What to check when buying bicycles for adults
How to decide what bicycle to buy: Read our guide to find out which bicycle will be the right choice for you.
While buying a bike is not on the same level of commitment as, say, getting married, it is still a decision that warrants some thought. And, especially if you are considering buying a bike for the first time, it can seem as if your options are nearly endless.
What is the Right Kind of Bicycle for Me?
Your first decision comes in determining what type of bike you are after. Below are the main styles of bikes to choose from, and your selection should really depend on what you anticipate your main type of riding to be.
What is a Road Bicycle?
Road Bikes are designed for riding on paved streets and going fast. Featuring skinny tires, a lightweight frame and a riding position that puts you bent over the handlebars, you might choose this type of bike if traveling longer distances at higher speeds is important to you.
The frames of most road bikes are not particularly beefy in construction and generally won’t stand up well for extended periods under heavy loads or on really rough surfaces. They are about as well-suited for a path in the woods as you would be when wearing high heels.
When thinking about the type of bicycle riding you are most likely to do, if you are going to be riding exclusively on roads/tarmac/concrete and want to go pretty fast and/or ride long distances, a road bike is a good bet.
Designed for racing, road bikes typically have a lightweight frame which is designed to allow the upright rider to maintain the most aerodynamic position possible.
A road bike typically has narrow, smooth high-pressure tires that reduce contact with the road to provide low rolling resistance possible. As these types of tyres allow you to feel each bump and pebble in the road, it is not the most comfortable ride, but that is not the intent.
The material used in road bike frames, like most other bicycles, will vary depending on the cost. In basic terms, the more expensive a frame is, the lighter it will/should be. Having a lighter bike is most important in climbing, though it also has a link to downhills and riding in the flats. A heavier bicycle usually means somewhat slower rides for competitive riders, though that may not be important to you?
Most entry-level bikes have either steel or the popular aluminum frames, the majority of manufacturers will favour aluminium. There is certainly nothing wrong with either choice, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both. For example, for aluminum to be strong enough to be durable over the long haul, the frame must be pretty rigid, which gives a slightly rougher ride feel. Steel might be heavier, but can be more forgiving, which can cushion the bumps a bit. The best way to find out which is right for you is to test ride as many as you can and see if you can tell any difference.
As the price of the road bike goes up, you will start to see components (such as the front fork) upgrading from aluminum to carbon. Finally, the whole frame on high-end bicycles will be made of carbon fiber, which is very strong and yet lightweight. The frames on the most sophisticated and high-performance road bikes are made from space-age materials like titanium, which is both amazingly strong and light. Due to the expense of these materials, these bicycles fall beyond the range of all but the most serious or competitive cyclists.
The handlebars go out straight from the stem and then curl under(see/click on the above picture), allowing riders who want to go really fast to hunch over when riding at that point, in order to reduce wind resistance. This is known as going into the drops. Riders can also sit in a more upright position, with their hands on the flat, top part of the handlebars. Typically, you will find both brake levers and the gear shift levers on the handlebars of a road bike for easy control.
The way that a road bike is designed allows riders to bend far forward, reducing the riders’ profile/position and helping to improve on wind resistance, along with putting them in a position to drive maximum power from their legs and hips through the pedals. While aerodynamic, being in this position for any length of time may not be the most comfortable for some riders as it requires you to support a substantial portion of your body weight with the upper body. This can cause strain and sore hands along with aches in the wrists, shoulders and neck especially if the rider is not used to it, or is riding a bicycle for which they might not be properly fitted or the wrong size.
Road bicycles have a wide range of gearing, with low gears that allow a rider to more easily get up steep hills through rather high gear choices that a rider uses to go really fast. Typically a road bicycle will have either 2 or 3 chainrings (front chainset) as part of the crank assembly in the front along with 8 or 9 gears in the cassette (on the rear wheel). This allows for anywhere from 16 to 27 possible gear combinations, a broader range than yesterday’s typical 10 speed afforded.
Basic road bikes may come equipped with pedals and toe straps. However, clipless pedals are frequently/usually used on road bikes, which allow the rider to clip cleated shoes to the pedals, thus giving the ability to turn the pedals through the full rotation of the circle, pulling up on the pedals during the upstroke as well as pushing them down(this being more power-efficient than standard pedals, along with less likely to cause numbness to the feet especially if using a trainer which is designed for running and therefore very flexible).
Typical road bike accessories: cyclo-computer, a frame pump, tool bag, water bottle and cage
There are also a few other alternatives to the traditional road race bicycle that are well worth looking at, each holding their own advantage and disadvantage, just to name a few
Other Road Bike Styles
Cyclocross bikes, rugged bicycles built for riding on gravel, cobbles, off-road areas. A real mix between a mountain bike and road bike.
Touring and Audax bicycles,
It is also worth considering touring/audax bicycles as a means to commute or for the really adventurous, around the world trip but using your own bicycle.
Usually made from steel( although not built to be ultra-light the framesets are very good quality, strong and a fair weight), although at a cost as most will set you back around £800 and above but well worth buying especially if you are a fan of steel frames.
Single Gear(Single Speed/Track)
A great option if you are looking for a quick, low maintenance bicycle that will offer you a physical work-out. Will come in various frame materials, colours and parts/finishing kits, prices start from £250 and upwards although the more you spend the more reliable the parts and lighter the frame and likely to be more durable.
What is a Mountain Bicycle?
Mountain Bikes have exploded in popularity over the past twenty years. These bikes have wide tires, usually with knobby treads and a stout frame, and are designed to handle the rugged trails without disintegrating.
Mountain bikes do not go as fast as road bikes, which is a trade-off for their durability along with a more comfortable riding position. You sit higher on these bikes, more upright with the straight handlebars, which is often a happier choice for people with back problems than being hunched over as you are on a road bike.
In thinking about the type of cycling that you wish to do, if you have decided to ride “off-road” a lot, like using your bike to navigate and tackle the woods or whip through rocky trails, a mountain bike is probably what you will need.
Mountain bikes are designed for riding under more rough/rocky/muddy conditions and typically have a more upright frame offer higher bottom bracket clearance to get over most obstacles.
Generally, mountain bikes come with suspension front and rear, either coil or air which can take a lot of abuse of the trail/path and still allow the rider to comfortably negotiate rough terrain and go over or through obstacles that he or she may encounter on the trail.
A mountain bike usually comes with knobby tires that offer more grip and traction over a variety of surfaces, including gravel, dirt, rock, and sand. Tyre pressure on mountain bikes is less than on road bikes, due to their greater volume and the better traction offered by a softer tire. The rims and spokes(are shorter to take greater stress) on mountain bike wheels are made to be stronger and more resistant, again to handle the rougher riding that true mountain biking entails.
Most entry mountain bike frames are steel, due to the strength and durability the material offers and the fairly low price of steel.
The disadvantage of steel is the weight and that it can rust.
Next is aluminum, which is light and rustproof and pretty strong, but can break over time when riden hard/daily over pot-holes, kerbs and other terrains.
Onto carbon fiber frames, the next level of material, it is similar to aluminum in being light, rustproof and very strong, but also prone to breakage, but when this does happen it will be sudden or at the time of impact.
Then there are mountain bike frames made from titanium, which is very light and very strong. Both aluminum and carbon fiber can eventually fail over time, a titanium frame on a mountain bike will be a sensible choice for large riders because of its ability to carry larger loads without becoming fatigued. There is always a disadvantage, the downside is that titanium is very expensive. Due to cost, these bikes with titanium frames usually fall beyond the range of all but the most serious or competitive cyclists.
Most mountain bikes will come with suspension, everything from a cheapish £150 bicycle with a traditional coil to bicycles over £800+ with air-sprung forks.
Then you can also buy numerous versions of the front and back suspension bicycles(full suspension), again depending on the riding conditions and usage. Yet it is worth considering you get what you pay for and cheap full-suspension bicycles will have poor quality parts and will usually be very heavy, might be better to use the money and buy a front suspension or rigid version especially if using around the town/streets, you will get more bicycle for your money and a better ride.
Mountain bike handlebars are usually flat(although you can find various riser bars with different degrees of height), and go straight out from the stem. With a wider grip, usually about shoulder-width, these handlebars allow riders to sit upright and offer a better position for vision and control of the bike on up and down terrain.
The way that a mountain bike is designed allows riders to sit upright in a position that gives the best control of the bike, with the well-placed center of gravity and the ability to shift weight forward or back to provide balance and adjust to varying terrain. Also, something to consider and not really discussed is women’s specific models, these are available and an ideal option if you are 175cm or less. Although due to poor choice/availability in the UK, many women buy men’s bicycles especially over 175cm tall, yet would always recommend trying before you buy.
Mountain bikes have a large range of gears to allow them to handle a wide range of terrain. Low gears that go below that of most road bikes, riders are more easily able to tackle some steep hills. On the high end of the gear range, mountain bikes do not compete well as what you would find on a road bike. Rarely is there the need for open, blazing speed such as you would have on a road bike, and the bike’s over-sized, knobby tires are not really designed for going fast(well apart from down a steep hill).
Typically a mountain bike will have either 2 or 3 chainrings in the front as part of the crank assembly, again smaller than what you’d find on a road bike, along with eight or nine gears in the cassette on the rear wheel, many times featuring one bodaciously-sized gear called a granny gear to help with the particularly steep climbs.
Entry-level mountain bikes usually come equipped with platform pedals. This is useful if you are the type of rider who frequently puts your feet down. Other more advanced riders may prefer to use toe clips or even clipless pedals that allow the rider to secure his or her cleated shoes to the pedals, but people have different levels of comfort when it comes to being fully attached to a mountain bike given the different types of terrain encountered and the frequent need to drop ones feet to the ground.
There are many accessories available the basics include a cycle computer, pump, saddle bag, water bottle and cage.
Other Mountain Bike Styles
It is worth considering looking at the 29er, this giving you a 700c wheel(similar profile to a hybrid) with a 2inch tyre. This giving the rider an all-day riding bicycle, making it an ideal choice for singletrack, long-distance and a daily commute.
Warning: sometimes mountain bikes are the default choice of salespeople at the bike shop because they are easy to sell and usually less expensive than road bikes. Too many times though, new mountain bikes with lots of impressive features for climbing a steep mountain trail end up like those four-wheel-drive SUVs that never actually go off the pavement. If you are going to buy a mountain bike, make sure you are doing so intentionally because you know that you will, in fact, be riding off-road. Otherwise, you will be paying for unnecessary features, and probably missing out on a bike that would be a better choice for you.
“When your legs scream stop and your lungs are bursting, that’s when it starts. That’s the hurt locker. Winners love it in there” – Chris McCormack
What is a Hybrid Bike?
Hybrid bikes I guess you have heard the phrase “hybrids.” Although what exactly is a hybrid, and why would you want to ride one?
A hybrid bicycle is one that combines the best features of both road and mountain bicycles into one that is sturdy, comfortable and fast, also ideal for riding on streets and bike paths (cobblestones and gravel paths).
They are a compromise between road and mountain bikes and offer the best features of both if most of your riding will be shorter trips on the pavement. With skinnier, smooth tires, they typically can go faster than mountain bikes, yet feature the upright seat and handlebar position that many people favour.
Hybrids are a good choice for most city riding and offer speed, durability and comfort.
Features of a hybrid that come from a mountain bike:
1) upright frame, offering a more comfortable riding posture, a stronger frame that can handle more weight, in both rider and/or cargo as well as help absorb the punishment of potholes, also slightly wider tyres.
Features that come from road bikes
1) larger rims for faster riding
2) larger chainset, although the rear set is usually the same or very close to a mountain bike, yet this varies from each manufacturer.
The wheels on a hybrid bike are a mixture of what you find from both road and mountain bikes. Wider, like a mountain bike for durability and stability, but then with a higher recommended air pressure that puts them at the same level as a road bike when it comes to inflation level. The higher air pressure allows them to go faster by reducing rolling resistance. Think about how a properly inflated basketball bounces compared to one that is even slightly flat. Same concept.
The rims and spokes on hybrids are lighter too like a road bike since the assumption is that you won’t be doing the rougher off-road riding that mountain biking entails.
Most hybrid bike frames are made of lightweight aluminum or steel (also called “cro-moly”), due to the strength and durability the materials offers and their (relatively) low price.
The handlebars on a hybrid are typically flat like a mountain bike and go straight out from the stem. With a wider grip, usually about shoulder-width, these handlebars allow riders to sit upright and offer a better position for vision and control of the bike than the handlebars on a road bike.
Like a mountain bike, a hybrid’s design allows riders to sit upright in a position that gives the best control of the bike with the well-placed center of gravity and in a posture that reduces strain on the rider’s neck and back.
Hybrids have a wide range of gearing to allow the rider to both climb hills and go fast on flats and downhills. Not usually equipped with gears in as low range as a mountain bike, the hybrid’s gearing set-up is more similar to road bikes.
Typically a hybrid bike will have either two or three chainrings in the front as part of the crank assembly, again along the lines of what you’d find on a road bike. In the back you’ll find eight or nine gears in the cassette on the rear wheel, a combination that allows for anywhere from 16 to 27 possible gear combinations, which will account for virtually every need a hybrid rider will have in town or on the bike path.
Basic hybrids bikes come equipped with platform pedals. This is useful if you’re the type of rider who frequently puts your feet down. Other more advanced riders may prefer to use toe clips or even clipless pedals that allow the rider to secure his or her cleated shoes to the pedals, but people have different levels of comfort when it comes to being fully attached to the bike given the frequent stops you might encounter riding in traffic.
for a hybrid bike include a cyclo-computer, frame pump, tool bag, water bottle and cage. This is about all you need to be self-sufficient when riding in town.
Town/Dutch Style bikes
Upright ‘Dutch’ bikes are perfect for popping out for flattish rides or on fairly short, sedate commutes. They’re usually fitted with full mudguards and fully enclosed chains, making them perfect for anyone who wants to cycle in everyday clothes.
Town bikes often come fitted with racks, dynamo lights and sometimes locks, making them complete, ready-to-roll packages for relaxed, short-hop town riding. Brakes and gears tend to be simple and enclosed, making for low maintenance, reliable ride.
Available in classic steel from Dawes, Raleigh, and Pashley or a modern twist like the Ridgeback Avenida using aluminium so slightly lighter and cheaper.
If you’re pushed for space or would like to combine your cycling with other forms of transport, a folding bike could be perfect for you, they pack down small and will fit in car boots, on trains, and under desks.
Decent quality folding bikes start from around £250 and upwards, do not be tempted by the so-called bargain-basement folding bikes as they are poorly designed and poorly made.
Fitness (Fast Commute)
Like the traditional drop handlebar Road Bicycle, these offer all the same benefits in weight, speed and gear ratio along with frame type/material. What differs is the handlebar, being flat it gives a more relaxed posture allowing this to be one of the best bicycles for fitness, fast commute and long-distance.
These make a good option for those of you looking for a good physical work-out especially if your other sports are mainly running and swimming, as it will help to work for other muscle groups.
As mentioned for the commuter they offer a good alternative to a Road Bicycle, as they are faster than a hybrid and a mountain bicycle, yet maybe not as durable against the bumps to a wider tyre option.
In both V brake and disc brake options, both have their benefit and disadvantages and both coming with their appropriate price points from around £400+ available in aluminium and more expensive versions coming in at £1500+
Outside the Realm
If after you’ve checked out these styles, still none of these bikes offer you what you need, check out these other kinds of bikes. Tandems, recumbents, touring and tricycles are all unique types of bikes that you likely won’t see very often, either out on the trail or on the showroom floor at your local bike shop. But each offers specific features and functions that may be just what you are looking for. Read more about these alternatives to the mainstream styles of bicycles.
Cruisers are bikes that have wide tires, wide seats, upright handlebars and sometimes even just a single gear. These are the bikes that you’ll often see at the beach. More simple mechanically, they are easy to maintain but work best with flat terrain and a rider whose main interest is more about being comfortable than with going fast.
The above mentioned are the most common style of bicycle purchases although there are still others that fall between the listed styles/categories.
Bikes In Boxes(from catalogs/supermarkets or other bicycle shops)
It is also worth looking at the lower link (BBC WATCHDOG REPORT NOW FOUND ON THE YOUTUBE WEBSITE) to see the reasons to avoid buying a bicycle in a box from your local supermarket or catalog company, although if you are tempted by the cheap price tag then please bring it in to have it assembled correctly.