Leaflets on cycling: Getting a bike

You may already have a bike in the garage. But is it suitable? And is it safe? If not, your cycling may be less comfortable and harder work than it need be, and if it is not checked and serviced before use it could be hazardous.

The two most important things to consider when buying a bike are:

  • What it will be used for (commuting, shopping, recreation, holidays?), and
  • Making sure it is the right size and fit (a good bike shop will help).

One way to decide what suits you best is to hire a bike first – Cambridge has lots of outlets.

There are good second hand bikes to be found, but they need to be chosen with care. If you don’t know how to judge the right size, get some help. Always have it checked before riding it.

Smaller people, especially women, may find it hard to get a bike that fits. Contacts on the list at the end can offer advice. Don’t be fobbed off with a bike that is too big for you. For children, don’t buy oversized bikes to grow into, and for the very young take care not to buy a ‘toy’ bike which is only intended for use around the garden.

Some pros and cons

Most so-called mountain bikes have never seen a hill and would probably keel over at the thought – a dealer would probably call these ‘hybrids’ or ‘all terrain bikes’. And what you may think of as a ‘racing’ bike is probably a ‘tourer’, characterised by the curled drop-handlebars.

Straight handlebars are arguably easier for new cyclists, but offer less variety of riding positions. Chunky tyres give a more comfortable ride, but are harder work.

Less weight and good gears make a lot of difference to ease of cycling. Lighter bikes tend to be more expensive. Hub gears (which are inside a thick rear axle, with a cable running into it) offer less range but are easier to operate and maintain. Fixing a puncture is harder with this mechanism. Derailleur gears (which have external cogs and an ‘S’-shaped chain path at the back) leave your clothes a bit more vulnerable and take a little getting used to operating, but will make your cycling easier.

A gel-filled saddle is a luxury that is well worth the cost. You can buy gel covers for only a few pounds for your existing saddle.

A folding bike (a Brompton is one of the smallest) makes park and cycle possible, using one of the car parks around Cambridge, and unlike park and ride, is free. (Alternatively, you can also rent a locker to keep a full size bike in at some sites).

Material dated: July 1997