I'm currently looking to purchase a new bike to commute to and from school and to ride around town and on it's numerous trails for leisure and exercise. I know pretty much nothing about bikes...I haven't really used one since I was an adolescent.
I don't have much of a budget to work with here. I'm basically looking for something that is cheap and won't break down and kill me somewhere. Should I purchase a bike at a sporting goods store (Sports Authority, Academy etc) or should spring the extra bucks for a more quality bike from a bike store?
Any recommendations in terms of certain makers and such?
Also, any recommendations on what locks to use or techniques? I just read in the paper lately that the city I'm living in(Austin) is ranked #8 on a list of cities with the most bike thefts.
Buy your bike at a Local bike Shop (LBS). They can help you select an appropriate bike for your needs and pocketbook. They will help you select a bike that is the correct size for you. Like people, good bikes come in diffferent sizes.
Get a NY3000 U-lock (or an equivalent lock from OnGuard) and use it to lock your rear wheel through the frame to a pole. If you are in a particularly high theft area, remove the rear wheel and run the U-lock through it as well. Or, purchase a Kryptonite or OnGuard mini U-lock and lock the front wheel to the frame.
In high theft areas, do not waste your money on cable locks or cheap locks of any type. Do not use any lock from a discount store or sporting goods store. Do not use a length of chain from a hardware store. Any of these can be cut or broken in seconds. Kryptonite and OnGuard each sell a security chain that is acceptable, though very heavy if you can't leave it behind.
An MTB or hybrid style of bike can be used for general utility riding.
If the trails are poor quality or you like off-road, then go for an MTB. Make sure that you have threaded eyelets for a luggage rack and fenders. Cheap front sus forks are not worth the trouble compared to ridgid ones.
Depending on your budget, either an entry level new bike from a respected brand or a good mid-level used model.
Budget for helmet, lights, possibly luggage system, lock, puncture kit.