Inexpensive recreational bike?
December 28, 2009 2:00 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I spent a lovely afternoon this Christmas riding around his old neighborhood on his mom and stepdad's bikes, and would now like bikes of our own. We'd basically just be riding around the neighborhood or occasionally on bike trails, and would like to spend under $250 each, if possible. Any recommendations?

I'd like the bikes to be able to shift gears, since we have some hills in our area, and I prefer cruiser-style bikes because they have wider tires and you don't have to bend over while you're riding.
posted by odayoday to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For that price I say you should look on the Craigslist in your area - you'll find a bunch of selections that will require some tune-up but still be cheap. The Schwinn Breeze may be up your alley
posted by Think_Long at 2:03 PM on December 28, 2009

It would be helpful to know which community that you live in. For example, Tucson has BICAS, which offers inexpensive recycled bikes. Can you clarify the general area in which you live?
posted by jeffrygardner at 2:15 PM on December 28, 2009

If you were happy riding the in-laws' old bikes around, you'd probably be satisfied riding someone else's old bikes around as well. I wouldn't look to getting a cruiser bike - often they come equipped with cheaper parts. Instead, look for an older road or mountain bike, fit them with fatter tires, a riser stem, and cruiser bars. All this can be done within your budget.

You can use something like a Nitto Technomic riser stem to lift the bars up, and slick tires in the 32mm or 1.25/1.5" range.
posted by stachemaster at 2:23 PM on December 28, 2009

Seconding Craigslist, with a couple of caveats: You'll need to know what size [bike] frame fits you and your boyfriend. A bike shop could tell you, but then there's the ethical issue of taking up their time getting fitted when you've no intention of buying from them. Perhaps there's a Web site that can calculate this from your inseam or something.

Second, there are a lot of bargains out on CL, but there's a lot of crap, too. If you've a bike-savvy friend, you'd do well to have her vett the bike's you're looking at, or at least the ads.

In my experience in the Washington DC region, with patience you can get good-quality entry-level used mountain bikes on CL for $125-175. Anything you can buy in that range will work for your purposes.
posted by mojohand at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2009

you should have no trouble finding good bikes for under 250. I'd say you should be able to find craigslist deals for 100 without much trouble. If you have a bike-nerdy pal who can help you (real-time) with shopping, that would be ideal. i've been cycling (avidly-ish, but without any real distances under my belt) for years, my advice is not buy something fancier than you need -- it tends to be off-putting to newbies. Get a bike that fits and works, and remember you can change things like handlebars and positioning. A good bike shop or fix-it pal is a great resource.

The only rule is buy good locks. A good D-lock costs about 50 bux (kryptonite in north america, oxford in uk/ireland). Cable locks are easily cut, so if you need one for locking your bike to something also carry a D-lock to lock your back wheel to your frame. I've seen too many people spend 500 on a bike and then refuse to pay the extra 70 on a good lock only to loose the bike to theft :( too sad!
- written info on locking -- scroll down for pictures.
- video on how to lock.

A cruiser sounds sensible enough, though I would recommend you look at tourers. A road bike (racers) with the drop-handlebars can have the handlebars changed pretty easily and will make a great leisurely ride! Cruisers tend to be unnecessarily heavy -- but if you love the cruiser look, then go for it!

Ask around for a trusted bike shop in your neighbourhood and go do some test-cycling! It's the best way to find out what style you like (cruiser, hybrid/commuter, tourer, etc), and to make sure you get the right fit for your body.
Good luck and enjoy! Cycling is wonderful!
posted by tamarack at 2:30 PM on December 28, 2009

to add to what Burhanistan said, buy a used bike, but first go to a bike shop and have them fit you. To avoid the ethical problem mentioned by mojohand just go back to the same shop and have them give your new-used bikes a tune up. I promise they'll need it.
posted by blue_bicycle at 3:15 PM on December 28, 2009

Response by poster: We're in Austin, which is a very bike-y city. I know there are tons of bike shops around, but I was concerned that what they have would be too specialized/expensive for us.
posted by odayoday at 3:32 PM on December 28, 2009

Response by poster: Another question...would a ten-speed be appropriate for us? An eight-speed? I don't want things to get too complicated...
posted by odayoday at 3:44 PM on December 28, 2009

I've been curious about Flying Pigeon bikes (based on price/style). They fit your criteria and having multiple gears and being upright cruiser-type bikes and run around $200-300. This is the store where I've seen them (not in Austin, but they ship) and are apparently on sale right now.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:51 PM on December 28, 2009

Hmm, maybe not so much with that link--the bikes they ship are single speed.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:52 PM on December 28, 2009

Have you thought about an Electra Townie? I got mine on sale a few years ago for $300 (a bit over your price range but if you factor in the free tune-up it's a wash) and absolutely love it. I live in a very hilly area and got one with 21-gears, but they have simpler models.
posted by Gusaroo at 5:06 PM on December 28, 2009

odayoday, i don't know austin from a butt but you and your homie sound like you would be best served by a couple of used bikes. i do not know where one might go to get used bikes in austin, but if you go into a couple of "local bike shops" asking specifically for used, refurbished bikes you should be in business. don't be afraid to ask lots of questions about whatever you're interested in. that is what bike folks are there for.

also you can get old mountain bikes that have relaxed geometry (sitting upright to ride them) - cruisers are sort of a bummer, as mentioned upthread.
posted by beefetish at 5:16 PM on December 28, 2009

Some advice for choosing a bike. Spend as much as you want or as little as you can afford, but definitely take the bike on a pretty good test ride. Ask yourself this question during the test ride: do I feel like I'm just moving or do I feel like I'm operating a bicycle? You want the former more than the latter.
posted by telstar at 5:18 PM on December 28, 2009

Whatever you do, don't buy a bike from a big box retailer (Walmart, Target, KMart, etc.). Find an independent shop. I would imagine that Austin is positively lousy with them.
posted by intermod at 6:52 PM on December 28, 2009

I second the advice to check out used bikes. Call up some of the shops in Austin to ask whether they deal in secondhand bikes. A used hardtail (no rear suspension) mountain bike, fitted with wide slick tires, would be fine. You don't need tread if you are riding on roads or paved bike trails. A hybrid (kind of like a mountain bike with larger, road-bike-style tires) would also be good. If $250 is your upper limit, you're much better off buying a used bike than a new one, as long as the used bike fits. You might even ask around among your friends; it's surprising how many unused bikes are occupying space in people's garages.

If you'd like to learn more about the technical terms for bicycles, to sound less like a newbie when you visit a shop, I recommend the following:

1. Chip Haynes, The Practical Cyclist: Bicycling for Real People.

2. The late Sheldon Brown's website - maybe start with the beginners page. Sheldon was a real treasure and it's great that Harris Cyclery continues to keep his writings available.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:08 PM on December 28, 2009

Oh, and there's nothing special about cruisers as far as wide tires go. I ride a Breezer commuting bike with wide tires, and a Surly touring bike that also has wide tires. Many racing bikes can only take narrow tires, but most bikes with cantilever brakes or V-brakes can take medium to wide tires. (See Sheldon's glossary, at the link above, for definitions if you're not familiar with those terms.)
posted by brianogilvie at 7:10 PM on December 28, 2009

You might want to pay a visit to Austin Yellow Bike Project -- a community bike shop. They will certainly have bikes withing your price bracket, though the range maybe limited, but they should also be good for advice on where else to look etc.
posted by tallus at 7:31 PM on December 28, 2009

Even in a bike-y town like Austin, you'll almost always get a better deal on Craigslist than at a bike shop, although you may need to take said CL bike into the shop once or twice -- in my experience, a Craigslist ten-speed commuter bike can be $50-$90, plus maybe $50 to re-dish the wheels or repair the derailleur. The same essential bike in slightly better shape could be $200 at the shop.

I've done this twice now -- once for $60 and once for $80. The only reason I bought the second bike is because the first one was stolen. A good commuter bike lasts forever. I would personally advise against cruisers, which can be a real pain to ride, even on flat terrain. They're heavy and kind of hard to maneuver. I prefer a 10-speed... almost anywhere.

As for your frame size: try this. Most Craigslist bikes have the owner's height, so adjust accordingly.

(I had a "which bike" thread here, which had some good advice)
posted by zvs at 8:37 PM on December 28, 2009

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