recommend a bike?
August 17, 2008 5:07 PM   Subscribe

What not-too-expensive but somewhat kickass bike should I buy?

Apologies for the ambiguity of such a question, I realize it's a matter of taste and utility, like someone asking 'What kind of guitar should I get?'

However, I know jack about bikes and I kinda-wanta get into riding a bit, as I really need a regular physical activity. I guess I'm looking for something in the $500-1000 category - better than the sporting goods stores models, but I don't think I'm quite ready for the more serious 2+ thousand dollar models. There seems to exist a pretty big gap between the extremes. I'm just looking for some suggestions, some known-good brands in the middle range, and what to watch out for.

I'd most be interested in riding trails and such in the woods- less so in street/pavement riding, so I think I want a mountain bike. I'm not talking about crazy drops or whatever, just that I'd probably most ride in parks. Someone I know just bought a Giant bike, and I was impressed by how light it was. It would be cool to have something as light as that was. Alas, it was not a MTB.

I haven't owned a bike in 10 years or more, so I really know not of what I speak. I've noticed a couple of hardcore biking friends have the pedal-less ones with the special shoes- what are the advantages of that? I've also noticed MTBs being spec'ed as hardtail, and fully suspended, what should I look for? If it's any help, I'm almost 6'2.

Thanks for any help!
posted by tremspeed to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is the right place! MetaFilter is saturated with cyclists, and I have gotten a lot of great help here. You will have plenty of people coming along to give you way more and better input than I, but I just want to put a word in for the Gary Fisher line.

Most of my riding is on the street, so I bought a Gary Fisher Wingra commuter bike a couple years back. I have been absolutely thrilled with its comfort, fit, feel, and reliability. A local shop has a full line of Gary Fisher bikes, so I look at the mountain bikes and drool over them often. If (when?) I buy a mountain bike, I'm pretty sure it will be a Gary Fisher as well. So, be sure to check out their Dual Sport line, which looks to be right in your price range.

Regardless of brand, I think you'll find plenty of great choices in your price range.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:27 PM on August 17, 2008

Just go to your local cycling-only store and ask them the same question. My favorite local store is a Trek dealer, so that's what I know most about. You can definitely get well within your price range with them. You definitely want those pedals, but again, just ask the dealer about it. They'll sell you the right shoes, the right clips, and the right bike that's the right size for you.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:51 PM on August 17, 2008

If your interested in riding on trails that are relatively un-rocky (ie. gravel roads, fire roads, etc.) you should check out a cyclocross bike.
posted by stevechemist at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2008

Seconding the local bike store recommendation, provided that you have a good one. You're not going to have a problem finding a decent bike in the price range you're looking for, as long as you're not planning an immediate transition to hardcore off-road cycling.

While bikes from any of the major manufacturers are going to have similar components at any given price point, you'll probably find that if you test ride a few that some will just be more comfortable. That's why finding a good local bike shop is so important -- you want some place that has a decent selection so you can try out a few different models.

Regarding the "pedal-less ones with special shoes": these are called "clipless pedals", and the big advantage is that (a) you get better power transfer to the pedal than with normal "flat" pedals, (b) you can *unclip* from them quickly, unlike the straps ("clips") you may have seen that work with normal shoes, and (c) in wet/muddy conditions, your feet won't slip off the pedals. To quote an acquaintance of mine, "bicycling without clipless pedals is like padding a canoe with a stick!" See also this FAQ.
posted by larsks at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2008

I'm not a cool kid cyclist at all, but I'm in love in love in love with my '06 Gary Fisher Opie. That's the bottom of their Mountain Bike line. They're simple and cool looking, tough and inexpensive. Matte black vitually logoless bike was big points to me, ymmv!!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:41 PM on August 17, 2008

Honestly, you'd probably be better off picking a shop before you pick a bike. Mid-priced bikes have what advertising critic Rob Walker calls the Pretty Good Problem--it's hard to make a decision, because they're all pretty good (largely because they mostly have the same parts).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about bike shops. Finding a good local bike shop (LBS, in the parlance of our times) will make a much bigger difference in your experience than buying the mid-priced Trek or the mid-priced Specialized.

(That said--be sure to check out singlespeeds (not fixed-gear bikes) and hardtail (or even fully rigid) bikes. With mountain bikes, these are excellent ways to get a better bike for the money.)
posted by box at 7:02 PM on August 17, 2008

(And if you just want me to recommend one bike: Raleigh XXIX.)
posted by box at 7:08 PM on August 17, 2008

When I was trying to answer this very question, I went to Consumer Reports, which strongly recommended a Specialized model called a Rockhopper. I bought one and use it both to commute and for exercise. I love it --- it's sturdy, reliable and comfortable. I have about 5,000 miles on it, and have never had a problem.
posted by jc1745 at 7:57 PM on August 17, 2008

At 6'2", you don't care about weight, you care about durability.

How heavy are you? If you are over 200lbs (probably, if you are 6'2" :P), consider my checklist for heavy riders:
  • Rear wheel must be cassette/freehub, not freewheel. With a freewheel rear wheel you will get bent and broken rear axles. Here is more information about spotting the difference.
  • Pedals must be solid cast metal. Plastic bodied pedals will crack within the first year.
  • Cranks should be three piece (so the crank arms come away from the bottom bracket), and the chain rings should be individually changeable (sometimes the chain rings are permanently affixed to the right crank arm; on very cheap bikes the cranks and bottom bracket axle are all one piece, with permanently affixed chain rings too). Actually, I'm not certain of how important this is, because cranks and replacement chain rings are very expensive. In principal however, it is important to be able to replace just the part you break, not the entire assembly.
  • Rapid fire shifters can be more durable than grip shifters, but this is influenced by how you use them. I have a tendency to crank really hard on grip shifters, and that is bad..I was surprised to learn that the old style MTB SIS shift levers are just as easy to use as gripshifters or rapid fire. I don't think they are available on new bikes anymore though, so it hardly matters.
  • I also look for cartridge type bottom brackets and press fit headsets, because they don't need adjustment. I'm very uncertain how important those things really are though.
Beyond that.. Follow links from here for tips on buying used (note, that user was small, so some suggestions are tailored in the opposite direction as they would be for you). Here is a discussion about finding a good cheap new bike that might also be helpful (the rest of the thread I linked under "spotting the difference" is probably helpful on that scale too).
posted by Chuckles at 8:13 PM on August 17, 2008

Just to be contrarian, before deciding on clipless pedals you might want to read this posting on the Rivendell Cycle Works website.

Otherwise, great advice here. Find a local bike shop where they don't treat you like an idiot, ask a lot of questions, and then buy what they recommend within your price range. If you have a surfeit of local bike shops, then you might do research on the websites of the major manufacturers to see what you like, then look for a dealer, but otherwise I'd start with the dealer first. As Chuckles suggests, buying used is also an option (some local shops will sell used bikes).
posted by brianogilvie at 9:05 PM on August 17, 2008

I actually just brought home a brand new mountain bike today. I'd been wanting to get back into riding; I put on a lot of miles several years ago on a MTB that was awesome but didn't fit me, so I decided it was time to get one that fit. I was in the same price range, so I did research on several bikes. Keep in mind I already had an idea what I was looking for, since I have some mountain biking experience.

I ended up bringing home a Specialized Rockhopper Comp Disc 29, which was under $900. This is way more bike than you're going to need. I wanted the disc brakes for several reasons, and the 29" wheels since that suits my riding better. The bike is nice and light. The Rockhopper line might serve you well, since they start down around $500. The line starts with the regular Rockhopper which is a fine bike in itself for most riders. Then there are the Comp, Disc, and 29er upgrades, which you can get in various combinations at higher price points. If you read reviews, a lot of riders will bash the stock componentry - but they will do that with virtually any bike out there. For casual riders, the stock components will be more than adequate. Don't get GripShift- get trigger shifters. You'll be very glad you did.

Other bikes I looked at were the Kona Blast, Iron Horse Warrior, GT Avalanche, and Gary Fisher Marlin. The Kona is a nice bike. It's a little heavy, but Kona likes to build their bikes to be seriously abused. Kona has a very good reputation with riders I've met. The Iron Horse is one that I don't really have a strong opinion either way about; it looks to be an OK bike but doesn't really shoot for excellence. The GT looks to be a solid bike, but my old bike is a GT Backwoods from the old days when they were US-owned and built. They were a completely different class of bike back then. So maybe I'm biased that GT is now just another assembly-line conglomerate-owned company. Their current owner also owns Schwinn, Mongoose, and now Cannondale. The bikes do seem to be good, however, so try one for yourself before making a decision. The Marlin isn't a bad bike either.

A full-suspension probably isn't the bike you want right now. You can get them in your price range, but they aren't going to be terribly great ones. A hardtail (which has front suspension forks) is a good choice for all around riding. A good front suspension will cost you around $1500 on up, and while they rock for conquering rocky trails, they aren't for everyone, especially when pedal-bob robs you of some of your pedaling efficiency. One note - avoid the GT i-Drive like the plague.

As mentioned above, find a good LOCAL bike shop. The personalized attention and usually the repair service will make staying local worth it. If you have a relationship with your local shop, it's a lot easier to get in for an emergency repair. Get to know the mechanic and you'll be glad. The owners mostly ride and know their products and know just how valuable word-of-mouth advertising is. I will say this - if you get a quality bike, which will be easy in your price range, and make sure to drag yourself out and ride a few times, you'll get hooked. A lot of people don't understand just how bad department store bikes are. A friend of ours who had been riding his new Huffy every day for a few weeks was stunned at how much of a difference taking my wife's Schwinn Frontier (made back before Scwhinn Co. bonked and was sold to Pacific, when Scwhinn still made bike-store quality bikes) for a spin was.
posted by azpenguin at 9:30 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster:
At 6'2", you don't care about weight, you care about durability.

How heavy are you? If you are over 200lbs (probably, if you are 6'2" :P), consider my checklist for heavy riders:

I'm like 160-165, but I'm not really in shape or anything. The main reason I asked about weight was I remember my old dept store mountain bike from when I was like 12-13 weighing a TON- making it a pain in the ass bringing it up and down stairs, attaching it to a car carrier. Ideally, I'd like to take car and train trips to bike, eventually, and I want something that is reasonably easy to shoulder around.

Thanks for all the great info, everyone. I should have mentioned it was always my intention to check out one of many local indie bike shops, I just wanted to arm myself with some information and such before I entered the salesman-zone.

I'm glad my 'price range' doesn't seem to be a problem- it seems like alot of the bikes that (the more hardcore, perhaps?) are talking about online are definitely over $1500 or so, seems a steep barrier to admission into the cool club.

posted by tremspeed at 12:59 AM on August 18, 2008

Can someone explain these 1-speed bikes? I'm very intrigued, it it really just 1-speed or is there some sort of additional gadget thingy?
posted by Vindaloo at 5:56 AM on August 18, 2008

I wholeheartedly recommend Specialized. I bought a HardRock in 1993 and I'm still riding it now. Heck, I put close to 30 miles on it just yesterday. It has had a total of 3 tune-ups in all that time. Last time I brought it in, the bike shop girl ran it through some checks and told me to save my money, because it still didn't need a tune-up. Hardware-wise, I've replaced tubes, tires, and a few cables, but other than that everything is original and still running well. Definitely agree with the above recommendations for change-outs based on weight - I cracked two sets of pedals on my old bike before moving to metal ones, and haven't had problems with them since. A few years ago I refitted this bike for street riding, switching to 1" skinny tires and adding a rear rack.

The Rockhoppers are nice bikes, sure. But the HardRock is no slouch either, and it starts a bit cheaper so you can afford to go higher-end on the components. My wife and I both purchased new trail bikes in 06, and opted for HardRock Comp models. The Hayes disc brakes are really nice. Trigger shifts were de-coupled from the brake levers in the 06 models, which means cracking a shifter doesn't also require replacement of the brake mechanism. Front forks have 100 mm travel, plenty for the trails we ride (singletrack, logs, rockpiles, etc. - we attempt it, we sometimes make it, we always have fun and only occasionally end up bloody). We did opt for clipless pedals and shoes, and I definitely miss them when I ride my old HardRock. If you're interested, look into the easy release models, which allow you to bail out by pulling your foot in nearly any direction. They come in handy, especially when first learning how to use the pedals (or when heading right for a tree).

In two years of trail riding, aside from tubes, between my bike and my wife's bike we have replaced exactly one $20 derailleur hanger (I bent it in a rock garden). No other mechanical problems. We haven't exactly taken it easy on the bikes, either, but they have held up really well. A Rockhopper might be a bit lighter, but we're damn happy with the intro-level HardRocks.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:41 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like Ambrosia Voyeur, I ride a Gary Fisher Opie.

I'm 6'2" 200lb, and its frame is designed specifically for oxen like myself. I love it, but have learned, like many n00b cyclists before me, that you'll likely regret springing for the lowest-shelf bike. In this case, the Opie is a great frame with shit components.

I bought it for urban commuting, but have since moved on to serious mountain biking. After a year of that, I was forced by mechanical problems to upgrade the drivetrain (derailleurs, chain, cluster and crank) from very very cheapo (Suntour, Shimano Acera -- their lowest mountain bike component group) to Shimano Deore XT bought on e-Bay and craigslist. Basically, I upgraded it to what higher end GF bikes like the Mullet and PhD -- both of which use the same frame as the Opie -- specified. Lesson learned.

Now I have about 5 bikes -- my wife and I reduced to one car a while back, and ride for almost everything. Another one I'm really enjoying, which you might also appreciate for light trail and street use, is the Bianchi Volpe. It has a light steel road frame with cyclocross tires and is set up for touring and the like. My wife's main commuter and trail ride is a Raleigh RX 1.0, another cyclocross bike that's great on road and light trail/fire road, that's far lighter than the Bianchi.

I'm not a cool kid either, but I did recently build a fixed gear road bike out of a 70's raleigh frame - perhaps you'll try that sometime too. It's heaps-o-fun.

Have fun on your bike!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:15 AM on August 18, 2008

Figure out your size (this is *very* important) and buy used. There's little reason to buy new unless you absolutely must have a particular model, especially since there are plenty of cyclists who do that every year and then dispose of their perfectly good bikes on ebay (do a distance search -- you don't want to deal with shipping) or craigslist. 5-10 year old bikes still ride great (I ride a bike from '82 -- the weight difference between it and my 'nice' italian bike from early 2000 is maybe a pound or two), and are going to be just as good for someone getting into cycling as something brand new.

If you want to support your Local Bike Shop, take your used bike in for a tune-up after you buy.
posted by fishfucker at 7:59 AM on August 18, 2008

« Older What's left of the old Whitby Psychiatric Ward?   |   Recommendations for booking central/south america? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.