What kinda bike?
June 29, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

What kind of bike am I looking for (for my wife)?

Upcoming possible birthday present. This bicycle will probably be used for: Farmer's market on weekends, convenience store trips, some general tooling around on summer days, riding to the park, etc. Not a race bike, commuter, or a mountain bike. We know nothing of bikes. Any idea of where to begin? Also -- sub $500. Gently used is OK. I know -- Craigslist. But I'm hoping some cyclists can give me a bit of an education of what I'm looking for. Does the bike I'm describing have a name? When I go kick the tires, what will I be looking for? Thanks.
posted by Buffaload to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by fire&wings at 3:14 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

For folks with specific references to local shops or co-ops or whatnot: the OP's userinfo reports that they're in Buffalo, NY.

Does she ride for fitness, or just the joy of it? Will she ever carry anything on the bike? How does she feel about gears?

You might want what's often called a town bike or a coffee bike or a cafe bike. Or maybe a Dutch-style bike. Or a hybrid.
posted by box at 3:20 PM on June 29, 2011

Hybrid, cruiser, maybe a touring bike if she's interested in fitness, distance, or hauling lots of groceries around, or wants lots of gears.

Getting a bike that she finds comfortable is probably the most important thing, so getting her into a shop for a fitting would be ideal (though I guess it would ruin the surprise...).
posted by substars at 3:34 PM on June 29, 2011

Look for a hybrid with a rack, mudguards and buy a set of panniers. Ideally hub gears & chaincase (no oily trousers / skirt), plus get a skirt guard on the rear wheel too. If you can afford it, a dynamo hub on the front adds very little weight & means that you always have lights available without having to ever faff with batteries.

Sure, a bike like that probably isn't going to win many fashion awards, but it will keep on going forever with very little maintenance.

As an example of the genre, the Trek Soho or Manhattan look like interesting bikes, but are sadly quite a bit out of your price range :(
posted by pharm at 3:35 PM on June 29, 2011

City bike. Like so.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:36 PM on June 29, 2011

(Oh, and drum brakes means never having to change brake pads, which is a definite plus on that kind of bike.)
posted by pharm at 3:36 PM on June 29, 2011

A few years ago I went to a bike shop looking for a really basic bike to re-learn how to ride and do the things you're talking about like riding to the markets, and the shop guy talked me into buying a basic but decent Kona hybrid bike (it cost me about $AU600 but would be under $500 in the US). This was a really good idea as it turned out that I really like cycling and the hybrid is just as practical and comfortable for long distances as it is for riding around the corner. Gears are good for hill-climbing too.

Useful accessories: puncture-resistant tyres (these save a LOT of hassle), mudflaps and possibly a basket that can be put on and removed fairly easily.

Also I'd recommend not buying her a bike, but giving her a card promising to take her to a bike shop for a proper fitting before you get the bike. You don't want to give her something that she'll find uncomfortable to ride.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:42 PM on June 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I nth the recommendation to be sure she has the chance to try it before you buy. Only a small fraction of the bikes for sale will be comfortable (or even rideable) for a 5'3" lady, for example.
posted by mauvest at 3:51 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think a hybrid is probably the answer, and I agree with everyone else about getting her, say, a "gift certificate" for a bike and making sure she tries out several.

Additionally, if a primary use is going to be shopping, I strongly recommend reserving some of that budget for a rack and panniers.

A word of caution... you'll find that the cost of the accessories associated with regular and comfortable biking can easily add up to more than the cost of the bike itself. Eyewear, helmet, gloves, a few good wicking shirts, and on and on. Depends on the use case, of course.
posted by gurple at 5:02 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get a cruiser like the electra.
posted by fieldtrip at 5:17 PM on June 29, 2011

I'm not sure a hybrid is what you want if mountain bike is off the table. My guess is you're looking for a Dutch style bike or some kind of mixte.
posted by cazoo at 6:16 PM on June 29, 2011

Great answers! She has told me that she wants a bike but never gets around to picking one out, doesn't know where to begin, etc. I'd love to surprise her but I agree that I wouldn't want her cruising around on something uncomfortable. I appreciate the new vocabulary words too. Thanks, all.
posted by Buffaload at 7:12 PM on June 29, 2011

I think what you're looking for could be described as a "city", "utility", "european" or "dutch" bike. Something that is comfortable to ride, with an easy upright position, mudflaps, skirt guard, kickstand, a front basket, rear rack, and internal hub gears (if you can find it in your price range). They don't go very fast, and she won't be doing any 50km charity rides on it, but they are solid, reliable bikes that are meant for exactly what you've described.

Lucky for you, this type of bike is very much "in vogue"... seriously. It's even common to see them featured in fashion editorials right now.. so it won't be hard to find a good bike. Take a look at Public Bikes, Opus' urban line, or see if you can find a local bike shop that sells a lot of european or dutch style bikes. I'm not sure about Buffalo, but there's a ton of shops in Toronto that specialize in these kinds of bikes - like Urbane Cyclist, Curbside, and more...
posted by kaudio at 7:27 PM on June 29, 2011

Another question I forgot to ask: what kinds of bikes do you, and any friends/acquaintances/children/whatnot, have? If you're a serious rider with e.g. a serious road-racing bike, then she may not want to try to keep up with you on a beach cruiser. If your usual ride is a cargo bike or something, she might not want a triathlon bike or a track racer. And if her peers all have vintage-European-road-bikes-turned-fixies, or bikes from Rivendell and Velo Orange and the like, she might feel like a square on a Trek.

My rigid singlespeed 29er is my favorite bike, but, since it's slow both on-road and off-, it doesn't see as many group rides as some of the other, y'know, ponies in the ol' stable.
posted by box at 7:27 PM on June 29, 2011

Consider a single-speed coaster brake cruiser. If the terrain around you is reasonably flat, it is an easy, uncomplicated bike with a retro look and comes in wonderful colors. It's cheaper than fancy bikes and you can afford more accessories like a nice basket or panniers (or both). I have had three of them and rode my bike everywhere for twenty years. Nthing the fit considerations. Upgrade the seat to something that fits and feels comfortable. Check the available types of handlebars for the most comfortable. Check the size of the bike for a good fit. Pick a color that she will enjoy. Not everyone who bikes is into athletic bicycle clothing. Many of us never wear ordinary clothes, so if that's her style, she'll want to be sure to have chain guards, fenders, etc. I hope she loves it as much as I did.
posted by Anitanola at 7:31 PM on June 29, 2011

Make that never wear anything but ordinary clothes.
posted by Anitanola at 7:33 PM on June 29, 2011

I think what you're looking for could be described as a "city", "utility", "european" or "dutch" bike. Something that is comfortable to ride, with an easy upright position, mudflaps, skirt guard, kickstand, a front basket, rear rack, and internal hub gears (if you can find it in your price range). They don't go very fast, and she won't be doing any 50km charity rides on it, but they are solid, reliable bikes that are meant for exactly what you've described.

I completely agree with this assessment. However, I ride a 38-pound sort of city bike (Kona Ute), and do 50km rides every day that it's sunny. Don't count them out!
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:31 PM on June 29, 2011

posted by humboldt32 at 9:30 PM on June 29, 2011

In that price range, these Republic Bike step-throughs seem like exactly the thing. It's relatively cheap and can come in awesome color combinations. But most importantly it has virtually everything a proper Dutch-style city bike should have: upright position, step-through frame, fenders, internal gears and brakes, fully enclosed chain, skirt guard, luggage racks, a bell. (Add lights and panniers - e.g. - and you're set.) All those things make for a biking experience in which you don't have to worry much about rain or dirt or clothes messing up the workings of the bike, and can focus on the riding and what's around you.

That said, it's sold online and while the components are Shimano, I don't know exactly what the quality of the whole bike is like.
posted by parudox at 10:12 PM on June 29, 2011

My gf and I live in Buffalo and have several bikes between us, none of them road bikes or anything like that. My gf loves her Raleigh Twenty largely because it's small and cute but has her eye on some Felt bikes down at Campus Wheelworks for more practical purposes.

There are a lot of factors when it comes to getting a bike but the two most important are fit (esp her impression of how comfortable the bike feels) and how much she likes it in general. She's not going to ride a bike that feels funny or one that doesn't align with her self image. Short version: go to a bike shop. I recommend Campus because they are incredibly patient and have the kinds of bikes she's likely to want to ride.

Email me if you'd like to see our stable of bikes or want some in person help/advice.
posted by jdfan at 3:21 AM on June 30, 2011

A bike she loves will be ridden more than a bike she feels is not her style. Find a bike shop that is willing to take the bike back if it doesn't suit her; my bike shop allows at least 30 days. They want to be sure you have a bike you love.

Having said that, Electra Townies are excellent starter bikes, in my opinion. They are super cute, and learning (or re-learning) to bike by being able to put your foot down whenever you get scared is awesome.

I totally recommend one with an internal hub: less mess, less maintenance, and no need to worry about downshifting at stops or pedaling while shifting.

Also, if she hasn't biked much before please don't get her more than 8 speeds, or whatever works with a single twist or button shifter. Multiple rings are hard to adjust to if you're not used to gearing.
posted by gretchin at 10:43 AM on July 1, 2011

I found this at Campus Wheelworks: The Jamis Hudson (didn't look precisely like the one in the link, it had what I believe is no longer called a "girl" frame). Seemed nice and comfortable. Naturally, retailing for more than $100 over my budget. Does anyone own one of these?
posted by Buffaload at 7:08 PM on July 6, 2011

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