Now there’s an overused phrase. It’s been spoken so many ways and with so many connotations that all its different meanings seem to have blurred into one and cancelled out. But it’s got a history. Back in 1981, Tory MP Norman Tebbit made a statement following the Brixton riots that would lead some to attribute […]

Now there’s an overused phrase. It’s been spoken so many ways and with so many connotations that all its different meanings seem to have blurred into one and cancelled out. But it’s got a history. Back in 1981, Tory MP Norman Tebbit made a statement following the Brixton riots that would lead some to attribute it to him: ‘I grew up in the 30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it.’ Back then bicycles were seen as a poor person’s form of transport, a quirky craft fit only for those unable to join the joyful masses on their pilgrimage towards car-topia.

How things have changed. Peak car ownership may be upon us, as illustrated by the falling proportion of those aged under 25 with driving licenses. The car, once the thing of dreams, lies forlorn. Even the status boost that a swanky car used to ensure has gone into reverse. In common parlance, you learn that BMW drivers are “twats”, Audi drivers “wankers” and Prius drivers “yogurt weavers”. As for the Range Rover hangers-on still out there – and I mean you, fat sunglasses man who I see regularly cursing the traffic on Ecclesall Road South – you are “the human incarnation of greed”. OK, I made that last one up.

The point of this introductory detour is to illustrate that things have changed. Bikes are now a major growth sector. They seem to have the ability to spawn tribes, each infusing “On Yer Bike” with their own meaning; from the lycra-clad Wiggo wannabes to the style-conscious fixxies; the M (middle aged, middle class, mortgage) classes tottering on £2,000 ‘full sussers’ in the Peaks to the BMX tribe on Dev Green; the classy yummy mummies stocking up at Beanies to the hooded youth riding on the pavement.

Everyone, it seems, is getting into cycling, and this is reflected in Council statistics which indicate that cycling has been growing by around 7% per year for the past decade. The real point of this article is to show you around the maze of bike options and ensure that “On Yer Bike” works for you.

The first question to ask yourself when looking for a bike is: What will you use it for? Not “might you”, not “would you like to”, or even “would you wish to”, if you were catapulted into a parallel universe leading out Mark Cavendish on the home straight of the ChampsÉlysées. No. What will you use it for, day in, day out. It’s worth making the distinction, because bikes bought during a daydream may not make sense when the dream is over. I’m assuming that, like me, you will use your bicycle mainly for daily transport, the occasional shopping trip, and, once in a blue moon, for epic missions to Manchester. This means getting a proper bike. A proper bike is one that’s useful for everyday life. Not one with 6-inches of suspension, although this would be ideal for the new trails at the ski village, promoted by world champion Sheffielder Steve Peat; not one that’s Tour de France ready with electronic shifters, but a proper bicycle. It may sound obvious, but proper bicycles are the minority in today’s market, so be warned.

How do you tell a proper bike from an impractical or useless one? It’s not always obvious, but the following points may help. Proper bikes:

Are not ludicrously expensive or cheap – costing from about £300 new or £100 second-hand

Have “braze-ons” – threaded holes in the frame to attach mudguards and pannier racks

Have decent tires – not too big and knobbly, not too skinny

Are comfortable – something you’ll have to figure out with a test ride

The first place to head for such devices is – wait for it – a bike shop. There are plenty in Sheffield, so it’s worth shopping around before splashing out. The advantage of buying in a shop is that you’ll be able to ask questions, try before you buy, and get support.

The disadvantage is that you may feel harassed into spending more money than you need to on a machine that doesn’t work well for you. As with cars, it’s rarely wise to snap up the first one you see.

New bikes have a lot going for them: the latest technology (10 speed shifters, woo!), zero wear and tear, the shiny factor (do not underestimate this), and a warranty. If you’re on a tighter budget, however, or just like the idea of re-using stuff for the greater good, the second-hand options are not bad either.

The great thing about bicycles is that they last ages. There are literally thousands collecting dust in cellars and sheds around Sheffield right now that could be enjoying life on the highway. Ask around. People love to talk about bicycles and, if you’re lucky, pass them on at bargain prices.

OK, so your friends and family have nothing of interest. The next stage may be to venture out into the bottomless void they call the internet. This is a lonely place, but you can pick up a two-wheeled bargain or two there. There’s also a burgeoning market in secondhand parts. My only advice with eBay is to try and see the bicycle in advance, or ask someone who knows about bikes to take a gander before you bid. Gumtree is also good for local sales.

That’s the second-hand option more or less covered. The advantage to this market is pricing, and the fact that some older bicycle parts are more durable (secret: high quality steel lasts longer and repairs easier than aluminium). The disadvantage of second-hand bicycles is that they may be worn and need expensive repairs, they may fall apart, and they lack customer support.

The final option is a recycled bike. This means fusing the parts of two or more unused, worn out or discarded bicycles into a single machine. Fusing old and new kit may not instantly work, but the feeling of Zen you can get when it’s complete is hard to beat, if you have the time, tools and know-how. Alternatively, you can get someone to do the re-cycling for you. ReCycle Bikes, an independent non-profit bike shop in Sheffield, may be a good place for that, but you’ll need to snap up the good stuff quickly, because demand rightly outstrips supply in the world of professionally serviced recycled bikes.

So that’s it – three main ways to get “On Yer Bike”. With this advice in mind, I strongly suggest you sort your loved one out with a decent bike for Christmas, rather than wasting hard-earned cash on ephemeral crackers, games consoles or smartphones. Every bike has its pros and cons, so it’s a case of finding the best for you. How to ride, maintain, protect and modify the new pride of your life? Well, that’s for another article. One clue: it doesn’t include 10-inch bass bins, but may well include a careful selection of saddle height, tire pressure and flashing LEDs.

If you have any burning bike questions, please write in to Now Then to guide the follow-up article.

A few independent bicycle shops in Sheffield:

ReCycle Bikes
For spares, repairs, recycled bicycles, replacement parts and training. Located on Thirlwell Road, Heeley. recyclebikes.co.uk

Tony Butterworth Cycles
Independent bike shop on Catchbar Lane, Hillsborough. tonybutterworths.com

Butterworths
Located on Abbeydale Road (no relation to the above) – For spares, repairs and local expertise on proper bicycles.

Bike Rehab
For service, spares and repairs, home delivery and secure bicycle parking. Wellington St, City Centre. bikerehab.co.uk

Robin Lovelace.