How to buy a bike?
August 27, 2009 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good road bike to ride around town, usually for trips under a mile or two...

there are some hills, but nothing too crazy. i make fun of people with fixies, but i can see the benefit of getting something light and simple.

something zippy, maneuverable and easy to lug up stairs... i'd like to spend about $500.

what should I look for? is ebay a good place to buy a bike? specific models or general tips are appreciated.

posted by mrunderhill to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
check out ... they have bikes that are cheap without being pieces of crap.

I'd recommend a singlespeed. Simple, quick, fairly light.

Factor a helmet and a good lock in to your budget.
posted by entropone at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2009

my budget's flexible, could I get a much better bike for $750-1000?
posted by mrunderhill at 10:17 AM on August 27, 2009

could I get a much better bike for $750-1000

Most definitely. For that money, go to your LBS, or several. Explain what you want, and do a bunch of test rides.
posted by everichon at 10:29 AM on August 27, 2009

Ebay is not a good place for you to buy a bike.

Here is a nice one: Globe live 1 or for a little more: Globe Live 2. (Via BFTROU)
posted by bdc34 at 10:30 AM on August 27, 2009

Yes, $750-1000 will buy more bike than $500.

I don't mean to be coy or withhold information, but the question is very broad and would take many pages to answer. I've been riding seriously for about 4 years, continually reading about cycling, and I'm still not conversant with all the bike variations and what type is best for what kind of rider and what kind of riding.

So, as a brief answer, I'll say you probably don't want or need a road bike. I'd guess from your question that you're not experienced and you would probably not be comfortable on one, or need all of its capabilities for riding just a mile or two, it would be too valuable to leave around while you do errands, and it wouldn't be well adapted for hauling groceries in baskets on the back.

You might like to search "hybrid bike" or "city bike" for some more ideas.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:33 AM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

On non-preview, everichon has a great solution. Go to your Local Bike Shop(s) and start test riding and learning about bikes. Hang around and talk to customers about what they ride and why. You're making a great move and I'll bet you're riding more than just a mile or two very soon!
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:40 AM on August 27, 2009

A traditional road/racing bike is massively overkill for trips of a mile. I'd recommend the cheapest mountain/hybrid the LBS has on the shelf, or used. There's no advantage for spending more money - once you get out of the big-box stores, all bikes have practically the same reliability. You'll be paying more money for an inconsequential weight difference and things that break more easily and cost more to get fixed (like fancy wheels, integrated headsets, and thin-gauge tubes).
posted by meowzilla at 11:06 AM on August 27, 2009

A slightly different approach: Do the shopping but buy a used bike. Ride it critically for a season. What do you like about it? What would you change? Then buy that bike. You'll end up with a much better (for you!) bike for your money.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 11:21 AM on August 27, 2009

I bike daily... I'd skip the department stores and big box retailers and visit a local bike shop. They'll be able to work with your budget, your needs as a rider and they'll help you find something that fits.

Buying a bike online isn't a great idea, unless you really know exactly what you want, the size, etc., etc. You'll be much more likely to enjoy a bike that fits well and matches your riding style.
posted by bucko at 11:22 AM on August 27, 2009

Check out these bikes. Bianchi Milano, Trek Soho, Raleigh Roadster.
There are similar bikes by other manufacturers, of course. For riding around town, give the swept back upright handlebars a try. It makes shorter rides much more pleasant. I highly recommend fenders.
Find a good independent bike shop in your area. Ride a bunch of bikes. Buy local.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2009

Nth-ing visiting Local Bike Shops.

Also, please realize that weight of the bike, geometry, and fit can and do make a huge difference. Ride multiple bikes (and multiple kinds of bikes!) and see how they feel. Pester and get them to adjust the saddle, stem, etc. If you're patient and willing to pester lots of bike shop people, you'll be much happier with your purchase(s). And yes, you can get much more for $700-$1000. I did a test ride of this surly (MSRP $720, was on sale for less) recently, for example.

You might consider a folding bike if you're going on really short trips (<1.5 miles counts in my head as really short) and would rather stick your bike under your desk than leave it at a rack. You didn't say what your common end points of these trips are, but for many people the locking up of the bike is a nuisance and often not good for the bike since there's not proper shelter. My favorite local bike shop has some great folding bikes for remarkably cheap.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 12:31 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I work for a LBS. While my boss would want me to convince you that you should buy a new bike from us, my honest opinion is that it is hard to get a decent new road bike for $500.

Depending on where you are, it could be a buyer's market for used bicycles. E.g. San Francisco. I'd suggest searching the local ads on Craigslist before eBay, because shipping is expensive, and because you definitely need to examine the condition and size of the bike before you buy it. If you're not familiar with bikes, take a friend who is with you.
posted by randomstriker at 1:39 PM on August 27, 2009

Oh and let me add that the margin on bikes is razor thin. So if you buy a cheap bike but still pay for service and buy accessories / clothing, your LBS shouldn't have any reason to hate you.
posted by randomstriker at 1:41 PM on August 27, 2009

Include your location and someone will probably be able to share their favorite LBS.

1-2 miles = short bike rides. Get a "street" or "hybrid" or "comfort" bike and install (unless it comes with) swept back handle bars ... common on old "English 3-speeds" and throughout European countries where cycling is more common - they have a natural hand position (several positions to choose from actually) and keep you upright so you can see cars (and the other way around).

$500 is a very reasonable budget; in fact, you could probably get a bike you'd love for less given how short your rides will be.

I'd recommend the Jamis Commuter. $365 and a nice little bike that's comfortable and adjustable. It comes in many sizes, the handle bars have an easy adjustment too. Comes with swept back handle bars. There are upgraded versions (the Commuter 2-4) and they all get great reviews (more detailed review and recommendation at Bicycling Magazine). It's fairly simple (no front derailleur) so there's less that is likely to go wrong and it has a fairly light aluminum frame.

Agreed: ebay is not a good place to buy a bike. Shipping pushes costs up and means bike arrives partially assembled, no ability to inspect or test ride, etc. At the very least, start at your local bike shop, most have excellent advice and friendly folks to help you find what fits your budget, body, and ride.
posted by unclezeb at 1:50 PM on August 27, 2009

I am a big proponent of flat bar, single-speed road bikes. Aluminum frames are nice and light, but transmit a lot of road vibration.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:00 PM on August 27, 2009

Fixed gear is the way to go. For your situation it would be ideal. Lightweight (which reduces effort), fast, and agile. I almost hate the common fixie notion that it creates a zen-like connection between the rider and the road, but it really does.

My fixie is more fun to ride than any other bike I've had, and it's also fun in that with time you accrue a set of interesting balance skills/tricks.

It basically forces you to ride with good form, i.e. pedal when cornering/always keep pedal cadence.

I'd say buy the Windsor Hour ($300 including shipping), add a front brake lever at your LBS for around $20, and buy a set of metal toe clips/straps(the old school slip your foot in the loop, not the shoes that lock in) (also at your LBS) for around $20.

The above bike is light and I know quite a few people who ride them. If you decide you don't like the fixed gear, the back hub can be flipped and you can ride it freewheel (singlespeed). After riding it fixed you probably won't change it though :P

I'd love to talk more about this if you have questions. memail if you do!
posted by bradly at 3:02 PM on August 27, 2009

>Factor a helmet and a good lock in to your budget.

A helmet is $15-40. All helmets must pass the same tests, so after that you're paying for weight, adjustable fitting systems, clever vents, etc.

A U-lock is $30-45, minimum, and for really theft-prone areas a lock can exceed $120. Your LBS will be able to tell you if you live in one of those areas.

A frame pump is $15-30, a floor pump a little more, the difference being one can be carried with you on the frame of the bicycle but the other is often easier to use.

A set of three tire levers cost me $3, a patch kit good for two or three flats was $4, and a new inner tube was $5. If your bicycle has regular nuts instead of quick-release skewers, add a 15mm wrench. If you want a frame bag to carry this stuff, add $10.

A set of little blinking LEDs to let cars see you at night is $10. A lamp to let you see the road will cost more, but I don't own one so I can't say by how much.

If you want to carry groceries, you have a lot of options ranging from your backpack (free) to panniers ($50+).

Note that I ride a 25 year old bicycle in Chicago and I'm a stingy, stingy little man.
posted by d. z. wang at 3:23 PM on August 27, 2009

Thanks for all the great replies!
posted by mrunderhill at 8:54 PM on August 27, 2009

I have the Raliegh One Way from this year, and I would definitely recommend test riding one. It's a nice bike.

One issue to note, though, is that they seriously cheaped out on the components to bring the price down. The freewheel locked up after one ride in the rain, so I replaced it with one from White Industries. (Expensive, but very very nice!) The chainring is not a track chainring, but a really low-end chainring for a derailer bike. (It has some teeth cut away to make downshifting easier., which is exactly what you don't want on a single speed bike.) The stock tires and brake pads are also crap, IMO, and I replaced them immediately. (700/28c Gatorskins and Kool Stop mountain pads, respectively.)

I know this sounds like less than a glowing review, but it does include nice components too; the frame is top quality (and that's the important part), and the saddle, handlebar, headset, brake levers, wheels, bottom bracket, etc. are all just fine. (Coming with a Brooks saddle "out of the box" is just wonderful!)

It is hard to find steel bikes these days (it seems to be a botique item; steel road bikes I have looked at before this one cost more than my carbon racing bike), so I was very happy to find this at REI and get the 10% dividend on it.

It really is a good bike, and is my choice for grocery shopping and generally getting around town. It is actually only a few pounds more than my racing bike, even with a rack and fenders.
posted by jrockway at 10:42 PM on August 27, 2009

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