Picking the bike

So, I knew I wanted a bike – but which one? Which brand? What kind?

When you get into bikes from zero knowledge, one of the first things you’ll learn is that there are three kinds of bikes – mountain bikes, road bikes, and hybrids. Mountain bikes are easy to spot in the shop, with their super thick tires and sporty frames. Your road bikes are really more like race bikes, designed to get you from A to B as fast as possible – the kind of thing that athletes cycle. You can spot these because of their super-thin tires and aerodynamic bodies. Then, there are the hybrids – the bikes which are good for those who’d like to take their bike to work, and maybe to the forest on a weekend, bikes that straddle between sporty and hardy, the sort of thing that, if you don’t know much about bikes, you’ll naturally gravitate towards right away, like I did.

But then I scratched the surface and realised there was a whole lot more to this hybrid lark than I had originally thought. Sure, all the catalogues had ‘hybrid’ sections, but then again, some bikes were hybrids and weren’t labelled as such. Some bikes were more sporty than they were for road use, some were more for commuting than they were flying through muddy tracks. My life was made a little more difficult because I’d decided to plump for a Trek – as advised by my friends, who both had Treks – and it seemed like a lot of their subbrands were secretly hybrids in disguise. Like the FX range, designed for ‘sporty types’ – which is more on the road end of a hybrid than the mountain bike end, but is never really called a hybrid. There are countless examples of this, but it made my life very difficult. I just wanted a bike I could cycle with my friends, mostly for road use, but which wouldn’t prevent me from cycling on some trails in the forest if I wanted to.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that the bike salesmen in two local shops were less than useful, and not remotely interested in selling any bikes. I won’t name names because I assume they are anomolies of the biking world – people who neither know anything about bikes, nor about selling products. Anyway, I ended up pouring my knowledge of bikes onto them as if to have them validate my experiences so far, whilst they gave me monosyllabic answers and really did nothing to try to help me select a bike. In the first shop, my opening question was about the difference between different bike brands ‘because my friends like Trek so I wondered if you could help me about the differences between the different types’. The guy then proceeded to tell me how great Trek bikes were for several minutes, which really didn’t help. At the second shop, I wanted to know what the difference between the Trek Allant WSD was, and the Trek FX range, and all I got was that the FX was for sports. What does that even mean? Will the FX be acceptable for use in badminton matches or something?

Anyway, in the end I narrowed it down to three bikes from the Trek range.

The Trek 7000 WSD

The Trek FX 7.2 WSD

And the Trek Allant WSD

Now, I have to admit, I had seen an olive green ladies’ bike with leather saddle and wicker basket in the window of my local bike shop a few weeks ago, and felt my heart stir… There’s something about the combination of a sophisticated, restrained green frame and the elegance of a leather look saddle that just really sings to me. But at the time I had the word ‘HYBRID’ in my mind and wasn’t looking for anything else.

Still, I couldn’t get that bike out of my mind, so I decided to ask a few more questions about the Allant, read some reviews, and lust over Google image searches of it, until, finally, I told myself, ‘well, if you like that damn bike so much, why don’t you just buy it?’. To which the reply came, ‘maybe I will’.

Hythe to Bucklers’ Hard

A lot of my friends have bicycles. In fact, if it wasn’t for Rachel, owner of a delightful Trek mountain bike, I don’t think I would have had anything more than a passing interest in biking at all. Once she bought her bike, it wasn’t long before her twin sister Lorraine, picked one up, and now I have four friends who have bikes. So they decided to plan a trip from Hythe (using the ferry) to Buckler’s Hard and back, a round trip of about ten miles or so (I think it wound up being more like eight in the end!).

After rediscovering my love of cycling last year at the Sky Ride, I wanted to join in, and so I arranged to hire a bike from a shop near the ferry terminal (and a good job I phoned in advance, because they weren’t open on a Sunday, the day I needed it, and the guy had to come in especially for me – what a sport!). He asked me where I was going and I explained the trip – then he asked me if I was cycle fit, because I guess that’s a ways to go if you’re not.. I had no idea if I was, but told him that I cycled on my exercise bike quite a lot and was pretty confident. I think the longest I’ve ever cycled on that thing was 100 minutes, because the counter goes up to 99 and I wanted to see what happened when it ticked over… Anyway, that’s a different story!

I have to say, cycling after a long break feels really intimidating. Even more so if you need to cycle in traffic. Even if you’re a confident driver, as soon as you get on that saddle the roads become roaring death-traps, full of cars ready to mince you into pieces. Luckily, the trip was down relatively quiet country roads, and the only time I got slightly nervous was when I cycled past a foal (giving it wide berth, I have to add!), which got startled by the group and started to gallop along the verge right beside us. I was concerned that it would run in front or bash into one of us, which could have turned into a nasty accident, but luckily it slowed down and stopped after a little bit. Hopefully it learned not to be scared of bikes in the future!

If there’s anything that’s going to get you enthusiastic about cycling, it’s a leisurely trip in the sunshine through some beautiful parts of the countryside near you. You get to see so much more than you would in a car, and have the added bonus of actually exercising whilst doing so – therefore more than earning yourself a slap-up pub meal halfway through. (But maybe not the two servings of ice cream I had both to and from the pub… sigh.)

I was also pleasantly surprised at how fit I was from all my cycling on the exercise bike. Turns out I must have had the resistance turned way up, because cycling up a hill was a pretty familiar feeling for me! Cycling on the flat was like heaven. A couple of my friends were struggling, but I guess the more we go out for trips, the fitter they’ll get – and the more ice cream we can eat! Right?

So, it was this trip that convinced me I really needed to buy a bicycle. The only question was really – which one?