Bike bike bike bike. Help!
July 3, 2008 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Deciding between two Trek bikes for someone who's never rode a bike before. Need your help, hivemind!

I asked this question a while ago, which was super-helpful at the time. My birthday just came and went on Tuesday, and I got surprised with the awesomest gift ever: a bike! Well, the promise of one anyway. We went to our LBS and I explained that apart from riding a tricycle, I'm clueless about what I need. The guy we spoke to was really helpful, told me how the brakes work, how you usually get on/off a bike, and helped me figure out what sort of bike I need (comfort, with the potential of doing commuting, mostly on roads but I'd like the option to go on rougher ground when needed, low-step design so I can wear skirts). His suggestion was to go for a Trek, specifically he recommended the Navigator 2.0-- which seems like a nice relatively lightweight sturdy bike with fat tires (and pretty decently priced!). He suggested also the Electra Townies if I wanted a flat foot design, but seeing them in person kind of set me against them (though I still like the Amsterdams).

After flipping through the brochure I also got interested in their Hybrids, specifically the 7100 and 7200 . At another branch of this store, we spotted a 7200 and I have a date to try it and the Navigator out on Saturday. But my concern is since I don't know how to ride a bike that I won't really get which is better, or better suited for me. I know the hybrids are better for going faster because they have thinner tires (and I think a little bigger?). Beyond that though, I don't know. I do know I like the look of the hybrid bikes better, they are more aesthetically pleasing to me. But the Navigators aren't ugly, so even if I wind up with that I won't be that sad, because hey, it's a bike! And I'm really excited to have a bike.

So my question is: which bike is probably better for me? Hybrid or Navigator? Of course I know I'll have to ride it/test it to know what works for me, but if you own one of them and love them, I want to hear why it was the best for you. Or if you're a bike expert, I want to know your take! I'll be asking the people at the bike shop more in depth on Saturday, but I'm just trying to do my research while I'm at it. Our limit is around $500-- the Navi's around $330, the 7100's $420, and the 7200's $450. Between the two hybrids, I'd probably just pay the extra $30, but that's a big difference between hybrid and Navigator, so I don't know if you get what you pay for on this sort of thing.

I also don't really know the benefit of going for the 7100 vs the 7200 vs the other models they have-- when I asked the people at the shops, they basically just said the difference was different components. Since I'm not a bike jock I have no idea what makes one component awesome, y'know? Will I really miss the top of the line bike derailleur? Or can I get the cheaper model and still feel pretty happy with the type of bike?

Some pertinent details: 25, girl, 5'10" so I'm looking at the 16/16.5" models, trying to minimize back pain, and somewhat of a bony butt (so i don't know if the saddles are going to be an issue?).

Other questions that may be dumb, but I'm asking 'em:
1) Are prices at bike shops firm? Ours are below the suggested price but I don't know if you're supposed to haggle or something.
2) I like the hybrids in the light peach/green colors, but the 7200 I spotted was black. There's one more branch I'm going to check out, but is it expected that the bike you buy is the one they have in the shop? This is pure aesthetic reasoning here--I dunno whether it's common practice to ask to order a bike color when they already have a model in the shop.

Thanks all! Can't wait to be on two wheels!
posted by actionpact to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1) In the price range under $500 the shop's sticker price is likely to be firm. There is VERY, VERY little profit margin on cheap bikes. If it's last year's model you might ask for a small discount. The profit in a LBS is in the accessories (helmets, shoes, locks, lights, tires, etc). The LBS employees I know would be insulted if somebody asked for a discount on a $430 bike.

2) If they are a big Trek dealer and you want a particular color, of a certain model in a certain size, you can special order it. Should not cost extra. They probably receive a few bikes each week by road freight from Trek and can add your bike to the order.
posted by thewalrus at 3:45 PM on July 3, 2008

2) No, you can order whatever color they make, unless it's last year's model or it's on sale.

I have a 2002 Trek 7500fx (referred to as a "performance hybrid") that I've been very happy with. My very first bike was a 1997 Specialized Rockhopper (someone else's flickr picture). I taught myself to ride when I was 23 and I'm now 33. For around-town riding, I recommend skinny tires unless you're riding on gravel/dirt roads. Riding on skinny tires is no more difficult than riding on fat tires. It's just faster if you're on pavement.

I've also got a bony butt. They make saddles especially for women with gel inserts. Get one and have the shop switch out the stock saddle. I wouldn't worry much about components at this point. Trek is a solid brand. If you decide to race or get serious, then do more research on derailleurs and such. For now, have fun.
posted by desjardins at 3:47 PM on July 3, 2008

Oh. Please get the dorky fingerless riding gloves with gel in the palms. The vibration of the road can make your hands go numb, which makes braking suck.
posted by desjardins at 3:48 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a previous owner of three different Trek bikes, 2 men's road bikes and a men's 7200. I loved all of them. However, I just bought a new bike and I noticed that the Trek's were significantly more expensive than other brands for similar quality bikes. Not saying to avoid Trek, but I think you pay a bit of a premium for them.

Better components generally translates to easier, smoother shifting an braking, and a longer lifetime for the components before they wear out.

If I remember right, the 7100 and 7200 have the same frame, but the 7200 has a higher level component group. Personally I think the price differential is worthwhile, but it depends.

In my experience, bike prices are pretty firm, but you might get them to throw in a some gloves or a light or something. Also, bike shops have lots of sales, so you might ask about price protection in case the price drops $50-100 next week.

As for the bikes themselves, I found the 7200 pretty darn comfortable for anything less than 15 miles. After that, the geometry and relative inefficiency of a bike like that start to slow you down and bug you.
posted by bluejayk at 3:55 PM on July 3, 2008

If you're mostly on roads and commuting, you really don't want fat tires or much of a front suspension. Both rob a lot of the energy you put into the bike. You're more than fine with "light off road" use - which might amount to a fire road here and there? - using the 35c tires on the hybrids. The tires on the bike I use for off-road racing (cyclocross) aren't even that fat..

Of the models you linked, I like the more expensive Trek since the suspension is adjustable (so you can make it stiffer for commuting and spongier if needed) and the parts are marginally better. $700 is my floor when people ask how much to spend on a new bike, though.

In general, you'll never know what kind of bike you need or what features are missing until you get your first one. Don't worry if you decide to add another bike to your garage later, that's part of the fun! It means it worked! No bike will do *everything*, so if you find you really like being on a bike - and you will - you're best off with two or three bikes that do really well for their individual purposes.
posted by kcm at 3:57 PM on July 3, 2008

Oh, and you'll probably want to try different saddles (seats) out, since it's just a personal thing no one can predict. Get a good floor pump and put air in the tires weekly, really! Just like a car, bikes slow down very quickly if the tires aren't inflated all the way, and that means harder pedaling for you. Most flats are also from underinflated tires, since the tube can work in between the rim and tire more easily, as well as being more vulnerable to potholes and the like.
posted by kcm at 4:00 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

They're all solid bikes for riding around town at a leisurely pace. I'd go with either the 7100 or the 7200, but I would lose any sleep over this decision. Go with the one that you like best.

you're definitely not going to be bothered by not having the ultimate high end components. At least not when you're just riding 10 miles to the office or to a bar. These bikes are meant to be comfortable and utilitarian, not ultra fast.

If you can afford it right away, buy a rack for the back, panniers (saddle bags), and fenders. It's really nice to not have to wear a bag when you ride (although some people prefer bags to racks, personal choice).

Enjoy it! Use a U-lock, not a cable lock.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:01 PM on July 3, 2008

The 7200 and 7300 at least get into the Alivio line of Shimano, which - in my opinion - is about as low as I'd go for non-trivial use. I agree that there's no benefit to more in any case.
posted by kcm at 4:05 PM on July 3, 2008

Buy whichever is cheaper. If you get serious about ridding you'll want to upgrade to a more serious bike in a year or so. Those comfort bikes with their spongy suspension forks are a drag for experienced riders.

Also, will you be hefting this bike upstairs? Comfort bikes are heavy and not easy to maneuver.

Use a U-lock, not a cable lock.

Use both, and make sure you ask someone at the bike shop to instruct you on bicycle security.

Good luck, and welcome back to bike riding!
posted by wfrgms at 4:08 PM on July 3, 2008

Congratulations on being one step closer to getting your first bike!

I own 2 bikes: a Trek 7300 (just one step up from what you're looking at) and an old Mongoose mountain bike. I'm riding the Mongoose exclusively these days, and am going to sell the Trek (hey, short Toronto women -- want a very nice bike, lightly used?), but a Trek may still be a good choice for you.

In your other question, you said that:

* you want to run errands around town
* you expect to cover maybe 2-5 miles a trip, although you may go for longer trips
* you' may be moving from relatively dry and flat Arizona to relatively wet and hilly Portland, where you will find streetcar tracks in some areas of town
* you may go on rougher ground from time to time

Errands: you will need a back rack or a front basket to carry stuff. If the bikes you're looking at don't already have holes pre-drilled to take the back rack, can the bike shop do the complete install for you? (My 7300 wasn't pre-drilled, which I didn't notice until after I got it home.)

Long versus short rides: you're looking at a bunch of upright bikes which are very comfortable for the beginner. If you ever want to go for longer or faster rides, you may find that the upright posture works against you as you will have greater wind resistance and may not really feel like you're fully integrated with your bike. BUT -- if you're just getting started, it may be quite a while, or never, until you want to go fast. Buy the bike you need now and get more bike if and when you want it.

Terrain: wider tires are better for wet conditions, rough conditions, and those sneaky streetcar tracks which can trip up people using thinner tires. Don't go all the way and ask for knobby tires: you'll do best on city streets with relatively smooth tires. That said -- my big reason for getting the Trek was the slightly larger wheels and thinner tires. Are you a bit of a speed demon at heart? Go for thinner tires. If you are still feeling a little more cautious about stability, go for wider tires.

Weight: do you live in a walk-up apartment? Do you expect to live in one? How heavy are each of those models?

I can see that most people are advising that you get one of the Treks, and they may be right. You are going to get decent components, a relatively light bike, and the ability to go relatively fast when you want to. A Trek can be a lot of fun, and a fun bike will encourage you to keep riding it. OTOH, if you're naturally a cautious person, you may feel most confident with the Navigator to start.

I'll suggest that you buy the reasonably lightweight, cheaper, beginner-friendly Navigator for now and put the extra $100 or so into an ING account to accrue some interest against the day that you decide you want to trade in the Navigator for a faster and sleeker city bike (with no suspension!)
posted by maudlin at 4:17 PM on July 3, 2008

(I mean, they are all Treks, the 7xxx series as well as the Navigator. I'm just saying you may want to get the Navigator for now and something better than the 7xxx down the road.)
posted by maudlin at 4:25 PM on July 3, 2008

AFAIK, bike shops don't mark up their prices substantially, and it being the middle of the summer, when store traffic is high, so you won't have much leeway with them. (But if you waited till the end of the year, when they are trying to sell the old models, that's another story.)

My personal opinion is, these both look heavy. Is there any reason you need suspension? That adds a lot of weight to a bike.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:12 PM on July 3, 2008

I have the same bike as desjardins, similarly very happy. It was my first new bike in 15 years, so I was in kind of the same situation as you. Very reliable, pretty fast. It's my daily commuter bike and it's never done me wrong.
posted by zippy at 5:16 PM on July 3, 2008

Also, the Missing Link's guide: how to lock your bike. There's a lot of bike theft around here, and their locking technique is quite solid. With a single u-lock you can secure the frame and both wheels.
posted by zippy at 5:19 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

In case the folks at the store haven't told you, those shocks are pretty useless. When you go up a hill, they'll actually make you/your bike LESS efficient.

I'd recommend you buy a bike that doesn't have shocks. More efficient, less expensive, less that can break, lighter.

I also suggest that you buy a bike without handbrakes and gears, too. Lighter, more efficient, less that can break, cheaper, and easier to ride for a newbie. Get them to build you a bike with a coaster brake (pedal backwards to stop). Here's mine. It smokes, has no unnecessary parts, and is super light (the frame and fork are under 4 lbs). It's called a single speed bike and I love riding it. Though I doubt you'll take my advice on this, I really would recommend losing the shocks.
posted by dobbs at 7:48 PM on July 3, 2008

Oh, and I'll point out that my advice for going single speed comes from having owned a Lemond bike (which is made by Trek) for years.
posted by dobbs at 7:50 PM on July 3, 2008

First off, you can't go wrong with any of those bikes. Maybe you'll end up buying one because it's got a prettier color scheme or they had last year's model in stock and on sale. Either way, you'll get a great bike for learning to ride, taking trips around town, and the occasional more exciting ride.

When I learned to ride in my midtwenties, I bought a hybrid with 26" wheels like that Navigator. I wish I had gotten a bike with the larger diameter 700c wheels. I hardly ever ride that bike anymore in favor of a bike with 700c wheels like the 7100 and 7200. It's less effort and more fun. I don't think it would have made any difference in learning to ride a bike.

I wouldn't sweat the components. All of those are fine.
posted by advicepig at 8:42 PM on July 3, 2008

Some pertinent details: 25, girl, 5'10" so I'm looking at the 16/16.5" models, trying to minimize back pain...

This stood out to me. I'm not a bike expert, but I finally got a decent commuter bike last year, to replace the free one I'd been using. I never realized what a bad fit that free one was, and it made me think I didn't like cycling. It was hard to maintain a decent speed, and got very uncomfortable after a mile or two.

I'm 5'11" (male) with slightly long legs, and after trying a couple at a small bicycle shop, I ended up getting a 52cm Specialized. I absolutely love it, it's so easy to get around on, and I can ride 20+ miles in reasonable comfort. So I just want to stress that you should try a few different sizes; a good shop will let you test drive a couple bikes. If you're only an inch shorter than me, I'd be surprised if you want a 16/16.5" bike. Before you commit $500 to a bike, make sure it's the right one.
posted by knave at 9:36 PM on July 3, 2008

There is an old AskMe on negotiating the price of a bike. Here's my take:
If you are negotiating price, let them know that you are paying cash (visa takes 2-3%, after all, better you or the bike shop take that money than some bank).

The markup/margin debate is an interesting one, and quite frustrating. Sure, stores have lots of costs, but that isn't really the customers concern. If a business wanted to tell me what their rent is, and what their sales are, then I might care to listen to how terrible it is that they only make 1-2% margin - they won't, and I don't. Lots of businesses claim they are "losing money" if they don't get to make their expected profit on a transaction. There is a certain logic to that, but in the end the claim is just marketing.

I think (no economist here) that Differential Pricing and Efficiency covers the question pretty well.. Basically, if you can convince them you are unwilling to buy at the regular price, it is in the stores interest to find a way to make the sale anyway, so long as the sale price is above their cost (lots of assumptions implied, may not apply at any given time). Some businesses make extensive use of price discrimination and some discourage it strongly - Dell sells to uninformed consumers at Apple's prices, and they offer 'deals' to informed consumers - Apple tries to get the same price from everyone (perhaps I just lack information :P).

Personally, I don't particularly like the whole negotiation thing, but I also really really like getting the best possible price.
Also, sorry dobbs, but I really think front brakes are a critical safety feature on all bikes. It might not matter too much for a kid or a newbie, but anyone with speed in their legs needs the added stopping power.
posted by Chuckles at 11:34 PM on July 3, 2008

Agree with Chuckles on front brakes, and you'll want a lighter bike in the long term.

The only reason you'd need shocks is for serious mountain biking or long distances on crummy roads. However, please consider picking up a used bike until you get through a few months without falling over. It sucks to bang up a new bike that way. Where do you have back pain? I think that might be a good reason to get the bike fitted for a more upright position.

The Navigator looks beastly heavy, but the geometry looks like it will let you put your feet down on the ground easily while sitting on the seat. The 7x00 looks lighter, but when properly fitted, you may have to slide forward off the seat to put a foot down.

The reason I mention putting feet down is that it may make you feel more confident while learning. In the long term, that can become a crutch for bad riding habits (in my uninformed opinion). I'd go with the one of the 7x00 series, maybe with the handlebar stem adjusted or swapped out depending on what is best for your back.

Portland is one of the two cities in the US where bicycling is growing the fastest (210% increase in bicycle trips between 1991 and 2004 in the area near downtown), so the bike will definitely come in handy there.

As for color, I'm sure they'll be happy to order whatever you want. You might want to tell them right when you come in before they fit the test bikes you are riding.

I've never haggled on a bike price before, but no harm in asking.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:43 AM on July 4, 2008

Also, if your back problems are really bad, you might want to try a recumbent. There may be a used e-bike for sale in your area.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:52 AM on July 4, 2008

When I was shopping for commuter bikes I test rode a Navigator 2.0 and remember liking it a lot, the handling was very sure and steady compared to the Elektra Townies I test rode before that.

I ended up not getting a Navigator, because there was no way to attach a rack or fenders to it, from what I recall - you should check if this is possible in newer models. Even attaching a front basket was not a possibility. Racks attached to seat posts are not secure. As maudlin pointed out, you need to check if it comes pre-drilled for attaching back racks.

What I ended up getting was a Trek 7.3 FX, which does not look like a comfort bike at all, but ended up being more suitable to be a commuter bike for me. Since I got I have attached a back rack and fenders to it. I attach to the back rack grocery panniers from Banjo Brothers for carrying stuff, and put the U-lock in one of the panniers. When not using panniers I just secure the U-lock on the rack with a rack strap or attach the U-lock to the rack. (If you're going with the 7.x FX line, avoid the 7.2 FX, the frame is completely different from the other models in the line.)

Also, have you checked out other bikes, like the Specialized Crossroads? Same price range as Navigator, but skinnier tires.
posted by needled at 6:26 AM on July 4, 2008

dobbs' suggestion to get a bike without a front brake is not a good idea for urban riding. 70% of your braking power comes from a properly set up and used front brake. coaster brakes are plainly dangerous, if all your braking power is at the rear wheel all you are going to do is skid. This is why fixed gear bikes are fitted with front brakes (not counting the insane. even the posengers in vancouver have front brakes).
posted by thewalrus at 9:23 AM on July 4, 2008

This is a goldmine of info everybody, thanks!

I went back last night to the other branch of the store to see what they said-- the guy I dealt with said on the larger models of both of those bikes that you can put the back racks on no problem. (and so they're going to install it for me). Looked at the Navigator again and the 7300, but based on what I need I think for now I'm not all that worried about weight or distance-- if I can go 5-10miles it will be a godsend (as I'm used to not going outside a 2 mile radius with the trike!). Plus, currently I won't have to lug it up a flight of stairs, so the extra bit of weight is okay for me. I've never been a speedy type either, so I think for now it will be more 'Wow, I can actually go across town!' rather than 'Wow, this is taking forever to get to.' (though in this dry desert heat, I'm still skeptical about how far I'll feel comfortable riding. A Camelbak may be in order.)

BrotherCaine, the Navigator really isn't that heavy, as far as I can tell. What little I've found online makes the weight between the two seem not that big a difference-- like a pound or two. I guess maybe I don't have a lot of knowledge on that, but my experience was a 50lb tricycle, so who knows. Also, both models I was interested in have adjustable handlebars and I think will suit my back fine (I get occasional lower back pain), and on the first Navigator I sat on I couldn't put my feet flat down-- was on tip-toes.

Chuckles, thanks. I don't think I'm going to haggle too much--they're throwing in installation of puncture resistant tires and whatever else I want to outfit the bike with (with a discount on accessories,) so I feel like they're not trying to scam me out of tons of money. The bikes are still relatively affordable.

needled, I haven't checked out the Specialized brand much-- the shops I stop by haven't had much of them, they seem to like Trek a lot and so far have just pointed me in that direction...

Anyhow, I'm pretty certain I'm sticking with the Navigator-- it's cheaper than the others and will feel more sturdy for me to start-- if I want to go faster, the shop said I have a range of options tire-wise, so I can always buy some thinner tires to move around. Or I'll just sell it later and upgrade to the next kind of bike for me. They're building me one of the bikes this weekend, so I'll double-check again, but at least for now I think it'll be good for me.

Thanks so much!
posted by actionpact at 10:08 AM on July 4, 2008

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