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Tips for Buying Your First Bike or E-bike

Tips for Buying Your First Bike or E-bike

by Richard Peace, cycling journalist, guide book author, map designer:

19th May 2020

Richard Peace, author of the Buying Your First Bike blog post

With cycling shops experiencing a boom right now it’s clear many people are heading back to two wheels at the time of the virus pandemic, both to get exercise if staying at home or as way of travelling to work without relying on public transport.

If you haven’t ventured into a bike shop in many years you might be overwhelmed by what’s on display – gone are the days of a simple choice between shopper, road bike or mountain bike. There are now many more genres and sub-genres from flat bar road bikes through to fully equipped hybrids and there are even some models made especially for older riders, such as the Islabikes ‘Janis’.

Buying your first bike - Islabikes Janis - suitable for older riders
The Islabikes Janis

And the good news is cycling technology has come on leaps and bounds, so great technology like disk brakes and wide range, easy-to-operate gearing is now much more standard when once it was in the realms of the very exotic and expensive. 

Buying the Right Bike

Rather than jumping straight to wondering about the categories why not make a list of what you want the bike to do and where you want to use it and you should probably find your list of possibles narrowing down quite quickly.

Before you even hop on the internet or go into a shop to look at models bear in mind the following:

1. Don’t be ambitious

Don’t be too ambitious when buying your first bike, thinking you need an expensive road bike to be able to speed to work in time. Over modest commuting distances that most folk cover they are not that much faster than an average leisure bike that is suitably equipped. Far more important is to get a bike that is comfortable, easy to handle and ride and feels stable – you can still ride fast if you like!

2. Borrow a similar bike

Try and borrow a bike similar in style to what you have in mind for a test ride to highlight any possible problems.

3. Mountain bike?

Getting a mountain bike to use for the daily commute on road – then off-road in your free time – might sound like a good idea but generally isn’t. The large and relatively heavy knobbly tyres when used on tarmac will certainly slow you down and not be particularly pleasant to ride in hard surfaces.

If you are aiming to tackle full on mountain bike trails far better to wait and get a separate bike for this activity. If you only need to go on things like forest dirt roads and canal towpaths that are only moderately bumpy there are plenty of so-called hybrid and trekking models that will tackle both tarmac and unsealed surfaces.

4. The weight of the bike

Weight is quite important but certainly not everything. A suitably equipped bike (and rider) and a comfortable and ergonomic riding position are equally if not more important in being able to get about quickly, efficiently and enjoyably. The more you enjoy it the more you will continue to do it!

There are plenty of bikes on the 12-13kg range which are pretty light to lift around when not riding and they are quite capable of being fast bikes if that is what you want.

5. Looks

Don’t be lead by what looks good – again, think about what you need.

Here’s a list of suggestions of things to think about:

Frame size

Get this right and pedalling will be comfortable on the knees and effective and you will be able to get on and off the bike easily too. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the subject.

Riding Position

Critical to comfort and effective pedalling – you don’t want to be reaching for the bars nor do you want to feel cramped and not be able to feel like you are riding freely. If you feel happier with a sit up straight style of riding you can look for a bike with swept back handlebars and not too much reach between handlebars and seat.

Some bikes have an adjustable handlebar stem so that you can bring the handlebars nearer or further away as required. Numerous Dawes trekking models have this feature, for example this Mojave model, which also features a nice step-thru frame making mounting and dismounting easier.

Buying your first bike - the Dawes Mojave with an adjustable stem
The Dawes Mojave Low Step

Another step thru model range with comfortable looking swept back bars is the Cannondale Treadwell.

Cannondale Treadwell
700The Cannondale Treadwell


The flatter the terrain you expect to cover, the less gears you need. Extra gears add weight and cost. Seven derailleur gears is plenty for moderate terrain with gently rolling hills. Modern gearing means you can now get 12 speed rear derailleur systems that will tackle most terrain and are easy to control from just one handlebar shifter.

Easiest of all to operate and with the lowest maintenance are hub gears. They are more widely spaced than derailleur gears so 3 hub gears are fine for moderately rolling hill territory and 7 and 8 speed variants are also quite common and will handle much hillier country.


If you are riding on good quality tarmac then ‘slick’ road tyres are the best option. If you want to mix tarmac and moderate off road use in railpaths and similar then look for a ‘semislick’ with a moderate amount of raised tread. The Schwalbe G-One is a good example.

A moderate amount of puncture protection is also a good idea – there are various grades and the heaviest and toughest are definitely harder to pedal so best chosen if you only do short flat distances through high puncture risk areas. There are plenty of tyres with a moderate level of puncture protection that will definitely help stave off punctures.

If you are really worried about punctures and have to constantly battle glass shards or hawthorn hedge cuttings there are airless tyres such as Gecko on the market – these are somewhat harder pedal than pneumatic tyres but they are improving and are fine for shorter flatter rides and especially good on e-bikes.


Do you really need a bike with front suspension? I have found it adds weight and the cheaper suspension forks relying on a steel spring can be rattly and not perform particularly well (more expensive ones relying on air compression are smoother and more effective). Choosing a wide tyre and getting the tyre pressure just right can often make for a much smoother ride over potholed roads and on towpaths and railpaths.

If your roads are extremely badly potholed and especially if you regularly venture onto very rough tracks you might want to consider a front suspension fork. Full suspension mountain bikes are really for extremely rocky trails only as they take a lot more energy to pedal.

Fitness or Practicality?

If you want to ride to get fit of course it is still possible on a heavier model designed for trundling around town and doing the shopping in a practical way – but it can feel dispiriting putting in a lot of effort on such a bike and not going as far or fast as you want.

A sporty design doesn’t need to be a ‘lean forward, head down’ road bike – for example Evans own brand Pinnacle range of hybrid bikes offer great value and are pretty light and fast. 

Pinnacle Lithium Hybrid
The Pinnacle Lithium Hybrid

Of course, if you want a bike that will get you around town for shopping or very gentle leisure rides and one that will be easy to ride, use and maintain, a practical Dutch-style bike is the ultimate choice. This Ortler is a good example and features wheelguard, fully-enclosed chainguard, kickstand, mudguard, lights and dynamo lighting. This kind of bike is designed to get on and ride and to load up with luggage and to be low maintenance. In other words an everyday bike for everyday activities.

To Fold or Not Fold?

If you regularly combine train and bike it might be worth thinking about folding bikes. The most compact folders are still the world famous Brompton bikes, still made in London. A standard three speed model with mudguards weighs around 11.5kg.

Brompton folding bike
Brompton folding bike

Tern bikes also make great folders and these are also lightweight – although they fold a little larger they have larger wheels and so handling is a less twitchy and more like a full size bike and some models are very speedy indeed.

Cheaper options include the Decathlon Tilt range and the Halfords’ Carrera Transit, both of which, at 14kg+, weigh more than most Brompton and Tern folders.

When test riding a folder also make sure you are happy folding and carrying it! 

What Price for Your First Bike?

I would suggest around £300 as a starting point for a decent quality new bike if chosen carefully.

From about £450 you will get something with hydraulic disk brakes like this Voodoo bike, the next real step up in quality.

Is an E-bike Right for You?

E-bikes are a great choice for beginners who may lack fitness but who want to cover longer distances than they would otherwise be able. And for even experienced cyclists they can be game changers in transforming that commute that would leave you tired and sweaty before you have even started your day’s work into a pleasurable, enlivening sweat-free experience.

If used correctly (ie not on full power all the time!) you can also use e-bikes to get plenty of exercise – indeed they will allow you to go further and see more on the same amount of energy on leisure rides.

If you plan to make relatively short rides, of course a non-electric bike will be fine and you probably will get fitter faster – as long it doesn’t all seem too much like hard work at first and you give up altogether. Non-electric bikes are also a lot cheaper than e-bikes of equivalent quality, are lighter (although there are some pretty light e-bikes around) and they don’t have batteries that eventually wear out and cost a lot to replace (though today’s e-bike batteries should last many years if looked after properly).

Buying Your First E-Bike

In many ways the choice of what kind of e-bike is easier than choosing a regular bike – with motor assist you don’t need as many gears as you will get up hills more easily and knobbly tyres are less of a barrier to cycling a mountain bike on tarmac as a good powerful motor will easily overcome the extra resistance (though at the cost of reduced battery range).

If you have doubts about the practicality of e-bikes our myth-buster blog might allay your concerns.      

The number of e-bike manufacturers and different motor systems can still make a first e-bike purchase seem like a minefield. The following list of considerations should clarify things.

Frame size and riding position

Those points covered above are still just as important

Motor power or light weight?

Increasingly e-bikes are heading in two opposing directions – powerful machines with bigger batteries usually featuring mid-drives (also known as crank motors and located around the pedal axle) and models that are lightweight and often feature small hub motors and smaller batteries.

Although the latter deliver less power (meaning you do more of the work) they are pretty effective nonetheless. And whilst they have smaller batteries their lighter weight and smaller power requirements help mitigate this (and spare batteries are always available).

Examples of motor systems on mid-drive machines are Bosch, Brose, Shimano and Yamaha and some of the leading manufacturers are Halfords, Cube, Haibike and Raleigh though there are many many more that use these motor systems.

The lightweight category is dominated by motor systems from Ebikemotion and Fazua, and Ribble and this Boardman are good examples.

Canyon Roadlite is a lightweight ebike using the Fazua motor system
Canyon Roadlite is a lightweight ebike using the Fazua motor system

To Fold or Not Fold?

Brompton has it’s own electric model but there are lighter versions from ARCC, Cytronex, Nano and Swytch and a powerful throttle version from Sparticle that also features some of largest batteries out there for a folder.

Cytronex Brompton conversion
Cytronex Brompton conversion

If you want something that folds or is compact with more power and range potential and more carrying capacity check out Tern’s range of e-bikes – you would just be sacrificing small folded size and adding some weight when compared to the Brompton variants.

What Price for Your First E-Bike?

There are some decent value budget e-bikes though be aware e-bay bargains are a potential source of disappointment and trouble. £650 seems a the current entry point, but again, at this price point choose with great care.

This Halfords Assist model is good value as is Decathlon’s B’Twin Elps 500 model.  

Halfords assist e-bike

If you want something for tackling steeper hills a mid-motor option is a wise option as they give motor assistance at a wide range of speeds, from slow, steep hill climbing to cruising up to 15.5mph (beyond which the motor is not legally allowed to assist you). These start around £1600.

This Decathlon model looks a great introduction to mid-drive e-bikes if you want a fully equipped town bike whilst this Carrera hybrid model looks a good option for sportier riding.

As the specification of e-bikes improves you are often dealing with the same basic types of motor assist system and increasing price tags mean things like bigger batteries, more exotic displays, better gearing systems and so on. Of these the bigger battery is probably the most worthwhile investment in purely practical terms. 

Probably top of the tree are Riese & Muller models which are hugely solidly build and come in a real ground breaking range of designs.

Riese and Muller ebikes will tackle any terrain over long distances
Riese and Muller ebikes will tackle any terrain over long distances

Buying your First Bike is by Richard Peace, the author of many cycling guide books, including the best-selling C2C cycle guide, Cycling Northern France, Cycling Southern France and the Devon C2C cycle guide.

You can read more on the Excellent Books web page.

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Ride in the Steps of the Packhorses – Trails Perfect for Electric Off-road Cycling

Ancient direction post on the Roman Road at Hope Brink

The South Pennines and Peak District Off-Road Cycle Map

by Richard Peace, cycling journalist, guide book author, map designer:

Packhorse Trails were the motorways of their day
Packhorse Trails were the motorways of their day

I spent last summer riding many of the finest tracks in the South Pennines and the northern Peak District in order to produce this tough, waterproof map.

For many years, before the days of tarmac, these tracks were the motorways of their day, with incredibly hardy packhorse ponies bringing the necessities of life like salt from as far afield as Cheshire and also acting as the HGVs of the very early cotton and woollen industries in the area, still dotted with early weavers’ hamlets and villages.

Today they are the bedrock (literally in some cases) of some great off-road riding. Add in the canals of the area and you have one of the most varied, visually striking and beautiful areas in the whole of the UK for off-road riding.

Best Track Highlights from the South Pennines and Peak District Off-Road Cycle Map

Along Reddyshore Scout
Along Reddyshore Scout

Here’s my top five scenic tracks and lanes of the area (in no particular order), all detailed on the map as part of longer bike routes:

  1. Colden Clough Road – Just west of tourist magnet Heptonstall, next to Hebden Bridge, this gradually climbing broad track takes you through a wonderful ancient wooded valley then onto moorland scenery to end at a pub.
  2. Reddyshore Scout Gate – A broad, easy to ride track climbs high above the steep sided Upper Roch valley with great views down onto colourful canal boats and small rows of terraces decorating the Rochdale Canal.
  3. Pennine Bridleway – Hayfield to Rushup Edge. A great section of this well-signed National Trail. Rocky in places but plenty of broad tracks too with stunning views over to the highest point in the Peak District National Park, Kinder Scout.
  4. Hope Brink – Actually thought to be much older than packhorse trails, being marked as a Roman road on maps. Fantastic views down Edale from the old direction post at Hope Cross.
  5. Wessenden Valley – Improved by the National Trust who own large tracts of Wessenden Moor, this is now one of the best quality off-road tracks in the South Pennines and makes a wonderful descent from the moors into the attractive old mill town of Marsden.

Family ride highlights

Easy trails around the Longdendale Valley
Easy trails around the Longdendale Valley

Family ride highlights on the map include the Longdendale Trail and the Calder & Hebble Canal but there are many more.

The latter has been undergoing a scheme of surface improvements to make it even better for cycling thanks to the excellent CityConnect project.

Daunting No More

I surveyed the whole of the area using electric bikes which I also write reviews of. They mean terrain once unconquerable to someone in his mid-50s with a dodgy back and knees is now a joy to ride through. And I still get a good workout in the process.

Here’s selection of my favourite e-bikes I reviewed whilst riding the routes.

E-biking on the Pennine Bridleway heading towards Kinder Scout
  1. Riese & Muller Delite Mountain Rohloff – A no-holds barred, no expense spared full suspension e-mtb that also comes with rack and lights and a double battery, making it the best off-road e-bike I’ve tried for long distance, ride-all-day off-road e-biking.
  2. Brose Drive S Mag E-bikes – Any e-mtb with a new Brose Drive S Mag motor should give great power yet still be relatively lightweight. Here’s a comprehensive e-mtb test where it is declared winner. 
  3. Carrera Vengeance-E – Halfords own brand and great for family and easier emtb trails
  4. Riese & Muller Nevo GX – Great for older riders or anyone who struggles to get their leg over a higher top tube design. One of the very few off-road step thru e-bikes with incredibly sporty and bullet-proof performance as you would expect from this company.

Map Details

There are three main elements to the waterproof map:

South Pennines and Peak District Off-road Cycle Map
  1. A 110 mile ‘Pike to Peak’ circular ‘challenge’ route, linking the famous landmarks of Stoodley Pike near Hebden Bridge to Rushup Edge and Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park. The Pike to Peak is around 75% off-road and uses old packhorse trails and turnpike roads to take in some of the area’s most stunning scenery and attractive towns and villages. The Pike to Peak can be tackled in the form of two smaller loops to make it more manageable as it is bisected by the TPT, meaning you also have the option of two smaller loops of 78 miles and 43 miles.
  2. 14 shorter circular day rides along classic trails such as Hope Brink, Wessenden Valley, Holme Valley, Reddyshore Scout, Ladybower Reservoir and the Hope Valley. These range from 8 miles to 26 miles.
  3. 20 family trails including the Calder Valley Greenway, Longdendale Trail, Upper Don Trail, Tame Valley Trail, Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Sett Valley Trail and many more.

In compiling the map I tried to pick out the best examples of off-road riding in the area by picking out broad, rideable tracks for adventurous leisure riders (though of course being in the heart of the Pennines there are still plenty of gradients unless you choose one of the family trails on the map). The route choice is ideal for electric mountain bikers getting their first taste of the activity.

The map also features:

  • Cycle-friendly accommodation listings with a link to internet pages featuring lots more detail.
  • GPX route files – internet links that guide users to web pages where they can download GPX route files for all the rides and get more background information about the routes.

South Pennines & Peak District Off-road Cycle Map

  • ISBN: 978-1901464382
  • Folded size: 24.4 x 13.8 x 1.2 cm
  • Unfolded size: 68cm x 48cm