What is the best brand of comfort bike?
May 11, 2007 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience with both Specialized and Raleigh brand bikes? I want what I think is called a "comfort bike" - I don't want to bend over and kill my lower back, and I want a comfortable seat and comfortable ride. I can only afford a low-end bike at a bike shop - approximately $300.

I'm in my mid-40's, haven't ridden a bicycle very much in the past 30 years, and haven't owned one in 15 years. I'm going to buy one now - for riding several miles two times a week on the roads near my home (rural area) or on trails in the city.

One local bicycle shop in the city near me carries a Raleigh in my price range and that's what they recommend. My son recently bought a Specialized bike at a different shop and believed them when they say Specialized is a better bike. I looked at one today and it does seem like it's a better bike, but it's hard to tell without seeing them right next to each other.

I've been looking on the web and haven't found much information. It seems that most info is about bikes for serious riders, and it seems that every bike shop or web site has a brand they like best - kind of like people prefer Chevy, Ford, Toyota, or whatever.

The prices of these two bikes are only $10 apart, because I can get a 15 percent discount at the store that carries the Specialized bike. Also, I can get a free helmet at the shop that carries the Specialized bike. Both brands have a lifetime guarantee on the frame, and both shops offer free lube & minor tune-up as long as I own the bike.

Like I said, the Specialized bike does seem better, but that shop is also farther from my home.
posted by onemorething to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered an Electra townie? For your kind of mileage that may be better than either of those options and require very little maintenance because it has internal shift hubs (all the gears that are usually on the back are sealed inside).

They're also on sale right now at REI
posted by hindmost at 7:52 PM on May 11, 2007

I don't know much about either of those brands, but as an alternative, if you have a Schwinn dealer in your area, the Schwinn Sierra GS was just named a Consumer Reports Best Buy. Schwinn sells bikes at department stores, too, but you sound like you know you should avoid those. The Sierra GS is part of the big line of bikes they sell through independent bike shops.
posted by brozek at 7:52 PM on May 11, 2007

Best answer: First, both Specialized and Raleigh are good brands. Maybe check here and here and see if either reviews your specific models but take 'em with a grain of salt -- these are unedited, unverified user reviews.

All other things being equal (hard to say -- do you have info on the specific models?) I'd go with the shop you get a better vibe off of -- which one wants your business more, which one seems more knowledgeable and which do you think will take care of you better down the road? You should assume you'll be making a couple of trips back to the shop with the new bike to straighten stuff out (it might not happen, but it's a strong possibility.) So, I'd give an extra point to the closer shop if it's in riding distance, just because dragging a bike around with the car is a pain in the neck.

Be sure to take both bikes for a short spin, and listen for clunks/clicks/grinds/squeals and other noises that just don't sound right. Also make sure they shift smoothly and the brakes don't squeal. Some of these are fixable (and you shouldn't accept delivery if the bike has any of these problems,) but a better shop will take enough care in assembly to make sure such problems are ironed out before they put the bike on the floor.

Oh, and I'd tend to go with the one with fewer suspension components at that price range but a lot of that is personal taste -- see which one you like riding better. Still, @ the 300 price range don't expect too much from a suspension fork (like I said, I'd prefer solid.) Also, if you're going to be mostly on pavement, skinnier tires with less aggressive tread will make riding easier. If you're heavy, give extra points to a bike for having 36-spoke wheels. Also look for double-wall rims.

Other things to think about, if you're just getting back into riding:

1 -- Which bike gives you more adjustment possibilities in seat height, fore/aft adjustment and handlebar adjustment? It can be tricky to get right, especially if you have back problems. Also, as you get more into riding you'll probably want to raise the seat and do other fit tweaks. Probably both bikes have a quick-release on the seat post but if not get the shop to put one on as it makes adjustment much, much easier. The part should be under 20 bucks, and labor should be minimal, i.e., free.

2 -- Is it easy to stand over the bike with your feet flat? If you think you might be doing a little off-roading make sure you've got plenty of clearance over the crotchal zone -- getting smacked by a top tube can ruin your day.

3 -- This isn't a deal-breaker but if you think you might want to add a rack later see if the bike has the attachments for this (a/k/a "braze-ons" or "bosses.") You can still add a rack even if you don't have them but braze-ons/bosses are the most solid way to do it.

4 -- Free helmets are good but make sure the one they're offering fits you properly. Different molds fit different heads and more expensive isn't necessarily better. See here.

5 -- See if either shop'll throw in a pair of cheap gloves to protect your palms in a spill. If not, weightlifter's gloves with or without fingers work just fine. Don't spend more than you want to on these -- I've got three years and counting on my $7 Wal-Mart gloves.

On preview, bike store Schwinns look good too but yeah, stay away from the big-box store models.
posted by Opposite George at 8:26 PM on May 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also: Bike shops have a limited number of brands they are affiliated with so they naturally will sell what they carry. Both Raleigh and Specialized are good bike brands, you won't go terribly wrong with either one, both consistently appear in the Bicycling magazine buyer's guide. Generally speaking Specialized really targets the performance racers and is considered more of a big name for road bikers especially with their new ergonomically friendly Body Geometry line. If you're definitely getting one of the two, choose the one that you're more comfortable riding, I really doubt that you'll be going in for tune ups very often and it's a very simple thing to learn to do yourself.

The Electra bikes are designed specifically to be a tooling around town bike. You can put your feet down flat when at a stop and it has the most upright geometry. If you're really going to just be riding casually a cruiser like this will be your most comfortable and relaxed option whereas most comfort bikes are road bikes that are retooled to be slightly more upright and with a more comfortable seat. They probably aren't the best option if you expect to go riding with your son and keep up but if you're getting back to riding after a long break and just going around town they are a real joy to ride.
posted by hindmost at 8:35 PM on May 11, 2007

I rode a Raleigh for about ten years til it died and now ride a Specialized. Liked the Raleigh just fine, but love the Specialized. I assume mine is similar to the comfort bike idea based on previous askmes about bikes although we don't call it that here (it's a hybrid road bike: racing frame, mountain bike handle bars, nice seat and commuter gearing).

The reasons I love my new bike are a) the gearing (the Raleigh had basic mountain bike gearing which doesn't work so well round the city) and b) the fit. My current bike fits my frame and proportions beautifully. Assuming the models you're looking at have similar components and the gearing isn't going to be any different (ask, it really does matter) then ride both of them and see which one fits you best. Bikes can be adjusted to fit better too, so see which store is going to help you with that. A well fitting bike is a joy to ride, I feel like I'm flying when mine really gets going.
posted by shelleycat at 9:46 PM on May 11, 2007

I have a Specialized, and aside from mistakes the bike shop made when setting it up, its been a great bike even when I mistreated it.
posted by drezdn at 11:13 PM on May 11, 2007

Since other people have, I'm going to chime in with yet another brand for you to consider.

I love my Jamis Citizen and it was sold to me by a bike shop I really trust for exactly the use you describe.

The shock absorbers and the seat on this bike are incredible-- I can ride off of curbs and hardly feel a thing. It's the smoothest bike ride I've ever experienced. The owner of the shop where I purchased it said he sells the bike primarily on the comfort of its seat.
posted by chickletworks at 11:18 PM on May 11, 2007

Electra Townie, for sure. It's designed specifically for people who haven't ridden in a long time. I hadn't ridden since I was 8, and I got one at 31. It is comfy because I can sit upright and feel in control, and the design of the Townie allows me to put my feet flat on the ground if I feel like I'm going to fall over (which, you know, after a lot of years, is kinda often, until you regain your balance). Plus, their bikes are really well made.
posted by bedhead at 11:53 PM on May 11, 2007

I have a U-frame Raleigh Venture comfort bike. It's the first bike I've had since I was 8 years old, and I adore it. That's 30+ years of non-riding, and it has established my love of bicycles. I use it to commute to/from work, 30 miles per week, plus other small jaunts around my neighborhood. It's holding up just fine.

That said, I've been eyeing other bikes hungrily and one of these days I'll probably spring for something a bit more fierce, whether road or MTB. In that sense it's a gateway drug. But I know I'll always love my Raleigh best.
posted by seancake at 1:05 AM on May 12, 2007

Gazelle Impala

posted by dance at 3:09 AM on May 12, 2007


Gazelle Impala
posted by dance at 3:51 AM on May 12, 2007

My Specialized mountain bike (an ancient Rock Hopper, bought used) is still alive - it's old and beaten up (good for not getting it stolen) and has a LOT of mileage on it and it's still going strong. It happens to fit me perfectly (in my non-expert opinion, what's most important is that your bike fits you properly, so you do want a good bike store person to help you with this), so it's extremely comfortable, but it also feels and rides like a well-designed and well-built bike (because it is). So count this as a vote for Specialized, but keep in mind that you want a bike that adjusts such that it's comfortable for you, I've ridden some bikes that just never felt right the way my Rock Hopper does.
posted by biscotti at 5:21 AM on May 12, 2007

Raleigh bikes are brilliant - long lasting, well made. My husband rides a 35 year old Raleigh and has had so much less trouble than I have with my new bike.

Or at least they WERE brilliant. The bike shop in town (the best bike shop in a town obsessed with bikes) told us that they went cheap recently - they just couldn't compete with quality against mass manufacture. He said he would trust only Raleighs built in Nottingham, UK (it will say on the bike).
posted by jb at 5:39 AM on May 12, 2007

While it sounds like you have a specific Specialized in mind, you might be able to find a Specialized Sirrus for that price. It's perfect for someone who doesn't want to ride hunched over and only wishes to ride from time to time (though it's what I have and I've done 60+ mile rides on it).
posted by drezdn at 6:39 AM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: Wow - I post a question, go to bed, and when I get up the next morning, there are great answers! Thanks to everyone who took time to answer my question.

I've read through all the answers and looked at the recommendations. It's still hard to decide! I'll go look at both of them again today with my husband, and maybe my son can go with me Monday when I'm ready to buy.

As far as vibes of both shops....the shop with the Specialized urged me to take a ride in the parking lot across the street and take my time trying it out, whereas the shop with the Raleigh never suggested I try it - he seemed ready to sell me the bike off the floor. Obviously, I could ask. In both cases, considering my price range, these are the only bikes they showed me. I'll look at another shop or two today, to look at recommendations here.

The shop with the Raleigh is 30 miles from my house, and in the area of the city I go once or twice a week.
The shop with the Expedition is 35 miles from my house, in an area of the city I go once a month or so.

I think the Specialized bike I was looking at is the Expedition Sport. The saleswoman wrote only "Expedition Med." on the back of her business card, but when I looked at the Specialized web site at colors of models, I think it's the Sport.

Is there any reason not to choose a women's step-through frame? That seems better to me, but since there are few of those, I could be wrong. I don't even know if the Specialized shop carries them - I might have to ask them to order one if I decide on that.

As for my weight, I'm certainly not light, but I'm not obese - just tall and carrying 20 lbs. more than I should be. I will be riding mostly on pavement, but that pavement will frequently have gravel on it, so the wider tires sound like a good idea to me. I don't care about speed - the bike seemed to ride fast enough for me. I walk 3x a week, do a strenuous pilates/yoga class 1x a week, try to lift weights 1x a week, and I do some yard work. I want to add some biking for better fitness and for fun. I've tried using an old, broken-down bike we have, but it won't change gears and is a cheap bike that's not worth fixing. I can't realistically use a bike for errands because the closest stores to me are 12 miles away, via a 55 mph highway. I know some people ride in places like that, but not me - I like living with a whole body. Our country roads at 45 mph are dangerous enough.

I don't think I'll be riding with my son - he rides 20 or more miles at a time, "up hill and dale," and is quite fit. Who knows what the future holds, but I would have to be in a lot better shape to keep up with him. Plus, he refuses to wear a helmet (even though I required him to when he was a kid and have virtually begged him to now, reminding him of what he's seen his older brother go through after a devastating head injury), and if he's ever hit or thrown off, I really don't want to see it.

The Jamis Citizen sounds interesting, but the nearest dealer is 300 miles away. I'll look at an Electra Townie when I go back in to the city - I like the idea of my feet being flat on the ground, but I'm not so sure about "one size fits all." Especially if I get a women's-style frame; I'm 5 ft. 10 in. tall, and anything made for the typical woman's size is always too small for me.
posted by onemorething at 9:19 AM on May 12, 2007

Re: Expedition Sport. Looks like a good bike for the money. One thing I noticed is it has an old-fashioned quill headset -- not high performance but IMO a plus since it makes it much easier to adjust handlebar height. It sounds like that shop is a better one, too.

Re: old, broken-down bike. Good call. Modern bikes are better and, even before inflation, cheaper than comparable older bikes.

Re: Step-through frame. In theory they aren't as strong. IRL, it probably doesn't make much difference. The standover height on this bike's "normal" frame is pretty good, though. Barring horror stories about Expedition Women's frames, get whichever one you like better. One thing -- the women's and men's frames on that bike have slightly different geometry, and maybe the women's is better for a shorter person (I don't know,) so I wouldn't special order the womens' frame unless you've ridden it.

Re: Speed and hills. This bike seems to have a good wide gearing range. Your ability to cover hill and dale with the thing might surprise you. Give your son the flats and surprise him when you make it up the hills.

Most important: a bike can't help your fitness if it stays in the garage. Get the one you have the most fun on, regardless of what bozos like me tell you. These days, as long as you stick with a major brand you'll probably be just fine. And if your son knows about bikes he will steer you in the right direction.

Have fun shopping!
posted by Opposite George at 2:03 PM on May 12, 2007

Is there any reason not to choose a women's step-through frame?

FWIW my Specialized is a medium man's frame (i.e. cross bar goes straight across) and I'm a 5 foot 6 inch tall female. I got that one for no real reason other than the bike's proportions fit me perfectly and I'm not bothered by swinging my leg over. I tried a couple of bikes made particularly for women and the proportions were always wrong, probably because I have long arms, so I got a man's one. That difference in fit is going to be your main issue I'd say (yeah it's not as strong, but you won't be thrashing the bike anyway).

In general, don't buy any bike without riding it first. You want to be testing the actual bike you're going to buy, not a different size or slightly different model. If the shop doesn't understand or care about that I'd be wary (some don't). A good shop will order in the right size/shape/model/whatever and let you try it out before you make a final decision to buy.

Also the tryout should preferably more than just a short circle in a cramped car park or a spin around the shop. When my boyfriend bought his bike they held his drivers license and let him take it around the block, when I bought mine (different shop) I rode around in a large, long carpark nearby. This let us try hills and intersections and get the bikes up to speed, and the differences between models became a lot more obvious.

I'm not overly fit and probably only ride the amount you're planning on, but I love it so much when I do because the bike just feels so good.
posted by shelleycat at 5:15 PM on May 12, 2007

Response by poster: Opposite George and shelleycat,

Thanks for the feedback on the geometry of men's and women's frames - good point.
posted by onemorething at 7:40 AM on May 13, 2007

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