If you haven't cycled for a long time, don't be swayed by fashion or sport: get a bike that's comfortable, practical and useful for you.
Getting your first new bike in years can be bewildering, due the choice available. To narrow things down, be honest with yourself – and your local Cyclescheme retailer - about the journeys you'll make on it. There is no single bike that's best for all new cycle commuters. But if you're looking for one for half-hour journeys across town, you probably want some kind of hybrid. Here's a checklist of things to look for – or at least consider – in your new bike.
Upright riding position. Leaning forward on a bike provides a sportier, more aerodynamic riding position. However, it can also strain your lower back, neck and shoulders, and make your hands go tingly or numb. Sitting more upright transfers your weight to your backside. For shorter journeys, this works well. It makes it easier to look around in traffic too.
Non-drop handlebar. If you plan to ride fast or far, a drop handlebar is great: it gives you the ability to duck down out of the wind, and to vary the position of your hands. But a flat handlebar puts the brakes in easier reach and improves steering leverage, so is a better option in traffic, especially for less confident cyclists. It also tends to give a more upright riding position.
Comfortable saddle and grips. Aches and pains aren't a normal part of cycling. If a saddle feels wrong, it is wrong. The more upright you sit, the wider and more padded (or sprung) you want the saddle to be. Grips need to be more ergonomic the more weight you have on your hands. Note that both grips and saddle can be easily changed, either when you get the bike or later.
Mudguards and a rear rack. Ideally, a commuter bike will come with these to prevent road spray when it's wet and to enable you to carry your luggage on the bike instead of your back. If they're not present, check that they can be fitted.
Low enough gears. It doesn't matter how many gears the bike has as long as they go low enough to suit your local terrain and your own fitness. Many bikes are over-geared, making it too hard to climb hills on them.
Wide enough tyres. Wider tyres provide more shock absorbency, so they're more comfortable. They're less likely to pinch-puncture on bad roads. Grip is better too, as a wider tyre can be run at a lower pressure, giving it a bigger 'footprint'. For commuting, look for tyres at least 28mm wide.
Easy to use brakes. Brake levers need to be in easy reach of your index and middle fingers and mustn't require more grip strength than you've got to stop the bike easily. V-brakes and disc brakes are invariably very good, particularly hydraulic discs. Sidepull calipers and cantilever brakes are usually good.
Here are five quite different beginner-friendly bikes.
Pinnacle Lithium Two
The main advantage of this hybrid is that it's versatile: you can fit mudguards and racks front and rear for commuting or touring, or two-inch knobbly tyres for mountain biking. The 3x8 Shimano Altus and Acera gears are a cut above entry-level Shimano Tourney, and they provide an excellent range. Unlike most bikes at this price, it comes with hydraulic disc brakes. It's relatively light thanks to its aluminium frame and rigid steel fork, which is a better option than a cheap and heavy suspension fork. Comfort is still good as it runs 700x38C tyres. There's a women's version too.
Cube Travel RF
Like many northern European trekking bikes, the Cube Travel RF is fully equipped. As well as mudguards and a rear rack, it has always-available hub-dynamo lighting – with a 'standlight' that comes on when you stop. There's even a kickstand. The rest of the specification hasn't suffered: it has Shimano BR-M355 hydraulic disc brakes and 3x9 Shimano Acera/Altus/Deore gearing. The frame and fork are aluminium, making it lightweight for a fully-equipped bike. Its 700x40C tyres will cope comfortably with rough tarmac and gravel roads. A women's version is available.
Scott Sub Retro Lady
Roadsters are great for short journeys: jump on and go in whatever you're wearing. Never mind Lycra, you don't even need cycle clips as there's a chainguard to keep oil off your trousers. There are mudguards, of course, and the rear rack is part of the bike frame. That makes it very strong, although the thicker rails won't suit all pannier hooks. A hub dynamo provides ever-ready lighting. Other useful extras include an integral rear-wheel lock and a kickstand. The hub gear is a Shimano Nexus 7-speed, with enough range for flat or rolling commutes. If it's hilly near you, ask your shop to fit a larger sprocket. A gent's version is available.
Folding smaller and more neatly than any other rideable folding bike, the Brompton excels as a rail traveller's bike, going free as luggage. It's good for new commuters in general because it gives you options. If you're tired/it's too far/it's raining, you can take the tube/bus/taxi with your bike; you're not committed to riding all the way every day. You don't need to worry about theft, or even a lock, as the bike goes indoors with you. There are lots of design options, including colour, luggage, handlebar, gearing, and lighting. A 3-speed with mudguards and Shimano dyno-hub lighting (pictured) will suit many riders, but a 6-speed with reduced gearing ratios is better for steep hills.
Not sure if a folding bike is for you? Then be sure to give this article a read: 5 Reasons Why a Folding Bike is the Best Commuter Bike.
£985 as shown, brompton.com
Giant Twist Lite 2
If you're worried about your fitness, or if you commute is just too far or hilly, how about a bit of assistance? Giant's entry-level pedelec isn't a twist-and-go moped replacement: you have to pedal. The front wheel motor augments your efforts, according to the level of assistance you set with the handlebar control. The big rechargeable Li-ion battery, which locks in place in the rear rack, has a range of 20-25 miles. Unlike some budget e-bikes, the Twist Lite 2 is a decent quality hybrid underneath. It's perfectly rideable, though heavy, with a flat battery. A women's version is available. If your Cyclescheme voucher has a maximum value of £1,000, don't despair; you can pay the difference (£199) in cash to the retailer.
Do you need to revolutionise your commute?