The London Bike Project: Part two – A beginner’s guide to getting a bike

Settling on a bike was tricky. Full disclosure, my brief was pretty simple …and very shallow. I told various bike shops “I want something which is reliable (I wasn’t that bothered) and which will last me for a good few years (yeah, I guess that was important) and which looks cool (there we go, there’s the main priority).”

I scouted around online and quickly learnt that a bike to a cyclist is a bit like choosing a pet. It’s a really personal choice and there’s no right or wrong decision. Those Londoners you see scuttling around the streets on clattering old things are just as, if not more than, attached to their bikes as those who’ve invested a tonne of money in a hybrid aerodynamic carbon jobby. That’s because no matter what bike you have, after a few weeks of running it around, you bed it in, you learn how it handles and you wear it like a pair of trainers which fit you perfectly.

montecore 2.0

I went for the Montecore 2.0 from American bike people State Bicycle Co. It’s mirror chrome with white wheel rims. My father eloquently told me I’d be biking around Hackney looking like a pimp, which I don’t think he meant in a complimentary way. However, looking at the photo on their website, I was in love, so I pressed ‘go’ and waited a few weeks for delivery day.

When you order bikes of this variety, the majority of the time you’ll do it all online and send it to a bike shop for them to build for you, for a small fee. I chose Cloud 9 Cycles in central London. They were really efficient with emailing, really quick with building it and it didn’t cost the earth. Collecting my bike when it was ready was a bit weird. I’d seen photos of how it would look and I’d been counting down the days as if I was a six year old waiting for Santa, but seeing it in the shop for the first time was like staring at a male stranger in the street and being told that he was my Uncle. …What I mean is, I felt no connection to it. I hopped onto it and it felt unfamiliar. I wobbled around the street a bit and immediately started panicking about having invested in a bike and …not really liking the feel of it. This is totally normal. Tom advised me to give it a week. If, after seven days of constantly riding it around, I still didn’t like it, then we’d re-address the situation. But, two days later, my ‘trainers’ were starting to soften, the fit was vastly improving and I was zipping around London like a boss. I really really rate State Bicycles‘ bikes. Mine’s super-lightweight, easy to handle, nimble and provides a smooth ride. There’s a shed-load of talk about these kinds of bikes being made up of cheap parts, but I’ve been cycling around on mine for a year now and I cannot fault it. For anyone who’s looking to spend £300-£400 on their first bike, and they want it to look good, State Bicycles are a reliable choice.

cloud 9

The cycling industry is awesome, in that it’s full of crazy-enthusiastic people who are super-passionate about their bikes and about cycling in general. Initially, I thought it was all a bit cliche, but it didn’t take me long to get sucked into it all and to chew the ear off fellow cyclists about their bikes. However, with that, comes strong opinions about all kinds of different things. Everyone thinks they know which bikes are best and which are worth avoiding. As a novice, I had no idea, but I found it a bit insulting when people would tell me what was wrong with the bike I’d chosen. Also, a lot of companies I’d grown to know, who produce cool-looking bikes, would receive similar abuse. This was largely based around their products being manufactured in the Far-East and being centred around aesthetics and money-spinning.

Fast forward to now, and I’m more informed. Over my time of cycling, I’ve developed an opinion about which bikes are best. I know all there is to know about what you need from a bike, so I’m going to share it with you now. The rule is: there aren’t any rules. Bikes are totally subjective. As long as it suits you, fits you, and makes you enjoy riding it, you’ve found your perfect bike. Bike experts will tell you about all the accessories or types of wheels you need, or certain brand of frame or saddle type but, really, it actually doesn’t matter. You can throw as much money at a bike as you like. There are models of bikes which cost £15,000. I know; I googled ‘really expensive bike’ earlier. If you’ve got money to spend, then that’s fine, but it’s not essential. As long as it goes and makes you happy, you’re set.


So, other things I’ve learnt…

A ‘fixie’. This relates to a bike with one fixed gear, which means you can’t free wheel. So you know when you’re peddling up a hill and you’re busting a gut to reach the top, then as you pootle over the peak and start descending, you keep your feet still and ride the wave whilst catching your breath and flying down the other side? Well, no still feet on a fixie; the peddles keep turning as long as the bike is moving. Some people love fixies because they feel more in-tune with their bike, like they’re more connected to it – it’s the purest form of cycling. It also means a bike-user can slow the bike down using their legs and muscle-power, instead of the brakes. If The Hulk owned a bike, it’d probably be a fixie – he’s got the thighs for it. Personally though, I didn’t fancy that. The idea of a fixie scares the life out of me. Plus, I bloody love coasting.

A single-speed bike means your bike only has one gear. Mine’s a single-speed. They’re popular in London because London doesn’t really have many hills in comparison with, say, Scotland. Also, they’re lighter in weight, so if I’m peddling down the canal which I often do as a resident of East London, when I come off the canal, I hurl my bike onto my shoulder and carry it up the stairs. This makes me look like I’m really strong to non-bike users, which is another advantage. Single-speeds are also more mechanically simple, there’s less to go wrong so you’re not faffing around with ‘bits and bobs’ a lot. (I’m not up on my techie bike talk).

A hybrid bicycle means the bike has been designed to adapt to off-road cycling, to urban cycling and to mountain cycling, if that’s your bag. They’re a bit of a Heinz 57 and are ideal for those cyclists who want to cycle in every different kind of environment going. Why have four bikes when you can have one? I didn’t ever think this kind of bike was for me, until recently, when I cycled from London to Paris on a Foffa Urban 7-speed – but I’ll do another post on that later. Anyway. I suddenly saw the advantage of having a bike which could adapt to any kind of cycle route, so hybrid bikes are well worth considering.

gareth biking

Then, there’s the road bike. The speed machine. The two-wheeled daemon. No one calls them that, but what they do call them are the ideal companion for anyone who wants to compete in road races, or just peddle really, really fast to work. The tyres are really thin and the bike is super-lightweight, all in an effort to reduce resistance. It’s all getting a bit technical now.

At the time of writing this, I’ve been a full-time cyclist for a year and my bike (which I named Chromeo, because apparently I give names to everything) is like my best mate. It suits me perfectly, I know exactly how to handle and control it and it’s super-nippy, so getting around London is quick and, more importantly, fun. Lord only knows how much money I’ve saved on my journeys around town since I started cycling, but it’s a hell of a lot. I’m also now the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. Are you tempted yet?



state bicycle sponsor

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