What sort of bike to get
July 16, 2012 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Should I get an expensive new bike or a cheap used one? Any specific styles or models? Would the models the local bikes stores recommended be any good?

I would use it for getting groceries, tooling around the local (paved) trails and parks, random errands, visiting people, etc. It's hilly where I live so I figure a single-gear bike is out...my budget is about $500, less is better. I biked a lot as a kid but nothing much over the past ~ 20 years...for sizing purposes, I'm 6ft 3, 220lb.

I went to three local bike shops and got these recommendations:

Electra Townie 7D, for $450

Cannondale Quick 5, for $450

Trek 7.2FX, for $550

Would these bikes have much resale value in six months or a year if I end up not using them much? With the Trek I could do a day's rental, and if I buy it they would apply it to the purchase price. The others just let you do a brief trail ride. They all say they will do adjustments for the first year.

I could also just buy a $50 used mountain bike and put a rack/basket on it, then trade up if I regularly use it.
posted by aerotive to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The less you spend on a first bike, the less likely you will be to ride it. The better the bike, the more enjoyable it is to ride, and so you will. I think $700-800 is a good minimum if you can swing it, but like everything, that's a flexible ballpark.

The scenario usually plays out like this: you buy a cheap bike, realize you like biking but not on THAT bike, want to buy a more expensive bike, and now your cheap bike is worth next to nothing. The saying in bike shops goes, "buy once, cry once" .. spend a little more than you want to get the right bike, and if nothing else, it will hold resale better.
posted by kcm at 10:14 AM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe try buying a good used bike ($100-$200) from a reputable place? I bought a Japanese mountain bike (1990 Bridgestone MB-1) that is extremely light for a mountain bike, but has the wide wheels that I like for commuting/groceries. I bought it used but in good condition at my local bicycle repair shop for $300 and have been extremely happy with it. I balked a little at spending a significant amount of money on a used bike, but when I test-rode new commuter bicycles in the same price range (~$300) there was absolutely no contest. A good quality bike handles better and you will enjoy it much more in the long run.
posted by permiechickie at 10:18 AM on July 16, 2012

I have pretty much always loved every Trek I've ridden, so there's that. It may cost a little extra but generally speaking you get what you pay for.

Some thoughts and considerations:

I grew up riding BMX bikes (like most kids in my area), then moved on to mountain bikes from my early teens (when I lived in a small town and rode a lot of dirt trails) to my mid twenties (when I lived in the city, which I still do). My advice is that there's no real reason to ride a mountain bike if you're sticking to paved areas, unless you intend to beat the shit out of the bike, and even then I'd say just get a road bike and pay for the occasional rim truing and tune-up.

Mountain bikes are heavier and you'll find that riding them in the city is a lot more bother than it needs to be, especially on uphills. I didn't really notice this until I switched to a hybrid and the difference was like night and day.

The problem with buying a cheap used bike is that you then have a cheap used bike. If you buy a K-Mart Special off of Craigslist and something goes wrong with it, a lot of shops won't touch it because they can't get the parts. Also, they just generally suck. I've tried to save some cash in the past by buying cheaper bikes and I almost instantly regretted it.

Also: Size is important, especially for someone of your height. If you buy a cheap used bike, you are pretty much limited to whatever's on offer from the person you buy it from. If you go to a shop, they'll have some different ones and you can make sure the size is just right. This is really important - another mistake I've made has been to buy a bike that's built for someone just slightly shorter than me and after a while they are literally painful to ride.

Some of the stuff you'll love or hate won't be obvious until you've had a chance to use the bike a while, so I'd say to go the rental route with the Trek and see what you think. Chances are pretty good you'll fall in love with it and that will be that.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:26 AM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would buy the Trek. I'd disagree with kcm on pricepoints -- for someone who hasn't been on a bike for a while, a new bike for ~$500 is going to ride like a dream. I don't think you'll appreciate a more expensive bike until you've had a chance to ride a decent one for a while.

A good used bike is an option, but absolutely don't buy the $50 bike if you're hoping to use it at all. It will take so much effort to ride around town that you'll stop riding it in no time.

I was in a similar situation to you a year ago (not having ridden as an adult, same height/weight) and I bought this bike and love it. It seems pretty similar to the Trek. I ride it every day and I'm starting to eye $1000+ bikes jealously but I think I've got a few more years on this one.

A couple years ago I took my dad's old box-store mountain bike to use for a summer and after that experience I thought I'd never ride a bike again. Don't do that.

Also, get sized properly at a bike shop so the seat/handle bars are at the right height. It makes a difference.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:30 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I purchased a very nice road bike about four years ago. I commuted to work everyday on it for two years before moving. I did chores and rode it for pleasure. I spent about $300 for the bike and $150 for a good helmet, lights, bags and mount.

Perhaps I lucked out. But the shop I purchased from is almost universally admired and has a good reputation for their used bikes.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:31 AM on July 16, 2012

If you have skills to maintain a bike, the cheap used route is the way to go, especially for someone your size. A $50 20 year old mountain bike with a flat and some rust beats any $500 new bike with hugs and kisses from a bike shop.

If there is a bike co-op nearby, that would be a great way to go. A great way to get a customized used bike and some maintenance skills while spending a moderate amount of money.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:31 AM on July 16, 2012

The less you spend on a first bike, the less likely you will be to ride it.

Might be true for some people, but definitely not universal, assuming a baseline quality level (comfortable, fits you, runs reliably and smoothly). If you're not used to biking, a cheap starter bike can be very very helpful in telling you what you want to spend money on before you spend hundreds on something that isn't really what you want. And if you end up hating biking, far better to waste a couple hundred than $700+.

I'll be in your position soon with about your budget to replace my ailing cheap bike sometime (bought new for 250$ about 6 years ago, used very frequently and maintained poorly). My next bike will be higher quality (used or new) purely to reduce the odds of something cheap breaking.

For your purposes, I'd go for a good quality used hybrid bike, if you can find it - I doubt you'd be able to find anything decent for 50$ but maybe a few hundred. Any good bike shop will be able to tell you what "good quality" is.
posted by randomnity at 10:34 AM on July 16, 2012

In your budget range, I'd go used. New bikes at that price won't have high quality components, which make the difference between a frustrating experience and a pleasant one.

I would strongly recommend against a used mountain bike - most of them are cheaply made, with poor quality components, and knobby tires = SLOW on pavement.

If you want to go cheap used, get an old road bike off of craigslist, such as the ubiquitous Schwinn 10-speeds floating around. Have the bike shop do a tune up and replace the seat (unless it's one of the coveted Brooks Brothers saddles, you might want to keep that). Total cost should be under $250, say $100 for the bike, $100 for the tuneup, and $50 for a high-quality seat.

The only caveat is that at 6'3", you'll have to hunt a bit to find a frame that's big enough for you. You should be able to (just) stand over the frame.
posted by zug at 10:34 AM on July 16, 2012

I love my Townie 7 and do more or less exactly what you described with it. I was also an "adult novice" when I bought it.

One thing you didn't mention is where you're storing this bike. I live in the city and bike theft is like a roaring force of nature. Unstoppable. I wouldn't leave my bike parked in daylight in front of a cop car with a giant chain on it. This really has really dampened how often I use it. Sure I can take it to the farmers market, or on a casual trip around town, but not really out to bars or shows.

The bike has such a high resale value that it makes it a mark. A cheapo rebuilt bike from craigslist parts? I still wouldn't park it anyplace overnight, but I would be a lot less worried about it during a movie or long grocery store trip.
posted by fontophilic at 10:37 AM on July 16, 2012

Get the bike that you enjoy riding.

The Trek and Cannondale will probably have pretty similar rides. They'll be relatively sporty compared to the Electra. Test-ride everything you can. Test-ride stuff that's out of your price range to see if you notice the difference. Or way under your maximum, again to see if you notice the difference.

Buying a used bike is a big question mark. You might get a great deal, you might get a piece of crap. For $50, I think it's more likely that you'll get the latter, but you should be able to find something used that's not crap for less than the new bikes, if you're persistent and patient.

But spending money on something you're not going to use and enjoy, even though it seems like a great deal, is a false economy.
posted by adamrice at 10:42 AM on July 16, 2012

Check local pawnshops. I bought my son a fairly decent Trek for $60 [don't recall the model, but craigslist seemed to say $200 was the regular used value]. The bike shop reported no problems when we had it checked over.
posted by chazlarson at 10:47 AM on July 16, 2012

I suggest a used bike from a store that is known for selling used bikes. You're going to get more for your money than you might with a new bike, but you're still paying a markup for the bike shop's expertise. Here, the shop's expertise is worth the premium for you -- you don't know enough about bikes (without a TON of research) to be able to tell a good used bike from a bad one. Plus, you'll get tune-ups, etc. from the shop, and they'll be able to fit the bike to you, which is important.

Have any friends your height? Do they have bikes? Try those out as well to try and get a feel for what you like riding.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:11 AM on July 16, 2012

Agree with the used bike, I would go for a road bike since your area is hilly, but if you're not confident in your bike-riding skills or have any latent phobias about bikes, maybe get a MTB.

Trek, Fuji, Cannondale, Bianchi are preferred, Raleigh, Schwinn, Nishiki, Puch, are like second tier.

Shimano components are pretty standard and solid in terms of quality. They're not the best and there are many levels of quality within the Shimano name, but they're pretty good to start with. When you go to check out a used bike, there's some stuff you should probably do:

1. Inspect the tires for any sort of rotting/wear. Feel each spoke and check for looseness, this may mean that the wheel is untrue (bent, crooked, etc).
1b. Check the frame for big dents. Determine if the weight of the bike is going to be a problem.
2. Get on the bike. Start riding. Shift through every gear and feel out how smoothly the derailleur (gear-changer_) works. If you live in a hilly area it is essential to have a functional derailleur. Check the chain for rust.
3. Try the dang brakes. Over and over. You'll probably be best served in replacing brake pads, which can be done easily on your own for ~10.

If any of these things are not up to standard, you are within your rights to ask for a discount. All of these things (well except like dents) can be fixed but they're gonna cost money. It's probably easier to get a new wheel than to retrue. If the chain is slipping when you start moving quickly, you may have to replace the chain and the cassette (which should be changed together) which can cost like, 50bux.
posted by sibboleth at 11:55 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just came to say I love my Trek so much I named her . . . Genevieve. No kidding. It took a few bike rides to figure out her identity, but then it came to me. She was last year's model, but I bought her new.

So . . . I vote for the Trek. New.
posted by bearwife at 1:09 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you going to lock it up outside? I wouldn't lock a $500 bike up outside.
posted by twblalock at 2:44 PM on July 16, 2012

"Have any friends your height? Do they have bikes?"

No one comes to mind right off, but I will ask around work too.

"If there is a bike co-op nearby"

Yes there is one group, had forgotten about them...will definitely check it out.

"Are you going to lock it up outside?"

No, it'll be kept indoors. Have a basement with an outside door.

Based on Sibboleth's comment I looked around some more locally and found a new Fuji 4.0 Crossover, it's a lot cheaper at $250. Decent or not? Also is the stuff at bikesdirect.com any good?

Thanks much to everyone who replied.
posted by aerotive at 3:09 PM on July 16, 2012

For what it's worth, I got a $200 road bike that is atleast twenty years old on craigslist with drop handlebars and slim tires a few weeks ago, and I am really happy with it. I consciously was looking for a cheap bike because I leave it locked outside occasionally and I have the mentality that it will eventually get stolen. The bike is very well maintained and probably lightly used. I didn't look hard for it -- I am sure you could find something similar if you looked on CL.

Look for bikes with steel frames rather than aluminum ones since steel has a fatigue limit and the frame is much less likely to crack over time.
posted by cornmander at 3:43 PM on July 16, 2012

Nashbar has a steel road bike with a rack and an 8sp internal hub for $399. I can't personally vouch for them but I've heard decent commentary.

I have had two bikes from Bikes Direct and my experience with them was fine. I sold one of them for close to what I paid and the other I could probably get the same because it has some cachet with the sw8 fixay crowd. I wouldn't get one from them thinking you'll keep all the stock parts, though - I did a lot of upgrades on mine, in one case more than I paid for the bike itself.

Vintage Japanese steel road bikes are almost always a better and more versatile option, with a stable resale value if you live in a bike-friendly area. But can be a pain to find a good one if you don't have a bike nerd friend to help you pick one out.

another suggestion: troll the forums at bikeforums.net to get an idea of used brands that might work for you and how much work you might be in for in terms of upgrading or maintaining.
posted by par court at 8:49 PM on July 16, 2012

Want to follow up to this question.

I ended up getting a this Giant Iguana no-suspension mountain bike for $75 from the bike co-op. Hoping it will be more reliable than a random craigslist bike. Only thing I will do immediately to it is get a rack and basket. Might get street tires later on.
posted by aerotive at 9:22 AM on August 8, 2012

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