Shopping and Design: You're never too old to do a wheelie

Summer is here, the great outdoors beckon, and nowadays there's a bike for every terrain - and rider. Shaun Phillips looks at some top models

Let's try a bit of word association. Bike. What came into your head? A BMX with a sand-blasted frame? A racing bike with Continental Supersport 100 tyres? A downhill mountain bike with a Rock Shox SID front fork suspension?

My first thoughts are of a three-speed yellow Raleigh Chopper, that I mangled while attempting to do a protracted wheelie down by the local tennis courts in 1978. I wasn't really bothered, though, because the bike wasn't mine.

Bikes are a bit like girlfriends. In your adolescence, you never get one as good looking as your mates' and when your luck is finally in, the love affair is invariably shortlived.

If your interest has been rekindled by a) the TV coverage of the PruTour, b) National Bike Week, or c) your wobbly waistline, then the following bikes are worth considering.

POSING IN THE CITY

Name: Ridgeback Epsilon

Price: pounds 499

Stockists: 01372 227 979

Description: This aluminium-framed bike has a polished-metal finish. It's not as well-suited for going off-road as the Handsome Dog, but dirt on the metalwork would spoil the effect, wouldn't it? Besides, the City Slick tyres and seat suspension make it perfect for the urban environment, and a gadget-bore friendly Shimano Flight Deck multi-function computer comes as standard!

Style: HHHH

Suitable for: Muji fans.

And if you won't be paranoid that it'll get nicked? The Handsome Dog Titanium 99XT (pounds 1,650, 01535 632 173) is the dog's bollocks. No dodgy paint job because the titanium frame won't corrode. The front wheel fork, meanwhile, has double-barrelled cylinder suspension, which provides 90mm worth of grace should you hit a pit in the road left by the cable company. No suspension on the back wheel, but that's hardly necessary for the trip to the newsagent and back.

BURN RUBBER ON ME

Name: Principia Rex

Price: pounds 1,754-pounds 2,111 (depending on configuration)

Stockists: 01705 594 646

Description: None more black, which is just as well, since some of Principia's other frames come in some stomach-churning colours. The Rex was the most popular choice of racing-bike frames in this year's Prutour road race (the UK's answer to the Tour de France), understandable given the two developments that the Danish manufacturers have incorporated into the 1999 design: a weight-shedding, carbon-fibre fabricated front fork and a steam-rollered, oversized aluminium down-tube that improves the aerodynamics of the bike's leading edge, and sets its styling apart from the ubiquitous racing bike look.

Style: HHHH

Suitable for: serious racers only.

Anything under a grand? The Lemond Tourmalet (pounds 725, 01372 227 979). Tasteful looks, platform pedals with clips and straps and solid Continental Supersport Ultra tyres.

AWAY DAYS

Name: Cannondale C900

Price: pounds 999

Stockists: 0930 200 300 (30p/minute)

Description: Very tasteful hybrid of touring/mountain bikes. The latter provides most of the technology for the lightweight aluminium frame and the grip-shifting 24-gear system. It also has anti-lock hub brakes (which ensure you don't go flying over the handlebars), and all the useful stuff usually found on touring bikes (mud guards, Dynamo light system and a rack on the back).

Style: HHHH

Suitable for: hip lecturers.

Anything for the Andes? If you're intending to ride across Mexico rather than go on a day trip to Brighton, then the more traditional Dawes Super Galaxy (pounds 800, 0121-706 6662) is in order. It features a sturdy Reynolds 531ST frame and drop handlebars, a must for anyone covering long distances on a bike. Most important of all, though, is that it comes in British racing green.

WILD IN THE JUNGLE

Name: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR XC

Price: pounds 1,200

Stockists: 01372 840 800

Description: Technically speaking, this silver bike centres around an A1 "Enhanced" double-butted custom aluminium frame. For downhill mountain bike virgins, this means it's lighter than you'd expect - around 27lb - and looks like an important section of tubing has been sawn off from under the saddle. Some full-suspension bikes have a huge spring at this point to allow the back wheel to flex as it rapidly crosses undulating terrain: this all-rounder though, has a neat piston unit (a Fox Vanilla Air) which looks both simpler and more stylish. This relatively restrained rear suspension system is offset by a more responsive (Manitou SX) front fork in bright red.

Style: HHHH

Suitable for: stylish maniacs.

Anything similarly robust at half the price? The Univega Flyte 800 (pounds 500, 0121-440 4632) is heavier, especially in the front-fork department, but it's still outstanding value.

Shaun Phillips is deputy editor of 'ZM Magazine'. For details of National Bike Week (12-20 June) check out www.nbw.co.uk or call the Cyclists Touring Club on 01483 417217, or London Cycling Campaign 0171-928 7220

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