If you’re new to cycling and want to learn about the different types of bikes and what essential accessories you need to make cycling more enjoyable, this is the complete guide for you.
We’ll also look at the many different types of bicycle available to help you choose the right one, whether you’re looking to swap the car for the daily commute or want to get lost in the woods on an adventure or just encourage your family to get more active for the health and fun benefits.
Cycling is hugely accessible. All you need is a bicycle and a few basic accessories and you can be spinning along the road in no time at all. Cycling provides the freedom to explore the countryside, provides numerous health benefits, beats the traffic around town and if you’re competitive, there’s a world of road and mountain bike racing waiting for you.
Cycling is good for your health too. Don’t take our word for it. A study by Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge found a 20% reduced rate of early death among people who cycled to work compared to those travelling by car. Further analysis of the data reveals cyclists to have a 24% reduced rate of death from heart disease, 16% reduced rate of death from cancer and 11% reduced rate of early death.
The advice is clear then, cycling is good for you and if you can swap the car for a bicycle for the daily commute, your body will thank you in the long term.
Bikes come in many shapes and forms but they share the same fundamental underpinnings of two wheels, a handlebar for controlling your direction and pedals for turning your cornflakes into forward motion.
Which bicycle you choose will depend on your requirements. Ask yourself things like:
A hybrid/city bike is designed for getting you from home to work/college/school. It’ll be tough and sturdy, be comfortable and be able to carry books and laptops and usually come fitted with mudguards to keep you dry and lights for visibility.
If you want to ride on the road, a classic road bike is an obvious choice. They are lightweight and designed for speed and comfort with a wide range of gears for challenging hills. If you want to emulate Tour de France heroes, this is the bike for you. They can be used for racing, long-distance sportives, or simply exploring the countryside with friends and family.
Modern road bikes are versatile and many are perfect for commuting with the ability to fit mudguards and racks for carrying loads. They can be very affordable or you can spend many thousands of pounds on top of the range models with all the latest technology.
Based on a road bike, a touring bike is designed for long-distance rides with an emphasis on comfort. They are ideal if you want to embrace cycling for the health benefits and enjoyment of exploring your surrounding countryside and aren’t interested in riding as fast as you can everywhere. Comfort is a key focus so they are usually designed around wider tyres which are durable and long-lasting, mudguards, racks and lights are common features to ensure extra practicality.
Load up with camping equipment and set off on a micro-adventure or three-week-long cycling holiday, or use for commuting with long weekend roads and Audaxes.
Fat tyred mountain bikes were born in the 1970s for going off-road with chunky tyres, tough frames, suspension and low range gears. They can go up and down impossibly steep trails and come in many forms, from lightweight cross-country race bikes to all-purpose trail bikes to dedicated downhill race bikes for tackling the most severe descents. Most entry-level level mountain bikes combine a rigid frame with a suspension fork and disc brakes, providing maximum control on tricky trails.
Spend more and you can get a full-suspension mountain bike which will provide more comfort and capability on extreme trails.
Gravel and Cyclocross Bikes
Imagine a road bike with chunky mountain bike inspired tyres and you have a gravel or cyclocross bike. Cyclocross bikes are primarily used for racing, a popular winter sport on dedicated circuits. Modern gravel bikes, a recent development, are designed for mixed-terrain adventures and can be used for combining road riding with off-road trails to long-distance bike packing adventures where you carry all your camping equipment for an overnight stop. Gravel bikes are hugely versatile, durable and easy to ride, factors that make them ideal for commuting.
For longer commutes where you might have to drive or use the train for part of the journey, a compact folding bike is an ideal choice. Typically designed around small wheels with a frame that quickly and easily folds in on itself, they can fit in the boot of a car or on the luggage compartment on a train. Quick and nimble they are perfect for short trips across the city from the station to the office, where you can easily fold it away and store under your desk.
Electric bicycles are the latest innovation in cycling and combine a small motor and battery, often concealed in the frame or rear wheel, to provide pedal assistance up to 25kph. Yes, you still have to pedal, it’s not a motorbike! The motor matches your pedalling and you can choose the level of assistance to suit your requirements – max power on the steep hills and economy on flat roads to prolong the battery life.
E-bikes are the fastest-growing category at the moment as they make cycling more accessible to many people, are ideal if you are put off by hills, are worried your fitness will hold you back on longer rides, or want to replace a car for the daily commute.
Once you’ve chosen your bike, you’re set to ride. There are a few accessories that you might want to consider before you do embark on your first ride on your new bike, however.
Wearing a helmet isn’t mandatory in many parts of the world but for many is an essential accessory. Helmets can be relatively affordable and there is a huge choice available and many different styles to choose from. Decide on your budget, try on a few for size if you can, and make sure the fit is perfect.
You can wear any clothing you want on a bike. For short rides and commuting casual clothes work just fine, but if you plan to cycle longer distances we’d recommend investing in some cycling-specific clothes – it’s designed to fit better, keeps you dry and cool when you’re sweating, dry when it’s raining and generally is a lot more comfortable.
At the very least invest in some cycling-specific padded shorts. These can be worn on their own or under normal shorts or trousers and provide extra comfort on the saddle. The padding provides additional comfort over the saddle and will prevent a sore bottom. And in case you’re wondering, you don’t wear underwear with them.
If you want to expand your cycling wardrobe, consider a cycling jersey. With highly technical fabrics they are preferable to cotton t-shirts because they’ll wick sweat and stay dry. There’s a vast choice from lightweight summer tops to thermal winter types, and they commonly have three pockets for storing food and essentials and a full-length zipper for ventilation. Cyclists in the northern hemisphere will want to look at a cycling jacket that will keep you warm when it’s cold and windy or dry when it’s pouring with rain.
Punctures can and will happen on a bicycle from time to time, so being able to fix a flat is essential knowledge. Most bikes using a rubber inner tube in a tyre so consider carrying a spare one in a saddle pack or backpack of the correct size (there’s size information on the tyre sidewall) along with a small pump to inflate the tube, and plastic tyre levers to help remove the tyre if it’s a tight fit on the wheel. Many mountain bikes now use tubeless tyres, just like cars, and replace the inner tube with a special liquid that seals small holes.
Lights are essential if you plan to cycle when it’s dark or dim light. Small pocketable lights are ideal for increasing your visibility to other road users and for city use, or for day time cycling, are all you need. If you plan to cycle away from the constant glow of the big cities then you’ll want a brighter front light that is powerful enough to cast a beam for you to safely see where you’re travelling.
From these few essential accessories, you can add more as you get further into cycling. Specific cycling shoes and clip-in pedals, computers to track your speed and distance and more.