Buying a Used Bike 1: Types of Bike

MICK ALLAN writes about finding the right bike second-hand, detailing the pros and cons of each. Do you go with a city bike or a roadster?

This guide is a quick introduction to getting a second-hand bike; we'll look at the types of bike out there that will be available cheap, their good and bad points, and which bits to check before you part with your money. Some of the guidance below may seem a bit daunting, but don't be put off: Take some advice, get a bike, and you may be surprised by what you can achieve.

Bike types

For our purposes, we'll consider bikes in two groups: hub geared and derailleur geared.


A good bet for a cheap dependable workhorse, these bikes have a gear system enclosed within the rear hub, often with a chain-guard to help keep oil off trousers. These bikes are reliable and need little maintenance.

Heavy roadsters

You don't get much tougher or simpler than these old dreadnoughts. In this category are single-gear or three speed roadsters dating from the 40's to the 60's. Most of the bits for these can be found, but it's probably more a task for the enthusiast than the budget utility cyclist. These bikes are also very heavy to ride over anything other than flat terrain.

Pros: Simple, sturdy as a tank, unstoppable

Cons: Slow, heavy as a tank, unstoppable, especially in the wet

Light roadsters

A much better bet! These have three-speed gears and cable-operated brakes. One of these machines, in good condition, will last for years. Not the swiftest at climbing hills, nor at stopping in the wet, but they are reliable and easy to maintain.

Pros: Simple, cheap, comfy, easy to look after, usually fully equipped.

Cons: Slow, still fairly heavy, (harder work up hills), brakes are often bad in the wet.

Shoppers/older folders

‘Unhip', but very easy to live with, these machines were introduced in the 60's to compete with the fantastic Moulton small-wheel bike. Whilst they look similar, they don't posses the same advantages and are inefficient.

Pros:  One size will easily adjust to fit a wide range of riders; easy to mount and dismount; mechanically simple, folding versions can be stored indoors to prevent theft.

Cons: Only suitable for short distances; can be twitchy at speed, doesn't carry a load well, folding versions are even more overweight than standard ones.


These bikes have exposed gears at the rear, and often at the front as well. They offer a wider range of closely spaced gears, making it easier to pedal at a comfortable pace, and they can be more efficient if well maintained.

Pros: Can be more efficient; offers a more dynamic and rewarding ride and is generally suitable for more enthusiastic use.

Cons: This kind of transmission needs more maintaining, and will be more expensive to replace if under maintained as most of the drive system will need to be replaced at the same time.

‘Sports' bikes

Particularly fashionable at the start of the 80's, racing-style bikes are built with dropped handlebars. Beware of poor-quality ‘lookalikes'. There are some good ones out there though; look for alloy rims and tyres which are wider than pencil-thin racing stuff – you want a bit of bounce on a general purpose bike.

Pros: Good for longer distances. The better ones are great to ride, and often good for touring.

Cons: Often built down to a price and these are unrewarding to ride. Rarely come with racks. Riding position takes some getting used to. Gearing is often optimistically high.

‘City bikes'

Derailleur geared but with upright handlebars, these are often a good bet as utility bikes if you don't mind the maintenance. Generally they are fitted with mudguards and rack, which makes them more practical than racing look-alikes or unadorned mountain bikes.

Pros: Swift, light, with more gearing over a more useful range. Often fully equipped with guards, rack and lights. Upright position good in traffic.

Cons: Upright position a pain in headwinds.

Mountain Bikes

A good old fashioned non-suspension mountain bike (fitted with street tyres in place of its original knobbly dirt tyres) has all of the good features of the ‘City Bike' but with the added benefit of being able to actually go off road once in a while. Such a bike will not be significantly heavier or slower than a similarly equipped ‘Hybrid' or ‘City-Bike' but it will be much more sturdy and durable. These machines are however becoming rarer. As mountain bikes have evolved they have sprouted complex front suspension, then even more complex rear suspension, hydraulic disc brakes and often radically different geometry with slacker head angles and higher bottom brackets. All good stuff on the mountain. Not so good in the city. Inevitably the fashion for ‘full-sus' trickled down the price points until its now possible to buy a full-suspension-mountain-bike-shaped-object for less than the cost of a pair of denim jeans. Some experts will have you believe that any mountain bike is incompatible with city streets. But an early less complex mountain bike equipped with skinny tyres really is hard to beat.

Pros: Tough, bounce over bumps. Older ones with frame braze-ons to attach accessories can be adapted to a wide variety of uses.

Cons: Can be heavy, many second-hand ones are abused. Rarely come with rack or mudguards. Straight handlebars can be uncomfortable. Attractive to thieves.

Women's bikes – a note

The traditional ‘ladies' frame is heavier and/or weaker than a gents of the same model. Unless you ride in a skirt there's no longer a reason for women to choose these frames except for the ease of getting on and off the bike. If carrying small children on the bike, or using it for stop-go round town riding, then either sex may find that the low step-though of the step-through framed bike offers advantages, but broadly speaking the male frame works better. Just make sure that the bike fits properly and choose the sort that suits your purposes. A women's specific saddle is an absolute must-have if you're the owner of a women's specific bum.

Read More

Buying a Used Bike 2: Things to Look (Out) For

A Beginner's Guide to Cycle Commuting - Choosing the Right Bike

A Beginner's Guide to Cycle Commuting - Cycle Security

Cycling for Women

Types of Bike (Bike Culture Section)

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