Start Cycling: The Bike
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Already got a bike?
If you've already got a bike, congratulations, you're already halfway there. However, chances are that you may not have used it for a while. Don't worry, you're not alone. There are literally millions of bikes in the UK that are gathering dust in sheds and garages, when they could be brought back to life, giving hours of fun, fitness and freedom.
If you're not handy with a spanner or perhaps haven't got the time, your best bet is to take your existing bike along to a good quality bike shop, who'll be able to give it a thorough service and, in most cases, get it back into good working order. If your bike is too far-gone, they'll also be able to advise you on repairing it or buying a new one.
Thinking of buying a bike?
If you're just starting out in cycling, buying a bike can be a confusing process. With literally dozens of different bike types out there from hundreds of manufacturers and many different price points, where do you start? Here's our beginners bike buying guide:
Generally appearing at the £400 plus price point, road bikes are lightweight, thin-tyred bikes, often with drop-handlebars. Whilst road bikes are highly evolved for tarmac riding, they're not ideal for use off road and often lack the ability to add mudguards or a rack, which limits their adaptability for commuting or more general use.
The mountain bike is the most popular type of bike on the market and with good reason. The mountain bike can go anywhere thanks to its strong frame and wheels, powerful brakes, wide, knobbly tyres, wide range gearing and confidence-inspiring riding position. While slower than a road bike on tarmac, a mountain bike can be easily adapted for road duty by swapping to slick tyres. Add mudguards and a rack and you've got an ultra-sturdy commuter or touring bike. Decent quality starter mountain bikes begin to come on-stream at around £250-300.
These, as their name suggests, are a cross between a road and mountain bike. They generally have the larger wheels of the road bike, with tyre widths midway between a road and mountain bike, which means a comfortable, fast-rolling ride. Most hybrids have flat handlebars with mountain bike style controls, giving a more comfortable riding position with better visibility and easy access to the brakes and gears. Hybrids often have the ability to mount racks and mudguards - some come ‘equipped' with these items as standard, making them ideal commuting and everyday use bikes. Bikes labelled as hybrids can often be very different, with some being more akin to mountain bikes, while at the other extreme, some can be little more than road bikes with flat handlebars. Good quality hybrid bikes begin at around the £250 mark.
If you're pushed for space - perhaps you live in a flat or don't have a shed or garage to store your bike in? Or perhaps you'd like to combine your cycling with other forms of transport. Folding bikes pack down small and will fit in car boots, on trains and sometimes even buses. Decent quality folding bikes begin at around the £350 mark. Don't be tempted by the bargain basement folding bikes you might see on Ebay or in newpaper ads. In the main, they're poorly designed and poorly made.
The type of bike that you buy will inevitably impose limits on what you can do. When you're starting out, chances are that you don't really know what kind of cycling you want to do - you just want to ride. So there's nothing worse than investing a large chunk of cash on an entry-level racing bike, only to find that 6 months down the line you'd like to give mountain biking a go. Therefore, our advice to anyone starting out is to plump for a good quality rigid (no suspension) or hardtail (front suspension) mountain bike. They're hugely adaptable, tough, confidence-inspiring and can handle any terrain, from smooth tarmac to rocky trails.
Up to £200
Beware! It may sound like snobbery, but a new bike in the lower end of this category can spell trouble. Bikes in this range are often heavy, badly designed and difficult to set up and service. This is the realm of the BSO - the Bike Shaped Object. It may look like a bike. It may have two wheels, a frame, handlebars, etc. but BSO's, which are often seem for prices as low as £50 in newspaper ads, hypermarkets and online vendors, can ruin your first impressions of cycling, or worse. Bikes purchased from supermarkets and other non specialists are often inexpertly assembled and should best be avoided.
However, at the upper end of the £200 bracket there are some good quality starter bikes to be had. The trick at the £200 mark is to keep it simple. Avoid bikes with suspension and disc brakes at this level. These features will only add weight, won't really work from the get-go, and will get steadily worse thereafter.
£200 - £300
This is the price bracket where the good quality beginner's hybrid and mountain bikes start to come online. Again it's wise to steer clear of disc brakes and suspension at this point. These features, though flashy, will be poorly engineered and will generally involve quality-compromises elsewhere on the bike. Money spent on a good frame and wheels - the ‘heart' of any bike, is much more sensible.
Above the £300 mark is the point at which you'll find bikes that will have fewer obvious quality compromises. If your passion for cycling grows, you're less likely to need, or want, to swap it for a better bike. Also, a £300 plus bike will be a better platform for upgrading as parts wear out or your cycling gets more ‘serious'.
If you can afford it, we'd advise that you plump for a bike in the £300 plus category. While the initial outlay is a little more, you'll end up spending less in the longer term, because you're less likely to outgrow a quality bike. Plus its better quality components will last longer and require less maintenance.
Buying a bike that is the right size for you is just as important as working out how much to spend and what type of bike to buy. Although bikes are adjustable to a degree, it's vital to spend time finding the right size for you. Just like buying clothes, sizing varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Therefore, our advice is to purchase from a bike shop that lets you try a number of sizes before you buy.
Where to buy?
Our advice would be find your nearest bike shop that is has fully trained CYTEC mechanics. CYTEC is the industry standard qualification for bike mechanics. A list of CYTEC bike shops can be found here
A good bike shop will spend time with you, helping you to select the right bike and accessories for your needs. They'll give you the opportunity to test ride your chosen bike and make sure that you choose the correct size. Before you collect your bike they will spend time setting it up, so that it works correctly and most important of all, is safe.
While you can make huge savings through buying online or at supermarkets, you will not get this type of service anywhere else than a bike shop where you can walk in and get real world advice from properly trained staff. This is worth paying for.