- Which Bike?
How do I choose a bike? There are so many to choose from!
Bicycles come in all shapes and sizes but some bikes are more suitable for particular types of cycling than others. Listed below are the various types with recommendations for types of use. ISO 4210 covers bike standards in Europe and this summary from Dawes gives a good description of what you can expect each bike style to do.
Road. A very popular style of cycle at the moment where speed and lightweight feel are the criteria of choice. There are lots of different specifications of bike but generally the more it costs the lighter it will be. A lighter bike makes the task of climbing hills easier. Road bike ride position for many bikes under £2000 has had a major revision compared to 15 years ago when all the manufacturers thought only "racers" used road bikes and the ride position reflected this. The new ride position is shorter and higher in reach to the handlebars giving a more relaxed feel than head down and catering better for the rider who prefers a more relaxed position. There is also a growing range of "flat bar" road bikes. These are performance oriented bikes that dispense with drop handlebars but retain the light weight and sporty ride feel of a traditional road bike. A great solution for mountain bikers looking for a fast road option without having to change their "cockpit".
Gravel. This classification of bike has come about as people have searched out more adventurous routes. They are "road" bikes that are adapted to ride well on gravel roads - the kind seen off the beaten track in American movies. You could also say that they are a development of the classic English touring bike - drop handlebars, relaxed frame angles with clearance for wider tyres and fittings for mudguards and racks. A great option if you spend a lot of your riding on our country back roads as they deal well with pot holes and poor surfaces but are efficient enough to enable you to cover long journeys.
Hybrid. This is a generic term for a multiple use cycle that can be used on a range of surfaces and as such has a few derivatives aimed at different markets.
Town Hybrid. Usually a fully equipped bicycle with mudguards, rear rack and a very upright ride position. Lots of models have height and reach adjustment for the handlebars and are designed with comfort in mind for shorter rides ideally in town and the local area. Simpler models have fewer gears, typically 3-7 speed, whilst most have 21 or more.
Trekking Hybrid. A lighter more sporting version of the town hybrid. Usually supplied with minimal equipment to reduce weight and a broader range of gears as it is anticipated that this type of cycle will be used for longer rides and have low enough gears should the terrain become hilly. Mudguards and racks can easily be added should they be required . This type of cycle is designed for mainly tarmac use but is robust enough to be utilised on forestry roads and bridleways. "Adventure" bikes fall loosely in this category - these are bikes built for track and trail use while carrying camping gear, where overall weight is less important than load carrying versatility and dependability.
Trekking Suspension Hybrid. A similar cycle to the trekking hybrid but differs by being more suited to rougher surface conditions as this has front suspension forks to ease the bumps of rougher terrain but comes with the compromise of heavier weight
Mountain Bike or ATB (All Terrain Bike) comes in two basic styles - hard tail or full suspension - but things are complicated now by three wheel size options and the development of "no-sus" Fat Bikes.
Hard tail. These have front suspension forks only and is probably the most popular style suitable for all types of riding and pricing starts from £325. However, if you want to take your bike to do serious off-roading, expect to pay £500 or more. As with road bikes, the more you pay the lighter the bike.
Full Suspension. These types of bikes have suspension front and rear to assist riding on loose surfaces and rugged terrain. The suspension aids comfort as well as improving traction. Poorly designed suspension bikes are disappointing to ride and actually work against the rider giving a slow, sluggish feel and are generally very heavy. A well designed suspension bike will flow with the rider and have minimal losses through the transmission and weigh not much more than an equivalent hard tail. Bikes of this quality generally retail for £1300 and above.
29er. This refers to the wheel size of a bike and is the largest wheel size for a mountain bike. Traditionally ATBs have had 26" wheels but 29" gives better rolling speed and traction, improving the confidence of the rider all round.
650B or 27.5. Somewhere in the middle, not 26" or 29". Some smaller frames look disproportionate with the larger 29" wheels and the extra amount of traction with 27.5" over 26" is nearly as good as the 29er. 27.5" also offers a more responsive handling bike in tight technical courses but does not have the same rolling benefits of the 29er.
Both wheel sizes are an improvement over the 26" wheel and the best choice for you will depend on the type of terrain you ride and size of your bike. Riders who prefer fast rolling open moorland/bridleway riding will prefer the benefits of a 29er whereas a rider who prefers tight technical trail centre type courses may prefer a 27.5
Fat bike. A recent development, these ATBs have no suspension but very large low pressure tyres - hence the "fat bike" name. Tyres up to 5" are fitted to special wide wheels in frames designed for them. These bikes are great in snow, sand or boggy areas where thinner tyres will sink into the surface. Low tyre pressures provide some suspension effect and the simplicity of no mechanical suspension makes for an easy maintenance scheme.
A well established concept where your cycle is assisted by a battery driven motor. There are lots of different designs on the market and regulations regarding how they should work have recently been updated. An electric bike should be a pedal assist cycle with a maximum power output of 250w. Some models are marketed with a twist-and-go style throttle which does not need the rider to pedal. This type of electric bike when used like this does not comply with current legislation as it is effectively a battery driven moped rather than a cycle. You need Road Tax, a licence and insurance to ride one.
We have been suppliers of Giant Electric bikes for over 10 years and find them very reliable and very well supported by Giant UK who provide product support as well as training for our staff to ensure we can keep your electric bike serviced and running. We also now sell Trek electric assist bikes. Come in to see which you prefer. Two of the most common questions we are asked are how far will it go on a battery charge and will it recharge as I pedal along. We have tested a few models in the surrounding area of rolling hillside terrain and found 22 to 26 miles to be normal and some customers report in excess of 30 miles on flatter terrain. Giant introduced battery regeneration a few years ago. Unfortunately you need an extensive downhill section more like an alpine descent of 10 miles or so to generate any useful amount of battery charge and the UK does not have much terrain like this. There was also a significant reduction in life span of the battery by utilising this feature so it was removed.
What Should my Bike be made from?
With a increasing array of materials being used for bike frames, the choice can be somewhat daunting. Some materials are better suited to some tasks than others so below we describe the pros and cons of the main materials.
Steel. Steel, which is an iron alloy, has been used for bikes since the 19th century as it is robust, strong and suited to varied applications by choice of grade. Steel maintains a degree of shock absorption, which is important for longer rides, and it lasts for decades. The negatives are good bike steel is not cheap and cheap steel is heavy. Basic bikes that you see retailing for less than £200 are usually a basic grade steel which is heavy and the cheaper the bike the cheaper the steel used in its frame and components. As mainstream manufacturing shifted to aluminium alloys in the 90's, the production numbers of quality steel bikes dropped significantly and the manufacture of good quality steel frames has become an artisan industry of small companies producing high quality custom products.
Steel is still, however, the primary choice for building a good touring/expedition bike as the frame will be durable, comfortable to ride all day and support the weight of big panniers and accessories on those big tours. It also has the advantage that if it breaks in the back of beyond, a good man with a welding torch can fix it!! Try that with carbon fibre. Steel is actually an alloy and the added ingredients (eg chrome and molybdenum in "chromoly" tubes) change the characteristics of the tubes. The specific alloy is reflected in the tubing name, but manufacturers effectively invent a marketing name that tells you nothing! However, "Reynolds 853" is better than "Reynolds 631" is better than plain 4130 chromoly- if in doubt, ask us. Quality steel frames start from around £450 and the more you pay generally the lighter it gets and we can provide you with a custom built model specifying geometry, fittings and paint finish which truly is a custom unique product that will last a lifetime.
Aluminium. The mainstay material of the bicycle industry currently. Aluminium alloys became more popular than steel in the late 90's as production techniques improved and costs reduced. Aluminium could provide a substantially lighter bike compared to steel for little more cost and as it became more popular it soon became cheaper than the standard quality steel frames of the time. Aluminium does have a negative of being quite harsh to ride compared to a steel bike as it is a very rigid material but this is only apparent after long days in the saddle and as most leisure cyclists rarely ride in excess of 3 hours continually is not really an issue. The positive of a rigid frame is that it improves the handling and responsiveness of the bike with better power transfer from the pedals to the wheels, as anything that flexes is lost energy. As with steel, there are lots of different grades of aluminium alloy used in the bike industry - some are inexpensive thick tubes which are not much lighter than a steel bike but quality "aluminium" bikes start from around £300 upwards.
"Carbon". A premier product linked to the space industry, Formula 1 etc and generally anything expensive. Carbon fibre is used in the bike industry for its unique ability to build a bike that is as light and stiff as an aluminium bike but give a similar compliant ride feel of a steel bike. This is the most beneficial part of carbon - its ability to absorb the bumps of the road but not compromise on performance. Carbon fibre built into a composite tube is stronger than a steel tube but has the weakness of susceptibility to abrasive damage i.e easily punctured by sharp objects, frame integrity weakened if fibres are scoured or cut. Carbon fibre also has lots of grades and is generally measured with a rating that combines various aspects of strength and stiffness. This is further confused by manufacturers inventing their own grading for sales purposes. Every carbon fibre bike frame is built by hand from a set of pre-cut fabric shapes laid into a mould with resin to hold it together. Different parts of the bike have different stresses, so different carbon fabrics are used, which means that no bike is made from one grade of carbon. Much like "853" steel, you have to accept that the manufacturer is building a bike with the right stuff when they claim it is "T700" rather than "T500" (here the "T" just comes from the fibre manufacturer Toray). The higher the value generally means the frame will be lighter and the ride "feel" more nuanced. However, the combination of fibre type, layup, resin and overall design make the bike - not the "strength" of the fibre.
A word of warning - carbon frames are often referred to as "composite" frames as they are made up of layers of different grade carbon weave bonded together with special resins. The word composite is often used as a cover by some manufacturers to replace some of the layering materials with cheaper non-carbon substitutes (eg glass fibre) but they are still composite frames. Guaranteed carbon composite frames cost more but are what you expect them to be. There are also a lot of very cheap "carbon" frames appearing in the market place but watch out for issues with component fit as well as frame quality. We would say that wouldn't we, but we advise buying a quality brand from an authorised dealer to guarantee that you are getting the real deal and a usable warranty. Also keep in mind that you are likely to find out how good your frame really is when you hit a pot hole and a frame failure means a trip to hospital! We supply carbon framed bikes from £999.00
Titanium. Another premium material made into alloys that give all the ride quality of steel but is marginally heavier than carbon. The advantages of titanium are that it is very robust and does not corrode like aluminium or steel. It is usually supplied with a natural finish as there is no need for paint and protective lacquer - these are purely for decoration. Unfortunately it does not share the same flare for shape and style that can be produced with carbon frames, is not easy to work with and construction is time consuming. Titanium frames usually come in a hand-brushed finish that takes in excess of 4 hours to complete, adding to the price. Titanium bikes start from £1799.00
How many gears do you need? It depends on what kind of cycling you are doing and how much you want to pay. Due to the efficiencies of mass manufacture, most basic bikes now come with anything from “21” to “30” gears. This means that the bike has three chainrings at the front and from 7 to 10 cogs at the back. Multiply 3 by 7 to 10 and you get 21 to 30. However, you don’t actually have that many gears really – think of it as three overlapping “ranges” –
In the diagram above, the numbers on the left refer to the number of teeth on the chainrings and the numbers in the coloured bars show the number of teeth on the cogs. You don’t have to use them all, of course – as a beginner riding round the Vale of York you could probably select the middle 38 tooth ring and just use the rear cogs.
How are gears “measured”? Gear size in the UK is, quaintly, measured in the equivalent size of penny farthing wheel in inches! A 66 inch gear feels like riding a penny farthing with a 5 foot 6 inch or 1 metre 68cm diameter front wheel. A 66” gear, ridden with your legs going round at 90 revs a minute (your “cadence”) will make you go at 17.5 miles per hour – 28kph. This is a very good pace for a touring cyclist, but they would probably ride a more steady 80rpm, or 15.7mph. The 38 x 15 combination in the middle of the middle range above gives a 68” gear. The 38x12 combo at 90 revs would give you about 23mph, at which point you should be racing!
At the other end of the scale, 28 x 28 gives a 26.8” gear, which at 90 revs is good for about 7mph. If you are riding a steep climb and your revs are down to 60, you will be moving at 4.8mph – much slower and you will fall off. You would also have issues with grip and the rear wheel may slip when you are stood out the saddle. This ratio also illustrates a feature about gearing – the same number of teeth at the front and rear gives a gear that is the same as the size of your wheel. A 38 x 38 would still be a 26.8” gear.
Low gear restrictions. We get a lot of enquiries about putting lower gears on “racing” bikes. Most bikes bought for sportives come with “compact” chainsets – usually 34 inner ring and 50 outer. Triple chainrings have fallen out of favour on lightweight bikes with the advent of the compact 34/50 combo. This places restrictions on the lowest gear you can get to because the rear cog maximum size is governed by the rear derailleur. The latest designs for road bikes will cope with a 32 rear cog so your lowest gear is a 34 x 32 – a 28.4 inch gear. Lower gears on a standard road bike are not possible, as chainsets are not made, for example, with “30 x 48” rings. If you want lower gears for touring with baggage you need to consider a bike with a triple chainset. The latest Shimano Tiagra (4700 series) triple makes a great touring groupset - it comes with 30, 39 and 50 tooth chainrings and a rear derailleur which works up to 32 teeth.
Hub gears. If you are looking for an easy maintenance solution and are prepared to compromise on your gear range, hub gears are a good option to consider. These have a gear box inside the rear hub casing, protected from the elements. The advantages are simplicity of use, single direct chain line and you can change gear when you are not moving – useful at traffic lights. Options available from Shimano include the Nexus 8 speed and the Alfine 11 speed. These are good urban / commuter solutions that give a reasonable range – the Alfine 11 has a 409% range so you can set it up by choosing rear and front teeth numbers to give you a 25 – 100 inch range, or 20 – 80 inch for heavy touring.
For the king of hub gears, you need to step up to the Rohloff Speedhub 500/14, which has 14 gears and a massive 526% range. It also has the advantage that the difference between each gear is the same – 13.5% - while the Shimano gears have some big jumps and some small ones. The Rohloff is rugged enough for world tours and reckoned to last “at least 50,000 kilometres” with oil changes at 5,000km. It also costs about £1000, so it is a serious commitment. We have built a number of Rohloff bikes so if you are considering one come and talk to us – there are lots of frame design options to consider. You can also take advantage of the Gates belt drive with hub gears. This is a rubber toothed belt that replaces the chain. It is clean, minimal maintenance and the ideal match to hub gearing. The downside is that the frame need to be splittable at the rear to get the belt on.
A recent challenger to the Rohloff is the crank drive Pinion 18 speed system. This needs a special frame to take the gearbox which fits between the cranks, like an electric motor. Huge gear range and standard wheels make this an interesting choice for the specialist tourer.
Fixie. For simplicity, you can dispense with gears altogether and opt for a single gear set up with the option of fixed gears. A bit of a niche choice with the advantage of simplicity and ease of maintenance. This needs a special frame (horizontal dropouts to adjust chain tension) and a common setup is to use a "flip flop" rear wheel. This has a single fixed gear on one side and a single freeewheel on the other. Fixed is good for cadence training but can get a bit wearing if you regularly ride steep downhills, so the option to jump off your bike and switch to single speed with the ability to freewheel downhill is often welcome.