Need Advice on Cruiser Bikes
January 8, 2011 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm changing my commute from a one mile drive/ride to an eight mile drive/ride. I'm in terrible shape (good cardio, really, but wwwwaaaaayyyyy too heavy), but want to be able to bike a few days a week to the new office. So please give me advice on the best cruiser or commuter bikes for 2011!

I figure sixteen miles a day a few times a week will be good exercise, some fun, and better than driving for my pocketbook and the environment.

In good weather (not winter) I've ridden my short commute a few times a week on a crappy bike from Toys R Us. Now that the commute is longer, I want a more comfortable and functional ride. I've done 15 miles on my crappy bike and it hurts my butt!

I've looked at some reviews online of "cruisers" or "commuter bikes", but wanted to get the MeFi community's take on what the best ones out there are between $350 and $700. I need fenders, a rat trap of bag system, lights front and back, and gears. No power but my legs necessary.
posted by nathanrudy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

I bought my current ride (a Cannondale road bike) on there for $275. Fenders are $50, lights can be $50, speedometer is $10-$15, and a rack is $30 or less. Total: ~$425.

I've since ridden it 2,500+ miles and had to do maintenance (as would be expected for a year-round commute in the upper-midwest) and it is still running fine.

Also, don't get a soft seat. I was riding on a cushy seat for some thousand odd miles and it started making my foot go numb while I was biking. I got a new seat designed for commuting and it has been great ever since.
posted by 47triple2 at 4:25 PM on January 8, 2011

Comments in the past have pointed out that cruisers are not comfortable for longer rides, and I'd believe it. There should be plenty of hybrids/commuter bikes within your price range (consider whether that price includes the fenders, etc., as those things add up but are essential). I went to a few of my local bikeshops when commuter-bike shopping last Spring and they were hugely helpful. The nice thing about this time of year (in North America) is that they should have time to talk to you. I'm sure others will have concrete suggestions on brands, etc.

Padded bike shorts really help with the bike-butt. As someone who is also overweight and who bike commutes in most seasons (5 miles roundtrip), but sometimes doesn't make the 16 mile roundtrip to my brother's for a few weeks, I'll add that the biggest factor with bike-butt on the longer rides is whether you've been riding lately. So ride more often and you'll feel better in lots of ways! It's the best commute ever, and I swear there are weekends I visit my nephews just for the bikeride - enjoy!
posted by ldthomps at 4:26 PM on January 8, 2011

Where are you located? Do you have a good bike shop where you live?

I'll let others comment on bikes, but I will suggest that you budget for the following:

1) A helmet - nothing is more important. New, not used. Make sure the manufacture date is recent, as helmets should be replaced everything 3-5 years.

2) Headlight and Taillight - the LED variety are fantastic. The headlights don't throw out a ton of light, but the goal is to be seen by others from the front.

3) Gloves - padding is important, and cold hands are a miserable way to go.

4) A shell - something that's wind- and waterproof.

5) A water bottle & bracket - 8 miles isn't much, but staying hydrated is always a big help.

6) A tire repair kit - E-Z patch kit, along with CO2 cartridges to re-inflate your tire.

All of these are important, but I'd consider #1,2,3 and 6 absolute necessities.

Good luck with your commute!
posted by swngnmonk at 4:30 PM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

A similar question came up in June: "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." Lots of good suggestions there about how to buy a bike, types of bikes to look at, accessories for commuting.
posted by kovacs at 4:37 PM on January 8, 2011

My SO commutes 8 miles a day with a Surly Cross Check and he's pleased with it. He did a ton of research before deciding on it, including talking to all the people in his department who commute by bike. It's toward the top end of your price range especially since you need to outfit it with panniers and such so I'd try to find one used if I were you (or get the gear used).
posted by kthxbi at 5:28 PM on January 8, 2011

My only advice that hasn't already been mentioned by someone else is that you shouldn't ride an expensive bike to work unless you can bring it inside with you. Don't lock a nice bike outside. It is a sad fact that in this country, bike theft is extremely common and the police dont give a shit.

Even if you lock up a cheap bike, get a good lock.

After an 8-mile ride, you will be sweaty. Do you have showers you can use?
posted by twblalock at 6:06 PM on January 8, 2011

Where are you located? If there's a Breezer dealer nearby, check out their range of commuter bikes. The Uptown 3 is near the top end of your price range, but it won't need any extras since it comes with integrated fenders, lighting, and rear rack--even a chain guard. For a little more, the Uptown 7 or Uptown 8 offer a better gear range and a dynohub instead of a friction-driven generator. I commute 3 miles each way on my Uptown 8, and I've ridden it as much as 25 miles in one day.*

There are plenty of other options, but Breezer is one of the few American companies that makes bikes that are truly equipped for commuting use right out of the box. I bike a lot and have five bicycles; if I were building a commuter from scratch, it would wind up looking an awful lot like my Breezer.

* That wasn't intentional; I had planned to do about 14 miles that day, but I got invited to dinner in a neighboring town and added another 11 miles. Usually for rides that long I'm on one of my road bikes.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:27 PM on January 8, 2011

Also recommending Breezer. I bought a Greenway a few years back and commute with it. My commute is only about four miles of riding each way, rather than your eight.
posted by cleverevans at 7:41 PM on January 8, 2011

If you can find a bike with a Shimano Nexus internal gear hub, GET IT! I've got an 8-speed and it is THE BOMB DIGGETY for commute/urban utility riding.

-All the gears are completely sealed inside the rear hub. Almost completely weather proof.
-Sealed means it's also near maintainance free. There's a small window on the hub, and in 4th gear 2 dots should line up. There's one adjustment screw for that, and that's it.
-You can crank through the gears at a complete stop/while coasting. This is particularly important to me in city riding if I have to skid to a stop while in high gear.
-No deraileur to break or get knocked out of alignment.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:19 PM on January 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, folks. For those who asked, I am in New Jersey. Thanks, Nathan
posted by nathanrudy at 6:02 AM on January 9, 2011

Response by poster: Does anyone have a review of the Torker Graduate?
posted by nathanrudy at 1:07 PM on January 9, 2011

It's been a few years since I did this however a few comments...

1) Congratulations on your soon-to-be-awesomeness. My commute was a similar distance (11 miles each way, slight grade up on the way to work, slight downhill grade on the way home). Within six months, I was in the best shape of my life and I could make it to work in the same time as a car, thanks to all of the little secrets and tricks I discovered along the way (bike paths, empty side streets).

My friend, you have made the right decision and you will be a better man for it. Not to mention you will garner many accolades from female and male admirers at the office as the man that women want to be with and the man that men want to be.

2) The most comfortable solution that I found was an advanced steel mountain bike frame with a stiff front fork and road/hybrid tires. There's a lot of stop-and-start on these routes, thus you want something lightweight but at the same time, thin tubes and frame flex are energy parasites and the MTB frame provides a stiffness that that your lower back may thank you for.

In my experiments with borrowed bikes, here's what I found:

A) Road bikes: Great weight and nice gearing although the ride position is more suited to riding than commuting. With commuting, I found there to be a lot of low-speed manoeuvring and the road bike made that very difficult. Also, in wet conditions, the stop-start ate up the road brakes.

B) Hybrid: Not durable enough for month three, when I could really apply power on straight-aways and then come to "oh no a garbage truck backing out" stops. Felt flimsy and not exactly what one wants when weaving in and out of traffic.

C) MTB: Great overall feel but the shock and the tires required a lot more peddle pushing to arrive at the same time. More sweat. Not a dirt hill in sight. Much like acquiring an SUV to go to the grocery store.

D) MTB outfitted for road: All key MTB features retained (stopping power, upright and alert riding position, durability) with more drivetrain efficiency (no shock, road tyres).

Finally, a couple of other suggestions:

* No headphones. It's tempting but your enjoyment will eventually come at the price of a broken bone or worse.

* Thin, wind-breaker style clothes. If you wear what you need to wear to stay warm on cold days via a cotton fabric, your body temp. will raise so that you will still be sweating in office hours. Thereby negating the Old Spice effect mentioned earlier. You want very thin layers that breath. Look for wicking underlayers with a windbreaker.

* Get a computer and chart your progress. I wouldn't suggest active goals as the workday is already stressful enough, but passively monitor performance and celebrate.

* New breakfast routine. I don't know what yours is now, but I didn't eat enough and would get cranky about 11am. My final solution was to bring coffee in a waterbottle on the bike frame and zap it at red lights and then stop by a starbucks around the corner with a lovely waitress for a muffin. Whatever you need to do but make sure you feed the beast otherwise you'll be oscar the grizouch before lunchtime.

Godspeed my friend!
posted by nickrussell at 4:11 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

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