Bicycle, bicycle!
August 8, 2011 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I want to get into biking....I know nothing about bikes. Info and reccomendations please.

My boyfriend recently bought a fancy new bike, and he's really getting into it. I've been wanting to get more exercise, and this seems like something nice for us to do together. But, I haven't really ridden a bike since I was a kid.
So any advice for getting into biking? Any plans of attack for a newbie wanting to start an exercise program? What accessories should I buy?
What kind of bike and what features should it have? He got a Giant Revel 0 for around $600. It has disc brakes and other...things. I don't know what any of it means. I want a bike that's going to keep up with his, but when we were at the bike store, I liked the look of the bikes that seemed like they were more recreational... Old-fashioned looking, with lower, bigger seats.
I'd be using it for biking around the city, but also like to be able to go to more rugged bike trails. (I'm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin if it makes any difference.)
Advise me, please.
posted by catatethebird to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you want a hybrid bike which a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike.
posted by cazoo at 9:54 AM on August 8, 2011

Also, how should I go about choosing a bike that is the right size? (I'm female, 5'7", longish legs and arms, about 160 lbs, hoping to get that closer to 140.)
posted by catatethebird at 9:56 AM on August 8, 2011

Also, how should I go about choosing a bike that is the right size

This is exactly what your friendly local bike store will help you out with. They'll try you out on one size, let you take a quick ride, adjust the saddle height, say "no, let's go one size up..." and so on. Don't get me wrong, we could start going into inseam length and exact bike models, but at the end of the day, it'll be much easier for you - and much, much more likely to result in a good match - if you just let the shop you're buying from do a fitting.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:03 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are billions of shops in your area. Shop for a shop that you have a good vibe about, tell them your budget and what kind of riding you want to do, and trust their recommendations.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:04 AM on August 8, 2011

The standard answer is to buy a "hybrid" or "fitness" model (usually the same thing). You may also want to look at "urban" or "comfort" styles, which are more slightly relaxed (more upright) posture. You will probably want to pay $400+ new; any cheaper will be heavy and generally un-fun to ride. This includes most bikes at big box stores.

If you go to a specialist bike store, you can, as other have said, ask for help getting the bike fit to you. It's not uncommon to as to swap seats or handlebar grips around when buying a bike. The shop should be willing to do that for you (modulo price differences).

For these reasons, advice from the sales people, help getting the bike fitted to you and possibly a warantee for service (a year is common), I'd recommend buying new for your first bike, at a specialist bike store.

A couple things to improve comfort:

Buy a bike that has smooth tires with very low (ideally no) tread. Bikes don't need tread at all on pavement at all. Tread makes the bike slower, the ride harsher and Sunday afternoon rides generally less fun. Again, the bike store should be willing to accomodate you when you buy the bike.

Fat tires are much more comfortable than skinny tires. A good pair of fat, smooth tires and a comfortable seat is all you need for riding on the road. You don't need shock-absorbing forks or other doodads that will make the bike cost more, weight more and be less fun to ride.

Budget a bit more money, $50-$75, for helmet, a lock, bell and a few odds and ends. You will probably want a holder (a "cage") for a water bottle. You might want a front basket---handier than a back rack for casual riding, IMO. If you buy these with the bike, you might get a deal and they will attach them for you.
posted by bonehead at 10:37 AM on August 8, 2011

It sounds like you really want a cruiser, and while it's true cruisers are cute, it might be hard for you to keep up with your boyfriend on one. I'm with the others here that you should check out a hybrid bike. You can find ones with a city/commuter bike style that you might like.

Helmet, lock, and front and rear lights should be on the top of your list of accessories. Front basket or panniers that attach to a rear rack are also quite helpful.

I also think it's a good idea to go cycling with more experienced cyclists to help increase your confidence level, street smarts, and safe habits.

You might also want to read the Bike Snob's book for added encouragement on just getting out there.

Have fun - bikes are great!
posted by queensissy at 11:01 AM on August 8, 2011

The best advice I got when I bought my first bike in years and years was: Spend much less than you want to or can afford to. Because after you start riding again, you'll have a better idea about what you want and you'll just want to replace your bike next year, if you find you're really enjoying it.

Buy a bike that seems comfortable, then when you have a better idea where you ride, how often you ride, what you like/don't like about the bike you're riding, replace it with something more suitable.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:15 AM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd recommend reading your local bike blogs. Most of these will have bike event listings and news for your area. It helps give you feel like part of a community and serves as a good way to stay motivated.
posted by chrisulonic at 11:16 AM on August 8, 2011

So your boyfriend got a mountain bike, but it sounds like you want something more for riding in the city?

Things to consider/talk about at the bike store:
Is this strictly for exercise?
How much dirt trail riding do you plan on doing?
How upright do you want to be when you ride?
Do you want fenders and a chain guard (to protect you/your clothes from water/dirt/chain grease)?
If you are a lady, do you want to be able to easily ride in a skirt?
Do you want something you can put a rack or a basket on to carry things?
What sort of gearing do you want (single speeds are easy to maintain, but gears are useful on hills)?
Aluminum (light, but stiff) or steel (heavier, but more comfortable to ride) frame?

Bonus midwest question: Do you want to be able to ride your bike in the winter?

PS--Ignore the people who might want to make you feel silly for wanting an esthetically pleasing bike. It's totally legit to want a bike that you think is both functional and stylish!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2011

I love bikes, but unfortunately they're a money pit. Stores will convince you that you absolutely need a $1000 bike with $300 of accessories in order to take a fun 20-mile ride with your BF once a week. Needless to say, they are lying.

Get a cheap used road bike for now, anything will do as long as it's in good condition. Once you've been biking for a few months you'll have a much better idea if you're going to stick with it, and if so whether you want to go in a racing bike or comfort bike direction. Then you can sell the used bike and pretty much get your money back!
posted by miyabo at 12:08 PM on August 8, 2011

Thanks for the input everybody, it's given me a good starting point.
I anticipate using the bike for shorter rides in the city, like a quick trip to the store, but I'd also like to go out on bike trails on weekends, and those would be longer rides. Would cruiser type bikes be uncomfortable riding on trails? I like the look of Giant's Suede DX W but how would it perform off-road?
posted by catatethebird at 12:38 PM on August 8, 2011

I like the look of Giant's Suede DX W but how would it perform off-road?

Not at all. Well, okay, you might get twenty feet but then want to kill yourself. (Yeah, slight hyperbole.) See how the saddle is behind the pedals? That makes pedaling harder. I predict that you will not be happy on that bike if you're not on asphalt. Cruisers are for cruising: slow, easy, upright on flat terrain.

Sounds like your boyfriend has the right bike for what you want to do. They come cheaper than that, and you can get a step-through version, or add on a chain guard or fenders. If you want to do the same things at the same speed, the same bike, or a similar one, would serve you well.
posted by supercres at 12:50 PM on August 8, 2011

Cruisers tend to be heavier than the other types mentioned here which would not be good for off road. I think bonehead is right about looking into "comfort bikes" as an alternative to the hybrid.
posted by cazoo at 12:57 PM on August 8, 2011

I would tend to go with miyabo's advice. Start cheap. But first go to a bike store and find out what size bike fits you. And find out why that size fits you. With that information in hand, it's not difficult to find a used old Specialized or Trek for little money.

If your off road riding will be limited to well packed dirt roads with moderate grades, any bike will suffice. Mountain bikes start to justify themselves once the off roading involves loose dirt/mud, and more extreme grades.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:17 PM on August 8, 2011

bonehead's advice is really good, especially the bit about tires.

I'll just add a few points:

First, a big saddle is not necessarily more comfortable than a small one, and a padded saddle might feel good when you first sit down but it can be really painful on a longer ride. I strongly recommend reading the late, lamented Sheldon Brown's advice about saddles (and the other articles on Sheldon's beginners' pages). In a nutshell, the saddle needs to support your "sit bones" (ischial tuberosities). A padded saddle can end up putting pressure on your soft tissues rather than on the bones, where it belongs. With a proper saddle you'll feel sore for a few days after you start to use it, but then things will get better. With a bad saddle, you'll always feel sore.

Second, when you say you want to go on "more rugged bike trails," do you mean paved trails, or off-road trails? If it's the latter, you should be looking at a hybrid or a mountain bike and your tires should have some tread. If you mean a more challenging paved trail, you can still get tires without tread. The Giant cruiser you linked to would not be a good bike for off-road riding, despite its (unnecessary) shock-absorbing fork in front.

Third, and this has (almost) nothing to do with the bike: you may find you're a slower rider than your boyfriend. If so, he'll have to wait for you or ride more slowly than he might otherwise do. Is he the kind of person who will be OK doing that, and are you the kind of person who would be OK being the slower one? Or it may turn out that you're faster, in which case the questions should be reversed. I'm a much faster rider than my wife (which does not mean that I am fast!), but I don't mind waiting for her, since the point of outings together is not for me to ride fast but for us to have a good time together. Some couples, though, don't bike together because they don't deal well with one person being a stronger rider. In some cases, those couples end up riding separately. In others, the person who is weaker stops cycling.

Still others end up buying a tandem because it lets two people cycle together at the same speed. But it creates other issues. I've heard it said that wherever your relationship is going, it will get there faster on a tandem....

If you can tolerate its earnestness, the Milwaukee Bike Collective might be a place for you to find a good used bike and get advice.

Safety is important. A helmet is less important than good handling skills and knowledge of how to avoid an accident in the first place. Bicycling Street Smarts, by John S. Allen, is a good read (and kudos to John for making it available free online!). But a helmet can't hurt, and it provides a convenient place to mount a rear view mirror, which is a very useful safety device.

And last, as with any exercise program, start easy and ratchet things up slowly. The great thing about cycling is that it's so easy to rest, by coasting or shifting down to a lower gear, but that can lead to overdoing it at first. There is a lot of advice out there about beginning a training program in terms of how often to exercise, the intensity to do it, how much time or distance to add, etc. I won't repeat any of that. Instead, my advice is to keep things fun. Pick an interesting destination to cycle to (this Saturday, my wife and I cycled to the ruins of a Roman villa about 12 miles northwest of us). If it's all about time on the bike, it can get to be a chore, especially at first. Once you've gotten used to riding and your bike is set up the way you want it, you can get serious about training if you want.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:47 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whoops, not sure what happened to my link (unless MeFi is filtering out links to commercial websites). I intended the rear view mirror link to point at an Amazon page featuring this mirror, though there are plenty of other good alternatives.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:49 PM on August 8, 2011

Something I learned myself: If you want your girlfriend/wife to ride with you, make sure her bike isn't any less awesome than yours.

I have a 1993 model hardtail (no suspension) mountain bike. I switched out the tires for 1 1/4" skinny street tires and it is my around town model. It's great, even after 17 years of riding. A year or two ago I bought my wife the same bike, or as close as I could find, on Craigslist. Same setup.

Before running the matching bikes game, we discovered that she had to work her butt off to keep up with me, even on my old bike. It wasn't fun for either of us. I won't buy a bike now unless I am planning to buy an equivalent model for her. Now in addition to the two street bikes we have matching trail bikes and equivalent-quality road bikes. On any of the sets, we can ride together as long as we want to ride, no issues. I no longer leave her in my dust like I used to, because she has a bike as good as mine.

Long story short, if you want to ride with your boyfriend, find a women's model bike that is the equivalent of his. If you buy a cruiser, be prepared not to ride with him off-street, and be prepared to work way harder than him to keep up when you ride together. If he hates going slow, you are not going to have a good time riding with him - either he'll be annoyed at the pace, or you'll kill yourself keeping up. Equivalent models means you have an equal chance to stick with him. Most brands have a men's and women's model for each level (for example the HardRock I bought in '06 now has a women's version, the Mica... if it existed in '06, my wife would probably have gotten that instead.)

Find a good bike shop, test ride a few models, and decide what you want - your bike, your way, or something like what he has so you can ride together.

I've got a thing for Specialized. Partly because after 17 years my first one is still in great shape and going strong. Some people like Trek or Giant or Cannondale or Gary Fisher or Surly or Kona. Any of those are usually good bikes. Just stay away from anything you can find in a big-box store; long-term, who knows how they hold up.

But really, why have only one bike anyway? I mean, obviously we have 6 in our garage... and when my son gets older, we'll add some more bikes. (Small ones, of course.)

BUT If you can only afford one bike now, or only WANT one bike (as weird as that is!), forget everything I said above (aside from the "is it important to me to ride with the BF or not) and get the one you'll use the most often and/or want to ride the longest. Add the others (trail, street, road, cruiser, etc.) if desired, and only when you have the cash and space to do so.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2011

My 21 year old son has ridden a $15.00 yard sale bike for the last five years. Despite the fat that I've considered it a death trap, he's gotten along just fine.

Yesterday he bought a 20 year old Fuji street bike from a flea market for $60.00, spent three hours cleaning it up with Simichrome, lubed it and adjusted the cables, and put new tires and tubes on it.

He thinks he's died and gone to heaven with his 110.00 investment, and it rides and looks like it's nearly new.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:26 PM on August 8, 2011

Yeah I'm on board with imjustsaying, get a yard sale bike and don't worry if you know nothing. Just ride a bike like you did as a kid and enjoy the sport. Then after you've ridden again and felt the exhilaration of biking and remember why biking was so fun as a kid, then you should consider investing more money into it. I would say that biking should not be the expensive gear oriented 'sport' that some enjoy it as. Biking should be a mode of exploration. You like old-fashioned comfortable bikes then buy one because you won't ride it if you don't like it and then you are just burning your money on an device you won't use.

I bought my bike from a garage sale 5 years ago and have fixed it myself every time it broke down. It's almost a new bike now, and I have also learned how to fix bikes. Everyone I know tells me "get rid of that POS bike, buy one that will work". But then I would have learned nothing and I would have taken much less ownership over this hobby.
posted by ubermasterson at 6:30 PM on August 8, 2011

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