A car driver’s guide to buying a bike

Cyclist riding along the river with bridge nearby.

Alice Piper

Posted October 20, 2021


Are you thinking of adding two wheels to your existing four? Here’s everything you need to know in our budget bike buying guide. 

Bike riding is booming across Australia, with cycling levels around the country increasing by up to 69% compared to pre-COVID, according to Bicycling Australia.  

And why not? Cycling is a healthy, sustainable and economical alternative to public transport and driving. It’s also a great way to spend time with friends and get in some exercise at the same time. 

But if bike riding doesn’t come naturally to you, or you ditched your old one the minute you got your driver’s licence and haven’t ridden since, there are a few things to consider before forking out the cash for a new set of two wheels.


What to look for when buying your first bike 

Know what you want

There are dozens of bike styles, so it’s important to know what you want your bike to do. Are you planning to off-road on weekends, or do you want a machine to get you from A to B in the urban wilds? Here are the three bike styles to consider. 

Mountain bike

Like a four-wheel-drive SUV, mountain bikes are all-rounders that take city streets and dirt trails in stride. They usually come with shock absorption, lower gears for hills and thicker tyres, so they feel more stable and safer in the wet. They’re also heavier and slower than road and most commuter bikes. 

Road bike

Good-looking and built for speed, road bikes are the sports car of the cycling world. However, the aerodynamic riding position can take some getting used to and makes it harder to keep an eye on traffic. Skinny tyres with limited grip make them fast but can also mean they’re dicier in the wet. 

Hybrid or commuter bike

These machines are mostly a city bike. A cross between a mountain bike and road bike, they’re sturdy, relatively speedy, and come with a comfy upright riding position. But like a two-wheel-drive ‘SUV’, you wouldn’t want to take a hybrid or commuter bike off-road. 

eBike

If you don’t want to arrive at work sweaty, an eBike can provide pedal-assistance of up to 25km/h, with a range of 80-100km on a single charge.  
 
eBikes are also a great option if you’re not feeling fit enough to ride the whole way to your destination, your typical journey is very hilly or taxing, or just want the security of extra power if required.  
 
Take a test ride

You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a spin first, so rather than buying from a ‘big-box’ retailer or online, try a dedicated bike shop where you can get expert advice and take it for a test ride.  

“Buyers should definitely have a test ride of at least a couple of bikes – for sizing and to see what feels right,” says Ryan Bilszta of Brunswick’s Samson Cycles, who sells and maintains thousands of entry-level bikes a year.  

“Without a test ride it’s almost impossible to gauge whether you’re going to be happy with it or not.”  
 
Many bike shops also offer free servicing for the first year of bike ownership.  

The right price

You can land a decent entry-level bike for less than $500, and with care get a few years’ riding out of it.  

“A lot of customers come in and say their friends recommend getting carbon-fibre this and $2000 that,” says Bilszta.  

“We recommend starting from the bottom and keeping it simple. It’s a good way to test the waters. Most people love it and within a couple of years upgrade.”  

Into gear

A budget bike buy can get you anything from no gears – the original ‘fixie’ – to 24 or more. 
 
If you have a fairly flat commute and no plans to hit the dirt on weekends, ask yourself how many gears you really need.  

A simple commuter bike with internal gears and a handful of speeds might be for you. “It’s almost like saying you’ve got an automatic car rather than a manual one,” says Bilszta.  
 
You can change gears while you’re stopped and they’re low maintenance. “For a lot of entry-level riders that peace of mind without having to worry about operation of the gears is a real bonus,” he adds. 

Maintain it 

A well-serviced bike – like a car – will run and hold its value better. Keeping the bike clean, oiling the chain and pivot points and keeping air in the tyres, are beginner-level servicing tasks that go a long way.  

“You’ll get more life out of the bike if you’re progressively maintaining it, keeping it clean and getting it checked periodically,” says Bilszta.  

Someone commuting five days a week should have their bike checked over every six months to reduce wear and tear as well as adding RACV bike assist to safeguard your bike against anything unexpected happening on your commute. 

“It’s just nice to be riding a bike that’s tuned properly.”  

All the extras 

Head gear

Cyclists must wear a helmet that meets Australian standards. Make sure it fits snugly and adjust the straps to keep it on your head. 

Ring your bell

You’re also legally required to have a working bell on your bike. A simple $15 bell will do the job. 

Lock it down

Bike thieves are a pragmatic bunch, so any lock is better than none. You’ll also want to find a secure spot when leaving it for longer stints.  

“I often say it’s not the lock that will save you, it’s where and how long you leave it,” says Bilszta.  

“The more expensive locks weigh a lot and if you’re commuting to a place that’s secure anyway it’s not worth spending $200 on a lock.” 

Light it up

If you’re planning to ride in the dark, you’ll need a white front and a red rear light, and a red rear reflector.  

Bilszta says USB-rechargeable lights are preferable to those with single-use batteries, both for the environment and lower long-term costs. Legally they must be visible from at least 200 metres away, but don’t make the mistake of picking up the highest lumens count you can find.  

“Some people ride down a bike path with lights you could land an aeroplane with – it’s dangerous,” says Bilszta.  
 
“You wouldn’t drive down Sydney Road with high beams, and this is essentially the same thing,” he concludes. 

 

Did you know RACV has roadside assistance for bicycles?
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