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.

Touring Packing List, What to bring for all levels of bike touring

Every year our minds begin to wonder to cycling camping and those longer weekend adventures. Never been cycling touring? Not really sure where to start? Use this packing list to help you get started.

Essentials – always take on all rides

  • Pump (ideally a universal Presta / Schrader): both puncture repair, and periodic top-up of pressure
  • Spare inner tube of correct size: Quick road-side puncture repair (keep the punctured tube and repair it later), Puncture repair where old inner tube is beyond repair, e.g. broken valve
  • Puncture repair kit, incl. spanner for wheel nuts if required: Puncture repairs where spare inner tube is not available or has already been used
  • Tyre levers: Removal (but not replacement!) of tyre
  • Zip ties (cable ties) of assorted sizes: Emergency road-side repair of pannier racks, mudguards, bags, anything that needs tying together temporarily

Cycle touring+ (for the more adventurous of you)

  • Zip ties (cable ties) of assorted sizes: Emergency road-side repair of pannier racks, mudguards, bags, anything that needs tying together temporarily
  • Small bottle of oil: Periodic chain lubrication
  • Small rag: Chain cleaning
  • Allen keys: Adjustments and repairs
  • Screwdrivers: Adjustment of derailleurs and brakes
  • Chain tool: Repair of broken chain
  • Spoke key: Re-truing of wheels, temporary repair or buckled wheels
  • A good multi-tool will combine all of the above four items – e.g. the Topeak Hexus X does, as well as having built-in tyre levers – www.topeak.com

  • Adjustable spanner (if needed): Wheel nuts (normally 15mm, but sometimes 13, 14 or 16mm – check your bike)

Off-road or remote cycle holiday (when the kitchen sink just wont fit)

  • Two or three M5 allen bolts (maybe 12mm – 16mm lengths) with washers and nyloc nuts: Reattachment or repair of mudguards, luggage racks etc.
  • Sticky tape, e.g. PVC insulation tape: Temporary repair of cables, luggage
  • A small strip of strong but flexible plastic, e.g. a section of old toothpaste tube or milk carton: Temporary use inside a split or ripped tyre to prevent the inner tube from bulging out
  • Spare spokes of correct length(s) + nipples: Replacement of broken spokes, Use on camp fire as barbecue skewers
  • Compact cassette or freewheel removal tool of correct type: Removal of cassette or freewheel to enable replacement of drive-side spoke
  • Gear cable (inner), pre-cut and soldered: Replacement of broken gear cable
  • Brake cable (inner and outer set) with ferrules, pre-cut and soldered: Replacement of broken brake cable, Emergency use as outer gear cable
  • Chain link (tool-free type), e.g. SRAM, KMC Missing Link: Easy replacement of damaged chain link
  • Spare brake blocks or pads: Replacement of worn or damaged brake blocks
  • First aid kit: Emergency repair of rider!

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 (www.soldsecure.com), 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 www.cycleguard.co.uk or www.eta.co.uk – 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 www.immobilise.com – 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 www.jakesbikes.co.uk/video-tube
  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.

Ten top tips for longevity

On a bike that’s used every day for commuting a certain amount of wear and tear is inevitable, but there’s a lot you can do to slow down the process – and most of these tips will not only save on maintenance costs, they’ll make the bike more efficient and pleasurable to ride too.

1. Keep your tyres inflated

Riding on soft tyres will cause the sidewalls to crack and split, and also makes punctures more likely. All inner tubes are slightly porous and go flat over time, so check your tyre pressures every week, and expect to pump them up at least monthly. Having a good full-size track pump at home or work really helps!

2. Wipe and lube the chain regularly

Every week or two, check to see if the chain seems dry or dirty. If so, lean the bike against a wall and give the chain a wipe with a rag whilst backpedalling, and then apply chain oil sparingly. Then once the oil has had a chance to soak down into all the cracks in the chain, give it a wipe again with a clean bit of rag to remove any surface oil. This way the chain will always be lubricated, but never too dirty or oily. Little and often is the key.

3. Lube your cables

On almost all modern bikes, there are slots in the cable guides on the frame to allow the cables to be removed for cleaning and oiling without having to fully disconnect them or use any tools at all. I suggest you pop the gear and brake cables out every few months and lube them with a little normal chain oil. This not only stops them rusting, it also prevents the plastic liners from getting worn out, and makes the brakes and gears feel nice and slick to use!

4. Lube your mechs

Even easier than lubing the cables – simply put a drip of oil on each pivot of the front and rear derailleurs (mechs). What we’re aiming for is to lube every moving part of both mechs, so if in doubt just watch what moves when you change gear and then oil it. Change gear a few times afterwards to allow the oil to soak in, then wipe down the mech with a rag to clean off any excess oil. This will prevent the mechs from corroding, and will slow the rate of wear right down.

5. Check and adjust your brakes

Brake blocks wear out with use. They are cheap to replace, so no problems there. But if, as they wear, they come into contact with the tyres, very quickly a hole will be worn into the tyre sidewall, meaning that the tyre and probably the tube will have to be replaced. And if the brake blocks completely wear out, or pick up some gravel or debris, they can wear out the rim requiring a whole new wheel. So if you have normal rim brakes and they start making a funny noise, check it immediately (a squeak or squeal doesn’t matter, but a scraping or grinding noise definitely does!)

6. Fit mudguards

How does this effect the longevity of the bike? As well as protecting you from mud and water, mudguards will prevent the chain, gears and brakes from getting so dirty too. Less grit and water means less wear and corrosion, which the chain will definitely appreciate in the long term.

7. Get your hubs and headset serviced

Every year or two on more expensive bikes it makes sense to have your bike’s main bearing systems disassembled and re-greased instead of having to replace them when they rust or dry out, potentially at a cost of a couple of hundred pounds. Just give us a call if you’d like to book your bike in for a bearings service.

8. Don’t store your bike outside

Even the most expensive bikes have a steel chain and bearings which will rust if exposed to rain or moisture. Keeping your bike indoors if at all possible is ideal; if not then a shed or bike store is sufficient, or get a good quality bike cover as a bare minimum.

9. Don’t stomp on the pedals

Getting into a high gear and standing up on the pedals is not only a good way to wear our your knees, it also wears your chain much more quickly too. Much better to get used to shifting into a lower gear and then spinning the pedals faster but with less force. This is biomechanically more efficient, and is also kinder on the bike’s gear system too.

10. Change into a larger rear sprocket

As above, it’s better to spin the pedals fast than stomp on them slowly. To achieve this you could change into the smallest chainring on the front. But this would mean a higher chain tension, and could easily lead to over-use of the smaller sprockets on the rear. A much better way of achieving exactly the same gear ratio is to change into a larger sprocket on the rear. This means lower chain tension, less wear on the chain and teeth, and more efficient power transfer.

What is the best frame material for your bike?

“The best frame material really depends on what you’re going to use the bike for, and what you want to prioritise” says Jake Voelcker, designer of Bristol Bicycles’ frames and forks. “Is it low weight? Or is it strength and durability? Or is it the appearance of the bike?”

Is steel real?

“A lot of people talk about steel frames being comfortable. They say there’s an inherent springiness or suspension in a steel frame, and that aluminium frames are too harsh or too rigid.” Perhaps controversially, Jake disagrees: “That’s completely not true” he says. “It’s a bit of a myth that’s built up around the whole ‘steel is real’ and ‘steel is better’ and ‘steel bikes are much more comfortable’ thing, but it’s not true and I’ll show you exactly why.” For a frame to be comfortable or to have any degree of suspension, it has to be able to flex in a vertical direction, and the only way that a frame can actually do this is if it’s broken. “That sounds surprising, but because the front and the rear triangles of the bike frame are completely triangulated, there’s no way that they can flex. There’s no way that they can absorb a vertical bump from the road unless the frame is actually broken.” Jake goes on to explain that the supposed comfort of a steel frame is actually entirely in the fork. Because the fork is only attached at the top, it’s effectively a long lever and so there’s a lot of flex possible (in both the fork and the steerer tube). “That gives a high degree of vertical flex exactly where you want it for suspension” says Jake. “So a steel frame isn’t any more comfortable. What you want from the frame is stiffness and strength to be able to carry luggage and to resist pedalling forces particularly when you’re accelerating or going uphill.”

Why do Bristol Bicycles use aluminium frames?

The advantages of an aluminium frame are twofold. The first is that aluminium is a much lighter material. The second advantage of an aluminium frame is that when it’s correctly designed it’s a lot stiffer than a steel frame.

Are there any disadvantages?

“I’ve heard people say that for a expedition bike or for a touring bike there’s going to be used for a round-the-world trip they would always choose steel because at least if the worst comes to the worst, steel can be repaired” says Jake. “Aluminium, because it needs expensive industrial heat-treating after it’s been welded, basically can’t be repaired if it ever breaks.” The problem is that a steel bike frame of any quality is going to be very thin walled tubing and a pretty specialised alloy of steel which is very difficult to weld. “Anybody who’s used to working on farmyard equipment (or welding car chassis, or that sort of place where you would take the bike to be repaired if you were stuck in the middle of nowhere) isn’t going to have any more luck welding steel than they are welding aluminium because the type of steel that quality bike frames are made from needs very skilled, pretty low temperature brazing rather than agricultural welding technologies.”


For Bristol Bicycles we’ve gone for the best of both worlds. On the one hand we use an aluminium frame which is both lighter and stiffer, but on the other hand we use a steel fork which gives a nice degree of built-in suspension through its inherent flexibility.

Disc Brakes or Rim Brakes?

This is a question we often get asked, and there are several considerations to take into account before making a decision.


The advantages of rim brakes (whether V-brakes or calipers) are:

  • Simplicity
  • Lower overall weight
  • Lower purchase price compared to discs
The disadvantages are:
  • Lower power in wet weather
  • The need for fairly frequent brake pad replacement
  • Over time rim brakes will wear out your wheel rims
  • There is also the danger with rim brakes that a worn or misaligned brake block can come into contact with the tyre, quickly wearing a hole in the sidewall.

disc brakes

The advantages of disc brakes are:

  • Higher power
  • Reliability in all weathers,
  • Low running costs (usually) thanks to long-lasting pads and the fact that they don’t wear out your wheels.
The disadvantages can include:
  • Higher initial purchase cost
  • Susceptibility to contamination by oil or dirt
  • Many disc brakes are harder for the average user to repair if anything does go wrong

The conclusions we’ve come to at Bristol Bicycles are these:

Cheap disc brakes are awful, so for any bike with a purchase price below £500 or £600 we’d recommend a model with V-brakes or calipers instead. A £400 bike will be supplied with either cheap and nasty disc brakes, or good quality V-brakes or callipers – and I know which I’d prefer!

For an average-distance commute on a ‘normal’ bike, rim brakes are probably best. If you’re not doing a huge mileage the brakes probably won’t wear out your rims for several years, and although you will need new brake blocks more often than with disc brakes, these aren’t expensive. Rim brakes are also easier to adjust and maintain than discs for the average user.

For a high-mileage commuting bike, disc brakes make good sense. They should be cheaper to maintain in the long run, thanks mainly to not wearing out your wheels rims. The potential disadvantages are contaminated brake pads and the possibility of costly repairs if the brakes are ever damaged (especially for hydraulic models), but generally reasonable quality disc brakes should be ‘fit-and-forget’ apart from changing the pads every few thousand miles, and eventually replacing the disc rotors if they wear thin.

Disc Brakes on Touring Bikes

Disc brakes are also becoming an increasingly popular option for cycle touring. The greater power, all-weather performance, and lack of wheel rim wear are very beneficial on a high-mileage, heavily-laden touring bike. The major disadvantage can be serviceability in the field. On an expedition to remote locations, the simplicity and ease of maintenance of rim brakes can literally be a life-saver. Leaking hydraulic fluid or worn out brake discs with no spares available would be a serious problem in some parts of the world.

For a touring bike used in Europe, North America, and more developed areas of the rest of the world, disc brakes are usually a really good option. For a round-the-world trip which includes travel through some pretty remote and undeveloped areas, rim brakes are probably a more sensible and less risky choice.