Modest Mountain Bike for Student@CU Boulder
May 26, 2013 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Our son is leaving for college at CU-Boulder this fall and we want to buy him a bike. We are looking for a bike that will allow him to get to and from classes and to bike into the nearby mountains. Here's our dilemma: As a teenager, there's no guarantee that he's going to take up mountain biking in a serious way so I don't want to break the bank (to me spending $1000 on a bike is breaking the bank) and have him only ride it to and from class. OTOH, we want to get him something he could do some mountain riding and if he got interested enough, he could replace it with something better without much trouble. Suggestions?
posted by BillW to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total)
Since you also don't know from first-hand experience what campus lockups are like or how reliable your son is going to be with that or what bike theft is like, I'd start with local used bikes, which are pretty cheap. If this turns into a thing he's really into, you could gift him a nicer and/or newer bike over Christmas break?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:25 AM on May 26, 2013

Low-end Trek like the 820?
posted by sfts2 at 8:24 AM on May 26, 2013

I spent the better part of 6 years going to school at CU and biking Boulder. After seeing all the freshman's brand new bikes get trashed in a year, my recommendation to you is to consider this first bike a "beater" to just get him around town. It will get left outside in the rain and snow, it will be poorly maintained, it will get banged around on the racks, and, hell, the front wheel might even get stolen. I suggest buying him a cheap bike now (new or used, it doesn't matter), then after a few years offer to buy him a nicer bike when he's living off-campus and has better storage accommodations.

If you want a NEW bike, take him to a local bike shop and have him test ride a couple of different style of bikes in the $300-$400 range. Avoid Target, Walmart, etc type of places - the quality of parts on bikes from these stores are poor. I recommend spending a bit more and buying a bike from a bike shop, plus you might get a meaningful warranty.

If you're ok with a used bike, hunt around on craigslist for a bike in $200-300 range. There are some used bike shops in Boulder - I like The Boulder Bikesmith. Community Cycles, a local Boulder bike "collective", might also having something.

In addition to the bike, get him a good lock, a set of lights and maybe a helmet. The lights should be removed from the bike when it's parked as they'll get stolen VERY fast anywhere on campus or around town.

P.S. If your son is at all mechanical inclined, the "Bike Station" on campus provides free tools for students to use to perform maintence on their bikes, and is staffed with very bike-savy folks who are willing to help teach him.
posted by mrrisotto at 8:35 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a very active community, Boulder does swift business in used sporting gear. You might try Boulder Sports Recycler or a Play it again sports store in the area. Or the other resources above. Get him a good lock and show him how to lock the bike up properly. Also, a word of caution, my boyfriend got a ticket while riding his bike on campus for rolling through a stop sign. It was over $100. The campus cops don't mess around.
posted by rachums at 12:17 PM on May 26, 2013

Best answer: Mountain bikes are not ideal for a college campus despite the number of students you will see riding beater Rockhoppers. They are for mountains and trails - sure you can get from A to B in town on a mountain bike, but if you're not even sure he wants to ride trails, there is no reason for a suspension, disc brakes, etc. on a campus bike. If 80%+ of his miles are paved, having those things just makes the bike more breakable, expensive to maintain and slower/heavier. If he wants a mountain bike for actual trails, he's better off renting on the weekends until he's really into it and riding often and knows exactly what he needs, and having a second bike for around town.

The ideal bike in your budget will probably be used, have fatter tires that can handle bad weather, maybe fenders for rain and slush, and a sturdy frame that can take some abuse (no ultralight road frames and no suspensions). Some 80s/90s mountain bikes will actually fit this bill, since they're from a time before suspensions were standard, and some hybrid frames made in the last decade will also work
posted by slow graffiti at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2013

Best answer: yea there really aren't that many legit MTB trails easily reachable from campus anyway. I second the notion to go with something cheap-n-cheerful from Community Cycles, preferably in a citybike or street hybrid sort of profile.

Additionally you can PM me for further insight. I live just a few blocks south of campus and am a pretty serious cyclist (and amateur racer) with lots of ties to the community. Bike theft is a huge deal on campus; there are professional thieves who do sweeps at opportune times of the year (beginning of fall / incoming freshmen is one). My husband and many friends are also CU grads - we could likely give y'all some more tips and tricks to both finding gear and avoiding problems.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:24 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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