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  1. #1
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    Buying a bike for commuting to school - advice?

    Hi everyone! I'm a student living in St. Louis city and I want to buy a bike for commuting to school (less than 2 miles from where I live). My preferred budget is $200, but I can spend up to $300 if absolutely necessary.

    I've been looking on Craigslist, but I can't really tell if a bike is worth the asking price. Are there any resources for that I can use to determine if a bike is worth it? Also, I'm 5'3, so a lot of the bikes being sold on Craigslist are too big. Does anyone have advice on how I can more effectively search for a suitable bike on Craigslist? (Brands or search terms to use, etc.)

    Alternatively, I can also buy a bike from Costco. The last time I was there, they were selling some bikes for $200 (I think it was a Diamondback Vital 2). Would it be a good idea to buy one?

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    There's a bicycle "blue book" web page that is hit or miss with pricing, but supposedly based on common CL/ebay pricing.

    Bikepedia is a good place to look up the original MSRP, but sometimes that number isn't recorded.

    If you know the MSRP, I generally consider a fair price 50% of MSRP if the bike is only a year or two old and has been stored inside. Older than that, generally, it should be about 1/3 or the original MSRP. +/- if it has been recently overhauled by a shop (and the seller has a receipt), if the cables/housing are new, brake pads are new, tires aren't worn, etc. Pricing is an art and it takes some practice to know a fair price. Sometimes MSRP is worthless due to age... who cares if the original price was over $2000 if a current production $1000 bike is just as good due to technology trickling down over a decade.

  3. #3
    Senior Member capejohn's Avatar
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    I'm assuming your in St. Louis, MO. If so go to Turtle Park on the night of the full moon with your bike. 10 PM

    You like to ride bikes, right?
    You know when the moon is full, right?
    You know the way to Turtle Park, right?
    You know how to have fun, right?
    You know what to do.
    Bike riding New England gentleman.

  4. #4
    Senior Member jfowler85's Avatar
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    Huh...I guess turtle park is where it's at.

    You might take a gander at bikesdirect.com; I'm sure there are plenty of haters around these parts for that site but it sounds like something from there might serve your purposes and fit your budget well. You might benefit from a single speed, depending on how hilly your commute would be.

    In regard to the bike in question: Sizing is relative to a handful of aspects. There are some generally accepted rules to follow, and a google search will tell you how to size yourself for a good ballpark figure. Some people prefer smaller or larger frames, and remember you can always adjust the seatpost to fit in the margins. I would suggest purchasing something on which it is comfortable to wear street clothes; just roll your pant legs, like a lot of commuters here do, to keep chain grease out of your clothes. Whatever you do, don't buy something site unseen, and don't buy without trying it out first (which, admittedly, is not possible to do if you buy from an internet vendor, but in that case you could have a local bike shop fit you for the type of bike you are looking at buying). Any kind of rust is a no-go, and pressure sales are always a bad thing.

    Other than that, I would suggest also investing in a set of allen and crescent wrenches in order to do basic fixes and maintenance so simple issues don't leave you without a ride. Also, I would strongly suggest looking up your local bicycle laws on MODOT's website as well as your municipality's site. It is very much worth knowing how to stay on the good side of the law...cops usually don't give me trouble but when they do it's a hassel and in my experience being cited on a bicycle is the same as being cited in a car, which means your insurance premiums will go up for any vehicles you have insured or will have insured.

    Stay safe, learn how to be seen on the roadway, and always ride like you are the most vulnerable thing on the road...because you are.
    Last edited by jfowler85; 04-07-14 at 10:04 AM.

  5. #5
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    Go to www.nashbar.com and take advantage of their 2-day sale. Buy 3 things and get the whole price tag reduced by 20%.

    Get a bike, a lock, and a helmet!

    Checkout the Nashbar AT2 women's Mountain Bike @ $300
    Last edited by WestPablo; 04-07-14 at 10:04 AM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    Find a friend who knows something about bikes to help you. Avoid big box brand bikes like the plague. Until you find something, walk to school...it's only about 30 minutes.

  7. #7
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    I'd take a Costco bike in for a tune up right away and thus get the assembly double checked in a Bike Shop..

    big box store employees are not trained bike mechanics , so you will find things not done right, right out of the big store.

  8. #8
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    Thanks so much everyone! I am searching Craigslist now based on everyone's advice (consult bikepedia & bicycle blue book for pricing, avoid big box brands, etc.). If I find anything, I post the ads to get feedback from you guys!

    I have looked up some bike size charts online. Based on the ones I checked, a 5'3 person should use a frame length of 18-19 inches (48-50 cm). However, on some Craigslist ads, 5'10 people are riding 17 inch bikes (presumably this is the frame length?). Does this sound right?

  9. #9
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    As long as you don't plan on just turning around and reselling it in hopes of making a profit. Then it's not "what is it worth?" But "what is it worth TO YOU?"
    IC

  10. #10
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    CL is the way to go but it can be a pain. I'll look for a vintage mtb (one with a rigid fork). They can be easily found for under $200. They have strong wheels that survive abuse. Your odd of finding a vintage mtb in decent shape is better than finding a decent road bike. And the prices are lower to boot; they are nicely set up with eyelets and the rest for commuting as well. Try to find one for a $100 or so; then you have money left over to work on it at the local bike co op.

  11. #11
    Dharma Dog lhbernhardt's Avatar
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    If you're commuting to school, this implies that the bike will be locked outside somewhere. So you need to go with something used, and that looks like it's been used. You want to reduce its apparent resale value so that thieves are less likely to target it. And you also want a good lock.

    If you find a bike that's nice and shiny, you can wrap the tubes in tape (cloth or electrician's) to make it look less desirable. Actual bike performance is not a big issue, if riding to school 2 miles is all you want to do with it.

    Luis

  12. #12
    PatronSaintOfDiscBrakes dynaryder's Avatar
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    Saint Louis BikeWorks

    This is a co-op in St Louis;you should have a decent chance of finding something in your price range there.

    C'dale BBU('05 and '09)/Super Six/Hooligan8and 3,Kona Dew Deluxe,Novara Buzz/Safari,Surly Big Dummy,Marin Pt Reyes,Giant Defy 1,Schwinn DBX SuperSport/Qualifier,Brompton S6L,Dahon Speed Pro TT

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
    CL is the way to go but it can be a pain. I'll look for a vintage mtb (one with a rigid fork). They can be easily found for under $200. They have strong wheels that survive abuse. Your odd of finding a vintage mtb in decent shape is better than finding a decent road bike. And the prices are lower to boot; they are nicely set up with eyelets and the rest for commuting as well. Try to find one for a $100 or so; then you have money left over to work on it at the local bike co op.
    I happened to see a mountain bike without suspension on Craigslist today: Schwinn bike with baby carrier, 26" tires
    It is a Schwinn Frontier GS (owner doesn't know the year, but I'm guessing it's probably at least 10 years old) for $45. It's attached to a baby carrier but fortunately that can be removed. Would it be a good idea to get this bike?

  14. #14
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    i think a baby seat would be a great theft prevention device. Who would steal a bike from a baby?

  15. #15
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lullite View Post
    I happened to see a mountain bike without suspension on Craigslist today: Schwinn bike with baby carrier, 26" tires
    It is a Schwinn Frontier GS (owner doesn't know the year, but I'm guessing it's probably at least 10 years old) for $45. It's attached to a baby carrier but fortunately that can be removed. Would it be a good idea to get this bike?
    At $45 with a baby seat? Absolutely if the bike fits you; it looks pretty clean in the pics but of course you need to check it out. Still at this price, I'd grab it if it fits.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Rudz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan s View Post
    i think a baby seat would be a great theft prevention device. Who would steal a bike from a baby?
    This is great. Seriously who would? Buy it and leave the baby seat on. Lmfao
    Giant Rapid 3- COMMUTERIZED *IBERA*Nashbar*Tiagra*105*Velocity*Selle SMP*Gatorskin
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
    At $45 with a baby seat? Absolutely if the bike fits you; it looks pretty clean in the pics but of course you need to check it out. Still at this price, I'd grab it if it fits.
    I will be checking out the bike tomorrow! What kind of things should I be looking for when I'm inspecting the bike?

    Quote Originally Posted by alan s View Post
    i think a baby seat would be a great theft prevention device. Who would steal a bike from a baby?
    Haha, it's probably true that people would be less likely to steal the bike if I left baby seat on. But the baby seat is pretty big so I don't want to ride around with it everyday.

  18. #18
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lullite View Post
    I will be checking out the bike tomorrow! What kind of things should I be looking for when I'm inspecting the bike?



    Haha, it's probably true that people would be less likely to steal the bike if I left baby seat on. But the baby seat is pretty big so I don't want to ride around with it everyday.
    Make sure that the frame is straight. Look at the tubes and make sure that there are no dings or bends. Pick up the front of the bike and check if the wheel looks relatively straight and passes between the brake shoes. Do the same for the rear. Ride the bike. Does it feel pretty good? Do the gears and brake work? Basically you don't want a basket case of a repair job. If you have a friend who has some knowledge about bikes, take him or her along.

    You are not risking much for $45. If the frame looks good and the wheels look good, you'll be able to fix what you need at the local bike co-op without spending a ton of money on the bike.

    Also that is a relatively small bike and you don't want to get a bike that is too small. How tall are you? You are not risking much here. The bike is clean and you can turn around and sell it for what you paid for it (if not more) pretty easily.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
    Make sure that the frame is straight. Look at the tubes and make sure that there are no dings or bends. Pick up the front of the bike and check if the wheel looks relatively straight and passes between the brake shoes. Do the same for the rear. Ride the bike. Does it feel pretty good? Do the gears and brake work? Basically you don't want a basket case of a repair job. If you have a friend who has some knowledge about bikes, take him or her along.

    You are not risking much for $45. If the frame looks good and the wheels look good, you'll be able to fix what you need at the local bike co-op without spending a ton of money on the bike.

    Also that is a relatively small bike and you don't want to get a bike that is too small. How tall are you? You are not risking much here. The bike is clean and you can turn around and sell it for what you paid for it (if not more) pretty easily.
    Thank you so much bikemig! I will look for all those things and do some more reading (there is so much stuff to read about!) before I go. On the 5th picture in the ad, it looks like the front wheel brakes are at different heights. Is this normal?

    I'm only 5'3 with an inseam length of 27-28 inches, so I'm hoping that this bike won't be too small.

  20. #20
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lullite View Post
    Thank you so much bikemig! I will look for all those things and do some more reading (there is so much stuff to read about!) before I go. On the 5th picture in the ad, it looks like the front wheel brakes are at different heights. Is this normal?

    I'm only 5'3 with an inseam length of 27-28 inches, so I'm hoping that this bike won't be too small.
    That is a small bike; it is probably the right size for you. As long as you can straddle over the top tube, you're in business (even if you touch it, that will be OK if not ideal). Don't sweat what you see about the brakes. Just make sure the bike looks straight and the wheels. Make sure the brakes work and the derailleur shifts. If all that happens, you are in business. $45 is just a really good deal. I'd be tempted to pick it up if it were local and I don't have a need for it.

  21. #21
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    If that frame fits, I say definitely go for it! I've seen a few people us baby carriers as a great backpack carrier so you dont have to wear and sweat all over your bag on the ride. If you don't like the carrier, you could have probably $10-20 of your money back by putting it on Craigslist
    Quote Originally Posted by M_S View Post
    ..... but at the end of the day we're all just dorks riding around on bicycles, right?

  22. #22
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    Sorry for reviving this thread, but I finally got the bike ($45 Schwinn Frontier)! Thanks again for the advice everyone!

    Quote Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
    Make sure that the frame is straight. Look at the tubes and make sure that there are no dings or bends. Pick up the front of the bike and check if the wheel looks relatively straight and passes between the brake shoes. Do the same for the rear. Ride the bike. Does it feel pretty good? Do the gears and brake work? Basically you don't want a basket case of a repair job. If you have a friend who has some knowledge about bikes, take him or her along.

    You are not risking much for $45. If the frame looks good and the wheels look good, you'll be able to fix what you need at the local bike co-op without spending a ton of money on the bike.
    Thanks again bikemig for telling me what to look out for! The frame, wheels, and gears seem to be in good condition. Unfortunately, the brakes are not that great, though they still work for now. The brakes are cantilever brakes like these ones, and they use a plastic housing on the springs. All of the spring housings have cracked or fallen off, so the brakes are currently not centered (and can't be adjusted by moving around the brake shoes because the bolts are too rusty to turn). I will have to get some new cantilever brakes, which seem fairly easy to install. However, the ones that have metal spring housings are surprisingly expensive (will probably cost $50-60 to repair all the brakes).

    Do bike co-ops usually sell used parts? Maybe I can go St. Louis BikeWorks and see if they have any used ones...
    Last edited by lullite; 04-18-14 at 09:36 AM.

  23. #23
    Miyata Cultist Tessou's Avatar
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    If it was me, I'd pay that $50-60 for the peace of mind. If I can't trust the bike, I won't ride it.

  24. #24
    Senior Member bikemig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lullite View Post
    Sorry for reviving this thread, but I finally got the bike ($45 Schwinn Frontier)! Thanks again for the advice everyone!



    Thanks again bikemig for telling me what to look out for! The frame, wheels, and gears seem to be in good condition. Unfortunately, the brakes are not that great, though they still work for now. The brakes are cantilever brakes like these ones, and they use a plastic housing on the springs. All of the spring housings have cracked or fallen off, so the brakes are currently not centered (and can't be adjusted by moving around the brake shoes because the bolts are too rusty to turn). I will have to get some new cantilever brakes, which seem fairly easy to install. However, the ones that have metal spring housings are surprisingly expensive (will probably cost $50-60 to repair all the brakes).

    Do bike co-ops usually sell used parts? Maybe I can go St. Louis BikeWorks and see if they have any used one...
    That's a heck of a deal for $45 and well worth it even if you have to replace the brakes. In fact replacing the brakes and brake cables is a really good thing to do for safety reasons. The co-op will sell parts (certainly cables and cable housing) and may have the used parts you need. I like cantilevers but you'll find some rants on this website (and elsewhere) because they can be a bit fiddly to set up. Still those Altus are a good choice. I'd go talk to the people at the co-op and see what they sell. They'll give you advice on how to set it up as well.

    Edit: btw, post some pics of your new bike. We like pics and it will make it easier to answer any questions you might have. The mechanics forum is really good for any questions you have in fixing your new old bike up.

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    I'm 5'5. I just got the Vital 2. GREAT Bike! It's going on clearance everywhere right now to make room for the 2014 model. The 2014 model isn't much different except that the handlebars are no longer adjustable, so the 2013 model is a slightly better bicycle.

    The problem for me is that I got the 15". I'm thinking of trying to exchange it for the 17". The seat height is fine, but the handlebars are a little too close to my body for comfort. I'm right on the border between the small (15") and medium (17"). I think the medium would have been the safer choice. At 5'3", a 15" probably would be okay. It really depends on how far forward you want to lean. The larger frame will allow you to sit more upright. I've heard complaints that even the 17" is too small for some riders over 5'7".... which really isn't that tall.....

    For your height, the Vital 2 would have been a pretty good option. Not difficult to assemble or adjust. Rides well. I wouldn't recommend the 15" for riders over 5'4.

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