The bicycle I choose for riding around London

Bicycle overload

With two bikes clogging my room and one clogging the hallway, it’s easy to think this house belongs to some kind of fanatical cycling blogger. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The house doesn’t belong to me, I rent.

However, as one reader recently asked me via email, which one do I use to ride around London on a daily basis?

My Voodoo mountain bike

I can see why people ride mountain bikes around London. I truly can. I sympathise that they are reliable and cheap. Often they’ve been a Christmas gift that has been in the family for many years.

However, that doesn’t stop me thinking that riding a mountain bike around central London is an exercise in futility.

Before someone throws a mountain bike at me – here’s why:

  1. Dual suspension: Slows you down.
  2. Thick tyres: Slows you down.
  3. Ultra wide handlebars: Slows you down
  4. Heavy frame: Slows you down.

Riding around London is by no means a race. I for one love cutting back on my speed on occasion and just enjoying a leisurely ride home. (Often because I’m totally exhausted from the ride there!). However, on a mountain bike, after riding a short distance to the train station I feel I’ve just competed in some kind of cross country marathon.

The mountain bike therefore, rarely sees any action.

My Marin hybrid bike

My hybrid bike was my go to bicycle for a couple of years of riding in London. It was the bicycle that caused me to fall in love with cycling and indeed London itself. Fairly fast, reliable, incredibly easy to ride and doesn’t really look worth stealing.

Through rain, snow and sunshine the bike has performed it’s duty both in the UK and in Europe. I couldn’t really fault it, until one day things changed for ever.

My Raleigh single speed

The day things changed, was the day I first laid eyes on a beautiful red, slim and sexy Raleigh frame in the Cloud 9 Cycles shop. I knew things would never be the same.

Suddenly my old Marin bike was a little slow, lacking in a more comfortable drop bar riding position and especially lacking in a certain charm that I found in the old Raleigh frame. I’d fallen in love with cycling all over again.

For short rides around London I believe it is perfect. Simple, reliable, light and fast. Also, I’m hoping it doesn’t attract too much attention from bike thieves, courtesy of the slightly worn look complete with tape coming off the handlebars. Although, this can be just as much down to the dual locking system I use.

Your bike of choice around London

Some people will have read this article nodding along and others will completely disagree with me. That’s one of the beautiful things about cycling. Whichever bike you choose – from a full suspension mountain bike to a simple single speed, you’ll quickly find yourself inseparable from it. There’s a reason many people give their bike a name. They quickly become a part of who you are – it’s why a theft really sets you back beyond the pure monetary loss.

What bikes have you ridden around London or elsewhere over the years?

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60 Responses to The bicycle I choose for riding around London

  1. Rob Fletcher 07/02/2012 at 9:56 am #

    I ride a mountain bike but a hard tail with Schwalbe marathon+ road tyres so points 1 & 2 negated. I’d like to upgrade to a hybrid but I don’t find the mountain bike that much of an impediment.

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 11:49 am #

      Strong legs ;)

      • Ian Taplin 10/02/2012 at 1:48 pm #

        call me boring but when i come up to town from maidenhead i cycle my dawes galaxy with bright red panniers.
        if i lived in london i would most likely get a brompton

    • Marcus K 07/02/2012 at 8:30 pm #

      Liking the Marin got exactly the same model myself back in 2005 from Condor (when they were not just selling their own brand like now).

      I bought a Felt F75 2011 road bike in October and despite many punctures its still my weapon of choice, I find the thing amazingly comfortable.

      Had my Marin overhauled a few months back for 215 quid but its come up good and is still brilliant for when there’s snow/ ice around.

      M

  2. Owen 07/02/2012 at 10:14 am #

    I’d already guessed the answer from the photo – it’s the one that’s on top.

    Imagine the hassle of getting the Marin out every day if it’s stuck under the other two …

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 11:50 am #

      Bit of a giveaway. I’m hoping to pack up the unused bikes into one of those bike bags – will make the house a little more tidy!

  3. Ray Whitehouse 07/02/2012 at 10:23 am #

    I too have 3 bikes, a raleigh airlight 300, a Pinncle hard tail mountain bike, both quite new and a 25 year old raleigh pioneer.

    I use my road bike when I want to get from a to b quickly, I use my mountain bike when I want extra exercise due to the extra effort needed. Most of the time I use my 25 year old Raleigh. Its medium speed, not really nickable and has panniers for shopping.

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 11:51 am #

      Funny how the old bikes always tend to be the go to ones for most little jobs.

  4. youngdonkey 07/02/2012 at 10:32 am #

    i also have a 3 bike set up.

    Condor Fratello for long commutes into work/weekend training/long rides
    Brompton for when I need to use a train and also racing…
    Raleigh Oakland for going around town on weekends, shopping, pub etc, heavy as hell, unstealable but stupidly comfortable.

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 11:48 am #

      This sounds like a really good setup. I think I should sell my Marin and either get a road bike or a Brompton.

  5. hjwatso1 07/02/2012 at 10:38 am #

    I had a Marin hybrid for years and loved riding it around London. It got nicked and I got a cheap road bike and I love it soooo much.

    Perfect for my 16 mile round trip. Quick, robust and cheap to maintain!

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 11:47 am #

      Good to hear the theft resulted in a love for a new bike!

  6. Matt 07/02/2012 at 11:00 am #

    I used to cycle to work using my Carrera mountain bike from Halfords and what a mission that was.. heavy, slow and with bad geometry. I would exert myself so much even on short distances.

    Last year I (my fiance really) purchased a Specialized Tricross after having seen it over at one of my mates. I have to say I could not believe the difference in power transfer there was. I was describing it as “you don’t even need to pedal this baby” to all my friends the first few weeks after having received it. It was so fast, so light and so epic. I have set it up with mudguards, rack and paneers so it doesn’t look as sleek as it would stripped “naked” but it really works as a commuter bike.

    Ideally I would have a single speed bike for the weekends.. but I don’t really go out to town over the weekeds and when I do I use the Barclays Cycle Hire anyway so it would sit idle. However, I am sure that one day I will talk myself into buying it..Maybe a Trek with the drive belt..mm

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 11:47 am #

      Trek with a drive belt – nice! So much better than an oily chain

      • Matt 07/02/2012 at 4:41 pm #

        ..and so much quieter

  7. Neil Illing 07/02/2012 at 11:14 am #

    Only 3? I use the following formulas to calculate the number of bikes:

    Number of bikes = N + 1

    or

    Number of bikes before partner leaves = M – 1

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 11:46 am #

      That’s all I can fit in the house right now – otherwise I’d definitely have a road bike sat around.

    • Eric 10/02/2012 at 11:21 am #

      You need to define what N and M are. The velominati version of this rule is:

      “the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.”

  8. Tim80 07/02/2012 at 11:59 am #

    I currently cycle a charge mixer (with a few mods like a hub dynamo and busch and buller lights). The aim was to be low maintainence. It is good but so heavy at 16kg +heavy lock+ pannier! I have a scwalbe marathon pus tyre on the back – they do not puncture but boy are they slow and make the ride pretty awful. I’m gong to return to continental sport contacts to make the bike more comfy but the idea of a singlespeed is very appealing.

    The problem is, I have three bikes (specialized stumpjumper moutain and a ribble carbon road) and I’m not really sure I can justify a fourth!

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 3:29 pm #

      Time for a bigger garage!

  9. Mike 07/02/2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Coming from the continent, I was surprised to see the amount of sport bikes people use in London for city traffic. In both Belgium and the Netherlands, you hardly ever see people on Cannondale’s or other sport bikes when on their way to work. It’s a whole different culture.
    People in Belgium/Netherlands also hardly ever “race” when using their bike to get them from point A to B.

    Personally, I chose for a Brompton for its versatile use and ease with which I can put it away in my apartment.

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 3:30 pm #

      I can imagine it is quite a culture shock arriving here in London. It was the same when I went to the Netherlands. Bicycle without breaks unless you pedal backwards? Felt unsafe at first but at the speeds you get to cycle out there it works out fine.

      • Mike 07/02/2012 at 3:36 pm #

        They still make those breaks? I had a bike like that 30 years ago when I lived in Bruges. Those breaks did actually work surprisingly well, I often had to do an emergency break for some stupid tourist who thought he owned the town.

        • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 6:00 pm #

          That stupid tourist was me at the time! I quickly learnt my lesson..

      • Greg Collins 07/02/2012 at 4:57 pm #

        My two speed psuedo fixed has a coaster hub brake. Works very well, especially when you are indicating!

  10. Will 07/02/2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Just the one bike here (at the moment…) a Cannondale CAAD9 road bike which gets used rain or shine (or snow!), has been locked up in all sorts of places around London and has never let me down in almost 5000 miles.

    It’s a little bit of overkill, but I love it dearly and I’m not sure I’d be happy riding an inferior bike knowing it was sitting at home. Maybe I need a nice vintage tourer, or perhaps a town bike, or maybe fixed gear track bike…

  11. Zed 07/02/2012 at 12:14 pm #

    I ride an ageing 10 years + hardtail Kona Muni Mula with adapted narrow handlebars and Schwalbe Marathon +Plus road tyres. I recently weighed my bike with a rack and mudguards as I was curious to compare it to the Ghost Hybrid I was looking at getting as I was planning to finally retire my Kona work horse in favour of a newer commuter and to my surprise there wasn’t that much in it. So for now all plans are on hold as there is still plenty of life left in the Kona and I still can’t find anything to come close that justifies the spend.

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 3:32 pm #

      Good idea to evaluate the purchase that way. No point buying a new bike just for the sake of it.

  12. Chris Mahon 07/02/2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Dual suspension doesn’t have to slow you down. I ride a Moulton TSR. Gliding speed.

  13. Greg Collins 07/02/2012 at 12:28 pm #

    a full-boing-er mtb is overkill even on the meanest of the mean streets of London surely.

    My weapon of choice on my occasional forays during the week; a Brompton.

    For the odd social sightseeing ride of a weekend that might take in the odd kerb or flight of steps “Honestly officer I’m lost!”, SS rIgid Kona MTB.

    For holiday trips and weekend away, riding from one London Rail Terminus to another; a loaded disc braked tourer.

    Complicated place, London!

  14. Paul 07/02/2012 at 1:36 pm #

    I am a Brompton owner in NYC..but have rode all over London. I ride my Brompton in Manhattan all the time, it is the right bike for city riding…for me.

  15. Karl 07/02/2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Mountain bikes are hopeless for getting around on the streets, even with slick tyres. For shopping and local trips I use my old hybrid, which has mudguards and rack. Looks old, is old and attracts less attention than my road bike which has road pedals anyway.

  16. Chris 07/02/2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Trek 7.3FX for the commute into work.
    Running a single chainring up front and schwalbe marathons make this the ideal steed,low maintenance and bomb proof.

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 6:01 pm #

      That’s a bike I looked at before settling with the Marin.

  17. LucyBP 07/02/2012 at 8:13 pm #

    I also own three bikes — a roadie, an MTB, and a hybrid. The hybrid is my go-to bike for commuting, and cycling in London in general. It’s ugly and not attractive to thieves, and was inexpensive so I won’t be too devastated if it did get stolen. My ideal commuting bike wouId retain these features but also be a single speed — I literally never change gears as my general London riding doesn’t take me anywhere with significant hills.

    I’m always intrigued by people who choose to commute on bikes with drop handlebars — I find I can’t emergency-break as well on my road bike which makes me very reluctant to cycle it in London. Is it just me?

    • Andreas 07/02/2012 at 9:39 pm #

      Breaking on a road bike feels a little slow for me too so I’ve got my breaks positioned as a typical hybrid – most of the time I ride fairly upright but I like the opportunity to change up and shift my hands down.

    • Will 08/02/2012 at 1:03 pm #

      Brakes on a roadbike do require a little more force which takes a bit of getting used to, but you should still be able to stand the bike on it’s nose in the dry, or lock the wheels in the wet. Two things to suggest;

      Firstly adjust the reach of the levers. As standard Shimano levers are set up quite a distance from the bars, which can make braking tricky for anyone with smaller than average hands. They do make shims though which will bring them closer and make braking much easier, especially from the hoods.

      Secondly, try upgrading your pads. The standard Shimano ones struggle with dirty rims or especially in the wet. I moved over to Swisstop Greens and its one of the best upgrades I have made.

      • LucyBP 11/02/2012 at 7:59 pm #

        Thanks Will for the advice. I did switch brake pads in the early days of the bike, which helped the problem somewhat. Will look into changing the reach of the levers. I have absolutely no problems braking when riding in the drops, so for now I just stay in the drops when riding the roadie in London (or anywhere else with lots of unpredictable traffic — of cars or bikes) … but wouldn’t want to do that for regular commuting as I find I don’t have as much visibility when looking behind me (and it’s just not that comfortable!)

  18. Phil 08/02/2012 at 12:35 pm #

    It’s all about the compromises we must make….
    Spesh Allez sport (old straight frame) with upgraded wheels and Gatorskins is brilliant, lightweight and great for the 18 mile full ride commute excpet for a really naff bit of road in the middle.
    Diamondback hardtail with Conti Double Fighters for the 2 mile station run on my train days. The Contis are a great compromise tyre, quickish on the road with a bit of tread for occasional alternate paths.
    Also run a Spesh Crosstrail hybrid that is competent at lots without ever being interesting or exciting.
    Just starting a single speed conversion of an old no-name no-suspension 26er abandoned in my neigbours garden over Christmas as the potential stripped down station bike. Only room for three, so which one goes? Choices and compromises all over again…

  19. Bruce 08/02/2012 at 2:16 pm #

    My commuting bike of choice (for a 26-mile round trip) is a Specialized Allez but with the drops replaced with some quite wide straight bars. For me it makes the perfect commuter – better steering and brake control than with the drops, which is very helpful in London traffic, but skinny and slick enough to keep up with the racers. The geometry works surprisingly well. The wide bars stop me nipping through narrow gaps between buses and lorries occasionally but that’s probably not such a bad thing.

  20. Gabe 08/02/2012 at 3:55 pm #

    Been on old style Kona MTB (no suspension front or back) with a flat bar, slick tires and mudguards for a year now. It’s really good for my short ride in London.

    It’s light enough, handling’s great… The 26″ wheels took a little getting used to, but they’re very strong, and fast to accelerate. I’m a convert.

    I’m only riding it because my road bike was stolen, but it’s turned out very well.

    The downside is on the flat, straight stretches you can’t really keep-up… but I don’t ride much of that

  21. Coallers 10/02/2012 at 10:30 am #

    Seven bikes in my place now. Three Lidl bike racks help with the space issue. My girlfriend has moved in and she’s amzingly tollerant of the collection.

    I still use one bike for 90% of my cycling. A mid-range Bianchi. Why? It’s in celeste. A very pretty bike.

  22. George Bellamy 10/02/2012 at 10:52 am #

    I only have one bike, which is a Brompton I use to commute. I chose it because I can take it with me inside most places and do not constantly worry about it being nicked. It has a bit in the front where you can slot in a baskety-thing which is very handy considering a long commute means you’re bound to carry around a change of clothes/stuff. Another thing I like is that you can make it into a trolley with the basket attachment and this is very handy doing the weekly supermarket shopping. I’m no racer but I find it’s surprisingly fast for it’s littleness also.

    In my experience, Bromptons are perfect for London, with it’s tiny flats (folds into nothing), unreliable weather (fold and hop on the tube if it rains badly), and thieving population (just fold and keep it with you).

    I have to admit two years on I’m still a bit in awe at the thinking in its engineering as well – so well designed, sturdy, and quintessentially British too!

  23. Eric 10/02/2012 at 11:09 am #

    I too am a three-bike man. Dolan road bike for expeditions; Brompton for days when I’ve got plans after work or have to visit other offices (I am wary of locking bikes on London streets); and my everyday commuter is a lovely 70s Holdsworth Worthy, which I’ve built as a single-speed/fixed gear bike. As well as looking great, I can recommend a single-speed machine for winter riding; so much easier to clean!

  24. Mel 10/02/2012 at 11:21 am #

    I started riding in London after years mountain-biking. In fact I’d risen to the dizzy heights of owning a Scott Genius with full trick suspension carbon frame Nobby Nic tyres etc etc. I used this as my town bike – locked out the suss, wore the tryes flatter and faster and kept pace from A to B with riders on all types of bike. Then – when the Genius was in for a service I ‘borrowed’ my son’s single speed – the very opposite of my Genius – couldnt be simpler. Oh boy..it’s happened – I’ve gone from 4 grands worth of bike to a couple of hundred quids worth and I am converted – in every way. I love the smooth quiet ride (Hope hubs – so noisy!!!), the effort when pulling away suddenly converting into acceleration, nippiness – ‘Did I really make it thru that gap?’ – and I am not so paranoid about locking it up….bikes are very nickable – I can swallow replacement costs for the single speed – but of the Genius went that would be the end.

    My big dilemma – sell the Genius and stick to single-speed – or convince myself I need both – or get back on the Genius and feel all of that highg tech buzzing between my legs…ahem…back later…..

  25. Patrick 10/02/2012 at 11:53 am #

    I’ve been riding a Cotic Roadrat ss on conti 28mm sport contacts for 18 months now. it’s the best way of getting around ( up to 10 miles ) simple. Even the South London Alps. Only on longer journeys would a road bike be faster.

  26. PaulM 10/02/2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Generally my Brompton – because it comes up on the train with me every day and there really is no rival to the Brompton for ease and speed and compactness of folding. It is not the best ride quality among folders – I also have a Birdie which is a better ride but more complicated to fold and bulkier when folded.

    Both though are hub-geared. I wish Bormpton would revisit their choice of hub gears – Birdie uses the Shimano Nexus 8 or even a Rohloff if you have recently won the Lottery, while Brompton’s combo of a Sturmey 3 speed and a twin range derailleur is a bit clunky. The point though is that for city riding, with repeated and often unpredictable stops for traffic lights, you may need to select a lower gear to pull away from the lights rapidly and minimise conflict with other vehicles. I am constantly frustrated by derailleur users who wobble away slowly, standing on the pedals to get some acceleration out of the high gear they were stuck with when they stop. Hubs permit you to change down several gears at once, without moving.

    Also, mudguards please – you may not want them for yourself, in your skintight lycra or waterproofs, but without mudguards you spray crap all over anyone who is following behind you!

  27. bob 10/02/2012 at 3:24 pm #

    try a recumbent for a different view point; fast on flat and london is fairly flat; close to the edge [ahem] and very comfortable. most motorists give it a wide berth; they have no idea what it is!

  28. David 10/02/2012 at 4:01 pm #

    I found my ideal town bike – Charge Mixer, 8-speed hub gears, disk brakes and mudguards – half-price on ebay and perfect – the worse the weather the brighter it shines. Marathon + and locked front skewers to make it even more London-proof.

    My Trek hybrid a bit more comfy and with rack, better if carrying a load and great for 25 mile weekend rides to the green belt.

    Mixer can do the hills of highgate, which I could’t manage on a single speed with reasonable gearing for level ground. In fact, I changed the rear sprocket to lower the overall gearing a bit.

  29. Daniel 10/02/2012 at 4:53 pm #

    I wouldn’t bring my Bob Jackson into London and whilst I occasionally use Boris Bikes, it has to be my Brompton for regular London commutes. It’s easy to take on the train and in to offices / meetings / coffee shops so no worries about locking up, plus it’s really nimble through traffic. I agree with the other comments on mudguards and hub gears.

    Love how your articles always inspire interesting reading in the comments Andreas!

  30. nick 10/02/2012 at 6:41 pm #

    First. I cherish the day I found this site. After owning a car for a year and a half I went back to riding bikes. I am 40. Funds left allowed me a carrera crossfire one. I am glad that some one wrote how hard it is to ride. I thought blimey I can’t remember cycling being this bloody hard. After my car blowing up and costing me a fortune it was down to funds you see. Like the idea of a brompton and a specailized tricross when funds are replenished. I live in bournemouth. Boring place to bike. But its up and down mega hils the whole way. Keeping me fit mind.

  31. Patric 10/02/2012 at 7:14 pm #

    I liked this post a lot! I’m now starting to cycle ago after 20 years of not feeling confident to city cycle. I’m 60 years of age and hope for a fitness benefit out of the daily commute (approx 4.3 kms). I was wondering if any of the fine folks here had tips on what type of bike would be on your list for an ol’geezer like me! Cheers and I read this great blog everyday.

    • Andreas 11/02/2012 at 1:52 pm #

      It’s a nice short commute so a hybrid bike or road bike would be great – I believe a hybrid you’ll find easier to ride. Pleased to hear you’ve found the confidence to cycle again!

  32. Les 10/02/2012 at 11:23 pm #

    I have an aluminium dual spring MTB that I no longer use as I’ve now bought a 2011 Carrera Kraken MTB. Lightweight, hardtail, 27 gear trigger shift and with disc brakes, I like the Mountain Kings the bike comes shod with. It’s really so much more fun to ride than my old cycle or the Boris bikes I use everyday to commute. I’m 58 years young and want to enjoy life when out and about.

  33. Gabe 14/02/2012 at 6:47 am #

    I cycle a ladies specialized hybrid and it’s great. Before that I had a 25 year old Peugeot with steel wheels. Hopeless in the wet! And the gear levers located quite low down meant it was just dangerous in town. It’s my country bike now. The ladies specialized is great and it makes a huge difference for women to have a bike designed for women as our arms are shorter!! Well worth it and it’s time bike makers started increasing their range.

    • Andreas 14/02/2012 at 1:08 pm #

      Good comment – that will be very useful for those considering the differences between a bike designed for men and a bike designed for women (Aside from the classic “Step over frame” suggestion!)

  34. Paul 16/02/2012 at 10:01 pm #

    I packed in bike riding around 16 years old but took it up again recently. Went down the hybrid route with a Specialized Crosstrail which I really like very much. Have used it in all sorts of conditions, including finding some great routes into work via local routes I’d never known existed. With added mudguards and rack it is a great, understated, machine yet with all mod cons (lockable front suspension, hydraulic discs). It also looks cool but is a long way from the old steel framed racer I expected I’d return to.

    Three months on from my return to cycling I am toying with the idea of getting a mountain bike or a road machine…guess I’ve caught the bug.

  35. Phil 16/02/2012 at 10:47 pm #

    What mudguards do you use on the front? My LBS said no mounts on the Crosstrail forks so nothing obvious would fit. What did you do?

  36. Paul 17/02/2012 at 5:03 pm #

    My LBS fitted them for me when I bought the bike. It involved a little bending of the stays but there are definitely lugs on the lower forks on my model (crosstrail sport disc). I can send a photo if it helps? Before I bought I checked it out and also looked at photos of a crosstrail on FLICKR, the chap on that site said he’d had some problems getting them fitted on his but managed in the end.

    I used Tortec full length ‘reflector’ guards which come in silver or black, I chose the black and they look good to my eyes, even if my son says the bike looks better and less middle aged without them. I prefer to stay dry.

    Dam, less than 24hours as a user of this site and my interloping is going to have to be given away! My LBS is Steels Cycles here in Newcastle. I’ll give them a shout here as they were pretty helpful.

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