It’s a minefield out there. A bewildering choice of manufacturers that offer 100 different models each tailored to a specific task. Unless you’re the type that likes lycra, silly shoes and high-tech stuff, forget mountain bikes, bikes with suspension, racing bikes – more commonly known now as road bikes – or track bikes… you’re looking for a few things.
No Aluminium: Aluminium is a high tensile material known for lightness which is great if you’re touring about the place or need to shed weight for racing, but for a utilitarian bike you don’t just need it. Aluminium bikes are much less forgiving than steel framed ones, they offer less flex in the frame and, if ridden hard, can just snap without warning and cannot be repaired practicably. Steel will bend out of shape and fracture when it reaches the end of it’s life and will give you fair warning that it’s going. A steel lugged frame will last you a long time. Terms to look out for are Hi-Ten or CroMo steel. Hi-Ten is heavier and more a pure steel, CroMo is a steel alloy that is very effective.
Price Point: Important stuff this… if you go to your local department store or catalogue shop you can buy a bike for £100.
Don’t do it.
£100 spent on an old bike that’s 20 years old is much better spent than the same sum spent on a new cycle. You’re buying an entire cycle for £100, what’s the quality? Poor to sub standard. I spent almost that much just on the saddle and other new components of my build. A good new steel bike, in the UK is going to cost somewhere between £350 and £500+ if you want something that isn’t going to break within the first year of ownership. You may baulk at spending so much on a new bike when there’s so many available for considerably less, but as with most things in this world, you really do get what you pay for.
Most of the large manufacturers out there will offer what they call a Hybrid. It’s part road bike, part mountain bike. Wheels of the former, frame of the latter. They’re OK if you want to go off road ‘lightly’, i.e. gravel paths and out of town cycle routes, and if you’re going to do that, then they’re perfect for you. However, they will have 21 or 27 gears, most of which you’ll never use apart from clicking up and down all the time. Even if you live in a reasonably hilly town or city, a hub gear with three or five gears will suit the road much better. In stop-start traffic, a hub gear allows you to change gear while stationary, a god-send when you’re at lights or a roundabout, and remember that a three speed hub offers the same overall gear ratio as most 18 or 21 speed dérailleur systems.
Stuff that should come free: but often doesn’t any more. Mudgaurds, chain guards / cases & lighting. At some point an enterprising person thought that all the stuff that used to come as standard should be optional extras or add-on sales. Mudguards prevent the nice muddy stripe up your back and a wet behind when you get where you’re going. A chain case keeps all the oily bits of the drive train out the way of your trousers, and lighting to see where you’re going and hopefully make car drivers see you. Most bike shops will sell you these as extras. Try and find a bike with all this stuff already bolted on.
Useful Stuff: If you want to carry things, get a rack. If you want to carry more things, get two, one on the front, one on the back, hook on panniers. Stuffing a few things in a backpack is OK, but after a few miles you’ll get a nice sweat patch on your back where the bag is, and will make you quite uncomfortable.
Get a big lock: The old adage is correct. Take the price of your cycle, and spend 10% of that again on a lock. D-Locks are regarded as the best for resisting attack, but they are heavy and you’re pretty limited to what you can attach them to. An armoured cable lock offers you more flexibility, but is easier to get off with some bolt cutters. Finally, those little thin steel cables should be left well alone as a primary lock – although handy for threading through wheels and saddles and then attaching to a D-lock.