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For many students who are heading to university at some point in the next few weeks, a bike is likely to become their first choice means of getting about. A cheap form of travel and good exercise to boot, cycling can also prove to be the best way to get to know an unfamiliar town or city.

While the initial cost might prove greater than a bus pass or rail card, a bike is likely to prove by far the better investment in the long run. Student discounts are one thing, but public transport costs recur month after month and even if you end up saving just a tenner a week by cycling, that’ll soon add up.

Relying on buses and trains can also be limiting. Depending on what lines and routes are available to you, journeys can prove convoluted and time consuming. The beauty of travelling by bike is that you can simply go from A to B without needing to wait around at A, continue on foot from B or change at C or D.

But it’s not just as simple as buying any old bike and getting on with things. While much of the appeal of cycling is that it’s so easily accessible, you’ll want to make sure you get the right bike for your specific requirements and that you have everything you need to ensure your journeys are quick, safe and straightforward.

In this guide we’ll take a look at bikes, bags, lights and security, but regardless of what you go for, it’s also worth ensuring that your bike is properly set up, with the right saddle height and so forth. It might also be an idea to have a quick look at the Highway Code. Even if you’ve passed your driving test, if you’re new to cycling on the road, you’ll soon be seeing things from a different perspective.

Student bikes

With budgetary constraints likely to play a part, a major question is whether to buy new or second-hand. If you’re reasonably happy replacing bike components – or feel that you could learn – then you can certainly pick up a bargain by investing in something that might initially need a little attention. If you’re not so confident in this regard, a new bike should give you a little less to worry about at the outset.

Beyond that, it will be a matter of personal preference and your individual needs whether you go for a commuter bike, a road bike or something else.

Hybrid bikes

Hybrids are Britain's most popular style of bike because they offer practical, comfortable urban transportation while also being happy on slightly rougher surfaces, such as canal tow paths or the sometimes underwhelming off-road tracks which are frequently earmarked for cyclists.

Read our buyer’s guide to the best cheap hybrid bikes.

Apollo Belmont - £220

Apollo Belmont.jpg

Apollo Belmont.jpg

The Belmont has an aluminium frame, a mudguard, chainguard and rack, making it very practical urban transport. Halfords provides a free service after six weeks and will put the bike together for you. There is also a women’s version – the Apollo Elyse. Both bikes have 18-speed Shimano gears operated by twist-grip shifters.

B'Twin Hoprider 300 - £269

B'TWIN HOPRIDER 300.jpg

B'TWIN HOPRIDER 300.jpg

B’Twin is the cycling brand of sports megastore, Decathlon. Being as the firm sells bikes all over the Continent, its town bikes are tailored for European tastes, which means the Hoprider 300 has a feature that's rare on UK-specced bikes – dynamo lighting. The lights are powered by a generator in the front hub so they're always ready when you need them. You also get a gel saddle, mudguards and rack and the Shimano Altus mechs are a notch up in quality over the gears found on cheaper bikes. There's also a kickstand for easy parking.

Dawes Discovery Trail — £250

dawes discovery trail 2017.jpg

dawes discovery trail 2017.jpg

If you want something more stripped-down so you can add your own choice of extras, this Dawes is well worth a look.

Claud Butler Cambridge Style — £300

2017 claud butler cambridge style.jpg

2017 claud butler cambridge style.jpg

The name's not just marketing — Cambridge really is full of bikes like this. The upright riding position is great for leisurely cruising to lectures and there's a basket for your bag so you don't have to get a sweaty back riding in a rucksack.

Flat bar road bikes

It’s quite possible to get the gearing and fast wheels/tyres of a standard road bike but with flat handlebars. Many prefer the vision and control they get from a more upright position and it can prove to be ideal for city cycling.

Read our guide to the best commuting bikes.

Specialized Sirrus bikes — from £379

specialized-sirrus-2016-hybrid-bike-black-EV244808-8500-1.jpg

specialized-sirrus-2016-hybrid-bike-black-EV244808-8500-1.jpg

Road bike geometry, but with flat handlebars. The cheapest version of the Sirrus comes with Shimano Altus gears, a triple chainring and eight-speed rear cassette.

B’Twin Triban 500 SE - £260

B'Twin Triban 500 Flat Bar

B'Twin Triban 500 Flat Bar

The flat handlebar version of Decathlon’s B’Twin Triban 500 SE is £40 cheaper than the road version. It has a triple chainring and seven-speed rear cassette.

Road bikes

A road bike is a fast option for longer journeys, but it can also do double duty for training and sportives or simply for getting a little further afield on a weekend leisure ride. We’ll assume you have a fairly traditional student budget and have therefore focused on some of the cheaper options below.

Read our guide to the best road bikes for under £300.

Apollo Paradox — £180

Apollo Paradox 2017.jpeg

Apollo Paradox 2017.jpeg

Not bad at all for under £200. You get a reasonably light aluminium alloy frame, alloy wheels, and 14-speed Shimano gears. Halfords will also put it together for you and provide a free service after six weeks.

B’Twin Triban 500 SE - £299

BTwin Triban

BTwin Triban

We named the drop handlebar version of this bike our Budget Bike of the Year for 2014/15.

Read our review of the B’Twin Triban 500 SE.

Cycling rucksacks

giga pro features

giga pro features

Several of the bikes mentioned above feature a rack or a means of adding one, but by far the simplest way to carry your belongings is in a rucksack. Having everything on your back also brings the added benefit that you’ll probably remember to bring it all with you when you lock your bike up and head to your next lecture.

Convenience is the great advantage of a rucksack. Throw in everything you need, strap it on and away you go, with no faffing about with pannier hooks and no effect on your bike's ride. There's a huge range available, from bike-specific packs with lots of pockets to ordinary walking daypacks that can be used perfectly well on a bike. However, our advice is that you don't want to carry too much, so you probably don’t want to go bigger than about 20 litres. Water resistance, padding (particularly on the straps) and reflectivity may be other major considerations.

Read our guide to the 10 best cycling rucksacks

Bike lights

Light and Motion Urban 650 front light.jpg

Light and Motion Urban 650 front light.jpg

It’s not so long after the start of the academic year that the clocks go back – although you may well need lights long before then. It's the law in the UK to have lights on after dark. They're a major safety aid about town and they also allow you to see where you're going on darker streets and lanes.

A front light has to perform the twin duties of being visible enough to stop inattentive drivers mowing you down whilst also allowing you to see where you're going. A rear light is really just for getting noticed. You can probably get away without the top-of-the-range lights intended for dark rural roads, but do make sure yours are fit for purpose. Modern LED lights are both bright and affordable, so there really is no excuse.

Read our guide to the best front lights

Read our guide to the best rear lights

Security

Master Lock Street Fortum U-lock

Master Lock Street Fortum U-lock

Invest in a good lock.

Use it.

This is not really an area where you want to cut corners. Here’s our selection of the best bike locks that are currently available and you should also have a read of our bike locking bible which will give you some tips about how best to use yours.

It’s also worth taking out insurance. If you have some form of contents insurance, this may cover your bike to some extent – but don’t count on it. There are often exclusions for bikes over a certain value or for bikes stolen away from the property, so check what’s covered and see whether bikes can be added if need be.

You’ll probably also want third party insurance. You may get this if you join certain cycling organisations – student membership of CTC is £18 a year, for example and will give you third party insurance and legal claims advice. Otherwise, cycle-specific cover from a specialist is the order of the day. Prices vary, but here’s our guide to cycle insurance for more information.

[This article was last updated on August 8, 2017]

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

10 comments

Avatar
vbvb [620 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

Road bikes seem an odd choice for this group, I think. Maybe a folder option would be good - good for limited space, shared accom, where in-room storage is often most secure option, and where occassional users don't want a fullsize bike taking up half the bedroom. Btwin do a good cheap folder (rare combo), iirc.

Avatar
Argos74 [448 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

Pick up an old-school steel rigid MTB. Cheap, easy to maintain and repair, bomb-proof and less sought after by professional bike thieves. And as I and a few roadies have found out on my commute, surprisingly nippy.

Avatar
DrG82 [161 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

The main requirement is cheap and shonky looking, any bike in newish looking condition will be targeted even if it's a £100 Apollo, I know people who've had bikes stolen that were worth less that the lock they cut through in the process.

Avatar
handlebarcam [1044 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

Seriously? Is there any university in the country without a bike theft problem? And, even if you buy a lock priced as high as some of the bikes listed above, are there any lecture halls with even half as many places to lock up outside as there are seats within? Second-hand is surely the way to go. Anyone who brings a shiny new bicycle to university should really consider whether they have the intelligence for course they're studying. I mean, sure, I did. But that was back when road bikes were about as widely desired as filofaxes are now. And it still got damaged by a frustrated thief who couldn't break the lock (it was also a time when the D-lock was a somewhat recent import, fresh from the streets of New York.)

Avatar
Mungecrundle [866 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

It will be left outside, ridden in all weathers, you are unlikely to have proper facilities to keep it maintained and the cost / shinyness will be inversely proportional to the time before it is nicked or vandalised. 

Just get hold of the cheapest bicycle that has wheels which still go round, that you can afford to loose and laugh about, spray can it all over some hideous snot green colour, get the cheapest lock that will deter only the laziest thief looking for a ride home after the pub and save your money for beer and books.

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alansmurphy [886 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Don't buy an Apollo anything, unless you are trying to kill the thief...

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wellsprop [387 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
handlebarcam wrote:

Anyone who brings a shiny new bicycle to university should really consider whether they have the intelligence for course they're studying. I mean, sure, I did. But that was back when road bikes were about as widely desired as filofaxes are now. And it still got damaged by a frustrated thief who couldn't break the lock (it was also a time when the D-lock was a somewhat recent import, fresh from the streets of New York.)

It mostly depends on how well/where the bike is looked. The uni I go to has "secure" lockers which need a uni key card to access and is CCTV monitored - bikes have still been knicked from there though.

I happily leave my commuter road bike there - albeit with two Gold standard D locks and two cable locks on it!

A few other guys leave carbon racers there festooned with a similar amount of locks.

There's so many low/mid range road bikes left "secured" to a railing by only a £10 cable lock that anything with decent lock seems too much effort for the local crims. We easily get 2-3 bikes stolen a week on campus. A lot are stolen by the same bloke, he wanders around every so often (I assume looking for bikes) pretending to be a student but has a massive set of bolt cutters in his bag, usually comes back in the evening to steal the bikes - pretty naff really  7

Avatar
DaveE128 [919 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
DrG82 wrote:

The main requirement is cheap and shonky looking, any bike in newish looking condition will be targeted even if it's a £100 Apollo, I know people who've had bikes stolen that were worth less that the lock they cut through in the process.

Depends how filled with thieving scum the university city/town of choice is really! Some aren't that bad.

Avatar
Tjuice [241 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

1. Echo many of the above comments: second hand, and ideally shonky-looking is the way to go.  That doesn't have to mean a terrible bike though.  I built a fixed gear some years ago from an old frame that was about to go into a skip, a cheap eBay fork and various old bits I had lying around in boxes.  I think I spent more on a (cheap) wheel with a fixed hub than I did on the rest of the bike.  And it was perfectly fine for commuting around London well in excess of 25mph at times.  Looked like complete garbage (someone had once had a go at painting the frame, seemingly with interior decorating paint and a paintbrush in purple, black and pink...)

 

2.

vbvb wrote:

Road bikes seem an odd choice for this group, I think. Maybe a folder option would be good

Road bikes are fine around university.  I rode my Raleigh Equipe for most of my (many) years at university and it served me very well indeed.  I see loads of road bikes (albeit not typically high spec) around Oxford, for example

Folder is an interesting option, provided you can take it with you into lectures/etc. otherwise I would think they would be very tempting for theives.

 

3. Basic mountain bikes as a category seem to be missing from the list (unless I missed it).  Loads and loads of cheap old MTBs travel around university towns/cities every day!

 

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philhubbard [49 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

Always worth checking with the local recycle bike centre/bike shop for any dead and gone bikes. They always have something worth while and it keeps other people on bikes such as http://www.recyclebikes.co.uk  in sheffield