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
- 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:
- Fenders & rack (if not included)
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).