Category Archives: Selecting a bike

Bikes ain’t bikes

It used to be that a bike was a bike was a bike. These vehicles of yesteryear had a basic frame (male and female styles), two wheels, a seat, classic shaped handlebars and a bell. Some bikes had brakes, and some were the backpedal brake variety. As a teenager, I had one of these clunkers. Mine had ‘real’ brakes, and a single, very large chainring on the front. It was hard work to ride, so it often also sported a nice collection of spiderwebs which I was generally happy to leave undisturbed.

I was amazed and impressed (and a bit overwhelmed) when I re-entered the cycling world some years ago. I had been assured that these old bikes were long gone. And my mentors were right! But one thing I was not prepared for was the enormous variety and the complexity of the modern treadly.

steel is real

Such a lot of choice (Photo credit: Flowizm)

Nowadays when one speaks of a bicycle, it is difficult to know what the discussion is about! Mountain bikes have become a class of their own – big chunky tyres, bouncy suspension front and rear and (if you mountain bike in Scotland) a good set of mudguards (fenders). At the other extreme, road racers are slick, lightweight machines with such skinny tyres and superfit owners who count every gram of weight as a potential threat to their performance capability. Then there is something called a hybrid……. 🙂 Not to mention touring bikes which are in another class of their own – panniers, granny gears and multitudinous spaces and places to attach touring gear.

Women now ride bikes that look like the mens bikes of yesteryear and in many places, what used to be a ‘womens’ style is now unisex and it is difficult to know the difference (if there is one).

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere. Sadly, these bikes are no longer available.

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere.

So when you go to purchase a bike, it is important to be very clear in your mind what you intend to do with that bike before you enter the shop.  Otherwise, be prepared to be bamboozled by the (fantastic!) array and complexity of choice that will face you! Even if you know exactly what you want, you may find yourself being tempted by something that is right outside your intended scope!

Dahon Tournado [Ritchey Break-Away frame] w/ S...

A Dahon Tournado fully assembled (Credit: Kaptain Amerika)

Which brings me to the point of this post. It has almost reached the point where a cycling enthusiast has to own more than one bike.

The commuter which can fold down to the size of a large carry bag is a must if one travels to work on a busy train, but it is just not suited to a holiday tour. Likewise, if you enjoy bouncing down the rocky slopes on a mountain bike, the same vehicle is not going to get you anywhere fast on the sealed tarmac.

Giant Anthem - a mountain bike set up for touring.

My Giant Anthem mountain bike poses near Orleans (France). I bought and modified this bike for this tour. Because it had front and rear suspension, I had to get special pannier racks (Old Man Mountain racks). I have since replaced the pannier bags with waterproof ones.

To me it feels rather excessive to own more than one bike, but it is almost becoming a necessity given the degree of customisation and incompatibility between bike styles. What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you agree, or do you feel that your bike is able to comfortably cover all the activities you enjoy?

Getting bikes airborne

Anyone who has travelled with their bike will know that they are easy to move about while they are on their own wheels, but very hard work when they are packed up and need to be carried! Airlines are also quite specific about how one packs bikes and so are some train operators. Coach operators generally don’t want to take bikes at all!

Whilst my ‘go anywhere Anthem’ was great to ride on tour, it was a big and tedious job to pack and unpack at each end. This detracted significantly from the fun of touring. I decided that I needed a more readily ‘packable’ bike, something that would fit easily into a taxi or car when necessary (along with my partners’ bike!). It also needed to be easy and quick to pack and unpack. I spent about a year looking at all sorts of collapsible bikes and was seriously tempted by some of them – the ease and tiny size of some of the packed machines was amazing.

The Dahon Tournado when it first arrived. I have since covered the lagging with coloured fabric to make it easier to pack.

But eventually, I settled on a Dahon Tournado. This bike does not ‘fold’. Instead, it comes apart easily into three bits by removing a clamp and three screws! It is a full sized cycle with it’s own suitcase (with wheels) and plenty of space for peripheral bits such as cycling shoes, helmet and tools.

The Tournado is a touring bike. It took me quite a while to get used to the narrow handlebars and the different location of the brakes and gears after the mountainbike. I also had an annoying recurrent shoulder pain caused by long hours in the saddle, which I hoped would go away with the narrower handlebar positioning.

I commuted with this bike for a few months before I got fully used to it. The bike was a lot lighter than the mountain bike and was therefore a lot faster ride. Despite a bit of jarring on unavoidable stretches of uneven ground (I miss the gentle suspension of the Anthem!), it is now my bike of choice for daily riding. But not only is it a very nice machine to ride, it also has some nice features including a Brooks leather saddle and Brooks leather binding on the handlebars.

My Tournado visits Auckland, New Zealand.

When travelling, the Tournado is very easy to assemble and to pack down. I had to make very few adjustments to the settings when I got it, and each time I pack and reassemble it, the seat height is the only thing I need to get right and that is easily done. Everything else just works! That is my kind of travelling bike!

Unfortunately, Dahon are no longer making Tournados. Such a nice product – this is a real pity. However, I must admit I have never seen another Tournado anywhere, so perhaps there were not very many made.

Biting the exercise bullet

My first bike was a second hand ‘bone shaker’ which I got when I was aged about 10. It had a steel frame, traditional shaped handlebars, an all metal bell (which I regret not having kept!) and soft tyres! (I was not very diligent about mending punctures, so my dad decided to “inflate” them permanently with rubber tubing. So the tyres never went flat, but the downside of this idea was that the they were never properly inflated either. This modification made the bike hard to ride and rather heavy). When I left childhood behind, I was more than happy to leave the bike behind with it!

It was quite a few decades later that I purchased my second bike. I needed to get some exercise and wanted some activity that could be easily built into each day and did not consume large slabs of time. Riding to and from the office seemed the logical solution.

I had no idea what sort of bike to get and bikes had changed a lot since my first purchase. My partner had also had a few bad experiences with unsuitable bikes, so we opted for extreme comfort rather than speed! I purchased a Giant Anthem 2 – a mountain bike. This bike had suspension in both front and rear and disc brakes, amongst many other features which I learnt about later.

Riding a rail trail

Getting fit before going to France. Riding the Anthem on one of the many railtrails in our local district.

Many people may wonder at this choice, but with a few modifications (eg putting on some smoother tyres) and adding some “Old Man Mountain” bike racks, it was ideal for the job. The ride was superbly comfortable, and I still feel as if I am relaxing on a comfortable chair when I ride this machine.

This faithful steed has taken me well over 15 000km now and has been in the mud, done many kilometres on the road and tracked cross country routes in livestock paddocks. All without a murmur of protest. It has toured in Europe and the UK and surprisingly, is easier to ride when loaded with gear than when unfettered with bags and racks.

What sort of bike is best?

One of the biggest challenges you will face when starting out is deciding what sort of bike is right for you. This will be more difficult if you have no idea what to look for or what to questions to ask.

There are lots of different bikes for different sorts of riding. Then there are different sizes of bikes and I am advised that there are also ladies and mens versions, but in my experience, this seems to be something that is ignored in most bike retail outlets. Then there are different attachments on each bike. Handlebars, seats, bells and carrier racks are the most obvious variations. Less obvious to new riders is the quality of the mechanical bits on the bike. Generally, the more expensive the machine, the better the quality of the gears, pedals, brakes and so on.

The cheapest bikes will most likely give you the roughest, most uncomfortable ride – these bikes are aptly labelled bone shakers! They can turn a keen rider into a sore and demoralised person very quickly! But no-one wants to spend up big on a bike that may well turn out to be unsuitable either. I suggest you decide what sort of riding you want to do and then get the best advice you can, be that from an experienced rider or perhaps from the folks at the local bike shop.

Bikes of all sizes and shapes used for commuting in Paris.

Read as much as you can, there are many hundreds of blogs on the internet, stories about people riding, touring, describing their bikes in great detail and/or generally providing advice. If nothing else, you will become inspired and enthused and keen to get out and get going.

Once you have been riding for a while, you will know a lot more about what you need in the way of a bike. You may still love your first bike and decide that it still suits you perfectly. Or, you may find that you are yearning for something different that can accommodate your more refined needs and wants! Then it is time to modify your current bike to make it more appropriate for your needs or to think about a replacement.