Help me pick out a bicycle
August 24, 2011 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I want a bicycle for fitness and a biathlon here and there. I don't want to spend a ton of money on a casual hobby but I don't want a bike that only lasts a season. What type/brand of bike should I buy or what should I look for in a bike for this purpose?

I've been running a lot lately and enjoy it (crazy, right?). I want to try a biathlon - there is a non-competitive one coming up soon and it's a short run and bike. The problem is that I no longer have a bike. I have been wanting to purchase one anyway for cross training on the days I don't run but I have no clue what to buy.

I'll be riding long distances on the bike on city streets and country roads.

Can anyone suggest a good starting out bike for me? I'm only competing to finish.
posted by bodgy to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When I first got the triathlon bug (note: a run/bike is a duathlon - biathlon usually refers to cross country skiing/shooting) I got a Jamis Coda hybrid. Sturdy enough to ride in the city, lighter than a mountain bike.

If that's too pricey, get it used and fix it up! In Philly, there's a youth program that teaches kids to fix up bikes and you can help out and get your bike fixed all at the same time. I've heard other cities have similar programs.
posted by Pax at 10:41 AM on August 24, 2011

It depends on your definition of "a ton of money." You're not going to find a new, high quality bike in the low to mid hundreds of dollars range. You can get something very passable and entry level in the 1000$ range. (Probably more like 1400-1600 dollar starting range for a road bike.) Those prices horrify most people getting into biking, but you really do get what you pay for.

For serious riding on pavement, I'd recommend a really decent drop bar road bike. If your country roads are gravel, you might want to consider cyclocross or even a hard tail mountain bike. As a general rule the beefier tires you get, the worse it'll perform on pavement, but the better it'll perform off road.

I'd recommend going into a local bike shop or two, telling them what you're looking for, and going for a test ride on a couple different bikes. There are a lot of companies making good bikes, the style and particular model will matter more than brand for what you're looking for. Any decent bike shop should be able to help you out.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2011

Find a person that Knows Bikes and go Used Bike Shopping. I bet you could get a used road bike with a 105 groupo (or something similar - the Knows Bike Person will understand) w/a tuneup and you'll be off to the races. Look for bike swaps in your area, CraigsList, etc.

Good bikes cost some money. Cheap bikes aren't worth the Cheap.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:45 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most bikes will last much, much, much longer than a season. Go to a bike shop, talk to an employee - see what they've got. That way you can look at things.

Most bikes that you'll get in a shop, you'll get the same bang for your buck - they've got similar parts at similar price points. There's no clear "this is the best deal" or "that is the best deal."

If I were in your shoes, though, I'd look for a road bike. A decent one will have an aluminum frame and a carbon fork. SRAM Rival parts, or Shimano 105 parts, are high-value, good bang-for-your-buck parts.

Don't forget when budgeting you ought to include money for a helmet, shoes, and pedals. Shoes and pedals that clip in ("clipless pedals") improve performance considerably.
posted by entropone at 10:46 AM on August 24, 2011

Specialized Allez - $730 (steel frame and downtube shifters, sweet!)
Specialized Allez - $830 (if you want aluminum and don't like downtube shifters)
Raleigh Revenio 1.0 - $549
Marin Portofino - $639

All of those have a lot of bang for the buck and will last you a lifetime with regular maintenance.

My advice for people who want to know what bike to get stays the same (for this price range): Don't shop for a bike. Shop for a shop that gives you a good vibe. Once you find a shop, tell the cool salesperson that you get along with what kind of riding you want to do, what your budget is, and trust their judgement.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:49 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

So you definitely want a road bike for your use cases. The above advice is good: find a good shop, go from there. There's really not much differentiation between similarly priced bikes in the sub-$1500 range, so a good shop is vital, and that good shop will be able to fit you well.
posted by The Michael The at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2011

I'd second spikeleeblahblah's recommendation. I wouldn't get too hung up on frame materials, which are the cycling equivalent of a beanplating discussion for where you're at. I would look for a shop that will, say, swap the stem, handlebars, and seat at no charge in order to get you positioned right, if that's what it takes.

I would definitely get a proper road bike with drop bars. If you don't have much experience riding one, it's going to take a few weeks to acclimate to the position. Don't let that deter you. It is more comfortable for longer-distance riding once you do.

Used bikes can be great deals, but as alex_skazat recommends, recruit a knowledgeable person to help you shop for one.

My impression is that new bikes start getting good around $700, and every dollar you add to that, up to around $1000–1500, gives you good bang for the buck. Beyond that, and you hit the point of diminishing returns where you're paying a relatively lot of money for shinier parts, marginally lower weight, that sort of thing.

Don't get too hung up on the brand. Parts are commoditized, and at your price point, the frame was cranked out of one of a small handful of factories in China or Taiwan. They're all solidly made, and vary mostly in design philosophy and appearance. Go with what fits.

Tires can make a big difference in ride quality—bigger than the difference between frames in many cases.

Remember to budget for all the other stuff you'll need—spare tubes, patch kit, frame pump, floor pump, helmet, gloves, clothes, lube, tools, water bottles and cages, that sort of thing.
posted by adamrice at 11:07 AM on August 24, 2011

I have the steel Specialized Allez mentioned above. As-is, it's fine. I put a few 20-milers on it right away. It became a MUCH better bike after changing the wheels (Velocity Aerohead laced to Ultegra, with Hutchinson training tires) and the drivetrain (6500-era Ultegra), but overall that was about an $700 upgrade (at least; I fear to look back at old e-mails).

For this question to be answerable with any specificity, we need to know:
-- Your price range (FOR EVERYTHING, including helmet, shorts, jersey, pedals, shoes, pump, seat bags, etc etc)
-- Your desired ride distances and terrains
-- How "leisurely" you want to ride

The nonspecific answer has been mentioned a few times: find a bike shop you (and others) trust.

If you want this to last any longer than a few rides, don't spend less than $700 on a bike with gears.
posted by supercres at 11:08 AM on August 24, 2011

I have a Jamis Coda hybrid which I love, although I've never had a really fancy bike, so maybe I don't know what I'm missing. It cost ~$600 at a Minneapolis shop. I ride in the neighborhood of sixty miles a week, almost never riding more than 20 miles a day. I'm a heavy, fairly muscular person. I've had the bike for four months and it seems to be holding up very, very well.

In fact, I get the feeling that the "you can't get a good bike for under $1000" conversation is pretty much like the "you can't get good shoes if you don't buy hand-lasted ones" one - in a sense it's accurate, in that there is a meaningful difference in quality. However, a lot of people don't need or care about the quality of the bike or the shoes beyond a certain point. I hate non- welted shoes; most people can't even tell what that means and are perfectly happy with their Kenneth Coles. What's more, if you take good care of your Kenneth Coles/modestly-priced bike, they/it will last fairly well. I've never, ever had a bike die after just one season, except a horrible used Schwinn from the early nineties with non-standard wheels - and that bike had seen a lot of seasons before it got to me.
posted by Frowner at 11:18 AM on August 24, 2011

I am not a bike expert, by any means, but let me share some thoughts with you. I am the type of girl that spends 800 dollars on a used truck, therefore I am not the type of girl who is going to spend 800 on a used bike. I am in the process of looking for a bike with similar aims as you.

I routinely find 700-900 dollar bikes on craigslist for 300. There are a ton of bike forums out there, I just google the make and model (like for a used car) and see what kind of reviews its getting.

Look for something called "road" or "city" bikes. Look for narrow as opposed to chunky tires.

Look for certain brand names: Fuji, Trek, Shiamo gears/components. Avoid Schwinn, Dynasty, and others. When you actually go into a bike shop, check out the brands they have, its a good idea of what brands you should look for. The brands at Sears or Target? Avoid those.

Bikes are like cars also in that there are new releases every year, look for a bike that is a couple of years old that shops are trying to unload. My boyfriend got a $1,000+ bike for $630 because it was a not the most recent model and the company was going to unload it.

But also, don't be afraid of some weird no name bike if you like it, my bf has this hybrid (much heavier and stockier than a road bike) that he loves, he rides all over in it. He rode a fifty mile race on it. Yes, bike snobs definitely give him the eye, but hey, it works for him. The $600 dollar bike? He just finished his second century ride on it.

My point is, for what you are describing you can definitely compete in races and train in something you can find at much less than might be suggested above, if you have the time and incliniation to really search out a deal.
posted by stormygrey at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

One vote against bike stores, or at least for giving online stores a shot. Your experience might differ, but I found that although I like the concept of local bike stores, the prices were WAY higher than what you can get at mail-order places like Nashbar and Performance Bike. Certainly check out your local store, but before purchasing, call the mail order places and see what they can do. If you can save hundreds of dollars, take some of that money to pay for adjustments and tuneups at your local store.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:29 PM on August 24, 2011

Mr. Know it some, is right about that btw, IF you know your sizing and don't need to try out bikes. REI has an awesome free, measure you up for a bike service and then you can test ride the bikes around the parking lot and buy somewhere else.

While Performance bike online is cool, we actually have a performance bike locally. I found a sweet Italian bike listed at 799, for 199 during their tent events. Tent events for the win.
posted by stormygrey at 12:39 PM on August 24, 2011

According to your profile, you are a lady. As a lady, all I can say is Jamis Satellite Sport Femme. I got mine for city commuting and adventuring and have come to find it's such a nice road bike that I've been doing longer and longer rides. It can hold its own on hardpacked dirt too. But — BUT — the reason it is more awesome than any other bike is Jamis really put thought into the ladies model. The top tube is shorter because proportionally women have shorter torsos and honestly, it is way more comfortable than the men's frames I've ridden around on (and I'm not short, so the men's frames "fit" they are just manly-shaped).

It runs in the $600-$700 range and is the quality you would get from $1000 bikes. I never knew I could love a company so much until I got a Jamis. F'reals.
posted by dame at 12:47 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm still really hoping to get a nice road bike, but I also want you to know that when I was in this very situation, I went out and got a road hybrid from Target which was on sale for $55. I bought it in 2002, rode it for fitness for several years, and then trained and rode in a sprint triathlon in 2005. I was still taking that bike on long road rides in 2009 when I had to move, and due to dumb packing difficulties I gave it away to a friend. She had it tuned up and she still rides it on light trail and road.

This bike ran like a dream and I just did basic maintenance on it, nothing fancy. Its only downside was its weight: a little heavier than you want for good racing times. However, with the tri mi sole goal was just to finish, so I didn't much care about that. I ended up finishing in the top half of the pack anyway, because a lot of people with better bikes don't necessarily know how to get the most out of gears and spin rate, etc. The bike certainly doesn't account for 100% of the performance.

Moral of the story: yes, nice nice bikes are better if you require nice nice things. But for utility riding, over the shorter haul of the next few years, if you're not super obsessed with high quality and brand names, you really, really don't have to spend that much.
posted by Miko at 12:49 PM on August 24, 2011

Shiamo gears/components

Did you mean to type Shimano?
posted by Miko at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2011

I am a beginner, casual/for exercise cyclist. I bought a road bike from and I am very pleased with it - especially for the price ($350). It has Shimano shifters/derailers. I put it together myself and took it to the local bike shop for a $20 tune-up to fine tune the brakes and shifting.
posted by gnutron at 1:17 PM on August 24, 2011 +1

But more than likely you'll need a bike shop to assemble it for you (so add ~100 for a build and fitting).
posted by dzot at 1:55 PM on August 24, 2011

I've had a Trek 800 Sport mountain bike for about a year, and I LOVE it. Mostly because I paid $75 for it on Craigslist, and took it to a shop for a $15 tune-up, for a total investment of $90. For a mountain bike, it's pretty light--I can easily lift it and maneuver it. It doesn't have shocks, which add weight to the frame. It also has a quick front-release tire, and I am able to fit it in the trunk of my Jetta with the back seat folded down. This saved at least $50 since I didn't have to buy a bike rack.

If you are doing road riding, you can still switch the tires out for skinny road tires suitable for roads. I really like the option of riding on gravel, packed dirt, and easy mountain bike trails with my little Trek. Since you plan to be a recreational rider, you just might get into riding around parks and easy off-road trails. A light mountain bike would give you the option to ride on these types of trails, too.

I can honestly say that my bike is one of the best purchases I have ever made. Have fun on whatever bike you choose!
posted by shortyJBot at 2:05 PM on August 24, 2011

« Older Mad Magazine for children?   |   Owie itchie hot hot hot Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.