Help buying a women's bicycle
April 14, 2014 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I've never bought my own bike before but I think it's time. I'm currently riding a hand-me-down men's road bike and Citibikes and I like a lot of (different) things about each. I've been to a couple of local bike shops and got some recommendations. I would like to hear Ask me recs both about specific bikes and about the bike buying process in general. I will mainly be riding this bike in NYC, hopefully to commute regularly between Brooklyn and midtown (8-10miles each way), I'll need to shlep my day bag on it (a clip on to the back rack), regularly carry it up and down minimum a half flight of steps, and lock it up on the street (day time only, not over night) without being too paranoid. I think my top budget is 1k but I'd love to get it lower.

This is what I like/don't like about the road bike I'm riding now:
+ I love the light weight, love it so much.
+ I love that it's fast and I can do hills even though I'm not the strongest rider
- It doesn't quite fit me. It feels like I get a lot of weight on my arms and some soreness in my back. I think having a women's specific bike would help with this.
(NB, the bike frame has been damaged such that multiple mechanics have both approved it for this season but don't like the long term odds on it, it seems to break down all the time, and I'm tired of pouring money into it, so despite what I like about it, I'd rather not keep it).

This is what I like/don't like about the Citibikes I ride regularly:
+ I love the upright posture and the general ride, so comfortable!
+ I love love the low-step. Not just because it's easier for wearing dresses and skirts, but because I can so easily hop off if the traffic is ridiculous, walk on the sidewalk for a block, and hop back on. Or hop off to jay walk (yes, I got a very expensive ticket for running a red light on a Citibike).
- It's too heavy and too slow. It's fine for the generally very short trips I do with it (2 miles max) but I would get too annoyed for carrying it home, and it would be too slow to justify commuting with (even my fast bike is already meaningfully slower than the subway).

I think my dream bike would be an upright step-through that's as fast and light as my roadbike, but I guess something has to give.

I'm fairly tall for a woman (about 5'8) and the bike I'm riding now is my step-dad's old bike (he's around 5'11), so theoretically I could do a men's bike, but I think if I'm going to pay real money for a bike I want it to fit great.

Here are the bikes I've been recommended so far (by local shops):
**Trek 520 ($1290): This is out of my price range, a men's bike, and a bit heavier than I'd prefer. But it was wonderfully wonderfully comfortable to ride (the bike shop had put narrower handlebars on and tipped them upwards).
**Kona Coco ($699) and Jamis Commuter 3 ($750): The bike shop didn't have either of these in stock. They leaned towards the Kona Coco, partly for the disk brakes, but liked the covered gear mechanism in the Jamis. (Also, the other bike shop said that Jamis is much slower with warranty parts and replacements and they've stopped carrying that brand). I'd have to put down a deposit for half the cost, but if I didn't like the bike after a test drive, could apply the deposit towards any other bike. They also offer free tune-ups for the life of the bike, which is great because I have poured so much money into mine just over a few years.
**Raleigh Alysa 2 or 3 ($599 and $799): Not a step-through but a woman's bike that they said would be fast and comparable in weight to mine. Didn't get to ride that one either.

Personally I'm very open to a used bike and don't care at all about color or anything, but none of the shops I stopped at carry used bikes and I don't feel I have enough knowledge to make a discerning second hand purchase.

Some other considerations/questions:
** I seem to have bad bike luck. Things constantly need repairing and for the moment I'm ignorant on bike maintenance and ideally would remain so at least for now. That said, I'd rather not be at the shop all the time. So having a bike that is less likely to need constant fixing would be great, and worth paying extra for.
** Bike direct: I'd love to pay less for a better bike and I've seen this recommended on other threads. On the other hand, the shops near me seem to offer meaningful perks for buying from them (test rides, free tune-ups, etc) that might make up the difference.
** Mainly I'll use this bike for getting around the city but hopefully will get to do occasional longer countryside rides. I don't have the space to have more than one bike, so this bike is it. I hope I'll keep it for years or even decades.
** $1k is a huge bike layout for me, but I can manage it. If it's between a $400 barebones replacement for my current bike - that I'll be itching to replace/upgrade within a year or two - and a $1,000 bike that I'll love and keep forever, I think it's worth it to me to pay more now.
** Weight - I'm finding it really hard to get a sense of how much bikes weigh. It seems like many websites purposely don't list it. Some of the bikes I lifted seemed to weigh, naked, as much or more than my current bike does with a kickstand, ulock, rear rack, water bottle holder, lights, etc. The Linus bikes were recommended in another AskMe and I really like the look of the Scout and Dutchi, but for all I know they weigh as much as a Citibike!

tldr questions:

General recommendations for a first time bike shopper. Feedback on these specific bikes, or specific recommendations for other bikes. Recommendations for preferred places to buy a bike in Brooklyn or Manhattan.

(I've seen these past two questions and found them super informative, if only, in a way, more confusing: But Which Bike is Right for ME? and What kind of zippy bike to get?)

Thank you!!
posted by Salamandrous to Shopping (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Being a new biker myself, I only have a recommendation on bike shops:

I bought a new bike in September last year from NYC Velo, which is a great bike shop. They have a location on 2nd Ave (b/w 3rd and 4th) and a new location on 45th and 11th. They do lifetime service for free on bikes you buy from them, and weekend group rides leaving from the 11th Ave location. Great people, and I'm super happy with the bike I purchased there. Good luck!
posted by Grither at 7:22 AM on April 14, 2014

So, lightweight and step-through are two things that don't go great together, partly just because a step-through frame is inherently less sturdy and partly because step-through bikes come with a lot of other features that weigh the bike down. Personally, for an 8-mile-each-way commute I'd want to trade weight for the convenience of the step-through.

I have a Trek FX 7.3 WSD (WSD = "girl version") and I enjoy it very much on my current commute (~4 miles each way) and have happily done a longer (~7 mile each way) commute on it as well. It's nowhere near as upright as a bikeshare bike, but it's much more comfortable for long distances, climbs, etc. The Trek FX series also has a step-through version at some of the price points (7.1 Stagger) but I'm not sure if the 7.3 is currently available in the step-through. I'd definitely recommend the FX series - they're good everyday city bikes, and not so fancy that you lie awake worrying about them.
posted by mskyle at 7:36 AM on April 14, 2014

Also, a step-through frame is inherently less stiff than a triangle frame built with the same materials, and part of what makes a road bike ride well is the stiffness, not just the light weight.
posted by mr vino at 7:39 AM on April 14, 2014

You're on the right track, keep test riding. If you decide on that Trek and it's slightly out of your price range, do what you can to get your budget up to it. Paying a little more for the bike that's better to you is definitely worth it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:53 AM on April 14, 2014

I have purchased several folding bikes from Ridethisbike. He has videos of the folding/unfolding process. You may want to check out a Strida Evo, although it may be out of your budget. The wonderful thing about folding bikes is that you don't have to leave $500+ lying on the street where no one cares if it's stolen.
posted by Sophont at 7:56 AM on April 14, 2014

I was looking for many of the same things as you and just bought a bike that I - so far - love.

The Brooklyn Bikes Willow 3-speed or 7-Speed might satisfy your needs - step-through, upright, fairly light for a commuter bike. I test rode a 3-speed last week and quite liked it. It weights 28lbs. A bunch of places in NYC sell it (check out their store locator).

Otherwise, there's a new brand just released called Simcoe, designed by a Toronto company. I ended up buying their 3-speed after test-riding it and the Brooklyn Bike Willow 3 because I found the Simcoe faster because it was geared higher than the Brooklyn (Citi-bikes are geared pretty low, so you end up just spending your wheels after you get going pretty fast). They sell them in NYC at Adeline Adeline (147 Reade Street, NYC). The Simcoe weights about the same as the Brooklyn, although they inexplicably do not list this on their website. It has similar specs to the Linus Dutchi 3, but is slightly cheaper.

I went into my search wanting the Linus Dutchi 3, but ended up not getting one because I liked the other options better. The Linus Dutchi weighs 32lbs. Citibikes apparently weigh 45 pounds (this info below the 2nd photo). We have similar bikes for our bike share in Ottawa and you're right - they're SLOW and HEAVY.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:35 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think having a women's specific bike would help with this.

The only difference between a "women's bike" and a "men's bike" is that one has that familiar diamond-styled top tube, and one doesn't.

The only reason for this difference is that, once upon a time, women were likely to need room for their skirts.

If you wear a lot of skirts and find it difficult to ride your current bike because of that, sure, by all means go for a "ladies" bike. But there are a lot of reasons not to make the switch.

1. Carrying your bike up stairs is so much easier with the diamond-frame style
2. You're tallish, so there should be plenty of diamond-frame bikes out there that will fit you.
3. Getting off the bike is not going to be difficult if you have a properly sized bike.

Your first goal should be a bike that fits you -- just riding a properly sized bike is going to be a revelation to you in terms of what you think you're looking for. If I were you, I'd go ride some properly sized bikes and see what you think.

Re secondhand bikes, start by going to a shop that sells them. I'm not sure where you're shopping now, but every bike shop in Brooklyn I've ever been to has at least a few secondhand bikes. The shop refurbishes them and they're just as road-ready as a new bike (if not moreso because you don't have to order and wait for it to come in).

Re some of your other concerns:

1. This is probably going to change if you opt for an ordinary "city bike" style bike as opposed to a "road bike", especially a new road bike (I swear by old ten speeds, but the newer stuff out there is pretty clearly not for tooling around town, it's for specialty sports type use). Also, weirdly enough, an older bike may help with this. I spent years riding around on a 20 year old low-end Panasonic ten speed. My boyfriend had a brand new Cannondale. Guess which bike needed constant maintenance?

2. I would not get a mail order bike if your main problem with your current bike is that it doesn't fit you. The best way to decide if you want a particular bike is by taking it for a test ride. Maybe Bikes Direct is good for people who already know exactly what they want, but that doesn't sound like your situation.

3. If you want cheap, get an old ten-speed. If you want new/swank, I'd look at Kona and Surly. I would not get a new Trek or other mainstream brand road bike -- as I said above they are not really made for everyday commuter use at all and can't do double duty in the way that other bikes can.

4. $400-1000 is a great price range for a bike. You need to get away from shops that are trying to sell you on a new road bike, because that's not what you want and also out of your price range.

5. Yet another reason to only buy a bike you can test-ride.
posted by Sara C. at 9:16 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention -- if you like a more upright style, you may want to look at Linus bikes.
posted by Sara C. at 9:18 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a man and about your height. I have a Gravity Avenue A hybrid road bike (purchased from Bikes Direct) and a Downtube Nova folding bike purchased from Ebay.

I think that a folding bike could meet some of your criteria -- from the video, you can see that the frame on mine is low enough to step through, and the seat post is high enough that you can adjust it to a comfortable upright position or to something more aerodynamic. It is almost like a one-size-fits-all bike so long as you are above a minimum height. Its maximum speed is somewhat less than my road bike. Both weigh about the same (about 24 lbs without a lock or a rack). The use of aluminum alloy in the frame ensures a lightweight body - I point this out because some of the more inexpensive folding bikes use steel and can be twice as heavy. I prefer the folder for comfort. It is also easier to start and stop compared to the full-sized road bike. Also it is easier to transport on the subway.

If you plan to go with Bikes Direct, you could consider shipping directly to a bike shop and have them tune it up (I haven't done this myself though).
posted by icemill at 10:01 AM on April 14, 2014

Best answer: hello and welcome to biking in NYC!!

i would NOT go with bikes direct as it does not sound like you have repair/setup experience in your corner (yet! we can work on this!!) the bikes from there come unassembled and you would have to have a shop put it together for you and test everything before you rode it in order for it to be safe. right now it's spring so a lot of shops are really really busy so you wouldn't be their first priority, so it may take a while to get that set up. also, the reason bikes direct bikes are cheap because the parts that come with the bike are often junk - my most recent bike i got from there is a single speed Windsor Clockwork and the freewheel wore out after only four months, and i ended up replacing a lot of other parts on the bike as they just didn't fit right or feel good. it's cheap but for good reason, so unless you know exactly what is listed on the site and if it will work for you, i would skip that route and go for something you have felt up in person and know will fit you well.

other shops to check out: Bicycle Habitat in Soho and Red Lantern in Clinton Hill.

i would get an aluminum hybid or lightweight cruiser (modern, not vintage cause those are heavy) since it sounds like you want comfort. ditto what was said about there being little difference between what is men's vs. women's bikes these days - however, i have noticed on a few bikes that are advertised as women specific some of the top tubes have been shorter, which makes for an easier reach. that said, the geometry of a bike will vary more from the type of bike (road vs. cruiser vs. track) than from if it's said to be designed for a man or woman.

for locking up in the city i would get a kryptonite chain lock and a small mini u-lock. is that overkill? maybe. but if it comes down to a bike thief taking the bike with one lock vs. the bike with two locks, which bike do you think the thief is going after?

also as a fellow woman cyclist here in the city (riding the exact same route every morning as you!) may i additionally point you in a couple directions community-wise:

WE Bike NYC - a community of women who ride bikes: "WE Bike NYC is a community of women who ride bikes! Our goal is to provide a safe space for women to ride together regardless of skill, speed and riding style. Every month we offer a variety of events to get more women on the road including social rides, training rides, mechanics workshops and “field trips.” Rides are open to all women, trans, and gender non-conforming people with a bike!"

i often ride with WEBikes and i've made some great friends through there. it's a good group of people to ask your questions to as everyone in the group has various levels of experience and interests. there is a facebook page you should check out and communicate with all of us directly!

Times-Up holds weekly free bike repair classes, as well as Womens and Trans friendly bike repair classes on certain days of the month. check it out here.

please feel free to memail me if you have any additional questions about riding around the city! i've been here 8 years now and i ride year round and i love talking bikes bikes bikes. good times!!! :)
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 10:13 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing Red Lantern in Clinton Hill. The folks over there are amazing! Very friendly atmosphere. And they have secondhand bikes, which is something you mentioned being interested in.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 AM on April 14, 2014

If you really like the step-through frame, you might consider a mixte frame. (Even though I recommended against in in a previous thread you linked to.) You get the advantage of a missing top tube but it's more rigid than a full step-through--although you still have to a bit of a leg swing, as this article points out. The article mentions Soma's Buena Vista as one example.

For hopping on and off my bike quickly, I usually do the cowboy mount, and I often use the scooting method shown in the video in uncrowded intersections.

Some other considerations:

You might find a properly-sized road bike to be quite comfortable. Look for a stem with some rise on it. Many "entry" road bikes will have this feature. An adjustable stem is a common feature on hybrids; you could put one on a road bike but purists won't be impressed. (Road bikes are supposed to fit, so normally one would have a fixed stem at the correct angle.)

Besides a frame sized for a short torso, women's bikes might have not-so-wide handlebars and brakes sized for small hands. These are parts that can be easily swapped out (or a shim can be added to brake levers to shorten the reach.)

I have a rear rack that's thinner than the usual style, since I never need to strap stuff on to the top of it. I think it looks nicer on my road/commuter bike and I like to think that the (slightly) lower weight and streamlined profile helps.

I don't know what kind of hills or wind you'll be tackling, but single-speed bikes are lighter and require less maintenance than geared bikes. It's crucial to get the gearing ratio right, however. Internal-gear hubs require less maintenance than derailleurs, but can be heavier and more expensive.

I also strongly recommend picking up some basic maintenance skills. There are a lot of things that can be easily done at home with $25 worth of tools that would prevent costly and annoying trips to the mechanics.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:14 AM on April 14, 2014

One tip about dismounting and traffic and running red lights.

Just wait at lights. It does not significantly affect your commute time. I have never understood the NYC cyclist penchant for running lights. I mean, sure, if there's absolutely nothing coming, no pedestrian traffic, and not a cop in sight. But I biked all over NYC for years and just... waited at lights. It's really not the end of the world.

Traffic, too, should not be a factor here. You're meant to ride up alongside the cars and wait at the front of the line of traffic. Sometimes this can feel scary, on narrower streets, so I understand the desire to get off and walk. This is why I always preferred to stick to streets with marked bike lanes. The cars aren't going to clip you, I promise.

It might be worth picking up one of those NYC Bike Safety pamphlets you see around from time to time, or take some kind of Bike Commuter 101 type of workshop to get the finer points of safe riding and how to handle various situations.

I'm a huge fan of the power to get off and walk if that's what works for you, but I wouldn't buy a special bike just because I'm leery of waiting at a light or operating my bike around cars.
posted by Sara C. at 11:20 AM on April 14, 2014

The only difference between a "women's bike" and a "men's bike" is that one has that familiar diamond-styled top tube, and one doesn't.

This is not true, at least not anymore. At least if you are talking about road / triathlon / road-ish commuter bikes, there are a lot of "womens specific" bikes that have diamond frames rather than step-through frames.

An average man and average woman of the same overall height will have (on average) different ratios of leg length to torso length. So the "womens specific design" (WSD) bikes typically have a shorter "cockpit" (distance from seat to handlebars) for a particular frame height (bottom bracket to top of seat tube). And sometimes that means a different head tube angle in order to compensate for it while keeping the wheelbase the same. Some manufacturers use different cranks and brake levers as well.

Obviously, individual mileage may vary ... I think they'd do better to market the bikes as "short torso" and "long torso" versions, similar to how some of the backpack manufacturers sell their gear, rather than as "mens" vs. "womens", because there are short-torso'ed men who'd fit better on a WSD bike than on a typical mens bike, and longer-torso'ed women who will feel cramped on one, but bike sizing is already complicated enough as it is.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:47 PM on April 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since the OP is looking for a city/commuter bike with upright geometry, and wants to spend under $1000, a WSD road bike is pretty specifically not what she's looking for.
posted by Sara C. at 1:07 PM on April 14, 2014

Sara C., the OP's own parameters (which she herself admits might not be attainable all in one package) are at cross-purposes. A lightweight bike and a step-through frame and up-right positioning, that works well for both commuting and weekend rides, is going to be hard to find in one rig. (Also, riding on a marked bike lane is no guarantee of not getting into a collision with a car. Stripes on a road do not confer magical forcefield status.)

OP, you can be sure that you are riding a bike that is too big for you. If you are keen on a better fit, you need to go to a shop that will fit you. And by that, I don't mean getting eyeballed by the mechanic on duty as you're sitting on the bike wearing street shoes. Find a local shop that takes your purchase seriously, and buy there. Don't try to bargain them down. They will take care of you. Tip the mechanic when he does something for you last minute.

Bike maintenance is not difficult. You should be able to change a tube and tire, lube the chain, adjust the brakes, take wheels on and off. Those require nothing more than Allen keys and tire levers. A bottle of chain lube and a tube of grease will last you a long time. If you want a bike to last you years or even decades, that starts at home with regular cleanings and lubing of the moving parts.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:38 PM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the answers so far! I really appreciate the recommendations for specific shops and bikes, and We Bike NYC looks amazing!

I hadn't thought of a folding bike because it seems to me there's just no way it can approach the speed of a road bike, with those tiny wheels. Am I completely off base?

I think I do need gears, and probably more than 3.

It sounds like I need to keep going to shops that will let me do test rides. I want to try out a 7 speed and see whether that would be enough flexibility for me, and also get a better feel for how fast I can really go on a commuter/hybrid versus a road bike. (Possibly because I rode up on a road bike, all the shops I stopped at this past weekend only seemed interested in showing me road bikes).

I hope anyone with thoughts will keep posting, I am definitely still reading. Also, if there are other forums or sites that you have found really helpful for learning about bike shopping, I'd love to hear them (I tend to like to geek out over major purchases). Also, I haven't been warned against any brands yet - is it fair to say that pretty much any brand I'd buy at a regular shop should be all right, and I should just go with the feeling of the individual bike? Finally, is it crazy to buy on the model that they told me at Excelsior (where I put down half, they order the bike for me, I can try it, and if I don't like, apply that half to any other bike they could order?) They are the closest shop to me (though I did love Red Lantern and also their amazing cafe), and they seemed really nice. Or is that nuts and locking myself in too much, and I should buy from a place that already has a bike in the model and size I want in stock?

(Sara C., it seems like it's more obvious to you what I am looking for than it is to me! I have definitely not ruled out road bikes (as I said, my current bike is a road bike and I love a lot of things about it). I don't think my dream bike actually exists and to the extent I have to compromise, it's not as clear to me as it seems to be to you that I would sacrifice the speed and lightness of a roadbike for the comfort and position of a "city/commuter" bike.

You were mistaken about the women's frames and you were also mistaken about Red Lantern selling used bikes. At least as of this past Sunday morning, they were not selling used bikes. Traffic may not have been a concern for you riding in NYC, but lately more than half of my biking has taken me, not by choice, through Times Square and the vicinity, where traffic does affect my riding.

I appreciate that you want to help, I really do, and I hope that people won't be misled or put off of answering by your responses).
posted by Salamandrous at 1:48 PM on April 14, 2014

If you are willing to forego the stepthough and upright seat for lightness and easier carrying, I can recommend the Jamis Satellite Sport Women's with all my might. The second I got on one ... it was just the most perfect bike ever. I commute on it daily, have for four years, and have never loved another bike more. It's the quality of a $1000 at more like $700.

Also, regarding things breaking: I take it in for a tune-up once a year when things start getting janky, and it really prevents surprise issues.
posted by dame at 2:59 PM on April 14, 2014

Oh! Looking at the Jamis site reminded me they have the Allegros, which are the Satellite (now Quest, it seems) with an upright posture. It will still have the short "cockpit" which will make things comfortable and are still light.
posted by dame at 3:02 PM on April 14, 2014

Just nthing that I'm a short woman who rides an XS men's frame (Specialized sirrus), because I have proportionally shorter legs than arms and the women's frame cramps my back. There's a huge difference in the proportions of men and women's frames, even though both have crossbars.

I love my 2nd bike, a dahon foldie, but there's no way I could do my 10mile commute on it every day - it's too slow, crap on hills, and not as comfortable as a proper road bike over that distance, although it's great for 2-3miles.

You really need to try sitting on lots of bikes, and see which ones feel best. You can make big differences t fit just by adjusting the seat position and handlebar height. My bike shop (in the UK, so not much good to you) spent ages fitting a longer front stem on mine because I have weird proportions - a good bike shop will let you take the bike on a long test ride too, and make adjustments after you've bought it. Mine have also fixed things like my bike rack and random brake squeaks, for free, years after I bought the bike off them.

And do some basic maintenance on your next bike! Even if it's just washing and oiling it and keeping the tyres inflated properly it will make a huge difference to how long parts last. I get mine serviced twice a year, and that keeps me going for 3500miles a year with no major breakdowns over six years.
posted by tinkletown at 5:10 PM on April 14, 2014

Sara is right about waiting at lights though. It doesn't add more than about 4mins to my journey (I've checked my total stationary time), which is within the bounds of normal traffic variation on a 10mile commute. Think of it as interval training.
posted by tinkletown at 5:59 PM on April 14, 2014

I'm a 5'9" lass whose done quite a bit of cycling over the years. I bought a Dahon folding bike about 5 years ago when I was living in a 5th floor walkup and it has really surprised me. It is my favorite bike of all time and just feels like the perfect city bike. I make house calls in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn (and New Jersey) and it's been a delight to use. I put a lightweight wire basket on the back (just with bungies, works fine) and I load my briefcase or what have you in there and take off. I had the same reservation about the tiny wheels at first but it turns out it's really fun to ride. I worry a little more about hitting potholes than I might with a regular bike but I'm not sure I really do need to be more cautious.

As far as weight goes, I wouldn't focus too much on that. For commuting or touring a sturdier bike is preferable to one that's more lightweight. NYC is pretty flat, which mitigates the weight factor anyway.

On the rare occasion when l've felt that something needs adjusting on the fly, I've just stopped into a nearby bike shop. It seems like if it's something simple the mechanics will often take care of it right then. I don't carry tools with me. I keep my MetroCard on me in case I need to leave the bike in a shop or locked up somewhere for a few hours.

There's a bike shop in Yorkville that specializes in folding bikes (and scooters, and electric bikes) but everyone seems to carry them nowadays. I bought mine from a couple of medical students who were low on cash and had posted it on Craigslist.

Two other things:

1. NJ Transit only allows bikes during off-peak hours. But because it folds I can always take mine on the train.

2. I learned the hard way that I need to lock more than my bike. A couple of years ago, I locked my bike outside a friend's apartment one evening and returned to find my seat post & saddle gone. Since then, I keep the saddle locked to the bike with a fairly flimsy cable lock and that's done the trick.

As soon as you have a bike you love your bike luck begins to change right away. Best wishes to you in your search.
posted by 6thsense at 7:03 PM on April 14, 2014

I hadn't thought of a folding bike because it seems to me there's just no way it can approach the speed of a road bike, with those tiny wheels. Am I completely off base?

Folding bikes are usually geared differently to compensate for the small wheels, so you can go quite quickly on them. (They use a bigger front chainring and smaller rear cogs than they otherwise would, for the amount of pedaling effort required from the rider.) As 6thsense describes though, there are some tradeoffs in terms of ride quality, ability to absorb bumps, etc. on account of the smaller wheels. They also feel different to ride, and can take a little getting used to, so I'd definitely suggest going to a store where you can test ride them. Coming from a road bike you may not like the positioning and handling, it's hard to say.

But people do long-distance touring on Moulton bikes (which don't fold but still have small wheels), and there are even small-wheeled track bikes, so it's not an impediment in itself.

I've come within a hairsbreadth of getting a folding bike on a number of occasions specifically because they're the only bikes you can take onto Amtrak trains (without checking them as luggage). That plus the ability to fold it up and not worry about locking it outside is pretty appealing. The critical downside, IMO, is that they're quite expensive compared to a non-folding bike of similar capabilities. And the smaller it folds and the lighter and faster it is, the more you pay, basically.

I'd go check out a few and decide if you want to go folding, since that will drive all the rest of your choices, basically.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:47 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

one more shop i can recommend checking out is Bicycle Station. while the shop is small, the owner Mike is a really good guy that does really great repairs. i was just in there yesterday and saw an assortment of used bikes, so it may be worth giving him a call and seeing if there is anything in your size. keep him in mind down the road for repairs - i make it a specific point to go to him vs. any other shop because 1) he's respectful and doesn't talk down to me regardless of any stupid question i may have, 2) if it's a particular problem he will actually take your bike for a test ride to see if he can feel out the problem himself, 3) cheap repairs, 4) there were problems i was having with my bike that no other shop took seriously or could diagnose, whereas when i went to him he figured it out in 2 minutes. he knows his stuff. highly recommend checking it out!
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 5:32 AM on April 19, 2014

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