Buying a new bike and what to look for

Buying a bike can be a minefield. What style? What size? What colour?!! But even once you’ve settled on e.g. a £450 hybrid bike, not all are equal once we get down to details. Manufacturers and (some) bike retailers will be tempted to skimp on components or build quality in areas where they think nobody is looking. So here are five crafty questions to sort the good, reliable commuting machines from all the others.

Question 1

Is it a freewheel- or a cassette-type rear wheel? The cassette design pretty much eliminates any chance of a bent or broken rear axle. This makes for a good, reliable bike that will cope with pot-holes and cobbles, even if you’ve got a couple of panniers full of shopping.

Freewheels on the other hand are a bit dated now, and are only really used on kids’ bikes and budget adult models. Unless you are a very light rider, never carry luggage, and always manage to avoid bumps and kerbs, I suggest you steer clear of freewheel-type rear wheels.

Surprisingly, some bikes in the £350+ price bracket still come with freewheels. If you don’t want to run the risk of shelling out £80 or £100 to upgrade to a cassette wheel when your axle bends, check that the bike is freewheel-free before buying. (This question applies to all derailleur-geared bikes but can be ignored if you are buying a hub-geared model or a singlespeed or fixie).

Question 2

How many spokes does each wheel have? Racing bikes and mountain bikes typically have 32 spokes (or fewer) per wheel for aerodynamics and lower weight, but for reliability and weight-carrying capability you really want 36.

It’s a subtle detail, but one that should mean fewer broken spokes in the long run. And if a bike has 36-spoke wheels it may show the manufacturer has prioritised strength and longevity over sporting pretensions or insignificant weight saving. (If saving 43g and pretending to be a pro athlete is your thing, you’re probably reading the wrong information sheet here!)

Question 3

Are they double-walled wheel rims? Can you detect a wheel-related theme here? With good reason: the rear wheel is probably the single most oft-broken component of a commuting bike, and one of the most expensive parts to replace.

As with the spokes question above, what we’re trying to establish here is how strong the wheels are and how long they’re likely to last with everyday knocks and bumps. A double-walled rim has much more inherent strength than a single-walled one, in effect being a rigid box-section instead of a flexible flat sheet of metal. Good quality single-walled rims may be acceptable for lighter riders provided they are 36-spoke wheels and properly finished by hand (see 5 below), but they will still bend a lot more easily if you hit a kerb or pot-hole.

Question 4

Can I fit mudguards and a pannier rack? All commuting bikes should be capable of having full-length mudguards and a luggage rack fitted. Mudguards protect not only the rider, but also the bike’s chain and derailleurs from mud and water, reducing corrosion and wear.

Many road bikes have barely enough room to squeeze a mudguard in between the tyre and the frame, thereby guaranteeing that annoying rubbing noises will be a perpetual problem.

Incredibly, a few hybrid bikes have the same issue. If there isn’t room to fit your finger between the tyre and frame or the fork, there isn’t really enough room for a proper mudguard. Likewise, if there aren’t bolt holes for fitting a pannier rack, just walk away. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car without a boot would you?

Question 5

Have you fully stripped, reassembled and serviced the bike? Now this is a nasty little trick question. They’ll probably hate you for asking this. What you are asking is not “have you assembled the bike” or “have you checked the bike” (what in the trade is known as a PDI or Pre-Delivery Inspection).

What you need to ask is “have you fully stripped down and reassembled the bike?”. Unfortunately not many retailers do, but it is an important question that can make a big difference to reliability and longevity. This work should certainly include stress-relieving and retrueing the wheels and adding grease to the wheel bearings and headset, and ideally should include removal, greasing and refitting the cranks and bottom bracket as well.

It’s difficult to tell visually whether this work has been done or not, so it basically comes down to whether you trust the retailer. Of course it is possible to have all this done at a bike shop as a stand-alone job, but that would effectively add approximately £60 to the price of your new bike.

So in summary, your five-point checklist is:

  1. Cassette good, freewheel bad!
  2. At least 36 spokes per wheel.
  3. Double-walled rims: yes please.
  4. Rackable and mudguardable?
  5. Has the bike been fully stripped and reassembled by the retailer?

Happy shopping!

Bike Locks, What to look for and why you need one

Unfortunately bike theft is still an issue. Locking your bike up is one of the most important aspects of owning a bike, even if you just pop into a shop it’s worth that extra 10 minutes of your time to make sure your bike is safe. Here’s a crash course in all things security.

Cable Locks

Do not use a cable lock as your only anti-theft precaution. Even the thickest cable locks can be cut in a matter of seconds by a thief armed with small bolt croppers. Always use a D-lock or chain as your main lock. Cable locks are useful for securing components such as the front wheel or saddle which could be stolen, but should only be used in conjunction with a D-lock or chain to secure the frame and wheel(s). Also avoid combination locks – these can be forced open much more easily than a proper lock with a key.

D-Locks and Chain Locks

A large, hardened steel chain and really good quality padlock are arguably the best protection available, but are heavy and awkward to carry. A D-lock (also known as a U-lock or shackle lock) is almost as secure, and is much easier to carry around. However, this is not to say that D-locks are invulnerable to attack.

Thieves can sometimes use a car jack to prise open even a good D-lock. To protect yourself against this possibility, try to ‘fill up’ the whole D-lock shackle by locking it around as many parts of the bicycle frame, wheel, and bike stand/lamp post/railings as possible. This way, there will be no space for the thief to get a car jack far enough into the shackle to prise it open.

Not all D-locks and padlocks are equal. If you buy an £11.99 lock from a superstore or discount website you can expect to have your bike stolen. A cheap and nasty lock can be identified by its plasticky cover and easily picked mechanism (which has a key that looks like a conventional house key for a Yale lock). Also, cheap D-locks have a thinner shackle and most have the key hole at one end, whereas on the better D-locks the key is inserted in the middle.

In the UK locks are independently certified by Sold Secure (, with three standards: Gold (which is supposed to withstand 5 minutes of attack from a thief), Silver (3 minutes) or Bronze (1 minute). However, in laboratory conditions some experts have managed to break Gold certified locks in less than 30 seconds so the Sold Secure standards should be treated with a little caution. As a rule, when buying a D-lock or padlock chain you should spend 10% to 15% of the original new value of your bike or £25, whichever is greater.

Where to Lock

Always lock your bike to an immovable object. Do not lock it to a bollard or even a sign post if the top of the post is slim enough for a thief to simply lift the bicycle and lock over. Beware railings: some steel railings are thin enough for a thief to cut through them fairly easily, and old iron railings will crack or shatter if hit with a hammer. Much better to lock your bike to a lamp post, sign post or proper bicycle stand.

Only lock your bike somewhere public and well-lit – and preferably alongside a more expensive-looking bike! There is no way of absolutely preventing theft, but if you can make it difficult for thieves they probably won’t bother, particularly if there is something else nearby which is more attractive and/or easier to steal.

How to Lock

Some locks are vulnerable to being picked. Always place the lock so that the key hole faces downwards and away from easy access, and if possible pass the lock through the bike frame and wheel in such a way that it cannot be turned around to reveal the key hole. This might make it a little more difficult for you to lock and unlock with your key, but it will make it much more difficult for a thief to see what they are doing if they try to pick the lock.

Replace your quick-release wheel skewers with bolted or nutted ones to protect against wheel theft. We have these in stock (from £9 per pair), and they only take 2 minutes to fit. Or go for the home-made solution and use jubilee clips or P-clips to clamp your quick release levers closed against the frame and fork.

How to Carry a Cycle Lock Safely

Do not carry your bike lock dangling from your handlebars. This can damage the brake and gear cables, and could interfere with the operation of the front brake, wheel or steering. Instead use the bracket provided, or securely attach your lock to a pannier rack, or just carry it in a rucksack or pannier. Remember to oil your bike lock once in a while – just drip a bit of oil into the key hole to keep it all working sweetly.

Insurance, Bike Registration and Crime Reporting

If you have house contents insurance, it’s often free or fairly cheap to add your bike to that – but make sure that the cover extends outside the home (normally they add your bike as a “named item” of a specific value). Or if you need cycle insurance, we recommend either or – insurance premiums start at around £25 per year. Many insurers demand a specific quality of bike lock, often one with a Silver rating (see above).

It’s well worth registering your bike (for free) on – the database used by the police to track stolen goods, so if your bike gets stolen and then recovered, the police can reunite you with it.

Finally, it is important to report the crime to the police if your bike is stolen, for three reasons: it allows you to make an insurance claim for it; it means that if the police do ever recover it (or if you even spot your bike being ridden by someone else!) it will be much easier to claim it back with a pre-existing crime reference number; and it means that the true level of bike theft will be recorded which should help persuade the authorities that this is a serious crime problem which needs tackling.



Home Maintenance

A commonly asked question in the store is how do I know that my bike needs servicing, or how often should I get it checked? Well here you go, a comprehensive list of what to look out for and what you can do to prolong the life of your bike.

Each time you cycle it’s worth just giving the brakes a squeeze to check they feel OK before setting off, and spin the pedals backwards to check the bike is in gear and doesn’t have a bent derailleur or other gear issue. Then as you ride if you notice anything rattling, grinding or making a noise it’s always worth investigating for safety’s sake and because a problem discovered early and nipped in the bud is often less costly to fix.

On a regularly used bike, every week or two:

  • Inspect the tyres for damage and give them a squeeze to check the pressure;
  • Check both wheels’ quick releases are tight;
  • Check the condition and position of brake blocks;
  • Check the chain and wipe down and oil if needed (see below).

Every 3 months or so:

  • Check the wheel rims and brake blocks for wear, and make sure they’re not rubbing on the tyre
  • Check and lube gear and brake cables, and adjust if required. There are numerous online videos about how to do basic adjustments to brakes and gears.

It’s important to get the bike professionally serviced at least annually, and more often if it’s used regularly. Any unresolved problems or unusual noises, rattles etc. spotted in the meantime should also be investigated by a mechanic.

Proper lubrication of your bike chain

If your chain squeaks or makes a ‘hissing’ sound as you pedal it probably requires oiling. Several types of oil are available. Conventional ‘wet’ oil is a good choice but attracts dirt if too much is applied. ‘Dry’ oil is thinner and evaporates after it is applied, leaving a low-friction coating (e.g. Teflon) on the chain. This stays clean but is easily washed off so must be reapplied often and is best for summer use. ‘Green Oil’ is an eco-friendly option, but it washes off quite easily, and in the long term it seems to cause a sticky build-up of greasy residue.

Before oiling the chain, wipe off any dirt: hold a rag around the lower length of chain and turn the pedals backwards. Then apply oil sparingly: backpedal whilst continuously applying a small amount of oil to the chain, avoiding the wheel rims and brakes. The aim is to lubricate the entire chain with a minimum of oil. There is no need to oil the cogs. Then take a clean rag and lightly wipe the chain to remove surface oil: lubrication is only required inside the chain links, excess oil is counter-productive as it will attract dirt.

A clean and lubricated chain is easier to pedal, less noisy, and will wear out less quickly. During a service the chain will be professionally cleaned using a degreaser which cleans the inside of each of the chain’s links.

The easy way to deal with punctures

You will need: tyre levers; a pump; a puncture repair kit; a spare inner tube; a spanner to remove wheel.

To fix the puncture:

  1. Remove the wheel from the bike (disconnecting the brakes if necessary to get the tyre past).
  2. Press the valve to deflate the Tyre completely if it is not already flat.
  3. Use two tyre levers to remove one complete bead (side) of the tyre from the wheel rim.
  4. Remove the old inner tube completely, roll it up and keep it for repair later (see below).
  5. Carefully check the inside of the tyre for thorns, glass, nails etc. Check the rim tape is intact.
  6. Slightly inflate the new inner tube and stuff it into the tyre all the way around, and then put the tyre back on the rim, one complete edge first, then the other. Do not use tyre levers as this can puncture the tube or damage the tyre. If the tyre is tight, deflate the tube and push the tyre’s edge downwards and inwards, into the centre of the wheel rim all the way around to gain an extra few millimeters of slack. See
  7. Put the wheel back on the bike, ensuring it is central, and tighten the nuts or quick release. Reconnect the brake and check the brake blocks do not rub on the tyre. Correctly centre the wheel if they do.
  8. When you get home:
  9. Inflate the old inner tube and listen for hissing. To find a slow puncture you may need to place the inner tube in a bucket of water and watch for bubbles.
  10. Dry off the inner tube. Rough up the whole area around the hole with a small piece of sandpaper.
  11. Apply tyre glue to an area larger than the patch and leave it for 10 minutes until it is no longer wet.
  12. Select a patch, remove the foil or plastic backing, and press the patch firmly onto the inner tube, especially around its edges. Leave the backing paper in place for 24hrs to allow the glue to dry fully.
  13. After removing the backing paper, dust chalk on the area to prevent it sticking to the inside of the tyre. You can now keep this inner tube as a spare for next time you have a puncture.

What kind of bike pump is best?

Portable hand-pumps are lightweight and compact, but aren’t really powerful enough to fully inflate a road bike’s tyres, and the modern hose-less designs tend to allow the valve to flex, easily bending it or breaking it off the inner tube. A floor pump or track pump solves these problems and is ideal to keep at home or work, but is too large to carry around. The simplest solution can be a mini track-pump, the best of both worlds!


Do not store your bike outside

Do not leave your bike out of doors on a permanent basis. Cheap bikes have many steel components which will rust within months. All bikes have steel bearings and chains which will rust if exposed to the elements. Other problems include corroded cables, degradation of tyres by sunlight, oil and grease being washed away, and risk of theft. If you do leave your bike outside, it should be protected by a bike shelter or quality tarpaulin.