I want to ride my BICYCLE / I want to ride my bike
May 5, 2009 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Help me buy a totally awesome bicyle!

(probably pointless background) About two years ago I discovered that my bike was actually too small for me. And then I moved to Ghana for a year and a half, so bike plans were on hold. Now I'm totally psyched to be coming home and I want to celebrate with a new bike.

(pointful stuff) I can finally afford to buy a nice bike (plus a guy at a bike store owes me a favour, so I can probably swing a deep discount). I use my bike as my main transport in a small city. I was trying out bikes before I left, and I love those ones that look a bit old fashioned, but I definitely have to have more than three gears and handbrakes. I lean towards hybrids, but I would be interested to hear if there are city cyclists who prefer other types. Advice, suggestions, experiences all welcome.
posted by carmen to Shopping (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This guy at the bike store--what brands does the store carry?
posted by box at 1:11 PM on May 5, 2009

I'm in love with my Dahon folding bike.
posted by Pineapplicious at 1:12 PM on May 5, 2009

Tough to generalize here.

Try a lot of bikes at friend's bike shop and see what you like. Try a fixed gear, single speed, maybe a hybrid or a flat bar road bike, drop-bar road bike, a "city bike" (usually 5-10 speeds, often internally geared hub). Most people gravitate towards one type once they've tried a number of them. If you get it narrowed down to a couple of them, consider renting one for the day to see how you like it.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:24 PM on May 5, 2009

Earlier this year I purchased a Jamis Coda, and love it. Its steel frame is a little heavier than an aluminum bike, but it's still pretty light, and the steel is more both rugged and more forgiving of potholes, streetcar tracks, etc.

It can take fenders and a rack (a must for a city commuting bike), has flat bars and easy-to-use trigger shifters, and is both faster and more agile than my previous bike, a Trek hybrid.

It also has the aesthetic advantage (to me) of a simple, classic color scheme with minimal flashy graphics and logos, giving it a bit of the same look as a Dutch-style city bike, with substantially higher performance and at a much lower cost than the imported ones (I paid $500-- $50 below MSRP-- vs. more than twice that for a Dutch import).
posted by dersins at 1:27 PM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Civia makes a nice proprietary bike, if you have the means. It's a great commute bike.

If not, there's the old standby- the Gary Fisher Simple City.
posted by Zambrano at 1:31 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keep this in mind: margins on bikes are pretty small, so unless the favor this guy owes you is so great that he's willing to take a loss, he can't really save you all that much. You need to weigh that savings against the value of looking at different shops to get the bike that's right for you.

Also - don't buy a bike you haven't test ridden.
posted by robverb at 1:32 PM on May 5, 2009

Ditto pineapplicious. I am a lifetime cycling commuter. I've had a lot of bikes and never loved a bike so much as my folder. The nicer Dahons or an entry Bike Friday would be in your budget.

If you've heard bad things about folding bikes or 20" wheels, you've probably heard them from people who have little to no actual experience with them. They are a total hoot and can be a good ride too.
posted by quarterframer at 1:38 PM on May 5, 2009

what's your budget? that will help narrow the recommendations.

personally I started off riding hybrids (Trek 730 back when it was still made with steel and before they started tricking it out with front shocks and other weirdness), and think that overall hybrids are fine as city bikes. My girlfriend has a Marin Kentfield that she generally likes, and has been using as her primary form of transportation for four years now.

Myself, I've moved on to using touring bikes with drop handlebars because I find them to be more versatile (though also more expensive). They still have utilitarian features like rack and fender mounts, but can also be taken out for fast rides in the countryside on nice weekends. You can do long distance travel and touring on a hybrid, but if you have friends who have road bikes, it's harder to keep up with them due to the upright posture.

In general, if you want a complete bike and not have to worry about buying a bunch of accessories afterwards, I think the Breezers are fabulous city bikes. They've got racks, fenders, generator lights and internally geared hubs -- all really nice features for the day-in, day-out, year-round urban rider.
posted by bl1nk at 2:09 PM on May 5, 2009

robverb - In my experience the wholesale vs. retail margin on new bikes ranges from 30-50%, which can easily amount to several hundred dollars. I agree that the store probably will not want to cut the price much because they have the labor invested in building the bike. Depending on the scale of the favor the OP is owed by the employee they might have luck Employee Purchasing a bike from the manufacturer (40-60% discount from retail) and building it on their own time.

I won't comment on the morality of doing this (the details of EP programs and how they feel about re-sale vary between manufacturers) but it is a fairly common practice.

I EP'ed my wife's Fuji Touring bike and saved about 65% off retail five years ago.

As to the original question, the best way to figure out what style bike you like is to test-ride as many as possible. I don't think that front shocks and suspension seat posts are worth the weight if you are going to be riding primarily on pavement, so consider a flat-bar road bike style hybrid. If you prefer a more laid back slower feel then something with a feet forward design like an Electra Townie is worth looking into.

If theft is a problem where you live then that will be a huge factor as well.
posted by ChrisHartley at 2:13 PM on May 5, 2009

I know you said more than 3 gears, but I love my Pashley. Another great Dutch style bike brand is Batavus. Their Personal Bike is built like a tank, has a built-in chain lock, and is wicked awesome.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:29 PM on May 5, 2009

I am a city cyclist, and I actually use a straight-up non-commuter road bike for commuting (Klein Q-Pro), because I love the agility and speed it offers me. I tend not to putter when I ride, so I want something that responds when I jump on the pedals. I also have a Trek hybrid for riding around my neighborhood - it's handy when I don't want to get all shod and geared up for a quick ride to the store.

So, which kind of bike to recommend? It really depends on what kind of riding you'll be doing. Will you be wanting to do any sort of longer rides other than to/from work/school/whatever? If so, I'd lean towards a bike like the Surly Cross-Check or Long Haul Trucker - I don't know if your friend's shop stocks Surly bikes, but they're fantastic commuters that can be ridden longer distances if desired. They're rock solid, they have a good ride, and they're good values for the cost (what is your budget, by the way?)

If your friend's shop doesn't carry Surly, I would look for a commuter bike or a cyclocross bike - most of them will do what the Surlys do, and allow you to commute as well as do other things if you want.

Hybrids are decent too, but they tend to be a bit heavier and don't steer as crisply as road bike-type setups; I don't know if that sort of thing is important to you but it's something to keep in mind.

But as many have said, the most important thing is to ride a ton of bikes before buying one - I spent a solid week at several bike shops riding a few bikes a night before settling on my Klein, and that research paid off. I love my bike. Spend the time to find the right one and you'll love yours too.
posted by pdb at 2:30 PM on May 5, 2009

I'm seconding the Breezers; I have an Uptown8 that I use for commuting. Slap a couple of folding Wald baskets on the rear rack and you're set (though if you add the Walds, you'll need to figure out your own attachment hardware, because the tubes on the rack are too thick for the standard Wald hardware. I use a combination of zip ties and hose clamps).

If I were building a commuter from scratch, though, especially if I had to ride longer distances than my six-mile round-trip commute, I might build up the following:

* Kogswell P/R steel frame, which comes with matching fenders
* porteur rack on front (for a briefcase etc.)
* rear rack, with the Wald baskets, for groceries and the like
* SON dynohub on front, powering a good front and rear light equipped with standlight
* SRAM iMotion-9 internally geared hub, with sprocket and chainring tailored to your strength and riding preferences
* plastic fully enclosed chaincase like the top-end Breezer model
* Handlebars are a personal choice, but I might use shallow, flared mountain bike drop handlebars and mount the twist shifter on the end of the right side. Or I'd beg JTEK to make a bar-end shifter for the iMotion-9!
* Cantilever or linear-pull brakes (I'm not picky; the Tektro Oryx cantilevers on my Surly LHT work fine).
* Fat, tough tires
* Brooks Champion Flyer sprung leather saddle, with cover

The bike I describe would be similar to the Breezer, but the Kogswell frame with the porteur rack would give it an old-fashioned look and feel, plus the advantage of carrying your luggage in front where you can keep an eye on it. If you prefer, you could get handlebars that would give you a more upright position, like the Nitto Albatross or mustache handlebars.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:33 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

a guy at a bike store owes me a favour

Your friend will better be able to recommend a bike that is right for you than anyone here.

That said, here's some thoughts:

- Don't spend too much on your first "real" bike. As you become a more advanced rider and serious commuter you'll know better what features and style you want in a bike. Lots of folks I know have started out with $400 "hybrid" bikes only to switch over to road style bikes within a year.

- Will you be hefting this bike over shoulder regularly? If so pay attention to the weight. Many of the "hybrid" style bikes out there are behemoths, weighing well over 30lbs - not to mention their wide handlebars and long wheelbase make them a pain to maneuver when carrying.

- Accessories are almost as important as the bike itself. Clothes, bike pump, fenders, racks, lights, helmet, u-lock and cable... all of that stuff adds up, but they make a difference between a bike that is ready to ride in any condition (wet or dark) and a bike that only sees weekend use. You pay more up front, but you'll get a better value in the long run.

- Don't forget clothes, though it'll take some experimenting on your part to figure out what works for you. Avoid cotton when possible.
posted by wfrgms at 2:48 PM on May 5, 2009

I adore my electra amsterdam - I have the 3 speed with coaster brakes, you'll have to go up to 8 speeds if you want a hand brake. Here's a link. I missed the hand brake at first, but haven't noticed it since the first few weeks. It's a great way to get an Dutch-style bike without paying Dutch-import prices. I would recommend that you think about your riding style though - I much prefer going a bit slower riding a gorgeous bike (and I'm always finding excuses for errands I have to do on my bike!) than having the extra speed and agility of a racing bike, but you may feel differently.
posted by fermezporte at 3:39 PM on May 5, 2009

tangent on dynamo lighting:

just to add to brianogilvie's spec list, if you are in the market for kitting out your own commuter bike and have room in the budget for a dynamo generator hub, then the lights that I would recommend at this time are either the B&M IQ Fly Plus or the Spanninga Luceo. Both are in the new breed of LED lights, which are slightly more expensive than the older halogens, but they have brighter optics and you don't have to worry about replacing the bulbs as they burn out. I run a pair of Schmidt E6's, which are ok for city riding, but definitely feel obsolete when compared against the current generation of LEDs. There are more expensive super LED lights like the B&M Cyo, the Supernova and Schmidt Edelux, but these are, imho, excessive. The sub-$100 LEDs, like the IQ Fly are more than enough for most urban riding. You only need the brighter lights if you're going to be doing a lot of night riding in the countryside or woods.

Unfortunately, it's unusual for most North American shops to carry such lights, even a commuter friendly bike shop like the Urbane Cyclist in Toronto doesn't stock dynamo setups, so you're going to have to order from SJS Cycles in the UK or Peter White or Velo Orange in the US.
posted by bl1nk at 3:48 PM on May 5, 2009

I've had a few friends get Redline 925 but you might also want to scope out Urban Velo Magazine for a starting point of what's out there. Specifically they had a blog post on steal road bikes/frames and a post asking readers what do you commute on?

Other brands to consider for a new bike: Surly and IRO but the Urban Velo articles will list way more and give you a range of prices to consider.
posted by wcfields at 3:51 PM on May 5, 2009

You mention that you use it as your main transport. Do you expect to be using it as your main "carrying large objects" vehicle as well?

Personally, I've ridden generic bikes off and on for years, and when I started playing the accordion I needed a bike that could carry it + a music stand (plus a chair, plus books). So I picked up a Kona Ute. It has served me very well - I get my groceries without worrying about the weight, I've put printer boxes in the rucksacks.

If you expect to be doing similar things, get a Ute. If you don't, don't - there are better bikes for normal biking.

Double-footed kickstands are awesome.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:52 PM on May 5, 2009

I work in bicycle retail. The wholesale price on bikes is typically 2/3 of MSRP. Add freight and labour for assembly, the margin is at best 15%. Add in fixed overhead, and you're barely at break-even. So don't expect a "deep discount" to be more than 20%, if even that.
posted by randomstriker at 5:26 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If this is going to be a bike that is going to be locked outside for any period of time, you should weigh the very sizable chance that your bike could be stolen. How are you willing to spend to have it just vanish while you're grocery shopping?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:02 PM on May 5, 2009

I'm hardly an expert, but when I was looking for a commuter bike, I was really taken with the Breezer Villager. It ended up being too expensive for me, but that's quite a ride.
posted by willpie at 6:05 PM on May 5, 2009

Seconding bl1nk. I have a Breezer Citizen, and love everything about it. It's sturdy, handles well on pothole-ridden streets, comes with everything you need. It looks a bit old-fashioned, or classic, without trying too hard to be retro. Check out one of the Breezers with more than three speeds.
posted by umbĂș at 7:07 PM on May 5, 2009

Take a look at my askme about picking a bike. It may help with some of the lingo and other fundamentals.

I still ride the hybrid I bought based on input from that thread. I'm approaching my first thousand miles, and all I've done to it, beyond chain maintenance and post break-in adjustment, is add a rear rack and a cheap bike computer.

I also bought onlyconnect an Electra Amsterdam (a year 1 Sport to get the aluminum frame, plus the non-sport bell (v.cute) and a nicer rack), and she enjoyed that a lot, though new mommyhood has kept her off of it for a while. (We have a beach vacation planned for this summer and the bikes are coming, yay!)
posted by NortonDC at 7:54 PM on May 5, 2009

You say you like bikes that look a bit old fashioned; have you thought about buying an old bike? You can pick up a nice steel frame bike from the 80's in good condition for no more than $100 or so. They used to make all bikes with good clearance, so if you pop fenders and a rack on you'll have a great commuting bike with character for a good bit cheaper than a new one. It takes a little looking to find one, but old steel bikes last almost forever if they don't rust and have a great ride.
posted by lhputtgrass at 7:56 PM on May 5, 2009

I love my 8 speed Felt Cafe Commuter. It has a light weight aluminum frame, and rides like a dream. The only gear shift is located on the right handle grip: all 8 gears are on the rear wheel, so no gear changing on the pedal gear. I live in a relatively flat area, so this is perfect for my daily commute. I paid about $500.00 for mine.http://www.feltracing.com/09-catalog/cafe.aspx
posted by yankee named dixie at 12:57 PM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. Lots to think about. I definitely have somewhere to start when I get home and head into the shop!

One question has come up for me so far: can you put racks and bags on a folding bike?
posted by carmen at 10:41 AM on May 7, 2009

Short answer: yes.

Slightly longer answer: yes, but it might be kinda kludgy (beautiful on a Moulton, possibly kludgy on a Bike Friday/Dahon, potentially lovely on a frame with full-sized wheels, S&S couplers and the appropriate braze-ons--that last is probably out of your price range, though you might look at the Surly Travelers Check). If you want actual braze-ons instead of hose clamps and real racks instead of seatpost-mounted ones, it would be good to keep this in mind when you're making your buying decision. And, of course, a bike with racks will not fold to as small a size as one without.
posted by box at 6:26 PM on May 7, 2009

And I post this advice in a lot of bike questions, but that just means it's widely applicable: if you have a bike co-op in your community, it would probably be worthwhile to talk to the people there.
posted by box at 6:27 PM on May 7, 2009

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