How to buy a bike

What you need to know when shopping for that new set of wheels
 
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01 .Price

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If you’re thinking about joining the ever-increasing ranks of commuter cyclists, finding the right bike can be an overwhelming task. Amid the numerous bikes on the market, the hype and technical jargon from salespeople, it’s easy to get lost. We’ll take you through what you need to know to get a good quality bike without the unnecessary extras. 

We’ll take you through:

How much?

Expect to pay around $400-500 for a city-style/commuter bike, or quality is likely to be compromised. Paying more than $1000-1500 for this style of bike is probably unnecessary.    

Bike buying checklist

Your frame style

  • How far and how fast will I ride? 
  • What type of terrain will I be riding on? Is it bumpy or smooth? Flat or hilly? 
  • Will I need to carry my bike up lots of stairs? 

At the bike shop 

  • Does it fit you? 
  • What’s the frame made out of? 
  • How many gears does it have? 
  • What type of pedals does it have? 
  • Are the grips and saddle comfortable? 
  • Internal hubs or derailleur? 
  • What groupset does it have (brand and grade)? 
  • Does it have quick-release wheels? 
  • Does it have puncture-resistant tyres? 
  • Double- or single-walled rims? 
  • Does it take a rack and mudguards? 
  • What accessories are included? 
  • How long is the frame warranty? 
  • Does the price include any services? 

 
 

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Choose a bike that will most closely match the majority of the riding you will do. One of the most common mistakes people make when buying a bike is getting one that tries to do everything, says Iain Treloar from Bicycle Network

For new riders, an upright style is recommended as it’s more comfortable and gives you more awareness of the road, says city cycling expert and director of BikeWise Jo Jones. While it’s common to see the speedy drop-handlebar road bikes around, they’re not designed for stopping and starting and the low riding position makes it much harder to keep an eye on the traffic.

Within the upright commuter bike range, there are various styles to choose from. Test ride a few styles so you can decide which best suits you.  

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City/commuter bike 
These often come with accessories such as a rack, mud guards and lights. This may be cost effective, as accessories can add about $200. 




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Flat bar road bike 
Similar to a drop-handlebar road bike but with flat handlebars, these are suited to a longer and speedier commute. 
  • Least upright for commuter bikes 
  • Speedier than many similar bikes 




 
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Sit up & beg/step-through bike 
Suited to someone commuting about five kilometres and wanting a relaxed ride. 
  • Low/no top bar, so you can "step through"
  • Very upright  
  • Slower end of commuter bikes 
  • Comfortable  

 

Folding bikes
Good if you’re commuting by train and only want to ride part of the way. See CHOICE’s article on folding bikes. 


Electric bikes 
Either pedal assist (helps rider pedal) or throttle-powered (no pedalling required). These are good for longer distances or hills. See CHOICE’s article on electric bikes.  
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Fit

Getting a frame that fits you well is one of the most important things when choosing a bike, as the frame size will affect its feel and comfort. Despite various specialist fitting services on the market these days, following a few basic principles around sizing should suffice for the general commuter. Most of your weight on the bike should be carried by your feet and bottom, not by your hands.

Height

Most bike size measurements are based on the seat tube length (the vertical bar from the pedal cranks to the saddle). Make sure you can stand over the bike with some clearance.

For optimum saddle height, place your heel on the pedal – when it’s at the bottom of the stroke, your leg should be straight. When you move your foot into the normal pedalling position, you’ll have a slight bend in the knee.

Stretch
The length of the top tube (seat to handlebars) is also key as it determines how far you’ll have to stretch. There’s no simple guide but comfort is crucial – you don’t want to be too stretched out or too bunched up.


Materials 

What the frame is made out of will also impact your ride. 

Steel 
Common on classic bikes such as the Dutch step-through 
Pros: Absorbs bumps; strong 
Cons: Rusts easily; can be heavy 

Aluminium 
Common on city-style bikes 
Pros: Lighter than steel; doesn’t rust 
Cons: Doesn’t absorb bumps 

Carbon fibre 
Not common on city-style bikes 
Pros: Light; absorbs bumps 
Cons: Expensive 
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How many?

Many modern bikes come with 27 gears - which is more than you’ll need for city riding, says Jones. In the city, five to eight gears should be sufficient, although more may be useful if you’re riding in a hilly area. A higher number of gears costs more, adds weight, and increases maintenance issues. 

Quality 

Gears come as part of a groupset. This includes everything making up the gears (front and rear derailleurs, cassette, chain, cranks and shifters) as well as the brakes. What’s important to know is that each groupset manufacturer makes different grades (from entry-level to pro) for both mountain and road bikes (commuter bikes can fall into both categories).
 
As the grades improve, groupsets get lighter, have more gears, are more durable and perform more efficiently. But it’s unlikely the average commuter will notice much difference between low-end and high-end groupsets, Jones says. Provided you keep your gears clean and look after them, the shifting of lower-end groupsets should continue to perform. 

Internal hubs 

Internal hubs – where the gear system is inside a covered chamber, unlike the external derailleur system – are a good option for commuters. They’re low maintenance and gears can be shifted while stopped. On the downside, they make it fiddly to remove the wheel in the case of a flat tyre and add weight.  

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There are various considerations to make sure you have the right wheels for commuting, and the ability to carry goods. 

Durability 
Double-walled rims are stronger than single-walled ones. 

Spoke count 
A higher spoke count is better if you have a bumpy ride. 

Removal 
Quick-release wheels make taking the wheel off easier in the case of a flat or fitting it into a car; they also make it easier for someone to steal your wheel if your bike’s parked in a public place. 


Tyres 

Width 
Choose a slightly wider wheel over a slick road bike tyre for commuting as it’s less prone to puncture and has more traction.

Tread 
For commuting, avoid knobbly mountain bike tread - it’s inefficient on bitumen. 

Punctures 
Tyre quality may not be apparent at first, but lower-quality tyres (which can often come on new bikes) are more prone to punctures and wear out more quickly. Look for tyres that are marketed as being puncture resistant, as this will dramatically reduce your risk of a flat, as will riding with the right tyre pressure. Puncture-proof tyres also exist.
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Some bike accessories are essential for your ride, but which ones exactly? We believe the following are worth getting. 

Grips, pedals and saddle
The comfort of these three things can have a big impact on your ride. For city riding, avoid pedals that clip in, because you need to be able to stop regularly. 

Rack to attach a bag or panniers
If the bike doesn’t come with a rack, check it has the ability to attach one. 

Luggage 
Various companies make luggage for cyclists designed for use either on or off your bike. 

Mud guards 
Even if it isn’t raining, any water on the road will splash up from your tyres and onto your clothes.

Helmet and bell 
It’s a legal requirement that you wear a helmet with an Australian Standard sticker and that your bike be fitted with a bell. 

Lights and reflector 
A front white and rear red light visible for 200 metres, as well as a rear red reflector, are required if you will be riding at night or in low light conditions. Some lights can be charged by USB while others have batteries. Alternatively, some bikes come with dynamo hubs, which are pedal-powered lights. See CHOICE's review on bike lights for more information. 

High-visibility vest 
Research shows the visibility of riders plays a role in reducing the severity of injury in crashes. 

Lock and pump 
A D-lock is recommended, as is a floor pump for home (easier to get tyre pressure right) and a hand pump for the road. See CHOICE's review on bike accessories for more information. 

Tyre levers and a puncture kit 
Levers make the task of changing the inner tube easier. Repairing your tubes will cost less than buying new ones.   
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Insurance

If you cycle regularly it might be worth considering insurance. Most state cycling bodies will provide personal injury, public liability insurance and income protection in case of an accident with membership to the organisation.

This generally won’t cover your bike though, so if it’s of some monetary value you can choose to insure it separately through companies like Bikesure, Cyclecover and Velosure, which provide bike insurance in case of theft or an accident. Please note that CHOICE has not reviewed any of these companies.  

Maintenance

Depending on how much you ride, you should get a bike service every six to 12 months. This will usually cost around $50-$80 plus parts.  

Cleaning your chain regularly will reduce wear and tear, and ultimately repair costs. It’s worth signing up to a bicycle maintenance course to learn the basics. 

Finding the best route

If you’ve made the decision to start riding to work, or even part of the way, it pays to plan your route. The most direct route isn’t necessarily the safest or the quickest. Consider hills - it’s often easier to ride further for a flatter ride. While main roads can be the most direct, unless they have bike paths, backstreets can make for a safer and more pleasant journey. 

There are various route planners available that can help with the task of choosing safer routes and bike paths. Two we’ve tried are:
  • Ride the City is available as an app, which helps when you’re out and about.
  • Google Maps offers bike directions (currently in beta) on its web-based application. However, the bike function isn’t available in the app version of Google Maps.
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