Journalist Jeremy Head recently bought a bike though his employer. While he knew he was looking for a bike for commuting, he realised that his hefty 10-mile journey required quite a bit of thought to get the right machine. Here we take a look at his journey.
I’d been thinking about riding to work for the best part of a year and never quite got round to it. It’s a good 10 mile ride to work so not something to undertake lightly. But what a great way to get fit! And the company I work for has signed up to the Ride to Work scheme which means I can buy a new bike with serious tax deductions.
Finally then, I decided to take the plunge. But choosing the right bike proved a more complicated affair than I’d expected. I gave myself a limit of £500 for the bike – and allowed an extra £200 for waterproof panniers, lights, a decent helmet and lock.
I assumed there would be a category called ‘urban commuter’ or ‘ride to work’ bikes. But that’s not the case. There’s a category called ‘hybrid’. Hybrid. What a meaningless name! Not really one thing, and not really another. Basically somewhere between a mountain bike and road bike. All a bit surprising given that there must be loads of people buying bikes to commute to work.
The choice I had to make was basically where to set the boundary. Did I want more mountain bike in my hybrid or more road bike? I ended up looking at three different bikes which put the bar at different places – and it was interesting to see the differences between them.
Sit-up-and-beg? –Trek Valencia
To kick things off, Evans staff recommended the Trek Valencia. A real advantage was that I could test ride any of the bikes, so I duly swung a leg over and took it for a spin.
First impressions? I really liked the comfy ergonomic grips which give a variety of hand positions allowing you to rest your wrists. Nice. I wasn’t so keen on the handlebars though. Designed for urban commuting, they were slightly tapered giving the rider a little more of a sit-up-and-beg, upright position, rather than the traditional hunched stance of a mountain bike.
But I don’t just commute in-town. A lot of where I’m riding is pot-holed and bashed-up tarmac, so I felt something with a bit more mountain bike in the mix would be better.
Moving the pointer – Scott Sub 30
I started looking at bikes that offered fatter tyres which would cope with rutted tarmac and potholes better. I tried the Scott Sub 30, which when I got on it I immediately realised had a more aggressive stance.
But it also had different gear ratios – more like a mountain bike – meaning that the difference between the chainrings at the front was more pronounced. I found it hard to manage, a little too full-on. I changed down riding up a hill and my feet were suddenly spinning like Catherine wheels.
So the Trek Valencia was just a bit too sedate and the Scott a little bit too hardcore.
Perfect combo – Gary Fisher Kaitai
My third trial ride pretty much hit the spot. The Gary Fisher Kaitai was a bit more mountain bike than the Valencia and a bit more urban bike than the Sub 30.
It had the more aggressive handlebar stance than the Valencia, but a similar gearset. It had fatter tires too which seemed like they’d cope better with potholes. Most interesting of all, it had front fork suspension. This would suggest it was more of a traditional mountain bike.
Pretty much everyone I spoke to said that suspension forks might be great for bouncing down muddy tracks but they just slow you down for road riding and are a waste of time. Now, I completely disagree. They made a huge difference clattering over bumpy paths and round potholes at speed. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes.
Roads aren’t all flat gleaming surfaces that you’d want to ride a road bike on – especially after the last winter. And the cycle path into work that I use is rutted old tarmac a lot of the way.
Better still, I was able to buy a set of Ergon GR2 handlebar grips – which are similar to the grips I’d loved on the Trek Valencia. So I had the best of all worlds.
The learning for me is that there are noticeable differences between bikes which are pitched at a similar audience. There’s no substitute for trying out different machines on similar terrain to the routes you’ll be cycling to find the right one for you.
And the other piece of good news? I saved nearly 40% off the cost of the bike and accessories using the Ride to Work scheme. Amazing value.