How to buy a bike

Biking is fun. Are you thinking about getting a bike for travelling to work, for weekend rides, or for your kids?

Bike shops are expert at helping you find a bike that's right for you and have qualified mechanics and sales support. Buying second-hand can be fine - just make sure it's comfortable and safe.

Fit the bike to you
The frame size must be right. There should be at least 12cm between your crotch and the cross bar when you straddle a mountain bike, and 3cm or more for other bikes. For maximum comfort and performance, your leg should be almost fully extended with the heel on the pedal while you're sitting on the seat.

For children, don't be tempted to buy a bike for them to 'grow into' - seat height adjustment can accommodate some growth, but the frame has to fit from the word go. If possible, try your kid on it before you buy.

A bike shop can help you choose a seat that's more comfortable for you (e.g. there are seats designed for women), alter handlebar width and length to suit your reach, and advise about gearing. Don't forget to buy safety equipment - a snug-fitting helmet, gloves and reflective bands.

Buy a bike that suits your needs
Commuting, racing, off-road riding, serious touring, or just riding for fun - there's a different bike for each purpose. Different quality levels come with different price tags. Ask yourself what you'll be using the bike for and how much you want to spend. Don't buy one that won't be up to the task but, equally, don't buy more than you really need. You may end up paying for features that you don't use.

Mountain bikes (MTBs) are fun and comfortable. Their tyres give good grip off-road but need more pedalling effort on tarmac. Use 'slicks' (tyres without lots of knobbly bits) for road riding. An MTB can be a good choice for touring (specially if you're combining on and off-road) or shopping, but get a model without suspension, and with brazed on carrier fittings.

Touring bikes are ideal for commuting, shopping or on-road recreation but are hard to get these days. They usually have drop handlebars, a carrier for attaching panniers, a larger frame and narrower tyres than mountain bikes. They range from single speed 'roadsters' to lighter multi-geared machines.

Hybrid bikes, also known as cross bikes, look like slim framed mountain bikes with narrower tyres and slightly raised handlebars. They're multi-geared and are suitable for commuting or shortish leisure trips. They are better on than off-road.

Road racing bikes look similar to a touring bike, but have a shorter wheelbase and are very light. They are mostly expensive and are not recommended for commuting because they aren't as comfortable or as strong as other bikes and the gearing range is too narrow.

Children's bikes are unfortunately often poorly made. Better to pay a little more for something that will be safer and have resale value. Avoid buying a bike that's too complicated - gears and gadgets can distract from development of basic skills.

Other bikes include BMX and other small-wheeled bikes, recumbents, folding bikes, tandems, tricycles and unicycles. There are some weird and wonderful machines out there!

To find out more
Check out your local library or bookshop. Richard's Bicycle Book is a classic.