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Choosing the Right Bicycles

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 7 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Racer Hybrid Bike Folding Bike Mountain

Around three-quarters of all the journeys made in the UK are short enough to be made using a bicycle – the ultimate in clean, green and healthy transport and often the fastest way to get around many of our congested towns and cities.

Today’s would-be cyclist has an array of bikes to choose from, including the old favourites – the traditional and the racer – but these have been joined by a range of innovative types. Before shelling out hard earned cash on those new eco-friendly wheels, a bit of thought is called for to decide what sort of cyclist you see yourself becoming – and where you intend to ride.

More Than Just Two Wheels

Highly familiar, the traditional and racing bikes are fairly lightweight and designed for use on tarmac, while folding bikes are ideal for longer commutes, since they are easier to carry and can help overcome some of the problems with taking a bicycle on public transport.

Although mountain bikes were – obviously – originally designed to be ridden off-road, they have found great popularity for street use also, largely due to their range of rider-friendly features, which include multiple gears, wider wheels and comfortable suspension. The so-called “hybrid” bicycles are urban cousins of mountain bikes, having a generally similar sort of riding position, but being better suited to life in the city and more at home on tarmac. The BMX or Freestyle type, though excellent for stunt riding in the concrete jungle, are little use for commuting around it unless you like making life difficult for yourself – their lack of gears makes uphill riding challenging.

When it comes to selecting the individual model, there are a few key features to take into account here also. For example, there are a variety of mechanisms for gear changing, including the traditional level type, twist grips which work by turning the handlebar grip and EZ fire – operated by a trigger action on the handlebars.

Brakes too come in a variety of types such as the conventional calliper blocks on the wheel, the larger v-brakes, which use sturdier blocks and disc brakes, mounted on the wheel hub – giving them superior performance in the wet.

Mountain bikes usually have suspension – either to the front fork or a dual system – designed to absorb the bumps of off-road riding. This gives these bicycles a unique feel, which may not suit every rider, though many people would not ride anything else. Finally, bicycle frames tend to be made from either steel or alloy. In general bikes with alloy frames are significantly lighter, so it is worth keeping this in mind if weight is an issue.

Sizing for Safety

Picking the right size is important – a mismatch between bike and rider is inefficient making the cyclist work harder than necessary and may cause muscle strain or be unsafe on the road.

Children’s bicycles are generally sold by wheel size, with appropriate guidance on the age of child for which they would normally be thought suitable; adult bikes give a range of inside leg measurements. For a proper fit this should match the rider’s own measurement, with the leg almost fully extended and the pedal at the bottom of its rotation.

In addition to the bicycle itself, a whole collection of accessories and gadgets are now available to make cycling a safer and more enjoyable way to travel, ranging from cycle locks and helmets, to child seats and high-tech luggage racks and panniers.

Abandoning motorised transport altogether in favour of cycling is certainly not an option for everyone and even the most passionate advocate would be hard pressed to make a case for the bike in the depths of a British winter. However, even being a fair-weather cyclist – going down the cardio-vascular, carbon neutral and petrol-free route can make a difference – to your health as much as to the environment, not to mention your bank balance.

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