Getting into cycling: How to choose the right bike

We’ve enlisted the help of a team of experts and Windows 10 to guide a cycling newbie all the way to success in his first sportive. First up, let’s find him a bike…

Brought to you in conjunction with Microsoft.
Am I the first rugby player to write for Cycling Weekly? When I look at photos and videos of sleek whippets racing up hills, it certainly feels like it.

But this is an experiment. Cycling Weekly think it’s about how, using cutting edge Microsoft technology and heaps of expert advice, they can turn a newbie into a sportive rider in no time flat. But I’ve got a different idea. My aim is to show that rugby players can put their hand to any sport… I mean, how hard can it be?!

First, a bit about me. My name is Oliver, I’m 33 years old, and I work as a construction health and safety manager. I’m also dad to two energetic young boys: Samuel (four) and Joshua (one).

I’ve made more than 200 first-team appearances for my local rugby team, Old Walcountians, but now I’m semi-retired from that and keen to try cycling instead. I want to track my fitness levels and push myself, but I need a sport that will fit in around my family life and won’t further wreck my rugby-battered knees.

My cycling experience is very much recreational — the odd ride around the park is about as exciting as it gets —  but in a month’s time I’m going to ride my first sportive, the 54-mile Hell Fire Corner on November 7. My secret weapon? Windows 10, which is going to be with me every step of the way.

First step… let’s find me a bike.

What to look for in a sportive bike

I’ve got a lot to learn in a short space of time, so I’ve enlisted the help of Henry, one of the tech writers at Cycling Weekly. He’s dug out some reading material for me, but gone are the days of just emailing a list of links. Using Windows 10 he has found articles and added notes in the new browser, Microsoft Edge, and shared it with me so I can read the information and get his guidance at the same time. It has gone straight into OneNote, so without even thinking about it I’m building up my own library of useful information.

Microsoft Edge lets you highlight text and write annotations for sharing via email or OneNote

Microsoft Edge lets you highlight text and write annotations for sharing via email or OneNote

The first things I need to learn about are frame materials. I’ve got a budget of up to £1,500, and at that price level, Henry has advised me to go for a carbon frame. This is the same material used for the professionals’ bikes, and for good reason. It’s light, for quick climbing; it’s stiff, which means that pedal power gets efficiently converted into forward motion; and it’s also comfortable, with the carbon helping to absorb the vibrations from rough British roads.

Comfort is vital if you’re planning big rides, and that means buying a bike with the right kind of geometry (the angles between the various tubes that make up the frame). There’s plenty of jargon here, and Henry’s annotated webpages certainly helped. But the real godsend was Cortana, Windows 10’s personal assistant. See a word or phrase you don’t understand? Select the text, right click and choose ‘Ask Cortana’… then a helpful little panel opens up with information gleaned from the web.

Microsoft tablet web pictures 09NEW1

The Ask Cortana function was brilliant in helping me get my head around the cycling jargon

Now I feel like I’m getting somewhere. According to Henry, I need a bike with ‘relaxed geometry’, which means a slightly shorter top tube and a taller head tube. The result is a more natural position that won’t place too much strain on my neck and lower back. Don’t go too far though — if you’re sitting too upright then you create lots of aerodynamic drag.

Henry has sent me a few examples of bikes he’s ridden that he’d recommend for a rider like me. They appear in my OneNote library, so I can compare my shortlist to see what I prefer.

Look who's multi-tasking! The 'snap assist' function lets you split your screen neatly into halves or quarters

Look who’s multi-tasking! The ‘snap assist’ function lets you split your screen neatly into halves or quarters

The final major element of my new bike will be the groupset (effectively the gears and brakes). Probably the best option for balancing cost and good performance is Shimano 105, which shifts and brakes very smoothly, but if I’m willing to downgrade to something like Tiagra, it’ll help me afford a better frame. That’s one to ponder for sure.

There are a loads more bits and pieces to remember – like pedals (they don’t come with the bike!), a saddle bag for carrying tools, a decent pair of shoes, and so on. Henry can obviously tell that my head is spinning, so he adds a checklist to OneNote, and it syncs immediately to the app on my phone so I can refer to it on the go. Already I’ve got a library of useful info building up here, from background research to a shortlist of bikes, and it’s all in one convenient location that I can access anywhere.

Sizing… and decision time

I can’t make a decision like this on my own, so Henry and I catch up over Skype.

First he wants to talk about sizing. Most bike shops will give you the option of a bike fit to make sure you’ve got the right frame size and set-up from the word go. I could use a website such as that will tell me what size I need based on my key measurements, but I think that as a beginner, I’d prefer the security of a real-life expert.

You can't beat face-to-face contact when you're struggling with new info, so a Skype call was invaluable

You can’t beat face-to-face contact when you’re struggling with new info, so a Skype call was invaluable

Henry gives me a proper interrogation, questioning me on everything from details of the sportive I’ll be riding and my injury history, to my motivation and sporting aims. What becomes clear is that is even though I’m a beginner, I consider myself fairly sporty and won’t ever be able to do anything without getting competitive.

Taking that into account, Henry’s final recommendation is for something like a BMC Teammachine SLR03 Tiagra. The frame is based on the SLR01, which is a bike that the professionals race on, so it fits my self-image as a wannabe racer, but with compliant carbon-fibre that will make it more comfortable for a sportive rider like me.

I feel like I’m ready to go, and I’m delighted with my choice. The next step is to get out and ride the thing — so next week I’ve got some intensive skills training booked with the Cycling Weekly team. Come back then to see how I get on…

Essential points

  • Research your purchase carefully — you want to be able to grow with your bike as your skills and fitness improve
  • Are you a racer or a sportive rider? The former need fast, aggressive geometry, while the latter will be more concerned with comfort over long distances
  • Remember to balance a quality frame against the bikes that seem to offer a great specification
  • Getting the right size is essential — don’t make compromises even if you see a bargain

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