Plays in traffic
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Rochester, NY
Bikes: 1996 Litespeed Classic, 2006 Trek Portland, 2013 Ribble Winter/Audax
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Originally Posted by swimmbabe184
I'm looking to spend 300-400 dollars <snip> I need it to be very lightweight
These two statements are incompatible with each other. Cheap bikes are heavy. Light bikes are expensive.
Buying something used on arrival will make your budget go further, and possibly into the realm of lighter bikes.
The other things asked--how far, how much will you carry, how will you carry it, and so on will all help in the decision making.
I'm not ordinarily a fan of mountain bikes on road, but Pittsburgh is home to some the steepest streets in the country. A mountain bike with street tires is probably the best place to start. Better (read: more expensive) bikes will be both lighter for the carry, and shift better for utilizing those climbing gears.
Bear in mind too that routing strategy helps loads. No one says you have to take the shortest, most direct route, no matter what the terrain. Sometimes it's best to plan a route around terrain, and spend the extra time instead. Sometimes the loger route in miles will be the shorter route in time depending on lights, traffic and terrain. Struggling on a hill is slow compared to riding around it.
Don't forget to leave room in your budget for good locks--plural. Campuses are prime hunting grounds for bike thieves. A mid-range U-lock and a good (not cheap) cable lock together are the general recipie. All locks can be broken. Two different types requires a thief to carry two different types of tools. More importantly, your bike will be locked better than neighboring ones, and the thief is likely to move on.