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Things to consider when buying a bicycle

The cyclist

For many people buying a bicycle will be as simple as choosing one that will suit:

  • their height
  • the type of cycling they will do
  • their skills and experience.

However, if caregivers are choosing a bicycle for a child, the following things also need to be considered:

  • Where will the cycle be ridden - at home, in an off-road area, or on the road?

If on the road:

  • Will the caregiver have enough time to teach the child the important skills and knowledge needed for road cycling?
  • Is the child old enough to understand and apply traffic laws? From age 11 onward, children may be able to start riding in traffic unsupervised. This will depend on the level of instruction they have received, their skills, confidence and ability to apply the road rules.
  • Is the child mature enough to be on the road and share the road with other users?

The bicycle

The information we have provided in this section aims to give you the basics about different types of bicycles. We recommend you talk to your local cycling shop for more detailed information.

Bicycle components
Bicycle components

Bicycle components

  1. Grip
  2. Headset
  3. Gear dial/lever/switches
  4. Handlebars
  5. Brake lever
  6. Gear cable
  7. Wheel quick release lever
  8. Tyre
  9. Spokes
  10. Wheel rim
  11. Suspension forks
  12. Front derailleur
  1. Chain ring/front cogs
  2. Crank
  3. Chain
  4. Rear derailleur
  5. Valve
  6. Cassette/rear cogs
  7. Seat/saddle
  8. Seat post
  9. Brake cable
  10. Brake pads
  11. Brake system (example shows V brakes)

Style

The most common styles of bicycle are: children's bicycles, BMXs, road bikes, mountain bikes and hybrids.

  • Children's bicycles - suit children under 12 years and are used for short distances (eg to school or the shops).
  • BMXs - suit children and those wanting a bike that will cope with jumps, tricks and rough treatment. They are generally not recommended for long distance cycling.
  • Road bikes - suit people over the age of 12. They are popular for normal road cycling. Certain styles within this group are used for racing or touring.
  • Mountain bikes - suit all ages of cyclists. They are designed especially for off-road cycling, but are also used in road situations.
  • Hybrids - suit all ages of cyclists. They have a mix of road and mountain bike features and are suited to on-road cycling and gentle off-road situations.

Size

Each style of bicycle comes in different sizes. Determine the following:

  • Can the bicycle be comfortably straddled with both feet on the ground?
  • Is there enough room in the seat post and handlebar stem to allow for height adjustments? If the bicycle is for a child this will help ensure that the height of the seat and handlebars can be adjusted according to the growth of the child.
  • Does the cyclist feel comfortable when seated? Does the distance between the seat and handlebars feel comfortable?
Straddling the bike to check the frame size

Straddling the bike to check the frame size

Other considerations

There are many combinations of bicycle components, even within each style group and it is often possible to change parts of your bicycle so that it suits your needs. Experts at your cycle shop will be able to tell you more about the options and help you with your choices. You may want to think about the following things.

Frame

Apart from the style and height, the main differences between frames will be the material they are made from. Materials include steel, alloy, and carbon, which vary in cost, strength and weight. The frame should be strong if the bicycle is going to be ridden off-road, and light if it's to be ridden in competitive or difficult situations (eg up hills).

Handlebars

Raised handlebars help learner cyclists to better control the bicycle. Low handlebars (including drop handlebars) put the cyclist's body in a low position which reduces wind resistance.

Gears

Gears are useful for cyclists with some experience who want to cycle over varied terrain and conditions. Using gears helps cyclists maintain a comfortable and manageable level of force and effort when pedalling up and down hills, in windy conditions and when accelerating.

Seats

Seats are normally designed to suit the type of bicycle, but different seats can be added to suit the rider and the type of riding they do. Seats come in varying widths and styles. There are types designed to suit men or women.

Tyres

Tyres are also designed to suit the type of bicycle, but can be changed to suit the type of riding you do. Normally, bikes designed to be ridden off-road will have wider wheels with knobbly tyres. Bikes designed for racing on the road will have thin wheels with relatively smooth tyres. For normal road riding, tyres with some tread are recommended. Thicker tyres with a dense tread pattern will generally be more forgiving of loose gravel, potholes, broken glass and bike handling errors.

Brakes

For each type of bike available there will be a number of bikes to choose from that have differing brake systems. Talk to an expert to find out what type of brake system is best for the type of riding you do.

The best bicycle for learning on

For young or novice cyclists the best bicycle to learn on has:

  • a frame that can easily be straddled by the cyclist
  • a seat where the cyclist can easily reach the ground with their feet when seated
  • handlebars at seat level or above
  • limited gear options
  • brakes that are appropriate to the age and ability of the cyclist. Back pedal brakes may be a better alternative to hand brakes for very young children with small hands - these are available on some tricycles and small bicycles.

Important

Cycles need to be the right size for the cyclist. Don't be tempted to buy a cycle for the child to grow into - it will be too difficult to manage and will be unsafe.

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Last updated: 24 April 2013