Web site by Quinze Development, Cheltenham
Which bike for you?
Just as there are many types of cyclists and many reasons why people cycle, so there are many types of cycle, each best suited to particular circumstances.
Small-wheel bicycles are popular with many people. They can be very manoeuvrable and stable, and have the special advantage of being readily adaptable in size to a number of users. Some can be folded, which is particularly useful for commuting by public transport. Some up-market models have many of the attributes of a sports cycle, but most others are inefficient and suited only to cycling short distances.
The mountain or all-terrain bike has broad wheels, an almost straight handlebar, lots of gears and good brakes. Suspension systems are common, but make riding harder work. Originally developed for use off-road where it has particular advantages in terms of grip, robustness and comfort on rough tracks, this type of bike has also become popular for general use in both town and country. On-road their main attribute is a greater resilience where surfaces are worn or potholed; on the other hand, these cycles are sluggish and poorly suited to manoeuvring in traffic. Mountain bikes are not the best choice for most people's cycling needs, but may be improved for road use by fitting narrower tyres.
The sports, road or touring styles of bicycle are often, mistakenly, referred to as racing bikes. However, there are wide differences in specification and most models are not intended for competition. This type of cycle – characterised by large wheels and dropped handlebars – has declined in popularity in recent years, but is still the best choice for longer distance touring and is good for commuter cycling too. Excellent manoeuvrability and efficiency make it ideal for integrating with traffic. High pressure tyres increase efficiency, a benefit over longer distances, but are much less tolerant of poor surfaces and conditions off-road.
The hybrid bike is a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. Like the latter, it has large wheels with low-profile tyres, but these are wider for greater comfort and better grip off-road. Gear systems and brakes are similar to those fitted on mountain bikes and controls next to the brakes make gear changing very easy. Suspension systems are omitted. There is a choice of handlebar designs and better hybrids have handlebar stems that are fully adjustable for reach and height, which makes it easier to achieve a good fit to the rider who adopts an upright riding position. Full mudguards and pannier racks make hybrids ideal for everyday journeys. Hybrids can be lightweight and are the best all-round type of bicycle, equally suitable for town roads and the kind of off-road use and short-distance touring undertaken by most people. In most cases, this is the type of bike for people to choose if they are new to cycling.
City bikes are another compromise between a mountain bike and a road bike. Here, however, the emphasis is on road cycling for relatively short trips; these bikes are not designed for use off-road. With an angled handlebar, upright riding position and slim, efficient, tyres, many city bikes come with hub gears to create a durable and reliable, if a little weighty, workhorse for everyday transport.
Still rare but growing in popularity are recumbent cycles, which come in a wide variety of designs. Recumbent bicycles require more skill to balance, paradoxically due to their low centre of gravity. This factor is turned to advantage, however, in a recumbent tricycle, which can be most stable and comfortable, albeit slow uphill. The 'laid back' position of the rider may be of benefit to people with back or neck problems, while there are safety advantages in riding feet, rather than head, first that may compensate for their reduced conspicuity due to their low height.
Tricycles are becoming more popular as utility machines and provide a solution for people who cannot balance well on a bicycle. They are useful for carrying shopping and children. Riding a tricycle requires different skills from riding a bicycle, especially when turning. Their stability is an advantage in traffic, but they are less manoeuvrable where roads are congested.
Tandems and tandem tricycles are a great way for two people to travel together, particularly if one rider is stronger than the other. Children and visually-impaired people may be tandem partners with adults or those with normal sight. Touring, all-terrain and recumbent tandems are available.
Information abridged from Cyclecraft:
The complete guide to safe and enjoyable cycling
for adults and children.
John Franklin, The Stationery Office.