Help! What kind of bike should I get?
April 21, 2020 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Y'all were so helpful in steering me towards a great mountain bike, but my around-town bike just got stolen and commuting to work on it was the only thing keeping me sane. I need a replacement/upgrade asap. I want something pretty comfortable for commuting and in town that could also be used for road rides of 20-30 miles in my very hilly area. also I'm very short (5'2" with short legs for my height)

The bike shop only had a few things in stock in close to my size, one was a carbon frame 'fitness" bike (Specialized Sirrus) which was fun to ride around the parking lot but I'm worried it wont stand up to the abuse of a klutzy rider and being chucked in the back of a pickup truck. Is that true?

Also a lot of the bikes I'm seeing have 1x10 or 1x8 gears, which doesn't seem like enough for a sort-of-in-shape person to get up a really big hill- however it seems like this is popular now. SHould I try to get something different?

I was thinking about something like a Surly Cross Check instead but I also worry that even the smaller sizes won't fit me that well and it'll be really heavy.

So basically help!
posted by genmonster to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Price range?
posted by mhoye at 7:25 PM on April 21, 2020

Response by poster: Price is flexible. maybe 2k max?
posted by genmonster at 7:30 PM on April 21, 2020

Surly makes fantastic bikes. They're a bit heavier than a Specialized, especially a carbon frame, but that heaviness comes with a level of real-world bulletproofing (not literally) that aluminum bikes don't offer. Steel frames can take anything you throw at them, including being thrown in the back of a pickup truck.

I'm a "klutzy" rider, like you say you are, and I wouldn't go anywhere near a carbon frame. Steel is what you probably need, what will last you the longest, and any good bike shop will fit you to a frame pretty well. There's all kinds of professional fit services you can pay for, but just go to your nearest bike shop (when it's safe to do so) and they'll make sure you get a frame that fits you.

If you want to roll the dice and buy online before you can go to a bike shop, This (go to Specifications/Geometry) is Surly's size chart, and this is a pretty decent measurement guide (from another bike manufacturer) that should give you enough info to take your measurements and then look at Surly's site to see if there's a close frame fit. Even if you don't buy, it should give you an idea whether a Surly will fit you correctly - knowing, of course, there's tweaks you can make if a frame is close (seatposts, stems, etc can come in different sizes).
posted by pdb at 7:48 PM on April 21, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would also be reluctant to get a carbon bike that I planned on abusing. 1x11 drivetrains are getting common because that's about enough gears, depending on a bunch of factors. Remember that a 2x11 drivetrain really only has about 15 distinct ratios, so the mismatch isn't as stark as it seems.

Bikes in general are pretty darn good these days, and for 2K you can get a lot for your money. In the ballpark of 2K, you should expect a bike equipped with Shimano 105, which is solid componentry.

Canyon is an all-direct brand (helpful in these strange times), and their Endurace in aluminum seems like a pretty good deal.

The Cannondale Topstone is a gravel bike that seems like a good option. If you want something racier, their CAAD13 has gotten excellent reviews for being fast but comfortable (I linked to the rim-brake version; there's a disc-brake version just outside your price range).

Sizing for short riders is absolutely a problem, and as far as I know, no manufacturer today is making a bike with smaller wheels to keep the geometry consistent. You can still get a custom bike from Georgena Terry, but that's serious money.
posted by adamrice at 7:52 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A well-made aluminum frame will be only slightly heavier than carbon and it'll be less expensive. Aluminum is much lighter than steel and is just as durable unless you really bash the hell out of it. For most people in your situation I'm a big proponent of getting an aluminum frame with a nicer component set instead of spending the same amount for a carbon frame with mediocre components. And if hills factor into a lot of your riding you won't want a heavy steel frame.

The big benefits of carbon are for racers who are trying to reduce every bit of weight and for riders who like more compliance (a less-jarring ride). But in the price range you're looking at, a lot of aluminum frames will come with carbon forks and seat posts, so you can still get many of the compliance benefits of carbon even with an aluminum frame. And honestly, some of the better-made, higher-quality aluminum frames don't feel that different from carbon for most riders. If you have your heart set on a full carbon frame, be aware that the really cheap ones can be more fragile, but for most people that shouldn't be a big concern and probably not at your price point.

I'd advise against getting flat bars if you're doing 20-30 mile rides, as it can get uncomfortable to have only one position for your hands and torso for very long. If long-ish rides are a rarity for you and you find flat bars to be best for 90% of your riding, then disregard this.

Gearing wise - yeah, fewer chain rings has become a more common thing in recent years. It's nice from the standpoint of not needing a front derailleur and having a little less weight and maintenance, but I agree with you that a double chainring crankset would be better for your riding.

The Cross Check that you tried does come in sizes that should be appropriate for your height and it's a good bike. I would think around a 50mm frame for most road bikes would be in the ballpark for you, but it could differ depending on the geometry of the frame as well as your personal geometry. Your local bike shop should advise you on this, and they should be able to order something in your size if they don't have it stock. I'm partial to bikes from Specialized, though they can be a bit pricier. They also tend to have more size increments compared to other manufacturers. If you're having trouble finding the right size, I'd shy away from manufacturers that size their frames by S, M, L, XL and prefer ones that use actual measurements in millimeters.

My do-it-all bike (a lot of commuting, zipping around at high speeds sometimes, a few long rides, and occasional gravel-riding) was also stolen and I recently bought a new one at about the same price-point you mentioned, so feel free to memail me if you want to get into more detailed questions.
posted by theory at 7:54 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oooh I can help with this one! We're about the same height and I also have short legs (and I see I answered your mountain bike question too!). I've had a Crosscheck for about 10 years and it probably gets the most use of all my bikes. I use it as a commuter/town bike, for short road rides and for touring. I love the nice,sturdy frame because I'm not that easy on bikes, and I love the feel of steel. (I do have a full-carbon road bike but ride it the least.) I don't really notice the weight, even touring, but I guess I'm also used to it. Anyway, I love mine and would heartily recommend it.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 7:55 PM on April 21, 2020

I'm 5'3" so I think about short bikes a lot. Surly makes some of their bikes (like the Long Haul Trucker) to accomodate a 26" wheel instead of 700c, which is more short person friendly, but I think this isn't true of the Crosscheck. Another option is "mixte" (step through) frames. But honestly, the most important thing is to try a bike out for fit. I have a bike which nominally should be too big for me but it turns out to be a great fit for my body and I've been happily riding it for a decade.

1x8 ratios (in an internal gear hub for instance) are sufficient for hills so long as the range from top to bottom gear is large enough.

I would not buy a carbon fiber bike for commuting. For commuting I want a bike that can take a beating, accomodate a rack, fenders, wide tires, etc. Steel or aluminum frame is the way to go IMHO.

Practically speaking, COVID is your biggest problem right now because it makes it hard to buy used bikes on Craigslist, get full-on service at local bike shops etc. Good luck, and happy trails!
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:56 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

To piggyback and ask my own question, which hopefully also helps the OP: how do you recommend checking out bicycles to ride when that is the most beneficial thing to do? I'm in the market for a new bike myself, and there are four or five options I'd like to check out, but can't find a single one to test ride within a 90-minute radius (all the bike shops are open, doing by appointment only style sales, but none seem to carry much inventory).
posted by masters2010 at 8:16 PM on April 21, 2020

To piggyback and ask my own question, which hopefully also helps the OP: how do you recommend checking out bicycles to ride when that is the most beneficial thing to do?

I just went through this with my son who is now the size of a small adult. The only solution is to call and make appointments and deal with the suckage of COVID19. The good news is that with an appointment, you'll get more personalized attention ("What else will work for [conditions I have given you]? Can you bring one of those out while we are out testing this bike?"). We also found places that were looking to unload rental bikes that had only been used a few times at substantial discounts.

Yeah, carbon frames are a joke for anything but serious racers. The normal person standard is aluminum with carbon fork, even that is questionable. We live in a hilly town so 2x10 gears are a must. "Hybrid" vs "Road" basically comes down to drop handlebars vs straight -- the cranks and gears are equivalent as are wheels/tires.

Keep in mind that fit often can be remedied with a different saddle, different handle bar, different handle bar stem. Many shops will readily switch that stuff out in order to make a sale.

We ended up with a hybrid (ie straight handlebars) with a stem change and saddle change. If what you need is drop handlebars, that cannot be easily remedied with easy adjustments and it will suddenly place you into the "touring road bike" category which will add several hundred dollars to your purchase.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:15 PM on April 21, 2020

Consider an All City
posted by latkes at 3:27 AM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love steel bikes and have several, but really, carbon is really durable y'all. Any impact likely to damage modern carbon from a reputable brand is something that would also have you bringing in your steel or aluminum bike for a checkup as well. If you found the Sirrus fun to ride, don't talk yourself out of it based on thirty year old tales of exploding carbon.

That said, be careful buying used carbon fiber bikes because there are counterfeits out there that are not safe to ride. some folks are more concerned about previous crash damage, but an inspection at a reputable bike shop is plenty to help you determine if it's got crash damage.
posted by advicepig at 6:09 AM on April 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is my commuter (30 miles a week in normal times) and I love it
posted by flaterik at 12:10 AM on April 27, 2020

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