Q: Could you please advise me on buying a road bike for my wife's birthday? The budget is about £400 and it needs to be flat-barred and capable of towpath riding, probably with mudguards. She's 5' 2" and quite slight!
She might have been tempted by suspension forks, but at this price I've already explained that there's no point. Do you have any suggestions?
Dr John Hughes, Bristol
A:John, here are some ideas for a bike for your missus. However, I'd say the best advice is to buy a bike that truly fits her, which might mean spoiling the surprise so that she can go along too. Maybe you can give her a sweet card and then take her to the bike shop for a good look around. At 5'2", she'll probably benefit from a women's specific bike especially in terms of reach and standover height. Since she wants a bike for towpaths and to fit mudguards, a lightweight hybrid or well-equipped flat-barred road bike is the way to go.
It's best to steer clear of the heavy, sit-up-and-beg city bikes, even though they have all the fixings. A lighter, sportier bike will be much more fun to ride, and there're plenty to choose from. The Kona Smoke (0117 982 3673, www.konaworld. co.uk) is £300, very cool looking and has mudguards fitted - the only catch is that it's a 'man's' bike, though its smallest size of 14" is pretty tiny. Trek (01908 282 626, www.trekbike.co.uk) have a number of women's hybrid options including the 7.1 FX wsd that comes equipped with a rack and mudguards at £300.
A step up in components, but without the extra accessories is the 7.2 FX wsd (£320) that has room for 35mm tyres - good for towpaths. If you spend at the top end of the budget, there are lighter bikes to be had and you'll often get a better components package too, but they won't have rack or 'guards fitted. The shop should be willing to fit them as extra - just make sure you check that there's enough clearance and solid mounting points.
Specialized (0208 391 3500, www. specialized.com) have the Crossroads series which features 700x38mm tyres and provisions for both rack and 'guards (Crossroads Elite, £399). Sporty, flat-barred road bikes offer a greater turn of speed with a confident, upright position. They can be a better choice than a hybrid if she plans to ride mainly on roads with a bit of cycle paths. Giant's (0115 977 5900, www.giant-bicycles.com) FCR 3 w is a road-geared, flat-barred bike for women at £350. More expensive models in the FCR range are lighter in weight, but they all take mudguards - though fitting the rear one is fiddly. A compromise might be to fit plastic clip-on ones on any bike with limited mounts.