Hey, that's my bike?
August 14, 2006 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I want to start bicycle commuting to work. It's about 6 miles each way. I have no idea what kind of bike I need. I have no experience with bikes in general. I want to be comfortable and, if possible, not look like a dork. I guess I need help with the very basics of choosing and outfitting a bike. Question balloons further out of control inside.

I have no intention of ever riding long distances or trails. The road conditions are pretty good and the route I've chosen is fairly flat: paved roads, mostly state maintained with a few potholes here and there. They're country roads, so very little traffic until I get into town (small town, not much traffic there either). My work requires me to dress somewhat nicely (slacks/jeans and a button-up shirt), and bring books back and forth. No real place to shower, but I can change and don't sweat too awfully much.

A brief bit of research seems to suggest there is something called a "racing" bike and a "touring" bike, but then the discussion seems to turn to technical things. I've also seen some webpages and former AskMe's about "comfort" bikes, which sounds very promising, including bikes that let you sit up-right, which sounds really promising. But what are the trade-offs for sitting up-right in terms of ergonomics, speed, etc? I've read some things about getting a bicycle "fitted" at a bike shop. Do I need this? Will they do it for any kind of bike? Will any bike shop be willing to do it for a bike I don't buy from there?

Also, what else do I need other than the bike? A helmet, I suppose. Any special kind? Do I need a rear-view mirror?

Vital stats: I'm shorter, not terribly light guy, yet (but I'm hoping the commute will help with this). The first few times riding in will probably be a little challenging for me, even given the flat surfaces. And I have always had bikes that certainly weren't very comfortable for me to ride, so I didn't ride them.
posted by ontic to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
you have a lot of questions... many of which will be answered by yourself through the first few runs.

first, the bike: many people are turning to the hybrid bike which is the more upright one, has more stability, etc. the downside of that kind of bike is that you dont have as much momentum, control etc going through traffic. you'll find six miles on a racing-geometry bike (a racer, as you put it) goes by much faster and easier on your back than the upright position.

that said, you should just go to the store and ride around! an attractive option is the cyclocross bike, which pairs the road geometry with fatter tires and better handling, making it a truer hybrid than the ones billed as a hybrid.

next, you'll want to look at materials: steel is great on roads (absorbs much more shock), will last forever if treated well, but is heavier and prone to rusting if left outside. aluminum also has pros and cons.

a good new bike will run you from $600-$1000... don't skimp! buying a shitty bike now will make you much unhappier on something that will become your vehicle of choice.
posted by yonation at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2006

Sitting up straight is hard on the spine.

If you abandon the "looking like a dork" criteria, I would strongly suggest a recumbent.

posted by craniac at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2006

check out bikeforums.net for a lot of information, also
posted by yonation at 9:46 AM on August 14, 2006

Sitting up straight is hard on the spine.

But a newbie like you will probably be a lot more comfortable starting out with one of those 'hybrids' described by yonation. And you'll probably find six miles a lot further than you'll care to go, intially, especially if there's hills involved.
posted by Rash at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2006

intially initially
posted by Rash at 9:50 AM on August 14, 2006

6 miles - that's about 30 min, assuming a mild pace of 12 mph. You don't need to spend $600 to get a good bike. Check out this bike. It's got fenders stock (you'd have to buy and install on a 'cross, road or mountain bike), which you'll want to keep grime and wetness off yer work duds.

Also think about getting a used bike thru craigs list or something. I have a 1948 Rudge 3-speed that is just fine for commuting, tho it weighs more than 40 lbs. You don't need a light bike for what you are doing.

Helmet: yes.

Also get some straps to keep your pants out of the chain, and learn how to change a flat. If you buy a cruiser (like the Rudge I mentioned above), it will likely have a chain guard, which will help keep you (and the chain) clean. Cruisers are heavier tho, keep in mind if you have to lift the bike a lot.

So updated equipment list:

Extra tube
Patch kit
Tire levers (ask sales person to show you how to use these)
Pump (floor pump for home)
Mini pump (take with you)
Little blinking red light for back of bike (for nite-time riding)
Basic toolkit or multi-tool, like this
Mirror - I don't see the point but some people use 'em.

In closing, do not spend a lot on your bike, but do not get a toy store / wal-mart bike either. Go to the bike shop, look at used bikes, talk to your friends who ride, and do test ride some bikes as mentioned above.
posted by Mister_A at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've commuted by bike for years and I strongly recommend a good quality hybrid with 700C size wheels and non-knobbly tires (the ones with a flat strip down the middle are great for commuting). Straight bars with extensions if you want a change of riding position or to be able to ride easily against the wind. Add a good quality four-point rack and a pannier so that you don't have to carry all your shit in a backpack (which is uncomfortable and raises your center of gravity).

Don't buy

-- a road bike (impractical and overpriced for riding city potholes and kerbs)

-- a mountain bike (much slower than a good hyrbrid)

-- a comfort bike (slow, heavy, dorky)

-- a recumbent (beyond dorky, invisible to cars)

-- anything with suspension (increases cost and weight and makes it harder to pedal fast)


-- cleated pedals and shoes, which increase your pedalling efficiency enormously. Make sure they are loose and you can unclip as fast as you can take your foot off the pedal.

-- raising your saddle and lowering the bars so you get a more aggressive riding position. This takes the weight off your ass and will make a long commute more comfortable in the long run.

Definitely buy

-- good lights (LED)
-- good helmet
-- a reflective vest
-- breathable rainwear
-- the lightest, strongest lock you can find
-- kevlar protection strips for inside the tires
-- a good (stirrup-style) pump
-- a bell
posted by unSane at 10:04 AM on August 14, 2006 [4 favorites]

I recently started commuting six miles each way into work. I'm using one of the hybrid bikes, a 1998 Marin Larkspur (obviously mine differs a bit from the bike linked.

It works fine for my commute, which is on both quiet and busy roads, some hills but no mountains, some potholes, bumps, etc. I can also take a shortcut on the dirt path through the park if the mood strikes me. It takes me about a half-hour each way, and that is with a lot of stoplights.

Although I've had the bike for a while, I hadn't been on it in years, and went from zero to commuting six miles each way without too much pain. Just listen to your body and if at first you have to commute every other day or whatever until you get used to it, that's fine. My ass hurt for about a week, but I think that is to be expected with any bike.

I don't use a rear view mirror. But I do recommend adding fenders for when the roads are wet. If you are going to just commute in your work clothes (like I do) get a leg band to keep your pants leg away from the chain. For carrying stuff, you might find a messenger bag uncomfortable for such a distance, especially at first. Get a rack, which offers greater versatility down the road anyway. You'll probably want a lock too - the strength you need will vary depending on where you live.

I paid $300 for mine in 1998; it lists for $420 now. Sure, $600 will get you an even nicer bike. But I think you can get by fine on $400 or less for the bike. Consider a used bike as well.

And I have always had bikes that certainly weren't very comfortable for me to ride, so I didn't ride them.

This is key. Go to your local bike shops, and take all sorts of new and used bikes out for a test ride. If it's not fun (or at least comfortable) to ride, then it's not going to do you much good no matter what kind it is.
posted by mikepop at 10:05 AM on August 14, 2006

One of the best things you can do is identify a good bike shop with friendly, knowledgeable staff. Tell them what you're planning on and what your concerns are, and let them help you get set up. I found that approach extremely beneficial when I bought a bike to start commuting last year; good staff will be willing to take plenty of time to answer all your questions and make sure you're making the best choices for your needs and budget.

Upgrading from the stock seat to one with a bit more padding in the right places was key for me, and after a couple weeks I discovered that a pair of bike shorts was also indispensable (not for all-day wear; keep 'em in your bag during the day and change before riding). You definitely want a helmet, but as far as I can tell you don't need to drop a ton of cash for it -- the higher-end ones are intended for racers who want ultra-light-weight brain protection. A water bottle and cage might be handy.

You don't need to go all-out on purchasing accessories all at once, though: the basics are the bike itself and a helmet, and you can add additional items as you feel the need for them. Ride a few days (or weeks) and see how it goes -- if your legs are chafing a lot, think about bike shorts; if your backpack is causing a sweaty back, think about a messenger bag or panniers.
posted by nickmark at 10:08 AM on August 14, 2006

Go to a bike shop, and tell them all this, then see if they'll let you take a few test rides. They may suggest a hybrid, for example, but you're the one who has to ride it. And have them fit you to whatever bike you choose. (And don't be a douche and after they fit you, buy it online somewhere.)

If I read your post right, I'd say you'd be leaning toward a touring bike (you need to carry books). Basically the same as a road bike, but with braze-ons that allow you to put on a rack for panniers. (There are also some geometry differences as well - touring frames are more "relaxed", whatever that means) *OR* you could do road bike, and use a messenger bag or equivalent. Personally, I don't like carrying extra weight on my person.

A six mile commute is very doable. And don't worry about not having a shower. Usually when I commute to work (9 miles), I shower at home, ride, and towel down in the bathroom. An extra shot of cologne, and I'm fine (well, no one's complained so far!). Oh, and definitely ride in cycling clothes (including clipless pedals), and carry work clothes with you. More comfortable, and less chance of stinkiness.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:09 AM on August 14, 2006

I wasn't sure whether I was going to stick with it, so I got a cheap bike of Craigslist and just went.

Once I found I could do it and stick to it, i went and bought a nice bike and it's a world of difference. I'm currently riding a Bianchi Eros. The bike shop threw in a pair of cleats and the whole thing was $1100.

Things I would look for:

How to properly size a bike -- Go to a bike shop and have them size a bike for you. Get a feel about how the frame size fits you as well as the placement of the handles and the seatpost wrt the pedals. Should you decide to go the Craigslist route, you'll know better how to get at least one the right size.

Type - Avoid cheap mountain bikes. You don't need a suspension or knobby tires on city streets. In fact you're just wasting energy. Look for skinny slick tires. Clip-in pedals are ideal, but toe straps are ok.

Commuter style bikes (road bikes with straight mountain bike style handles) seem to be popular, but I found the traditional drops more comfortable. ymmv. Find a small bike shop that will let you test ride. try it for yourself.

Safety Gear is worth every penny --

Helmet -- I like those with a short visor which is helpful in blocking the sun on morning and evening commutes.

Lights -- Rear red flashing LED and front white flashing LEDs They seem annoying, but they definately improve your visibility.

Gloves -- leather palmed gloves for when you eat it. It happens.

Other stuff that's really nice

Padded shorts -- You don't have to go balls out and get spandex. There are shorts with the pads on the insides.

Neon Windbreaker -- bright color to increase visibility, light windbreaker for those chilly mornings.

Repair kit -- At very least you'll need to know how to fix a flat. You'll need a patch kit, a tire iron, spare tube(s), and a n air pump.

Saddle bags -- It's much nicer to ride with your gear on the bike instead of in a backback.
posted by Andrew Brinton at 10:09 AM on August 14, 2006

Oh and Ontic - Have fun!
posted by Mister_A at 10:12 AM on August 14, 2006

And don't leave the bike shop with your new machine until you get them to install a rack over your back wheel. This is where you lash your cargo. Don't court discomfort by wearing a back pack while you ride.
posted by Rash at 10:14 AM on August 14, 2006

yeah gloves

definitely gloves

I forgot gloves
posted by unSane at 10:22 AM on August 14, 2006

a tip on the bike shorts -- if you don't want to be seen wearing spandex, put them under regular shorts. works fine.
posted by unSane at 10:24 AM on August 14, 2006

I used to ride this to work on a regular basis.

Then again - the 'looking like a dork' factor didn't bother me. Get over yourself, it's a freaking bike.
posted by jimmy0x52 at 10:25 AM on August 14, 2006

That Kona Mister_A linked to is a nice bike to start commuting on. Great price too. And it looks the part.
posted by unSane at 10:30 AM on August 14, 2006

The situation you have described is exactly the one I was in a few months ago. I was looking for a good commuter bike, not to expensive but still something that would hold up to the abuse of my daily commute, and last a long time (read: I didn't want a cheapo ShopKo bike). Oh, and I also wanted to look cool, though I knew relatively little about bikes.

Despite my lack of knowledge, I wanted a bike that would give me some street cred. My commute is about the same distance as yours and also entirely flat.

I ultimately settled on the Bianchi San Jose, and have nothing but positive things to say about it.

The bike is a single speed, which is perfect for flat pavement. It isn't exactly a road bike, as it has thicker tires, but it's not a mountain bike either (by any means). It has room to mount both front and rear fenders for the commute, and can easily accommodate bags on the back over the fenders (should you add them).

A note about the single speed: I was slightly worried at first--you mean, there's no gears?!--but after using it for months I've realized it's perfect for my commute. No hills means no need to shift. I can accelerate quickly and have less parts to worry about keeping maintained. Great, great bike. Plus it's a Bianchi!

Also, it's a really, really sweet color.

This guy's Flickr page has a few of pics of his San Jose (with fenders, at the top of the gallery).

More here, here and here.
posted by dead_ at 10:38 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, it lists for about $585.
posted by dead_ at 10:39 AM on August 14, 2006

One thing that I find unfortunate -- bikes off the shelf lack the accessories to be particularly useful. You'll need a rack and baskets or panniers. There are wire folding baskets that are cheap and work well; I've been happy with my Ortlieb panniers -- expensive but waterproof. You'll want a good rechargeable headlight and LED blinkies. You'll want a good lock and a way to carry it. You'll probably want a water bottle and rack. You'll want tools enough to at least be able to repair a flat.

Don't wear good pants while riding -- eventually you'll get a grease stain on them.

I wouldn't recommend a recumbent to you just because they're expensive, and you'll be dealing with learning enough new things without also dealing with a new bike form factor. But I gotta protest the "invisible to cars" myth. On my 'bent, my head's at the same level as the roof of small cars, some foot and a half lower than most upright biker's heads. The much more relevant factors remain biking for visibliity (i.e., in a fashion calculated to avoid surprising others on the road), and whether the drivers are paying any attention at all (rather than succumbing to tunnel vision filtering only for cars and trucks.) Those 18" won't save you in the absence of those things. (I've been riding a recumbent bike as a primary means of transportation for 8 years.)</derail>
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:40 AM on August 14, 2006

I ride 6.5 miles to work each day. I have a comfort bike - which I can confirm is dorky because last week somebody saw fit to roll down their window and yell "you [effing] dork!" at me for no good reason. It's a Giant Cypress EX. I like it quite a bit.

The three indispensible features, in my opinion are:

(1) A rearview mirror (the best ones attach to the handle of your bike and swivel about);
(2) A speedometer/odometer computer thingee, which allows you to track your progress along the route and over the weeks you are riding - you will use this more than you think; and
(3) A rack on back for bungeeing your bag so you don't have to wear a heavy, sweaty backpack.

Wear a helmet, of course, and you can get some good, cheap sports-fabric shirts and shorts at Target or Kohl's or some similar place for $10-15 (mine are Champion shirts, and they do a nice job cutting down on the sweat).

Good luck - I just started a few months ago and am loving it.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:22 AM on August 14, 2006

For the kind of riding you describe, I'd recommend some flavor of road bike. Six miles is long enough that the differences in position, aerodynamics, tire width, etc, will make a noticeable difference by the time you get where you're going: less work, more speed. I admit to generally being down on hybrids and comfort bikes because they are (IMO) less efficient. For my own getting-around bike, I have a mountain bike that I've significantly modified for street riding, but most of the riding I do on it is shorter distances and more stop-and-go. When I've done 5-mile commutes on it, I've been very aware of how much more work it was than it would have been on my racing bike.

A properly-fitted road bike (hell, a properly-fitted bike of any kind) is often uncomfortable for novice riders, until they get used to it. If this is something you really want to do, be prepared for a breaking-in period of a couple weeks.

That Bianchi that dead_ points to looks like an option worth considering (and I will bookmark for myself), but even on flat roads, your knees may want more gears, at least as a beginner.

The differences between racing and touring bikes aren't immediately obvious to the novice, but for your purposes you'd probably want a touring or (if anyone still makes 'em) sport-touring bike.

If you've got normal body proportions and average body size, you're safe buying a used bike and getting a gearhead friend to set you up, but if you have weird proportions, are at the extremes of the bell-curve in body size, have a bad back, or anything like that, you may need some parts substitutions to get a good fit; a good bike shop will often throw those in free when you buy the bike from them, but that can add up when you start swapping parts on a bike you already have.
posted by adamrice at 11:25 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is all top-notch everyone. Thanks, and more is welcome. The specific model recommendations are really helpful. Even if I end up with something else, I can compare with some sense now.

Unfortunately cragislist is out for my rural environs, and recumbents are out due to price.
posted by ontic at 11:36 AM on August 14, 2006

Just to throw a wrench in the discussion, my wife and I recently picked up a couple beat-up, 30-year-old Schwinns for less than $100 each at a secondhand store. Mine is a 3-speed, it's a girl's bike, and it's way too small for me. I ride it 7 miles to work pretty regularly and find it to be quite comfortable and enjoyable.

It doesn't require any special shoes or clothes and it has a nice basket so I can pick up a couple bags of groceries. The only improvement I've made is slime in the tubes. The tires on both our bikes are still the original Shwinn tires.

The discussion here has veered toward fancy big-ticket bikes. Any old bike will do the trick, pawn shops usually have a fine selection of stolen low-range mountain bikes, with the occasional gem, such as a Rock Hopper or an old Giant. You might try that. Later, if you like riding to work, you can make an investment in something specialized for your particular use.

I wonder how many well-intentioned $1,000 bikes are gathering dust in garages...
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:08 PM on August 14, 2006

FWIW, I'm an overweight guy (6', 270lbs and dropping), and I bike to work (about 6 miles/30mins) in the city (Richmond, BC, Canada).

My bike is a cheapo, bought used for $140 from a store that gave me a warranty/exchange. It's not bad, and it gets me where I need in a reasonable timeframe.

Don't feel like you have to spend $700-1000 just to get this done. But do get a helmet, bell, extra tube and pump. Also get a water bottle and holder. A rear mousetrap-rack will also be very useful instead of carrying a backpack which may allow sweat to accumulate and soak into your work clothes (I don't currently have this, but will shortly...but no one cares what my clothes look like at my work).
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:32 PM on August 14, 2006

>>I wonder how many well-intentioned $1,000 bikes are gathering dust in garages...

It was this same reason I buy cheap crap to try out. I bought my first bike off craigslist, I bought my first set of skis from Play it Again Sports.

It's fun to geek out on gear, but the most important thing is just to do it. As an added bonus, you'll appreciate the upgrade more once you've been doing it for a bit.

In response to the call for model recommendations:

Bianchi Avenue $350
Bianchi Brava $730 < -- i test rode this and the eros and thought the eros was worth the extra money.br>
Specialized Allez ~$700
posted by Andrew Brinton at 2:18 PM on August 14, 2006

You could to want to get a rack to put your stuff on, a rear fender in case it's wet. Lights front and back. You'll need to learn how to change a tire and you'll want to put a kevlar strip ("tuffies") and green selant ("goo") in both your tubes. I would reccomend getting a cel phone, even a cheap pay as you go one if you never use it for accidents and problems. Also bright colored clothes are good. It's good just to have a spare set of clothes, and also clothes stashed at work. You can get cheap bike cyclometers on amazon and they are great at seeing how far you've gone. Depending on the level of bike crime in your area you might get away with just a cheap chain/u lock. Otherwise look at locks designed for heavy crime areas or a combo of two different types of locks get your locks info filled out and take pics of the bike. Learn how to ride invisible to cars. Read everything on bikesafe.org and all the links and side information. As far as bikes, go into the biggest bike store around and test out all the bikes. If they aren't the friendliest people you've ever met go to another store. Try the 3,000 dollar ones and the mountain bikes and whatever. The best kind of bike for you is going to be one that will coast forever (test this with the bikes) and isn't going to need a lot of maintenance. A touring bike, hybrid, or city bike is going to be the best for you because you can go through gravel or spotty areas without worrying about your tires going flat. If you want to cruise in style check out this bike. It's a little spendy but it's super low mantienence and way high on the style points. Also check out craigslist to get a feel for the bike community especially stolen bikes. Other than that 6 miles is not going to be that hard. Give yourself about 45 minutes starting out. Other than that, be safe, have fun.
posted by psychobum at 3:01 PM on August 14, 2006

Specialized Allez ~$700

If you're willing to pony up $700, then consider the Specialized Sequoia over the Allez. The components are roughly the same, but it's built with a more comfort-oriented geometry.
posted by turbodog at 4:50 PM on August 14, 2006

Dang! What's with the Bianchis? My commuter bike is a 2001 Bianchi Volpe.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:39 PM on August 14, 2006

With all due respect to most other posters (who are offering valuable advice all over), I have to disagree with the folks who suggests purchasing a brand new bike, or indeed anything expensive. Bianchi in particular makes great bikes, but they are on the expensive side.

In my humble opinion, a commute of 6 miles is something you can do on any bike. You can ride a super-light road bike, or a full-suspension mountain monster, or a department store Huffy, and - once you get used to riding in general - your commute will be just fine. It will stop being a challenge and become a part of your routine. Once that happens, the worst thing you can do is ride a bike better than yours, for it will fill your heart with envy that is not known to people outside bicycle hell.

So here is my advice for you. Take all the recommendations from this thread, and start checking out your local classifieds place (craigslist, paper, etc), or if you have a nice used bicycle store, go there. Test ride some bikes and figure out what feels good - and only buy it if it's cheap and feels solid. If I were in your position, I would not spend more than $200 - and try hard to be under $125. Because it would work well enough, and someone else can shell out the big bucks and have the Best Set of Wheels on the Block (tm).

For the record, I commuted roughly that distance on an old, low-end Trek bike for a year or so, and it worked out fine. My front deraileur didn't work, and I didn't mind too much; the thing was heavy and squeaky and that was fine too. I ride a nice touring bike now, but it's because my commute is 25 miles one way, on the days I can make myself ride. The old Trek has been passed on, and is no dount still putting on commuter miles like there is no tomorrow.

Above all, have fun riding. If you decide to progress from commuting into recreational riding of any kind (road, mountain, racing), the world is your bike lane!
posted by blindcarboncopy at 8:49 PM on August 14, 2006

Count me in the "6 miles really isn't that far on a bike" crowd, especially if the route is flat. (By flat do you mean flat, or just mostly flat? It's amazing how much you can feel the slightest incline, especially over a long period.) But you are probably better off getting a new bike, even if a low end one, or at least a used bike from a bike shop you trust. It can take a bit of work to get a poorly maintained bike into riding shape, work that may turn you off the whole riding thing.
posted by aspo at 11:27 PM on August 14, 2006

I don't agree with the $125 bike crowd. For $125, especially if you are not a bike afficianado, you are going to get a bike which in one way or another annoys you. Trust me on this.

You don't need to buy new BUT it will give you reassurance and if you go to a good bike shop they will sort out any niggles and advise you well on how to make your ride more fun and/or comfortable. It is NOT that easy to buy nice used bikes, and not that much fun when the pedal falls off halfway thru your commute or the bottom bracket makes a creaking, grinding noise uphill.

However I also agree that for your first bike you should stay below $500 new. There is a certain price point where the bikes stop being essentially disposable junkers and a good bike shop will tell you where that is.

I ride a 10 yr old Trek 730, which is terrific. I've replaced the tires a few times but and put bar extenders on it but beyond that done no mods at all. It's done thousands upon thousands of miles and is still a joy to ride. It was not a particularly expensive bike at the time I bought it, but it was not cheap either. It's been a terrific investment.

The main thing is to buy a bike which supports your commute and makes you want to continue. You have to read your own psychology to figure out what will make that happen.
posted by unSane at 5:08 AM on August 15, 2006

Bikes are very personal. The points I'd agree with here are that after a week or two of doing this 3-5X/week, you can do it on any bike - it might take longer on the pink Huffy 20", but you can do it without too much trouble - and the idea that a bike is very personal.

I ride because I love riding. I love riding because my bikes work with me. I bought a $450 Trek in undergrad and rode it for awhile, and it worked, and then I put about $600 into it (new fork, XT group, etc.), and that worked much better, and I've iterated since then through bikes and parts, and by this point my new baby retailed for an obscene multiple of that first bike's original price. I don't get the joy out of recumbents or comfort/hybrids that would lead me to spend that kind of money.

If I was just commuting, I would probably look in the $400-500 range.. just enough that your deraileurs won't fall apart in a year, but not so much that your frame is going to take on micro-cracks if you drop it. If you enjoy biking AND you want to commute, I'd recommend a $1000-1500 road bike (the Allez mentioned above is a decent starting point, lots of options to consider). Mountain bikes, even simple front suspension ones, require considerable amounts of effort that is wasted in the gearing, suspension, and fat tires (as noted above) and are overkill for most people. Anything in between a road bike and a mountain bike is usually a compromise further marginalized by sub-par components, geometry, and research/development.

My ideal setup is an old beater mountain bike in perfect condition (think: 1986 Dodge Omni GLHS) for commuting and a sexy road bike (think: Ferrari) for biking. Most things in between will either fail at both or be too weird/marginal - but then again, some grown folk still ride Razor-type scooters from the train to my work, so I can't say my opinion counts for much.

Go to a bike store, get recommendations and fittings, find a friend that knows about bikes, troll Craigslist with his help for a beater, start with the beater, patronize the bike shop that fitted you to fix it up, and go from there.
posted by kcm at 8:20 AM on August 15, 2006

It's the end of the summer, you're going to find a good deal on a bike at this time. That said, I think you could get a great bike for $200-$300 dollars right now. You really don't need anything too fancy, but I think you should buy a new one from a shop. (You don't seem to know enough right now to buy a good used one.) Go to the bike store, and explain your situation. A good store will let you ride a few bikes around the block a bit, to see how it feels. They'll also tell you what size frame you need.

Yes, you need a helmet. Get a good helmet that fits well and has a visor to block the sun. I got one from Bell that cost about $35. When I got my first bike, the shop threw in this package of "free helmet, bottle and etc". Don't get suckered into this. The helmet was terrible (like a giant marshmellow on my head), as were the rest of the items.

To reiterate what's been said above, you need a good lock, lights for the front and back, and either a horn or a bell. Depending on how you want to carry your extra clothes, you could also get a rack or just use a backpack, if you don't sweat profusely.

Lastly, YAY! You're getting a bike! Get ready for feeling reallly super excellent about riding! It's an awesome feeling to know that you're one less car on the road, and that you can get places fast, totally under your own power.
posted by hooray at 8:51 PM on August 15, 2006

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