How much can I reasonably expect to spend on a good bike?
August 2, 2016 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I am saving up to buy a bike for commuting. My ride to work with be little under 2 miles, and is pretty hilly. How much should I expect to spend? What other characteristics should I ask for?

I am a woman if that matters. This would be my first adult bike. My priorities are: safety, comfort, capacity to carry stuff (light grocery shopping, work stuff), and that it's relatively simple to operate.

I absolutely do not care about speed or trendiness (in fact, the trendier it is, the more worried I'll be that it will get stolen).

I would love specific bike recommendations, general advice on what to ask for, and also an idea of what would be a reasonable price range. I have been into bike shops twice in my life and there was pressure to cough up thousands of dollars for bikes that seemed too sophisticated for me.

I have around $400 saved, and I can save around $150/month. I don't mind waiting a couple of months to save up, but I really don't want to overbuy.
posted by Tarumba to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can get a perfectly decent bike for a 2-mile commute for around $500. Obviously you can spend as much money as you want on a bike, there's hardly an upper limit, but it doesn't sound like you're going to need a $3,000 bike.

Biggest thing is that it fits you. Make sure you ride it at the shop before you take it home and that it's the right size.

People love these Jamis commuters. Lots of folks around here (including myself) ride inexpensive Specialized bikes. Both are great for sort of everyday work-horse commuting that isn't too long distance. Both of these types of bikes have slightly wider (closer to a hybrid) tire, which makes it a bit more stable especially on a pebbly street, but also a bit slower. If you're hauling a bunch of stuff on the bike, though, you might like this wider tire.

If you're riding in the winter and the snow and ice, you might consider some additional things. But if not, don't be pressured into buying more than you need. Buying a bike is totally overwhelming. It's a bit like wine: there's a big different between a $100 and $500 bike. There's a pretty big difference between a $500 and $2000 bike. After that it's pretty compressive, and only the most experienced people will notice any big difference.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:00 AM on August 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

The best thing you can do is to go to a reputable bike shop. The most important thing is getting a bike that fits you properly, and you won't be able to do that without professional help. Specific recommendations are meaningless if the bike is a bad fit for you. If you feel pressured, that's not the bike shop for you. A good bike shop should listen to you and work with your budget. Ask them for a couple of recommendations, and then ride them around the parking lot a little bit to get the feel. From what you've written, it sounds like you're probably looking for a hybrid.

You should absolutely be able to buy something nice for under $600 or so. I spent $700 on my first road bike nine years ago. You should budget in a few other things as well: helmet, gloves, things like a rack or fenders if the bike doesn't come with them, but there's no reason to spend more than what you've got saved already plus a couple of months.

You can find nice bikes for even less on Craigslist, eBay, etc. But unless you've been properly fitted, I wouldn't recommend going that route. If your bike is the wrong size, it will be uncomfortable, and you won't ride it. And it's really douchey to go to a bike shop for a fitting, then buy somewhere else.

Bikes are stolen based on availability, not trendiness (that is, bike thieves don't go looking for specific bikes; they just take what's there), so don't worry about buying something "too nice". Just buy a couple of good locks, and keep it inside whenever possible.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:05 AM on August 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a Sirrus Specialized, either he same bike Lutoslawski links to or something very similar. Cost me around $500 as well. I use it for short errands, occasionally riding to work (~12 miles) and weekend rides (~20 miles these days, used to be more). Works for all of them, overall I'm very happy with it.

I did replace a rear wheel that wore out and just took it in for a tuneup that'll cost be a bit. Can't remember how long this is over--maybe 6 or 7 years?
posted by mark k at 7:15 AM on August 2, 2016

Best answer: I (also a woman) commute year round (including in snow) 8 miles (roundtrip) on a mix of gravel paths, asphalt paths and city streets on a Linus Dutchi which is about $500-600 depending on how many gears you get (I live in flatland, so I only have 3 gears) and whether you get extra racks and other options.

I like it because it's stable but agile and you ride it sitting upright. It's not too heavy for the two staircases (one a viaduct, the other my basement) which I carry it up and down every day, unless my pack is loaded. I am able to carry two full panniers of groceries plus a purse without losing stability. It's got fenders, so I just commute in my regular clothes in all weather (unless it's very very hot). It's a step-though, which makes carrying it up and down stairs a little more awkward (you have to reach further down for a handhold on the frame than you do on something with a higher top tube) but I manage.

Just test ride a bunch of bikes and buy the one that feels right. Walk away from a shop that won't let you take it around the block at least. The shop where I got mine (and the other shops I checked out) took my driver's license, showed me a couple good routes around the shop and told me to keep it out as longs as I liked. I fully expected I was going to buy a completely different bike and rode the Linus just because it was there, but I just really liked the way it rode. But around $500, the best bike is the one you feel comfortable on.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:18 AM on August 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah, you want a hybrid. The knobbly tires of mountain bikes aren't great for the road. The posture and skinny tires of a road bike take a little more practice. A hybrid commuter-type bike will have wide, smooth tires, you'll sit more upright, and you'll be able to haul stuff easily with a rack on the back. Strapping a milk crate or basket to the rack makes hauling super easy.

Theft prevention is about proper locking and common sense. Use a u-lock, or even better, a u-lock plus another kind of lock. Secure your frame and wheels. Avoid quick-release on anything you don't plan to lock up or take with you (wheels, seat). Don't park night after night in the same spot.
posted by the_blizz at 7:24 AM on August 2, 2016

The above advice is good but also consider a different approach. Buy any 1-200 used bike, provided you try it and like it. Spent another 50-100 on racks/baskets/tune up. If you don't like the bike after a year, sell it for about the same price and start this process over or look into new bikes as you see fit. This is a low cost way to get riding soon with low pressure, and also start a longer process of learning about bikes and what you like.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:26 AM on August 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

One thing to watch out for if you are a shorter woman is that it is quite tricky to add things to women centric bicycle designs like locks, water bottles and racks because the frame geometry is such that there is a very little clearance space for attachments. Bike shops will be experienced at sorting this out.

Sweethome recommends the Trek 7.2 as well as having a decent explanation of things to look for in a bike and links to other resources.
posted by srboisvert at 7:34 AM on August 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you don't want to deal with used bikes, another budget approach is to mail-order, which will get you a high-quality, brand-new bike for several hundred dollars less than going through a bike store. I've had good experience with Nashbar, where, for example, you can get a nice bike for under $300. Call them up and tell them what you want and get their help with bike selection and sizing.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:05 AM on August 2, 2016

Women's bikes are built that way to accommodate long skirts, which you might not need. It weakens the frame and does introduce problems like the one srboisvert mentioned.

If you don't need it, consider getting a men's bike. Mose women I know use men's bikes, tbh.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:06 AM on August 2, 2016

Best answer: Buy any 1-200 used bike, provided you try it and like it. Spent another 50-100 on racks/baskets/tune up.

In my experience fitting a bike out with all the good stuff that makes commuting easy and pleasant costs more than that, but all that gear can be transferred to another bike in the future. Fenders, rack and panniers/baskets/bungees/whatever, lights, bell, locks: all of those are reusable. A lot of them can be found heavily discounted as well, so keep an eye out for good prices and coupons. Sierra Trading Post is especially good for cheap high-quality panniers (sign up for their emails and look for a coupon.) For general maintenance, you'll want at least a tire pump, unless you live close enough to somewhere else to use one that it's not a reason to avoid riding.

Even without discounts, Wald baskets are a good value. I have a pair of 582 rear folding baskets attached with zip ties (the stock hardware from Wald is kinda not so great) on my commuting bike (also a large front basket) and it's nice to be able to use any bags I want to ride with, and always have plenty of stable room to carry heavy groceries or stuff for work. (Downside is it's harder to manage waterproofing. It'd be nice if it were easier to swap out my baskets for my waterproof panniers when it's really wet out, but I keep waterproof covers for bags in my rain kit and can cover my non-waterproof bags in a pinch.)

FWIW, there's no reason to use a step-through frame just because you're wearing a skirt; as long as it's not a really tight pencil skirt there's no problem mounting a non-step-through frame. (I bike to work in a dress four days out of five, no step-through frame required. Also no silly tricks with a penny in my underpants. Binder clips are much simpler if a skirt is inclined to flap about in the wind.) Where step-through frames are really helpful is if your mobility's limited or if you've got a particularly bulky load that you can't swing your leg over easily. Relatedly, check out these instructions for starting and stopping.

And yeah, be sure to get a good lock, and know how to use it: lock strategy. I see a ridiculous number of bikes out there with locks that would be adequate if they were actually locked through the frame properly, but they're not, and you wouldn't even need to cut the lock to steal the bike.
posted by asperity at 8:25 AM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of the Breezer Uptown and Downtown lines of transportation bikes. If you get one that's already equipped with a rack, fenders, and lights, you'll need little other than a lock and a bag or some of the Wald folding baskets that asperity mentioned.

I'm a guy but I got the Uptown 8 in the step-through model because it's just more convenient, especially with winter clothes like a bulky coat, or heavy rain pants. Mine has lasted me for eight years with minimal maintenance and shows little signs of stopping, though I do need to adjust the shifter and rewire the generator-powered taillight.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:37 AM on August 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

On the mail order idea, bikesdirect is what the bike shop guy at my university recommended. I got a city bike (it came with matching fenders and racks and a chain guard!) because almost all the hybrid bikes I saw have shocks, and IME they feel weird and take more pedalling effort. Also, the chain guard is really nice - I don't have to use a strap around my cuffs any more. A local bike shop can assemble mail order bikes for you for ~$50, usually.

Frame type is really personal preference - it doesn't sound like you're probably big enough or riding hard enough to need to worry about frame strength. If you have short legs or a long torso, the height guidelines for bikes may not work for you, it might be worth trying out some bikes IRL and paying attention to the length of the top tube. Lots of bike fit guides focus on the top-tube-below-your-crotch, but seat-to-handlebar distance is harder to tweak and important for a comfortable ride.
posted by momus_window at 8:54 AM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

FWIW--for my commute, I don't need lots of things strapped to my frame (e.g., water bottle, mileage tracker, pump) so the step-through frame has not been an issue. I use a lock holster (DIY) (seat mounted). My seat cover straps to the seat and my cable/padlock are in my bag. I have a tire kit/travel pump in my office, but the one time I got a flat, I just loaded onto the bus and fixed it at home.

Also I find it much more comfortable to mount and dismount (whether in pants or a skirt) with a step through. YMMV.

For skirts, I use a sock garter clipped to the inside of the skirt to minimize flapping (that penny in your pants thing is complete bullshit).
posted by crush-onastick at 9:01 AM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ooo, saddle covers: you can get a cheap shower cap for free from a lot of hotels, and you can get a more durable one with fun designs from beauty supply shops for just a few bucks. The saddle covers you can buy at bike shops are about four times the price, don't come in paisley with lace trim, and don't do a better job keeping rain or snow off your saddle while you're not using it.
posted by asperity at 10:03 AM on August 2, 2016

A few years ago I wanted the same thing (my commute is 4 miles each way, but with hills, too) and I got the Felt Cafe 8 Deluxe for about $600 and I love it. It has integrated bell and coffee holder on the handle bars, came with shiny fenders and a rack, and has a seat bag that conveniently fits my keys. The "8" refers to the number of gears. I special ordered it from my local bike shop that carries Felt bicycles. They built it for me and I bring it in for yearly maintenance.

It looks like they don't have that specific model anymore. Instead they have the Verza Cafe 7 sans the fenders, rack and bag, or the Verza Cafe 24 Deluxe with the fenders, rack and bag. If I were to buy this bike again, I'd totally go for the 24 speed deluxe, as the rack and fenders are integral to my commute through puddles and having panniers for occasional grocery or beer store trips. The tires are nice and fat and the seat on the women's version is super comfy - so much that my husband prefers it to his bike seats. It really fits my wide hips comfortably.

My husband got me two good sized panniers (bags that fit on the rear rack) for shopping or hauling my work stuff.

The only other upgrade I would like in the future is probably a hub generator and lights, so I can ride safely in the dark.
posted by jillithd at 10:19 AM on August 2, 2016

Best answer: For groceries, it sounds like you want bucket panniers. You could pay a couple hundred dollars for waterproof panniers to carry your groceries in, haul them around in your backpack (uncomfortable), or you could take a couple square buckets and hang them off your bike rack. There are instructions all over the internet, and their capacity is surprisingly good.

Use flat bike tubes (available for free if you inquire at most any bike shop) as bungee cords.

These two things will do a lot to make your bike look less trendy, whatever the bike.
posted by aniola at 10:29 AM on August 2, 2016

Best answer: Other people had good suggestions for specific bikes. Some additions: because of the hills, I would steer away from anything over 30 lbs. and get something with more than three speeds. Also, groceries in a front basket make it harder to steer, so stick with rear panniers or basket.
posted by beyond_pink at 10:59 AM on August 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Different bike shops focus on different kinds of bikes. If the bike shops you went to were trying to sell you bikes that don't meet your needs, they're the wrong kind of bike shop. There may be another bike shop that meets your needs better. If there's several in your town, call around and ask what kind of bikes they focus on.

My first reaction when you said you want comfort was "recumbent" but if your commute is only two miles each way, that's overkill. If your commute were 7 miles, I'd be trying to talk you into saving up for a recumbent. Think of a stool (upright) vs lawn chair (recumbent). A stool is fine when you're not sitting on it all day.

I get paid to park commuter bicycles, and I've seen a whole world of bikes that will meet your needs. Rags & Bones looks like it's the community bike shop for Richmond, VA. If that's where you live, and you don't have any local bike friends to help you find what you're looking for, go to them. They offer a free Women/Trans/Femme (WTF) night - sometimes you get even a little more individualized attention at WTF nights. Tell them what you told us and see if anyone can point you in the right direction for local resources.
posted by aniola at 11:01 AM on August 2, 2016

I have a Trek Navigator Step-through which I adore, and I use for my mile-and-a-half commute, with two hills. (I walk up the last, really steep hill, 'cause who's got time for hassling that?). I have 3 gears on the left and 7 on the right. My bike has twist gears, but if I were doing it again, I'd go for the nicer bike with the lever gears (or whatever they're called).

This is the bike that I bought when I went into my local bike store and said "I'm not really sure I know how to ride a bike, and I need something really easy to ride". And I love it.

I have a front basket where I put my purse, and a side, folding basket for when I need to carry more stuff. (And lights, and bells, because

In the winter, I swap over to studded tires and pogies for my hands.

(I can't find the Trek Navigator on their website, but the Verve looks pretty similar. And they've got a cheaper version too.)
posted by leahwrenn at 11:13 AM on August 2, 2016

Best answer: I've been bike commuting for a decade and have helped a lot of friends get bikes.

Buying a bike can get real expensive, but fortunately for you 2 miles is so short that basically anything that rolls will be perfectly fine. If you were doing a longer ride or for fitness, I would say a new "decent" bike would start around $1200 at a shop (for budget reference).

For you though $400-600 is definitely doable. Lots of people in this thread getting way too specific with their advice for such a short distance. You just need any bike that fits.

I would do this one of two ways:

1. Any of the basic, cheap hybrid or road bikes recommended here in this thread new from a bike shop or one of the online direct sellers. There are no real differences between any of these bikes at this level. I would go to more than one bike shop and ride a few types to get an idea of what you like and take note of what size you ride. Then go look online at Nashbar/bikesdirect/etc. and compare. You will probably spend more $ this way but it'll be new and you'll probably get a free tune up when it needs it from the shop you bought it at.

2. Do you have a friend who bikes? Have them look at craigslist with you to find a used (rigid, no suspension) mountain bike in your size that's in good shape. Older mountain bikes in particular are monetarily almost worthless (less likely to get stolen!) but perfect for commuting. Buy the used bike, put new (road appropriate) tires on it, and pay for a professional tune up. With the help of a bike knowledgeable friend you could definitely do this for less than $400 and still have money left over for racks/lights/lock/etc.

I have recommended option #1 to plenty of people who didn't want to bother with thinking about this too much, and have gladly (newbikedayomg!!!) helped other friends on a budget with option #2 because I am a nerd.

Related advice: cheapest way to carry groceries (or your backpack or purse) is a big old Wald front basket. The best way to do this is to buy an actual cheap rack, zip tie the basket to it, and buy a bungee net. $50 total and now you can carry everything. For inspiration take a look at these bikes which are extremely expensive (and beautiful!) but are great examples of super-practical basket bike setups.
posted by bradbane at 11:52 AM on August 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lots of good suggestions above!

I'd encourage you to try a couple different styles of bike to see what you like:
- a city commuter like a Linus, a Breezer Uptown/Downtown or a Jamis Commuter 3 (if you get a Jamis Commuter, look for a pre-2015 model - they've gone downhill in the last couple years)
- a "fitness" hybrid like the Trek 7.2 or Specialized Sirrus ("fitness" as opposed to "comfort," which usually means "low-quality suspension and other heavy things")

The commuter-oriented bikes are often a little heavier, but usually come equipped with fenders, racks, and other commuting necessities. They also have a less aggressive riding position. So-called "fitness" hybrids are generally lighter and may have slightly higher-quality components, but aren't equipped for utility riding, so you may end up getting more bits and pieces later. The Felt Verza models linked above seem to be about halfway between those two categories.

"relatively simple to operate"
You might want to try some bikes with Internal Gear Hubs. Most of them are simple, reliable, and low maintenance. The most basic version is a 3-speed, but pricier ones may have 5 or more speeds. (I have some sort of IGH system on every bike I own right now.)

Bikesdirect and other we-ship-you-the-bike-in-a-box companies are ok, but I recommend either having a good mechanic at a local shop go over all the components before assembly or going to a bike collective and getting them to help you check it out. Most bikes come out of the box needing minor adjustments to things like the hub and headset bearings, otherwise those parts will wear out faster than they should.

It's also worth looking for a local Bike Collective or reputable used bike shop. A good mechanic can convert an old road or mountain bike to a really nice hybrid commuter, often for a pretty reasonable price.

Whatever you do, test ride everything - and then ride it again, and farther - before you buy.
posted by sibilatorix at 11:57 AM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I vote Craigslist or used bike shop. Buy a cheap road or hybrid for $100-250 and try it out — no use spending a fortune on something you might not even like! Take a bikey friend with you to make sure the mechanics are OK and fit you properly. Then spend your leftover money on a tune-up, front and back lights, kryptonite u-lock, weather gear, and a decent backpack or rack/pannier combo.

I've been riding the same $180 beater for eight years. Solid French racing bones, too ugly to steal. Don't buy fancy!
posted by fritillary at 12:40 PM on August 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone!

As recommended I went to a local store, and they carry Linus bikes. I ended up buying sooner than expected because Linus has a 20% sale on all bikes this weekend!

Initially I wanted a Dutchi 3 because it's so beautiful (even though I said beauty was not priority, I guess I forgot about that when I saw it!), but after considering how hilly my commute is (very), I went for a Scout 7, which had a lower price but 7 speeds. I guess I could have saved up for a Dutchi 8, but that seemed too expensive.

So, with the discount, I ended up spending about $410 including taxes, which is less than I thought I would need, without compromising quality. As crush-onastick, I also seem to be way more comfortable sitting upright, so my options were a little limited, but I am really happy with this choice.

Thanks everyone!

PS I thought about buying second hand as suggested above, but I chickened out- I don't have any close biker friends so it seemed like a risk.
posted by Tarumba at 1:03 PM on September 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nice bike choice! I love the matching fenders and built-in rear reflector - stuff like that is what made me choose that Felt Cafe bike. Woo hoo! New Bike Day!
posted by jillithd at 7:45 AM on September 6, 2016

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