If, like many, the new social distancing rules have left you scratching your head in terms of how to get about? How are you going to make those journeys you used to jump on the tube or bus for without risking your health and the health of those around you? The answer has been lying there all along, the bicycle! The government has just pledged £1.2 billion in infrastructure for cycling and cyclists, meaning there has never been a better time to start pedalling.
But what to go for? There seems to an endless stream of options when it comes to bikes. Different wheels and tyres and handlebar shapes. Some look like big old tractors and some seem to resemble skinny little whippets. Some cost as little as £100 and others are heart attack inducing when it comes to price. To the outsider the cycling world can appear baffling and impenetrable, however it is reassuringly easy to get going on a bike with just a few pointers in the right direction. I am here to take you through some of the different styles of bike most people typically turn to first time round. Price wise I have kept it to between £150 - £600 a common “first bike” price.
A note on availability. At the time of writing most of these bikes had some availability, however with the current demand being extremely high I can’t guarantee that there will still be stock at time of print. However, these are all bikes that the companies are going to restock and at the most you’ll be waiting a month or so.
The Road Bike.
A road bike is typically designed to be ridden exclusively on tarmac. It is focussed on speed and distance, which is why it is the choice of bike for those competing in races such as the Tour De France. The tyres are usually on the skinnier side, and the geometry puts you in a slightly more aerodynamic position for ultimate efficiency. What do I mean by a bike’s geometry? Basically, it is the way the tube shapes of the frame are put together, the different angles can produce vastly different results. Some put you in a face down racing position, whereas others are designed to sit you up in a more comfort focussed endurance geometry.
It will come with drop handlebars, or D-shaped handlebars as apposed to the flat type. Many people, myself included, choose a road bike for commuting as it can offer the most effortless and energy efficient option for getting from A to B. I would suggest that you find one that has the option to add mudguards and a rack if you want to preserve your back and bum. Price wise they can go from as little as £400 to the truly eyewatering! Something like this Pinnacle from Evans Cycles would be a very good option to get you started.
A hybrid bike is just that. A Hybrid. They originally evolved from mixing the best elements of both road and mountain bikes, and come in a myriad of different shapes and styles, but always with comfort and practicality at their centre, which is what makes them such a great option for the commuter. Your typical hybrid will always come with a flat handlebar and wider tyres meaning it can handle both road and light off road duties. Some come with rack and mudguards as standard, but all will have the fixings to add them if not. They may not be as light as your typical road bike, but their comfort and versatility more than makes up for it. My own commuter has been used for the weekly shop as well as cycling from one end of the Uk to the other.
Some hybrids have rim brakes (the classic style where the wheel is slowed by a pad situated on a rim underneath the tyre, Pictured above) but the majority of them have now moved to disc brakes. This is where the braking happens via a metal disc in the middle of the wheel pictured here on this Pinnacle women’s specific hybrid, and also here on this unisex Specialized Sirrus. Disc Brakes offer much better braking performance in all conditions. Both of these options above would make very good starting points for any commuter bike, with the options of a set of mudguards and a rack setting you back another £70 and then it’s best to get your local bike shop to fit them first time around.
Single Speed Bikes.
Single speed bikes or fixies as they are sometimes known are very popular with some commuters. They started to appear in Urban environments due to being used by achingly cool bike messengers in the late nineties and early noughties. They come with only one gear so are extremely easy to maintain, and the parts generally last longer than with geared bikes.
A single speed bike will come with a “freewheel”, which as the name suggests will allow the rider to coast or freewheel. A Fixie is so called because the cog at the rear is fixed, or not allowing the rider to freewheel. If the wheel turns then the pedals turn. The latter requires a bit more skill and experience from the rider, so I’d always recommend having a freewheel to begin with. Many bikes also have a fixed cog on one side of the wheel and a freewheel on the other, known as a flip flop hub, this way you can pick and choose what you want.
I have used both a single speed and a fixed gear bike as a commuter with great success, however I do think that they are best confined to urban and flat environments, to start with at least. On the other hand, the fixie movement originated in San Francisco a city not know for its flat roads!! If you like your bikes simple, or you’re on a budget, or you like the simple pared back design of a fixed or single speed bike you could do a lot worse than start your search at Brick Lane Bikes in London, the home of fixie culture in the UK.
I hope that this simple guide has started you on the path to buying your first commuter bike. My final piece of advice will be this. Find out and frequent your local bike shop. They will be extremely happy to help you with any questions your may have and you may actually buy the bike from them. I know that buying bikes online is a much cheaper option, but a long lasting relationship with a bricks and mortar shop staffed by friendly experts and tea is more than worth the extra cash. Stay safe and hope to see you out on the roads!
About the author:
Hi I'm Alex, I am a ride guide who joined the Red Fox in 2019. Having been born in Amsterdam I could practically ride a bike before I could walk, I enjoy all aspects from elbows out racing on the track to strapping some panniers on and heading off into the unknown.
Which festival ride are you MOST excited to join in 2021?
I'm most excited about ride guiding the ride to Shambala next year. I had the pleasure of being part of it in 2019 and nothing beats the atmosphere and sense of community on that ride with those people.
What are you riding right now?
I'm currently on a real Ellliot Smith kick at the moment, seems to be getting me through this lock down period.
Any words of wisdom?
It doesn't matter how much your bike weighs as long as it puts a smile on your face!
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