What Bike?

The weather this spring is good and fuel prices are high, so it’s the ideal time to consider the question “Could I cycle to work?” and, if so, what sort of bike should I get?

And a friend of mine is currently asking just that.  He wrote:

I’m messaging about your main passion in life – bikes. I’m going to start cycling into work from next week, I’ve decided. It’s a 7 mile ride one way and I’ve worked out a route which mostly cuts through parks and quiet roads which I’m happy about. I don’t have a bike at the moment. This is where I need your advice.

I’m going to borrow a bike for a week to see if I can hack it before I spend any money but I’m basically looking for a road bike which doesn’t sit me down too low (so a road-mountain hybrid?) and I’m not willing to spend a lot of money. I mean something that won’t fall to bits, will do the job and will last for the next 3 or 4 years or so – all for under £200ish (or £150 pref). What do you think? I’ve looked on the Halfords website and they had 2 suitable ones but it occurred to me that real bike afficianados such as yourself probably have ways and means of getting decent bikes from non-high street chains at better prices.

So any ideas on all of that greatly appreciated if you have the time to reply!

I ended up writing a fairly lengthly reply to his question which I imagine is one that many people will be asking this year.  I’ve been given permission to post the message here in case it’s of use to anyone else. So…

What Bike?

Now…business. I’m not an expert, but I’ll happily share my many years of varied experiences and what I do know.

First of all…well done! Deciding to cycle commute, especially a 7-miler, is a big decision, but SUCH a positive one. I really hope you find yourself enjoying it and finding it fun as well as reaping the health, financial and environmental benefits.

£200 is a fairly limited budget and you’ll have to make some trade-offs. I think you’ve already made the wisest decision which is to NOT by a cheap mountain bike. Off-road tires have greater rolling resistance (drag on the road) and any kind of suspension will sap energy.

You then need to ask questions like:

  • will you need to carry luggage?
  • will you be wearing cycle-specific clothing, or aiming to ride in ordinary work-wear?
  • are you cycling for fitness too, or just pootling slowly to get from A-to-B?
  • how much work might you be willing to put in to maintenance/renovation?

Those questions will help you decide what to get.

Next tip – DON’T go to Halfords. I’d really recommend going to a local bike shop, tell them what you want, get some advice, try some bikes out, get fitted properly, ask if they’ll do a deal (they may throw in lights, helmets, locks, etc), and get to know them – you WILL go back for maintenance and parts, so get to know them.

If you want to pootle and carry luggage then something like a Raleigh Pioneer is a cheap, sturdy workhorse – they have racks for luggage, mudguards and a good range of gears. They’ll handle rough tracks as well as tarmac’ed roads. They seem to have gone up in price since I got mine! – shop around and you might get one for under £200.

For something more sporty – if you’re planning going fast and getting fit try looking what tend to be called “Urban” bikes. These have flat-bars but are mostly upright. Raleigh do something called the “Venture” that looks good for slightly over your £200.

If you really want to go fast, will be carrying light luggage in a rucksack, and will be mostly on tarmac and dressed in cycle gear then you may want a full-on road bike. I’m assuming this isn’t the case, but ask me if it is and I’ll add some more advice.

If you really don’t mind taking your time and would like to ride in a more gentlemanly manner, then look up “Classic” or “Dutch-style” bikes. These tend to be sturdy, low-maintenance, all-weather, upright bikes with enclosed hub gears and brakes, dynamo lights, integrated locks, and features like mudguards chain cases and skirt guards to stop your trousers and coat getting dirty. Google “cycle chic” and you’ll see what I mean!

If you’re a sporty, uber-trendy and slightly bonkers hipster type then look into single-speeds or fixies (PLEASE DON’T GO FIXIE!!!).

Or just look around – there’s loads of schizophrenic hybrid “mashup” bikes around these days. I quite like the Trek Portland – sporty drop bars and high-tech road gearing, with mountain bike brakes and a gentlemanly leather-effect look. Not quite sure what it is, but I like it! (Bit expensive though).

If you really can’t get something for your money then look at second hand – eBay even! When looking, check important stuff like brakes, chain, the “headset” (joins the handlebars to the forks), and check the pedals/cranks don’t have any lateral (side-to-side) movement. Oh, and check for buckled wheels too – they make for uncomfortable and unsafe riding.

There may even be a local bike recycling/renovating project like this: http://www.recyke-y-bike.org/?What_we_do%3ARecycle_Bikes – check your council and see what they know! (Actually, that’s a good tip anyway – look up your council – they should have lots of info! – You may have a local cycle campaign group, or cycling information site too, like this one for Bristol: http://www.betterbybike.info/)

It might be worth asking if your employer has a “cycle to work” scheme. This allows you and your employer to get a tax break on a bicycle for cycling to and from work. The employer buys the bike (VAT-free!) and rents it to you for 12 months (income-tax free!) after which you can buy it on the cheap. Well, actually, they changed the rules recently which made buying it at the end of 12 months more expensive, but they’ve found ways around it. Read about it here: http://www.cyclescheme.co.uk/employee,faqs.htm

If your employer does this, or if you can convince them to, then you get a tax-free bike and a 12-month interest-free loan!

Technologically, I don’t know if you have a smart phone but there’s plenty of “Apps” that can help you track your trips, fitness, and carbon and financial savings if you’re into that. There are mapping and route apps too (look up Bike Hub!) that do a similar kind of thing to http://cyclestreets.net/ (which is also worth knowing about).

Finally, you know I blog, and I did a series of “controversial commute tips” that are honest about the pros and cons of cycle commuting. I have my own personal style (I don’t like to go slow!) and everyone’s experience is different, but it might be worth a read: https://rosswintle.uk/make-and-do/controversial-cycle-commute-tips/

That’s a lot of stuff to get you started. Hope its helpful. Don’t hesitate to ask questions – blog readers, please use the comments below to ask or to add to my own thoughts on the matter.

God bless and happy cycling!