The beginner's guide to buying a bike

A bike is a great way to get outdoors, keep fit and get you speedily from A to B. If a new ride is on your Christmas list this year, take a look at our guide to choosing and buying the right bike for you.

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Before you even consider heading to the local bike shop, it's essential you know exactly what you're looking for as this will allow the sales assistant to advise. For instance, what will you be using it for? Do you have Tour de France aspirations or will you be wanting to go off road? Is speed your top priority or are you just hoping to beat the commuter traffic?

Mountain bikes
If you're new to mountain biking, a front suspension-only model (known as a "hardtail") will give you the essential shock absorption needed but a lighter ride that is easier to pedal.

Those who plan on a more extreme mountain biking experience should consider full suspension (ie. front and rear) which can cope with seriously rough terrain without jarring your bones, the downside being that you may find it heavier to pedal.

Don't be tempted by the cheap full-suspension bikes you see in supermarkets or car spares shops, they may look similar to the real things but they are likely to fall apart in no time if you take them off road in earnest.

Useable full-suspension bikes start at around £800, front-suspension only models become suitable for serious off-road use from around £300.

Road bikes
Anyone looking for a speedy ride should look for a road bike. A lightweight frame, thin smooth tyres and drop handlebars allow for fantastic speeds on tarmac. Good quality tyres, gear systems and brakes are essential, particularly if you plan on using your bike for sporting purposes.

Hybrid bikes
A great all-rounder combining the comfort of a mountain bike and the speed of a road bike, the hybrid is an excellent choice for anyone looking to ride their bike to work during the week and cruise along the tow paths at the weekend.

Flat handlebars provide a more comfortable riding position while you can generally choose between multi-purpose tyres or the smoother variety for use on roads.

Folding bikes
Ever increasing numbers of commuters are finding a bike the quickest way to get to work. But if storage is limited or you regularly need to take your bike on public transport, a folding bike is the way to go. Smaller wheels, a lightweight frame and an easy folding mechanism (test it before you get it home!) are vital.

Kids' bikes
Getting your first bike is a momentous occasion for any child so it's important to get it right. When buying for your youngster, don't just pick the bike with the prettiest colours or latest Disney character, be sure to choose one with good strong wheels, tyres with excellent grip and easy-to-reach brakes.

The right size is particularly important where children are concerned - if possible take your little one with you to the shop to ensure that they will be comfortable and stable and are able to sit on the saddle with both tip toes on the floor.

You might consider getting a balance bike, which has no pedals or chain and which your offspring scoot along on.

Buying tips
Bikes vary greatly in price, from a few hundred to many thousands of pounds. As a general rule, the more you spend, the more you are likely to enjoy your bike and if you have been bitten by the cycling bug it is worth paying a premium for good quality tyres, brakes and gears.

Whatever type of bike you choose, the right fit is of paramount importance. A good specialist shop should allow you to try a bike out so check that you are comfortable with the height, the width of the handlebars and the reach (particularly if you are buying a road bike with drop handlebars).

Before you blow your entire budget on the bike itself, think about the extras you'll need.

The saddle position can be adjusted, of course, but you may like to consider changing the saddle itself for the purposes of comfort. A decent lock to keep your bike safe is bound to be worthwhile and good lights (front and back) are vital for anyone riding during the dark winter days.

And don't forget the helmet - they really do save lives.

Are you a cycling fan? What's your advice for those looking for a new bike? Leave your comments below...