Essential information for choosing the right bicycle for your needs – be it the comfy beach cruiser or the high-tech road bike.
So you want to get fit, and you’ve often reminisced about the freedoms of childhood and your Malvern Star Dragster that used to take you all around the neighbourhood. And although buying a bicycle may not be as big a commitment as, say, a new relationship, when buying a bike for the first time as an adult there are almost endless options to keep in mind.
The first, and probably most important decision to make will be the type of bike that you need. To determine this you need to analyse the type of riding that you’re most likely to undertake. Will it be exclusively on roads? Are there many hills around your house? Or will you ride on trails in the park? Are you looking for something to just coast down to the shops and beach on? Or will you be doing a bit of all of it?
The Road Bike
If the main focus of your riding will be on pavement, going fast, riding long distances and you don’t mind a label like mammal (middle-aged man in lycra) or the female equivalent, then a road bike will be for you. Road bikes take their design cues from racing, and usually have a lightweight frame, with frame angles and drop handlebars to keep the rider low. They have narrow, smooth, high-pressure tyres for low rolling resistance and usually around 27 gears, with ratios usually closely spaced, so if you live somewhere hilly, make sure you have a low enough gear to climb that steep hill nearby.
The Mountain Bike
These allow you to tackle exactly the opposite terrain to the road bike. Usually with wide knobbly tyres on a rim that isn’t as tall to allow you to ride off-road, on grass or even sand. Mountain bikes are usually a little more comfortable, with a broader seat and often suspension on at least the front fork and more often than not the rear wheel also. Again, there are usually 27 gears to play with, but the spread of ratios is much wider to allow you to get up a very steep incline. The frame also tends to be stronger and therefore a little heavier to cope with the additional abuse that off-road riding will dish out. For the recreational rider where outright speed isn’t important, a mountain bike can also be a great choice. The comfortable suspension, and option of smooth road tyres to replace the knobbly off-road tyres can make the bike relatively fast and capable of handling urban potholes with ease.
Hybrid or Commuter Bike
This type of bike has become more popular in the past few years as it takes the most desirable features of both road and mountain bikes and combines them in a bike that is fast, smooth and comfortable – making it an ideal “everyday” bike.
The hybrid bike has smooth tyres that are usually somewhere in width between a mountain bike and a road bike, a wide spread of gears for tackling hills, and straight or raised handlebars rather than drop handlebars to give the rider a more comfortable upright riding position. They also have a sprung seatpost for comfort.
A hybrid can be the ideal compromise for those urban riders who are unlikely to see a trail on the weekends, or where the primary use is commuting.
The fixie is the preferred transport of the hipster, and an urban badge of honour! The fixed-gear bicycle has no freewheel, meaning that while you’re moving you’re also pedalling.
They have evolved from track racing bicycles but are not intended for the velodrome and are more at home on flat terrain as the lack of gearing makes both going up and down hills more challenging than other bike types, especially as most of them don’t even have brakes!
Fixies can have straight, raiser or drop handlebars and are usually identified by their coloured tyres and beautifully minimalist aesthetic.
The cruiser or beach cruiser style of bike harks back to the USA in the 1930s. With their balloon tyres, they are built for comfort rather than speed. Usually with a curved top bar, upright riding position and single gear, the cruiser may be your ideal bike for heading down to the shop, to a picnic in the park or down to the beach. Cruisers usually have steel construction, making them a little heavier than other bike types. But with retro looks, a comfortable ride, simple mechanics and relatively low price point, a cruiser may be your ideal ride.
If you’re still having trouble making your mind up, borrow a bike and try it out! Having made a decision on bike type there are a myriad of purchasing options – from eBay and sporting good stores to dedicated bike shops. Each has their merits, and it will really depend on your confidence level at determining what is best for you. Like most things in life, cost and value usually don’t correlate when buying a bike. A cheap bike from a discounter may be attractive with regards to the list of features, but the compromises to build a bike down to a price will include the weight and quality of the componentry and this may ultimately lead to you spending more money on repairs and upgrades to get a durable bike that you could have bought initially.
Finally, it’s a good idea to get to know the staff at your local bike shop. They can advise you on the best type of bike for the type of riding that you want to do, considering the local terrain. They can measure you to get the correct size bike and should anything go wrong they will be there to fix it. Happy riding! AMP