But Which Bike is Right for ME?
May 30, 2011 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Yet another special snowflake question about what bike to get, from a bicycle noob. I'd like to get out and bicycle in our (hilly) neighborhood. If I love my bike to be, I may commute on it to the train, about 7 miles from our home, or for errands. I haven't really biked since I was a kid and owned a racing 10 speed. I'm a small fairly thin woman (5'2".) I'm fine with staying on roads and hence am not taken with mountain bikes, which strike me as clunky. A little more inside.

I've been eying the Trek 7100 hybrid, just because it looks comfy, on my credit card rewards point site. I am also always taken with the look of Raleighs and Giants. But since I know nothing at all, maybe they aren't the best option.

I'd prefer to keep the price of the bike under $1000. I'm fine with paying a few hundred more to add the accessories MeFis deem invaluable. And I live in Seattle. I did go to a well regarded local bicycle store, but somehow ended up being directed at a super fast light road bike priced better than $2000.
posted by bearwife to Health & Fitness (43 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have an older Trek hybrid and am very happy with it for hills and bike commuting in the rain. At a glance at the site you linked to, I like the two Trek hybrid models up from yours a bit more, because the frame geometry should be stiffer.

If you're getting steered towards $2000 road bikes for commuting, try another store. $700 or so was the sweet spot when I got mine about six years ago, and I suspect around $800 should get you a nice bike today.
posted by zippy at 5:09 PM on May 30, 2011

Go to another bike shop. Seriously.

That Raleigh would do you well.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:09 PM on May 30, 2011

You definitely don't want that Trek. That style of frame -- what you might think of as a frame designed for girls -- sacrifices the rigidity that comes with a top bar so that you can wear... (drum roll)... long skirts. Unless you plan to ride in a long skirt, get a real bike.

You'll easily find something within your budget. Spend $600 or so, not thousands. Not every local bike shop will try to upsell you that way.
posted by jon1270 at 5:13 PM on May 30, 2011

Go to a Specialized dealer that caters to commuters. Check out the Globe Daily line.
posted by supercres at 5:17 PM on May 30, 2011

I'm in a similar situation, and I've been enjoying my Trek FX. They come in several "trim levels" at varying price points.
posted by edrnjevich at 5:36 PM on May 30, 2011

I would recommend asking around for a used bike shop, perhaps one catering to college-age folk (but not hipsters). From what I've seen in Chicago and New York, it seems like bicycles are sold through three channels: the high-end racing stuff you saw at the local bike shop, the bicycle-shaped-objects at *mart, and the secondhand market. The first and last will both get you good bikes, but the last costs a lot less.

If you're worried about hills but expect to stay on paved roads, look for old steel touring rigs. They're designed to let you pedal 70-100 lbs of cargo up a mountain for days on end, so they're strong, use reliable technologies and offer a wide range of gear ratios. Bonus for rainy climates like Seattle's, all touring rigs have wide forks and braze-ons so you can mount fenders to keep the mud off your legs and butt.
posted by d. z. wang at 5:38 PM on May 30, 2011

I'd stay away from the hybrids if you live in Seattle. They are often upright and comfortable, but also very heavy, which makes hill climbing much harder than a road bike, and chances are you'll be hitting a lot of hills. You can find a decently priced road bike by either Trek, Giant, or Specialized. My first (and current) road bike is a Bianchi, and I love it, but it was slightly more than 1K (new).

I suggest trying a different bike shop and testing out a few models. There's a pretty commuter-friendly shop near UW called Recycled Cycles. If you like something, you can either buy it or look for something similar on craigslist. I wish I could suggest a place, but the only bike shop I go to regularly is Cycle University in West Seattle. They are really helpful, however, if you ever want to check them out.

Once you have a bike, make sure you get a water bottle cage and some lights. Beyond that, it's up to you.
posted by MsMartian at 5:38 PM on May 30, 2011

Hai! I'm 5'3", live at the top of a big hill, and bought a Trek 7100 last year. I use it to commute 2 miles to work. I have mixed feelings about it.

I actually don't need or use all the gears. I basically just use the middle 7 gears, even on the big, steep hill near my house. Your mileage may definitely vary with that, but I don't think I'll spring for the full 21 when I buy my next bike.

Since I actually do bike in skirts fairly frequently (and in a long coat in the winter, because I bike to work in my street clothes), I would have appreciated a bike that could accommodate a skirt guard. According to the bike shop people, you can't put a skirt guard on the 7100.

There's another thing that's really annoying about it, but I suspect this isn't going to be a problem for you in Seattle. The brakes have a tendency to freeze up when the temperature gets below freezing. This doesn't happen all the time, but it's happened enough times to be really annoying. According to the bike shop people, it has to do with the angle of the tube top. It's a really steep v, and so water has a tendency to get in, freeze, and jam up the brakes. Since I live in a really cold place and keep my bike outdoors, this is a real problem. I've been late to work a couple of times because I got on my bike and realized that the brakes didn't work, and then I had to take the bike to the bike shop and get them to clean out and grease the brake cables so the brakes would work again. (I plan to learn to do that for myself before it gets cold again, but it's not something I want to do in the morning in my work clothes.) For various reasons, I definitely need a step-through bike, but I'm going to do some research to try to avoid this problem with my next bike. I don't know much about disc brakes, but I think they may be the way to go.

So anyway, my Trek 7100 has not been a disaster by any means, but I don't recommend it unreservedly. I do think that paying $2000 for a road bike is nuts for your purposes.
That style of frame -- what you might think of as a frame designed for girls -- sacrifices the rigidity that comes with a top bar so that you can wear... (drum roll)... long skirts. Unless you plan to ride in a long skirt, get a real bike.
With all due respect, go fuck yourself. My bike is a real bike.
posted by craichead at 5:39 PM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Actually let me amend my answer. For a commuter like you, high-end racing stuff would be a bad fit even if money were not a problem, because you can't leave a Storck or a Cervelo locked up outside your office. It'd get stolen in an instant.

craichead: "According to the bike shop people, it has to do with the angle of the tube top."

Oh, wow, I've never thought about that. Yeah, your rear cable is basically a U-bend, isn't it?

The cable for your front brake is not run over the top tube, though. Do your front brakes not freeze, or is there a separate explanation for their freezing?
posted by d. z. wang at 5:51 PM on May 30, 2011

I disagree with MsMartian. You don't need a road bike. I've commute across San Francisco (our hills can take your hills) every day for the last 6 years on hybrids. BUT, hybrids come in a huge range of shapes and qualities. You can get something called a hybrid with a virtually upright posture and a suspension seat-post or you can get the kind I ride, which is basically sturdy flat-bar road bike. I like these bikes because they are so SO versatile. I commute hard, but I can also take this bike for a decent recreational ride, and I've even loaded it up for some light touring.

I personally wouldn't buy the 7100, both because it's not the style I prefer, and because it's the bottom of the Trek line for that style of bike. I suspect if you went to a (good, commuter-friendly) local bike shop and road a 7100 and a 7300, you would notice a big difference between them, and the extra $150 might be very worth it to you. When looking at bikes in that series, consider whether you really want front suspension or not. You should also look at the Trek FX series. The price point is very similar to the 7100s, but they're a notch sportier, and you might like that for the hills and the length of commute you're talking about.

Anyway, basically every company is making "hybrid" bikes that range from "comfort" to "urban assault." Go to some shops and ride a bunch of different brands in this category. You absolutely don't need to spend more than $1000 to get what you're looking for.
posted by juliapangolin at 5:57 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cable for your front brake is not run over the top tube, though. Do your front brakes not freeze, or is there a separate explanation for their freezing?
Mostly to the back brakes, but at least once it happened to both at the same time.
posted by craichead at 6:08 PM on May 30, 2011

I am 4'11" and own two pretty different bikes, but the reason I bought both of them was first and foremost FIT. Run away from shops that show you cute looking bikes in sizes meant for average height women and say things like "oh yeah, we can just order that in your size." NO. You must test ride the bike. If it doesn't feel right after some adjustments, forget it. This is THE most important thing.

My first bike was a Giant hybrid (the 2008 FCR3W which runs very small, down to XXS with a 41cm seat tube) and I got a Terry just this year. Terry is a company that specializes in women's bikes, especially for short women. My Terry is a vintage 12 speed in steel but it's still fast and light, and the Giant gathers dust these days. The Terry doesn't let me sit in a super upright cushy position but it handles better and is more efficient, so to me it's even more comfortable than my hybrid. I'll say it again: comfort is good fit, not a bolt upright position and a suspension fork. If you get into riding serious miles, the Trek will eventually frustrate you and the lower quality components will break sooner with heavy use. That bike is going to be on the heavier side and will be a pain in the butt to lug onto a train if you're thinking of doing that. It will be fine for casual trips under ten miles, but no more.

My Giant is closer to the Raleigh you linked and it's still a fine bike, but I outgrew it after a few years. The Raleigh is a decent quality frame and you'd probably be happy with it unless you're really thinking you want a step-through. Yes, there are step-through frames (also called mixtes) out there that are "real bikes" but it's harder to design a step-through that is light enough not to be annoying on hills but strong enough to be safe and dependable. The problem with the Trek is weight and build quality, not just that it's a mixte. You don't need an ultra light racing bike, but you will really thank yourself if you spend $200 more to get something less clunky.

Obviously you need gears. Single speeds and fixed gears make no sense in your area, but you don't need 21 gears necessarily, what's more important are the ratios. Is the largest rear cog big enough for you to climb the biggest hill nearby? Then you're fine. I went from 21 speeds to 12 and I don't miss all the extra gearing, and I have one giant rear cog that can tackle 12%+ grades no problem and enough small cogs to go as fast as I can possibly pedal.

You want a bike with braze-ons (mounting points for racks and stuff) so you can attach a rack and bags or baskets for groceries/farmers market runs. In Seattle you want fenders to keep wet road grime off you, unless you want to ride only during the few completely dry weeks in summer. It's hard to fit fenders on some modern bikes because the forks are too narrow, so be sure to find out if someone makes a fender that fits before you buy.

Last piece of advice- don't cheap out on the lock. Upgrading from the $20 bottom of the barrel lock to a $50-$80 Kryptonite u-lock is the difference between your bike getting stolen and the bike next to yours getting stolen.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:20 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

New bike: The brand of bike you buy doesn't really matter much at price points above $300 - they are all fairly nice and the frames are really all made by the same one or two companies (mostly Giant). Depending on your comfort I would recommend looking at either a hybrid, a flatbar road bike or a regular road bike.

Hybrids are heavier and more directed at the occasional rider. Stuff like front suspension, suspension seat posts, upright riding position, etc are nice but if your body can cope without them then you will save a lot of weight and have fewer things to go wonky. Even if you are not racing weight does make a difference, lighter bikes are generally easier to cart around and feel zippier.

Flatbar road bikes are the middle ground between a drop bar road bike and a hybrid. They don't come with the heavy front suspension and the riding position tends to be a bit more stretched out so more weight is on your hands, less on your rear.

Road bikes with drop bars give you a variety of hand positions for comfort on a long ride. The stretched out fit puts even more weight on your arms and legs so your rear isn't as uncomfortable after 20+ miles. It can take time to build up the strength in your hands, arms and back so at first it may seem uncomfortable. Road bike gear shifters are more complex and expensive then mountain bike style grip or trigger shifters so they are often a fair bit more expensive then an otherwise comparable flat bar road bike. If you imagine yourself riding more than 20 miles at a time then it may be better to spring for a road bike now. If not then you will be well served by a flatbar roadbike.

No matter what you do get a nice set of lights and fenders. A rear rack and panniers are also nice.

slow graffiti is right one with the advice on fit - that is the number one criteria you should use when buying a bike.

Frozen brake cables: Coat your brake cable with heavy bearing grease rather than a lightweight lubricant - ice will have a harder time freezing to the grease.
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:24 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The problem with the Trek is weight and build quality, not just that it's a mixte.

It's not actually a mixte frame (would be better if it were), but I agree with everything else slow graffiti wrote.
posted by jon1270 at 6:29 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

N'thing that fit is the #1 criterion for any bike.

There's a lot of good advice on this thread already. I'll just add two suggestions:

1. Consider a touring bike, like the Surly Long Haul Trucker complete bike. In your size, it will have 26" wheels, which will make it easier to get a good fit without your toes overlapping the front wheel when you turn. It's designed to haul cargo, so it won't complain when you load it up with whatever stuff you need for your commute, but it will also be a good bike for riding without much gear. If it seems like too much bike (it is built to carry full touring loads, after all), the Surly Cross Check or Pacer are nice alternatives, though I think for commuting and recreational riding, you need wider tires than what the Pacer can handle.

2. If you're really thinking of taking your bike on the train often, consider one of the folding bikes from Bike Friday. They're a little more expensive than regular bikes but they do make it much easier to do a multimodal commute. The Tikit model is available in several configurations and is designed to fold quickly so you can ride to the train, fold your bike in seconds, and hop on.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:32 PM on May 30, 2011

1. I was asking a similar question in 2004 when I was researching what bike I should get to go on a cross-country bike ride. I discovered that for about the same price as a decent "normal" (upright) bike, I could get a recumbent instead.

If you go with a recumbent, get one that is a short wheel base. Then you can fit it on any bike rack (car, bus, train, etc.) that will fit a normal bike.

The reason I recommend getting a recumbent is comfort. (Sure, fancy recumbents hold all the world speed records for human powered vehicles, but I don't.) For me, there's just no going back to an uncomfortable upright bicycle. I've tried biking 15-20+ miles on a variety of upright bikes that fit me, and they just are not nearly as comfortable as recumbent bicycles. If you get a recumbent, you'll enjoy your bike ride more, and thus be more likely to ride.

To go up hills on a recumbent, you drop into an easier gear. Instead of standing up, you push into the back of your seat if you need to. The main downside to most recumbents is that they require more chain.

Here are a few example local recumbents, but I don't know what size they are: one, two, three. You can also check the recumbents classifieds. If you see a bike that really strikes your fancy but doesn't fit, go check out that bike's website and see if you want anything they offer that's new.

2. Invaluable accessories for Seattle:
- rain-proof pants,
- rain jacket.
- Fenders.
- Bike bells aren't legally required in the US, but they are in some places, and I find them useful every day of the week (often for just saying "hi" to folks I know, but sometimes for passing other bicyclists, and for warning folks that might like to know I'm approaching).
- Get very good lights for night riding. Most bike accidents happen at night.
- Any U-lock will do. Folks don't normally try to steal recumbents.
- If you don't mind a little DIY, a bucket pannier will work far better than most purchased panniers; they are both waterproof and durable. Sometimes delis or sushi bars will also have free square buckets. Mine smelled like pickled ginger for a while (mmmm).
- If you get in the habit of using your bike for errands, a bike trailer really is indispensable. You can buy them new, but kid's trailers haul most day-to-day large things that you'd want to haul, like groceries, and you can get them used on craigslist.

3. It looks like there are three local bike collectives in Seattle. When you need to repair your bike, if you want to do it yourself, these folks can help show you the ropes.
posted by aniola at 6:49 PM on May 30, 2011

A so-called women's step-through frame, or a mixte ( they are different as noted above) is a bad idea for reasons other than strength and rigidity. The lack of the-top tube makes it very difficult for smaller women to lift and carry; something that all too frequently is forgotten. Unless you are highly committed to riding your bike in a long skirt, ( dangerous, actually) do not buy this style of frame.

Sadly, I have to strongly recommend that that you consider Bikes Direct. I say this as a former bike store manager, who would love to see the Local Bike Store industry continue, but the realities of modern commerce and current business models mean that you will pay twice as much from a bike store as you would by picking one of the female specific frames from Bikes Direct

You will get far better value for your dollar buying new there, than pretty much anywhere else. The only way I'm aware to get the same level of performance for your dollar in North America is by purchasing used.

A an example of well-equipped commuter ready road bike have a look at this model, and compare that to what you get at the Local Bike Store. It's not even close.

As to those saying don't get a hybrid, this is silly. Your needs description pretty much exactly matches the parameters of a hybrid. I live in Vancouver B.C . so I am fully aware of the challenges you face with regard to weather and hills. rust me when I tell that the marginally heavier weights of quality hybrids is n o where near as big a deal as roadies will tell you.

Roadies are crazy, actually. They will spend $200 more to save less weight on bike than a full water-bottle. Roadies will always tell you to get a road bike, but those of us not obsessed with weight and time think that MTB's with slicker tires have a lot to be said for them. As an example, I have a quiver of bikes, and not one of them is a raod bike, yet I ride 30kms or so on the pavement every other day. Yet I haven't had a flat on the road in, oh ... a decade or so.

Roadies are obsessed with time and speed. Mountain bikers want strength and versatility. Roadies want to go between two points as quickly as possible. Mountain-bikers want to go anywhere they want, and don't care much how long it takes them.The drop-bars on road bikes are narrow and low, to reduce wind resistance, and minimize weight. MTB bars are high and wide to provide more even weight distribution, better sight-lines, and leverage.

But MTBs are heavier for certain, and this is why the hybrid category category has really taken off in the last few years, because most commuters aren't delivering plasma to the blood bank, or planning on doing 3 foot drops.These hybrid, or "cafe", bikes have a more upright riding posture, which provides the rider with better visibility, while also making them more visible to others. The ability of drivers to see you is important for commuters who often have no choice about where they have to go, or at what time. The have larger diameter, 700C wheels, for speed over pavement, but rims which are wide enough to take-on potholes, curbs, and minor obstacles. But these bikes don't have the really heavy-duty parts found on mountain bikes, as they are intended for roads, bike paths, and gravel trails.

This is why you now see so many road frames with flat bars, it's an attempt to reproduce the attributes of combining the two styles while still being "retro". The upright riding posture is a much more comfortable position for anyone with average fitness, it takes strain off your shoulders, arms, and wrists. It also makes you more visible, so naturally hipsters heading to the vinyl store adopted this gestalt.

Here is a brand-name hybrid bike from BD with disc brakes and a front shock, for a similar $500 price point. (GT has been around forever, and their "triple-triangle" design is well-known for strength). This bike also has all the braze-ons you need for racks and fenders, but is more aggressive than the road bike above, and would be perfect for minor trails as well if you ever wanted that option. The more upright riding posture over a drop-bar road bike will be more comfortable, and it provides better visibility for you to see over car hoods and the like, and also makes you more visible to traffic. It's available in white, which is also more visible, and this means that if you are fashion conscious you can get a matching white helmet, which studies have shown is the number one most important thing that a cyclist can do to make them more visible and safer.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:23 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

As someone who is currently looking to purchase, I can say there is nothing more important than going in and test-riding the bike. I test rode the Giant Via 1 (super cute in white and mint green with matching front basket!!) and expected to need the medium, but it turned out I really needed the small. (I'm only 5'3 and have very short legs.) I also tried out the Giant Sedona, but found it was entirely the wrong bike for me - very uncomfortable, and if I'd had to jump off it in a hurry I'd have ended up with handlebars in my sternum.

I was actually looking at that model of Trek but my shop didn't have one in stock for me to try. I don't agree with Jon1270's comment that you should get a "real" or men's bike... I don't see anything wrong with women's frames, especially as someone with very short legs. Seriously, to mount a men's bike I have to lay it down almost completely.

I was interested in the low-step bikes, specifically the Trek Pure Deluxe Lowstep (which my bike shop didn't have in stock) and the Sun Streamway. Unfortunately, the shop owner told me he got a Sun Streamway and it had a bad spot in the back wheel, and since it doesn't look like a sturdy bike he won't be carrying them.

Aniola brought up accessories - the one thing I would add to that list is one or two rear-view mirrors. Handlebar mounts are fine although you can get helmet-mounted mirrors nowadays. (You ARE going to ride with a helmet, right?!!) As a child I was nearly hit from behind by a car and I refuse to ride without mirrors.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:44 PM on May 30, 2011

I don't really understand the step-through hate, to be honest. I have limited range of motion in my hips, so I need a step-through frame, because I can't swing my leg over a diamond frame. But it seems to me that the differences in weight and rigidity are really not things that are going to matter to your average less-than-ten-miles-each-way commuter and that the benefits, like being able to get on and off easily and being able to stand up quickly without having to worry about slamming the tube top into your bits, offset the drawbacks.

It's also really silly to suggest that there's anything dangerous about riding a bike in a skirt. I do it all the time, and it's totally fine. Really: it's ok to be someone who rides a bike for transportation and doesn't need an ultra-high-performance road bike and head-to-toe spandex outfit. There's room in the bike world for all of us!
posted by craichead at 8:52 PM on May 30, 2011

Limited range of motion in your hips is very valid reason to look at step-through bikes, but this doesn't negate all the disadvantages iterated.

It's not "really silly" to mention the potential hazard of riding in a skirt at all. Skirts can, and do, get caught in wheels and brakes. That this hasn't happened to you is great, and is the norm, but I can assure you that is a cause of accidents.

With respect to riding gear, proper riding shorts are a health consideration for women, and the antibacterial properties of the liner are of major importance for female riders.

After helmets, the next most important factor in reducing injury from accidents are gloves, as the natural tendency when falling is to put your hand down. Goodbye skin. Besides reducing injury, riding gloves provide weather protection, provide a better grip, and absorb shock.

My own advice is that all riders should have and use these 3 items of riding gear, and anything after that, including skirts is just fine, as long as one is aware of the risk and take steps to eliminate it. Yes, all styles of gear and kinds of bikes have a role, and helping a new rider to be aware of the advantages of the different types is the only purpose sought here. Wanting to wear a skirt while riding is also a perfectly valid reason to choose a step-through frame, which is why I brought it up.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:33 PM on May 30, 2011

Skirts can, and do, get caught in wheels and brakes.
Do you have any actual evidence for that?
With respect to riding gear, proper riding shorts are a health consideration for women, and the antibacterial properties of the liner are of major importance for female riders.
Yeah, not really. The evidence for that seems to be this study, which looked at women "after a few years of intensive bicycling (an average of 462.5 km per week)." And I'm thinking that the OP probably isn't going to be cycling 462.5 km a week.
posted by craichead at 10:01 PM on May 30, 2011

The Jamis Commuter series was made for you.
posted by soy_renfield at 10:03 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

And I'm thinking that the OP probably isn't going to be cycling 462.5 km a week

In my frame of reference, that would be 287.384176 miles per week. Nope, not on the agenda.
posted by bearwife at 10:06 PM on May 30, 2011

Skirts can, and do, get caught in wheels and brakes.

Do you have any actual evidence for that?

I have riden my bike nearly every day for years and almost every single time I ride in a long-ish skirt, I end up nearly killing myself because it gets caught in the chain or the brakes, or both at the same time. In fact I ruined my favorite skirt this exact way. This is anecdotal, but still valid information for people who are not as experienced bikers.

I think alot of people are missing out on the point about mixte bikes which is that the first bike the OP linked is not a mixte bike. It is a bike created to look like mixte, but they are just a little weaker in design and possibly sturdiness. Also as a fellow short person, I tried out that bike and found it to be shaped really weirdly. My first bike was a mountain bike, which i loved because it was super light and pretty maneuverable for someone who was very inexperienced on bikes. Like soy_renfield said, Jamis bikes are very good and worth looking into.
posted by ruhroh at 10:12 PM on May 30, 2011

I, too, have had a skirt ruined by getting caught on my bike, between the brake and the rim. On the other hand, I have many, many other times ridden my bike in a less long, less flowy skirt with not even a single close call.
posted by juliapangolin at 10:33 PM on May 30, 2011

Does anyone mind saving the great skirt & bike issue for another Askme post? I'm interested in which bike and what accessories for it, and fear this thread is traveling to areas less relevant for me.
posted by bearwife at 10:46 PM on May 30, 2011

I used to be of the mind that you needed special clothes, gloves, shoes, etc. in order to be a "cyclist." Then I bought an older Dutch bicycle off craigslist and found I was riding it every day while my other bikes gathered dust because it was just so easy to just hop on and go without having to fuss about what gear I was wearing.

And right now I am totally in love with this bicycle:

It has a lot of the nice features of a traditional "Dutch" bike (step-through frame, chain guard, rack, fenders) but it is also really light and has an 8-speed internal hub. I'm not sure if 8 speeds would be enough for you but if you can find a local shop and do a test ride it might be worth checking out.

I own this bike and have successfully used it to tow my son (in a bike trailer) up several hills in Edmonton's River Valley. I ride in whatever I happen to be wearing (even skirts and heels!) and can easily do about 20km (~12 miles) throughout the course of a day while towing the trailer without feeling too tired.
posted by sanitycheck at 10:49 PM on May 30, 2011

Watching this thread. About two years ago, I got an electric assist for the same area & have found it to be a real blessing with the hills here as I've never been particularly strong with hills (and I'm slow slow slow, assist or no). That said, we've been doing more bicycling as a family & it's really heavy & when the battery goes & it's all me peddling (with a kid on a tag-along behind me), that's a lot of weight to tow, & the battery is getting older so only lasts around 15 miles at a go. When I've taken it to work (13 miles one way), it's been nice, but doesn't really help with time, just means I'm not exhausted when I arrive.

I'll be thinking non-assist in a bit here (after we've paid off the husband's beautiful new Surly Cross Check, which I might consider, if I can get one for my 5'3" self, we'll see).

When I wander into a bike shop, it's usually Free Range down in Fremont because it's near one of the places I frequent (and woman owned), and we need to take our old bikes to BikeWorks way south, where you can get a good bike that's been fixed up there too, and with a little less bike guy attitude than I've found at Recycled Cycles (though last time I was there, they seem to have toned it down some). Wish there were a bike place by Third Place...
posted by susanbeeswax at 10:54 PM on May 30, 2011

Apologies if this has been mentioned already - I've been skimming.

Go try every bike within your preferred price range and that fits you well.

In Vancouver, there are a few shops that do "fitting sessions". I imagine there must be a few in Seattle that do the same. Hopefully, they'll be free, and you just book an appointment with someone who can spend some one-on-one time with you to help you find a bike that fits well. Some places may charge for such a session, which might actually indicate a quality shop. You pay for the session, presumably there's no pressure for them to upsell you.

Also, I recommend shoe covers- little goretex or neoprene sleeves that fit over your footwear and keep the water out. Nothing worse than having your shoes fill up with rain and street slime on wet days. But then, I don't have a front fender. :\
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:23 PM on May 30, 2011

It appears that my 'get a real bike' comment was a bit more broadly dismissive than it should've been.

I almost never see anyone riding in a skirt in my area, excepting an occasional college student going a few blocks between classes. Yet many girls and women are steered towards these frames that have substantial practical disadvantages. I think girls ought to have bikes as good as the bikes given to the boys, and my disappointment that this often isn't the case is the source of my scorn.

Miss Go Fuck Yourself can clearly take care of herself, but I apologize to anyone else I might have offended. I'm sure that step-through frames are genuinely useful to some fraction of the people they're marketed to.
posted by jon1270 at 3:10 AM on May 31, 2011

If you will have to carry your bike up or down stairs the frame style in the Trek you listed will be a pain. I speak from experience.

There are a number of bikes that don't have the straight-across top bar (like the Raleigh you linked) that make mounting (and riding in skirts if you like) more easy, and also make carrying more easy. I recently bought a Kona bike which is serving me pretty well. In Japan I had a tiny folding bike, which was excellent for dragging with me on the train, but it had no real way to attach a rack, and wasn't actually large enough for me. Having a bike that fits is better for you.

For accessories, I think the minimum is lights and a helmet. For extra a back rack is good for keeping things off of your back, which makes biking more pleasant, especially in the summer (nothing extra on your back to make you even more sweaty). Here in Switzerland the "mousetrap" style racks are super popular and easy to throw your bag onto for a short trip. I also suggest a water bottle rack. If your bike doesn't come with a kickstand, that can be useful, but often enough there will be somewhere to prop your bike against.
posted by that girl at 4:25 AM on May 31, 2011

I bought a bike for very similar reasons, and ended up with a flat bar road bike with a rack and fenders. And a pretty pannier.

It's great for my 18km (one way) commute, but I am seriously considering getting another bike for the other stuff. Something cheaper maybe, so it can be left chained up at the railway station, or maybe folding, so I can take it with me. Folding racks so I can manage a weeks worth of groceries.

A chain guard, because hair elastics around my right trouser leg works, but it's not particularly chic. And something a bit more upright, so I don't show off quite as much skin between t-shirt and jeans. And step-through:) Getting on and off my flat bar is irritating, and because I can't strap anything high to the rack, it reduces it's carrying power.

jon1270, as someone who far prefers a step through, I've been thinking about this since I saw your comment. I think it comes down to the fact that whilst the frame does shrink for us shorter folks, the wheels stay the same. It's much harder for me at five ft not much to swing my leg over a 700mm than for an average heighted man. It feels inelegant and uncoordinated, and is therefore irritating.
posted by kjs4 at 4:33 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


swing my leg over a 700mm wheel
posted by kjs4 at 5:18 AM on May 31, 2011

kjs4 - many bike companies are aware of this problem, and I've never ridden a bike with a 700c front wheel. My Giant has two 650s, and my Terry has a 24" in front and 700c in back (yes, it's a funny looking bike and I love that). Masi, Giant, Rivendell, and Surly, off the top of my head all make some models that come standard with 650 wheels instead of 700s in the small sizes and a corresponding smaller frame, and the OP could definitely consider those. She's probably just on the edge of tall enough to ride standard wheels, but I'm not so I know of what I speak.

I mention this because getting a step-through frame just because you can't find a bike with the standover height you need is not a good reason. The OP should get a step-through if she thinks that fits her riding style, the kinds of clothes she wears, the distances she wants to go. She doesn't have to get one just to find a bike with clearance. That said, there are still steel mixtes kicking around from the 70s and 80s who are on their fourth or fifth owners, and high end companies like Rivendell still make them, so don't let anyone tell you they are inherently unsafe when ridden as designed (with a rider of normal weight and not loaded with more cargo than the frame was meant to carry).

OP, just go try a bunch of bikes. As you can see from this thread, everyone has their bias and their bike philosophy. Other than paying attention to fit and quality, ride what feels fun to you.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:37 AM on May 31, 2011

Hey I'm a short lady who has made some bike purchases this year!

Definitely do not purchase anything you haven't taken for a test ride. See how it feels on the street as you change the gears--even better if you can take it up a hill! If they have to order the bike in your size, make sure you get to test it before purchase. My experience was that the bike store tend to not have the smallest womens size in stock. For us shorties, that means making sure that the reach to the handle bars is comfortable. Mens frames have a longer reach and unless you are proportionally more torso than the average lady, you're gonna notice that.

If you want to bike in nice clothes (and since you will be biking in a rainy place), factor a chain guard and fenders into your budget. If you can find a bike with these things already all, all the better! If you didn't have hills to contend with, I'd recommend the Trek Belleville because it comes fully loaded. But it's hefty and only 3 gears. Linus and Public both make some good looking/comfortable bikes that would suit your purpose (and they tend to come with fenders and chain guards).

These people who say you'll have trouble carrying a step-through frame, I sorta wonder if they've ever tried it? Depending on the style, I find it to be easier as a shorty because you're grabbing it from a lower point on the bike and therefore taking it down steps without hitting the steps is easier. In my experience. This is def the case for my mixte bike.

Personally I prefer steel frames for riding in the city (all of the bikes I mention above are steel), but you may decide you prefer the lighter aluminum frames, especially if you get to ride on nice smooth pavement.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:32 AM on May 31, 2011

a bike you love will be ridden more than a bike that you feel "meh" about. so if you find a bike and your heart flutters for it, get that one. after a while, you'll know when you're ready for an upgrade.

also +1 for the ebike suggestion. i live in a hilly area and an ebike got me to be fearless about topography until i was in shape enough to handle a 'real' bike (that process took 2 years for me. :) you only use the 'e' when you need it.
posted by gretchin at 9:39 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, please - a mixte/step through isn't hard to carry. A total non-issue. I own two mixtes and live on the third floor and have carried them countless times up and down. And I'm short. AND I ride in skirts all the time.

I have personally always chosen to not get a diamond frame because I have short legs and I just don't really want to bang my lady-bits against the top bar every time I come to a stop light. And the shorter you are, the harder and harder it becomes trying to find a diamond-frame that will fit you.

All you can do is try out both styles. But don't buy anything without a test ride.
posted by Windigo at 10:07 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Accessories to consider:
lights--I recently bought the rechargeable knog boomer lights ~$40 each and have been happy with them--they're a bit pricey until you factor in the whole not buying batteries thing, they work well for city riding and the headlight will illuminate your path in a dark area riding at a moderate pace pretty ok. My biker friends also like planet bike brand lights.

lock--I have the mid-range kryptonite u-lock and a cable to secure the wheels, depending on theft in your area you may also want something to secure your seat. Especially if you have a quick release clamp on your seat post. You can also get locking skewers for your wheels, but I hear mixed things about how effective those are. ~$60 for u-lock and cable

rack/pannier--a rear rack shouldn't cost you more than ~$20 unless there is a specific feature you like about that more expensive rack. If you want a rear rack, make sure the bike you choose has the capacity for one (ie braze ons). I use a banjo brothers market pannier ~$50 for my grocery schlepping and really really like it. You may want something more rain-proof for where you live, though.

messenger bag--if you would rather schlep stuff this way, make sure the bag fits your body because as a shorty I had to drastically shorten the straps on mine

helmet--I have the giro lady helmet that is ~$50. It's pink and has flowers on it, but what can you do?

assorted basic bike tools: pump+pressure gauge ~$30, spare tubes ~$5 and/or a patch kit ~$2, tire levers ~$5, multi-tool (containing the allen wrench sizes you need plus a few other things) ~$15 and maybe another wrench. Ask the bike shop to show you how to remove the wheels and tire on your bike so you know what you'll need to do to repair a flat and what, if any, wrenches you'll need. It's not complicated but it helps to have someone talk you through it the first time. I have the cheap versions of all of the stuff listed above (those are approx the prices I paid) and they work fine for me.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:19 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not short, but I am a lady. I just got a great mixte. Secondhand frame, and the used bike shop popped on some "albatross" handlebars to make it more upright. I've been riding it in the rain in Portland, and I love it. I need to rig up some kind of skirt guard, but otherwise it's perfect. Highly recommended.

Make sure you have the tools to change a tire and do basic maintenance. A rack helps with errand-running. A bell is great for communicating with people you might be passing -- much friendlier than hollering, "ON YOUR LEFT!" Lights, obviously. A helmet if you want one. And do NOT underestimate good rain gear. I love that I can still wear my work clothes, but throw on rain pants and a good jacket to ride in.
posted by linettasky at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2011

Aiming to go bike shopping this weekend. And sometime in the foreseeable future, to closing up this thread with most sincere thanks to all who contributed.
posted by bearwife at 2:18 PM on June 30, 2011

Just in case anyone is still checking this thread -- I finally went bike shopping and to my surprise discovered I really like the European style upright posture bikes.  I was very very taken with the Linus mixte 8, the Civia Hyland and the Breezer Uptown 8 , pretty much in that order. Input greatly appreciated.
posted by bearwife at 6:20 PM on July 2, 2011

I bought my bike!!    It is a Trek 7.6 FX WSD in white with beautiful gold curlicues.  It was on sale for $999.  I added the shop's helmet, which I persuaded them to let me buy - light, white and easy to wear-- rear lightweight rack, carbon light water bottle holder, bright front light and two bright rear red lights (all flash) and a gorgeous comfy Brooks saddle. And a good flexible Trek lock which even a thief with a saw would have trouble getting through. I already own a quality messenger bag and some light rain gear but plan soon to pick up some nice lightweight waterproof bags I spotted while bike shopping, which should fit well over the rear rack.

Thanks all!
posted by bearwife at 7:07 PM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

And this is what my bike looks like, pre my little add ons. So pretty! Super light! I love it!
posted by bearwife at 7:27 PM on July 3, 2011

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