What bike should I buy?

This post is designed to give genuinely helpful advice, wherever you buy a bike. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to get more people cycling, so this is not a sales pitch to persuade you to buy a bike from Bristol Bicycles! It is simply impartial advice on both new and used bikes, no matter where you choose to buy yours.
For normal everyday cycling, commuting, city riding, and even light cycle touring we recommend hybrid bikes. They are an ideal balance between the ruggedness of a mountain bike and the efficiency of a road bike. As long as it’s of reasonable quality, a hybrid is a very good all-rounder thanks to the wide range of gears, good brakes and ability to carry luggage.

There are various different flavours of hybrid available: some are lighter and faster but maybe less practical (sometimes called flat-bar road bikes or fitness bikes), some are heavier with fatter tyres and suspension forks (trekking bikes), some are based on mountain bike dimensions but are fitted with slick tyres for road use (urban mountain bikes or comfort bikes).

A typical hybrid bike with basic but good quality components

How much to spend?

Once you’ve decided roughly what type of bike would suit you, the price is generally a pretty good indication of whether you’re getting a model of suitable quality or not.

Nowadays most big manufacturers offer many different categories of bike, so it’s not really possible to say “Brand A make good bikes” or “Brand B are low quality”: in truth both offer everything from very cheap to very expensive models. See the price guide below for advice on how much to spend on a bike that will best suit your purposes.

But first a warning: please, please, please do not buy a bike from a supermarket, mail order website, or department store for £99.99 or £149.99 or even £199.99. It will be heavy and uncomfortable, will start rusting in a few months, and if used regularly many parts will be broken and dangerous after only a year or two. At this price, your money is much better spent on a good second-hand bike. Don’t just take our word for it, see e.g. http://www.whycycle.co.uk, http://bicycleshapedobject.wordpress.com or http://tinyurl.com/actbso2

New hybrid bike price guide

  • £400 new bike: Decent commuter and hybrid bikes start at this price, but avoid extras like suspension or disc brakes: far better to get an honest, no-frills bike with basic but good components. We suggest you should not spend less than £400 on a new bike (plus the cost of any accessories). Anything cheaper is likely to be a false economy because soon you’ll end up spending more on repairs.
  • £600 new bike: Spending around £600 on a new hybrid bike usually means the components and specification will be better than on a £400 model. This can make the bike lighter or nicer to ride, or it can mean upgrades like good quality disc brakes. The higher price can also help to ensure the bike lasts longer, for example because of stronger wheels and hubs, better bearings, or puncture-resistant tyres.
  • £600+ new bike: Don’t assume that more expensive always means more reliable: for example, above say £800 or £900 some hybrids will be lighter and faster, but possibly more fragile, more expensive to repair, and more of a theft-risk than e.g. a £500 model. (If, on the other hand, you’re buying a new mountain bike, tourer or road bike we recommend you should not spend less than £600; anything cheaper is likely a false economy because you’ll spend more on servicing or upgrades. But for hybrid bikes, above a certain threshold a higher price can actually mean less longevity and practicality).
If you are buying a new bike for commuting purposes, see our “5 questions to ask” blog post for some tips on what to look out for, and what questions to ask the retailer.

Used bike price guide

On a budget of less than £400, we suggest buying a reconditioned bike instead. But beware buying stolen, worn out or damaged used bikes – avoid private sellers unless you really know what to look our for, and buy from a reputable shop or charity project.

  • £100 used bike: If you’re on a very tight budget, around £100 might buy a basic bike from a bike recycling project – and could easily prove more reliable and cost-effective than spending £100 on a brand new mail order or supermarket bike! But if used daily, plan on having to upgrade within a year or two.
  • £150 used bike: Bike recycling projects and some used bike shops offer serviced or reconditioned bikes for this price – typically older hybrid bikes or very basic mountain bikes. In this price bracket, the bikes may have quite some wear-and-tear, but could offer a few years of use if well maintained.
  • £250 used bike: this price should buy a fully reconditioned hybrid bike from a reputable bike recycling project or used bike shop, that was £400 or £500 when new. A bike of this type would probably be ideal for regular commuting, with only normal maintenance required.

What if I don’t want a hybrid bike?

Hybrid bikes really do suit most people, most of the time. The only potential practical disadvantages of a hybrid are: wheel rims which wear out in a few years or a few thousand miles (unless you have disc brakes), a chain which wears more quickly than on a Dutch bike (see our “Lifetime cost of bike ownership” blog), and the inability to fit a chaincase. But in a hilly city like Bristol the low weight and wide range of gears mean a hybrid is ideal, even with these potential drawbacks.

But sometimes a hybrid just won’t fit the bill. What if you have very limited storage space, need more off-road ability, or just want a speed machine without worrying about luggage or mudguards?

Alternatives to a hybrid bike include:

  • Mountain bikes: normally heavier and slower on-road, but if fitted with slick tyres and no suspension many can be as used as a hybrid. Some mountain bikes do not have the option to fit mudguards or luggage racks. Can also be more expensive to maintain.
  • Folding bikes: easier to store in small places and ideal for taking on the train, but more expensive than an equivalent non-folding bike, and able to carry less luggage. Fewer gears, and the small wheels and tyres will wear out more quickly with frequent use.
  • Touring/gravel/adventure bikes: more expensive than a hybrid, but just as versatile and practical; good if you prefer drop handlebars.
  • Road bikes/racers: lighter and quicker, but often with limited options for mudguards and luggage racks, and generally not as comfortable or practical for everyday city riding in traffic, wet weather, bumpy roads etc. Can also be more expensive to maintain.
  • Dutch/City bikes: normally already equipped with mudguards, rack, lights & chainguard, Dutch bikes are even more practical than a hybrid. They can also be very reliable and long-lived thanks to their hub brakes and gears, and full chaincase. But Dutch bikes are normally very heavy, have a smaller range of gears, and are pricier to buy.