Here’s how to choose a perfect city bike for cycling in Shanghai

City bike vs mountain bike? How many speeds? What kind of saddle? Your questions answered here

Photographs: courtesy Electra
In association with Electra

Getting around Shanghai isn’t always easy. But as sunny summer weather arrives, the choice for transportation is clear – cycling! Say goodbye to traffic jams. Convenient, quick and environmentally friendly, it wraps exercise into your daily routine and is an excellent way to explore the city.

But what’s the best bicycle to choose? For urban life, city bikes are the best fit. Here's everything you need to know about getting your new ride.

1. Wait, but whichever bicycle I choose, I’m worried that it might get stolen…
Of course, nobody is insured from bad luck. But with a few simple safety precautions you can reduce the chances of your bike being stolen. Be sure to do the following: 1) buy a good lock; 2) always use your lock when you leave your bike, even if it’s just five minutes; 3) if possible, attach your lock not only to the wheel, but also to a fixed object like a fence or street lamp; 4) bring your bicycle inside at night.

2. Ok, what about city bicycles – how are they different from the others?
City bikes were created specifically for a comfortable and safe ride in an urban setting. They are have all the necessary accessories including fenders, lights, a kickstand and also a cover for the chain to protect your clothing from dirt or getting stuck. City bicycles are suitable for riding in the park, commuting to work or school, and cycling with a child (with a separate child-seat). Front baskets or back racks can be used to carry your everyday things.

Electra bicycle Loft, with Electra basket add-on

3. But then, why do I often see people on mountain bikes with shock absorbers and chunky tires?
Many people consider bicycles to be universal. But a powerful suspension fork isn’t needed in the city, and it actually slows you down. It’s the same for tires with large tread. Lots of gears like on a mountain bike isn’t actually necessary for riding in the city. Those bikes were designed specifically for long rides uphill and don’t have any use in an urban setting. Plus, the position of the rider on non-city bikes puts a lot of stress on the arms and neck, which can make it difficult to look around and enjoy the ride.

Left to right: family on city bicycles; family on mountain bicycles

4. Okay, but surely city bikes also have their drawbacks?
They do. They have wide handlebars and large wheels which makes it harder to do certain maneuvers but makes your control more accurate. Also, with the frame of a city bike, you need to ease off the sidewalk onto the street slowly, not jump. City bicycles can be heavier than others, though there are some light options like Loft from the US brand Electra, which weighs 13.7kg (whereas the average mountain bike is 18kg).

Electra Loft, with Electra basket add-on

5. Are all city bikes the same?
No, not at all. If you are going to use a bicycle instead of public transportation, take a look at commuters. They have narrow wheels that make it easier to travel long distances. If you plan to mainly ride in the park, then choose a cruiser. It has wide wheels and a comfortable seat, which are best suited for leisurely rides. There are also universal options – like bicycles from the Townie Electra series which are a cruiser and commuter hybrid.

Electra Townie, with step-over and step-thru frames

6. What should I pay attention to first?
Let's start with the frame. You’ll need to choose a frame that is suited for your height, so make sure to look up the size compatibility first. And of course, before buying any bike, make sure to test ride it.

Frames come in two configurations: a diamond frame and what’s known as a step-thru frame with a lower top tube (which makes riding in a skirt easier so they've been known as women's bikes, though it’s actually good for anyone to ride).

Bicycle with diamond frame

Bicycle with step-thru frame

In terms of frames, all Electra bicycles use a patented Flat Foot technology, which allows you to straighten your back when riding, relax your arms naturally, have a broad forward view, and affords the opportunity to put your feet flat on the ground to improve safety.

Electra Flat Foot Technology

7. What are bicycles made out of?
A traditional steel frame is more rigid and provides better rolling power, but it’s also heavier. Although titanium alloys and synthetic materials are extremely light, they’re expensive and require special maintenance. City bikes aren't generally made with these frames.

Aluminum alloy, which is generally inexpensive and decent quality, is the first choice for most city bikes. High-quality bikes use 6061-T6 aluminum alloy, which is mostly used in aerospace materials. It’s light, doesn’t easily dent or deform and has strong corrosion resistance.

Bicycle brands usually mark their frames with name of material. Search for signs like this

8. How do I choose the saddle?
The comfort of the seat depends largely on the width of the cushion. Generally speaking, the wider the saddle, the more comfortable it is. With a wider seat you won’t need to get used to it or buy any specialised clothes to feel comfortable while riding. On the other hand, road bike and mountain bike saddles sacrifice comfort for functionality, which is why they are usually narrow and hard. Of course, in the end you’ll need to try it yourself to see which you find most comfortable and suited to your needs.

From left to right: mountain bike saddle; cruiser saddle; Electra Loft saddle

9. What about selecting gears and brakes?
A single-speed bicycle is sufficient for city riding, but a few more gears will make your riding experience smoother and easier. Bikes vary from as few as three gears to as many as 21 gears.

If you have three speeds, you can start on the lower gears for a bit more power or pedal on a higher gear without much effort if you’re feeling lazy. If you have a seven-speed bike, it will be easier to deal with the occasional bridge and ups and downs of the road.

In addition to the number of speeds, the gear mechanism also can vary. When it’s hidden inside the wheel and protected from dirt and debris, this is called an internal hub. It’s difficult to break and hardly needs any special maintenance.

If you like to cycle quickly and climb hills, take a look at models with a lot of speeds. These have several sprockets (like on mountain and sports bikes), which will make it easier to climb uphill.

From left to right: internal hub system; derailleur system (with sprockets)

It’s also important to take note of the brakes. There are rim, roller, drum and disc. Rims, rollers and discs are manually controlled using levers on the handlebars, while drum breaks are controlled by backpedalling. Roller and drum breaks work the smoothest and require less maintenance, while disc breaks are the most powerful. Rim brakes are effective enough, as well as cheap and easy to maintain.

From left to right: disk brakes; roller brakes; rim brakes

10. What else should I pay attention to?
Once you’ve chosen the function, you can pick your favourite colour, shape and accessories.

Bicycles can be more than just transportation – they can be a style accessory and a way to express your personality. ‘Riding a bike should be fun’ is the Electra founders’ belief, which you can see in the comfortable and easy-going models in their range of bikes.

Collections include several stand-out city bicycle series and innovative technologies – like the Flat Foot Technology – that they’ve designed for everyday use. Electra offers a wide choice of bicycles, with over 300 different bikes in store and a spectrum of striking colours and different functionalities with a staff happy to assist you in choosing the perfect city bicycle for your needs.

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Electra's range of bicycles in shop

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The Electra shop at 320 Tianping Lu