buying a bicycle

Rule 1: you get what you pay for

One rainy April day in the nineties, a cold and wet Cycle Courier walked into my shop with a three month old bike that was falling apart.

The bike was in a state. The wheels rattled where the cones were loose, the bottom bracket was shot, the headset was indexed, the gear shifters required arm rather than thumb strength, what little brake block was left was so far from the rim it was ineffectual, the chain was rusty, once knobbly tyres were slick etc etc. To put it mildly, it was beyond economic repair and destined for a skip.

It was by no means the cheapest bike on the market, it was the entry level offering from a respected brand, around £300 quids worth today, but it simply wasn't up to the job. Fortunately, having spent a good few years delivering packages that could just have well gone by first class post, (a sign in the control room of one courier company stated "your lack of planning is not our emergency"), I was able to empathise and gently explain that he had got his money's worth. 4,000 hard winter miles out of a bike designed for 1,000 miles of light use is good going.

Yes, new bikes are guaranteed against defects in manufacture but the ware and tare clause exists because an object designed for light occasional use will quickly fall apart if used professionally.

ln the States research shows that the average $100 catalogue bike does just 70 easy fair weather miles in it’s life -  so that’s what cheap bikes are built to do. If a bike costs less than a family day out or a trip to the O2 to see a band, it’s not up to much.

Buy wisely and the price you pay will be proportional to the miles the bike will do before major components start to wear out. Buy wisely and these components will be worth replacing. Buy wisely and the bike will be stronger, lighter and fun to ride. Skimp and you will end up chucking your bike in a skip and spending the money saved on bus fare.

Bicycles are better value for money than ever - if you seriously need a bike for reliable, enjoyable transport, invest!  A couple of weeks pay for a couple of years transport is cheap at twice the price. In 2014 the entry level price for a hybrid or simple mountain bike that will not fall apart after 100 miles is £300.

Please don’t skimp - if you want a new road bike they start at £600. If you want a folding bike that actually works you will have to bite the bullet and buy a Brompton (from £600). If you want a full suspension mountain bike that will stay in one piece downhill there will not be any change from £1,000.

Rule 2: horses for courses

Time trial bikes are for going fast on tarmac against the clock, downhill bikes are for going quickly down very steep hills on harsh terrain. Track bikes are for er ... the track. All the above will be a pain if used for commuting, the later, suicidal. So work out what you need the bike for and be sensible.

Rule 3: Listen carefully

It’s amazing how many people ask questions in shops and either don’t listen, or dismiss the answers.

Specialist shops tend to employ people that know the ins and outs of the products on sale through their own obsessive or professional interest. These underpaid experts have learnt through experience and can pass on precious know-how that will, amongst other things, save you time and money.

In all specialist retail from high fashion to electronics, wine to diy, the lowly shop assistants, invariably on a zero hours or one day a week contract and the minimum wage, really know and understand the products they sell - listen and learn.

Rule 4: Make sure the bike fits

If you need a crow bar to get your feet into those lovely shoes in the sale, most people, my daughters excepted, will walk away. So why is it that people insist on bikes that are too big, or suffer unnecessarily on bikes that are the wrong size to save a few quid? 

You don’t need a computerised or professional bike fit, but if you will not take advice from a lowly shop assistant, pay for the fit and accept the results - most shops will knock the cost of their bike fit off the price of the bike.

There are sole traders not attached to shops who will measure you up, set up your bike and observe you cycling on a turbo (indoor trainer that the bike bolts into) to look for problems. If you live in sunny Peacehaven give me a ring 01273 581766 and I’ll be round armed with a tape measure and turbo. A bike fit is prudent if you plan to invest in a decent bike online, or train for an event.