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The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Your First Bike

Beautiful cervelo bike

If you’re looking to buy your first bike (or at least, your first one since childhood), then it’s important to know that there are a few considerations that you will need to bear in mind.

Even cyclists who have spent years at the pedals like to take a month or two to figure out what bike is the most suitable for them.

From understanding what your cycling goals are, through to what kind of bike, accessories and equipment is best suited for your needs. This guide will help you through a range of factors and considerations that you’ll want to think about before buying your first bike.

Set your cycling goals and work out your needs

Whether you’re wanting to commute to work or hit the trails at weekends, or both, it’s important to know what your goals and aspirations are so that you can research and buy the best possible bike that’s designed for your particular needs.

Although some bikes are versatile and are able to ride on a variety of terrains and environments, others are very specialised and might only be suited to roads and or long distance riding.

For instance, if you’re looking for a bike so that you can cycle to and from work, you’ll probably want to consider one that offers both speed and agility in abundance.

city bike
Dutch bike can be quite heavy but robust and comfortable.

The more experienced riders might opt for tourers with dropped handlebars, but most commonly, people tend to go for hybrids or road bikes with flat handlebars that offer a more upright position.

These bikes will also tend to have fatter tyres, which are similar to those found on mountain bikes.

If your aim is to get out and enjoy a little leisure riding, however, you might want to consider a sportive bike, if you want to stay on the tarmac. For those that want to get a little muddy in the woods and the hills, a good old mountain bike would best serve your needs.

sportive bike with disc brake
cyclocross bike with disc brakes

Although some of the above might be a little obvious, it’s always best to know exactly what you want so that you can have experts guide you directly to the right kind of bike that you need when you head to your local bike shop.

Work out your budget

Working out the best bike for you at the right price should be something that you take a lot of time to think over.

Many people who commute choose to cycle to work in order to save money, so for that reason, it’s worth working out how long it will take for a bike to pay for itself against how much your monthly commute costs by car or on public transport.

Depending on where you live and how much you spend on your bike, however, this could take as little as just over a month.

But not everyone will buy a bike to save money, as some may want to get a little healthier, or simply fall in love with cycling, and for them, getting their money back via savings might not be quite as important.

No matter what your reasoning might be, it’s worth knowing that you can buy your very first bike for as little as £200.

This is great if you’re on a budget, but if you’re able to spend a little more, it’s worth knowing that you’ll probably be able to buy a much better quality bike for as little as £200-£250 extra.

It’s often the case that a cheaper bike will work perfectly well for a year or two, but it is often the case that bikes on the bottom rung of the ladder will deteriorate fairly rapidly, depending on their use.

cycle to work scheme
cycle to work scheme can be a good option for buying your new bike on a finance

If you’re looking to cycle to work on a regular basis, you can always look into the Government’s Cycle to Work scheme, which can help save you the upfront cost of a bike, as well as saving around 30 percent.

Choose between retailers

Up and down the UK there are a range of specialised retailers that can help you choose the best bike for you.

Whether independent or as part of a chain, there’s no doubt that shops that specialise in bikes will be able to not only offer you the best kind of bike for your needs but will also be able to impart the most experience and knowledge to help you get there.

Evans Cycles UK website
Wiggle UK website
Evans Cycles UK website
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Some of the well-known online bike retailers in the UK

That said, it’s also important to pick the right shop for beginners, as some will focus on high-end bikes and experienced riders, which can be a little daunting, especially if you haven’t ridden for a few years.

Internet research is always a great start. Take a look at Google Reviews and internet or cycling forums to see what people are saying about the shops in your local area.

The very best ones will care what people are saying online, which means that they’ll put a lot of effort into making sure that they can cater to a wide and appreciative audience.

There’s also no harm in checking out your local cycling club and speaking to some of its members to see what they would advise.

Quite often, you’ll find that many bike shops affiliate themselves with local clubs, so this is also a convenient way to find the best bike shop in your local area.

Another way to scope out a good bike shop is by checking whether it offers a post-delivery check-up, which usually happens after about a month. In this check, the shop will make sure that everything on the bike has settled and that it is still in good working order.

If you find a shop that offers this service, and there’s little chance that you can go wrong.

What about recycled or second-hand bikes?

If you’re not interested in buying a brand new bike, you can, of course, check the market for second hand and recycled bikes.

Starting with the internet, you’ll be able to find a range of deals for good quality second-hand or refurbished bikes.

That said, however, if you’re looking to buy a second-hand bike on an auction site such as eBay, or a classifieds site such as Gumtree, it’s always worth setting a little money aside for repairs and new parts.

second hand bike on ebay
second-hand bikes on eBay can be quite of a hit and miss

The downside of this is, of course, the fact that you’ll not be in touch with an expert during the buying process, so if you have a friend or relative that can advise you on your search, then this is something that you should consider.

Across the country, you’ll also be able to find a range of shops and community hubs that sell recycled and refurbished bikes.

Often as part of a community enrichment scheme, these hubs take in and rebuild lost, damaged, disowned, and unwanted bikes.

If you want to put something back into the community when buying your first bike, these are definitely the places where you can do so.

It’s also worth noting that many of these centres or shops also offer good servicing and check-up offers for when your bike needs a little bit of TLC.

Check out Bike Hub to see if there’s a community project in your local area.

Whether you buy off the internet or at a community hub, always test the bike out before you purchase it, even if it’s just a quick go around the block.

Don’t be offended if the hub (or shop) asks you to leave a security deposit with them while you go out, as it’s all part of their security protocol, and is usually there for a good reason.

Types of bikes to consider based on your needs

As discussed earlier, there is a range of different bikes that you’ll want to think about depending on what your aims and goals are.

In this section, we’ll weigh up the pros and cons of each type of bike to help you choose the right one for you.

Road bikes

Road bikes, as you can imagine, are great bikes for those looking to commute to and from work and are designed to travel fast along smooth pavements and tarmac.

which bike to choose
road bike with a drop handlebar

 

You’ll often find road bikes with dropped handlebars, though you can often find them with flat ones if that’s what you prefer.

It’s also quite common to find road bikes with thinner tyres than say, a mountain bike, as the more slimline the tyre, the greater the speed you’ll be able to achieve on the road.

Road bikes are perfect for people that need to travel fair distances to and from work and they’re great for nipping in and out of traffic.

If you need to travel on roads or paths that are unpaved, or ones that feature cobbles for extended periods of time, you might want to consider a bike that is a little more robust.

The same goes for if you need to travel regularly with heavy loads for any reason.

Touring bikes

These are a special type of bike that can also be suitable for commuting, but more so if you are travelling long distances every day (around a 20-30 mile round trip).

Slightly more robust than your average road bike, a touring bike is designed to be able to take road-based punishment and can be equipped with cargo racks and mounting bolts.

The frame of a touring bike is usually a little more relaxed, which means it’s easier to ride upright, but you’ll often find touring bikes with dropped handles.

Touring bike with pannier rack
A lovely touring bike with a Surly steel frame

You’ll also be able to spot differences in gears, as a touring bike will often have a lower gear range compared to a regular road bike, which is especially handy if you need to carry a heavy load and or you live in a hilly area.

Hybrid bikes

Hybrid bikes are commonly considered to be the crossover between a road bike and a mountain bike without quite being either one.

Able to be ridden on paved roads, they are not quite as lightweight or as efficient as road bikes. While they are able to traverse unpaved bike trails, however, they aren’t designed for rough off-roading.

The tyres of hybrid will often be medium-width with a semi-smooth tread, which will provide a gentle tide on pavements while being able to offer enough grip and cushion on trails.

Hybrid Bikes for long distance cycling
Hybrid bike for long distance cycling

Suspensions will vary between bike but most will have front suspension, although you can pick up fully fixed bikes too.

In essence, hybrid bikes are great for those that want to get out and about on the road while having the option to cycle in and around the country at weekends and during the holidays.

Mountain bikes

Designed for rough, off-road action, mountain bikes are great for people looking for adventures and holidays in the wilderness.

Found with flat or upright handlebars, like touring bikes, they also have a very low gear range for when pedalling up steep trails.

You’ll also find that mountain bikes have very sophisticated shock absorbers or suspension, which can vary between bike.

Mountain bike
Mountain bike is robust and solid but is much heavier

For example, those with the suspension at the front are called “hardtails”, while those with the suspension at the front and the rear are called “full suspension bikes” or “duallies”.

For the brave, mountain bikes with no suspension at all are called “rigid bikes”.

If you wish, you can also set up a mountain bike for touring or commuting, although they probably won’t be as lightweight or as efficient as a road or touring bike.

City bikes

Although there’s no real definition for a city bike, these are often thought of as “commuter” or “urban” bikes and are very common in some of the bigger cities such as London, or cycling cities such as York.

Sometimes known in the biking community as “Dutch bikes” because of their resemblance to bikes commonly seen in Amsterdam, a city bike is often designed for casual riding and regular clothing.

dutch bike
a Dutch bike is very comfy, solid and durable but can be extremely heavy

This means you’ll often find city bikes with mudguards, chain guards, and skirt guards around the rear wheel.

Perhaps not best for long-distance commutes, and certainly not suitable for off-road adventures, city bikes are best enjoyed for those taking short journeys and with commutes around three to five miles.

Once you have decided to choose the type of bike that fits you best, don’t forget some of the other cycling essentials like a cycling helmet, bike locks, lights and any other cycling accessories you may need depending on your needs.

If you have any questions about what bike might be best for your cycling lifestyle, or if you want to know about any of the bikes mentioned above, drop us a comment below.

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