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  1. #1
    Mad scientist w/a wrench
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    Advice for a new (and poor) commuter

    Hi everybody,
    I'm about to start commuting (5 miles each way, mostly suburban side streets) and am looking into what bike to get. First of all I have to say this forum ROCKS! Had I known about it last time I was considering commuting, I probably would have started then..

    I've been to the LBS's around here a year ago, and they advised me that I should stick to a hybrid frame for commuting given the "fragility" of road bikes and the fact that I haven't been on a bike in a while (10 years since any regular riding and that was on a toy mountain bike)

    On one hand I want to agree with them, and start considering the hybrids i've seen around here, but on the other I'd really like to get into road biking since I know if I do any recreational biking, that's what I'd rather be doing.

    I've got a strict mandate from the missus to keep the bike (equipment not included) under $400, but if I'm getting a road bike I think I can push things to $600.

    I've been reading the "under $700 road bike" sticky, but pretty much any sub $600 road bike mentioned isn't sold around here unless the LBS has one on clearance from the previous season. used ads haven't turned up much either.

    I went to our local big-box sporting goods shop (dick's) and they had a diamondback podium for $550
    I haven't heard diamondback thrown around much around here, so I'm guessing they're not so great.
    any opinions from owners out there?

    the other thing I'm throwing around (more of the hybrid category) is the Kona Dew or Smoke

    What I'm really looking for is the best frame for the money since I figure with a good frame I can upgrade my way into a pretty decent bike.

  2. #2
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    I commute on an old English 3 spd. Upright position for easy visibility and balance, fenders and chain guard to keep you clean and very little maintenance once it is set up correctly. And old 3 spd are surprisingly efficient, I can easily keep up with traffic going 20-25 mph for a block or two.

    If you are going for a new bike, I would definitely go with road wheels/tires. Last time I checked the DOT was not constructing off road mountain trails for suburban streets.
    Il faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace

    1980 3Rensho-- 1975 Raleigh Sprite 3spd
    1990s Raleigh M20 MTB--2007 Windsor Hour (track)
    1988 Ducati 750 F1

  3. #3
    Senior Member CigTech's Avatar
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    Why not look around the pawn shops for a good used road bike. This way you will see if that is what you really want before you drop a lot of money on one. And if it does not work out, then go get a hybrid frame.
    May your feet keep move'n with the wind to your back.

    CigTech

  4. #4
    Senior Member ken cummings's Avatar
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    Either with or without a knowledgable bike friend I would haunt a lot (dozens) of Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other second hand stores. Even the occasional police sale. There are some incredible finds out there. Say $20 to $50 for something like a Reynolds 531 alloy frame, a lbs overhaul, new tubes and tires, lights, bags, rack . . . $600 can add up quickly. If the cash limit is spent all on a bike you will be short of the other things you need.
    This space open

  5. #5
    \||||||/ ZachS's Avatar
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    There are a lot of options. I'm sure that Diamondback is a fine road bike for the money, but it's not an ideal commuting rig - you really want something which can handle wider tires and fenders.

    My suggestion? Sit back and stay a while. You'll hear a lot of opinions, and you have a lot to learn.

    San Rensho's 3-speed idea is a good one. You should be able to pick up a nice one and get all of the maintenance up to date for well under $200 - that leaves plenty of money for a lock, helmet (if you choose to wear one), lights, raingear, etc. If you can find an old touring bike, or even a good-quality ten-speed from the 80's, that might be even better.


    You'll probably also have enough left over to start saving up for a nicer bike. You really won't know exactly what you need or want until you spend more time riding.

  6. #6
    Life is good RonH's Avatar
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    Have you considered a cyclocross or touring bike? I doubt if you'll find one in the $400-$600 price range unless it's used. They are similar to a road bike, the main difference being a longer wheelbase and different head tube/seat tube angles.
    My bikes --> 2001 Litespeed Tuscany---2013 Cannondale CAAD 10 2 (5) "Racing Edition"

    Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use. ~ Charles Schultz

  7. #7
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    You could put a wanted add on craigslist. Just say that you will spend around $100 on an older but good condition road bike. See what happens. I found one in less than a week that way. It had new tires & tubes & new handlebar tape. I put some new brake pads on it, used lots of wd40 to unstick any nipples on the wheels, and trued them up. I didn't really now what I was doing, so didn't get a great frame, but it is a touring bike, so it's strong, and has plenty of room for big tires, fenders, and a rack. I love the thing. Best bike buy I've made. Make sure that the wheels are reasonably good, all the bearings are pretty smooth, brakes work w/ real hard squeeze, etc. If you are less mechanically inclined, get something like the bike that you mentioned. Perhaps a new online bike like ibex cyclocross ($500). If you are not mechanically inclined at all, go to the lbs. You'll pay more, but it will work better from the get go, and they will probably be real good about keeping it going for the first couple of months (on the off chance something breaks).

  8. #8
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    In the midst of the bargain-hunting, remember (of course) not to compromise and get a bike that doesn't fit you well

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Hi everybody,
    I'm about to start commuting (5 miles each way, mostly suburban side streets) and am looking into what bike to get. First of all I have to say this forum ROCKS! Had I known about it last time I was considering commuting, I probably would have started then..

    I've been to the LBS's around here a year ago, and they advised me that I should stick to a hybrid frame for commuting given the "fragility" of road bikes and the fact that I haven't been on a bike in a while (10 years since any regular riding and that was on a toy mountain bike)

    On one hand I want to agree with them, and start considering the hybrids i've seen around here, but on the other I'd really like to get into road biking since I know if I do any recreational biking, that's what I'd rather be doing.

    I've got a strict mandate from the missus to keep the bike (equipment not included) under $400, but if I'm getting a road bike I think I can push things to $600.

    I've been reading the "under $700 road bike" sticky, but pretty much any sub $600 road bike mentioned isn't sold around here unless the LBS has one on clearance from the previous season. used ads haven't turned up much either.

    I went to our local big-box sporting goods shop (dick's) and they had a diamondback podium for $550
    I haven't heard diamondback thrown around much around here, so I'm guessing they're not so great.
    any opinions from owners out there?

    the other thing I'm throwing around (more of the hybrid category) is the Kona Dew or Smoke

    What I'm really looking for is the best frame for the money since I figure with a good frame I can upgrade my way into a pretty decent bike.
    my .02

    i commute about 30 miles/day on city streets and have learned 2 things:

    1. A hybrid works best. I find that the wider tires (38c's) are more stable, slip less on wet sewer grates, and are less prone to flats. The upright position is more comfortable and allows you to better observe traffic, especially when you have to look behind you. A hybrid also allows for easy carrier mounting and a set of panniers that will give you the opportunity to run errands, pick up stuff for dinner, and carry tools, tubes, and a pump...I also carry a change of clothes if riding when wet.

    2. Stay away from beaters. Get a good new inexpensive bike...in Canada you can get a new Trek hybrid for about $350, but some of the best inexpensive commuters are made by Fuji, KHS, and other tier 2 mfg's like Miele, Raleigh, and others...usually they're fairly similar at the same price points. You'll end up spending more on repairing old, used bikes. Bikes at pawn shops may be stolen (most are at the shops here)

  10. #10
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by San Rensho
    I commute on an old English 3 spd. Upright position for easy visibility and balance, fenders and chain guard to keep you clean and very little maintenance once it is set up correctly. And old 3 spd are surprisingly efficient, I can easily keep up with traffic going 20-25 mph for a block or two.

    If you are going for a new bike, I would definitely go with road wheels/tires. Last time I checked the DOT was not constructing off road mountain trails for suburban streets.
    This is probably the most common sense reponse for your (and many others) needs when it comes
    to urban commuting. These old steel framed english 3 speeds were built for the masses who had
    to travel by bicycle everyday. They are still a prefered bike in the rest of the world.

    Sure they're not fancy or gee whiz in anyway while all the bike snobs disdain them but for pure everyday
    get my a$$ from point A to point B the old 3speed owes no quarter to any other type of bike. THAT
    type of use is what they were built for.

    You can spend lots of money on another type of bike BUT you will not have a better bike for urban
    commuting.

  11. #11
    Mad scientist w/a wrench
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    Thanks for the advice so far, but I think it's raised a few questions.

    1 When looking at bikes outside of bike shops (i.e. Pawn shops yard sales, etc), is there a good way to distinguish Al from steel frames?

    2 I think my grandmother may have a few road bikes in storage somewhere, they were my aunts/uncles, if the frame fits, other than laughter are there any consequnces for a dude riding a women's bike?

    3 I did the inseam measurement mentioned on the nashbar website and got a final result of 54cm being the correct frame size for me? Being 6' tall, I figured either I'm short legged or something's fishy with my measurement.

  12. #12
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Thanks for the advice so far, but I think it's raised a few questions.

    1 When looking at bikes outside of bike shops (i.e. Pawn shops yard sales, etc), is there a good way to distinguish Al from steel frames? USE A MAGNET TO TEST THE FRAME.

    2 I think my grandmother may have a few road bikes in storage somewhere, they were my aunts/uncles, if the frame fits, other than laughter are there any consequnces for a dude riding a women's bike?
    HECK NO,MATE. IF YOU FIND A GOOD 'GIRLS' BIKE AND YOU LIKE IT.......RIDE IT. WOMEN SELDOM
    WEAR DRESSES TO RIDE ANYMORE. IN EUROPE THE "GIRLS" BIKE IS MORE POPULAR BECAUSE IT
    CAN BE USED BY MORE PEOPLE.

    3 I did the inseam measurement mentioned on the nashbar website and got a final result of 54cm being the correct frame size for me? Being 6' tall, I figured either I'm short legged or something's fishy with my measurement. IF YOUR INSEAM IS 29" OR 30" YOU CAN RIDE A 19IN. OR 20IN. FRAME.
    SEE CAPS ABOVE.

  13. #13
    Retro-nerd georgiaboy's Avatar
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    !. Try to look for decals on the lower end of the seat tube to determine the frame material. Other than that aluminum frames tend to have larger diameter tubes than steel frame. Looking an many bicycles you can begin to distinquish aluminum from steel.

    2. If the frame is a mixte style is can be considered unisex. Many persons need a lower step through due to back or leg problems. Definitely check out the bikes your family has. You could find a real gem. Some maintenance may be needed. The members of this forum are happy to help out.

    3, Your inseam length compared to torso plays a factor. Many men have a shorter inseam length as comparated to their upper body.

    Riding 5 miles each way is an ideal distance for starting out. This short distance would pretty much be covered by just about any bicycle. No doubt, as you learn to love to commute, your distance will increase due to your freedom to make excursions. That's when you will start to look for a well-built bicycle with a strong frame and wheels that you can save up for. You mentioned the Kona. Did you read the post about the Kona Dr Dew?

    New to work commuting with my Kona Dr. Dew (long post w/pictures)
    Would you like a dream with that?

  14. #14
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    More info to ponder..........

    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/english-3.html

  15. #15
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    With a 5 mile ride it makes little difference whether the frame is Al or steel, MTB, hybrid or touring style.
    Look for good quality contruction, nice even welds or neat lugs.
    The features you need on a commuter bike are:
    tyre clearance: at least 28mm + fenders.
    Rack and fender eyelets on frame.
    You may have to spend on new tyres, chain, cables, brake blocks etc.
    Beater bikes are a good , cheap way to get into cycling and a good example is just a nice to ride as an expensive new road bike.
    With a dedicated commuter beater, you can spend money on a fun bike.

  16. #16
    Crankenstein bmclaughlin807's Avatar
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    I'm currently commuting on an 80's Raleigh Technium... I paid $50 for it off of Craig's list, and it gets me the 8.5 miles to work great. The bike I was riding before that was a 1972 Schwinn Super Sport that I paid $20 for at a thrift store.

    Bottom line is: Commuting doesn't have to have an expensive bike!

    Between the two bikes, I have maybe $350 invested, and most of that was add-ons for the Raleigh, since I'm aiming to do a couple short (2-4 day) tours on it later this summer.

    Besides, if you spend the money on the bikes over time, your 'better half' may not realize how much money you've put into your new toys!!!
    "There is no greater wonder than the way the face and character of a woman fit so perfectly in a man's mind, and stay there, and he could never tell you why. It just seems it was the thing he most wanted." Robert Louis Stevenson

  17. #17
    back in the saddle bent-not-broken's Avatar
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    "Bottom line is: Commuting doesn't have to have an expensive bike!" - I can't agree more

    I have been commuting 5 miles each way for the last three years. I have accumulated a winter bike, GT mountain bike with studded tires, A rain bike, a full fendered raleigh hybrid with 700x38 tires, a Fuji 12 speed with partial fenders and a trekking bar and a Nishiki 12 speed, cow bar, no fenders for sunny days. I have never experienced any more than a flat tire on any of these in near 400 commutes, and have less than a hundred dollars in any of them.

    My experience is buy a good quality bike that is out of fashion at a thrift or yard sale. All of these bkies carry a LBS sticker, which indicates they are more than deppartment store Junk. For a 5 mile commute find something that fits and get riding. Learn what you prefer or need before you plunk down for 'new'. For me th e variety and utility is the key.

    Bent

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    I agree with the upright bike being the way to go. Try to find something on Craigslist or in the paper that is inexpensive.
    The advantages when you are trying to commute on the cheap are huge, you won't (probably) need bike shorts, I use a set of basketball shorts I stole from my oldest son. Jockey makes a set of Pouch style boxers that are 100% wicking and no not have seams where you sit. Walmart carries a "UnderArmour" clone for under $10.
    Save the extra $$ to buy a roadbike when you can afford it, but the "on the cheap" will get you on the road, then make the wife give you the difference you save by commuting and you'll get a quicker bike for harder rides later.

    Tom

  19. #19
    Senior Member ch9862's Avatar
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    I'd stay away from road bikes for now, esp. in your price range. Several features make them novice-unfriendly; narrow, high-pressure tires (bumpy), short wheelbase (twitchy steering), relatively aggressive geometry (rough on back/neck). They also typically lack eyelets for racks/fenders.

    I'd stick with hybrid. Don't think of it as the bike you'll be riding forever, but rather something to get you in shape, and learn on. If you know you want to get fast, look for something with rigid fork. Stick with wide, slick tires initially, and then switch to narrower ones when you feel stronger. When you start dropping roadies on weekend rides, get a proper road bike and keep the hybrid for commuting and rainy days.

    Others may know more though.

  20. #20
    Mad scientist w/a wrench
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    A little more at-work phone/net research has limited (new bikes) to these options

    Kona Dew, Kona Smoke, Trek FX 7.# series

    The Dew and the Smoke price out the same so I'm more worried about comparing them. seems like i have to decide if i'd rather take a steel frame with 26inch wheels or an al frame with 700c's.
    how hard is it to find narrow 26 inch tires? I imagine there's more variety in slick tires in the 700c category. could the smoke be converted to fit 700c's?

  21. #21
    yes
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    Any of those would work fine. I'd go w/ the trek 7.3 & the 700c wheels.
    It's easy to find 1" 1.25" and 1.5" slicks for 26" wheels. I think those 26" wheeled bikes come w/ slicks, but you can order new ones from performance for about $8-10 per tire.
    You might focus your research by calling local bike shops up to see what they stock. That way, it'll be convenient to try it out and pick it up. If there is a bianchi dealer... http://www.bianchiusa.com/06_boardwalk.html

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    well, I have the Trek 7100, not sure I'd get it again tho, its front fork has a shock as does the seat stem. Makes a soft comfortable ride, but there is def a performance hit, and as I am getting in better shape, I want the performance back.
    As to tires, I would believe that the "stock" rubber that comes w/ the bike is going to do you for quite a while

  23. #23
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    Given the budget, and immediate use/needs, I'd second the 'fast' hybrid rec. -- Kona Dew (basic), Trek 7.2 or .3fx (the fx series don't have the useless susp. fork), or Specialized Sirrus (again, basic model). These all have good, durable frames which can be updated/upgraded over time, and will always serve as great comm. bikes if/when you decide to add a dedicated roadie. As to 26" wheeled bikes (and I think these are great w/1.5" slicks) -- if you have a Marin dealer nearby, take a very close look at the (very inexpensive) Muirwoods: a really good, light steel frame/fork mtb with appropriate gearing, and stock road tires; I think these can be had for right around 400 U.S. I've ridden both this and the Kona Smoke; the Marin is pretty much as tough, but is a much quicker ride.

  24. #24
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    For inexpensive, hassle-free transportation, I'd get an old English 3 speed. On the other hand, if you are interested in road bikes and only have the budget foir one bike, why not just get a road bike? My feeling is that a hybrid gives you all the inconvenience of a road bike without the advantage of high performance.

    Paul

  25. #25
    Prairie Path Commuter
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    Quote Originally Posted by badger1
    if you have a Marin dealer nearby, take a very close look at the (very inexpensive) Muirwoods: a really good, light steel frame/fork mtb with appropriate gearing, and stock road tires; I think these can be had for right around 400 U.S. I've ridden both this and the Kona Smoke; the Marin is pretty much as tough, but is a much quicker ride.
    +1 for the Marin frames. Cromoly, strong, lightweight. I have a used 11 year old Marin MTB. I have replaced/upgraded a lot of components but the frame and rims rock.

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