Like riding a bicycle
July 31, 2010 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Haven't sat on a bike since I was a kid and now looking to buy a brand new shiny bicycle. Female, mid 20s, zero-bike-knowledge. Help me!

I live in a pretty hilly area. I want a bicycle to commute to work/school (about 2 miles round trip) each day. I know nothing about bicycles except that I want one.

What should I look for? Do I need 3253 speeds? Does it have to be neon pink? What are the current trends for "lite" bike riders?
posted by ttyn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Mr. Sunny, an avid bike rider, suggests going to a bike shop. You can usually ride around ion different models to see what would work for you. Comfort bikes have 15-18 gears, a more upright position, and they are better adapted for urban settings. Different models will come in different colors, so you don't usually get a lot of choice in color. They are not usually neon pink, since they don't differentiate between girl's and boy's bikes vary much anymore.

The bicycles you can get at big box stores are usually assembled poorly, and have poorly made components That may be all you can afford, but many bike shops will carry trade-ins for a better price.

Look around, but buy the bike that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. Good Luck!
posted by annsunny at 8:47 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For a hilly, 2-mile commute, I'd recommend a geared commuter bike like this one from REI. The geometry of a bike like this, as well as a the reliable internal hub gearing, will serve well on hills and won't need much attention.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:48 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, might I add that big urban cruisers like the popular Electra Townies are not much fun to ride on hills!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:50 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: Hie thee to a bike shop. Explain what you want to do, tell them you aren't sure where to start. If they start the hard sell stuff, you're in the wrong shop. Do not neglect a helmet when the time comes.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:52 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd recommend you visit two or three local bike shops, tell them what you just told us. They will probably steer you towards a "hybrid" -- a pretty broad category that means not a road bike, and not a mountain bike. If you have a budget in mind, it will usually narrow pretty quickly to one or two models at each shop. They'll let you ride them around the neighborhood/parking lot to at least get a feel for each. Because the bike industry is dominated by a few large players, the bikes will have very similar components and features at a given price point. If you have a bike knowledgable friend or patience, there are a couple of ways to lower the cost, but otherwise I would expect to pay something around $400.

Other things you'll want the bike shop to help you with to get started: a helmet, a lock (or two), a pump, and possibly a rack and a commuter pannier if you want to carry your stuff on the bike. Some bike shops offer introductory bike maintenance classes. I'd recommend one to learn how to change a flat tire, something you'll have to deal with sooner or later.
posted by kovacs at 8:53 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: My partner just went shopping for bike for a similar commute after a several year long bike hiatus. We ended up going with the Trek Allant. Decent low end Shimano parts, aluminum frame, already comes with fenders and a rack - it's basically a hybrid bike, but styled somewhat like classic bikes of yore. It was pretty cheap, too, I think we got it for about $450 ( in Bellingham, Washington ). She loves it!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:00 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: Herein, a bit of equipment advice mixed with general bike newbie advice that you didn't ask for but might be helpful.

The type of bike depends on your preference. The beach/urban cruiser style will probably be comfortable, but try out different kinds. Road bikes are faster and lighter, and therefore easier on hills, but are also less stable.

I'm in a hilly area and my 10-speed bike doesn't give me as many gear options as I'd like. The idea is that you want to keep a steady, comfortable pedaling cadence, at least 1 revolution of the pedals every second. When you hit an incline, shift down and keep pedaling at the same rate. Learn which gear combinations are appropriate for your bike.

Make sure your bike is big enough, and the seat is high enough, so as not to waste energy (or look silly). Your legs should extend almost all the way. This can be scary for some people, but it's safe if you follow the next piece of advice.

When you start, put your feet on the pedals before putting your butt on the saddle. When you stop, stand up out of the saddle before taking your feet off the pedals. Pretty basic, but I see people get this wrong all the time.

Absolutely read How to Not Get Hit by Cars.

Finally, yes, your bicycle must be neon pink.
posted by domnit at 9:03 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: So it's one mile each way? A 20 minute walk, or a 5 minute bike ride, right? That's such a dreamy commute, it's so fast!

The first major decision to make is whether to buy new or used. It is a lot harder to find a used bike that fits you properly, but new bikes are a lot more expensive. Given how short your commute is, though, I expect the discomfort you might feel from a bike that's slightly the wrong size would be minimal. It's for longer rides that you really want a bike to be properly sized.

The next choice is what type of bike. Mountain bikes have lots of gears (for climbing hills) and thick tires (for rough terrain), and are pretty comfortable to ride, though a bit heavy. Road bikes are lightweight and have lots of gears and skinny tires, and often have drop handlebars; you ride in a hunched forward position, less comfortable, but way faster. Cruisers are pretty but don't handle hills very well as they're usually heavy and don't have very many gears. And there are commuter hybrids that are like road bikes but with a slightly more comfortable upright riding position and slightly thicker tires to handle the occasional debris you find on city streets.

In your shoes I would look for a used mountain bike, or a relatively cheap new one (under $200), and try it out for a while. Once you've gotten used to biking, are going further afield with it, and feel like your bike is holding you back, then you'll be ready to splurge on something nice.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:05 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, I think the trend over the past couple of years, and heading into the future, is away from the dorky wannabe-mountain-bike hybrids and toward either the old school "dutch" style commuters or the single-speed minimalist messenger bikes.

For good advice on the practical aspects of becoming a bike commuter, you might enjoy Commute By Bike. Though some of these sites can get a little dogmatic about what you NEED for commuting, what is WRONG/BAD/USELESS on a bike, etc. There's good advice, but feel free to take some of it with a grain of salt. The best part about this and other bike commuting blogs is the sense of camaraderie - it's nice to know that other people are doing this, and you're not insane to want to ride on hills, in the rain, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 9:10 PM on July 31, 2010

More info about stuff in my last comment, and more: Sheldon Brown's articles for new cyclists.

Have fun, whatever bike you buy!
posted by domnit at 9:14 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mr. Ladypants commutes to work by bike and has taught me a little bit about what to look for. Make sure you can lift your bike comfortably. Lighter is definitely better and lugging a heavy bike up a flight of stairs really sucks.

Based on our trips to bike stores, I'd suggest looking into used bikes. If you're new to cycling, you'll probably want one from a store or a non profit like Recycle A Bike that's been fixed up, rather than a handyman's specia, but there are some great light touring bikes from the 70s and 80s that sell for less than a mediocre new cruiser. You'll get more bike for less money.
posted by ladypants at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For such a short commute, almost any bike should do. And while I too think that a cheap, used bike would be ideal, you might feel more confident with the knowledge offered by a bike shop (otherwise, you could recruit a bike-savvy friend who could advise you on a used bike purchase).

If you see yourself eventually riding more-far afield than just your short commute, then I would also advise that you stay away from so-called "comfort" and "hybrid" bikes, and only buy a mountain bike if you anticipate off-road riding to be a big part of your future. Look

And most importantly, you'll need to get the right SIZE bike frame. A bike shop can help out here too but so can the internet--like domnit above, I heartily endorse anything and everything that Sheldon Brown has to say on matters of the bicycle.

Good luck!
posted by DavidandConquer at 10:23 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: For a short commute like that, you can pretty much go with anything as long as it's the right frame size- even a big clunky mountain bike will do as long as you don't mind working pretty hard on the hills. Really. If you get something used- and it will probably be easier to find a mountain bike used than a road bike- take it in to a shop for a tuneup.

But if you want to make things easier for yourself and think you might ever want to do more than your two miles, look into a road bike or a commuter bike. I hopped around town for years and years on my mountain bike, just figuring that if the bike was heavier hey! it was a better workout. After my bike got stolen out of my garage earlier this summer, however, I got the women's version of this commuter hybridy thing on sale and cannot tell you how much easier it made longer rides (20-40 miles) and big hills on my city's network of bike paths.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:16 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: I'm going to add another vote for a used bike. Even at specialty bicycle stores, the lower end bicycles won't be worth the money you'll pay. A $400, brand new bike, is a waste of money. $400 for a used bike... well, that's money well spent. Used bikes are also far less of a target for bike thieves.

I have a sweet old bianchi road bike, scratched, rusty, dirty. I had it built for me a decade ago, from second hand parts, for $350. It goes like the wind and no one would ever bother breaking a lock to steal it. If there's a store in your area that specializes in rebuilding bikes, go there. Otherwise ask around to see who sells second hand bikes.

Many places now offer commuter cyclist courses. You might want to look into one of these.

Beyond the great sites linked to above, I'd like to stress the two biggest tips for new cycle commuters (IMO):

1) Don't ride on the sidewalk: it's far more dangerous than the road. It's uneven, narrow, full of obstacles and cars don't look for an object moving at bicycle speeds on the sidewalk.

2)Wear a helmet: unless there's nothing in your head worth protecting :P
posted by Sustainable Chiles at 11:20 PM on July 31, 2010

Best answer: I came in here to say what's already been said plenty -- do yourself a huge favor and don't buy that cheapie bike, even if to your eye they look pretty much the same. They aren't. At all. Having a knowledgeable friend is two aces in a five card game, maybe three. My buddy really steered me right, a huge help; he knew whereof he spoke. I hope you've got somebody like that, or can find a good person at a bike shop.

Speaking of which, REI has good bikes and often has knowledgeable sales staff, and in my experience, they aren't trying to sell you the shiniest fastest but rather what you are looking for, which you may not even know yet, may not quite know what you want. They'll help you with that, and it might be a shade less intimidating than a bike shop, where you are definitely on their turf if you are yet green.

And many people don't know that REI will service your bike, regardless you bought it from them or not. I can tell you that Andy, here at REI in central Austin, Andy is for my money the best bike wrench in town, and REI has unbeatable prices on service, too. No one else works on that bike, other than myself and one very trusted friend, but mostly it's Andy. He rocks. If you buy a new bike, you'll almost certainly get free service for your first year, whatever bike shop you buy from. If you buy used, check out REI when it's time for bike work, maybe you'll luck out like we have here.

Used is good, if you can find what you want; I'm tall, I'd have had to wait forever to have found my bike, plus I expect to have it a lifetime (barring theft, earthquake, pestilence, world ending, etc) so it seems to me it was / is money well spent. Tens years in, it just keeps looking better. But if you get lucky and find *your* bike used (by your, I mean the one that gives those warm fuzzies annsunny wrote about above) don't hesitate to buy a good bike used. And if you're not some giganda gorky person like me, it'll be just lots easier to find a bike your size used, and if you can't find one fast know that it's absolutely going to come.

Helmet? Yep. Lock? Yep. Pump? Yep. Lights, front AND rear, and reflectors? Yep. Small took kit, enough to fix tires, with band-aids too? Yep. (I would also "Yep" a small bell to put on your handlebars, as I have on my bike, but I don't want you to know I'm dorky enough to have a dang bell on my manly, stallionesque mountain bike.)

Bikes are fun, life without a bike isn't as much fun as a life with a bike. You know how commercials always try to make us think that our life will be better if we buy this shirt or that toilet plunger or this cola or that one, how they show us smiling and happy if we eat their greazy, shitty pizza? Well, you ride the right bike, you *do* get to have a happier life, you will smile more, you'll have more fun. Riding a bike is a hoot.

Good luck and happy riding.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:14 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the Sheldon Brown link. Absolutely required reading.

And then look around at least three or four local bike shops and ask lots of questions of the staff. Go with the one that gives you the best answers, that are willing to talk stuff through with you and explain things without talking down to you, etc. It will probably be a smaller, privately run store, it might even look like it caters to the hardcore racing crowd - it doesn't matter as long as the people in the store are cyclists and care about it. You don't want to get your advice from the big chain store with minimum-wage idiots at the counter.

If you really like the store, support them by buying accessories there. But also be aware that you can get stuff on eBay for about half of what it is in stores, at least that's the case here in AU.
posted by polyglot at 3:32 AM on August 1, 2010

Best answer: Don't buy a used bike unless you have a friend with you who knows about bikes. It's very easy to end up with a crashed bike that has a subtly bent frame, or a bent derailleur or such, that will cost you more to fix than you saved, and this won't always be obvious to a novice eye.

You don't really need a gazillion gears. 10 is pretty sufficient, though you'll have to work a little harder sometimes. 14 is plenty, unless you're riding through the Pyrenees. That said, a new bike these days is likely to either come with 3 (for a beach cruiser type) or a minimum of 21.

If you're commuting, you absolutely should get a bike with fenders, or one that the bike shop can add fenders to. A chain guard is nice too, but fenders are critical. At some point you will be riding through wet streets, and they make the difference between arriving home slightly damp and arriving home soaked to the bone.

Whatever you do, get something you like to ride. I have a lightweight single speed commuter and an old restored road bike. My wife rides an absolute tank of a bike with goofy unnecessary things like a front suspension (don't let them sell you a bike with a front suspension; it robs so much power and is irrelevant for city riding), but she loves it. Nothing is as important as that.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:22 AM on August 1, 2010

Best answer: Don't ride on the sidewalk: it's far more dangerous than the road. It's uneven, narrow, full of obstacles and cars don't look for an object moving at bicycle speeds on the sidewalk.

QFT. Also, you ride with traffic. Riding against traffic, even for just a block or so because it's convenient, is incredibly dangerous. For everyone using the street, not just you.

Re used vs. new: I bought my used bike at a flea market from a vendor who helped me choose something that fit, performed the necessary adjustments to the seat height, did some minor tuneups while I waited, and gave me a 60 day money back guarantee and/or free service if something went wrong. In this context, a used bike is the way to go. Something from a garage sale or craigslist? I wouldn't do it unless you have knowledgeable friends who can help and also the cash to put into getting it checked out/worked on.
posted by Sara C. at 5:48 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hadn't owned a bike in over a decade and recently started riding to work every day, and it's fantastic! I bought a used road bike for $100 with the idea that I'd upgrade, but now I don't think I'll bother, mostly because my bike is light- it makes it so much easier to deal with on the occasion that I have to haul it up some steps or lift it into an elevated rack. It's comfortable to ride, and my commute is only about 2 miles so there's really no need for a heavier mountain bike hybrid.

In summary:
1. The lighter the better.
2. Used is good- you'll get a LOT more bang for your buck, and once you start riding regularly you'll have a better sense of features that you want, in case you decide to upgrade.
3. You'll need a helmet, chain/lock , and lights for the front and back of your bike. You should also get yourself a bright yellow vest or jacket you can throw on- safety before fashion. You may want to get yourself a basket (front or back) or saddlebag type things that sit over your back tires- I find wearing a backback makes me sweat a lot, so it's nice to be able to store your stuff somewhere on the bike.

Good luck and have fun. Yay bikes!
posted by emd3737 at 6:10 AM on August 1, 2010

Response by poster: You are all fantastically helpful. Will check out local bike shops this week and hopefully find the one perfect neon pink bike that has my name on it. Thank you for all the pointers!
posted by ttyn at 8:41 AM on August 1, 2010

Good luck and have fun! Once you find a good light bike that fits, you're just a can of neon pink Krylon away from living your dream.
posted by ladypants at 1:14 PM on August 1, 2010

Best answer: I have a seat recommendation. I hadn't ridden a bike since junior high and then got a mountain bike after college. I was surprised how sore my undercarriage got from sitting on that seat. It took a couple of weeks of soreness before I got used to it and no longer got sore. Back then there wasn't much you could do about it except buy a great big seat with lots of padding and springs, or maybe one of those pad things you slipped over the seat. But now they've got seats with a groove cut down the center of them. What it does is relieve the pressure on your soft tissues by having your butt bones carry more of the weight instead. I got one and it was sooo much more comfortable. If the bike you choose comes with one of those, that's a bonus. That shouldn't sway your purchase though because seats are easy to replace and the rest of the bike ought to be your focus. Just so you know what I'm talking about though, here's one from REI in that groove style.
posted by Askr at 2:17 PM on August 1, 2010

Best answer: I recommend a bell. I use it as courtesy thing when I'm gliding silently up behind someone who is on foot so I don't scare them. Plus it's a cute and nostalgic sound. You can get them very cheap. Here's a pink one just for you.

My bike didn't come with fenders so when I later started commuting on it I bought an aftermarket fender kit that I snap on if it's wet out and otherwise leave off. If you're buying a commuter bike, you may just want to aim for something that's already got fenders unless you just like a wet and mud-spattered butt. I'm not here to judge.

A lot of this other stuff is optional but you definitely need a pump:
-I recommend an electric air compressor like this that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter. You can pump up your car's tires with this, or air mattresses, or basketballs or whatever. It's got a pressure gauge so you know when you're done. It's such a great thing to keep in your trunk for routine or emergency needs, and if you've already got it for that then you don't need a separate bike pump. Cheap too.
-If you don't get that, get a floor pump like this with a pressure gauge. You hold it down with your feet and pump up and down with your arms. A variant is the foot-operated floor pump - these work fine but can sometimes boing out from under your foot if you're a little off center.
-What I don't recommend is the piccolo-sized mini pumps like this that clamp onto your frame. I thought this would be best because I'd always have it with me if I needed to pump. But it's really hard to pump and takes a lot of pumps. So you wouldn't want it as your main pump. And if you check your tire pressure with your home pump every few rides and top off as needed, you'll be fine - no real need for a road pump for your kind of riding.

I rode around for several hours one day, some on-road and a good bit of mild off-road, and at the end of it I figured out that people who wear bicycle gloves aren't just trying to look cool. They keep you from getting blistered or chafed by your handle grips. At just two miles along roads, maybe you don't need them. You'll find out. They're cheap if you want them. Here's a ladyful pink set for you.

Speaking of handlebars, I'd aim for higher ones rather than lower. My bike was meant to be a mountain bike not a casual street cruiser. I appreciate the lower handlebar placement when I ride trails, but I get tired of being bent over when I'm just tooling down the sidewalk. I wish I could sit upright more. Comfort bikes on the other hand will typically have longer necks, meaning higher handlebars, meaning your back is less bent. I'd recommend this for more casual riding.

I got a little bag like this that goes under the back of the seat and holds my multi-tool, keys, repair kit and whatever else. The only bad thing about it is it's easy stealable. I don't use it when I'm going to be locking it up somewhere public. Here's the one you'd want, I think.

I got a headlight and a blinking taillight (clips onto my underseat bag) - both clip off easily so I can take them with me so they won't get stolen. Consider a combo pack to save money.

Speaking of multitools, I'd get a simple one like this at least. At less than $10 and with no movable parts to break, it's got the various hex wrench sizes that your bike will have, some socket wrenches in sizes your bike will have, and a little screwdriver. You can use it at home to install or adjust an accessory, tighten this or that, or do more substantial work without having to buy tools you may not already have, and more importantly it can help you out on the road. Mine saved me the other day when for some reason my seat pitch bolt got loose enough that when I hit a bump, the nose would get knocked way down and I couldn't sit on it anymore without sliding forward. I was able to put it back in the right position and tighten it down and then ride on. Handy.

Speaking of theft, welcome to the world of bicycle theft and bicycle part theft. The bad news is that if they want all or part of your bike, they're going to get it, particularly in places where people ride bikes a lot and full-time bike thief is a career option. But you can make it hard enough that they'd rather pass you by for an easier mark. Often bikes come with quick release levers that let you get your wheels on and off in seconds or adjust your seatpost up and down easily. But that means anybody coming up to your locked bike can steal those things in seconds too. So you'll see people run their lock through both the frame and the wheels, or at least the frame and one wheel, or remove the front wheel via quick release and lock it with the frame and back wheel. That can still leave other removable parts vulnerable.

Some people make it harder for thieves by replacing the quick-release levers with normal nuts that you need tools to get off. That's better, and thwarts casual opportunists, but real bike thieves carry those tools and can work quickly. Some people go beyond that and screw up the hardware by supergluing ball bearings in the hex bolt holes or other things of that nature, but that's kind of a process to undo when you need to fix or remove something yourself.

So another idea is anti-theft bolts ("skewers") like the kind Pinhead Locks or Pitlocks make. I don't have them and don't know their track record (I'm about to research and maybe buy), but they make special locking wheel and seat skewers that require a specialized removal tool that is unique from set to set, so someone couldn't go buy the tool from a hardware store or even use another tool by the same maker (small percentage chance of a match anyway). So that would keep your parts most likely out of thieving hands. Note that the seat lock keeps them from stealing the seat by removing the whole seat-and-post assembly. But if they can separate the seat from the seat post, they can take it that way. Some people run chains or cables from the bars under the seat down to the frame to prevent this. Those too can be clipped but it's just another deterrent for less determined thieves.

But if they have bolt cutters or other tools and your lock sucks, then special locks for your wheels and other parts are moot because the whole thing is gone. So get a good lock. I've read that the very best is one of the Kryptonite New York chains. At ten pounds that's some serious hardware to haul around though. The next best type is apparently a U lock, made most notably by Kryptonite and OnGuard. It can be beaten, but is harder to beat than cable locks, which can be clipped pretty easily. These typically come with mounting brackets so you can clip it to your frame while you ride (some people don't like to do that - ymmv). The one advantage of cable locks is when you can't find anything narrow to lock your bike to. I had to use a palm tree one time and a U lock wouldn't have done me any good in that situation.

Oh, and here's a pink helmet and pink backpack for you. I think you should become known around town as "that pink bike lady" that every one recognizes.

Happy riding!
posted by Askr at 7:01 PM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: You can all share my first born.
posted by ttyn at 7:03 PM on August 1, 2010

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