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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 02-23-08, 11:12 PM   #1
TrpnBils
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Road or mountain bike for commute?

I'm getting back into biking after a long break and I'd like some advice. I'm primarily going to be using my bike for commuting to work (15mi each way combination of rural highways and city) and casual road rides, so i was planning on getting either a road bike or a hybrid because I keep reading about how they're faster than a mountain bike. For a commute like mine, is it really going to cut down on my time that much? I'm trying to stay under $500 for the bike because I don't have much money to begin with, so that limits what I'm able to buy, but I'm wondering if it would be worth getting a decent mountain bike rather than a bottom-rung road bike or hybrid for the same price. Is it primarily the weight, the tires, or something else that tends to make road bikes and hybrids faster in the first place?
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Old 02-23-08, 11:42 PM   #2
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It depends on your terrain, riding preferences, and cargo load. If the roads are fairly rough and you carry a lot of cargo a touring or cylocross bike might be perfect. If the roads are smooth and there is no ice and you carry only a light load a road bike would be faster and more efficient. I'd say however a touring/cyclocross bike with it's ability to mount a rack and fenders and medium width tires is best. A mountain bike is generally cheaper, but that's really the only advantage unless you commute on dirt paths or rough gravel. I prefer drop bars and brake levers with nice rubber hoods. The drops are really nice when it is windy also.
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Old 02-23-08, 11:44 PM   #3
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Hybrid non-suspension bike would be my pick. Full suspension MTB is just too heavy. At least at your price range.
Here's my pick http://www.rei.com/product/744802 a little over your budget, but it got almost everything you'll need for commuting.



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Old 02-24-08, 12:09 AM   #4
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You can get a good used rb for well under 500.00. If you're going to use it for commuting, primarily @ 30 miprdy that's 150 prwk. That's alot of mileage upfront, nevermind the weekend casuals. Get a good solid steelframe w/a double or single chainring set-up. Triples are a PITA.

Keep it simple as you've been out for a while. Downtube or stem shifting for low maintenence. Drop-bars, rack, trunkbag or panniers and fenders. 15 miles is a long way for a backpack. Craigslist...forget e-bay. It takes forever, anymore.

Get tire liners. Cheap-Mr. Tuffy Uncheap-Spinskinz I use airless tires myself and am happy w/them, but I'm trying not to do a TMI here. Get a good multi tool w/a built in chain tool...Topeak makes a real good one. Also, for a commuter frame pump the Topeak Road or Mountain Morph w/guage is the ONLY pump worth a tinkers damn. For 30-35.00, it's well worth it. Tire levers, patch kit, tube(s), multi tool w/chaintool, universal spoke wrench.

Get some basic tools w/which to do some of your own light maintenence. A third hand for brake adjustments was one of my first bike specific tools. I've had it for over 20 years and it still works. Needlenose pliers, crescent wrenches, sockets, allen wrenches, c-clamps, grease, light oil, WD-40, rags.

Get familiar w/t mechanics forum as those guys are world class in every sense of the word. They're from all over the world and answer questions of the most obvious type with grace and aplomb. I'll stop here. If I see anything on Craigslist that might fit your needs I'll shoot you a PM w/t info. Good luck and know you've come to the right place for answers. There's a nice hybrid on the nashville craiglist for $150.00 right now. http://www.nashville.craigslist.org click on bikes. It's the blue hybrid commuter. Nice clean ride for not alot of money.

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Old 02-24-08, 12:12 AM   #5
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It all depends on where you are riding. My commuter has changed with the ride. Currently its a mountain bike with street slicks and fenders to ride hilly, potholed streets. My commute before was 9 miles each way with mild hills and I rode my old 10 speed. One commute was 17 miles with steep hills and long uninterrupted flat sections and I got a nice road bike. Another commute was only 7 miles each way, but the middle 5 were through a nature preserve so I rode a mountain bike.

For commuting, I don't think you will need suspension. I use a 15 year old Specialized Hard Rock. With the street slicks it does okay.

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Old 02-24-08, 01:03 AM   #6
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I commute on a hard tail MTB, but if I did 30 miles a day I would seriously consider a road bike. For $500 you will probably go used for a road bike and still have enough money for the other crap you want to buy.
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Old 02-24-08, 01:55 AM   #7
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Other than lower weight and lower-friction tires, what road bikes offer is aerodynamics, and in at least two ways, one being that the bottom brackets on most sport road and touring road bikes are closer to the ground which places the seat lower once you have your seat position determined. Another would be the head tube angle, which, if you use a stem the likes of which come on most bikes (8* rise, 110mm-or-so length), the handlebars are located farther from the saddle. The last is the handlebar type; road bikes use drop bars which locate the brake hoods- where most people usually keep their hands- farther away from the saddle than would most hybrids. So on the road bike your body will sit lower and will be more stretched out. To me, that feels perfect. I went from this to an '04 version of this and when I tried to go back to the first of the two I just didn't like it because I was sitting way too high and upright.

I think if you get a MTB, you'll regret it. And if you're thinking about versatility, you can get sport road bikes that are rack and fender compatible which is what I want as my 04' Strada will accept a rack but not full fenders.

Last, if your commute is 15 miles then I wouldn't think about how much sooner you'll get there on the road bike but rather, how fast it will feel like you're going because the slower you go, the more tedious it will be. Worse is that the tedium will be longer experienced due to your greater travel time. Basically prolonged tedium, 5 days a week.
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Old 02-24-08, 10:51 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by TrpnBils View Post
I'm getting back into biking after a long break and I'd like some advice. I'm primarily going to be using my bike for commuting to work (15mi each way combination of rural highways and city) and casual road rides, so i was planning on getting either a road bike or a hybrid because I keep reading about how they're faster than a mountain bike. For a commute like mine, is it really going to cut down on my time that much? I'm trying to stay under $500 for the bike because I don't have much money to begin with, so that limits what I'm able to buy, but I'm wondering if it would be worth getting a decent mountain bike rather than a bottom-rung road bike or hybrid for the same price. Is it primarily the weight, the tires, or something else that tends to make road bikes and hybrids faster in the first place?
There are a couple of factors to consider. A road bike for $500 is a pretty low end bike. That doesn't mean that it's a bad bike but I've not see too many at that price that would be good candidates for commuter bikes. They lack many of the niceties, like rack mounts, that make commuting life easier. You can get racks that will work but they are either expensive or bandaids. Jamis, for example, has the Ventura Sport for a little more than $500 that is very light but too racy for commuting, in my opinion.

$500 for a hybrid buys about the same amount of bike. Don't buy anything in a hybrid with a suspension fork...it's wasted money...but something like the Trek 7.3FX would make a fairly good commuter bike...it has rack mounts. Do yourself a favor and stay away from 'comfort' bikes and don't buy the absolute lowest level of bike you can. You'll outgrow it very quickly and find the need to replace it. Buy a little more bike to begin with and save some money in the long run.

$500 buys more mountain bike then the other two bike types. There are just more mountain bikes made so the economies of scale are better. The Trek 4500 is the same price as the other bikes but it has a slightly better component spec than the others. It's going to be a little heavier since it has to take more abuse. And it's not going to be fast on the road...even with slicks. But, if you live in an area where you can go off riding in the woods or even want to try mountain biking, the mountain bike is the only way to go. You could do the same on the hybrid but you'll quickly hit that bikes limits on most any trail. Don't try it on the road bike, unless you were to buy a cyclocross but you ain't gonna get one for $500 Even then cyclocross bikes aren't that fun off-road...they're kind of scary

If I could only buy one bike, it's be a hardtail with a good front shock. You can ride it on the road, you can ride it off-road, you can commute on it and you can go adventuring on it. They are just more fun.
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Old 02-24-08, 11:13 AM   #9
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As far as the road bikes vs. mountain bikes debate is concerned, I've found it's largely a matter of personal preference--mostly image and emotion. Logic and reason seem to have little bearing on the matter.

My neighbor thinks his hardtail MTB is the best commuter for our conditions. I ride the same roads and conditions, and love my road bikes. Neither of us has problems with road hazards or wear and tear. Yet, he thinks I'm silly to ride something so frail as a road bike, and I'm sure glad I don't have to pedal a lumbering tank like his bike.

It's a lot like the SUV vs. sedan thing in car people.

As for what bike to buy, don't forget the used option. Around here it's much easier to buy new. I was able to wait for the right bike to come along and bought a seven-year-old Trek 1000 for just $100. It was beat to schitt and needed a whole new drivetrain. A couple of hundred later (including tools and repair books) I had a decent bike, for well under your $500 budget. Even has rack and fender mounts.

BTW, I started on a comfort hybrid with suspension fork. I echo the advice above, that it's not the best choice. However, I commuted 3,800 miles on the thing in my first year without problems, so it can be done.

I've since retired my 1000 from daily commuter duty, although it remains in my stable as a fun ride bike and backup fair-weather commuter.

Last edited by tsl; 02-24-08 at 11:21 AM.
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Old 02-24-08, 11:41 AM   #10
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How about a country/touring bike or all-rounder?

Congratulations on jumping back into the saddle! 15 miles each way is long enough that you'll want to make sure you have a comfortable and reliable bike.

Tires have a lot to do with speed and comfort. The fastest tires and the most comfortable tires are at opposite ends of the spectrum, so you want something in between. Wheel size doesn't matter so much. 26-inch wheels with narrow-ish tires that can take at least 50psi can roll fairly quickly... much more quickly than wide knobby tires for mountain biking. I use 700x37 Continental Top Touring tires that take about 75PSI. That's probably wider than most people though. I also have super skinny 700c tires on my racing bike that require at least 100psi to avoid pinch flats. Not as comfy.

I use a touring bicycle as my commuter, but I have also commuted on a hardtail mountain bike and my old 1988 Pinarello racing bike. Racing bikes make the worst commuters in my opinion, but if you're the kind of person who leaves clothes at the office and doesn't need to carry much on the bike a racer can be a fun way to get a workout during the commute. If you do need to carry a lot, and you want to do it comfortably, racing bikes just aren't great for it. They don't have clearance for wider tires or full fenders, and most do not have mounts for real racks. They also put you in an aggressive riding position that you may or may not like to be in every morning and evening. That said cyclo-cross bikes tend to have more clearance for wide tires and fenders...which makes them fairly popular commuters. Old-school sport-touring/club racing bikes with slacker angles often have clearance for wide tires and racks as well. Touring bikes offer the most versatility when it comes to tires and racks.

Mountain bikes? They can make good commuters, but here is what works against them: Suspension can make mounting fenders and racks tricky (depends on the bike though). You have to replace the tires right off the bat for something with less rolling resistance, and you might want to replace the flat bar as well. Drop bars offer more hand positions and are more comfortable for the long haul.

Hybrid can mean anything from sport-touring to city/comfort bike. They usually mean a less aggressive more upright riding position. Many come with fenders and a rack already mounted. I like more upright for commuting, but not everybody does. Touring bikes are the original hybrids and can be built up in so many ways. With the right tires a touring bike is as at home on gravel roads and less technical trails as it is on the road. This describes my bike: A touring bicycle that can go anywhere. Faster than a mountain bike, but more rugged and versatile than a racing bike. "Country bicycle" is another phrase I've heard tossed around.

$500 isn't a lot to work with for a bike that will be ridden 30 miles for every round-trip commute. You might be better off looking for something used, but then again you might find a good bike on sale. Ask about last year's models. Many shops have at least a few old models hanging around. Tell your LBS what you want and how you will be using it. Tell them you want full fenders (assuming you don't live in Southern California), a rear rack, and money left over for other accessories you may need. Then see what they come up with and shop around.

Good luck!

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Old 02-24-08, 09:28 PM   #11
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Hey, your commute sounds an awful lot like mine in both distance and terrain. I really can't imagine doing my commute on anything other than a road bike. There's been allot of great advice already posted so i won't repeat it. The one thing that hasn't been mentioned is the comfort of drop bars. They offer a variety of positions that i find make the trip more comfortable.
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Old 02-24-08, 09:33 PM   #12
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Hey, your commute sounds an awful lot like mine in both distance and terrain. I really can't imagine doing my commute on anything other than a road bike. There's been allot of great advice already posted so i won't repeat it. The one thing that hasn't been mentioned is the comfort of drop bars. They offer a variety of positions that i find make the trip more comfortable.
+1

Drop bars can seem intimidating to many at first but you can't beat them. It's a good idea to set your bars up high enough so that you can comfortably use the drops... so many riders make the mistake of setting their bars really low and then only riding in the hoods. They could have two more hand positions if they just moved their bars up a little bit.

That being said - my racing bike has very low bars, and it's not all that comfortable to ride in the drops... I'm as guilty of it as almost everyone else.
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Old 02-24-08, 09:56 PM   #13
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With 15 miles of rural highway and roadways I'd think a touring / cross bike would be the best vehicle for the ride although a rigid mtb with slicks could also serve you pretty well.

I have quite a few bikes and among them are a fg road bike and fg mountain bike that handle the bulk of my commuting while I also have an mtb with a 3 speed conversion and a geared hybrid/cross bike that also see a good amount of use.
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Old 02-24-08, 09:56 PM   #14
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I used to ride 10 miles a day on a hardtail mtb with stock tires, but I now have a road bike. I thought I was fast before, but now I can really feel the difference! A flat bar road bike would be good and is in your price range, and if you can get a good "real" road bike for $500 I'd do it.
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Old 02-24-08, 11:07 PM   #15
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Hey, your commute sounds an awful lot like mine in both distance and terrain. I really can't imagine doing my commute on anything other than a road bike. There's been allot of great advice already posted so i won't repeat it. The one thing that hasn't been mentioned is the comfort of drop bars. They offer a variety of positions that i find make the trip more comfortable.
Actually I mentioned the comfort of drop bars ;-)

I would also add that the riding position affects bar comfort as well. If you have an aggressive riding position (bars set several inches lower than the saddle), you need comfortable bars all the more because more of your weight will be on them. This will make multiple hand positions (especially ones that let you sit up a bit) all the more important. If you have a less aggressive riding position, then you can get by with single position bars a bit easier... whether they be flat bars or swept back albatross bars (which actually have more than one hand position, but many people only use the ends). The less aggressive position puts more weight on the saddle, and less on your hands.

I have mustache bars on my commuter. They give me several hand positions, but aren't quite as versatile as a drop bar. I love them though.

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