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  1. #1
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    yet another newbie suggestion thread (bike and general tips for chicago)

    Hi All,

    I've been lurking on this forum for a while, trying to digest as much information as I can.

    I would like to start bike commuting (and also general recreational riding). Primary goal is to save money. My commute will be in Chicago, from the northwest side to downtown, about eight miles one way (16 miles round trip). For those of you familiar with the city, I live near Irving Park & Pulaski, and will be commuting to the NW corner of Wacker & Monroe. According to Google Maps, most of the ride will be down Milwaukee, although I'm not sure what the best route is when Milwaukee ends. Google's suggestion has me taking Halsted to Jackson to Wacker, which doesn't seem intuitive to me. Any specific tips on this commute/route would be much appreciated!

    But even before I get into route optimization, I need to get a bike. I haven't ridden a bike since college (over 10 years ago), and don't have a bike now. Looks like the most common suggestion is to hit up a LBS (of which Chicago has many) and get some advice/suggestions/direction that way. I intend to do this, but I'm sure the LBS---and people on this forum---will eventually ask, "What is your budget?" That's really my first question: what's a reasonable amount of money to spend on my first commuter? Part of me says get something cheap, and make sure I really want to commit to this new hobby/lifestyle. The other part of me says to just assume I'm going to like this, and spend money to get something decent upfront.

    Another consideration, based on feel from reading many threads, is that Internet-direct dealers (such as Nashbar and BikesDirect) will be a bit cheaper. The Nashbar bikes in particular appeal to me, because they are all very "plain" looking (aesthetics matter little to me, but my intuition says lack of branding might be a good theft deterrent).

    From reading other similar threads, for year-round Chicago commuting, common suggestions seem to be:
    • Steel frame (smoother ride for Chicago's not-always-smooth streets)
    • Ability to use wide(ish) tires for rough streets and/or winter
    • Fenders
    • Cargo rack
    • Puncture-resistant tires (maybe)


    (I didn't bookmark it, but one of the threads I read gave me the impression that a Chicago bike commute is a pretty rough experience.)

    In addition to the bike itself, I need to consider the cost of required accessories:
    • Helmet
    • Lights
    • Fenders & rack (if not included)
    • Lock


    From lurking on these forums, a common suggestion for someone in my situation is the Surly Cross Check. I know that reading forums is a poor substitute for actually trying out some bikes, but until I have time to do that, I'm trying to get some reference points in my head. The Surly costs over $1000, which is definitely more than I want to spend. But the Nashbar Steel Cyclocross Bike (http://www.nashbar.com/bikes/Product...6536_-1_202339) seems like a close competitor at a much lower price. It's still $750 (and out of stock until November), so by the time I add in accessories---plus possibly paying a LBS to do a tune-up---I feel I'll be pushing $1k anyway.

    So I'm back to my initial question: what's a good price point for someone just starting out with Chicago bike commuting? Basically, I want to spend as little as possible while still getting something reliable and nice enough that I want to ride it, and not turn me off to biking right away.

    FWIW, I'm about 5'11", 205 lbs, 34in inseam (long arms and legs, short torso). I feel I'm in decent shape strength-wise, but rarely train endurance (which is another collateral goal of me biking).

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Senior Member no motor?'s Avatar
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    There are a couple of members here who live in Chicago that can help you with riding in the city, and let me be the first to say try a used bike first.

  3. #3
    Very, very Senior Member JPprivate's Avatar
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    Welcome, and best of luck. Happy to see somebody else join the ever growing cycling community in chicago.

    Couple of things:
    First off, don't sweat the bike so much in the beginning. Get something used and very cheap. After a few weeks you'll have a better idea of what you like or not. After some time you have a much better idea about tire size (narrow or wider), handle bars -drop bars, flat bars etc, gearing and so on.
    Also let me fix your priority list:
    1) Puncture resistant tires has to be a top priority, I went from 5-8 flats a summer to 1 flat a year (12 months)
    2) Cargo rack, but only after some time when you decided that you don't like to carry your stuff on your back (the opinions vary)
    3) Ability to use wider tires (I am a big fan of wide tires, 26x1.75, but certainly not everybody, again, see what you like after riding a cheap bike around for a few weeks.
    4) Fenders,
    5) Steel frame - you can forget about this for now, any frame material will do at first. There are so many other aspects that make for a smooth ride (like bigger tires)

    The current weather is the worst to start riding in, I actually prefer winter over this. You should figure out how you clean up by the time you get to work,, because you will be soaked after a 8 mile commute.
    There are a couple of truly excellent bike shops in the city, one of my favorites is Roscoe Village Bikes, and Uptown Bikes. For your first bike, I don't recommend internet dealers, you really want to be able to ride the bike. I for one took an old bike I paid $50 for and upgraded it, so it's basically a custom bike by now (after spending $800 dollars to upgrade things), with only the frame untouched. A cheap mountain bike is probably a good first choice.

  4. #4
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    Welcome To Bike Forums, Rooster!

    Since the word is that most of Chicago is flat and you want to save money. Why not opt for a single speed? It's less expensive and requires less maintenance. If you buy a new bike, you get a warranty and so many free adjustments and/or repairs, depending upon your LBS. Always try to buy new, if you know exactly what you want and can afford it. However, if you feel obliged to buy a used bike, always prefer steel to both used aluminum and carbon.

    The KHS Urban Soul Single Speed ~ $400
    www.khsbicycles.com/06_urban_soul_12.htm

    Otherwise, just get one of the following:

    The Jamis Coda Sport ~ $560

    www.jamisbikes.com/usa/thebikes/street/coda/12_codasport_bk.html

    The Jamis Coda Comp ~ $775
    www.jamisbikes.com/usa/thebikes/street/coda/12_codacomp_bk.html

    The Cannondale Bad Boy ~ $730
    www.rei.com/product/827796/cannondale-bad-boy-9-bike-2012/

    The KHS Urban Xpress ~ $570
    www.khsbicycles.com/06_urban_xpress_m_12.htm

    Good Luck!

    * Frame material matters least when buying new...

    PS.

    That Nashbar Cyclocross bike looks pretty darned good too!

    Hybrids are cheaper
    Last edited by SlimRider; 07-04-12 at 03:06 AM.

  5. #5
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    For the streets, you want fat tires, period. I expect a 26" MTB would be about perfect, especially if you're riding year-round. Road bikes are nice if you're gonna head out of the city, but on streets or even the lakeshore MUP (north of the loop, anyway) I expect you're not going to get much speed.

    Where will you keep the bike when at work?

  6. #6
    Senior Member Chris W.'s Avatar
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    My little brother Alex can set you up at West Town bikes/Ciclo Urbano, my other brother Nick can help you out at Rapid Transit Bike shop. Both of them have been commuting in Chicago for nearly 20 yrs ;-)

    Cheers,
    Chris

  7. #7
    Senior Member a1penguin's Avatar
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    JP has excellent advice: buy used initially. You might find that commuting isn't going to work for you. Most likely you are going to want a shower after a 10 mile ride and riding in work clothes will not be practical. I'm not sure a spit bath and fresh clothes will be enough. Do you have a place at work to freshen up? Or store clothes rather than toting them? Do you have a bike friendly route or is your 10 mile commute or is it going to be scary? These are questions you will need to consider.
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  8. #8
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    You will find it very hard to buy used bike in Chicago that is safe and worth riding. It's better to buy new bike online, it will save Your money, time and it will be easier to sell if You change your mind.

  9. #9
    Senior Member john4789's Avatar
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    Your Route to Work:
    MKE to Desplaines. Bear right on Desplaines to Monroe. Left on Monroe to Wacker. Could not be easier. The only difficult part is turning left on to Monroe from Desplaines since you need to cross 4 one-way lanes. Even that is not hard if you can time the lights correctly and have an empty street to do it.
    Your Route Home:
    Wacker to Madison. Left on Madison to Canal. Right on Canal to Kinzie. Left on Kinzie to MKE. Right on MKE to home.

    ***Note: beware of bridge closures over the river due to Wacker reconstruction. I don't go this way often and am not up to date on what bridges are open.

    Lastly, +1000 on used bikes. Go to the Recyclery or Play it Again Sports or use Craigslist if you are comfortable. You will change what you like and don't like about your bike within the first 6 months and want something different so don't get something expensive the first time.

    Remember that you can always use your used starter commuter as your rainy day/winter commuter once you decide on something better for your fair weather 'nice' commuter. A smart bike commuter always has an extra bike in case of emergency.

  10. #10
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    Hi Everyone,

    Thank you all for the helpful and useful replies!

    I asked my parents, and they still have a couple of my old bikes! If they still have the one I used in college, it should be at least close to the right size. I'll spend a little money taking it to a shop for some basic tuning (and probably puncture-resistant tires). Only problem is my folks live 150 miles away. Might have to plan a visit sooner than later!

    Regarding freshening up: there is a gym in my building to which my company pays membership. So I can just take a quick shower in the locker room there. Also, there is no dress code where I work, so I can just toss a change of clothes in my backback or similar. Does anyone use fanny packs for bike commuting? I know they aren't the most fashionable, but they seem fairly practical for bike commuting (assuming you have a small amount of stuff).

    The building also has indoor bike parking that I can use for $20/year.

    Thanks again everyone, this is a very helpful and friendly community!

  11. #11
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    I'm glad you found a solution, Rooster!

    Happy Fourth!

  12. #12
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    I'm from Chicago. My best tip would be to invest in a good U-lock and chain. NYC Kryptonite is a good one. There are professional thieves that operate downtown even during the working hours. Also, puncture resisent tires are a must. Lots of broken glass on the streets. It's kinda hectic community in the city at first but it will get easier the more you do it.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by no motor? View Post
    There are a couple of members here who live in Chicago that can help you with riding in the city, and let me be the first to say try a used bike first.
    +1 to this.

    My cycle-commuting carreer started in Chicago in 1987. My route went from Peterson/Western to McCormick north to Dempster west and over to a side street where I worked at Rand-McNally. About 7.5 miles. Then as I taught voice/guitar/mandolin a/t Old Town School of Folk Music on W. Armitage I'd ride down Lincoln and take a couple of back streets over to Armitage. About 6 miles. In addition I started riding everywhere for everything, so I got to know the city pretty well.

    For a bike I'd recommend a hardtail/hardfork early '90s mtb. 1.75 flat resistant tires w/Mr. Tuffy tire liners. Or if you're not worried about rolling limitations get a set of Schwalbe Big Apple 2.0 and you'll be set. www.biketiresdirect.com They're the mtb version of the Schwalbe Marathon Plus. Plenty of extra rubber for flat resistance. ANYTHING except Kenda tire products. They're crap and unsuitable for urban cycling...I know, I used them for a few years and spent alot of time w/my bike up-side-down repairing flats. Cheap is not worth it.

    Accessories:

    Rack: Delta Universal Megarack 30-40.00 online. Do an internet search.
    Helmet: Any contemporary brand like Bell, Giro, etc. 20-50.00.
    Fenders: Planet bike mtb 60mm. Available @ www.bikeisland.com for 34.00 w/no shipping.
    Panniers: Look on Craigslist for used, waterPROOF...you'll need 'em in Chicago. 25-200.00
    Trunk Bag: Topeak, Sunlite, etc. are quaility products...try to get one that's expandable. That'll come in handy.

    Tubes, patchkit, multi-tool(Bike Island has a Park MTB-3 for 23.00 that's got everything, including a chaintool), headlamp for hands free repairs at night. Needle-nosed pliers or Leatherman multi-tool for removing staples, wire and/or glass shards.

    Lights: My current lights are a Niterider Mi-Newt cordless 150 from www.nashbar.com for 50.00. You may or may not want to get a stronger light, but this is as low as you'll want to go in dealing w/traffic. In addition I've got a Sette Glo used for daytime front blinkie. It's not as bright as the NR on blink mode, so not as irritating to oncoming drivers. But, plenty visable. 10.00 @ www.pricepoint.com

    Rearward I got a Cygolite Hotshot. 2.0 watts and it's REALLY bright. Totally visible during the day and re-chargable. 100+ hours on blink mode. Also availble @ Price Point for 30-35.00. Worth it. For addtional visibility I have several Sette 316 0.5 watt blinkies that are, basically Planet Bike Superflash knock-offs @ 1/3 the price. 10.00 @ Price Point. Order 4 or 5 of them w/t Hotshot and you'll be set for years.

    Sorry to have gone overboard w/advice. There's a strong emotional attachment to Chicago for me for alot of different reasons. When I started cycle-commuting nobody was out except me that I knew about. I had to learn by trial and error. Then Mayor Daley changed the mindset of the whole city. He even admitted to giving the one-fingered 'Chicago Salute' on more than one occasion. Gotta love a mayor like that. PM me and I'll share some laughable experiences...not funny at the time, but sure are now. Good luck and happy commuting!
    Last edited by nashcommguy; 07-04-12 at 02:00 PM. Reason: grammar

  14. #14
    Senior Member a1penguin's Avatar
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    Rooster, you have all the bases covered. For a small investment getting your old bike tuned up, you'll be almost home. I recommend doing the ride on a weekend to see how long it takes and to familiarize yourself with the roads a bit. Also drive your route at the time you plan on doing your commute. That will provide you with some idea of how busy the streets will be. Good luck!
    2012 Cannondale Synapse 3, 2012 Trek 7.5 FX Disc, 2003 Trek 2200 WSD, 1997 Specialized Rockhopper Al Comp

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    My folks sent me a picture of my old bike I used in college (see below). I know the pic isn't very good, but there looks to be a lot of rust. I'm wondering if it's even worth dragging it 150 miles. It's sat completely unused in an unsealed garage basement for over 10 years. Thoughts?

    On the other hand, I realized my wife has a bike that she's not currently using. She's only three inches shorter than me, so I don't think the size is too far off. It's a Specialized Expedition from around 2003 (give or take a year or two). No visible rust. While it's also been neglected for many years, it has at least been stored with less exposure to the elements.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  16. #16
    Senior Member a1penguin's Avatar
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    Ick. That looks horribly rusty. Replacing the mechanical parts alone (cassette, derailleur cage) would be more than the bike is worth :-/ They should freecycle/recycle/donate that bike. It's just wasting space. If you can get the Expedition in ridable condition with elbow grease, it might be worth a try. Or sell it and put the $ toward a new bike.
    2012 Cannondale Synapse 3, 2012 Trek 7.5 FX Disc, 2003 Trek 2200 WSD, 1997 Specialized Rockhopper Al Comp

  17. #17
    Fat Guy on a Little Bike KonAaron Snake's Avatar
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    Another suggestion for a used bike - it won;'t suffer much depreciation if you want to resell it and buy smart. Heck - you might even make a buck!

    Rigid steel MTBs are, as suggested, usually the best buy in used bikes, but you have to change out the tires. I also prefer drop bars over any real distance, though 8 miles isn't so far that it's probably crucial. Drop bar MTBs make AWESOME commuters...if you find yourself wanting more movement, toss on a set of drops (it will also require some other changes). Another good suggestion are the 80s - early 90s - Japanese sports tourers...they're a little lighter, a little faster and have drops (which I like).

    I'd definitely look for something with a rack, or plan on getting a rack. Racks make bikes a lot more useful. I also really like baskets, depending on the task at hand.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by a1penguin View Post
    Ick. That looks horribly rusty. Replacing the mechanical parts alone (cassette, derailleur cage) would be more than the bike is worth :-/ They should freecycle/recycle/donate that bike. It's just wasting space. If you can get the Expedition in ridable condition with elbow grease, it might be worth a try. Or sell it and put the $ toward a new bike.
    First locate a bicycle co-op within your community. If such a thing exists, then continue reading...

    I would disassemble that bike and inspect it thoroughly. If there's just surface rust, then sand the rust off manually and treat the remainder rust chemically. I'd use those round wire brushes (what they use to clean *** barrels with) to clear the rust inside of my tubes. If there's much rust internally, forget it!

    Take many pictures of your bike, before disassembly, at various angles. As you disassemble your bike, take a picture or two with each step. Take a picture of the disassmbled part plus the frame. Label them as a part in the step. Then thoroughly sand your bicycle inside and out. Clean all sanded particles off your frame with denatured alcohol. Have your frame powdercoat painted. Treat your frame's tubes, internally with JP Weigle's framesaver. Take your frame and salvaged parts to the co-op. Join the co-op, by becoming a member.

    * Perhaps you could sand the rust off of components, as well...

    Whatever, parts you couldn't salvage, look for them in bins at the co-op. They might have components that fit. Whatever the co-op doesn't have, you can find on eBay or at your LBS.

    Good Luck!


    PS.

    Of course, it might be less money and most certainly less work, just to purchase online with bikesdirect!

  19. #19
    Senior Member no motor?'s Avatar
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    It looks like you'd have to replace an lot of parts on your old bike, but the 80's and 90's rigid mountain bikes make great commuters. I'd look for one that was in better shape, and then start there.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by no motor? View Post
    It looks like you'd have to replace an lot of parts on your old bike, but the 80's and 90's rigid mountain bikes make great commuters. I'd look for one that was in better shape, and then start there.
    +1 ^ Truer words were never spoken!

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