I need a bicycle
June 20, 2005 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I need a bicycle for riding around the neighborhood (3-5 miles) and perhaps a bit of exercise. I am willing to go with either a used bike or new one. Please help with suggestions. (more details inside).

I am on a budget (not more than $100 tops) and don't know what would be a good choice or where to look. I've looked on Craigslist (NYC) and have seen many options but feel even more confused than before. I'm not even sure if I should be looking for a mountain bike vs. a 10 speed? I don't plan on doing any tricks but I am riding in a very rough urban environment.

I'm 5'10 and about 200lbs if that is important to the decision making process.

Any suggestions?
posted by derekislost to Shopping (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You should be looking at a mountain bike. The fat tires are more resilient and cushioning, and the upright position is safer for urban riding. And you can put on low-profile (not knobby) or even slick tires - and keep them pumped to maximum - to roll faster.

(The exception to the mtn-bike suggestion is if you find a "hybrid" you like - they combine mtn-bike positioning and handlebars with road-bike-size wheels - thinner and larger.)

A used steel bike is more likely to be in better shape than a used aluminum bike - aluminum doesn't hold up as well if bent or notched.

You don't need any kind of suspension for urban riding, so don't pay extra to get it. (Yes, even if the roads are crap - just keep a light touch on the handlebars and stand up a little over bumps.)
posted by caitlinb at 8:13 AM on June 20, 2005

I don't know if they have one wherever you are, but, in Salt Lake we have a Bike Collective. I just got my wife a new (to her) ride there. They have hundreds of old donated bikes. And for a small fee they will fix one up for you. Or, for an even smaller fee, you can use their shop and their tools and fix one up for yourself. It's a great idea and a great way to get a good bike for very little money.
posted by trbrts at 8:18 AM on June 20, 2005

In place of "steel" you'll often see steel frames labeled as "cro-moly" which is what you want.

I agree that you should be looking at a mountain bike, and if you can afford to pick the tires you want (rather than what comes on the bike already) then move to a non-knobby variety - though frankly most inexpensive mountain-bike-style bikes come with tires that have a relatively round profile tire, with the center relatively flat for smoother/easier rolling.
posted by mikel at 8:22 AM on June 20, 2005

For $100, you're not going to get much. Definitely go used. Whatever you do, don't get an x-mart bike, because at your weight, and if it's being thrown around, it won't last and could be dangerous.

Brands that you should try and get are Kona, Specialized, Trek, GT. Even used, the components on one of those bikes will be far superior to anything you could buy new for that price. For what you want it for, I think a hybrid would suit you. A hybrid is somewhere between a mountain bike and a road bike.

Frame size is important. There should always be at least 2 inches of space between your crotch and the top tube (that's the tube between the handle-bars and the seat), when you're standing over the bike with both feet flat on the ground. At your height, I'd guess at a 16 inch or 18 inch frame. Trouble is, one manufacturer's 18 inch frame will be different from another's. So, go to a local bike shop and get them to measure you up for a few different bikes. That'll give you a good idea of what size you should be looking for. Just because they measure you up, you're under no obligation to buy a bike there. Don't think of it as wasting their time, because at some point, if you like their attitude, you'll probably be going back there for new components for whatever bike you get.

Good look, and don't be discouraged if you don't find anything right away. There's plenty of bargains out there.

On preview, in terms of strength there's very little difference between steel and aluminium frames. The main difference is in terms of flex. An aluminium frame is more rigid than a steel frame, giving slightly better power delivery.
posted by veedubya at 8:29 AM on June 20, 2005

Don't forget to budget for a bike lock and a NEW helmet (you don't want to risk getting one that's damaged), if you don't already have them.
posted by teg at 8:33 AM on June 20, 2005

s/Good look/Good luck/
posted by veedubya at 8:34 AM on June 20, 2005

Previously, on AskMe
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:52 AM on June 20, 2005

I'm one inch shorter than you, and roughly the same weight, and I've done 125+ miles on a "X-Mart" bike (a Magna I bought at Target for $70). For the amount you're willing to spend, I'd recommend one, but I'm under the impression you don't have any Targets nearby.

According to bike books, the chain store cheap bikes are roughly the same quality as really expensive bikes 20 years ago. Sure, it would be nice to get something expensive (and I will eventually), but it's nice to have a bike that wouldn't be a huge loss of stolen or broken.

And you can put the left over money into buying a good helmet (My helmet cost $40).
posted by dial-tone at 9:08 AM on June 20, 2005

From the NYC craigslist, I would check out this $85 Specialized and this 18-inch $100 Cannondale. Those are both solid bikes but make sure the size is comfortable for you, as veedubya said -- I'm 5'10" and ride a 21-inch Specialized.
posted by naomi at 9:16 AM on June 20, 2005

I just finished fixing up an old 10-speed I bought at a garage sale for $20. I ended up having to get new tires & tubes, a new brake bolt assembly, and new brake shoes for the front tires. Total cost was around $40, but now I have a very usable roadbike. I already have a mountain bike, but it's a nicer one for trail riding and I wanted something I could leave infront of buildings and not have it get stolen (-no one- would steal this POS, but yes, I do run a chain through the back tire just in case).
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:26 AM on June 20, 2005

and I've done 125+ miles on a "X-Mart" bike...And you can put the left over money into buying a good helmet (My helmet cost $40).

That's bad advice. In terms of safety, it makes a lot more sense to invest in a bike that isn't going to disintegrate when you're riding it, rather than invest in something that's going to provide, arguably and at best, some small protection in the event of that disintegration. An x-mart bike will not only, by necessity, be built of the cheapest possible components, but will also probably be assembled by someone that has dubious qualifications for the task.

For cycling, 125 miles is nothing. After a month of riding, a new bike will need to be adjusted because, amongst other things, new brake and gear levers stretch, brakes and gears bed in, and spokes get loose. Will Target do these adjustments for you? If not, you'll be riding something that could well kill you, because any one of those things can be fatal. Bikes are not toys, they are machines that are capable of propelling people at speed. That means that cheapest is not best.

Check out naomi's suggestions, those bikes are far more suitable to the task than something that looks like a bike that you'd buy from Target.
posted by veedubya at 9:49 AM on June 20, 2005

If not, you'll be riding something that could well kill you, because any one of those things can be fatal.

I am apparently far less worried about being killed on my bike than you are. Then again, I can repair my bike if I have a problem, and have never had a flat tire. At Target, at least where I live, the bikes are assembled by the company that manufactures the bikes (which happens to have a plant here) so I'd imagine they know what they're doing.

For cycling, 125 miles is nothing.

The poster said they only plan on doing a few miles at a time, which would take a very long time to accumulate the miles. I've done the 125 miles in the past 2 weeks. Granted, if they can afford something nice, they should get it. I still don't think a cheap bike is the death trap you see it as.
posted by dial-tone at 10:16 AM on June 20, 2005

Then again, from the buy the best tool you can afford perspective, you might as well get the absolute top of the line that you can afford.
posted by dial-tone at 10:19 AM on June 20, 2005

I just bought a Gary Fisher Tiburon at a yard sale for $50. It's an aluminum frame hybrid (3 chainrings in front like a mountain bike) with tires a little wider than a road bike. They're only ~$350 new, so you may be able to find a used one in your price range. Mine is an older one and doesn't have a suspension fork, but I think some of the newer ones do.
posted by 445supermag at 10:32 AM on June 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

dial-tone, I mean no disrespect, but you are wrong. Even if you don't have enough sense to think about your own safety, you should have some regard for the safety of others. What happens if you're around other cyclists, in heavy traffic, when you get chain suck caused by cheap, poorly assembled, components? The answer is something nasty, as I saw less than two weeks ago when I witnessed a moron riding a worthless piece of cr*p take down two others who'd had the sense to invest in the stay-in-the-gene-pool fund. This happened on one of the busiest junctions in this country, in rush hour. And yes, the idiot was wearing a helmet that probably cost as much as his bike.

Not had a flat tyre in two weeks and 125 miles of riding? I don't see what you're getting at.

Also, and again meaning no disrespect, how many people out there who think it's sensible to ride around on a $70 bike, also have the ability to give that bike an initial service and keep it well maintained? My guess is that if you continue with that sort of mileage, your bike will not last six months without you spending serious dollars on keeping it going. Then, after that expenditure, you'll end up with a low quality, high priced bike. It was cheap, because it is cheap.
posted by veedubya at 11:24 AM on June 20, 2005

I do bike-snobbery with the best of 'em. I ride ~1500 miles/year between commuting and pleasure, and own 2 bikes which originally retailed for over $1000. Both bikes are now well used and well maintained.

Having said that: When I started graduate school and lived on campus 7 years ago, I knew I wanted a cheap bike that I could ride the 1.5 miles between lab and home and lock outside without worrying about theft.

I bought a used Motiv (wal-mart bike) and U-lock for something like $40 for the pair. (I think I bought it at the end of the undergraduate school year and got a deal from a graduating student.)

The bike was poorly maintained, but with a spoke-wrench, Tri-Flow and a brake adjustment it rode pretty well. I had low expectations of the bike, but it held up remarkably well during the 4 years I used it for casual campus riding. I sold the bike 2 years ago to my PhD adviser's son, who had started as a Freshman here, and he's told me again and again it's a great bike for riding around campus. It's not a theft target, and it, surprisingly, holds together. The only real problem with the bike is that the rear wheel is bent, but it's not rubbing the frame (yet) and it's further motivation to ride the bike gently.

I'd never take that bike out for a pleasure ride, as it was never a joy to ride. But it was no death-trap either. I sure-as-hell wouldn't have sold it to my adviser's son if I thought it was going to kill him.
posted by u2604ab at 12:06 PM on June 20, 2005

I'm a semi-regular city commuter (in Los Angeles) and I highly recommend finding a "hybrid" or "city" bike (or one of the thousand of other silly names they assign to them).

Myself, I bought a lower end Specialized for around $300, brand new, and aside from a little bit of an annoying issue with the rear brake shifting and rubbing if I don't watch it, it's a charm. You should be able to find them for a song used.

For city riding, the heads-up attitude of a hybrid or mountain bike was really key for me. Don't expect car drivers to keep an eye out for you. And invest in safety... it's worth it. If you're riding at all at night, don't be macho. Get a good light (the little LED headlights/taillights) that you can buy these days are inexpensive and work well. Get yourself something garish with reflective properties. Most of my life is spent trying to avoid drawing attention. This is one time when you want to draw attention to yourself.

Other thing... don't know about your home location, but here in California, bikes have equal protection and rights to the roadways. This is absolutely critical to safety. If you can't safely ride the side of the road because of restrictions and/or people opening car doors preparing to make you street pizza.. Take the lane. It's your right to do so. (Of course.. check local laws and factor in your likelihood of getting hit by irritated drivers)

And hey.. have fun with it. (And don't be surprised if you have to kick a few doors.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:47 PM on June 20, 2005

I use a bicycle for my primary mode of transportation in and around Phoenix, and I just want to formally ally myself with those suggesting that it IS ok to get an "x-mart" bike. I purchased mine, a dual suspension mountain bike, for about $100 even at Target, and I have zero complaints with it considering some of the other figures floating around the new and used bike price guides.

Shortly after I bought it (originally intending for it to be an occasional alternate vehicle to local events with limited and expensive parking,) I realized that I wanted to bike much more extensively than perhaps warranted by such a cheap bike. The cool thing about this is that bicycles are very modular with minimal mechanical skill, and starting with the parts I felt were most lacking I bought better aftermarket parts when time and cash flow permitted, turning it into what I think at this point is a pretty respectable bike by any standards.

I don't know how appealing this sounds or whether it actually saved me any money (I can't afford to even learn about bike snobbery,) but a "Frankenstein" bike like this is a pretty good way to not get too deeply into your new hobby too soon or to spread out the cost of the better bike you'll probably end up wanting if you stick with it.
posted by moift at 1:48 PM on June 20, 2005

Long time roadie, recent MTB-er chiming in... Go with a used mountain bike. Reasons being:
1) You'll have more options available. Mountain bikes, especially low-end, seem to be more plentiful in the used or "last year's" marketplace.
2) If you find out later you want to go off the beaten path occasionally, you'll be able to. With a road bike ("10-speed"), or hybrid, not so much.
3) Comfort. In my experience, the upright position seems to be more comfortable to newer or less experienced riders.

Know how to change a flat, and carry appropriate tools with you (other cyclists will appreciate it when they stop to help).

And I will reiterate what others have said - get a helmet. One that fits. $30 should be enough. Good luck, and enjoy!

My credentials: Owner of three bikes (road, MTB, commuter), more tools than I know how to use, "bike snob" rating 6.5.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:51 PM on June 20, 2005

Here's another vote for a mountain bike. And yeah, buy and use a helmet. Helmets are cheap, brain surgery is not.

Also, since you're in or near NYC, check out this auction site: Property Room. You should be able to land a decent entry-level Trek or Specialized for ~$50-60, and since most of the auctions take place in the NYC area, you can pick it up. (Be careful, though; some auctions are based in LA, and shipping is expensive.)

Have fun.
posted by cog_nate at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2005

i've put thousands and thousands of miles on bikes that cost far less than $100. i love putting old bikes to new uses and i think that's what you should do, too. your local bike shop or co-op will have just what you need.

that said, i've just gotta say... for what you want to spend you should NOT:
a) expect a shop to measure you to your 'new' bike or perform unnecessary adjustments or mods to the bike; they will ensure that it's safe-to-ride, and wish you well; that is all.
b) expect your 'new' bike to perform to on-trail standards in any way; this does not mean you should not ride off road, in fact i would encourage you to; but if you do so, be prepared to bust stuff and potentially walk home. what you bust you just might learn to fix... nothing wrong with that either.
c) become discouraged when your 'new' bike has mechanical issues; used bikes have issues. used people, too.
d) judge/assess/evaluate your bike as a mountain-bike, a road-bike a cruiser or anything else; in this application (rough urban environments) a bike is a bike is a bike; be ready and willing to ask anyone who disagrees with you about your ride-of-choice to step outside... if you're already outside, challenge him/her to a race!

have fun riding.
posted by RockyChrysler at 2:52 PM on June 20, 2005

Buy a used MTB from a major manufacturer like Specialized, Trek, Giant, etc. The upright riding position is suitable for riding in traffic and the sort of use that you have in mind. Plenty of on-line guides for keeping it going (bikes are pretty simple). Avoid Bike Shaped Objects from big boxes. Yes, most of the assembly is done at the factory but the final work is done by unskilled people. Dry bearings, poor brakes and bad shifting are just not a lot of fun.
posted by fixedgear at 3:51 PM on June 20, 2005

walmart.com accually has a lot of cheap bikes, a one gear cruiser will run you $60+15 to ship. if your offroading get some goop for your tires and some tuffies at nashbar.com
posted by psychobum at 6:10 AM on June 26, 2005

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