How to choose the perfect bike
Cycling should be a lasting love affair, and there are easy ways to find your Bike Charming, says On Your Bike co-owner Michelle Chappell
If the story of Cinderella taught us anything, it’s the importance of the perfect fit. And it turns out that what’s important for glass slippers, is even more important when it comes to choosing a bike. The right one can see you conquering your fitness goals, covering countryside miles with your family and effortlessly shooting past the traffic. The wrong one could be the most expensive shed ornament you’ve ever bought, or worse, cause you injury.
Think about what you need in a bike
It’s funny that for such a pricey purchase many people are happy to dash into a shop and choose the first one to take their fancy. But there’s a lot to think about.
‘People often come in with a strong belief of what they want, if they’ve spoken to friends or had a quick look online,’ says Michelle Chappell, co-owner of the cycling shop chain On Your Bike. ‘They’ll say: “my friends have told me I need this or I have read online that I should buy this particular brand, or I must have carbon, or drop handlebars or front suspension,” the list goes on.
‘Or they’ll have a bike that they’ve bought online or been given by a friend, and have no idea about the huge range of subtle changes which can be made to a bike to find the right fit. Such advice is always well intended and often very accurate, but it is important to note that friends’ experience of a bike can be the complete opposite to yours. Your body shape; the length of your body, arms and legs; fitness and intended use may well mean that the very same bike could be incredibly uncomfortable.’
In fact, once you know what to look for, it’s quite worrying how many of us are riding around on the wrong sized frames or styles of bike. However, small changes, such as moving the handlebars or changing the saddle height, can save you a great deal of pain, and a good independent bike shop can help you to get set up correctly to get the best out of your ride.
What are you hoping for in a bike?
So how can you get it right? ‘It’s important to know what you’re going to be using the bike for primarily, and what you need from it,’ says Michelle. ‘If you’re using it mostly on the road for commuting, but also want to ride down footpaths which may get a bit muddy at the weekends, then you should mention that to the person selling you your bike. It may lead you to a different choice, instead of an urban rigid fork hybrid, you may be better with one that has front suspension and lock out on the forks to enable a better ride on the road.
‘It’s our job to build a picture of your life, to guide you to the bike that’s right for you. It’s a gradual process.’ That’s why the On Your Bike stores in East Grinstead, London Borough Market and Birmingham are set up for a full family day out. The East Grinstead Store has been known to serve Pimms and ice pops on hot days, and has a customer lounge where you can enjoy complimentary fresh coffee, tea and snacks, while younger cyclists can entertain themselves with some colouring. And the staff understand that buying a bike – and making the investment that entails – is not necessarily a decision to be made in one day. Michelle recommends test riding the bike you’re interested in, and a good bike shop should be asking you to try out a few choices so that you can feel which bike is best for you.
THE BEST QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN CHOOSING YOUR BIKE
- What do I want to do with the bike?
- Where will I be using it and how often?
- Does it have a secondary use? Eg. primarily I’ll use it for commuting, but I also want to go out into the countryside with my partner every so often.
- Do I have any injuries that could be exacerbated by cycling? Or any weaknesses in my body?
- Do I have any ideas about whether I would suit a road, mountain or hybrid bike?
- How much money am I willing to spend?
Getting the right fit for your bike
Once you’ve got down to the nitty gritty of what your bike is to be used for, if you’re aware of an injury, it’s worth mentioning to the staff when you go for a bike fitting. ‘We put customers on a trainer to watch them ride, and we’ll start to see things like a shoulder that drops, or a knee that bows out to one side, which highlights injuries or weaknesses,’ says Michelle. There are lots of simple, small changes that can be made, such as setting cleats to a new angle, or taking a Pilates class to help improve your posture. a a f As for knowing when you’ve found ‘the one’? Whether you’re spending a few quid, or thousands, ultimately it’s a balance between your head and your heart. ‘There are two sides to getting it right: science and emotion,’ says Michelle. ‘Essentially once you’ve got the technical specifications right – that it’s a match for your abilities and what you want to use it for – then it comes down to how you feel.’ If you’re comfortable and it looks great, then you’ve met your perfect match. Ultimately, when choosing a bike, find an advisor you trust, be as honest as possible, and keep an open mind. And that just leaves you and your bike to live happily ever after.
More about On Your Bike
On Your Bike is a family-owned and run business with shops in London, Birmingham and East Grinstead. Robert Chappell began On Your Bike in 1980 using his friend’s basement in a stationery shop in Eastcheap during his lunch break whilst working at Barclays Bank. Initially he would build wheels and sell them mail order. He then left the bank and borrowing his first rent payment from his mum at the age of 23, opened the first On Your Bike Store in Duke Street Hill at London Bridge. This store moved to larger premises in Tooley Street, which was one of the largest independent bike stores in London for over 30 years up until recently when the redevelopment of London Bridge Station forced a move of the store to its new location in Borough Market. At On Your Bike staff have a passion for and an emphasis on great customer service, matching people of all ages up with their perfect bikes, scooters, helmets and other accessories. It carries brands across a wide range of prices, including Whyte, Orro, Marin, Frog, Cannondale, Brompton, Wisper,Trek, DiamondBack and Raleigh. It also has workshop facilities and an enormous bike rental and hire fleet – so there’s not a lot that its staff don’t know about all things cycling!