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What Kind of Bike?

If you are new to cycling, or returning after a substantial gap, you may be wondering what kind of bike to buy under the University's Bike-2-Work scheme. Since the purpose of the Bike-2-Work scheme is to furnish you with a bike for your daily commute, the answer is fairly obvious: a commuter bike! These are the features to look for:

Hub gears

If you have to climb an exceptionally steep hill on your commute, you might want to consider the wider range of gears offered by derailleurs, but for the vast majority of commutes a decent hub is more than adequate. The big advantage of a hub is that whereas derailleurs need frequent adjustment and can be badly damaged if you drop the bike, a hub gear is virtually maintenance-free and indestructible. It’s true that the range is limited, but not to the traditional 3-speed. Modern hub gears offer ranges that include 5-, 7- and 8-speed bikes.

Mudguards

Unless your hobby is doing challenging laundry, you will want to keep mud, oil and dirty water off whatever you wear for your trip.

An enclosed chain

For the same reason. Of course you can wear trouser clips, but why bother when you can have a chaincase permanently shielding you from the single dirtiest component of the bike?

Hub dynamo lighting

Lights are mandatory, and even if they weren’t, you’d still use them, wouldn’t you? Of course you can use battery lights, but you have to keep replacing the batteries even if you use rechargeable ones. In most cases you also have to remove the lights from the bike for security reasons every time you park it. You can choose between a hub dynamo and a bottle dynamo (the top of which is turned by coming into contact with your tyre); hub dynamos justify the extra outlay by greater reliability and also by being less susceptible to damage if you drop the bike. A feature that is well worth specifying is a standlight, which will keep your lights burning for a few minutes after you have stopped – very reassuring at junctions. Some lighting systems even incorporate a sensor, which will switch your lights on when light drops below a certain level and off again when it rises.

LEDs

Whatever lighting system you choose, bulbs, even halogen ones, are yesterday’s technology. By far the best lights are now single light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which apart from being much brighter than their incandescent predecessors, also use less energy by producing light without wasted heat.

Rack and panniers

You may be surprised at what you can carry comfortably and safely on your bike. The most important principle is that it is safer, healthier and more comfortable to carry luggage on the bike than to carry it on your body. The straps of heavy backpacks bite into your skin, make your shoulders ache and affect your control of the bike by making you top-heavy. The extra-thick layer on your back will also make you sweat more. None of these problems occur when you carry your luggage in panniers attached to a rear luggage rack. There are panniers designed for specific purposes, such as carrying a laptop and there are those that convert instantly to shoulder-bags when you park the bike. It’s probably worth checking that whatever you buy is waterproof, and don’t exceed the manufacturer’s weight-rating for the carrier rack.

Comfort

Probably the most important feature to increase your comfort is a fairly upright riding position. For this reason, avoid drop handlebars. Saddles are a rather subjective affair. It is not always true that the most comfortable one is the big softie, but that really is something you will have to decide for yourself – and perhaps be prepared to change, if you end up with one you can’t get along with. Suspension may be useful on certain kinds of sports equipment, but is generally best avoided on a commuter bike. If you are very sensitive, or if your commute takes you over particularly uneven ground, consider seatpost suspension. Most other kinds will absorb your pedalling effort, making unnecessary work for you.

Mirror

You wouldn’t drive your car without one, so what makes you think you don’t need one on a bike? Modern mirrors are small, unobtrusive and unlike earlier versions don’t wobble so much you can’t see a thing.

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