Buying a new bike is always an adventure and a joy.
No matter whether you are spending £200 or £4000 on a new bike and you are a cycling enthusiast, you will probably invest as much time researching, comparing and selecting the best bike you can get for the money you are spending. You will aim to squeeze the absolute best value possible and get the best bike for the buck that you can. Perhaps even more if you budget is tight, because we all know the Velominati is right:
// It’s all about the bike.
It is, absolutely, without question, unequivocally, about the bike. Anyone who says otherwise is obviously a twatwaffle.
Talk to the sales person about your riding style.
So what do you do?
You talk to friends, club mates, read the latest product reviews, match this up to your preferred bike kit, are you a Shimano, Campagnolo SRAM fan or do you want to emulate your favourite pro (to be honest the last is never a good buying decision). Do you have a favourite brand or is there a dream bike, your Porsche, Ferrari or Aston Martin out there. We can all dream and dreams cost nothing.
But bringing things back down to earth, sadly we are all limited by the amount we can afford. Yes the there are ways to stretch your budget and make your money go further, bike to work schemes being a prime example, helped in many cases by a store that is willing to allow you to put more money in at the start so you can get closer to your Holy Grail.
Now the rub is where do you shop and to be honest this is the core of this article. The biggest question out there is where is the best place to buy a new bike?
Perhaps the easiest way to answer this question is to share my most recent bike buying experience and mingle that in with over 30 years bike component and full bike buying experiences. Obviously when I started buying parts and bikes the internet and world wide web did not exist so the driver was what your friends rode and what the local bike shop had in stock or could order. In fact Shimano had not even entered the market in the UK, gosh can you imagine a time BS (that’s Before Shimano!) but the abbreviation has got me thinking!
Back in the day when steel was king and the choice was between Reynolds or Columbus tubing, the dream bike had to be hand built and had to have the most intricate lug work, hand crafted from standard castings. For me, my Ferrari was a hand crafted, red, Colnago with full Campagnolo Record groupset and handbuilt wheels with Mavic rims, who knows maybe one day!
To get close to your dream you had to visit your Local Bike Shop (LBS) search through their brochures of Peugeots, MBK, Raleigh and Vindec to find something that might just allow you to live the dream at your price point. But in your heart of hearts you knew it was going to be a Ford Escort L and not a Ferrari Dino.
Today however the story is very different. Every bike company has a website and the number of bike supermarkets has gone through the roof, offering last years models at amazing discounts and in some cases very attractive deals on the latest models. But where do you go to get the biggest bang for you bucks and the best advice?
I can hear you screaming online! online! buy online! or one of the big stores. Maybe you are right, but I urge you to read on and remember the motto ‘buyer beware’.
I would be lying if I said I did not use the internet and the world wide web, I do and I gain a lot of useful information using this method. I have a lot of bike and product knowledge stored away too. I have a very good BS (no not Before Shimano) filter to sift out the marketing hype from the real facts. I should know I used to walk the talk when I was in technical products sales and marketing!
My most recent buying experience was very illuminating and really backs up my gut instinct for where you should also go to get your best advice and bike deal. Actually its not really a gut instinct but rather a rule.
The Velominati has it in a nutshell:
// Support your local bike shop.
Never buy bikes, parts or accessories online. Going into your local shop, asking myriad inane questions, tying up the staff’s time, then going online to buy is akin to sleeping with your best friend’s wife, then having a beer with him after. If you do purchase parts online, be prepared to mount and maintain them yourself. If you enter a shop with parts you have bought online and expect them to fit them, be prepared to be told to see your online seller for fitting and warranty help.
Perhaps rule 58 is a little harsh but the sentiment is true, but what is your Local Bike Shop? Halfords, Evans and Decathlon are all on my doorstep, are these my Local Bike Shop or are they bike super markets, we all know how well Tesco’s et al are doing at the moment! For me a LBS is the shop that is an independent one, run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts and potential enthusiasts. It’s the place where you can get great advice, irrespective of whether you are buying a bike for your 5 year old or spending £4000 on yourself. It’s staffed by knowledgeable people, who never look down their noses at you and have ‘the customer is king’ tattooed on their brain.
I was in the market for a new CX bike so I thought I would do a little bit of undercover research as a secret shopper, ‘the name’s Bond James Bond!‘. The first port of call was the world wide web to research the brand and model I would go for (but that’s for another time). After a lot of looking I decided to go for a Cannonade Super X, now to find a supplier.
My choice obviously ruled out some of the big players, gone was Decathlon and Halfords. To be fair to both of these companies they do, in general, have some good bikes on offer. Decathlon brands get some good write ups for value for money and my experience of the in store staff has always been pretty positive, both in the UK and France. Halfords also have some good product range now, Boardman and Cinelli, but from feedback from others you would need to know what you want and be prepared to rebuild post purchase to ensure all was safely put together. It did leave Leisure Lakes and Evans in the frame, both of whom have stores close to where I live.
Leisure Lakes has been a good store for me in the past. The founders having a great vision for the enthusiast, with good product range. But as the market developed into cycle to work bikes, they seem to have reduced the range available and targeted the ride to work buyers, which is great for core business but has left the specialist side behind a little. So I thought I’d give Evans a go.
A well stocked, knowledgeable Local Bike Shop is a great place to shop.
I took a few key measurements off my current CX and road bike and armed with these and my height and inside leg, off I went to the local Evans store at the Trafford Centre. I knew what I was after apart from sizing, on which I need some advice, so what could be easier. Oh how wrong can one be!
The shop was fairly busy but not to the level where sales staff would be overwhelmed with work. I took a quick look round to see if they had what I was after in store (was not really expecting they would), the only CX bikes they had where own brand and all below the magic £1000 bike to work price point. Never mind I can always ask them to order in a bike for me to have a look at.
It took me a while but I eventually tracked down a sales person. Quick chat and asked to have some guidance about the Cannonade. “Yes sir what would you like Small, Medium or Large?” a very interesting question I thought, considering the frames are sized in cm from 44cm to 58 cm. This was not inspiring confidence in me. I pointed out to the sales guy that the bikes are sized in cm and to be fair, he said he was not sure about sizing. He said he would look on the Evans system, oh but wait there’s no information. ‘Sorry I can’t help’ came the reply. What you have a customer in front of you who is probably going to spend at least £1500 and you can’t help?!!
Trying to help things along I suggested he look at the bike company website for details of the product. To be fair the the sales guy he did exactly that, not that it really helped as it was clear by now he was well out of his depth. My desire to support the super market round the corner was waning and waning fast.
After a bit of discussion and a review of my road bike sizing we plumped for a 54cm frame. I was a little uneasy as I was really not sure this was the best way to go. But I parted with my £50 refundable deposit (not that he told me that) to bring a bike to the store for testing. Away I went looking forward to getting the call to come in and try to bike for size.
If I said all was well with the world when I left the store I would be a bit like a politician telling you that all is well with the world and you will be much better off after the next budget. I was stewing over the whole experience and after an hour or so at home, cooling off time (rather bubbling and boiling time) I decided to change my mind and cancel the order and, at the same time, vent my frustration about the poor level of service.
To be fair to Evans they refunded the money very quickly and within days a store manager was on the phone to discuss the issue, offering nearly the world for me to come back as a customer. Did you know they had a full bike fitting service? Well that was news to me, no body mentioned that and it is not even mentioned on their website. Hmm do they really have a full on bike fitting service. I really feel that although they may dress themselves up as an amazing bike store and that they are a LBS I’m sorry your not, you are just another Halfords but at least Halfords do not try to be anything better!
Its good to talk to someone who knows.
So back to the drawing board, where was I going to buy from, I needed a truly independent shop, that had the product I was after and had some top flight levels of service. After a bit more research I found Bikechain Ricci in Redruth Cornwall. What a different experience with Richard Pascoe and staff. A quick call with Ricci and it was clear he and his staff are passionate about bikes and that they know their stuff. I sent Ricci my current bike measurements and my key body measurement. He was back within a day with the advice that for the CX I should really be riding a size down from my road bike. This would allow me to move my weight around the bike more easily to deal with a range of surfaces and terrain. This all made perfect sense and matched with the additional research I had done since my Evans experience. Ricci’s product knowledge and riding experience really shone through the whole process, so their it was decision made, deposit paid and estimated delivery date provided, mid November (a bit disappointing but never mind it will be worth the wait).
Time to sit back and reflect on the whole process. I think an online review of Evans I have just found whilst writing this maybe sums up the experience better then I can “Evans cycles – the McDonalds of bicycles?” (http://road.cc/content/forum/92017-evans-cycles-macdonalds-bicycles) I am not sure I would call them the McDonalds but they are a bike supermarket with supermarket service. If its in stock and cheap great, otherwise give them a wide birth.
For me it has to be a local independent bike shop, yes I know Bikechain Ricci is not on my doorstep, but the point is they gave service above and beyond. No other local store to me could provide the product I wanted. Over the phone the guys at Bikechain went the extra mile, talked, listened and discussed needs and really knew their product. That really is what counts and that only comes with passion and experience. I have always had excellent service from the smaller independent guys over the years and sadly a few no longer exist as they get swamped by the big chains.
Stop shopping at the big chains and get yourself down to the local bike shop and talk to them, you might just find you get much better advice and if they can they will give you a bigger bang for your bucks.
If you are looking for an excellent local bike shop I can recommend the following, all based on excellent personal experience.
Bikechain Ricci Redruth Cornwall
Eddie McGrath Cycles Urmston, Manchester
Geoff Smith Bolton
Wallis Cycles Higher Walton, Lancs
Broadgate Cycles Penwortham, Preston
Cycles Laurent Avrilla Sion sur L’Ocean Vendee France
M Steels Gosforth Tyne and Wear
Cookson Cycles Whitefield, Manchester
Kreis is a relatively new brand to the UK market and comes at it with the angle of offering limited run Club orders. Their designs are very modern and striking and give an opportunity to have a coordinated wardrobe for not too much money. The clothing is made for them by Kalas, a Czech company that have enabled Kreis to bring their designs to the public.
The overall emphasis from Kreis is on creating your own statement and having them help you realise it. Most of the designs are size customisable too, offering a great deal of flexibility for every shape and size of cyclist. Emphasis is placed on the ‘pre-order’ stage of purchase where the details of what you need can be tailored to you.
Kreis Echelon-Gipfel Renntrikot Jersey
The design of this jersey and indeed all the kit we had for review certainly turned heads. This jersey was of simple construction with a lycra front and sleeves, and mesh panel rear. This gave a great amount of breathability from the rear portion and the modern aero design most riders now seek. It fitted very snuggly and was comfortable in the classic cyclist tuck, without any flapping. Importantly the three rear pockets were accessible and deep enough to carry usual cyclist needs. Renntrikot has a full length zip which worked easily and gave flexibility when venting is required in warmer temperatures. In long term testing it washed well, it’s light colours remaining clean.
Our Test model was sized ‘4’. This was in modern terms a ‘race fit’ i.e. tight and was in the realm of a small/medium. As with all brands your own size and fit differ from other manufactures sizes.
The Jersey is listed at £85
Kreis Echelon-Gipfel Tragerhose Shorts
Shorts are in modern terms one of the biggest areas of discussion amongst Cyclists of all persuasions. Each contact point with the bicycle has to be perfect or your ride is going to be very short indeed. Kreis offer gender specific inserts to provide the comfort and they actually are pretty comfy. Quite a few rides gave plenty of confidence in the chamois. Fit is the secondary area of comfort for shorts, any ruffles or bagginess will soon become a problem but the Tragerhose are made of a nice weight of lycra that is soft and solid enough to help their panelled structure to fit well. The only negative for us was that the leg ‘gripper’ arrangements were baggy on our test item. This is probably down to the simple fact that the test shorts were size 5, which equates to an XL on the Kreis sizing chart. The grippers have their silicon band cleverly embedded in the fabric itself, meaning that the old fashioned ‘just above knee elastic line’ is totally eradicated. A smaller size would have given a better fit here.
The shorts are listed also at £85
Kreis Echelon Accessories
We also tested the Echelon Armwarmers which are made of a ‘roubaix’ (brushed lycra on reverse). These proved to be lovely and snug in cooler conditions. They have a silicon top gripper to keep them in place and were longer than most modern styles giving less chance of a chilly gap at the top. At £20 these compliment the rest of the Echelon range nicely without breaking the bank and could be worn with other clothes as they are mostly black with just a few details.
A Radlerkappe was also sent for our enjoyment, that’s a cap to you and I, and although with helmets being solely the order of the day the cap was called into service on a couple of low sun evenings to prevent dappling light affecting the eyes. There is a functional mesh panel within its structure that prevents any overheating allowing a good point of ventilation.
The hat comes in three sizes and we tried the Medium which was perfect for a ‘normal’ head. £15 buys you the perfect piece to finish your pro-rider designer look.
The Armwarmers are listed at £20 and Cap at £15
For someone on a modest budget this range could be ideal and with a bit of input even unique to you. A lot of modern riders wish to have their own identity in a crowd and this could help them get there.
CyclingShorts.cc gives the Kreis Range 93% and a star buy rating.
Range available from:
Bioracer Pixel Jacket
This years show runs from 26th – 28th September 2014 and has exhibits from just about every brand you have heard of in the Cycling World and then some.
There are many highlights and there has been a push this year to get some of the fresh new equipment on show for the punters to drool over.
Kim Madsen presents New XTR Di2 Gruppo
Top of this list was the Shimano stand where Kim Madsen and his team have unveiled the new XTR Di2 Groupset and have set it up on a working bike along with a 3D interactive Trainer that when wearing the magic 3D goggles allows you to actually ride in the mountains!! There will be big queues to play with this so get there early!! Kim and his team are part of Shimano’s drive to keep the fun and excitement in cycling and when you see the faces on the grown-ups testing the new kit you will see this plan’s working!!
For Weight Watchers the big draw will be Treks stand featuring the new super light Emonda range which features there lightest ever production model. The excuse that they haven’t got one in the colour you want is out the window as they have a vast range of custom options to match your team or club kit, seeing is believing but this bike is measured on how fast your jaw drops when you lift it and say ‘Wow’!!
Bioracer have a fantastic simple stand which shows their new super safe Pixel range which reflects light the give riders visibility in poor light, ideal for winter and at the other end of the scale their much talked about Speedsuit time trial wear actually had people queuing to see what Martin and all the top testers have been using to help cheat the wind.
The exhibition is vast so take sensible shoes and enjoy the entertainment such as at 14.15 pm everyday Jules Thraser from ATG training giving a demo on how to program Shimano Di2 components, easy when you are shown well!!
Racing Weight Cookbook
Lean, Light Recipes for Athletes
by Matt Fitzgerald & Georgie Fear
Matt Fitzgerald and Georgie Fear have come together to produce ‘The Racing Weight Cookbook for Athletes’. This book is aimed at endurance athletes, giving you the tools and knowledge to improve your diet, to fuel performance for training and racing. It’s all about obtaining your optimal racing weight through healthy eating, within the requirements of your bodies needs. It explains that conventional diets are no good for endurance athletes.
I’ve read the pre cursor to this book ‘Racing Weight: How to get lean for peak performance’ so was really interested to see what this book had to offer.
The book is also very cleverly aimed at different kinds of cooks. Those that can’t cook, those that can cook a little and those of us who love cooking. So even if you love cooking but don’t have time, you can use the ‘can’t cook’ section.
As both a coach and an athlete I was very interested to see if the cookbook would enhance what the first book delivered and it certainly does that.
There is a brief outline about the first book, but there is enough information for you not to need to read it. It’s easy to follow and won’t take you long to get started, a definite plus!
This book is really good for those of us who have never managed to stick to a diet for longer than a few weeks, that’s because it is not a diet book. It gives you lots of tips and tricks to get the energy you need without overeating, tips for swapping foods and best of all, lots of recipes. It looks at how many carbohydrates your body needs, dependant on your weight and the amount of hours you are training for. There is also a handy table that can help you score the quality of the food you are currently eating. It’s very easy to follow, which was great for me as I do tend to get bored very quickly.
I have to say the recipes are amazing and the pictures make the recipes look appetising. I particularly liked the chocolate peanut butter banana shake as a post workout meal. Eating post workout is something I struggle with, but this was a great recipe, easy to make and super quick to drink. Plus and I always think this the seller… it tastes great!! Really, it does!
I’ve also had a go at one of their Granola recipes, wow, honestly I have been bowled over by every recipe I’ve tried.
One thing about recipe books though, which I do dislike, besides the American measures, is the need to buy things that most people don’t have in their store cupboard. So essentially it’s all about planning and shopping.
I pondered over whether a club cyclist would buy a book like this or whether it was specifically aimed at competing athletes. On reflection, everybody who spends quite a lot of time on their bikes would benefit from this book, you don’t need to be competing, just putting the miles in, so maybe the title ‘Racing Weight’ will marginalise sales of this book.
Would I buy it? As a coach? Yes I would, as an athlete? Yes definitely. Would I recommend this book? Without a doubt.
The Racing Weight Cookbook gets a Cycling Shorts Star Buy Rating!
Author: Matt Fitzgerald and Georgie Fear
Published by VeloPress
Available in Paperback
Price: RRP £16.95 or $24.95
Following my high scoring reviews of the Bike Floss (90%) and the Bike Polish & Frame Protector (100%) from UK Company Purple Harry, I now turn to their Wash & Polish Mitt.
It is made from good quality microfibre material and shaped into a three fingered ‘lobster claw’ glove, which according to their website “has been ergonomically designed with the bike’s shape and contours in mind – allowing access to difficult areas whilst avoiding catching on the drive train and snagging in components”.
For this review I will be comparing this mitt with my usual cleaning materials; standard square shaped microfibre cloths bought from my local Pound store!
The Mitt costs at least SIX times more than the cloths I have been using for many years for cleaning and polishing duties, but is it worth the extra expense?
I hit a problem with the Mitt straight away; I couldn’t get it onto my hand.
My hands are not excessively large, but I struggled for a while before having to resort to using scissors to cut the black narrow cuff stitched into the Mitt to allow my hand in. Due to the Lobster claw shape your second and third fingers are forced apart, which felt uncomfortable to start with, but overtime became less troublesome.
Also while working on the bike, because you have two pairs of fingers held together, it restricts how well you can get into those small little gaps and crevices that need to be reached while cleaning or polishing. My natural instinct is to use just the finger-tip of my index finger to get to those more intricate areas, something you can’t do very successfully with this Mitt as the combined width of two fingers stops you reaching as far as you would like.
Also with my normal square cloth I can easily reach every corner on the frame by using it in a flossing action by just pulling one corner into the tight spot, for example cleaning between the rear wheel and chain stays, the gap is far too narrow to get my finger in between.
Another disadvantage of using the Mitt is that the actual area of material that you can use for cleaning/polishing is very limited; meaning that it quickly becomes too dirty or clogged. You have the whole Mitt but in reality can only effectively use the finger tips for finer work and the length of your fingers for working on the more accessible areas.
To use the other side you will need to take the Mitt off and put it on your other hand. This means that it might become too dirty to finish the job, you will have to wash it after every use or you will need to buy a couple more!
My way of working is that I currently have several microfibre cloths in use, each one is given a different task depending on how dirty it is; brand new ones are used for dusting and polishing only, but once they become clogged or a little dirty they then move onto drying or light cleaning duties and the previous one used for this purpose is ‘downgraded’ to more dirty tasks and so on until the very last one is used exclusively for chain cleaning work – and once this is oil soaked it is binned and another trip to the Pound shop is made to buy a fresh one to start the process again.
These cloths can be washed too, but as they cost as little as 99p for three it is not worth the effort. As they are square shaped you can use every inch of the cloth, both sides included, and by wrapping your index finger in the cloth with the remainder held in the palm of your hand you can reach those smaller awkward places with a clean patch of fabric every time unlike the Mitt.
From the picture above; in the bottom left is a new cloth, and each one in a clockwise direction becomes progressively dirtier.
So, as you can gather from my comments, I would not recommend that you pay £5.99 for this Mitt, instead buy six standard cloths and use a rotation system similar to mine, you will get much more value for money and they’ll do a better job too!
Left, is a comparison of cleaning area between the Mitt and cloths for the same price. Unfortunately I am awarding my lowest score so far, all the effort that has gone into cutting out the shape, stitching it together and attention to detail like adding the cuff and Purple Harry label has not only cost a lot to do, it has also severely restricted its usefulness, which is reflected in my score below:
Sorry to the Guys at Purple Harry, I can only give the Mitt a paltry score of 17%.