What kind of bike do I need?
January 12, 2011 7:49 AM   Subscribe

What kind of bike do I need?

Looking to buy a new bike. I'll be doing the majority of my biking on a long bike path (20 miles, mostly flat), and rarely on streets. What is a comfortable bike that will also give me some exercise while riding 20 miles?

Bonus points for a place in Chicago where I can buy a new bike.
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You probably want a hybrid, unless your bike path includes unpaved parts, in which case you might just want to go with a straight mountain bike. Any bike should give you some exercise if you're riding 20 miles, but if for some reason you want extra exercise, you could always get a dirt cheap bike that weighs a ton (not that I would recommend that).

In Chicago, I've heard mixed (both raving and ranting) reviews about Village Cycle Center in Old Town and Kozy's Cyclery in Lakeview. I think it mostly depends on your salesperson. Make sure they let you ride the bike before you buy, and not just on their little test rack.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 8:07 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where in Chicago do you live? There are a lot of good bike shops in the city, and likely a good one in your neighborhood. I can make recommendations based on where in the city you live. The folks at the bike shop will be happy to show you several bikes and even let you test ride them. They'll also make sure that you get one that fits you properly.
posted by smich at 8:07 AM on January 12, 2011

Something with no suspension, flat bars and skinny tires (example).

Something with road drop bars would give you more hand-positioning options but a lot of people don't like them at first. A front suspension hybrid or mountain bike would probably be too heavy and slow to be fun to ride for 20 miles.
posted by ghharr at 8:30 AM on January 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so far.
My current bike is a clunker 1 -speed. I'm looking for an upgrade.
I live in the Edgewater 'hood.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:45 AM on January 12, 2011

Add me to the rants about Village Cycle Center. I've had great experiences at Uptown Bikes, On the Route, and Turin (Evanston).

In Chicago, you don't need a lot of gears nor any sort of suspension. Definitely look at bikes called hybrids -- they're pretty much designed for urban riding. I'm also a fan of getting a nice sturdy mountain bike and replacing the big knobby tires with smoother, skinnier road tires.
posted by fuzzygerdes at 8:52 AM on January 12, 2011

I am not a fan of hybrids. I think they suffer from the "jack of all trades, master of none" syndrome and tend to put the rider in an inefficient position that is OK for people riding down to the coffee shop, but not much more than that.

I agree with what ghharr says above, but for your kind of riding, you could get just about anything and it would work fine, since the lakefront bike path (I assume that's the place you're talking about) is such an easy place to ride. You could get a singlespeed, a sit-up-and-beg 3-speed, a road bike, a mountain bike (with slick tires swapped in), whatever. I'd recommend a road bike if you're willing to put up with the few weeks of acclimation that it takes to get used to road-bike positioning.

One of my favorite bike stores anywhere is Lickton's, in Oak Park, although they tend to be more high-end.
posted by adamrice at 9:12 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would second a "flat bar road bike" like ghharr recommended. You don't need the added weight and trouble of a suspension system, especially the sort they put on sub $500 hybrid bikes. All the major brands (Giant, Trek, Fuji, Cannondale, etc) are basically identical in quality and you mostly get what you pay for.

That said the single most important factor is fit and that will vary across model lines and manufactures. Make sure you have a sales person who is willing to spend time and make adjustments. Comfort is your goal but something that is comfortable around the parking lot (upright position, little to no weight on your hands, huge seat) is not going to be comfortable after an hour. You need to divide your weight between your arms, legs and rear in a way that works for your body. A good sales person can help you find and set up a bike that does that. You might have better luck in the next month or so before sales start picking up in the Spring.

You should also see if they will throw in a couple free tune ups because your fresh off the floor bike will need tweaking after a few weeks as the cables stretch and wheels adjust.
posted by ChrisHartley at 9:14 AM on January 12, 2011

Best answer: Congrats on getting into biking!

Don't get a standard hybrid, which is basically the ugly baby of a road bike and a mountain bike, created when American bike companies didn't know how to make a good bike for those who were not serious cyclists. They really aren't good for much of anything.

Get an urban bike, something with mustache bars and an internal hub, which allow you to ride with a more neutral and comfortable hand position, and not deal with derailleurs, etc. This type of bike will let you ride comfortably and efficiently on the bike trail, with normal clothes and all that good stuff. If you are having a blast on the bike trail and want to expand, urban bikes will be great for that too. The other cool thing is that 3-speed internally geared bikes are quite affordable- typically 400-500 dollars.

A classy example of the urban centered bike is the Linus Roadster sport. 3 speed internal hub, mustache bars, etc. You really don't need more than 3 speeds in Chicago, and not having to deal with derailleurs is a glorious thing. There are a number of Linus dealers in the Chicago area

Lots of other companies are making very nice bikes in this category. The Bianchi Milano is another great choice in this type of bicycle.
posted by rockindata at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

For shops somewhat near you, try Johnny Sprockets on Bryn Mawr or On the Route on Lawrence near Western. Count me in as another one who is not a fan of hybrids. A road bike with flat handlebars should suit you fine. Have fun finding a new bike and a new local bike shop!
posted by smich at 9:41 AM on January 12, 2011

Also didn't like Village. One place to look would be REI (Near North/ Halsted and Clybourn). Their Novara brand is reasonably priced and sturdy. They have a category of Urban Bikes that would be worth looking at, as would cyclocross bikes. You don't need a mountain bike. Hybrid bikes aren't a terrible place to start, but most people who get them and stick with cycling quickly upgrade to something else.

Find something that you can mount a rack to so you can carry stuff. REI panniers are also decent. If you already have an REI membership, ask when the next 20% off coupon comes out--you can save a lot on the bike or on other accessories that way.
posted by BlooPen at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2011

Are you commuting or riding for exercise? If riding for exercise do you see yourself extending these rides to more hills and/or mileage?
posted by bitdamaged at 10:07 AM on January 12, 2011

Uptown bikes for tuneups/repairs. Johnny Sprockets in Lakeview has a nice selection of bikes. Performance Bicycle in Lakeview has great selection/prices on accessories.

Kozy's Cyclery has the absolute worst service of any bike shop I've been to in the city. Stay away, you can do so much better.
posted by Windigo at 10:36 AM on January 12, 2011

I second an internal hub like this one. I live in Europe where these are more popular, and don't get why they never seem to have caught on in the states. No one really needs 21 or whatever different gears if they're not athletes, and what you win in robustness and lack of maintenance is significant. I also love being able to change to the proper gear while waiting for a car to pass or a light.
posted by tempythethird at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2011

I am a fan of Marin Bikes, specifically the Marin Nail Trail (I have the 2006 model). As far as general bike recommendations go, get a hard tail bike with front suspension and disc brakes.
posted by axismundi at 1:34 PM on January 12, 2011

Best answer: Hi fellow Chicago biker!

Don't get a mountain bike. You'll end up hating yourself. You're riding paths, not hills! Don't get a hybrid - they take parts of a bunch of different bikes and mush them together into something that is less than the sum of its parts.

Get a city bike or a touring bike. Make sure you have a rear rack.

Windigo has it. Uptown Bikes is good. Kozy is TERRIBLE. I live in Lincoln Square and On The Route up here is awesome. Good shop, great mechanics.

You should also totally join The Chainlink - a lot of cool people and events there.

Memail me if you have questions. Happy riding!
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:35 PM on January 12, 2011

No one really needs 21 or whatever different gears if they're not athletes

Arguably people who aren't athletes are the ones who need all the gears.
posted by markr at 9:12 PM on January 12, 2011

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