Recommend a bike for around town and a little bit beyond.
August 3, 2010 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Does this bike seem like a good choice for me? I need to buy a new bike and want to be sure it's a match.

I went to the bike store today, and brought along my Department Store Bike. They told me the rear freewheel has slipped off the bearings, or something like that.

I like the bike, but it seems like I'm putting money into what was originally a cheap, badly-made bike, and it's a waste. The bike is a mountain bike that cost $200 and has since had about $150 put into it.

I asked my LBS guy for advice on a new bike. Here's my situation, as described:

-- I ride around my town on paved streets, about 4 miles at a time.
-- I'd like to get up to around 10 - 15 miles over the next year.
-- I once rode a bike around Japan for about 20 months, and loved it. I love riding around and stopping at random interesting locations.
-- I ride in the rain and in cold weather too (if that matters).
-- I weigh about 250 lbs, I'm 6'2" tall, with a 31 inch inseam.
-- My budget for a new bike is around $500 - $600.
-- I also had a cross-bike before (Specialized CrossRoads) and I loved it.

He had me ride a few bikes, to get a feel for them. I rode a laid-back cruiser, and a commuter bike (Breezer, I think).

The laid-back cruiser was awesome, but it felt like something for grocery trips. Loved how it rolled though.

The commuter / cross bikes were really cool. I like 'em. The ride seems comfortable.

They had this other bike, frame too small for me: A Giant Seek. I really like how it looks. It seems like it might be the bike for me. I didn't ride it and I'm not sure how I can test-ride it, since they'd need to order the L size just for me.

I like the Giant Seek, the way it looks. But I'm concerned: I hate making a purchase and finding out later that maybe another bike would have been cheaper and better. (Not obsessive about it, just want to cover the bases)

Is there another bike that's recommended? Internet or off? I'm about 2 hours north of San Francisco.

They have this fixie at the store too, that looks awesome. But I'm not sure if I'd like that...the frame was too small again, so I couldn't ride it.

Fitness is important to me, but I'm not sure if going from non-fixed to fixed gear would be really bad or what.

I asked the guy about road bikes, and he said for my needs they were overkill.

Other info:

I have to admit that looks are really important to me. My current bike just looks lame.

I don't like bent handlebars (beyond a really minor bend), and I don't like seats that are wide, or seat posts that have a plastic accordion on them. Whitewalls are out too.

I don't do bike maintenance much. I hate it. I did it in Japan and hated it there too. I oil the thing, pump up the tires, and that's it. Usually bikes I ride tend to need tons of maintenance all at once (can't believe I'm admitting this, lol).

I also don't want to ride around on MB tires anymore. Not sure if the suspension does anything either.

Thanks for any suggestions or helpful information!
posted by circular to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Giant Seek is a great bike. Can you call around to other shops in the area to see if you can find one to ride? Also, there are other bikes in that same line that are above your budget but you might be able to find them to ride just to get a feel for the frame/etc.

It sounds like the most important factor in your riding is that you have a bike that you love, and it sounds like you already have a connection with the Giant. If you're hoping to get up to 10 - 15 miles, that bike is more than adequate. You could easilly push it even further than that.

Considering what you want to do, I'd stay away from fixed gears. It really is a MUCH different riding experience.

As for the maintenance, develop a relationship with this LBS. If you buy a new bike from them, I would expect that they'll take care of all of the normal tune-ups and whatnot.
posted by TurkishGolds at 1:31 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: For your needs, suspension is a bad idea - it always costs you some of your effort (and purchasing budget!), and if you're only riding pavement, there's no need for it. Similarly, I don't think you're a fixie guy - you're massy, you live in a hilly area (right?), you need to be able to freewheel.

The whole point of buying from your local LBS is to get the chance to ride before you buy, to get professional(ish) advice on fit, etc. Don't buy something you haven't ridden just because it looks neat. (This goes quadruple for the fixie - DO NOT buy a fixie without riding one first, as it's very different from what you're used to.)

Wasn't familiar with the Seek, but it looks like a pretty interesting bike. Slick-tired city bikes with disc brakes are a blast to ride. Are you looking at the one with the internal hub gearing, or the more conventional derailleur setup? For your level of bike sophistication, the internal model might provide more trouble-free daily use. My only concern with the Seek is whether it provides a wide enough gear range for the places you will ride. Ask about that. And you might ask your LBS if they can get a test ride from another shop, or in some other way provide you with the ability to ride the Seek you want before you commit to buying it.

If the Seek doesn't pan out, I like the Breezers with wide-range gearing, too. They're well-thought-out bikes.

Good luck!
posted by richyoung at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The bike I'm keen on is a 2010 Seek 2, if that helps.

Now I'm thinking more about the Breezers...the one they have at the shop here is $850 (vs $600 for the Seek), but I'm noticing they have cheaper models too.

I'm not sure how I'll get a ride on another Seek, to be honest. Seems like I'd have to drive about an hour south to do so. I guess I'm willing to do it, but it'd be a hassle. Maybe I should just talk to the LBS and ask their advice on how to try it before I buy.

Gearing...I know nothing about that. Interesting. My current 18-speed seems to do OK, but maybe I'm missing some vital part of the biking experience?
posted by circular at 1:55 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer:
I agree with richyoung on all points, and agree that the Seek looks like a great bike. It's got a nice geometry and it's got full-size wheels.

I'd also add that you might want to consider fenders since you say that you will ride in any weather. Fenders not only keep you clean, they can keep your bike in better shape too.
posted by DavidandConquer at 1:55 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: I presume you mean the Seek 2 at that price point. It looks like good value for money.

I don't do bike maintenance much.

You don't need to if you don't want to. You will have to pump the tires roughly weekly, but not a huge amount of other stuff. You should plan on getting the bike looked at every spring by somebody though. See if you can get them to throw in a few tune-ups with the purchase.

Not sure if the suspension does anything either.

At your price level and for what you want to do, "suspension" is mostly cosmetic and adds weight to the bike. Best skip it.

Fitness is important to me, but I'm not sure if going from non-fixed to fixed gear would be really bad or what.

I suspect you might not like the fixed gear. Try it if you're not sure but be aware, with a fixed gear: you never get to coast, ever and you only get one gear. Hills, especially, can be really tough on a fixie. On the other hand, maintenance is simpler and there's less to go wrong.

Bikes are great for fitness. If you want more of a workout, just pedal harder and go faster. The air drag is all the resistance you need. Bikes are a continuously variable-resistance exerciser.

I also don't want to ride around on MB tires anymore

This is a great idea. Insist on slick tires on the bike before you buy. Get tires that are 1.5" or bigger. This makes the ride much more comfortable and is the only "suspension" you need on the road.

Finally, see if the shop will size the bike to you. Sometimes called a bike fit, this means checking that the seat is at the right height, the reach to the handlebars is the right distance and that the angles of the bike work well for you. Good shops will be willing to swap handlebar stems and perhaps even seats to make your ride more comfortable.
posted by bonehead at 1:56 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: Regarding the fixie -- I do think that's out of the question for now. I am a big guy, and I do need to freewheel. They said the one at the shop has a "flip flop hub" or something that does allow for freewheeling. But I'm not sure how that works.

Anyway, I like my shifters.
posted by circular at 1:57 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: BTW I think the thing that I liked about the fixie is the look: White frame, B&W checker pattern close to the tires, nice rivets in the seat.
posted by circular at 1:58 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: One thing to note. You are a big guy. You will break things. Bike components (wheels, cranks, etc) tend to be designed for riders of 180 pounds or less. I say this from experience of being a big guy (180-200 lbs) and riding many different bikes for many miles, for many different purposes. I have broken many components.

The Giant Seek looks like a solid bike. There are a number of great bikes that are coming out in the vein of the "urban assault bike" that are really fantastic. There are a lot of other snappy looking bikes out there, like the Buzz line from Novara, Marin's Muir Woods (great bike, I have owned two) and others.

If you REALLY hate maintenance, then I might suggest that you look at a bike with an internal hub. The bike I currently ride every single day, rain or shine, in the East Bay and SF, is a 2009 Felt X-city 2, which has been a really good ride, especially once I replaced the cheap chain with a good one (big guy issue). It has a nexus 8 speed hub. I ride it everywhere, up big hills, etc. No problem. Almost no maintenance. Life is good.

Swobo might be a brand worth looking at. Their bikes are tanks. But well designed, extremely functional, very cool looking tanks. I almost bought a Dixon from them before I decided on the Felt.

Good luck on your search!
posted by rockindata at 2:00 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: A singlespeed bike is like a fixed gear except you can coast and you'll have two hand brakes. The main advantage for you is that it'd be easier to maintain. The disadvantage is that there's only one gear, so if you're dealing with wind or hills it's not so fun. You also need to be sure it's the right gear for you, which you can do by comparing it to your favorite gear in your old bike and doing some calculations. Or just go for a test ride.

A flip-flop hub has cogs on both sides of the wheel. Either or both can be fixed or free. You remove the rear wheel and turn it around depending on what you want.

It sounds like a good match for you is a bike in what manufacturers are now calling the "urban" category--basically a rigid mountain-bike-style frame and handlebars with thin wheels. They're sort of better looking hybrids. Here's a Cannondale that's sort of like the Seek, available at REI. Here's a single speed Trek with a grease-free belt drive that's a bit more expensive.

Don't feel bad about checking out different shops and looking at as many bikes as possible. I wouldn't order a bike without riding it first. Above all, fit is the most important thing.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:09 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: That Giant Seek 2 looks perfect. Probably more bike than you need, but if you can secure it well that isn't a big problem. If you are going to leave it locked up outside for hours at a time, I think you want to look for something cheaper.

Not a lot cheaper though, given your weight.. Things that You absolutely need: double wall rear wheels with cassette/freehub (not freewheel), and solid cast metal peddles. V-brakes are good enough, but disk brakes are better. An 8 speed cassette (24 total speeds) gives more than enough gear choices, and 8 speed drive trains are considerably cheaper to maintain. However, if you aren't doing your own maintenance, cheaper parts probably won't make much difference to you.

The Seek 3 or Seek 4 would be perfect for you, but they don't appear to sell those much in the US market. Speculating wildly here, but it seems like Giant gets a huge increase in price from the UK market, so they have to have lower price point models available there. In the US market prices are lower to begin with, so they don't bother with the cheaper models.
posted by Chuckles at 2:37 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: I would second the internal hub idea to contribute to low maintenance and, like rockindata, I also have a nexus 8 speed hub.

If you change your own flat tyres, the hub has the downside that it's really a pain in the arse to take the wheel off of the bike. For mine I need a 15mm box wrench, a small hex key (2mm) to stick into a hole in the hub to wrench it around to release the tension on the shifter cable, and a pair of pliers to grab the cable and pull it off the hub. I can do the whole job in under 10 minutes now, but the first time I did it took quite a bit longer. That said, I wouldn't give up the hub for anything.

In the low-maintenance vein, I would recommend armoured/puncture-resistant tyres. I had three flats within a few weeks last autumn and bought a pair of schwalbe marathons. I haven't had a flat since, and I have been in a few spots where broken glass was unavoidable.
posted by joeycoleman at 2:40 PM on August 3, 2010

Best answer: I think that the newer nexus hubs are easier to deal with than the older ones. I have another city bike that has a nexus 7 with a drum brake, and it is incredibly hard to deal with compared to my Nexus 8.

The SRAM hubs that Swobo uses are apparently incredibly easy - they use the same "noodle" connection as you use on Direct-pull (V) brakes.

Also seconding the good tires idea. I live in an area where broken glass is a near-daily hazard. Schwalbe's are great, as are good Continentals or Michelins. Yes they are a bit heavier. But totally worth it. It looks like, from a quick Google search, that the "Maxxis Columbiere" tires (Kevlar bead, nylon belt) that come with the Seek 2 are extremely prone to punctures. The tires are actually Cheng Shins, the world's largest manufacturer of cheap tires. Expect to spend an additional 60-90 dollars for a good pair of tires shortly after you purchase the bike.

Unfortunately, bikes in the 4-600 dollar price point often suffer from poorly made components in areas that are not so visible, or where people don't look. Most of the time they work fine, but sometimes (tires, chains) they show up as a problem pretty fast. The additional cost of replacing the components (esp. if you have to pay a bike shop to do it) can make up the difference between a 500 dollar bike and a 900 dollar bike pretty fast. As mentioned in my previous post, these things tend to fail more with big guys, because we are pushing the design limit of the bike anyways. After you replace the cheap components though, things can be groovy for a long time, since the core components are generally good.

Something else to look for (mentioned by @Chuckies ) is the importance of a good rear wheel. The Seek 2 has a 36 spoke wheel, which, for you, is fantastic. The more spokes, the better! You should ask the shop to check your spoke tension before you leave, whatever bike you get. Machine-built wheels are notorious for uneven spoke tension, which leads eventually to broken spoke sadness.

As you have discovered though, the department store bikes are not a good deal at all if you plan the ride the bike at all. Within very few miles, all the parts will start breaking, instead of just a few. Also, department store bikes often break in manners that are irreparable, unlike a bike you get from a shop, which can almost always be fixed.
posted by rockindata at 3:59 PM on August 3, 2010

I recently purchased a Jamis Commuter 3.0 (but got the '09 model at a significant discount). Not sure that the styling is what you're going for, but I highly recommend the internal hub gear.
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 5:56 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

From what you described I was going to suggest a hybrid bike with fixed suspension. That is pretty much exactly what the Seek is. Make sure you get a properly sized frame.
posted by Doohickie at 6:46 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: OK, so I called and asked if they knew of a way I could try one with the proper frame size. They said "no."

Ugh...not cool. I thought local bike shops were supposed to be helpful :'-(

They recommended I call a bike shop an hour south of here. They don't have it either.

I'm wondering if these places have return policies...maybe I'll check on that.

Thanks for all the other advice.
posted by circular at 3:04 PM on August 4, 2010

Response by poster: I called back: No return policy, except "case by case." Money back is out of the question, but a different bike might be workable.

He asked me to come by the shop tomorrow and try the medium frame, since my inseam is "only 31"." He said maybe they just need to raise the stem a little bit since it would just be a "clearance issue."

This makes me exceedingly nervous.

My LBS-O-Meter is swinging toward "internet purchase."
posted by circular at 3:10 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: My LBS-O-Meter is swinging toward "internet purchase."

Ya, this is completely typical of my experiences with local shops...

You do need to understand where they are coming from a bit, in terms of costs and inventory and such. On the other hand, there is NO reason in the world why they can't come forward with some kind of return policy so that you know where you stand. Do they need a 10 or 20% restocking fee? Fine, just say so, and you can judge the proper trade off for yourself.

Adjusting a medium frame bike for some testing is okay, but... Well, not quite right, but not too terrible :P
posted by Chuckles at 12:13 AM on August 5, 2010

Best answer: I just bought a bike for similar uses as you previously .

I ended up finding that the best thing for me was getting a older reasonably high end bike (i.e. I got a ten year old bike that used to be >$1000). With this you can get a lot more variety and quality of bike in your price range. You can try searching on craiglist, or it might be worth posting what you are looking for and a price and see what people offer.

The downside is that this strategy might require a bit more maintenance, or just be sure to budget in at least a full check up on the bike at your LBS.

If you want less maintenance I'd suggest considering either an internal hub or a 10/12 speed friction shifter bike, since both will be less finicky than a modern indexed shifter. If you want to ride in the rain I strongly suggest at least a rear fender.
posted by vegetableagony at 3:12 PM on August 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody. I agonized over the decision for a while, and long story short, my 2011 Seek 2 arrived yesterday.

They called me the day I made the order and told me they were out of 2010s and I could have the 2011 model for the same price. Not sure how great a deal that was, but...

The bike has been great. In a lot of ways it's just different (no suspension, and the disc brakes don't feel incredibly different from my old non-disc brakes) but in terms of speed it's fantastic, a real solid upgrade.

I did end up riding their medium frame before the purchase and we found that the bars came uncomfortably close to my knees, so I ordered a large.

I looked on Craigslist prior to the purchase and talked with the guys at the bike shop about what I found. Turns out they like to look at Craigslist too, and so we had a good talk. I had found a bike that was >$1000 about 7 years ago, but it turns out that parts for it are really rare now.

Anyway, I'm really happy with the purchase. The bike is making all sorts of noises that they're telling me are normal for a bike that hasn't been ridden before (I took it back to the store and had them ride it), and I do have a free tuneup coming, so I'll wait that out for a bit.

The stock tires freak me out a bit, but since I'm usually within a 5 mile radius of home, I'll wait and see what happens.

Thanks again for all the advice! It was very helpful. Glad to be supporting my local bike shop, too.
posted by circular at 1:30 PM on August 20, 2010

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