Bicycle buying guide

How to find the best bicycle for all your two-wheeled transportation needs.

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Woman riding a bicycle in an urban setting

Quick facts about bicycles

  • There are many different types of bicycles available including road bikes, commuter bikes and heavy-duty mountain bikes,
  • The main factors to consider when choosing a bicycle are the type of riding you'll be doing, the size of the bike and the price.
  • Prices vary greatly depending on the type of bike you want and its features. For example, while you can pick up a decent commuter bike for a few hundred bucks, a top-spec road bike could cost well over $10,000.

Types of bicycles

There are many different types of bikes available, each designed for a specific type of riding. The main options are:

  • Road bikes. Road bikes are built for speed and designed for riding on surfaced roads. They're sleek and lightweight with dropped handlebars to help you ride faster.
  • Flat bar road bikes. These bikes feature flat rather than dropped handlebars for a more upright riding position. They're not as fast as traditional road bikes but can be more comfortable.
  • City or commuter bikes. Also known as urban or hybrid bikes, they are designed for versatility and practicality. They combine the speed of a road bike with a comfortable riding position and added durability. Some also come with luggage mounts and panniers. The upright riding position ensures increased visibility in traffic.
  • Vintage bikes. Instantly recognisable due to their retro styling, these bikes feature a comfortable riding position, minimal gears and accessories like baskets and pannier racks. However, they can be heavy.
  • Folding bikes. If you're short on storage space or want to take your bike on public transport, a folding bike is a practical solution. However, they have smaller wheels and minimal gears, so they're not suitable for long journeys.
  • Mountain bikes. If you want to ride off-road, you'll need to buy a mountain bike. These are designed to handle rougher terrain and come with sturdy frames, powerful disc brakes and suspension. Wider knobby tyres also provide optimum grip in off-road conditions.
  • E-bikes. E-bike have motors to help you get from A to B. Check out our electric bicycle buying guide for more information.

There are also bikes designed for specific cycling disciplines, such as BMX and cyclocross bikes, and a wide range of kids bikes for younger riders too.

How to compare bicycles

Where you plan to ride your bike will determine the type of bike you need and how much you'll need to spend. For example, if you fancy donning some lycra and speeding along the bitumen, a road bike is the way to go. But if you plan on heading off-road into some rougher terrain, your road bike won't last long at all in the sort of conditions mountain bikes are built to tame. And if you're just looking for something to get you from A to B or to tackle a short trip to and from work, there are plenty of affordable commuter bikes that'll work.

Make sure to consider the following factors when choosing a bicycle:

Price

Bicycle prices vary greatly depending on the type of bike you're looking for and the special features it offers. As a general rule of thumb, you'll need to spend at least $300 or $400 to get a decent-quality adult bike. After that, how much you spend is entirely up to you. You can pick up a road bike for around $500, but if you want a super-lightweight carbon-fibre bike with top-spec equipment, you could easily spend more than $10,000.

Gears

Having more gears means you should always be able to find the perfect gear to tackle all types of terrain. However, more gears means more moving parts that require maintenance, and you may still end up using the same few gears most of the time anyway. If you're looking for a commuter bike, you may want to consider a single-speed bike, also known as a "fixie". They're simple, lightweight and easy to maintain, but can make for difficult riding uphill.

Size

Choosing the right size bike is essential to ensuring comfort and safety on your bike as well as optimum pedalling performance. Head into your local bike shop to get measured up for the ideal frame size and for help with things like finding the right height for the seat and handlebars.

Brakes

There are two main types of brakes: rim brakes are lightweight and uncomplicated, while disc brakes offer improved stopping power and tend to have a longer lifespan. If you take the bike for a test ride, make sure to assess its stopping power.

Suspension

If you're buying a mountain bike, make sure you consider the suspension package fitted to the bike. There are two options available: hardtails only have front suspension, while dual-suspension bikes also include a rear shock absorber. Check the amount of travel the system offers to work out whether it suits the terrain you ride most often.

Tyres

Most road bikes have 700c wheels which have a diameter of 622mm, while mountain bike wheels come in three sizes: 26, 27.5 and 29 inches. Make sure the tyres you choose are suitable for the rim size and for the style of riding you plan on doing. Road bikes use skinny tyres for maximum speed, commuter bikes need a little extra width in the tyres for improved handling, and mountain bike tyres are thicker for maximum grip.

Pedals

You'll need to choose between flat and clip-in pedals. Clip-in pedals offer improved pedalling performance and help you feel secure on your bike, but many new riders don't like the sensation of being attached to the bike if they're ever in danger of crashing.

Seat

A comfortable seat is crucial for an enjoyable cycling experience, so take the bike for a test ride to make sure you'll be happy in the saddle for long periods of time. If you're not satisfied, you can choose from a range of replacement options.

Frame material

Bicycle frames can be made of a few different materials. Traditional steel is sturdy but heavy. Aluminium is a popular choice because it's lighter than steel but affordable. Lightweight carbon fibre is used in high-end road and mountain bikes but is more expensive.

Should I buy a bicycle online or in-store?

There are plenty of retailers that sell bicycles online, in many cases offering cheaper prices than if you buy in-store. So if you know the style and size of bike you need and you don't mind doing a little bit of assembly work, buying online might be the way to go.

However, for many people, the best thing to do is to head into your local bike shop. Not only can the staff there help you decide on the right bike for your needs and the right size frame, but they might be willing to knock a few dollars off the RRP if you're not afraid to ask.

Your local bike shop experts can also offer tips and advice on everything from riding techniques to bike maintenance. And when you need to deal with those annoying creaks or mechanical issues that will inevitably arise, it's good to be able to go to someone you know and trust for advice.

Top sites to buy bikes online

Three things to consider when buying a bicycle

Before you part with any of your hard-earned cash, consider these important factors:

  1. Consider buying used. If you're new to cycling, it's well worth considering buying used instead of new. You could save on a quality bike if you buy second-hand.
  2. Take a test ride. The best way to ensure that you buy the best bike for your needs is to try it out. See how it handles at varying speeds, take it up and down hills and shift through all the gears to make sure everything is functioning as it should.
  3. Essential accessories. There are a few other important accessories you'll need to purchase when you buy a bike. The most important requirement (and a legal necessity) is a helmet, while a water bottle cage, pump, puncture repair kit, spare inner tube and tyre levers can all come in handy. If you're riding on the road, hi-vis clothing and fluoro vests are also a good idea.

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