A good question, and one I get asked a lot. Bikes are booming now, and I love seeing more people out on the road than there were 10 years ago. But when we’re new to something, it’s easy to get bamboozled by the technical lingo, and oversold. So we go home with a coffee machine that freshens the beans before grinding them, or a car with power comfort engine driving mode, when all we wanted was a simple coffee or to drive a short distance.
The more you can think about what sort of cycling you want your bike for (and what you won’t be doing), the better your bike buying experience will be. The pointers below will help you get to a bike shop with a better idea of what bike you want and how to buy it.
It’s a common myth that you need an expensive bike. Yes, you can easily spend several thousand pounds, but you definitely don’t have to. My first bike was £200 and it took me all the way from John O’Groats down to the South of France, over hills and mountains, including up Alpe d’Huez. Bikes have come on a lot since then, and you’d get a lot better bike for a similar price now. You can certainly look around £500 for a great first bike that will help you get into cycling and well beyond.
As a generalisation, the more you spend, the better the brakes, gears and components (together these mechanical parts make up the ‘groupset’ – some key bike vocab you’ll probably come across). The lighter the bike and its wheels, overall the more efficiently and quickly it will convert your pedalling into moving forwards!
One bike doesn’t fit all
Beyond cost, there are lots of other factors to consider, and this is where you need to think honestly about what you want it for:
Think where you’ll be parking and storing it. Most of the time I’ve had to keep mine parked on the street in London, so that helped dictate that it couldn’t be too expensive or attractive to others. If you’ll be taking it from safe area to safe area, or driving it to sportive events, then you can go for your life on cost!
It’s a common assumption that a road (or racing) bike is the only way to go. I can be a bit of a lone figure at cycling events on my hybrid tourer with its straight handlebars and heavier frame, but I’ve thought about what I want. I want to put panniers on the back to commute and to go on holiday (we go on long cycle tours). I like the riding position of the straight handlebars because it’s comfortable and I can enjoy looking at the landscape. Yes I’ve compromised on speed, but that’s my choice!
A road bike is generally lighter, and as the cost goes up it typically has a better groupset and wheels, and so it will be faster. The sky’s the limit on what you can spend, as every bit of the bike can be upgraded. But each upgrade gives you a smaller and smaller benefit, shaving off a gram here or a couple of seconds there – which is great for a high performance road racer, but not necessarily what everyone needs.
Put yourself in the saddle
So have a think about what you really want the bike for – commuting, going to the shops, occasional weekend excursions, dedicated sportive riding where you want to push the pace…or perhaps a mix. This will help you have the right conversation at the bike shop and find the right bike at the right budget!
It’s also worth remembering that you can test bikes out at most bike shops, and you can personalise them too. For example, although my frame is relatively heavy and robust for long-distance resilience, I have narrower strong road tyres to help with the speed but also cut down on punctures.
Don’t forget the engine
Most of all, don’t forget the engine – that’s you!! Whatever type of bike you have, the most important thing is you, your fitness and your goals. I’ve cycled the whole Tour de France on my hybrid touring bike, and a ‘Boris bike’ has been up Mont Ventoux with its 3 gears! So don’t get too caught up in the technical details of the bike, instead get out there, get fit and get pedalling!
If you get really keen and want to plan and ride your own long distance cycle trip, you can get my ebook “Plan it Bike it” here
Do ask any questions, and share your bike tips in the comments below, and hope to see you out on the road!