buying a bike


~ Buying a Bike #1 ~

By Darrell Stone

You must decide how you want to use the bike. Will it only be ridden on bitumen surfaces, or only off road or a combination of both? Bitumen surfaces only are best for road bikes with mountain bikes catering for all types of off road or rough road riding. Cross bikes, also known as hybrids, cater for both off road and road riding within some limitations.

You then need to determine how much you are prepared to spend on the bike. Once this has been done, you may find that you are in the market for a new bike, or you would prefer a bike from the second hand market.

If you intend purchasing a new bike, NCM recommends that you go to a reputable specialist bike shop. They have experienced sales staff who are usually cyclists as well, and they provide after sales service. You should discuss your needs with them and let them know how much you are prepared to spend. They can then show you the bikes that will best suit your needs, your pocket and your body size. Once you have decided on the bike that you want, ask them to set it up to fit you correctly. It’s all a part of the service.

Many parents buy big bikes for their kids to “grow into”. A big bike is a dangerous bike and a kid riding a big bike might develop a poor attitude towards cycling simply because they cannot enjoy it as much as they can on a bike that fits them. In buying a bike the right size, realise that you will be buying more bikes for your child to accommodate their rate of growth. In this case buying a new bike is expensive, so keep a look-out for second hand bikes. A child must be able to touch the ground with their toes while they are sitting on the seat. (I have heard of bikes being purchased for kids who cannot even reach the pedals). Once they have bought their child a bike, parents have a responsibility to their children and the community to teach their child how to ride that bike properly and safely.

A rough guide as to bike fit for an adult is that you must be able to stand over the bike with both feet flat on the ground and be able to clear the cross bar by less than about 5 cm. Fitting for the length from the saddle to the handlebars is determined by placing your elbow at the front of the seat snout. With your arm in line with the top bar and your fingers extended, your finger tips should be roughly in line with where you will normally ride with your hands on the handlebars. Saddles are usually mounted so that the top is horizontal or tilted slightly forward, and the saddle height is determined approximately by having the leg almost straight when your heel is on the pedal at its lowest point.

You may have decided to purchase a second hand bike. It’s normal for a used bike to need some repairs; however, don’t buy one that has a damaged frame. It could be expensive to fix and potentially dangerous to ride. The following points could be taken as a guide on some of the things to check:

  • Check the frame and fork for cracks, bends, rust or paint wrinkles near tube intersections.
  • Sight the frame and forks from the sides to see whether they have been crash damaged.
  • Check for scratches that indicate crashes. Minor marks should not concern you; however, deep gouges on items such as the brake levers, pedals, handlebars, rear derailleur or saddle, could mean that they have been damaged and the frame bent.
  • Shift the chain onto the large chain ring at the pedals and try to lift it away from the front of the ring. If you can expose most of a tooth, the chain and probably several of the rear gears are worn and should be replaced. If the chain barely stays on the ring, the entire drive train may need to be replaced, and this can be expensive.
  • Spin each wheel and watch for rim buckles. Lateral movement of about 5 mm can be corrected. If there is more, or if the rim has a noticeable vertical movement, it may be bent.
  • Check bearings for roughness that could mean parts need to be replaced.

~ Buying a Bike for Recreational Cycling 2~
By Darrell Stone

Questions that you need to ask yourself so that you can clearly consider your needs and pass those needs onto the bike-shop sales rep.:

  • What is your price range?
  • What do you like about your existing bike?
  • What do you dislike about your existing bike?
  • Why do you want a new bike?
  • Do you want a power assisted bike (PAB)? Do you want it to be electric or petrol driven? Petrol PAB’s are not allowed on trains. If you decide to buy an electric bike, you need to ask:
    • ” What is the range of the bike under battery power, and how is that determined? (Remember that if you are heavier than the load used to determine the battery range, your maximum distance and speed will be reduced – and it can be substantially so.)
    • ” What is the replacement cost of the battery pack, and how long does one last? (They are not cheap!)
    • ” What is the all up weight of the bike? (Remember that you may need to carry it or put it on a car roof rack. If you plan to carry the bike on a roof rack, try lifting it above your head, both with and without batteries – you might need a rethink of transporting it.)
    • ” What is the period of warranty on the motor?
    • ” How are the wheels removed to repair a puncture? (When you are serious about a particular bike, ask to be shown how to do it before you buy it.)
    It is particularly important with a PAB that you take it for a test ride up hills of a gradient similar to that which you would normally ride. Some don’t like hill climbing, and the substantial additional weight becomes a penalty that you may have to carry up hills if the bike is not geared to climb hills.
  • Do you want to buy a tandem? It is wise to spend some hours riding a tandem before actually making the decision to buy one. This can be done by hiring or borrowing one and spending the day with your potential cycling partner. As tandem riding is very different from solo riding, it is best to find out whether you are both comfortable with tandem riding before spending the money. It is a very social way to enjoy cycling, but if both riders always want to be in command, then a tandem is not the right option. Then, having made the decision to purchase a tandem, consider the following:
    • Tandems require teamwork and good communication between the Captain and the Stoker. There must only be one decision-maker on board for the safety of both.
    • A tandem offers the opportunity for riders of different strengths to share their pleasure, with the stronger rider compensating for the weaker rider. This way they can cover more distance, and do it at a faster pace while enjoying one another’s company at the same time. Although, there can be days when solo bikes may be a better option!
    • Very few bike-shop staff have ridden tandems for any distance, or at all. Because of this, it is preferable to go to a bike shop where their staff are experienced tandemists. It can also have repercussions in the quality of bike repairs done to your precious bike. I have had many experiences where I have had to re-assemble our tandem after it had been to the bike shop to be fixed.
    • Consider the style of frame that you would prefer, although most manufacturers tend to produce direct lateral fames – which is a compromise between weight and stiffness. A ladyback frame (like a woman’s frame on the back half of the bike) is the least rigid, and should be avoided. If the sales rep is worth their salt, they should be able to explain the differences to you. Failing that, Richard Ballantine, in his book Richard’s New Bicycle Book, discusses the merits of each type, and the book is worth a read. Frame flexing on a tandem is a major issue. If the frame flexes a lot, some of your efforts are spent moving the frame, rather than getting maximum effort into moving forward, and this can make for hard riding.
    • Smaller wheels (26 inch) are stronger, but bigger wheels (700c) offer less rolling resistance.
    • The all up weight of bike and riders can be more than 200 kg. Add to that another 30+ kg of touring gear, and your tyres will be easily carrying up to ¼ tonne. Get good quality tyres. Similarly, the more spokes, the stronger the wheel.
    • Tandems tend not to be good hill climbers, due to the different abilities of the riders and the time on the pedal revolution that their individual power stroke comes in. Because of this, it is wise to get as wide a range as possible on the gears – low lows and high highs. Slow on hill climbing, but go like the clappers downhill and along the flat. Talk to the bike shop staff about this gearing need.
    • Braking on a tandem is different to a solo bike. Face plants just do not occur. Rim brakes can generate substantial heat due to the AUW (all-up-weight)of the bike and the fact that the brakes are the same surface area as those on a solo bike. In extreme cases, this can result in a tyre/s being blown off the rim at high speed. To minimise the potential for this, it is wise to attach a drag brake for long descents. It can be either disk or drum brake. Alternatively, you could just fit disks to both wheels.
    • If you intend to take the bike touring, remember that you can only carry a similar load on a tandem as you can on a solo bike, only it has to be for 2 people. You will need the biggest pannier bags that can safely be carried, and minimalist packing as well. This can be supplemented if you buy a trailer, which will carry about 30 kg – remember that you have to carry that additional load up the hills!
    • Tandems are awkward to store and transport because of their size.
    • Tandems require more physical effort by the Captain, both in steering and balancing, as well as making all of the traffic decisions and gear choices.
    • Some tandem components are specialist bits and not readily available, so where appropriate, it is wise to carry some spares. This is particularly so in the case of the long cables required for rear brakes and derailleurs.
    • The Stoker cannot see any bumps in the road ahead, so it is necessary the Captain to warn them so that they can adjust for it. To some extent this can be helped by the use of a suspension seat post.
  • Do you want a folding bike? Before buying, ask that its fold-up and re-assembly process be shown. It might not be as quick and easy as you have been led to believe.
  • Do you want flat handlebars, or would you also consider drop handlebars (road bike type)?
  • Do you want a rear rack?
  • Is it possible that you might want to go touring and that you might want a front rack? Generally, suspension forks do not readily fit front pannier racks, but talk to the bike shop staff about that.
  • Will you occasionally ride on gravel?
  • Do you wish to ride the bike on bush tracks?
  • How much riding do you expect to do each year on it? The more riding that you do, the more money you should spend to get a quality bike with suitable componentry.
  • Do you want disk brakes? (I don’t consider them necessary for NCM riding or touring on solo bikes.) If you do decide to get disk brakes, you will need to consider the merits of hydraulic vs cable operated components.
  • What type of tyres do you want? (Aggressive knobbly tyre treads are really only for off road. NCM rides can nearly always be done with minimal tread patterns. High pressure tyres offer low rolling resistance, as do smooth tyres.)
  • Do you want front suspension? (It is recommended that you consider a bike that has the ability to lock out the front suspension. Ask the bike shop for benefits and disadvantages of doing that.)
  • Do you want rear suspension? (Not recommended unless you will be frequently riding fast off road.)

Do you require a suspension seat post?

  • Do you need a women’s saddle?
  • What is your inside leg measurement and your reach measurement? Make sure that you have at least 3 cm clearance when you stand astride the bar.
  • What accessories do you want to include on the bike at the time of purchase? Eg, bar ends, computer, bell/hooter, water bidon cages, pannier rack/s, rack bags, handlebar bag, pannier bags, trailer, rear vision mirror, pump, cable lock, U-lock, car racks, tubes, puncture repair kit, emergency tools, etc.
  • If you intend to carry a rack bag on your rear pannier rack, it would be wise to consider purchasing one of the newer types that also has a lower railing on the side for the side bags as well. Often the presence of a rack bag makes carrying side bags difficult or near impossible.
  • You get what you pay for! Supermarket bikes are throw-aways. If you want a bike to last you for a few years, go to a reputable bike shop.

Things to remember when you walk into the bike shop:

  • Compare prices from other dealers. There are wide discrepancies in pricing amongst some of the shops in our area – and in some cases up to 50%, particularly for components.
  • There is a strong chance that your sales rep has not been bike touring and therefore knows little about the important differences between a bike that is good for touring and other bikes. Similarly for their knowledge on tandems, or other specialist bikes. Their special knowledge may be in road racing or mountain biking.
  • You are the customer! If you are not being listened to, or not being shown what you want to see, walk out of the shop. Unfortunately some sales reps have only their own needs in mind, or in some cases, particularly when serving women, totally ignore what is being asked for. You need to feel that you are important as a customer so that you can confidently return to the shop for other purchases or bike servicing and be well treated on each subsequent visit. Regrettably this is not always the case. Bike shops are a personalised businesses that need to cater to your personal needs.
  • I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have been told by a bike shop attendant something like “they can ride up hills with a 39T(ooth) front and 25T back gear so you don’t need a 26T front gear and a 34T on your cassette”. Ignore such stupid statements. They do not recognise that they may be racing cyclists training 300 – 400 km per week, while you might do 100 km on a good week at half their speed. Nor does it consider the additional 25+ kg that you may be carrying on the bike while touring. If this is the sort of advice that you get from the staff, it is better to go to another bike shop where differing needs are understood and considered. As a guide, my gearing combination is 48-36-26T front chain rings with 11-34T 9-speed rear cassette. This provides a wide range of gears – particularly useful when climbing, and more than most recreational riders will need at the fast end of the ride, as well as being suited to the gearing needs of touring.
  • When you find the bike that you like, check that you can easily and comfortably pull the brakes on.
  • When the bike of your dreams leaps out at you, ask to take it for a test ride. You will then find out whether it was a sweet dream or a nightmare. No ride – no buy.

If your preferred bike does not quite fill the bill, ask what the shop will do to satisfy your criteria. Usually if they are only small changes, such as a different saddle, gearing combination (within reason), etc., these changes will be made at little or no cost.

  • Ensure that the bike is fitted to you before you take it out of the shop. I find it disappointing that most new riders who join our group need major saddle adjustments to provide them with a comfortable riding position. This should be done in the bike shop. Do not take it out of the bike shop until you feel comfortable with the riding position, and particularly the saddle and handlebar reach. In many cases, it is an uncomfortable saddle position that turns people away from riding.


 Posted by at 8:37 am