When it comes to bikes, there are more types than you can shake a chainwhip at. Oli Pritchard risks alienating anyone who doesn’t ride a fixie and takes a look what is out there.
Cycling is a broad church with many different cyclists and many bikes. However, bikes fall into distinct categories. Some of these are elegant swans, others brutal battering rams, yet others are ugly trolls lurking in shadowy, cobweb-infested shed-caves.
In the next edition, we’ll take a look at what you need to consider if you’re thinking about buying a bike, where you you should go, and how to find a bike that reflects your personality and fulfils your needs like a considerate lover. For now, here’s a guide to the various two-wheelers on the street.
Fix your wheel and free your mind. A fixed wheel bicycle is one that runs on a closed circuit, without a ratchet – meaning the wheel and pedals are connected and so totally in synch. If you stop the pedals, the wheel stops…you can even reverse, the wheels will go backwards and you can do backward circles. What does this mean? Well, basically, a number of radical alterations: no free wheeling, ever. The pedals always have to turn if you want the wheels to turn. This means you have to pedal downhill, but it also means you can gently ‘brake’ by reducing your power input and control your cadence precisely…or lock up the pedals and skid around like Ecco the dolphin on an acid trip. Rolling through traffic is calm and assured: you’re always in control. No gears makes hills harder work, but also means a lot less maintenance (and cost). Plus of course, you can always look cool by locking up and skidding to a halt. Put your gears (and even your brakes) in your legs and give this a go – it’s by far the most rewarding urban bike option. Sounds stupid or zenlike? Dangerous or exciting? Limited or challenging? Your answers to these questions will tell you if you need your fix. Me? I’m a fucking junkie, baby.
Most suited to: Chapinero hipsters; Nacional hippies.
Single Speed Freewheel
Basically fixies for wimps, these are regular bicycles without gears… Pretty much all of the disadvantages of fixed, but with few of the benefits: less than 100% power transfer; no zen feeling; no chain braking; overaggressive fixie riders barking “CHANGE YOUR FUCKING HUB” at you. On the other hand, you can coast on those downhills in…err…the flyovers? Macarena? Also, still very little maintenance.
Most suited to: Rich kid wannabe hipsters.
These old things are enormous and cumbersome, but a good one will be more reliable than an old Nokia. They typically have no more than 5 gears, none of which have a great deal of grunt. Forget lifting them up stairs or manoeuvring through corridors. However, a lot of people (especially women) like the upright position and low saddle. It’s like serenely navigating a wheeled wingback armchair through the streets, so you need to decide if that sounds like a pain or a delight.
Most suited to: chic professionals who care not for speed.
Undoubtedly the queens of the street, these are the sorts of bikes you might have seen professionals riding. Drop handlebars, sufficient gears to let you sprint yet also climb with speed and wheels designed for speed over sturdiness. Elegant and graceful, yet with power to blow you away. Even a low-end road bike will give you enough speed to cope with anything in Bogotá, a range of gears equally at home on the dirty ‘slopes’ of the circunvular as the flat-out racetrack of the autopista. Road bikes are usually light and portable so can easily be slung on a shoulder when needed, and their whippet-thin profile means they don’t take up too much room inside (let’s not even consider leaving bikes outside). The narrow riding profile can take a little getting used to, and skinny tyres mean you have to keep an eye on the road surface. Probably the biggest disadvantage though is price: these mean machines will come in around a million pesos for an acceptable ride, rising pretty much as far as you want to go.
Most suited to: lycra louts; weekend warriors; speed junkies.
Jacks of all trades or masters of none? The advertising wankwords suggest the former, some comments tell the other story. In essence, these are lighter than mountain bikes and without the expensive, heavy and hard to maintain shocks. Frames are wide yet light, providing durability but without feeling like you’re cycling in a victorian diving suit. Gears won’t win you any sprints but neither will you be flailing away madly just to hit 15mph. However, they still retain wider tyres with a lot of grip as well as a wide set of bars (sometimes even disc) brakes. True hybrids, in my rarely-humble opinion, are actually pretty good all rounders like Luis Enrique used to be and perfect for Bogotá life in many ways. However, remember, a real hybrid is more than just a cheap road frame with flat bars. True hybrids are hard to get hold of, thanks to the bizarre local obsession with mountain bikes. Worth investing in one if you have a little cash to spend and don’t fancy either carting a giant clunky bike up stairs or wobbling around on drop bars.
Most suited to: Business commuters; people afraid of lycra.
Right, cards on the table: I really don’t like mountain bikes. However, I’m prepared to admit that they might be the right choice for some people, especially if you want to advertise yourself as a (be more tolerant – ed.). These tonka toys are supreme at bouncing through the potholes of Bogotá if you don’t have the wits to avoid holes. Get full suspension and you will ride straight through all but the missing manhole covers with perfect comfort. While it’s hard to go genuinely fast on a mountain bike, the gears will save your legs a lot of effort. You might not go fast, but you will go easy. . The wide bars are far from elegant, but they do allow easy if unresponsive control.
Most suited to: Joe Normal; People who don’t want deformed leg muscles.
OK. There is a limit to acceptance. I love Marianita. She doesn’t get the praise she so richly deserves after being Colombia’s first gold medallist in years. But these things have no place outside the trick arena. Use one for proper rides and you’ll resemble an East London Nathan Barley nightmare.
Most suited to: teenagers; Marianita.
Oli Pritchard is an ex-London courier with experience of riding in many cities across four continents. He will be writing a regular column on cycling in Bogotá.