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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 08-20-05, 08:50 AM   #1
AuntieM
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Total newbie here. We live in the country with crummy roads and too many miles to commute anywhere, so haven't had a bicycle in the family in many years. But my dd is going to college this year on a large campus so we needed a bike.

We went to an auction at a local college and got a Schwinn Sprint, 10 speed I think. Had to replace the tires first, the thin kind. Took dd to college Thursday & she decided to try out the bike Friday & plan out her routes. The front tire blew when she crossed an intersection where one newly paved street was a couple of inches higher than the one she was coming from. She called to ask if we would watch for a mountain bike like everyone else had.

Dh & I went into town last night where there is a Walmart & a Target. Target had mainly Schwinn and another brand I've never heard of & Walmart had Roadmaster, Huffy, and another brand I've never heard of, and I haven't heard of many. Most of the bikes looked alike to us, except some seemed to have shock absorbers, and some had a piece of the frame missing under the seat, and some had extra handles at right angles to the regular handles.

We were thinking we'd just buy a cheap bike because a) dd doesn't care what kind of bike it is as long as it gets her to class and lasts 4 or 5 years, b) a cheap bike is less likely to get stolen, and c) we don't know the difference between bikes anyway.

However, after seeing just the few differences in cheap bikes, we didn't know what kind to get. Dh thinks we should get one with shocks. I think we should get one with as few plastic parts as possible. Neither of us could figure out what the additional right angle handles were for except to gore you in a fall. We couldn't tell which gears would be easier to shift while riding, and we couldn't tell which would be easier to ride with a backpack on.

So, any advice before we buy one? (and remember we don't speak bicycle language) She starts classes Monday, and in addition to Walmart and Target, we can drive into a city that has Oshmans and Academy and probably bicycle shops, though we've never noticed them.
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Old 08-20-05, 09:18 AM   #2
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The Schwinn should work fine, just be sure the tires are fully inflated. If they were, she will need to slow down a bit when going over something that size or more.

I'd also suggest going to a bike store and picking up a pair of "Gatorskin" tires in whatever size the current tires are. These tires are rugged and puncture resistant (which comes in handy around a college campus and broken beer bottles) and result in less flats and fewer problems.


If you plan on buying a new one, a few things:

Strictly avoid walmart.
Try to avoid the shocks. With the price range, they're likly to be crap and cause more problems then they could be work.
Get as few unnecessary gizmos and gadgets as possible.

I would suggest a solid steel frame(most likely material for that price), with just gearing and brakes. As simple as possible. Maybe hunt through yard sales too.

Last edited by Frank B; 08-20-05 at 09:27 AM.
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Old 08-20-05, 09:40 AM   #3
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If you want 4 years of service from your bike go to a bike shop and buy a cheap mountain bike. You will spend like $350 but it will be worth it.
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Old 08-20-05, 09:42 AM   #4
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I know the used route hasn't turned out to be too great so far but I would suggest going to a local bike store (not a department store) and see what used bikes they have in the same price range. This way, you get a higher quality bike and you can also describe exactly what you need to the sales person, who can also answer your questions. If you need a recommendation, I'm sure you could post the city here and someone would be able to direct you to a good bike store (aka LBS -- Local Bike Store.)
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Old 08-20-05, 09:47 AM   #5
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Oh also, get the biggest most exspensive lock you can if you want the bike to stay around for 4 years.
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Old 08-20-05, 09:57 AM   #6
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Hardly. The only thing that would keep a bike around for 4 years on a college campus is storing it in your room in the closet or some such. I've even known the bike rooms inside dorms to be broken into.
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Old 08-20-05, 12:47 PM   #7
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I hadn't thought of looking for a used bike at a bike shop. I called and dh is going to swing by after work and talk to them. Thanks!
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Old 08-20-05, 12:53 PM   #8
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I hadn't thought of looking for a used bike at a bike shop. I called and dh is going to swing by after work and talk to them. Thanks!
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Old 08-20-05, 01:11 PM   #9
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I don't know where dh got the tires and tubes, but the package said 90psi so that's what he put in them. I'm wondering if dd treated the bike like a mountain bike & didn't ease up through the rough intersection.

Anyway, dh is at a bike shop, and called to see what I could find out about Giant bikes, evidently what this shop recommends. No used bikes. The price is just getting higher & higher every time I check on one. Ay yi yi.
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Old 08-20-05, 04:31 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by AuntieM
I don't know where dh got the tires and tubes, but the package said 90psi so that's what he put in them.
90 psi should have been plenty to protect against the common type of flat seen with road bikes...a "pinched" flat when an underinflated tire is pinched between the rim and a sharp edge in the road. Did you replace both the tire and tube? Still, mountain bike tires are definitely more reliable.
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Old 08-20-05, 04:37 PM   #11
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Neither of us could figure out what the additional right angle handles were for except to gore you in a fall. We couldn't tell which gears would be easier to shift while riding, and we couldn't tell which would be easier to ride with a backpack on.
The bullhorns are for holding onto while going up a really steep slope, to move your weight forward on the bike so you don't rear up and fall backwards. I would recommend getting a rear rack and a pannier (saddlebag) instead of a backpack, or to mount the backpack on while riding.
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Old 08-21-05, 07:45 AM   #12
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I agree that the old Schwinn should be a good college bike. If dd is not riding many miles (<5 each way) and you want something bomb proof and easy to maintain a single speed or 3-speed cruiser might be a good suggestion. There is very little to go wrong or break on the bike and they are very simple to ride and you can find decent one in the $150 - $250 range. Howver a cruiser will be heavy and slow and is not well suited to longer distances or agressive riding.
Me I'd just fix up the Sprint. And ofcourse get a good lock.
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Old 08-21-05, 09:00 AM   #13
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Hi,
get better tires

http://www.conti-online.com/generato...g_2000_en.html
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Old 08-21-05, 09:11 AM   #14
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Security

One of the main things I'd be concerned with is theft. Because no matter what kind of bike she gets, if it's going to be stolen within the first week of classes, well... I actually think a 10-speed would be better in that regard, as bike thieves don't seem to target them as much as mountain bikes. But even so I'd try to find a place to keep a bike that's safer than the outside rack.

I myself commuted by bike to and from university. But I was extremely lucky, as I quickly became friends with one of the professors in my department (also a cyclist) and he allowed me to keep my bicycle in his office (let me tell you, it got pretty crowded there with two bikes ). So here are the options she should look into:

1) Is there a secure parking garage on campus? I mention this option first, but I know that often parking costs in such places go through the roof. Your daughter may be able to to talk the authorities into giving her a reduced rate since a bike takes up so little space, but that sounds so unlikely...

2) Your daughter is most likely going to join some clubs when she is in college. Well, clubs often have club rooms. After she's made friends with the club people (many of those clubs are very close-knit friendly groups), she might be able to arrange to store her bike in the club room, if the room is sufficiently large. The math club of which I was a member while at uni had a nice large room and the people there were really laid-back (people liked the atmosphere so much that there were many members there whose majors had nothing at all to do with math). I know people occasionally stored their bikes in the club room.

3) Perhaps your daughter will make friends with someone who lives in res on campus, and that person might allow her to store the bike in the dorm room during the day. I don't know if this would work well, as in most places dorm rooms are very small. Also, if it's the 4th floor and no elevator, it might just get a little tiring. But then, who knows.

4) Can she bring her bike into the classrooms with her? If she gets a folding bike, she definitely could do it, but even with a regular bike it might work out all right. In one of those big lecture halls the prof might not even notice the bike is there. And in a smaller class or a tutorial group the prof usually gets to know the students pretty well, so you can talk to him and, I suspect, you request would be granted in most cases (why not permit bringing a bike in if there is space, after all).

5) I could list some other options here, I guess, but my point is - be creative. On an average campus there are tons and tons of rooms that are safe as they have locks on them. If only you could make friends with someone who is in charge of one of those rooms, whether it be a club room, a dorm room, an office or what not, you might get a secure storage facility for your bike! It's usually not a good idea to ask complete strangers to use their space and even when asking friends you might find some of them will be unpleasantly surprised with such a request.

Now, I am making such a big point out of it because I have a better commuting bike than most commuters I see around. I simply couldn't afford to lock it up outside. Before this bike, however, I had a couple of bikes that got stolen (one on campus, one from an underground garage in an apartment building), and they were such lousy bikes, I was almost glad I got rid of them.

Bike Buying

Now, I know everybody here will say "avoid Walmart like the plague". But the thing is, until you have a safe place to keep your bike on campus, spending $350 on a bike is simply foolish. Yes, it'll be much better than a Walmart bike... and you'd get to ride it for a total of three days max, no matter how good a lock you put on it. It's not worth it, really. So if I had to lock a bike up on the street, here are the options I would consider:

1) Used bikes. One of the best resources I found for getting used bikes is craigslist: http://www.craigslist.org/ . Pick your area (on the right), then pick "bikes" in the "For Sale" category. Here you can look for an mtb (mountain bike) or for a folding bike (if you choose to go that route). It's best if you can find someone who's knowledgeable about bikes to give you advice on this; if not, well just make sure the bike fits your daughter (you can find bike-fitting articles lots of places on the web; the rule of thumb is that when you straddle a bike with legs slightly apart, there should be a couple of inches between the frame (the horizontal tube called the top tube) and your tender bits). Also make sure the brakes and the gears (if you get a bike with gears) work properly.

2) Walmart. If you go this route, avoid those bikes with "a piece of frame missing from under the seat". Also, avoid the front shocks if you can - at this price range they only add weight and price to the bike and slow the rider down. And the shocks aren't really necessary for riding on the pavement anyway. If I were buying something at the Walmart, I'd get the most basic and cheapest bike they had there. Almost all the bikes they sell are crap, and the more expensive ones simply feature more unnecessary gizmoes.

3) Just using the 10-speed. This seems to be the best option to me so far. I know your daughter is seeing all those kids on mountain bikes and thinks she needs one too, but the truth is - most of these riders are quite ignorant of bikes and they got their mtbs because they are considered "cool" and are sold all over the place (e.g. Walmart). But in fact, most of these bikes are lousy, slow and every time you look at them something breaks.

I don't know why she got that flat, but that shouldn't be a recurring problem. Did the daughter take the tire off the bike and examined it for pieces of broken glass or so? Did she look at the inner tube to see what the puncture looks like? If she doesn't know how to do this, she better learn FAST because flats happen to everyone (yes, mtbs get flats too) and one simply HAS to know how to fix them. It's not difficult. She just needs a couple of so called "tire irons" and in their absence even a couple of screwdrivers or spoon/fork handles or similar objects will do (with their help you get the tire off the rim). She should also examine the rim. Is it lined with rubber/cloth/plastic inside, or is it just bare metal? The inner tube needs some protection, otherwise there will be flats all the time. If the lining (I am not sure of the proper terminology) isn't there, she should get some at a bike shop. As far as I know, it's really cheap - hell, I got it for free once.

You can also look at some of the more puncture-resistant tires (bike shops, I mean, the proper bike shops, would carry them). Kevlar is the magic word.

Anyway, hope this was not overwhelming. Good luck to your daughter, whatever option she chooses!
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Old 08-21-05, 09:31 AM   #15
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Anyway, hope this was not overwhelming. Good luck to your daughter, whatever option she chooses!
What great advice from a clearly knowledgeable person! I hope AuntieM sees this before they make a decision.
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Old 08-21-05, 10:23 AM   #16
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I don't think you need to scare her quite so much about bike thieves on campus. Bike thieves are not near a rampant on many campuses as the previous poster may lead you to believe. My wife went to a large (20k) rural/small town campus. She had a moutain bike locked up outside with a cheap cable lock for a year and a half without a problem. If fact when she dropped her lock down a deep window well one day the next day the lock was sitting on the window ledge waiting for her to recover it. I also rode to campus on occasion at a much larger school (40k) using a similar cable lock on my Schwinn hybrid without a problem.
I would say get a very good U-lock for on campus and keep it inside at night and most bikes will probably surive the college experience at most campuses.
SoldSecure http://www.soldsecure.com/Leisure.htm rates the top locks available for bicycles. If you have a high crime campus get a Gold rated lock. On other campuses a Silver rated lock may be sufficient. If most of the bikes just have cable locks a silver rated U-lock or chain will probably keep the bike secure.
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Old 08-21-05, 11:06 AM   #17
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Yeah, I know I am slightly paranoid. But campuses are notorious for having high bike theft rates. If you can arrange for more secure parking at little or no cost, why not do it? And no matter how safe a campus is considered to be, I wouldn't want to leave a good bike (let's say "good" starts at $300-350) locked outside every day. It's not as though it's guaranteed to be gone after five minutes, it's just that the probability of losing it is pretty high, and I wouldn't have any peace of mind and won't be able to concentrate as much on my lectures etc.

If you get a cheap bike and decide that it's only a matter of time before it gets stolen (so that its loss wouldn't be a shock), then locking it outside is fine. Just make sure you have alternative transportation options, as you'll obviously need time to get a new bike if the old one does indeed disappear.
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Old 08-21-05, 01:58 PM   #18
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Thanks for all the advice. We ended up getting a cheap mtn bike from Walmart and took it to her yesterday. Most of the bikes in the bike racks were also cheap mtn bikes from Walmart. There were a couple of Trek bikes locked and double locked though. She said she would just as soon have a single speed bike, but the tires on this one are easier to fix flats.

I still don't know how she had the flat, she said she was going really slow over all the bumps, I just think it was the sharp edge of new concrete road.

Anyway, I test rode the bike since I am closest to dd's size and I really enjoyed riding, so I think I am going to keep the Schwinn unless it's too tall for me. Dd said it was a bit of a stretch for her & she's about 4" taller than me. I just need to figure out where I can ride now. I'll check the rim for a lining when we replace this tube. Maybe that was the problem.

cooker, where would we get a rear rack or saddlebags?

lauren, I'd trade, but live in TX.
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Old 08-21-05, 06:59 PM   #19
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cooker, where would we get a rear rack or saddlebags?
Actually it depends partly on how far she'll need to ride...if only a mile or less, a backpack is probably fine, but if she is off campus and has to commute a few miles, carrying the weight on your bike instead of your back is a lot more comfortable and your back doesn't get as sweaty.

You can buy these accessories at any bike store, but she'll have to take the bike in to see what works...for example, not all bikes have eyelets near the rear axle to hold the rack posts, and the pannier has to be far enough up and back that her heel doesn't hit it. Road bikes have bigger wheels and frames, so they have more room back there, and I was thinking of the road bike when I posted the message, but a rear rack could go on many mountain bikes too. If you browse through the thread on commuter bicycle pics in the commuting section of this forum you'll see some examples of what I'm talking about.
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Old 08-21-05, 07:07 PM   #20
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She lives on campus, so we'll see how it goes with the backpack before I ask her if I need to spend more money.
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