size and manufacturers will spec the correct one but, if you’re especially tall, small or if your bike just doesn’t feel right, it can be worth double checking.

Saddle Choice

Saddle choice is a very personal preference and although it’s worth listening to the recommendations of others, we’ve all got different shaped behinds. Bike manufacturers are now bringing out a range of saddle types and widths and offering try before you buy schemes out of bike shops. Experiment and don’t make the mistake of thinking that wider and heavily padded is necessarily more comfortable..


When you buy a bike you may have the option to specify the gearing. This again is horses for courses and preparing your steed for events you will be taking part in.

Standard chain-sets have double chainrings with 53 and 39 teeth and a cassette with an 11-25t range. The benefit of this set up are high gears for the flat sportives roads, descents and strong riders and no large gear jumps making it easier to hold a consistent cadence.

Compact chain-sets have 50 tooth and 34 tooth chain-rings and are found on the majority of bikes aimed at the sportive market. Combined with a rear cassette with 27, 28 or even 32 teeth largest sprocket, they’re aimed at getting you round hilly sportive courses. You might find yourself missing higher top gears on fast descents but tales of “spinning out” with compacts are normally just cake shop bravado. The biggest disadvantage is a jump midway through the cassette but, for the bail out gears to get you up that last killer climb, it’s worth it.

Triple chain-sets have three chain-rings, usually 52/42/30 but, with the increased popularity of compact set-ups, are becoming obsolete. They add weight and complexity to your bike and many of the additional gears they supposedly offer are just replications.


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