Buying a new bike is always an exciting process – but it can be a little mind boggling and confusing – even if it’s far from your first purchase.
Having a clear idea in your head of exactly what you’re looking for, before you take the plunge and visit a bike shop with your credit card in hand, will help you to make the right decision. If you know what you want before you start, you’re much more likely to wheel away a bike that you’ll love for years to come.
To help you create that picture perfect image of the bike you’re looking for, we’ve put together a list of questions you should ask yourself before you go shopping.
Take a look, and make sure you can answer each one, before you set a foot in the door of your LBS…
What sort of riding do I want to do?
There are many styles of bike out there – and the vast majority are great fun to ride – provided they’re actually put to intended use. The bounce and mud-carving tyres of a full suspension mountain bike can make rocky downhill descents (almost) a piece of cake – but they’ll make commuting on flat tarmac roads a nightmare.
Before you shop: know what you want to use the bike for, so you can select the right style for you. Here’s a very brief description of the most common styles (you'll find more detailed info here):
Road bike: Skinny tyres, drop handlebars, lightweight frame. Good for riding on tarmac, climbing and these bikes provide lots of hand positions for descending and cornering. Geometry varies greatly – with aggressive positions on race bikes and more relaxed positions on endurance bikes. Endurance bikes may also have wider tyres for added comfort, disc brakes are becoming more common and offer better stopping – but you can’t enter British Cycling races with them.
Adventure/Gravel bike: A super relaxed road bike, with wide tyres – so you can enjoy riding it on the road and taking it down some gravel paths, or through parks. Jack of all traders, master of none.
Cyclocross bike: A lot like the above, but made for actually racing off-road. Higher bottom bracket, wider, more mud-ready tyres. Great for enjoying on the trails. Fit road tyres for rides on the tarmac and you’ve got an alright road bike – but will never handle quite as well on the smooth stuff.
Hybrid Bike: Lightweight frame like a road bike, with flat handlebars like a mountain bike. Ideal for whizzing around city streets in a ‘heads up’ position. Some have slick tyres and are much like road bikes in the frame, others have suspension and wider tyres like mountain bikes. Decide how much you expect to ride on the road vs off road to deduce what’s best for you.
Dutch bike / Sit up and beg bike: Very upright position, and often lots of space for storage plus convenient features such as hub gears that require less maintenance and chain guards to keep trousers clean. Usually very heavy, with few gears. Avoid if you live near hills.
Hardtail mountain bike: Often the first mountain bike in your collection, lighter so easier on the hills, but won’t bounce so well over technical terrain. If you’re just starting out, or want a lightweight bike for cross country racing, this is for you. Wheel sizes available are 26", 27.5" and 29" – bigger wheels take longer to get up to speed but are faster when going.
Full suspension mountain bike: If you’re after tackling technical terrain, a full-sus will be your friend. Same applies with the wheel – and the greater travel provided, the more adventurous you’ll be able to be with your trails.
BMX / Track / Time trial / Downhill bike: If you have to ask, you probably don’t need/want one
Do I want a women's specific bike?
We're not going to tell you what you should do here. Different brands take different approaches.
Many women's specific frames are adjusted to offer a slightly shorter top tube, and higher stack - so if you feel that unisex bikes put you in an overly 'stretched out' position, it might be a good idea. If you're on the smaller side (sub 5 ft 5) then a bike with a women's specific frame might be more suited to you, because it will have been created around ideal geometry for a smaller body.
Some brands simply offer a unisex frame, with women's contact points. This will save you the cost of swapping the handlebars and saddle - but these aren't earth shatteringly expensive, so if you prefer a unisex frame, don't be put off.
The best way to decide if a women's frame suits you better than a unisex frame is to ask to test ride a few bikes. Make sure the shop you choose will allow you to do that.
Are there any ‘must have’ features?
Think about your intended usage. Now: is there anything you couldn’t enjoy your bike without? Maybe nothing comes to mind at first – here are a few suggestions:
Bottle cage mounts: You will find bikes without these – they’re usually made for racing over short duration. If you plan to be riding for more than an hour, you’ll probably need a drink.
Pannier rack mounts: If you’re a commuter, you may want to try mounting panniers to your bike in the future – even if now a backpack seems fine. If you think you may want to try touring, they’ll be a must.
Mudguard mounts: Mudguards are another really handy item for commuters to have at their disposal – but not all bikes can accommodate them. If you’re a roadie looking to ride in a bunch during winter, they’re also a good idea.
Room for you to grow in cycling: We’re not talking about room for an increase in height (unless you’re buying for a child) – but space for the bike to progress with you. If you’re brand new to cycling but have ambitions of racing, buy a bike that would suffice for your early training as well as your first events. If you’re learning to cycle as a beginner, it’s likely your fitness and flexibility will increase over time – so look for a bike that allows for adjustments in fit over time.
How much do I want to spend?
Bike shops are magical places. You can walk in with the intention of buying an inner tube and a pair of socks, and walk out with a new set of wheels and some shiny carbon soled shoes. How does that happen?! Gentle persuasion – that’s how.
It’s common for retailers to say that you should spend ‘the maximum you have available’ on a new bike. And actually, they’re right – if you scrimp now you’re likely to spend more later on upgrades.
However: the maximum you have to spend on the bike is not the same as the maximum amount you have in your savings account. Work out your top end limit, and stick to it.
Are there any key items I should set aside some budget for?
The ‘RRP’ of the bike you have in mind may not be the end of your spend – so think about any items you know you’ll need to splash out in and set aside enough, even if that means spending less on the bike.
The saddle specced on a built bike, for example, might not suit you, or you might need to buy some narrower handlebars if you’re looking at a unisex frame. Most bikes come with entry level wheels which are more than adequate for training, but if you want something more performance orientated (lightweight or aero) this could be another upgrade worth factoring in.
Do I need a bike fit?
The best bike in the world will give you no pleasure if you can’t find the right fit on it. If you’re a fairly experienced cyclist, who has had several bikes before and knows their set up, you might not need to be fitted to your new steed (though regular specialist bike fits are a good idea).
If you’re a beginner, and you don’t yet know what a correctly fitted bike feels like, it really is a good idea to get set up properly. Knowing this will influence where you buy from – so decide before you start shopping, and if bike fit is an important part of your purchase, choose from local bike shops that offer fits inclusive of the price of a bike.
Got those questions answered? Get shopping! For more advice - check out the articles below to get you on your way...