Choosing a bike

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Choosing the right bike is all about what you want to use it for and obviously, your budget, there’s nothing funnier seeing a person on a full-suspension moutain bike wondering why their £1000 bike can’t keep up with the road-racer that has just left them for dead!
Choosing the right bike is all about what you want to use it for and obviously, your budget, there’s nothing funnier seeing a person on a full-suspension moutain bike wondering why their £1000 bike can’t keep up with the road-racer that has just left them for dead!
For budget, GSN suggest that a budget of around £200 is really the starting point for a good quality adult bicycle for general leisure / transport use.
Gear System
If you go back to the early 80's it was very rare to see a bike with more than 12 gears, but with the arrival of the mountain bike came 15, 18, 21 and then 24 gears. Today we have reached the dizzy heights of 27 gears on the more expensive mountain bikes!
Do you need them? Yes and No - you do need at least 15 gears for easy hill climbing if riding off-road. After that, though , the other systems don't necessarily give you any lower or higher gears, but they do give you smaller jumps from one gear to the next, just as a 5 speed car gearbox has smaller jumps than a 4 speed. The 21, 24 and 27 speed systems are no more difficult to use than a 15 or 18 speed and if you want good quality equipment these days it will probably have at least 21 gears, usually more.
Triggers v Twistgrips
There are two basic systems for changing gear - either the trigger system, which comes in several guises or the twist grip of which the 'Gripshift' is the most common. For the novice the twistgrip is perhaps easiest to use initially, but the good quality trigger systems such as Shimano's 'Rapidfire Plus' are usually nicer once you have learnt which trigger to press and when. Most of the trigger systems seem to keep working more accurately when the gear cables and transmission system are full of winter grime. We at GSN prefer trigger systems - but twistgrips do have a following and most bike manufacturers use both.
Multi-Purpose Bikes
Do you need a mountain bike? Broadly speaking, if you are expecting to do off-road riding in a hard, possibly dangerous manner then yes you definitely do need a mountain bike.We talk about mountain bikes in the next section.
On the other hand if you want a bike that will let you explore country lanes, bridleways and farm tracks but you expect to ride in a more gentle, controlled way then a hybrid is probably the bike for you. They are a cross between mountain bikes and road bikes. Because they don't need to be as strong as a mountain bike they can be built a little lighter, and this together with thinner tyres makes them easier to ride on the roads. They are however quite capable of being ridden on reasonably good off-road surfaces at high speeds, and can cope with quite rough surfaces if used sensibly.
Hybrids tend to have a relaxed upright riding position but still have the powerful brakes and hill-climbing gears of the mountain bike.They usually have traditional rigid front forks, but some are available with suspension forks for comfort. For many adults the Hybrid is the perfect multi-function bike.
Unfortunately, although most bike shops routinely use the term 'hybrid', the bike manufacturers nearly always choose to call them something different. Some call them 'Trail Bikes'. Marin call them 'City Bikes', ask at your local bike shop they'll know what a hybrid is no matter what the manufacturers choose to call them!
Comfort Bikes
Confused yet? You soon will be! Recently an extra category of bikes has appeared - the comfort bike.
Essentially a comfort bike is a compromise between a hybrid and mountain bike. It has a very upright riding position, fat but fairly slick tyres and a very comfy saddle. It will usually be a bit heavier than a hybrid. Typically you would use a comfort bike for the same sort of terrain as a hybrid. It will give you a very cushioned ride but will seem a bit slower than the hybrid.
Urban Bikes
Still hanging on? Right - Try this one!
Yet another new category to spring up in recent years is the Urban bike. A variation on the classic mountain bike, it was developed as a heavy duty machine for cycle couriers to use in cities - bouncing off buses, taxis, kerbs etc. etc. Because it is a tarmac machine it has slick tyres and doesn't have any suspension. Urban bikes have the aggressive low handlebar position of the mountain bike rather than the upright position of the hybrid or comfort.
Of course in our part of the world we haven't got the classic environment that the Urban bike was designed for, but we have certainly got our share of badly maintained roads, there is a steady demand from hard riders who want a bike strong enough to cope with fast riding over these unpredictable road surfaces. Because the Urban bike is essentially a mountain bike it can also be used off-road, but with its slick tyres it is not practical for slippery surfaces, and a rider planning to do really hard off-road riding would probably choose a mountain bike with suspension.
Some riders,rather than buying an urban bike, will choose a mountain bike but fit it with slick or semi-slick tyres instead of the original knobblies. They then have the potential to restore it to its full off-road capability when they put the knobbly tyres back on.The deciding factor in the urban v mountain bike decision will usually be whether or not you want suspension forks.
Mountain Bikes
If some of the newspaper adverts are to be believed you can buy a mountain bike for £79.99. - You know the sort of thing....."Effortlessly ride up any hill with these 18 speed mountain bikes" etc. etc. On the other hand you can see bikes for sale at over £3000!
Budget Bikes
Avoid the £79.99 bike, there is no way of producing a mountian bike for this cost that will survive a bumpy downhill ride!
The Price
Most people regard £300 as roughly the price at which you get a mountain bike which has both the strength and lightness to be considered for regular off-road usage. On the other hand, if you don't mind a heavier bike, and don't expect too much refinement in the general componentry you can get some very good value for money bikes below £200, but they will not stand the hard riding that the dearer bikes will take.
Disc Brakes
In recent years disc brakes have become a feature on many mountain bikes. The cheaper systems are cable operated but the dearer ones are hydraulic, just like those in a car. Broadly speaking, the pros and cons of discs are as follows:-
More Power.
Power affected less by rain and mud.
No wear on the wheel rim.
Not affected by a damaged wheel rim.
Low maintenance, with a bit of luck!
Initial cost.
Big repair bills, if you are unlucky!
Difficult to get repairs/spares if you are riding in areas without a modern bike shop, for example touring in poor countries.
With a cable operated disc system, the power advantages are less, but they are typically only half the price of a hydraulic.
Maintenance on disc brakes can be an issue, but so long as you don't spring a hyraulics leak and clean them in winter when you get lots of dirt build up (especially salt used for road gritting which corrodes away), you should be fine. They are certainly the system of choice for most serious riders now.
Suspension front forks used to be a luxury that only appeared on top grade mountain bikes but have become so affordable that they now come as standard equipment on most mountain bikes. They make the ride more comfortable and let you go faster over rough ground. On the minus side they make the bike heavier and require extra servicing, but these are penalties most people are happy to accept.
Even more exotic is mountain bike rear suspension. This used to be seriously expensive but can now be found on bikes below £200. With all suspension, though, whether front or rear, you can reach a point where in an effort to keep the cost down, the suspension is of such poor design that its minus features outweigh any advantages and it is then not worth having at any price. Generally speaking, cheap full suspension bikes are extremely heavy. The rear suspension can be very crude, and it can also be of an unservicable design. I wouldn't recommend a full suspension bike for under £1000!
Road Bikes
Just as new categories of off-road bikes have appeared in recent years, so we have gained more categories of road bikes, too:-
Dropped handlebar racing bikes
At their lightest, modern road bikes are pure, tarmac-only, drop-bar speed machines, such as you will see with Trek and Wilier ranges. These bikes will not carry luggage, and cannot accomodate full-length traditional mudguards, but they are very, very light and very, very fast!
Traditional dropped-bar touring bikes
This is the bike of choice for many riders who do long distance road touring, a good example would be the Trek 520 Touring. Riders embarking on,say, a tour of a third world country,would have a much better chance of getting repairs successfully done to this sort of bike than to a beautiful carbon-fibre,hydraulic-braked creation !
Lightweight, straight-bar road bikes
For riders who don't particularly want the head-down, drop-bar riding position, and who would welcome the potential for better mudguards and possibly some luggage, then the new breed of lightweight straight-bar road bikes may be the perfect answer. The Marin ALP and Trek FX ranges are excellent examples of this increasingly popular type of bike.
Heavier-duty, straight-bar road bikes
The Marin Sports Commuter range typifies this style of bike. They are a bit more heavily made than the ALP bikes, so more durable on poor road surfaces, but they are not quite sturdy enough to venture off-road.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Cyling” at and the article “Cycle Racing” from