One needs some food, some beer and a cheap way to get around. It sounds like a terrible assumption but it is even more terrifying knowing it is closer to reality than we all would like it to be.
One way or another, a cheap transportation is a cornerstone of student life. You know, Uni, Tesco, home, pub, work, library, you name it. You have to get there and you have to get there fast. No doubt a bicycle is the fastest, most efficient and most importantly, the cheapest way to get around.
It is very likely you already have a bike you have been bashing about as a kid or the one you did the milk runs up until now. The pure fact you have landed on this page and are reading this blog probably indicates you are ready for a change and it is also very likely the old friend if you have one, is no longer up to the given task. Here we look at how to pick the best student bike to cover your daily commute.
What makes the best student bike
Your new bike will most likely be determined by two factors - price and reliability. Both of them, obviously, goes hand in hand and often the cheapest bike will make the best bike for students but don't be fooled by tempting cheap quick fix and think long term. Most likely you have at least three years for this bike to take you through.
Bikes With Gears vs Bikes With No Gears
More gears are more options. More options are good. Right? Well... sometimes.
Unless you live in a very hilly area mixing steep climbs with short descents it is worth reconsidering the cost and the hustle. Gears do give you more options, make it easier to climb hills and let you be lazy when you feel out of breath but gears also add more weight, more maintenance and therefore larger upkeeping cost to your bicycle. Usual problems with any bicycle will come from any moving parts such as gear switches or derailleurs. Switches, cables and gears are something that needs regular maintenance, fine-tuning and repairs - something to forget about on a single speed bike. The simplicity of a single speed bike will also reflect in the minimalistic looks and, of course, the price tag making it likely a better student bike.
Single speed bikes are designed to be as simple as possible both in a visual and mechanical sense. There are so little parts used on them there is not much to break down. Many people are mixing up single speed and fixed gear bikes being afraid of getting in too much of an adventure, but let me clear this one up, a single speed bike is a simple bike with no gears. You can freewheel and you have two working brakes as usual. Many bikes, in fact, carry both options letting you experiment as you please.
You could also consider the bike geometry. Many mountain bikes, especially older ones, are not designed for city use putting you in a rather uncomfortable seating position where most single speed bikes are purposely designed for the city and commuting.
Considering the issues above, a single speed bike takes less maintenance and therefore less expense for upkeeping and it is also better designed for the job making it a better student bike.
New Bikes vs Second Hand Bikes
A second-hand bike, no doubt, will be a cheaper option and is a great way to slide through on a budget which certainly would make it a great student bike, never the less, you should add some extra care when buying second hand. There are several things you should look out for when buying a second-hand bike like wear and tear and truthfulness of ownership. Check for the condition of a chain, whether front and rear sprockets are worn or if there is any unnecessary movement in wheel hubs or headset. Although you could save on a used bike, it could land you a hefty bill for repairs. A change of a bottom bracket, for instance, could cost around £50 and if more repairs need to be done it's worth considering buying new.
If you see a deal that looks too good to be true, it probably is. Check the ownership of the bike you are buying properly. Each bike has a unique frame number that can (and should) be registered with your local police department assuring the ownership. There is also something called laser-tagging. Laser tagging adds an invisible mark to your bicycle police can scan and check upon. If you happen to buy a previously stolen bike you could end up without it as police can legally take it away to return it to the original owner.
When buying a new bike there are things to consider too. It's the size, weight and style you are mostly looking at. Size is important and we will talk about it later. When it comes to how light your bike is, if buying a single seed, it probably is less important than you think. Most single speed bikes nowadays are around or under 10kg which is considerably light by any standard with more expensive models ranging to under 8kg and in some extremes even 7.
Bike Size Matters
Sizing is one of the most important aspects when buying any bike and a student bike is no exception. Too often I see people cruising around on bikes completely unsuitable for their height. This can result in an uncomfortable ride, an aching back or even an injury.
Different bikes are sized in slightly different ways. For instance, a bike size that suits you can vary vastly between a mountain bike and a road bike. A bike is usually measured from the centre of the bottom bracket to top of the seat tube but due to the varying geometry sizing on each individual bike can be different.
Here at Single Speed Co, we have created a general size guide for all road style single speed bikes, but also each of our bikes listed has its own individual size guide to make sure you get the sizing right. We have another blog post where we go into detail for how to size your bike properly but in general terms, if you stick to a size guide for each individual bike you can't go wrong.
Professional cyclists use extremely precise size guides measuring inseam, reach and other parameters. Some even get the bikes custom made to fit their size but for a regular folk, size guides are simplified to fit by the height. Usually, if you know how tall you are, you can find the right bike to get around.
Price Matters More
After looking what's out there on the used bike market it seems like the days of under £100 bikes are long gone. Unless you are extremely lucky or adventurous enough to take a risk of buying a stolen bike or getting yourself a pile of rubbish, you will have to spend more than that.
Some of the cheapest options include old road racers still going strong. £120 can get you a well used British Raleigh or even Belgian Eddy Merckx for £130. Those bikes were excellent push pedal racing machines back in the days and make a wonderful vintage bike but with all the history that comes with it, the condition is questionable on most of the exhibits. You will most likely be spending extra if you like your bike in a safe and decent condition.
The choice between £150 and £250 is blurry and unclear. The offer is full of everything. From outdated and overpriced mountain bikes, gimmicky hybrids made out of questionable parts to some really good deals if you know what to look for. From £250 upwards you can start finding some really interesting deals with quality bicycles, but again, you don't want to snatch just anything. There are still a lot of adventurous sellers trying to make a lot on little to offer and as discussed earlier, the condition could make a lot of difference in money you spend later.
When it comes to new bikes, I would be extremely wary of anything below £300. In nearly a decade of experience, I have seen bikes where the bike parts are made rather out of cheese than an aluminium composite. Super cheap deals can be tempting but remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Never the less £300 can buy you a decent brand new street beater. Cheaper bikes, of course, will differ from more expensive ones and the main difference will be the frame. Cheaper bikes are made of Hi-Tensile Steel. There is nothing wrong with it apart of it being slightly heavier than more modern 4130 CroMo steel which is lighter and slightly stronger. You will also have to pay a little more to get one of those and of course, some parts will differ too on these bikes. Some 4130 bikes feature thinner "double butted" tubing making the bikes even lighter.
If you feel like going all out fancy you can also get into some aluminium bikes. They are even lighter and fancier, but we are in £400-£800 territory here. Of course, there are steel bikes in this price category too and they well deserve to be here but if budget is your priority, you will be most likely shopping for a good decent steel. I personally prefer riding steel on the street anyway, it gives a smoother ride.
Where To Buy a Student Bike?
This, of course, depends on what you have decided for.
For new bikes, you can try your local bike store but you will be left limited to offer they have on site. I would avoid big bike chain stores as often we have learnt they are trained to talk people into buying what suits their agenda and business rather than helping you get the best choice. Here at Single Speed Company, we have been curating what we believe is the best selection of single speed bikes for nearly a last decade. We are open to your questions and happy to help you find a bike that will fit your needs. We are working with brands who make a difference and can deliver. All of them are not necessarily the biggest or the most popular of all manufacturers out there but we pick the ones with most style and quality specialising in specifically in single speed bikes.
If you are leaning towards a second-hand bike best places to look for a bike will probably be Gumtree, your local market and check if you have a local community bike repair store. Another place could be a used bike reseller but you have to be careful not to fall for an overpriced deal. Way too often resellers do little to none repairs before reselling the bike. It will probably be the same case when buying on Gumtree but at least you will not be paying the shop-floor premium. Do consider the costs that will arise after purchase though.
My best suggestion is to go and check out the bikes on our website. Click here to see all available bikes.
Do you agree with our opinion? What do you think makes the best student bike? Leave a comment below.