1. What type of cycling do you want to do?
There are a few different elements to this question to consider, all of which will help you get the right bike for you. Do you want to cycle to work or school, take leisurely rides at the weekend, take part in long distance endurance rides, go off road on country or mountain trails, or something else? Each of these will suit a different type of bike. A road bike, with thinner tyres and streamline riding position, will be great for your commute or for long distance rides as they are generally quicker. A mountain bike has fatter tyres, and has added features such as suspension which is useful for off road cycling. Hybrid bikes are a happy medium between the two. They are somewhere between road bikes and mountain bikes. Although the ‘somewhere’ usually covers quite a broad spectrum, common features are wider tyres than found on road bikes, and narrower and lighter frames with less extras than found on mountain bikes.
2. Should you go for steel, aluminium, carbon, or something else?
Broadly speaking, in order of weight (heaviest first) and cost (cheapest first), you have the choice between steel, aluminum, and carbon. You can also get titanium, or a mix (eg aluminum frame with carbon forks) but those first listed are the main three types. Generally budget steel bikes are best avoided if you can. Think about your budget and go for the lightest weight bike within that that suits your purpose. By this I mean that sometimes the lightest weight bike might not do what you want. If you need to carry a lot of weight in panniers or carry a bike seat or trailer, a carbon bike might not be strong enough.
3. Step through or step over frame?
Do you want a step through bike with a lower cross bar or do you prefer a step over bike with a high cross bar? Traditionally called ladies/mens bikes, more and more women are choosing step over frames as you can find a wider choice of bikes, and the frames can be stronger. This is to do with both the physics of bike construction and the choice of components that manufacturers have used for ‘mens’ bikes. There has been a (slow) move away from labeling bikes as gender specific in order to promote the idea that the choice of bike is about comfort and fit-and not how many chromosomes you have.
3. What size bike do you need?
If you’re buying a children’s bike then it will be measured by wheel size, starting at 12 inches (this is measuring the diameter of the wheel) or more commonly 14 inches, going up to 26 inches. When selecting a bike size naturally you’ll be thinking about how long it will last before its too small. It’s tempting to buy a bigger bike that your child can grow into, however if it’s too big this can put them off cycling. Get one on which they can put their feet on the ground comfortably and on which they don’t have to lean too far forward to reach the handlebars.
For adults, bikes are measured by frame size. This (in most cases) measures the top of the frame where the seat post slots in, down to the pedals. Sizes vary and again you’re looking for whether your feet reach the ground (on tip toes is best) and whether you can reach the handlebars comfortably.
You can adjust seat post height on bikes, and can often adjust the handlebar height too, so each bike will have some degree of flexibility to get a good fit.
To get a rough idea you can look at size guides online which will tell you your size based on your height and/or inside leg measurement. Bear in mind that each manufacturer will have a slight variation in sizing though.
4. Work out your budget
It’s important when purchasing to have a budget in mind so you don’t overspend. But what does this mean when you’re buying a bike? Well, for one, it means working out the most you can and want to spend. You then need to work backwards to think about all the extras you’re going to need. Take some money off your total budget for these and you’re left with the amount you should spend on your actual bike. If you don’t spend some time thinking about this, chances are you’ll end up paying a higher price for what you need to get you on the road,or even on the off-road.
The most important thing to think about here is a decent lock. It’s suggested by some that you should as a ball park spend about 10% of the value of the bike on a lock. If you have a budget bike you won’t mind a more basic lock (although even in this case you may still be wise to get a strong lock to avoid the hassle and upset caused by having your bike stolen). If on the other hand your bike cost you a small fortune then it’s probably wise to get a strong lock and set aside some money for this.
You may have other accessories you want to use on your bike such as front or rear rack, panniers, mudguards, a basket, kick stand; the list could go on… Make sure you have allocated some funds for these extras so you’re not hit with an unexpected bill or a bike that doesn’t meet your needs because you’ve run out of cash.
5. Shop around
This sounds obvious but it really can make a difference. In the cycling groups I’m on, there are regular posts about people buying bikes and how much money they saved by looking at different sellers. It really does, literally, pay to shop around.
6. Try it out
You will never know what a bike feels like unless you try it out. Ideally this would mean taking it out for an actual ride. If you have a friend with the bike you’re looking to buy, ask them if you can try out theirs. Amongst the high street bike retailers, Evans allow you to do test rides. Many local bike shops will also allow you to try out a bike. If you’re buying second hand ask the seller if you can take it for a spin around the block or even just down the road and back. Offer them a deposit so they don’t think you’re about to cycle off with their bike never to return.
It’s very different to just sit on a bike compared to actually riding it. Evans actually offer a Right Bike guarantee, which means if you don’t like a bike you’ve bought from them you can return it within 30 days for a swap. That they have thought of this as a selling point shows just how common it is to buy a bike that doesn’t quite work for you. So it really will pay dividends to try out the bike you’re looking at.
7. If you’re buying new, shop local if you can
Many people naturally want the best deal and today when you can do a price comparison for anything in less time than it takes to say ‘I like to ride my bicycle’, people are turning to the Internet to buy a bike at the best possible price.
Whilst I can’t say don’t do this, what I do need to say is that doing this may mean you miss out on some of the things that a local bike shop has to offer. Namely, the expertise, the personalised advice and the aftercare. Not to mention that they will build the bike for you, whereas if you buy online you may find yourself with a big box full of bits that you need to somehow put together (although if you find yourself buying online and facing this scenario, your local bike shop may be able to assist you with building the bike for a fee; or if you’re buying online from a high street retailer they may build the bike for you in one of their shops).
Now I should say I didn’t buy local. I bought a bike in July 2018 and my natural instinct to get the best possible price was too much and I went to Evans. I also thought they’d have a better range of bikes. Since I got my bike I’ve had no end of problems with bike fit. My two local bike shops, Walthamstow Cycles and especially Bike Shack Leyton, have been so unbelievably helpful I’ve been blown away. And I’ve been left with a huge guilty conscience that I didn’t even buy the bike from them. And a realisation that I was wrong, they do have a good range of all types of bikes (ok not as many as Evans but still a good range, as you can see in the picture for this article taken in Bike Shack Leyton). So next time, if I buy new again, I’d at least go and visit my local bike shop and see what they have to offer–and I’d probably end up with something that is more suited to me.
Note that this tip doesn’t necessarily contradict the earlier advice about shopping around, as you can still compare prices locally, and even ask your local bike shop if they can price match a better price you’ve found.
8. If you’re buying second hand, think about where you buy from
Buying second hand can, sadly, mean you could end up buying a stolen bike. My husband’s bike was stolen and the police told us to check second hand bike sales regularly to see if we spot it.
There are a few ways you can avoid this pitfall. In the UK can check on the Bike Register to see who the recorded owner is. You can also ask the seller to show you a receipt. Neither of these are foolproof but at least you’ll have tried.
Local bike shops will have some second hand bikes, and you can be reassured in the knowledge that these will have been checked to be roadworthy.
Ebay, Facebook (both selling groups and Facebook marketplace) and gumtree are all popular ways to buy a bike and you could find a real bargain. You can refine your search on most of these platforms to search for local bikes only.
Check if there are any local bike refurbishment projects near you. These are great places to buy a bike and they also save something going to landfill. In East London for example there are Pro Bikes CIC and Ilford Recycles.
You can try Peddle My Wheels, who organise second hand bike sales across London.
Ask around if anyone is selling a bike, you might be surprised by what you find.