This is all about Paul Scoins and his quandary about which bicycle to get his hands on. Paul is a gifted, articulate journalist for BBC local radio, with a slant on political news stories. Describes himself as a “terrible cyclist” and right now he’s taking views and advice on what should be his next step. Speaking of steps, some of my blog readers with long memories might step back and remember I was interviewed by BBC Three Counties Radio last year about the Luton & Dunstable Busway and cycling in general. Springing from that has been the opportunity to get to know Paul and we recently met for a coffee and got talking about the ideal bicycle for Paul.
Like me you might have a mental picture of what a political journalist might be like. Smart, smooth, mysteriously wealthy and charismatic as they relay exclusive scandals of political intrigue? Maybe never off-duty, fast living, aggressive, loud workaholics who are stressed out with sky high blood pressure through desperately meeting deadlines and broadcasting the latest local stories? Would he operate below the radar as a rookie journalist and be just beyond the reach of professional supervision, skilled in grooming future sources, hidden agendas and no morals? No, Paul wasn’t any of those. Instead a down-to-earth, honest, warm person trying to make a wise choice.
Admist our coffee cups, Paul was armed with a good supply of current cycling magazines with some tempting suggestions arising from the reviews and articles. It would be so easy for me to point to this, or that, suggesting the various advantages and why any particular bike would be so wonderful for him. And yet I’m not in the business of selling bicycles, instead it was a case of gleaning a little more from Paul about what he really needs to look for.
We chatted further, drinking coffee, followed by more coffee and even more chatting. I can tell you, I never thought interviewing a journalist would be so pleasant and straight forward; here’s a rough outline of our conversation:
Question 1: What do you already have Paul? Answer: A hybrid, half decent.
Question 2: What will you be using the bike for? Answer: Sportives (50-100 miles) and commuting (about 35-40 miles round trip)
Question 3: How much are you thinking of spending? Answer: Perhaps around £1000 with the Cycle to Work scheme or maybe a little more, subject to artful negotiations with Mrs Scoins.
“Okay, thanks Paul. That’s useful to know”. After getting the basics out of the way, I was needing to explore a little further as he already had been reading about specific bikes. These were all very nice but I wasn’t convinced any were exactly right at this stage.
“Can I check out what’s really important for you Paul? Is it getting a nice bike because it’s a nice thing to have, or perhaps it’s a way of achieving something?”.
At this point I described a kind of continuum. One extreme is someone with any old bike, probably an old, well used machine which is definitely not up to date. This cyclist would not readily be wearing the latest in Lycra bib shorts, cool shades and Sky Team apparel. Instead this person would probably be as fit as a fiddle, lean and a bit rough around the edges. The other extreme on the continuum is a great looking cyclist: a gleaming carbon fibre road bike, probably £1500 or more, Garmin on the bars, reasonably fit but still a tad overweight, knows much about sporty cycling from contemporary experience. Where would Paul place himself?
I was relived when he pointed more towards the “means-to-an-end” side. In other words, he wants a bike to help with staying in good shape, to enjoy cycling and allow it to serve a practical purpose. He’s not overly into the gadgets and bling, not driven by having the very latest in equipment but would nevertheless appreciate a decent bike. My kinda cyclist!
So. So what should I suggest for Paul? Here’s a few thoughts:
Option 1 – The easy, obvious choice
Giant Defy 2, 2014 model.
At £799 this is comfortably in Paul’s price range and is a credible bicycle for brisk riding, sportives and represents the kind of cycling many of the Paul Scoins’ of this world aspire to. It is the fastest of my suggestions for Paul. Although I have never owned a Giant, I have always thought they have represented good value for money having produced seriously good bikes but never trendy. That’s my kind of bike! I don’t know if it remains the case but in the 1980s Giant were one of a handful of Taiwan based manufacturers which produced all kind of bikes for other companies (some far more upmarket) while they simply got on producing their own with the minimum of fuss. Nowadays they are appearing more sophisticated with specialist stores and better marketing.
The actual bike itself, the Defy 2, is described as entry level, although I would put it a notch above that level. Shimano Tiagra kit is decent and will be fine. I particularly like the very useful 10 speed cassette range of 12-30T. This, combined with the compact chain set with 34 and 50T will make hill climbing a bit easier for Paul and I doubt if he’ll need anything much lower.
The frame is aluminium and composite forks. These are fine and the geometry is good for a brisk, spirited ride. Talking of ride quality, the forks will have little “give” and combined with a radial spoked wheel, Paul will feel the road and its imperfections. This could be mitigated with different tyres, gel mitts and simply getting used to it but nevertheless this is the price you pay for a fast bike.
For: good value, light, expect good performance, safe choice.
Against: Could be following the herd. Mudguards and especially luggage would be a challenge
Option 2 – More middle age, more versatile?
Something like the Spa Audax, steel frame
This is an interesting bicycle and not that different to my own bicycle (a Thorn Audax). It is designed as a good all-rounder and by that I mean it’s good for commuting, light touring, fast day rides and the list goes on. The Spa Audax is a fairly traditional bicycle and yet it combines bang-up-to-date components and it’s refreshing to see Sram making an appearance as a valid alternative to Shimano. Like the Giant Defy it has a compact chain set but an even wider spread of gears (impressive).
The frame is tried and tested Reynolds steel, unashamedly. This means it’ll be a little heavier than aluminium framed bicycles but will ride in a softer, more comfortable way. This is important for longer rides and having a slightly longer wheel base means that it is more stable (handy if carrying luggage or through the relative ease of handling bad road surfaces). The forks are, however, carbon fibre, and contribute to weight saving and a brisker ride.
It costs £1100 and click here for further details.
For: Long term investment, extremely versatile, comfort, less main-stream, incognito looks, thoughtfully made. Upgrading components over the years could be a wise investment.
Against: Less value for money compared to high profile brands, it looks dated and not very exciting. No good for Flash Harry’s.
Option 3 – what you need -v- what you want?
Pinnacle Dolomite 4 2013 Road Bike
At just £560 this is extraordinarily good value for money (last year’s model, only Paul’s size left). Only available from Evans and it has all the right ingredients; I’m pleased I found this. Shimano Tiagra drive chain, albeit a perfectly alright FSA chain set, carbon forks, mudguard eyes (useful) and only £560. Not bad.
Aside from the bike itself being good, the advantage is that Paul will have some spare money. He could do many things with that but as he’s already got all the clothing, helmet etc what else can he spend the money on? Knowing Paul’s quest in buying a bicycle (achieving a higher level of fitness and being a bit lighter) I would HIGHLY recommend using the spare money to buy:
- a pair of running shoes (£80 – £100)
- two pairs of running socks (£20)
- Shorts (£15 – £25)
- Joining a Fitness Club for the winter months: access to treadmills, cross trainers, resistance machines, classes etc. Maintaining fitness levels through the winter is a headstart for the summer and can never be wrong for physical and mental health.
For: A decent bike, if Paul moves fast enough. With mudguard eyes it will be good for winter training, commuting etc. Moreover the “package” will help Paul achieve the wider aims which he will never EVER regret.
Against: May not be available, might have to bag another bike at a similar price which won’t be quite as good on paper. He won’t be getting a bike with a serious “wow” factor or impress snobby cyclists. I suggest for anyone who aims modestly with a bicycle, there is always the option of upgrading later on but you must be careful and make sure a bigger investment is justified (don’t go complaining to me if you find a hole in your pension in 30 years!).
Another slightly off-beat choice could be something like a Moulton – these are a bit weird to look at but a different world altogether. Taking time and choosing carefully, Paul could bag a £4000 bike for about £1000 via ebay. Here’s their website: Moulton Bikes
I included this option because I noticed something about Paul. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think he might appreciate alternative approaches, maybe slightly retro or individualistic.