This guide was written by Total Women’s Cycling editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan.
Summer is pretty much the biggest season for new bike buying. That much is hardly surprising – the evenings are lighter, days are brighter, and that means people are suddenly more inclined to get out on their bikes.
The average new bike buyer spends a couple of months pondering over which machine to go for, and we completely understand why. The perfect bike could be your companion for years to come, whilst going for the wrong machine could spell a very quick end to your love affair with cycling, and a permanent home in the shed for your new wheels.
This is the place to start. There’s a myriad of different styles of bike, and they’re all designed to fit certain disciplines.
Frames and components vary to cater for different road surfaces, luggage requirements, attitudes and levels of performance, as well as wallet sizes. You need to consider what sort of riding you plan to do, then choose a style of bike that suits your needs.
Good for: long rides through country lanes, sportives, road racing, urban commuting
Nearly always designed with drop handlebars, road bikes put the rider in a more aerodynamic position. They’re usually pretty lightweight, which makes them speedy up the hills, and the multiple hand positions available mean that descents can be great fun, too.
Within the road bike category, there are ‘race’ geometry bikes which will put the rider in an aggressive position, and ‘relaxed’ or ‘sportive’ geometry bikes which will be more upright and are generally more comfortable for long rides or commutes.
Traditionally, these bikes have rim brakes, but more recently disc brake versions have emerged. Discs provide better stopping power in the wet, but you can’t use them in racing.
Road bikes generally have skinny tyres of 23mm or 25mm – the wider tyre is more comfortable and feels more secure when cornering.
Women can choose between a women’s specific road bike, or a unisex road bike. Many bike brands report data that shows women have a sorter wingspan (arm length) on average when compared to men of the same height. Therefore, women’s bikes are generally shorter in the top tube, to cater for this. They also have narrower handlebars, as women often have narrower shoulders, and women’s saddles.
In Depth: Do you need a female specific bike?
Some women prefer to go for a unisex bike, and alter the fit by changing the handlebars for a narrower pair, and stem for a shorter one to reduce the reach. Other women find they are fine on a unisex bike – but bike fit is very individual.
Good for: Trails, forests, mud!
There are many styles of mountain bike – but they’re all made for getting dirty off-road. They have much wider tyres, usually with a knobbly surface which sheds mud.
A hardtail mountain bike is the most common choice as a first off-road bike. This will have suspension at the front, but a rigid rear, and will be comfortable on most trails.
For more challenging trails, a full-suspension mountain bike with have an extra dampening effect over larger roots and rocks.
Wheel sizes for mountain bikes vary – from 26 inch, to 27.5 inch, to 29 inch. Larger wheels take more effort to get up to speed, but roll faster once at speed, and pass obstacles more easily. Most bike brands making women’s bikes are favouring the 26.5 inch option. Though some women like 29ers, the mid-size is often favoured as a 29er comprises a greater proportion of a woman’s weight.
Again, women can choose between unisex and female specific mountain bikes. Female specific versions will usually have narrower handlebars, and a women’s saddle.
As a woman, it’s also important to ensure your suspension is set up to suit you – women are generally lighter than men so will require different settings, but all adjustments can be made on unisex and women’s bikes.
Good for: Commuting, leisure riding
Hybrids are generally flat bar bikes that can be ridden across a range of terrains. They can vary quite dramatically – some are quite sporty, with wide tyres and suspension for off-road use, whilst others have slick tyres for quick rides around town.
‘Dutch style’, or ‘sit up and beg’ bikes also sit in this category – these allow the rider to sit in a very upright position, and are often very low maintenance. They usually have chainguards, to prevent grease from touching your clothes, and very few gears. This, coupled with their often heavyweight frames, means they’re best for rolling around flat terrain. However, with racks and pannier mounts as well as baskets, they’re great for those who want to carry bags and shopping.
Once you’ve chosen your style of bike, you’ll find yourself faced with a wide range of choice in terms of models. Most brands will offer a style of bike at a range of price points.
Cheaper bikes will have more entry level componentry – the wheels, groupset (shifters, chainrings, cassette, brakes) will be a little bit heavier, and a little bit slower to react. This isn’t to say that they won’t work, or serve you well, spending more just provides you with greater performance.
It is usually best to spend towards the top level of your available funds. This is simply because if you buy a bike with lower end components, you may find you want to upgrade soon – and that will only cost you more. However, with modern day components as they are, any bike from a reputable brand will come with Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo gears and quality brakes that will work and provide long lasting effectiveness.
Know what you can change, and what you can’t
There are many bike parts you can change over time. The handlebars, stem, saddle and pedals can all be changed to make your bike more suited to you over time. The wheels and groupset can also be upgraded if you want to make your bike faster or lighter in the future, too.
However – there are some things that you cannot change. For example, if there aren’t mounts for a rack or mudguards, you won’t be able to fit them (easily) – so if you plan on commuting or touring and want these, then steer away from bikes that don’t allow for these.
You’ll also never be able to change the frame geometry or size – so it’s a very good idea to make sure your bike fits and is up to your needs. You can usually return a bike, provided you don’t ride it outside, so set yourself up indoors before you take it for a spin to make sure that you’re happy with the fit.
Finally – the colour. You can’t make a red bike blue – so make sure you choose one with a frame colour you admire!
We hope that helps. Of course, it’s more than likely you’ll want to pick up some kit and check out the possible component upgrades and accessories to go with your new steed – take a look at some of the options here.