The last time I bought a bicycle it cost £30. It was sold to me by a fellow student, and I ended up getting a boyfriend into the bargain. They both turned out to be a liability: unreliable, high maintenance and hard to handle. I upgraded to a better one shortly afterwards – boyfriend, that is. Now it’s time to get a better bicycle.
Choosing a new bike is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Whereas my previous criteria stretched to “Does it have two wheels and a saddle?”, pedal power now comes in a bewildering array of packages.
Glancing around an Evans Cycles showroom in east London, I count nearly 100 mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrids, folders, BMX bikes, trail bikes, touring bikes, triathlon bikes, single-speed bikes, jump bikes and “nasty fashion bikes”, to quote Stavros, my straight-talking sales rep.
Spend a bit more and you can start to explore the mysterious luxuries of “integrated fusion forks”, “custom-drawn Sonus tubing” and “Mach1 Sub-Zero Disc rims”. Fortunately, with a budget of £300 and a simple desire to get from A to B, I’ve no need to get lost in such complexities.
Stavros steers me towards the mountain bikes, but as the most mountainous obstacle I’m likely to encounter is a cobblestone, this would seem a bit like buying a Humvee to negotiate a speed bump.
Road bikes, the ones I’d call “racers”, look far too sporty; trail bikes are for off-roading; touring bikes are long-distance travellers; and it’s probably a bit late for me to take up BMXing. I can feel myself veering towards the compromise option: a hybrid.
These “combine all the sexy bits of mountain-bike construction with a more practical road setup for easier cycling”, according to the Evans website. They are also a good choice for newbies like me. (And there are a lot of us around; about 3.5m bicycles were sold in the UK last year.)
Opting for a women’s bike reduces the choice to a manageable number: four.
“Between 70% and 80% of our customers at this store are male,” says Stavros, apologetically. I draw the line at a baby-blue Pinnacle and opt for a Ridgeback Rapide Velocity in a more macho silver-grey. It’s a shade over budget and I hand over £315.
But that’s just the start. Stavros wonders whether I’ve thought about mudguards. Locks? Panniers? A helmet? Oh, and then there’s insurance. What have I started?