urban bike
April 9, 2008 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good urban bicycle, a bit sturdier than a road bike but not as gonzo as a mountain bike, ideally priced under $1000. I know this has been asked here before, but not in a few years, so I'm sure new models have come out, etc. Anyone got any favorites?
posted by dearleader to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Breezer Uptown 8
posted by everichon at 9:43 AM on April 9, 2008

Well, I'd say get a Trek Portland, but that's more than you want to spend. How about a Raleigh Detour?
posted by nnk at 9:50 AM on April 9, 2008

I recommend a used, steel-frame road bike. One can be had for very little (from free to a few hundred dollars) and you can make changes if you want (e.g. flat handlebars, wider or less slick tires). Sturdiness isn't really an issue that you need to worry about: steel-frame road bikes are not delicate or fragile in any way. There are hybrid bicycles that are somewhere between road and mountain bikes, but you don't need if your concern is sturdiness.

You will find that a road bike is much more efficient than a mountain bike when riding on pavement. Riding a cheaper bike will both make it less likely that your bike gets stolen and make it less painful if it does get stolen.
posted by ssg at 9:54 AM on April 9, 2008

Most of the big bike makers are making a commuter bike now...see also REI's Transfer.
posted by everichon at 9:54 AM on April 9, 2008

I love my Trek 7.2, which I bought a couple of years ago at the suggestion of AskMe.
posted by MsMolly at 9:55 AM on April 9, 2008

That Trek looks really sweet... is that a 'cyclocross' bike?
posted by acro at 9:56 AM on April 9, 2008

I wouldn't turn a nose up too highly at road bikes or dismiss them as inherently fragile. You can get sport touring and commuter bikes that have braze-ons for racks and panniers and can sport wide tires to deal with urban potholes, while still sporting drop bars and fast gearing. The Surly Cross Check tends to be a popular urban bicycle in this vein, and the Bianchi Volpe is a decent sport tourer that can usually be had for under $1000.

If you're committed to the upright posture of a hybrid, you can get a bunch of decent hybrids for ~$500. Don't buy one with a suspension fork, as that does you more harm than good on pavement (you lose power and the comfort benefits are negligible). Between $500 and $1000 amongst hybrids, you're paying for better componentry and gizmos like disc brakes (which are useful if you live somewhere rainy, but generally useless for dry commutes).

For most practical purposes, a Breezer Uptown or Villager, like the one suggested above is ideal, particularly for the internal hubs and dynamo lights. If you don't have a Breezer dealer nearby, then Marin also does some pretty good urban bikes with a more traditional drivetrain. Their Belveder and Point Reyes are pretty nice street bikes.
posted by bl1nk at 9:57 AM on April 9, 2008

(ref. nnk)
posted by acro at 9:57 AM on April 9, 2008

As a counterpoint to what ssg said, I would recommend buying a rigid-fork old mountain bike with good enough components and putting 1.25" slicks on it, and, of course, a rack.

I commute on both a repurposed old mountain bike with slicks and a newer road bike, and I prefer the mountain bike for the daily ride to work. Frequent stops/starts are a little easier with the smaller wheels, I find.

If I had to do it over again, I personally would get a Long Haul Trucker, which in my size comes with 26" wheels, and is ridiculously sturdy.
posted by everichon at 10:00 AM on April 9, 2008

SE Draft: Super-strong components, simple assembly, insanely cheap, good mix of road/mountain parts.
posted by tmcw at 10:05 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Honestly, don't worry about sturdiness. Road bikes may not look as sturdy as mountain bike, but (barring some exotics) they're plenty sturdy. There are a lot of other criteria you should look at before you look at "sturdiness."

- Position: do you want something that's aggressive or laid back? Drop bars or flats? I advocate for a more aggressive position, but that's just me.
- Gearing: Do you need a wide range? Close-spaced gears? Or perhaps a single-speed? Your profile doesn't say where you are—obviously most San Franciscans will have very different gearing needs than Chicagoans.
- Ease of service: derailleur gearing needs more maintenance than hub gearing; hub gearing is almost impossible to maintain at home. Singles, of course, win in this department.
- Braze-ons for racks and fenders: Not many single-speeds offer these (although a few do).

The shop you buy the bike from is also an important consideration. Are they willing to swap parts on a floor model in order to get it fitted to you without charging an arm and a leg? Do they do good repair work?

The only mechanical problem I can recall having in a long time is broken spokes. I've had one broken spoke on my road bike, but at least ten on my street bike—which is a repurposed mountain bike. A lot of this has to do with the difference in quality of the two bikes, but there you go.
posted by adamrice at 10:06 AM on April 9, 2008

Depends on your commute.

If we're talking around 10 miles or more one way, then you might be happier on road bike geometry. If we're talking shorter distances, you can ride just about anything. If we're talking poorly maintained city streets during rush hour, then you'll be better served with fatter tires (for comfort) and a more upright posture (for traffic visibility). Riding in the rain? You'll need room for fenders, etc. etc.

If I had to do it over again, I'd take any old mountain bike (preferably rigid), get it tuned up by someone who knows what they're doing, add slicks, and you're good to go. I got lucky and stumbled on a Marin hybrid with braze-ons and eyelets suitable for full fenders and a rack, but plenty of daily commuters get by without either.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:12 AM on April 9, 2008

Gazelle Impala
posted by dance at 10:13 AM on April 9, 2008

I don't own one, but if you're set on buying new, the Redline 925 is a simple, functional and (IMHO) quite good looking bike.

I'm pretty much in agreement with NoRelationToLea, though; get a decent used, rigid steel mountain bike (Craigslist and eBay are lousy with them), slap 1.25" or 1.5" semi-slicks and a good set of fenders and let 'er rip. Like so.
posted by cog_nate at 10:27 AM on April 9, 2008

I love my steel-framed, yet new Kona Smoke. Mountain geometry so you're not bolt upright, flat-black paint means it doesn't look flashy, geared nicely for city riding and light trails. $350 fenders in.
posted by mendel at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I added Mavic OpenPros to a Fuji Silhouette, to get tougher rims.

I use it as a commuter bike. For the last two years, haven't had any problems, even after getting hit by a car.

If you plan to bike a lot and can't spend more than $1000 (like me) spend less on the overall bike and budget for the wheels, would be my recommendation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:39 AM on April 9, 2008

Also on the Kona tip, I adore my Jake the Snake. Honestly, it was the incandescent orange colour that sold me for city riding -- I like visibility.
posted by Shepherd at 10:42 AM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

acro - I think some people use it for cyclo, but it's got disc brakes, so I am not sure how much. I have a Kona Sutra (smooooth and sturdy), which I really like but it's kind of heavy, compared to my friend's Portland -- I think if I had it to do over and could get the deal I got on the Kona, I'd get the Portland.
posted by nnk at 10:45 AM on April 9, 2008

high 5, mendel! I was just going to mention my Smoke 29er, which I got a couple of months ago and am liking quite a bit. (Rode to work today, in fact.)

but before you start taking semi-random recommendations, it might help to include your full criteria. adamrice asks some good questions; given some of the other recommendations, it might help to also consider how likely your area is for theft/damage.

and how much stuff are you likely to be carting around? just commute gear, and any bike that can take a rack should do.

running errands, carrying cargo, etc., and you might look at something like the Kona Ute or an Xtracycle. (there's a guy in my town who has an Xtracycle, and I'm totally jealous. thinking about turning my '04 Townie into one. oh, and I love my Townie; commuted with it for more than 2 years.)
posted by epersonae at 10:51 AM on April 9, 2008

I have one of the Cross Checks mentioned above. It's a decent compromise between a racing and ATB geometry. It's got moustache bars with aero levers and a "hybrid" 21/24 speed shift using bar ends I had lying about. Frankenbike not only lives, but is a perfect urban bike. My previous urban bike was a no-name steel frame ATB. It was also perfect (the new one is just more perfecter---bike lust is a terrible disease).

Use what you got. Don't get fancy. She might get stolen, after all.

Only one real suggestion: big fat smooth tires. The fattest slicks you can find are the best. I've got 38mm ones on it now.

One less real suggestion: the Minoura handlebar mount. Why yes, your bike CAN have a cup holder!
posted by bonehead at 10:59 AM on April 9, 2008

I like the Kona Smoke. It looks sharp.
posted by sourwookie at 12:24 PM on April 9, 2008

I'm big on fixed gears for commuting, not because of the hipster coolness factor, but because once you have one built up it's nearly impossible to have mechanical problems. Lots can be had for under $1k, from beautiful repurposed steel road bikes to new off-the-rack fixed gears.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second the Fuji Silhouette. I've seen these and they are a good value and a practical package.

If you live in Boston check out Broadway bicycles in Cambridge, they refurbish used bikes into a sort of urban commuter that you cannot buy elsewhere.

I'm a huge fan of fenders on a bicycle. They make it so that a light rain or puddles are no problem. One thing to consider is if there is enough room for fenders. Some bicycles will not have enough room between the breaks and fork for fenders. Ask the sales person to install full finders on your bike, not those clip-on type for races. It should be $30 + labor.
posted by bdc34 at 12:28 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

...or put them on yourself, since shop labor is expensive and you should learn to maintain your own bike.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:33 PM on April 9, 2008

Also recommending a Surley Cross Check. It's one of the most versatile bikes on the market.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:44 PM on April 9, 2008

I own a Surly cross-check, rigged single speed. I've generally been quite happy with it. If you're looking for something where you're sitting a little more upright, I've always liked Jamis for quality commuter-style bikes.
posted by BundleOfHers at 2:07 PM on April 9, 2008

I love my Breezer Uptown 8, linked above by everichon. I have the stepthrough frame (aka girls' bike, sort of) so it's easy to ride in a skirt or while carrying a bunch of stuff. It comes with fenders and a chain guard, and a generator hub so the lights don't need batteries. It also comes with a kickstand! Which I got made fun of at the snooty bike store, but which I love.
It's basically designed exactly to be "a good urban bicycle."

I don't know much about bikes though, so hopefully mr. librarina (stet) will come provide more technical info about it.
posted by librarina at 5:52 PM on April 9, 2008

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