With London gearing up to be a cycling hub, more and more of its drivers are ditching their motors while pedestrians are taking to the pedals.
The capital has had over 100 km of upgraded cycle routes, with one in five of the population living near the extended cycle network. Already on a steady increase, the lockdowns have boosted cycling as a great alternative to public transport as well as a great way to take advantage of the quieter roads. If you’ve been managing on a hand-me-down and want to upgrade or have to go back to the office but can’t face the old commute, here’s a guide on where to buy a bike in London.
What bike to buy
A bike is a bike is a bike, right? Right. Except when it’s a hybrid-commuter with paniers and an adaptable brass seat post. If, like most of us, you don’t know the difference between a rear sprocket and a crank, then choosing a bike may seem like a hell of a task. Here are the main options.
Designed for smooth pavements or roads (as the name would suggest), road bikes are a solid option if you’re sticking to the city streets. They have thin tires and drop handle bars that curve down, which can take a little getting used to. These bikes aren’t good for carrying heavy things, so may not be ideal if you carry a lot regularly.
While you may have attributed these to teenagers and mud-splattered men in forests, these are actually still a thing. Mountain bikes are mainly for those going off road, Front suspension is standard, but you can get both front and rear suspension if you’re planning on trying downhill tracks. They can be fitted for commuting if you’re looking for a bike that does it all, but they are heavier and less efficient than road bikes.
Designed to combine the best of mountain bikes and road bikes, these are a strong option. They have upright handlebars, a more comfortable seat and are good on paved and unpaved roads as they have wider tyres. They are more comfortable and well suited to bumpy streets as well as new cycle paths, making them the go-to option for the casual cyclist.
Fixed-gear bikes (and track bikes)
Also called ‘fixies’, their popularity comes from easy maintenance, but having only one gear can be pretty annoying if you are near any hills. There are laws about brakeless bikes in the UK: Bikes must have two independent braking systems. As the fixed-wheel on a ‘fixie’ acts as a break when you’re not pedalling, it is legal if you also have a brake on the front. Be sure any bike you’re buying has this and is not a track bike, which is designed for use in a velodrome; these are brake-less and illegal for use on roads in the UK.
Practical options: E-bikes and foldable bikes
Electric bikes come in a variety of styles and are a worthwhile consideration if you face a lot of hills, don’t like the idea of turning up to work sweaty and flushed, or just love the helping hand of technology every now and then.
Another practical option is a foldable bike. Much smaller and packing down to a portable size, they are ideal if you’re planning on doing only part of your journey by bike or need to travel with it (on, say, a train). The downside is the smaller wheels, which make it a little more difficult to ride, but if you need to carry it sometimes, it’s worth it.
Where to buy a new bike in London
If you’re going for a new bike then there are plenty of trusted retailers in the city—many with a certain hipster style you’ll either love or hate. (If it’s the latter, then accept defeat now and head to Halfords or Evans Cycles). Keep in mind that the best discounts can be found from September to the end of the year as stock is sold off to make space for the new year’s models.
Brixton Cycles is a staple in the cycle world of London, with new bikes, accessories and its very own cycle club. The store is a workers’ cooperative and focuses on supporting the co-op model as well as other local co-ops. They sell hybrid, mountain, road and cyclo-cross bikes, along with a good children’s selection available too. The team offer advice, and you can book in for a service. Don’t forget to ask about joining the cycle club; they have group rides and over 180 members.
An urban cycling chain with a name that is both clever and somehow infuriating, Velorution have a reputation as one of the smartest bike shops in the city. Their Hackney store is the largest in London with others in Chelsea, Islington and Fenwick (that should give you an idea of their target audience in itself)—all having their own handpicked selection. Hackney has urban, electric and cargo bikes with names like Pashley, Gazelle and Brompton on offer.
A trusted specialist store with over 70 years of experience, Condor Cycles is a failsafe option. The firm produce their frames by hand in Italy and believe in quality craftsmanship as well as beauty. Their four-step process is their key to finding you the perfect bike, moving from a model to fitting to personalisation and ending with building the finished piece. The store has sold bikes to Bradley Wiggins, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, so if it’s good enough for them…
Where to buy second-hand bikes in London
If it’s been decently cared for, a second-hand bike can be a great way to get a smoother ride for a more affordable price.
The Bike Project
Selling bikes is only half the work of The Bike Project, who are actually a registered charity based in Herne Hill. Their main aim is to support refugees using bikes—be it fixing up donated bikes for refugees in London and Birmingham to running a cycle school for refugee women. They do sell bikes though, unique, refurbished ones with all the money going towards their projects. There’s a small but strong selection of bikes, all coming with a guarantee, 14-day returns and free delivery across the UK. Why not have a browse and donate your old bike while you’re at it?
The Bike Project
Selling both new and second-hand cycles, this Camden-based shop allows you to try out bikes in store and accepts cycle-scheme vouchers. With plenty to choose from including vintage and hybrids, Camden Cycles is a great shout if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Staff can help advise, and there’s a good range of prices. They offer a month of free servicing and a two-week exchange period on all bikes.
Police auctions may seem like weird one, but they’re actually a great place if you don’t mind a bike with a chequered past. Held for a long time by Frank G. Bowen auction house, police auctions are now spread out across a few different locations. While the majority of bikes are of little value, you can pick up some decent wheels if you’re happy to see what’s available on the day. This site lists police auctions across the country, so it’s not just for Londoners!
Online options for buying a bike
Buying a bike online isn’t for everyone as you lose the chance to try it out or get it fitted. However, if you know which bike you want already, it can be a great way to save or find an unusual model second-hand.
Go-to options like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and eBay can be great places to snag a deal, especially if you’re looking locally. Keep in mind that this is also where a lot of stolen bikes end up though, so consider the following options:
- Ask for the original receipt to prove ownership
- Ask about the bike—see if they know about maintenance, etc.
- Check for the bike on the Stolen Ride website
- Be wary of bikes that seem surprisingly cheap
- Check out seller ratings and assess the ad itself for real photos
- Arrange to meet somewhere public and ideally take someone along
Rather than being a shop itself, Bikeshd is a compilation of all second-hand bikes for sale in London. It provides the photos, details and a link to the site (usually Gumtree), so you can browse all the listings in one place. It’s also handy if you’re looking for your own stolen bike!
Made for buying and selling bikes, Bikesoup is an easy-to-use marketplace for all kinds of bikes. With a flat-rate listing fee, insurance on all deliveries and resuseable packaging, they’re a great option if you need something trustier than Facebook Marketplace.
Bike repair at London Bike Kitchen
A DIY workshop run by mechanics, the London Bike Kitchen will teach you how to fix your own bike. With online fix-a-longs, drop-in DIY sessions and ongoing classes, there are plenty of options depending on what’s up with your wheels. Due to the pandemic, they are currently only able to fix bikes for you (or show you online), with in-person classes on hold, but they should be back up and running soon! Repair costs include the materials and range from £15.00 for punctures (including the inner tube) to £35.00 for a small service.
Are you anti car culture? Check out the popular Nake Bike Ride that takes place every summer!