There are lots of reasons to cycle: it’s fun, it provides you with plenty of exercise, and it makes an easy and efficient way to get around without the added costs that come with driving a car.
Whether you want to commute to work by bike, do your grocery shopping on two wheels, or head out at the weekend for some fun with the family, there are lots of different types of bikes out there, and if you’re new to buying them then it can feel overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide for what to look for when buying a bike, along with our list of recommendations.
What to look for in a bike
While cycling is fun, when it boils down to it, a bike is essentially a tool, and the best tool for the job is one that was built for the task. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you choose a bike, to make sure it’s actually going to do what you need it to.
What will you use it for?
This is the ultimate question, and it will impact the type of bike you buy. For example, if you’re planning to commute on it every day, then you’ll need a hybrid bike that’s comfortable and efficient, and with long-lasting components that can withstand wear and tear.
If you want to head out onto the trails or into the woods, consider a mountain bike with front (and sometimes rear) suspension, and knobbly tires to give you traction in the mud.
Whereas if you want to ride fast on tarmac, or race, then you should look for a lightweight drop-bar road bike with thin, smooth tires.
If you don’t have a lot of storage space, or you need to combine cycling with getting the train or bus, then a folding bike would suit your needs.
Finally if you have mobility issues, some really tough hills to climb, or just don’t feel you have the energy for regular cycling, then maybe opt for an electric bike to take some of the pressure off.
Depending on what you’re using your bike for, you might also need to find one that comes with, or is compatible with, certain accessories to make your life easier. For example, if you’re commuting or shopping, then you’ll need racks to attach your bags to. If your bike doesn’t come with the rack already installed, then you should make sure it has the necessary mounts for one. The same goes for fenders: if you’re going to be riding in wet weather, then these are a must. Another important accessory to consider is a kickstand: if you’re likely to be carrying heavy loads, a kickstand can make it much easier to stop your bike from falling over while dismounting and running into the store.
Brakes and gearing
The best brakes and gearing for you will depend on the type of riding you’ll do, and the type of terrain you’ll be riding on.
If where you live and ride is relatively hilly, you’ll need a good range of gears to help you spin your way to the top of each climb. The lower your gearing, the easier climbing will be. You should also consider disc brakes (ideally hydraulic) if you’re likely to be shooting down steep hills as fast as you can, because they offer the best stopping power around.
You may think that living in a flat area, it couldn’t hurt to have these things anyway, and to some degree that’s right. However there are drawbacks to having a complex drivetrain with lots of gears: for one thing it requires more maintenance, and there’s more that can go wrong. If you’re not using all your gears then they’re just dead weight on your bike, plus if you’re riding on flat ground most of the time with low gearing, you’re not going to get anywhere fast. For flat areas, consider bikes with either a single gear (single speed bikes), or very few, to keep things nice and simple. You could also get away with cheaper braking systems, like cantilever or V-brakes.