Compared to the situation only twenty years ago, getting into cycling on a budget is hard. Much harder, and that’s partly down to changes in fashion. Before the arrival of mountain and hybrid bikes, the cyclist was faced with a straightforward choice for town travelling – a traditional derailleur-geared touring cycle, or the smaller, often folding, small-wheel bicycle. There were older sit-up-and-beg machines still to be found, although their weight and condition was beginning to rule them out as a sensible option.
In many respects, the newer kit was better made, and certainly, to many modern eyes, more stylish. It’s kept its value: a good hybrid bike is very hard to find for under £150 and you are more likely to pay well over that. That is not a Garreteer sum.
In truth, there are two Garreteer choices. To keep that mix of individuality, style and use, you can go one of two ways. You can buy new – but buy for keeps, as though investing in a hand-made suit or a pair of Church’s shoes. Or you can buy second hand, with care, and make the most of what you buy.
For town use and daily journeys of up to 30 miles, the best bike to seek out is a traditional tourer, with as many gears as possible. Look for Reynolds 531 tubing (or the later 631), a Brooks saddle, Campagnolo or Shimano parts, centre-pull brakes, and the ability to take saddlebags (a bag on your back on a bike is asking for trouble). As each one of these is going to rack up your purchase price and make your bike that much harder to find, compromise (at least you can add things like this later on).
Some towns and cities in the UK have cycling organizations who restore and sell abandoned bicycles – cycle shops will usually have a close relationship with these bodies and will have details.
Police stations acquire stolen and abandoned cycles by the dozen, and sell or auction them off regularly. Again, cycle shops are the best source for information on this.
With any bike purchase, if you are at all lacking in mechanical confidence, a bike shop will be only too happy to check things over for you at a relatively cheap rate. While you are there, pick up a bike helmet and reflective riding gear, a decent set of battery lights and locks (plural). Leave specialist cycling clothing until you are sure you are established as a cyclist in your own mind and won’t be wasting your money.
If you can afford it, there are five ways to go.
1. A Dawes Super Galaxy tourer. It’s the ultimate off-the-peg touring cycle and ideal for commuting, even over hills.
2. A Mercian hand made cycle. The “King of Mercia” touring cycle will be built to suit you, to your colour scheme and choice of parts. It’ll cost more than your car, and last you for the rest of your life (with care!)
3. The Old Bicycle Company (http://www.theoldbicycleshowroom.co.uk/) can supply you with Pashley cycles, the premier make of traditionally-styled British bicycles. They are also the best source for traditional, well-made cycle accessories and parts.
4. Perhaps the ultimate Garreteer cycle – if found second-hand, which almost never happens – is a Moulton. Inventors of the unique Moulton frame, these small-wheeled touring bikes are quite extraordinary and you will find their like nowhere else in the world.
5. The Brompton folding bicycle, inevitably. Still the best, and still capable of coming onto any train with you.