I want to ride my bicycle I want to ride my bike...
March 11, 2010 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Which bike is the bike for me?

I would like to buy a bike, and would love some recommendations from the hivemind on what kind would be the best for me. Below are some of my specs.

Me: 6'5," 260 lbs, male.

Budget: ~$1200 for bike + racks, fenders, panniers, and lock(s).

- Daily commuting from Somerville to Downtown Boston
- Longer weekend rides for fun

Things I need on it:
- Rear rack + panniers, so I don't have to carry stuff on my back.
- Fenders, so I can ride to work even if it's raining.

My concerns:
- Steel vs. Aluminum? Should I get steel for strength because of my weight and the better ride, or aluminum so I don't have to worry as much about corrosion during potential winter biking?
- Bar end shifters for commuting? I've never used bar-ends before, but the Surly Cross-Check has them and it seems like a cool bike, but I don't know how I'd feel about taking my hands off the brake levers while shifting in traffic.
- Type of frame? It seems like cyclocross frames offer a lot of what I'm looking for, but it can't hurt to ask.
- Lock solutions? I was thinking of getting two U-locks so I can always secure one wheel to the frame and the other wheel + the frame to a rack/immobile object. Is that overkill?
- Lights? What's the deal with lights? I've never bought any, but I want to have some on this puppy.

That's about it. Thanks. Any other general commuting advice would be awesome too.
posted by Aizkolari to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I live in NYC and use two U-Locks. I don't think 2 locks would be overkill in Somerville. For commuting on the streets of Boston in all weather, you might want to see what craigslist has to offer, and buy a $500 used bike instead of a $1200 new one.
For bike questions, I usually go to bikeforums.net.
posted by abirae at 7:13 AM on March 11, 2010

No specific recommendation for bike styles; I would try a whole range of frames and styles and see what you like best. The best bike is the one you enjoy being on, after all.

As far as locks go, I replaced my quick-release skewers and seat post clamp with locking versions. They come with a keyed spanner that you have to carry with you, but it's no bigger than a keychain and I attached it to the key for my U-lock. Seems to be enough security for the area, but it is a little bit of a pain to get the wheels of when I blow a tire.

Lights - I would get one LED headlight and one or two LED taillights. For such an urban area, I don't think you really need anything with heavy wattage since you're not trying to light up the street rather than be seen by other traffic. Again, a lot of it's personal preference; I see a lot of people with helmet-mounted lights that look pretty neat.

Other commuting advice? Wear a helmet and follow the traffic laws. The way people drive around here, you really don't want to give them any excuse to run you down.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:16 AM on March 11, 2010

For your budget, the Cross Check or Long Haul Trucker would both be good choices, as would the Novarra (REI) Randonee (which comes with racks already installed) and the Bianchi Volpe.

If you're not a brand snob, REI actually has several really great commuter road bike options, and you can't beat their prices, spec sheets (the components that come standard) and service.

Corrosion isn't that big of a problem if you keep your bike relatively clean -- I have several steel bikes that I ride year-round, and haven't seen any rust on them. Aluminum is going to be a pretty uncomfortable ride, and its weight advantages will be rendered moot by your intended use, add-ons like racks and fenders, and your weight.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:24 AM on March 11, 2010

I have a Raleigh Detour Deluxe and love it.

Useful rear rack, mounts for panniers front and back--haven't used them, but they're there--and the disc brakes work awesome in the rain, unlike rim brakes. Comes with reflectors and generator-powered head- and tail-lights.

Geared high enough for decent speed, but low enough for hills when necessary. By comparison, my ex's mountain bike at its top gear was slower than my Detour below the middle of its range. You aren't going to win any races, but you can get going if you have a mind to. The upshot of not being a road bike is that it's built to be a little more rugged than that. Not so rugged that you'd be comfortable taking it off-road on a regular basis, but you shouldn't have to worry about curbs and drains in the same way you would with a road bike.

Mine ran around $700 when I got it two years ago. They're kind of hard to find, as demand is pretty high but the company doesn't make all that many. You may have to shop around quite a bit before you find one, but sounds like exactly what you're looking for.
posted by valkyryn at 7:26 AM on March 11, 2010

Surly Long Haul Trucker
Princeton Tec EOS headlight
Planet Bike superflash rear light
OnGuard Pitbull ULock
Merino wool zip up
posted by ranunculus at 7:29 AM on March 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Steel v Aluminum: Either can be built into a great bike. If you keep your bike clean, you don't need to worry a lot about corrosion.

Barcons: some people Just Don't Like them, but unless you're racing, there's no real obstacle to using them.

Lights: Planet Bike sells a headlight/taillight combo for ~$50 (I think) that's a good deal.The PB taillight is crazy bright, and has a seizure-inducing flash mode. The headlight is just bright enough to see the road by. If you get this, get some rechargeable AAs and a charger.

Headlights are traditionally either for being seen or for seeing; the latter are much brighter and more expensive. Over the past couple years, LEDs have gotten bright enough that cheap be-seen lights can light up the road to see by. But a strong headlight that you won't outrun at 15 mph will cost at least $100.

Locks: For my street bikes, I've always replaced the quick-release skewers with "slow releases" that require an allen key to operate. This makes locking a simpler affair.

Type of frame: ride several and go with what you like. A cyclocross will be quicker handling than a tour bike, which may be good or bad depending on your tastes, but a CX bike also may handle poorly if you load up your panniers, and if it has short chainstays, you'll get heel-strike against your panniers.
posted by adamrice at 7:41 AM on March 11, 2010

I'm not nearly as experienced bike commuter as many others here, but when when I buy another bike it absolutely must have a chainguard, if not a full gear case. Even with infrequent riding I managed to ruin two pairs of pants and maybe a shirt with chain grease stains from riding or lifting my bike. Chainguards are very common in European countries that use bikes heavily, and a Dutch friend of mine was known for her habit of wearing her right sock over her pant leg to protect it.
posted by serathen at 7:45 AM on March 11, 2010

Surly Long Haul Trucker (coming out in black this year if you're willing to wait for your shop to order it), Biachi Volpe, and Trek 520 (just a touch out of your price range) are the bikes I'm going to be deciding between this weekend. I ride to/from work every day and take long weekend rides with my husband and friends, sometimes as much as 100 miles. We're thinking about doing a 200k brevet this year too. Right now I have a hybrid and am soooo looking forward to upgrading to a touring bike. Any steel touring bike is going to serve you well for such needs.

I'm a 5'1" 120 lb woman, so what works for me might not work for you, considering we're at opposite ends of the height spectrum. But I'll check back in after my test rides this weekend and let you know what I thought of the bikes.

I don't think that bar end shifters should be a concern - at least for me in flat Chicago, I rarely shift in traffic.

Instead of two heavy U-locks for locking up, you can do one U-lock through the frame, front wheel, and bike rack and then just use a cable leash (basically a long cable with loops on each end) to secure the back wheel to the U-lock.
posted by misskaz at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

…when she was living in the U.S. and didn't have a Dutch-style bike, I mean.
posted by serathen at 7:49 AM on March 11, 2010

You are pretty fortunate to live in an area with some well know and well regarded bike shops. Why not visit Harris Cyclery or Belmont Wheelworks and kick a few tires?
posted by fixedgear at 7:50 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

P.S. There's a Surly LHT and Cross-Check Owners Google Group you may want to check out and read some of their discussions. They have a spreadsheet where everyone tracks what size LHT they have (and their height) which is pretty interesting. Although it says Cross-Check in the name of the group, I find all the active users are LHT owners.
posted by misskaz at 7:52 AM on March 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses.

abirae: I have thought of getting used, but some perusal of craigslist has left me fairly bewildered. It seems like the fact that I'd need a large frame would make that route tough. Am I wrong about that? Could I hire a broker or something?

adamrice: That's a great call about the heelstrike. I hadn't considered it and will be sure to check it out when I'm test riding stuff.

fixedgear: I've been to a few but wanted to get hivemind advice anyway. Thanks though.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:02 AM on March 11, 2010

Bar end shifters are great. You don't have to worry about losing control of the breaks while shifting. You'll get used to them and this won't be a problem at all. For one thing, you can brake with your left hand, while shifting with your right hand. You'll also learn little tricks. Not that there's often a need for this move, but I can be in a drop position and brake with my index finger, while shifting with my pinky finger.
posted by TurkishGolds at 8:06 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most of the recommendations have you pretty well covered; one thing that I would add to your lights is some reflective tape; 3M I think makes some good stuff. Slap a few strips on your fenders, seat stays, etc for added visibility that doesn't run out of batteries.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:09 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love my cross-check. I don't know how common theft is in the area where you'll be leaving your bike, but you might want to consider security skewers. Pinheads are some of the best. Also, if you're seriously considering biking in the winter I would seriously consider investing in a beater bike. Bikes get real gunked up in the winter. I just saw a guy seriously fuck up his brand new Cross Check trying to get out a seized seatpost.
posted by hannahelastic at 8:12 AM on March 11, 2010

Check out Sheldon Brown on locking strategy. I actually think 2 U-Locks would be overkill, but I don't live in a super-thefty area. What I would do would be U-lock (as small a model as you can practically use) around a pole and through your wheel within the rear triangle, and then a cable (like this one) attached to the U-lock and threaded through your front wheel. Also, running a cable to your saddle will secure that. Probably will also want a non-quick release seatpost clamp.

If you get a steel frame, I've been advised to spray frame saver inside the frame when you pull the bottom bracket (which you should probably do once a year) to fight corrosion. Otherwise if you wipe the bike down after it's been out in the gross you should probably be ok.

If you just want lights to be seen, Reelights are pretty cool, my girlfriend has them on her commuter. The Planet Bike Superflash is also great for a rear light, it is what I use.

If you want removable fenders I use these that work pretty well but are not full coverage on the front.
posted by ghharr at 8:17 AM on March 11, 2010

Consider a recumbent trike such as this.

For locking a regular bike, this youtube video will give you some tips.

For lighting, this instructable caught my eye since I have a few of those battery-free lights.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:02 AM on March 11, 2010

Re: Craigslist... Again, I'm on the opposite end of the height spectrum that you are, but I have found the same difficulty. Craigslist is great for normal-sized people (my husband picked up a 1980s Specialized Allez that is now his go-to touring bike for $200) but for those of us outside of the bell curve, it's an exercise in frustration. For me, the one bike I've ever found on CL that sounded like it might be small enough for me turned out to be mis-measured by the seller and was actually too big.
posted by misskaz at 9:10 AM on March 11, 2010

Most of the recommendations have you pretty well covered; one thing that I would add to your lights is some reflective tape; 3M I think makes some good stuff.

I taped half my commuter bike with this stuff. I think I'm visible from outer space.

The best thing about this tape is that drivers will be better able to see you from the side. Wheel reflectors are small. Liberal use of this tape on the frame and forks will make you light up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:25 AM on March 11, 2010

I do well with two U-locks: one big, one small. The big lock I use to lock the frame and front wheel to a pole or bike rack. I use the small lock for the back wheel and frame.

Mainly, I'm hoping that doubling the amount of cracking time will discourage opportunistic bike thieves.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:52 AM on March 11, 2010

I would recommend checking out the "Clydesdales & Athenas" (for people over 200 lb.) and "Commuting" sections of Bikeforums.net. Very supportive people that can answer all your questions. A couple of users on the forum live in or near Somerville, including Veloria who writes Lovely Bicycle! blog (although she may be in Europe right now), and southpawboston, whom I've known online for several years from a couple different forums. If you contact either of them, feel free to mention me (Doohickie).
posted by Doohickie at 10:24 AM on March 11, 2010

One consideration that hasn't been mentioned yet is spoke count. I'm also in your weight class and would recommend a 36 spoke rear hub, particularly if you want to carry panniers. I've busted a couple of spokes (and one rim) over the years, but a 36 spoke hub seems to work just fine for our weight.

Keep your tire pressure good and you can run as low as a 25mm tire without trouble, but I find I'm more comfortable on 28mms. YMMV.
posted by bonehead at 10:50 AM on March 11, 2010

Also, bar-ends, in my opinion, are a lot of fun. I've got them on a Cross-Check with mustache bars and I wouldn't have it any other way. I do love my Campy brifters on the touring bike though. If I had to pick one, I'd suck my teeth and go with the Campy though.
posted by bonehead at 10:53 AM on March 11, 2010

I commute from Cambridgeport to the South End every day. I don't actually have any advice for you about which bike to get (I'm a 105 lb, 5'2" woman, so we're not exactly in the same market), but here's some general commuting advice:

-wear your helmet; I've had SEVERAL friends take serious fall and crack their helmets so badly that it pains me to think about what would have happened had they not been wearing one, and I was almost run over by a taxi on Mass Ave once

-make sure you don't buy cheap fenders; they really don't work well enough

-if you're riding on Mass Ave between 7-9 AM, know that many delivery trucks are in the area blocking up the road as they deliver food to restaurants. The drivers frequently open their doors without thinking too much about it and push large metal carts around their trucks without thinking twice. Give them a wide berth.

-Watch out for buses. The MBTA employees are actually usually pretty nice to bikes, but the buses pull over so often that it's easy to get "pinned" between a bus and the curb, which is bad.

-If there's a lot of snow on the road such that it's quite narrow and the usual unofficial bike lane is covered, don't bike. It's just too dangerous. You'll find yourself trying to squeeze over to the edge to let cars pass, but then you might slip on slush. Just don't do it.

-You want mittens, or really awesome gloves, in the winter. Do NOT skimp on these.

-Since you'll be going over the river, you'll want some way to protect your face in bad weather. It can be extremely windy and bitterly cold. Some kind of mask is in order.

-On the bridges, be extra careful when it's windy. I'm much smaller than you, so it's a bigger problem for me, but if a large truck passes me on a windy day, the wind disappears, and then, when the truck is gone, a gust hits me with enough force to knock me off my bike if I'm not careful.

-Keep a constant eye out for parked cars with drivers inside. This is surprisingly common - something like 25% of parked cars seem to have somebody inside during morning hours, snarfing down a yogurt and listening to the news or something. These people are often distracted and may open their doors suddenly. Just because the car is OFF doesn't mean you can count it as safe.
posted by Cygnet at 11:14 AM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Lots of excellent advice here about bikes and commuting. I'll add a couple of suggestions to do with the latter.

First, a high-visibility jacket is a godsend on an urban commute, not just at night, but during the day too. You're much more likely to register in rear view mirrors, for example, and--partly because of this--it helps with Cygnet's last point too (I've learned that one the hard way). The red and fluorescent-yellow type that municipal employees wear over their t-shirts at roadworks cost a few dollars and take maybe five seconds to slip on over your coat.

In other AskMe threads people have recommended the Down Low Glow for night cycling (i.e. commuting in winter). Next time I'm living in a place where there's actual traffic, I will probably pick one up.

Something that will depend a bit more on your personal tastes, but for a commute of more than a mile or so, remove layers of upper-body clothing. My current bike commute is just under a mile, so through the winter I've been in my coat. But one cold day last month I cycled a few miles through Manhattan and had to stop and lose a couple of layers. One chap I knew would strip to the waist, even in winter. I wouldn't go quite that far, but when I had a four-and-a-half mile commute I used to do it in t-shirt and hi-vis jacket, in winter, and be fine within a few minutes of leaving home. (Needed gloves, obviously.) It would take 23 minutes to do that distance, through big-city traffic, not jumping any red lights (but with quite a lot of bike-lanes), and I would arrive at work not hot, not sweaty. Obviously I would have another couple of layers in my panniers, including a waterproof.

Oh--if there's a bike map for the Boston area, get it. In several cities I've lived in, in different countries, I've bought the local bike map and discovered loads of routes with less, or no, traffic that I wouldn't have stumbled on otherwise. A traffic-free route is worth going out of your way for: even if it's longer it might well be faster (no waiting at red lights), and it's likely to be much nicer too. Especially if it's next to a canal. Canals are great.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 5:49 PM on March 11, 2010

I'm going to go against the majority opinion here and say that you should not commute on an expensive bike unless you are able to take it inside with you. An expensive bike locked on the street is tempting to thieves. An expensive bike locked on the street every day in the same place is *really* tempting to thieves.

My advice would be to buy an older used touring bike, like a Trek 520. Or maybe even an older road bike, if it has the mounting eyelets for a rack and fenders. Quite a few road bikes built before the 90s have eyelets.

Mountain bikes also make very good commuter bikes because of the sturdy rims. A non-suspension mountain bike with skinny tires should do everything you want, and will probably cost much less than a road or touring bike.

Two U-locks is a reasonable solution. One regular lock and one mini lock should do the trick.
posted by twblalock at 6:37 PM on March 11, 2010

For the rear rack and panniers, I have gone with Jandd. The two caveats are:

1. Jandd's washers are inadequate. Get a handful of spring washers for every bolt, because if you're commuting every day, those bolts will come off. A hardware store will help you out here. The nice thing is that bolts won't come off in pairs, so your bike will groan and moan and make noises to let you know a bolt is loose or missing, so you will be able to get to a bike or hardware store in time to fix the problem.

2. Mount the rear rack and panniers so that your heels do not hit the panniers when pedalling. I've adjusted my cadence over the years so that this doesn't happen. What you do not want is your heel kicking the pannier off and into the spokes of the rear wheel. You will get thrown off your bike.

So either use extension brackets to move the rack back, or make sure the bike store hooks you up with a rear rack that will give you ample clearance for your feet, when you pedal with bags attached.

You can spend upwards of $100-150 for a solid rack and panniers. It pays to visit a local bike store and get this done right.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:29 PM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

In case you were wondering, I ended up getting the Bianchi Volpe this weekend. There were several deciding factors (not the least of which was getting $200 off for being a 2008 with an ugly gold frame) that made me pick the Bianchi over the Surly LHT. But the biggest factor for me wouldn't be an issue for you at your size, which is that the LHT comes w/ 26" wheels for the smaller frames and I decided I wanted 700c wheels even at the expense of comfortable standover height.

Here's my assessment of the two bikes, not related to the sizing issues I had:

I think between the Volpe and the LHT, it would depend on what's more important to you in terms of stability vs. zippyness. The LHT felt more stable than the Volpe, but also slightly less nimble. I didn't like the gearing on the LHT - I felt like it was geared really low, so that I had to be on the largest chain ring to be in a powerful gear, and would worry about running out of gears on a long straightaway, descent, or with a tailwind. Clearly it's made to carry a load.

The Bianchi is a steel cyclocross/touring bike and seems like it will be really versatile - rugged enough for commuting and long tours, but also zippy enough to be a fun around-the-town bike. And if you really are concerned about bar-end shifters, the Volpe has the integrated brake/shifter levers. I was able to fit fenders on it and installed my rack without a problem. Had my first ride on it this morning going in to work and so far, so good.

Good luck with your purchase! There are several great options in your price range so you really can't go wrong.
posted by misskaz at 7:44 AM on March 15, 2010

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