It should have some wheels and some gears and stuff...
March 26, 2013 6:25 PM   Subscribe

So I need a new bike. Or a new-to-me bike. But I'm paralyzed by indecision - new or used? What kind do I want? How do I know which local shop to trust when they all have super-mixed reviews?

My previous bike was a Trek 7100 hybrid that I rode through college and grad school. It met a terrible fate thanks to a pickup truck and I am now bikeless. I liked the 7100 okay, but I'm not sure if another just like it is quite right for me.

I live too far from work to commute, but I'd like to start riding a few evenings a week after work and some weekends for fun and exercise. Probably rides of 10-25 miles on paved streets and some trails, but nothing offroad or mountainous. Suspension would probably be wasted on me.

I'm a big guy - 6 feet or so and about 270 pounds, so I definitely need something sturdy. My old bike got pretty uncomfortable on the butt and wrists after 8-10 miles. I don't really know much at all about how to size a bike, so I'd like to buy from a brick and mortar store where somebody will help me with that. I absolutely don't want to buy online or from craigslist.

I'm living just outside of Madison, WI, where there are a ton of bike shops, but no clear winner from online research. All of the reviews of the various shops have a couple of "these guys are the greatest!" and a couple of "these guys are the worst!" type reviews, so I have no sense whatsoever of who would be trustworthy.

So what do I do, MeFi? What kind of budget do I need to get something to fit my needs? $300? $400? $500? I definitely don't want to push much past that. If I could find somebody really trustworthy I'd love to just walk into a shop and say "My budget is $X and I ride like Y, what are my best bets?" I just don't even have a sense yet of the very basics I should be looking for - bike style, budget, new/used, etc.

Any and all advice is much appreciated!
posted by Rallon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're riding on paved streets and trails, there's absolutely no need for suspension. Beyond that, if your maximum budget is $500 or so, and you want a new bike, you're looking at an entry level hybrid. I think having a store you like is more important than the brand. An entry-level road bike is going to be at least a couple hundred more (the Giant Defy 7 looks decent for the price), and you may find that drop handlebars don't suit your style. For hybrids, the Giant Escape 2 or 3 would be decent; the Jamis Allegro Sport is just over your maximum price but looks OK (except that the lowest gear is higher than I'd want if you're going to encounter any really serious hills).

A couple of the problems that you mention don't necessarily depend on the bike. Saddles are easily swapped, and every serious rider has her or his own preferences. Generally speaking, harder saddles are better. Soft ones feel comfy at first, but your sit bones sink down into the soft material, which then puts pressure on your soft tissues that can result in pain or numbness. Hard ones take some getting used to, but once you've built up a tolerance for them, you can sit in them for hours.

If you get another hybrid, or another bike with flat handlebars, bar ends or Ergon grips (or the Ergon grips with bar ends!) can give you multiple hand positions. That's the best way to keep your hands comfy.

I always recommend Peter White's article on how to fit a bicycle. Read that before you go to a shop.

Finally, 270 lbs. isn't too much for off the peg bikes. I'd advise riding gently--avoiding potholes, unweighting the bike (standing slightly out of the saddle, with bent knees) if you are going over a big bump, etc. The part that's most likely to fail is the rear wheel, since the machines that build wheels don't do so as well as a human wheelbuilder. It's worth paying a mechanic at the shop a few bucks to check the wheel tension and retension if if necessary. That'll result in a much stronger wheel.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:15 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I didn't mention used bikes because it takes a lot of know-how to separate the sheep from the goats. That said, though, this Trek Multitrack 750 hybrid on CL isn't a bad deal if it's in good condition. Do you have a knowledgeable friend who could check it out with you? My Trek 730 hybrid gave me years of use, and I still use it for winter cycling. The 750 is a step up.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:37 PM on March 26, 2013

I was in your position a year and a half ago and I bought a Giant Cross City 4. It's served me well as a commuter and fitness bike, and with regular servicing it has suffered no mechanical problems. The Cross City is classed as a flat bar road bike - similar to a hybrid but a bit lighter and more streamlined.

Anyway, a year and a half later, I'm riding regularly enough that I've convinced myself I deserve an upgrade. I've chosen a steel road bike with drop bars - the Jamis Satellite Comp. This is more of a touring/road bike and a bit outside your budget, but I mention it because while researching it, I discovered the bike I wish I had bought as my first bike: the Jamis Coda Sport. Its US RRP is $560, so in practice you could probably get it for under $500. That's probably the right amount to spend on a bike until you're riding regularly and really know what you want. If you go much lower, you'll start getting into department store "bicycle shaped objects" - let me assure you that those are universally bad news and will cost you far more in money and tears and frustration over the long term.

Why I like the Coda: it's made of good quality steel, which means it won't transfer as much force from the bumps in the road into your hands, arms and spine. My Giant is aluminium, and although I like it in most other respects, my joints start hurting something terrible after a long ride. It's just harsh and unyielding. And although bike shops will tell you that aluminium is lighter, in practice the manufacturers make the tubes of aluminium bikes so large to compensate for its lower strength that the weight difference is measured in grams rather than kilos. In fact, my new steel bike will be lighter than my old aluminium one. Other good things about the Coda are that it has decent components and the necessary mounts for a rack and fenders, which means you can comfortably use it for carrying a load or riding in the rain. Even if you don't want to do those things now, it's good to have the option. The Coda Sport is an immensely practical bike, and it's pretty stylish, too.

So that's one recommendation, but to be honest the best thing is just to find a bike shop that sells a variety of brands and types of bikes, and try them all. Don't let the staff convince you that you need carbon fibre - at your budget it won't be good quality and you'll run into durability and safety problems. Also, most riders really don't need it - it's a technology handed down from racing, and it's useful in that context, but most of us would be better off shedding weight in more mundane ways - like riding more and eating less :) You also don't need suspension - in fact riding with suspension on paved roads will actually slow you down. Finally, look for a bike with enough clearance to fit larger tires (at least 28mm, preferably 32), in case you find yourself doing more trail riding. Some road style bikes will only take skinny 23mm tires and they're not much fun to ride on unless you're racing on a really smooth road.

Have fun bike hunting - I hope your new bike brings you much joy!
posted by embrangled at 2:48 AM on March 27, 2013

Oh - and the wide tires aren't just for trail riding - they'll also help dampen some of the bumps and relieve the pressure on your wrists and bottom when you're riding on the road. They don't need to be knobbies - just a tad wider than the usual racing tires, with a light tread.
posted by embrangled at 2:58 AM on March 27, 2013

Embrangled is spot on about wide tires. That used Trek to which I linked came with 38mm tires originally, which was nice for me as a heavier rider. On my current fleet of bikes, I use at least 35mm wide tires.

If you're riding only on pavement, tread doesn't matter. (Don't take my word for it: read the sage advice of the late, great Sheldon Brown, whose website is a treasure trove of bicycle information and advice.)
posted by brianogilvie at 6:52 AM on March 27, 2013

I suggest poking around a bit in the Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) section of If you have any questions that aren't answered by just looking, sign up and post your questions. They are an incredibly helpful bunch.
posted by Doohickie at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2013

Different bike shops focus on different clientelle and different types of bikes, even though they all have some general selection. This difference in focus is probably the source of the mixed reviews that you are finding online. Go into a bunch, and look for one that has a decent selection and staff that seem knowledgeable about the types of bikes and riding that you, personally, are interested in; and one where you feel welcomed. Bike shop owners and staff are generally bicyclists themselves, and many local bike shops sponsor their staff on teams for competitions. So another thing you can ask about to determine if a given bike shop is a good fit for you is what sort of biking the folks at the shop do. Do look into the links on fit and choosing a bike that other folks have posted here, too.
posted by eviemath at 10:11 AM on March 27, 2013

Does your area have any bike or triathlon teams? Might be a good source of intel on LBS. But even that might not be definitive; people from my (community) team use half a dozen different shops based on their geographical location/type of riding/personal feelings. So if you have a bunch of shops that are all about the same, pick 4 or 5, go to each one, and see what kind of vibe you get. At least one of them should be able to outfit you for $400 with something that fits, let you take it for an extended test ride, offer a 30 day return or exchange policy, and do all that in a way that lets you feel not demeaned.
posted by disconnect at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bike shops can be pretty hit and miss wrt serving 'non-standard' clients. Look for a shop that has good reviews from women or beginners. Even then, you can hit a terrible salesperson. Try not to take it personally, but take your business elsewhere.
posted by kjs4 at 5:17 PM on March 27, 2013

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