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Bike Buying Advice

Decide what you will use the bike for?

If you can describe what you want to do with your new bike, you'll make things much easier for yourself and the salesperson who's helping you choose. Different bikes are intended for different types of riding and some are very specific to their purpose. However, most bikes are pretty versatile, you can ride to work, to the shops and round the hills on the same bike. Many bike commuters prefer the more upright position provided by a flat handlebar, though. They go for hybrids bikes with the same large, fast-rolling wheels as the racing bikes but with bars and controls more like those found on mountain bikes. Hybrids and drop-bar commuter bikes are also great for exploring country lanes and bike paths at the weekend.

If your goals are a bit sportier, but still on tarmac, then you should be looking at road racing bikes, or sportive bikes. Both have drop handlebars for a variety of hand positions and aerodynamics, but a sportive bike will have a more upright riding position and usually a wider range of gears. If you want to head out onto the trails, then a mountain bike is the way to go. Perhaps you're already into outdoor sports and you want to get deeper into the countryside, or you fancy zooming round your local trail centre or bikepark. Either way, you need an upright, wide position for control, big tyres with lots of grip, a big range of gears, and powerful brakes.

Not confident of your fitness or want a little help getting up the hills? Take a look at electric bikes. The latest advances in battery and motor design mean that electric bikes offer a genuine advantage especially when it comes to easing hills and zipping away from the lights. If you're planning 'mixed-mode' trips, like a commute that involves a train ride, then a folding bike may be perfect for you, nothing beats their convenience or ease of parking. You can't sneak a full-size bike on a rush hour train or under your desk.Most decent quality folding bikes are almost as quick and as comfortable as regular bikes.

If you're not going very far, and you live somewhere flat, the classic English sit up style would be ideal, some models varying from single speed, 3 speed all the way up to 27 speed depending again on where you plan to ride. Younger riders will need specific kids' bikes. It's worth buying quality if you possibly can. Cheap kids bikes tend to be extraordinarily heavy and very poorly made, whereas if you spend a bit more your child gets a lighter bike that holds its resale value when he or she outgrows it.

Set your budget

Real bikes cost from around £200 upwards. You can get bikes that cost less, but they're almost always poor quality. A bike costing £200 or more will be relatively light, so it's easy to load into the car or carry up to a flat; it'll have brakes and gears that work well; and its wheels will be straight and will stay that way. Most importantly, it will be durable. Theproblem with cheap bikes is that even if they work well when they're new, they rarely stay that way. You should expect to wheel a bike out of the shop fully assembled and ready to ride. Cheap bikes often have to be assembled by the buyer. This requires a level of knowledge that is beyond most people. The result is a home-built bike that's actually unsafe and dangerous to ride.

Get the right size and test ride

Bikes come in different frame sizes to match your leg length and height. Bike size is quoted as the length of the seat tube (the frame part where the saddle is mounted), some manufacturers use Extra Small - Extra Large and some use measurements, such 15", 17", 53cm, 56cm as an example. Getting the size right is important. A bike that's too large will be ungainly and possibly dangerous, while you won't be able to get the saddle high enough for comfortable pedalling if the bike is too small. You should be able to stand over the frame of it with your feet flat on the floor and a few centimetres' clearance between your body and the bike. You need more clearance if you've chosen a mountain bike and you're going to ride it off road, so you have space for rapid dismounts. You should be able to raise the saddle so you have a comfortable reach to the pedals with your knee just shy of straight when the pedal is at the bottom of its rotation. The tube supporting the saddle is called the seatpost and will have a mark to indicate its maximum safe extension. Don't raise it above this. If you need to raise the saddle this high, you need a larger frame. Frame size doesn't just indicate how tall the bike is. As frames get bigger, they also get longer, so if a bike is the wrong size for you, the reach to the handlebars will be too short or too long, both of which quickly get uncomfortable. It's tempting to go for a very small mountain bike frame to maximise clearance, but this proportionality means you may find a small bike is too short and the bars too low. You will always be advised of the correct size by one of the members of staff, they have all been in the trade a long time, so they will have a better idea of what you need, rather than what your friend has told you what you need.
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