Zombie needs a hauler to collect more brains
October 26, 2011 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about bikes. It's been a long time since I've owned one, and when I did I trashed that thing, being a kid and all. Now I would like to get a new one, and one that I can love for many years to come. So, please share your thoughts on brands, hardware and tech.

I'm really just looking for your open viewpoints on brands, technology, makes & models and their specific uses, and maybe your specific build and why you love it. No right or wrong answer here, and I'm not in a rush, this is more focused for a springtime purchase

Some basic info to carve your answers/ideas from:

- I live in Minneapolis (Uptown area), so it's fairly bike friendly, and I'd really like to get a bike to run basic errands with, and maybe go to work (~14mi) once in a while.

-I'm not into speed, so I'm not looking for a light frame, or a racing bike, and I'm really not looking for a mountain bike, just an errand and general use bike for town. A friend of mine once said "A Mr. Zombie bike goes slow" but I corrected him by saying "A Mr. Zombie bike does not go fast"

-I've been keeping my eyes on the Surly brand, mostly because they're popular in my area, and I know a few people that love them. I'm not married to that brand, or any brand

-I've really been liking the look and feel of a Surly Big Dummy, but I'm open to something smaller if it hits the right nerve.

I know that I'm going to hear "get to Penn Cycle or The Alt and just see what feels good", but I'd like to go in there with at least an idea of some brands to focus on, hence this question.
posted by zombieApoc to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What's your price range?
posted by Think_Long at 12:01 PM on October 26, 2011

For anything short of very expensive or small-market bikes (touring, etc.), brand is almost irrelevant. You interface to the bike through your hands and fingers, tail, and feet. All four of those items on the bike almost certainly won't be made by the company that makes the frame. Shop by features and quality of components.

Do you want to have a rear rack to haul more than your backpack? Plan on riding in the snow at all? Long distances? Those sort of things will dictate the features you want; then you simply buy the nicest components you can tolerate. Stay away from the lowest tiers of shifters, brakes, etc. (collectively known as the gruppo) as they're generally quite crappy and prone to early failures. Once you get into the middle tier (Shimano 105, SRAM Rival/Force mix, etc.) the components are nicer than you'll be able to notice; beyond that tier you're largely paying for weight reduction.
posted by introp at 12:09 PM on October 26, 2011

I really wouldn't get too hung up on brands. Except at the low end—below about $500—the quality of bikes these days is pretty damned good. My feeling is that above $500, for every marginal dollar you spend up to about $1500, you get really good bang for the buck, and after that you run into diminishing returns.

Most bike frames, regardless of label, are cranked out by one of a handful of giant factories in China (one of them having the name Giant, in fact). So construction quality is going to be very uniform between brands: what differentiates them is going to be design philosophy.

The parts that turn those frames into finished bikes have become rigorously stratified by quality tiers and functions, and Shimano dominates that market. Some people will identify a bike's quality by the parts on it: "that's a Sora bike."

Surly has a good rep, and makes some interesting bikes with no frills, so they're certainly good to have on your list. The Big Dummy certainly counts as an interesting bike. If I were in your shoes, though, I'd probably want to get more of an all-round bike than a dedicated cargo bike. Look at their Long Haul Trucker, for instance.

One thing that some makers skimp on is tires, which can make a huge difference in ride quality. When you find a bike you like, ask the sales clerk what he thinks of the tires on it and whether an upgrade would be worth it.
posted by adamrice at 12:15 PM on October 26, 2011

14 miles says (to me, anyway) that you should be looking at a road bike. That Big Dummy will not be fun to go for long distances on asphalt; it's overkill unless you're carrying kids on the back (and I had a coworker who did just that).

Your price range is the key here, and whether you'll be riding in bad weather. But even without knowing any of that, take a look at Linus bikes (no they're not all single-speed), or Specialized's Globe sub-brand.
posted by supercres at 12:33 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love my Surly and know many other people who love theirs, so it would be a fine choice if it fits you.

That Big Dummy is an Xtracycle-format frame. The Xtracycle idea is a lower-performance, higher-utility bike than most people choose, but it may be what you want. Keep in mind that there are many options along the cargo bike route besides the Big Dummy.

My brother built up an Xtracycle with their Free Radical and an old 80's-era mountain bike, and he loved that thing. Around town, off-road touring, giving a friend a lift, whatever - his bike could handle it. Took a little know-how to put it together, but the Free Radical plus a cheap pawn shop mountain bike gets you Big Dummy function at a fraction at a price.

You could also try out the Kona Ute, which is not Xtracycle-compatible but is a similar idea.

Or you could do a regular bike with baskets. My daily commuter is a cheap rigid steel MTB with a 3-speed coaster hub and a gigantic basket on front. I love it - the basket is perfect medium-sized cargo capacity without too much extra weight.
posted by richyoung at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My standard bit of advice: Buy your bike at a bicycle shop, not at a general store like Wal-Mart or Target. It is not the case that you're buying a similar item at a better price by going to those stores. Rather, the stuff they sell is, for the most part, crap that is frustrating to ride and which will likely fail after very little use. Even the cheapest bike at a real bicycle store will be an order of magnitude higher in quality.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:04 PM on October 26, 2011

I just bought a Trek 7.5 FX disc which sounds like the kind of thing you might want. Having ridden a mountain bike for years, hybrids are much, much less tiring even if I do miss the sofa-like quality of mountain-bike shocks. As others have noted, above $500, it's really down to the brand that suits you - and a good bike shop should advise.

One thing I would recommend is a back rack and panniers (Ortlieb are good, if pricey). They are so much more comfortable and less sweaty than cycling with rucksack.

Oh and with Shimano parts, the main difference between the various levels (Deore and above) is weight. Unless you are intending to compete in races, you really, really don't need XTR components. Even if they are cool.
posted by rhymer at 1:31 PM on October 26, 2011

The Surly Cross-Check will last you a good while. The stock components aren't great but for your purposes (and mine) they're probably fine. I love mine.
posted by prior at 1:40 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Brands mean nothing. The most important thing is to completely know the ins and outs of your bicycle. If you can disassemble it and put it back together, you are in a good place. Not that you will necessarily do it. But that you might have to. The knowledge is what will keep you riding. It's the key to making any bike work well. In any price range.

I find what keeps bikes off the road is that they demand more attention than, say, a modern automobile. Tires routinely need air and get flats far more often. Cables go out of adjustment all the time, chains need lubrication, cleaning and replacement regularly. If you ride hard on an expensive lightweight bike, things simply break more often than you might expect.

I've found that cheap bikes don't necessarily need more maintenance or are less reliable. More expensive bikes get you lighter weight or better durability. Sometimes both, sometimes not.

If there's a local bicycle co-op, it's a good place to start. You can gain all kinds of knowledge about bike maintenance, and put together a good rideable bike for yourself. If you like Surly, the sky is the limit on customizing.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:47 PM on October 26, 2011

price is not really a worry. I'll save up if I need to get the bike that works the best for me.
posted by zombieApoc at 1:53 PM on October 26, 2011

Hoo boy. If I were getting a kick-ass all-weather hardcore commuter/errand runner, and price were not a worry, there are two stops I'd take before going custom: Trek Soho Deluxe and Globe Live 3. Both have internal-geared hubs with belt drives (goodbye chain maintenance!) and front disc brakes (hello all-weather stopping power!). Both can haul-- people fit cases of beer in the Live's basket. Both have full fenders to protect you from the elements.

Either bike will keep you riding year-round, even in Minneapolis, perhaps with the addition of studded tires. And they'll be just as at home on asphalt on a summer day.
posted by supercres at 2:07 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is currently a quiet revolution going on in North American cycling, where European-style city bikes are becoming quite popular, and spawning locally-made imitations. Linus bikes, mentioned upthread is one maker. Public is another. European marques such as Batavus or Pashley are also more available now. These are all older-style bikes, with heavier frames, and relatively simple set ups. They are usually steel (very often with straight-tubes, which won't mean anything to you, but does affect weight), with extremely solid construction, and designed to be versatile and low-maintenance, but by now means fast. They make nice commuters and shopping bikes and easily accept racks, panniers, and child seats. However, they are often pricier than similar aluminum-framed utility hybrids, made by companies such as Koga-Miyata. There are also debate over internal hubs (low-maintenance) and derailleur shifters (more versatile).

That being said, if you haven't been riding for a while, the bike you first select may not be the ultimate bike for you. Until you've figured out your relationship with riding (which will continue to evolve), your best bet is to pick a bike in your bike range and go with it until you realize what you like and don't like about it, then upgrade. Go to your local independent bike shop (not a big box), and tell them what sort of riding you want to do. They will help you chose one. Buy the one you like and ride it. Ride it a lot, in different conditions and with different objectives. I don't know Minneapolis, other than its reputation as a cycling city, but Calhoun Cycle seems like they know what they're doing. Buy the one you like and ride it. Ride it a lot, in different conditions and with different objectives. Over time, you will figure out what you want, and by that point you'll be ready to educate yourself on bike styles, components etc.

In six years (after having spent 15 years off bikes), I've gone from a Schwinn cruiser to a relatively high-end road bike, set up exactly to my specs. In that time, I've also taken classes in bike repair and built out my own single-speed. Your trajectory may be different.

The Surly big dummy is very popular and has a great reputation as a hauler. So does the Kona Ute. But don't ignore bikes with a more traditional road or mountain geometry. Something like the 29" (wheel size) Surly Ogre will be good on the road in various conditions, and will easily take fenders and racks.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:19 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sorry, that's pick a bike in your price range.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:20 PM on October 26, 2011

TheWhiteSkull brings up a great point:
the bike you first select may not be the ultimate bike for you.

And that has been a thought weighing on my mind.

I'll look at the above suggestions some more when i get home tonight. Thanks a lot people!
posted by zombieApoc at 3:20 PM on October 26, 2011

the bike you first select may not be the ultimate bike for you.

Yes, but don't let that worry you. Whichever bike you get now will probably be fine for you. If the Big Dummy calls out to you, it's probably the right bike for you at this time. By the time you're ready for another, you'll know it, and you'll know better what you want. Riding is what will make the difference. Similarly, don't get hung up on components, wheels, etc. Any of the bikes mentioned above, purchased from a reputable shop, will come with a decent components that are perfectly appropriate to your needs right now.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:53 PM on October 26, 2011

Calhoun Cycle is a nice shop, and it's right next to a coffee shop in a prime location of town.

The Linus and Globe do look nice, and I never really knew they made bikes with belts instead of chains, that's pretty damn cool.

Thanks richyoung for the Free Radical idea, that may just be the ticket for my future (get a nice commute/street bike now and then pickup something else used later when I feel the need for a Cargo bike).

Rhymer's suggestion of the Trek 7.5 FX disc seems to be pretty on the money.

as for the Surly Cross-Check, how does your back feel riding that? I've never really used a bike for a while with those racing handles (not sure what the term would really be), but they seem like it would be a drastic change from the norm. And that has kept me kind of away from look at that or the Long Haul Trucker. But that fear of back or neck pain may not be warranted
posted by zombieApoc at 5:47 PM on October 26, 2011

On a bike with drop bars, you'll actually spend most of the time on the hoods, that is, the parts that stick out from the bars and lead to the brake levers. On modern bikes, the shifters are also on this part, and they have rubber grips to support your hands. Typically you go into the drops when you want additional power, but for the most part you can ride on the hoods or the flat part of the bar. Go into the drops when you feel comfortable doing so. The more you ride, the more you'll learn to hold yourself up using your core muscles (abs and lower back) rather than your shoulders/upper arms. If your bike is fitted correctly (another reason to buy from a specialist independent bike shop), this will be much easier.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:57 PM on October 26, 2011

Huh. Good info. Thanks
posted by zombieApoc at 6:10 PM on October 26, 2011

I ride a Bianchi Volpe that I got at Flanders Bros. Cycle on Lyndale and 27th. It's a cyclocross bike like the Surly Cross-Check, but it fit me better. It also has brifters (shifters integrated with the brakes), whereas the Cross-Check has bar end shifters. When riding around Uptown and in traffic I feel a lot more in control if I don't have to move my hands off the hoods to brake or shift - it's tough now to go back to the downtube shifters on my beater road bike.

Other awesome parts about cyclocross bikes: the bottom bracket is a bit higher off the ground than other bikes, so you can jump curbs and stuff better. There's a lot of flexibility for tire size, too - you can run knobby tires for winter/off-road riding as well as skinny slick tires for road riding. I have a heavy-duty rack on it and commute with serious panniers, fenders, etc.

As for shops, Calhoun Cycle is awesome, and the Alt and Penn Cycle are good, too. I also like the Hub Bike Coop (Lake St and Minnehaha, or on Cedar by the west bank of the U). Stay away from Re-cycle in Uptown.
posted by Maarika at 7:42 PM on October 26, 2011

I walked into Re-Cycle and got the worst vibe. Walked right back out

Thanks for the thoughts on the shifters.

Maybe i'll hit up Calhoun Cycle soon
posted by zombieApoc at 8:05 PM on October 26, 2011

Also - if you are really put off by drop bars, the bike shop should be able to swap them out for the handlebars of your choice. This should be cheap, if not free when you're buying the bike (I just got crash-damaged handlebars replaced for $30, including labor). Another modification you can do is to ask for brake levers on the flat part of the bar as well as on the hoods. My office-mate has a Surly LHT set up like that.
posted by Metasyntactic at 8:05 PM on October 26, 2011

I walked into Re-Cycle and got the worst vibe. Walked right back out

Good instinct. They seem to have some of the most inflated prices on rehabbed bikes I've ever encountered.

I really do enjoy the Hub off of Lake and Minnehaha. It's pretty casual, but they're usually friendly and know their stuff. I know they have at least a few Surly's as well. (Plus if you go on a weekend evening, you can stop by Lake Harriet brewing right next door for free beer samples!)
posted by Think_Long at 11:24 AM on October 27, 2011

I hit up Calhoun Cycle today, and I have to say they didn't seem like they wanted me as a customer, it was like pulling teeth to get the person to try and make a sale to me. I hit up Tommy T's Cyclery and found a very happy and excited individual who wanted to not only make a sale (whether it was to his shop or another, he seemed more about getting another person on a bike) but wanted me to feel comfortable. I'll be going back.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:11 PM on October 29, 2011

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