Without doubt the cheapest, most efficient, and healthiest forms of transport.
When you buy a bike for the first time you basically have two choices to make. New or second-hand, and road or mountain bike. NEVER buy second-hand, there is almost always a good (and bad) reason why it is for sale, and parts are a lot more expensive than when buying a complete bike. Road bikes are lightweight (easy to carry) and fast, but they only thrive on the best of surfaces. Mountain bikes are heavy and slow, though can go almost anywhere a 4 x 4 can (the only limit being the angle of ascent/ descent). Do not be fooled by the concept of being able to have both, a hybrid, it is not possible. Sadly, to buy anything decent of either is going cost you a lot of money (£500+). Though if you have the patience it is possible to wait until the buying season is over and snap up an end-of-line model, this could save you as much as 50%.
Frame size is crucial. And inside leg measurement is everything, you want your leg to be absolutely straight when the pedal is at its lowest point. Do not rely on the saddle adjustment for this. As a very rough guide, for someone 4’ 10”-5 2” tall a 13-14” frame is required, 5’ 2”-5’ 6” a 15-16” frame, 5’ 6”-5’ 10” a 17-18” frame, 5’ 10”-6’ 1” a 19-20” frame, 6’ 1”-6’ 4” a 21-22” frame, 6’ 4”-6’ 6” a 23-24” frame.
Bike ownership also means maintaining it. To rely on anyone else is going to cost you more than having a car repaired. For this you will need spares (tyres/ inner-tubes/ chain/ cogs etc), special tools, a space to work, and a good bike stand to hold it in place while you work on it. Budget around £300 for all these.
Lights. Get the best you can afford (£50 is sufficient), rechargeable (mine are USB), a minimum of 40 lumens (front)/ 10 lumens (night), and easily removable when parked up in a public place. Check out LEZYNE DRIVE (http://www.lezyne.com).
Security. Sadly, in a city or large town, virtually any kind of lock can be easily picked or broken. There are specialised gangs who steal bikes, they know all the weak spots and come armed with powerful tools. Best policy is to take the bike with you wherever you go, or walk.
Helmet. Crucial. If you fall off or get hit by a car door opening suddenly you will probably land on your head, so protect it. Same goes for hands and any other exposed area.
Pump. The best type I’ve found so far is the one shown in the photo. It takes very little effort to inflate and can be used also just as easily with car tyres. I can’t recommend a particular make/ model (this one is a TOPEAK), but suggest always using a separate digital pressure gauge with them for accuracy.
On the road you will need to carry a smaller version. Except they won’t be quite what you expect. The cheap ones aren’t worth the bother, expensive and you can’t leave them on the bike. They also take an incredible amount of physical effort even to inflate a little, so you certainly won’t get up to full working pressure. I bought the best there was (a TOPEAK MINI MORPH), and the first time I used it discovered not only that the valve was faulty, so didn’t work at all, but the locking mechanism was so poorly designed it sheared right off. As with all my dealings with TOPEAK they not only refused to reply but would not honour their warranties either.
Panniers. You’ll want to carry stuff, and in all weathers. By far the best place for this (stability-wise) is over the back wheel and for this you will need a frame.
I bought the most expensive and best reviewed of panniers, manufactured by TOPEAK (DryBag DX). And it turned out to be a terrible mistake. First off, having made sure first (by email) that I was getting a matched pair, I only ever received just the one, despite hundreds of emails to the on-line seller (http://www.ukbikestore.co.uk) and contacting their local trading standards officer. Second horror was in trying to assemble it. If you think IKEA is a challenge you have not experienced TOPEAK. I have tried every permutation and there is still no way I can get the bag to fit on the frame, the fixing lock to function, or for it to look anything like the instructions show. Third, within a week of using it every single nut (holding the bag to its frame) fell off. Then after it rained the reflective strips started to peel. Finally, a month into use a hole appeared in the waterproof fabric, caused by rubbing against the (TOPEAK) frame. Without doubt this is the LAST bag you’d ever want (or waste good money on).
Rucksack. The one thing a cyclist cannot do without is a decent bag, that is comfortable, can accommodate different loads, as well as being high-visibility and above all totally waterproof. After a very long search I discovered the Drybag Drysack. For something I had previously never heard of there are a surprisingly large number of types and makes. The one I settled on is by LOMO Watersports and utilises a tarpaulin-quality pvc, with a roll-over top opening, comes in white & black or reflective/ fluorescent yellow, and I opted for the 30 litre size. Weighing no more than 900 grams this will carry a 10kg load easily and is totally adjustable for loads. Price around £26.
That’s the good news. Now here’s the catch. Durability. I use mine daily, and after only six months the roll-over top started to crack in several places, which means it is no longer waterproof. The first time this happened LOMO kindly sent me a replacement without any fuss (although I had to pay dearly to return the damaged bag), but the same thing happened again. This time they have sent me some fabric to patch with, but on balance it’s been a lot of hassle and not the bargain I thought. Anyone know of a make that will do the job?
Where to buy bikes and bike stuff on-line.
Shops I have had a good experience with: