Help me buy and have fun with my first bike in New York City
August 23, 2008 5:29 PM   Subscribe

After thinking about it for half the summer, I am buying bikes for me and my wife. I need tips about buying a bike and also pointers on recreational biking in New York City.

So, after renting bikes a bunch of times this summer with my wife, we decided to get our own bikes. So as you imagine, I have a bunch of questions.

First the requirements:

* These bikes are not for commuter use. These are just for weekend recreational use.
* They will, for 99.99% of their lifetime, ride on asphalt.
* I am a large individual: 6'1" and 260 pounds
* I prefer small to large: I live in a small apartment and storage is an issue. However, since folding bikes are ridiculously expensive for what they offer, I will suck it up. So size is not a deciding factor but again: Small is better than large.
* I prefer light to heavy: My building has an elevator but we may occasionally carry the bikes into the subway or something. Since this will happen rarely, it is also not a deciding factor but light is nice.
* My budget allows $500 on each bike, tops.

So, on to the questions!

1) I am going to buy them at Metro Bicycles in 88th street. I went there and I was really impressed by the salesman - I made a bunch of questions and he was really patient. Also, many things that I asked if I needed (tools, sturdier pedals) he was really emphatic in saying that I should not waste my money on them. I am really impressed when a salesman tells me not to buy stuff because it's superfluous. Anyway I'd like to check - anyone had bad experiences with Metro Bicycles?

2) I have done some research on hybrid/comfort bikes and decided they are the right type of bike for us. I rented a Giant Cypress a couple of times and really liked it. They go on Metro Bicycles for a very similar price as suggested on the Giant site. What do you think about it? They carry many other brands, if you have other brand preferences, feel free to speak up!

3) Any specifics I should look for in adapting the bike for physical differences? For example, what should I look for in buying a bike for a large guy (such as myself) of for a woman (such as my wife :-) )?

4) I am a little anxious about braving traffic in a bike. Any tips from veterans and links to resources on how to behave on a New York street are much appreciated.

5) Any tips for having fun with your bike in New York City are also much appreciated :-) I've just read this post with a lot of great options, anything else you'd like to add?

Bonus question: Anyone lives in a ridiculously small apartment and successfully stores a full-sized bike without going insane? Share your story.

Wow, that was a lot of questions. Thanks in advance, hive mind!
posted by falameufilho to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you could buy it at that shop (I would guess not), but this is my bike, and I think it would be great for your purposes. I really like it.

I've also heard very good things about the Trek sports-urban line. This bike looks nice, and it's right at your price range.
posted by Autarky at 5:51 PM on August 23, 2008

I'll leave the recommendations as to bike selection to other posters, but for riding in NYC traffic, here are a couple links that helped me.

I would join another bike group for an intro to riding to fun places but safely (and you will learn from the group). The 5bbc is probably a good group for beginners. Their webpage lists rides that you can join on weekends. Some of the destinations are great.

This ride the city link suggests best routes for travelling wihtin Manhattan (along bike paths and lanes).

The biggest warning for safety and how to ride that I would give a new cyclist in the city is to be careful with dooring (that means what the word implies). A car that appears parked may open its door and the rider sometimes goes into the street to avoid the door and ends up in traffic. I give myself a few feet of space away from parked cars if possible, or be on the lookout for someone that just parked or is sitting in a car.

Fun - there are lots of great places to go here.

Taking the ferry over into Staten island and riding to south beach is a lot of fun (bike trail alongside).

When you are ready for longer distances, riding over the GW bridge and out into New Jersey is great (much less traffic). For places to go, see this web page. They provide cue sheets, so if you have an odometer that tells you how many miles you have gone, along with the street names, you can find the locations listed on the cue sheets.

Here is the site -- go to the ride library - rides in Long Ilsand, Westchester, NJ, etc, are listed.

One more source for rides -- I enjoy riding and ride on most weekends. If the two of you ever want an intro to riding to SI, or up to Wave Hill, or the GW Bridge (these are short distance rides and I am assuming you are going to start there), drop me an memail if you want to go with another cyclist or small group of cyclists.

Have fun.
posted by Wolfster at 6:00 PM on August 23, 2008

Braving the traffic: see this thread. I like to point people to the BikeSense manual from Vancouver, BC. It has a good rundown of how to ride safely in city traffic. I imagine it's no different in NY.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:21 PM on August 23, 2008

Bonus Question answer: I *tried* living in a ridiculously small apartment (300sf) and storing a full-size bike. It made me insane. Had to keep moving it every time I turned around.

Sounds like you've ruled out foldies, but do reconsider those made by Dahon. Not long ago I bought a Mariner 7 speed on Craigslist (retail is around $500) and couldn't be happier - this thing rides and shifts better than the hybrid/comfort bike I used to have, and I've found 7 speeds is quite sufficient for recreational biking. And it fits in the closet!
posted by chez shoes at 7:44 PM on August 23, 2008

I believe that most bike companies build their bikes to accommodate a weight of 250 pounds. You'll want to ask the shop to spend some extra time making sure the wheels were built and adjusted correctly, with fairly equal spoke tension. If you do run into problems you could upgrade to a stronger wheelset without much trouble. Keep your tires inflated properly and you'll avoid "snake bite" flats.

That said you really can't go wrong with $500 and a good shop. Buy whatever feels right. I bought Giant Cypresses for my inlaws and they love them for commuting and rails-to-trails rides.

As far as bike storage, I think hooks are a complete necessity. I hang my bike vertically against the wall but there are also hoists if you have high ceilings.
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:56 PM on August 23, 2008

Just buy an off the shelf Hybrid at a local bike store. Brand really doesn't matter - they are all about the same. Ditto on price. You will spend $400 to $500 on a good quality bike and accessories. Any hybrid out there will be engineered to support your weight, but double check with the bike shop.

Get this idea of "bike sizes" out of your head though. Bikes are sized for their rider. You won't be able to ride a smaller bike without risking injury. A folding bike is an option, but as you noted they can be rather expensive.

As for storage - there are lots of options out there. Racks, hoists, etc. It really just depends on what type of space you have. Worry about getting the bike first, then worry about storing it.
posted by wfrgms at 8:36 PM on August 23, 2008

I have done some research on hybrid/comfort bikes and decided they are the right type of bike for us. I rented a Giant Cypress a couple of times and really liked it. They go on Metro Bicycles for a very similar price as suggested on the Giant site. What do you think about it? They carry many other brands, if you have other brand preferences, feel free to speak up!

I'm curious what your research consisted of. I usually find tall/large folks hate those kind of bikes. They don't really scale that well. Depending on the model you want, you're either going with a 21 or 23 inch frame. Which did you test ride?

In order for the bike to be as efficient as possible, you should be able to sit on the seat and almost fully extend your leg when the pedal is at the 6-o'clock position (straight down). How high up does the seat have to go for a 6'1" person to be able to do this? The standover height of the largest frame they make is only 32.1"--the base seat height is just above this, according to the diagram on their site. I assume your inseam is quite a bit higher (because mine's 31" and I'm only 5'8"). If the seat has to be considerably high in order for your leg to be extended then that's simply not safe, considering your weight. The seatpost could snap, which is pretty dangerous.

I would recommend you go with a tall road bike frame. For instance, Iro, my own bike brand, recommends a 62cm frame for someone 6'1". That's 24.5", about 2.5" larger than the largest available for the model you're thinking of. In bike geometry, that's considerable. Of course, hybrids are generally ridden a little smaller, but that's because they're meant for both asphalt and offroad. But you say you won't be going off-road so why go that route?

I think you need to question what exactly you like about this bike. Is it the comfort? The seat (which can be moved to any bike)? The geometry (which affects how sharp the bike turns)? etc?

Your bike store should be questioning all of this with you. They absolutely should have adjusted the bike seat to properly position you over the crank for maximum efficiency. Any bike store that doesn't do this should be avoided. Ask if they have a fit kit and if so that they put you through it (if they don't have one, shop elsewhere). They should throw the bike up on a stationary trainer and adjust and let you ride until things are right.

To the majority of my bike-riding friends who ask advice, I generally steer them away from the type of bike you're thinking of. You're driving on asphalt in the city. You absolutely don't need 21 gears (I'd argue that no one really does). That's more on your bike that can break and therefore needs to be maintained. It's also additional weight you're slugging around that you don't need. Those big fat wheels? You don't need them. They're for dirt roads. The more rubber that touches the ground, the less efficient you will be.

Were I you, I'd hit craigslist and look for a 3 to 10-speed road bike with 700c wheels. It'll be cheaper, lighter, easier to maintain, and fit you better. If you don't want to buy used, hit up a store with a large selection and take a proper road bike for a ride after the seat and bars have been adjusted for your height. Remember that you don't have to use road (curved racing) bars on a road bike. Riser bars would suit you better. Here's an older incarnation of my own bike. It's a road/track frame with 700c wheels (same size as on the Giant bike but with thinner tires, the type meant for asphalt). The bars are riser bars so I can sit up right instead of bent over. It's very light, extremely efficient, and, when I want it to, goes extremely fast. (I realize that's not a priority for you since you're just starting out riding out in traffic...).
posted by dobbs at 10:06 AM on August 24, 2008

So size is not a deciding factor but again: Small is better than large.

This is absolutely the wrong way to think. Do not buy a bike based on how big/small it looks. You're risking injury. And, if you get the wrong size bike you won't enjoy riding it and will eventually stop. (I have several friends in this boat.)

I suspect your statement comes because you've never been properly fitted to a bike. They all feel the same because none of the ones you've ridden have properly fit you.

This is my preferred brand of seat. The seat comes with a 4-page manual on how to adjust it to you/your bike and in that manual they specify things in millimeters because millimeters make a difference on bikes. Really. If I move my seat 3mm forward or back (or up or down), I feel the difference. I feel it in the fit/comfort and my efficiency.

Ack! I just clicked the Zoom on the photo of your bike. It also has shocks. You absolutely do not need those in the city! Every hill you go up, those things will be sucking your energy out of you. (As you stand up on a hill and pull and push on the bars as you pedal, much of your energy is being transferred into that shock when it should be going into getting the bike up the hill!)

Sorry, but I think the bike you're considering is a terrible choice for a city-only ride of a person your size.
posted by dobbs at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for your comments, everybody!

@dobbs, responding to some of your questions:

1) My inseam is 32". Yeah, my legs are a little short for my size. :-)

2) What I liked about the Giant Cypress is value for money and the way it just felt good riding it. I am new to this so I can't put my finger in it.

3) Yes, I do think the 21 speeds are overkill. 7 should be more than enough. But I wonder if it's worth the hassle replacing the original kit with a custom one.

4) I thought the same thing about the shocks, that maybe they were unnecessary. That's a good point you're making.

5) The bike I saw at the shop had pretty thin tires. I don't know if it's the same being shown at the site. They are not those mountain bike thick tires, and they looked thin to me... honestly I wouldn't be comfortable going thinner than that.
posted by falameufilho at 12:14 PM on August 24, 2008

By going to a bike shop, you're already on the right path (ha!). Seriously, it sounds like you're mostly set. A few things I will add, though, as a cyclist...

- Get helmets. That fit. Wear them.
- The "no tools" comment threw me for a loop. You should at least have the ability to change a tire when you ride. That means patch kit ($1 or $2) and tire levers ($3 or $4) and a pump ($20 for a mini, but I also carry a CO2 inflator). And learn how, it's easy.
- 21 speeds might be overkill, but for most bikes in the $500 range, that's what you'll be getting (actually more like 27 - 3x9), so it would be silly to spend more money to downgrade.
- The "feel" is key. If you feel good riding it, you'll enjoy riding. If you don't, you won't.
- For storage, a "bike tree" might help. Or maybe a pair of hoists.

Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:53 AM on August 25, 2008

Bike for him..

For practical purposes, no folding bike will be suitable for an individual of your size.

Brand is not important at all, appropriate frame size and component quality is all that matters. That Giant Cypress DX isn't the right bike for you.. Here is one of my previous answers about picking bikes for large riders. Of particular interest, the bike you link has a freewheel style rear wheel, and there is a good chance that even light riding will cause it to bend or break. It also has resin (aka plastic) pedals, and these will break quickly.

It can be hard for a beginner to identify cassette style rear wheels, and bike stores aren't always helpful about technical details even when you ask direct questions (read the rest of that linked thread). The best rule of thumb I've come up with is to look for 8-speed rear clusters (8, 16 or 24 speed bike - depends on how many front chain wheels there are) with either 11 or 12 teeth on the smallest cog.

It's easy to look for all metal peddles though.

Regarding your new question, it is absolutely not practical to change the gearing on a low priced bike. However, there are 8-speed bikes out there, and if you can find one it should be cheaper than a 24-speed - they are saving a lot of parts after all.

In this thread: Where can I buy an inexpensive bicycle in Los Angeles? rybreadmed found this bike. I've never laid eyes on it in my life, but it seems very promising for the price, as I mention here.

Bike for her..

You don't specify any physical details, so it is hard to say.. Generally getting something light for her will be much more important than getting something durable. Where you should be able to haul even a heavy bike around fairly easily, she will have much more trouble.


I live in a basement apartment. The bikes live on the steps down, one on each flight :)
posted by Chuckles at 1:08 AM on August 27, 2008

will cause it to bend or break

Will cause the axle to bend or break, not the wheel..
posted by Chuckles at 1:09 AM on August 27, 2008

I've lived in a studio apartment with four bikes, all nested together in one corner. This was with my husband and two cats. An option for storage is a hook that allows the bike to stand upright against a wall. If your bikes are different sizes, you may be able to set it up so they are nesting together for minimal space usage.

I have been a regular customer at Metro on 88th Street, and had no problems with them. Good mechanics, good people. But that was a few years ago, so you could be dealing with entirely different people.

That Giant does not look like what you're looking for. That huge saddle looks majorly uncomfortable. Seriously, you say you're going to be riding on the road, so try out a road bike. Drop bars offer a variety of positions for your hands, and it's easier for you to shift your weight to a standing position. I don't buy the oft-repeated notion that city streets are too nasty for "delicate" road frames and components.

But, if you like the bike, get it. The worst thing that could happen is that you realize you don't like it, and buy something else in a few months.

Riding in traffic is not as difficult as people imagine it to be in New York. Drivers are more aware of cyclists. As I've noted in previous posts linked to here, the key is to be predictable and responsible. With the increase in cycling in the city in recent years, I've noticed a rise in idiotic behavior: riding with iPods in high-traffic situations, flying down crowded sidewalks and crosswalks, darting around buses and trucks. Stuff that gets you killed.

Good luck! And please MeFi-mail me if you have more questions, or just want to ride. I can show you some cool roads in NJ over the GWB.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:09 PM on August 28, 2008

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