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  1. #1
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    Appropriate Bike for a City Cyclist

    I live in the suburbs of Chicago, where getting to the grocery store/shopping plaza involves a 2.5 mile one-way trip through subdivisions on the most direct route and getting to my college is a 6.5 mile journey through heavily congested, badly potholed roads shared with SUVs oblivious to anyone else but themselves.

    I am a new cyclist and my previous ownership of bicycles has been mostly limited to heavy, badly assembled, steel-frame mountain bikes from Target/Zellers. I rarely bothered riding because their bulk and general drawbacks made the ordeal fairly unpleasant. My goal this summer is to pick up a quality bike that can get me back and forth instead of the car, replace sitting on a stationary bike at the gym for exercise to get me in shape, and run basic errands with. My goal is to build up to doing a 10 mile ride at a time and go from there.

    The real question is: which bikes should I be looking at? I am not familiar with the finer points of purchasing a bike and there are several LBSes to choose from that range from general to highly specialized with bikes that cost more than my car did. I could use some suggestions to help narrow down the options and present a more educated front in my search for an appropriate bike.

    I have been considering between road bikes, hybrid/cross bikes and commuter bikes because I intend only to ride on the roads and possibly a crushed limestone trail in a local park, though around the main streets are heavily salted/sanded in the winter and there's a distinct lack of dedicated bike paths. I have no need for a mountain bike (I've never taken the mountain bikes I own off-road) or commuter bike (the geometry is very uncomfortable to me).

    Is there anything I should consider between straight handlebars and the drop handlebars used on road bikes? I haven't used drop bars before.

    There are several models I have been introduced to during my forays, ranging from the Trek 7.3 and Trek 1000/1.3 to the Fuji Finest and several Jamises, and a few I saw today at the LBS which I cannot remember the name of (cross or commuter bike with road tires and straight handlebars, a Kona? Koda maybe?). I am trying to keep costs down, but are these bikes more than I need or do they fit the purposes I laid out?

    I am worried that laying out $700 for a new bike might be a risky investment when I haven't actively begun cycling, though I do not want to get stuck with a cheap bike that requires a great deal of maintenance and repairs. I have a secure indoor place to leave the bike at the college and the rest of the time it will probably stay inside my house or very securely locked up. But there are few sources for used bikes that I know about other than Craigslist or maybe some shops downtown and that's a good 30 minute commute minimum by car for me to check them out. I don't have the experience or knowledge to judge between which bikes are best and which are not suitable, what their condition is, and even knowing what to look for without a bike mechanic coming along. Still, there is a major advantage in purchasing a good bike at a cheaper cost and then putting the savings into building a good relationship with the LBS for regular tuneups and maintenance. I don't want to have to many repairs beyond the basics (fixing flats, keeping chain oiled, checking tires, etc.) because I don't have the time to spare. Are there any recommendations for finding and considering used bikes? Several of the LBSes around me don't seem to stock used models or previous years' stuff.

    I'm happy to hear any advice, comments or ideas that anyone might have to give me. I am looking forward to getting into cycling, I just don't know how to go about finding a high quality bike suitable to my needs.

    Thanks very much!

  2. #2
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    Some of the bikes I've heard about via a Craigslist request but haven't checked out:

    54 cm Trek 2300 ZX, carbon fiber frame tubes, alloy fork and stays. Mixed Shimano 600/105 component set, 14 speeds, indexed down-tube shifters, Mavic alloy wheel set, Continental tires, new chain. He's the second owner, first owner had Trek re-paint it two years ago, annually tuned up. He has an aero-bar set he can install if I prefer. Asking: $450

    2005 Trek 1000: stock red, white and blue; 54 cm frame, less than 1000 miles use, very very good shape. Asking: $450.

    87 Trek 560EX: Immaculate condition, http://chicago.craigslist.org/chc/bik/692620949.html. He's willing to come down (as I put in my post my maximum price was around $450).

    Are any of these worth considering? What sort of questions should I be asking? The owner of the 2300ZX seemed to know the most about his bike between the top two but the Trek does look pretty appealing. I believe I'm between a 54 and a 56 cm frame, but I don't know. I'm about 5'11 and female.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kimmitt's Avatar
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    The first rule is that you aren't going to end up with the first bike you buy, so don't sweat it too much and don't spend too much.

    The second is that you should try a bunch of bikes out to see which ones suit you before buying. Here are some things to try:

    1) Mountain-bike style vs. cruiser-style vs. hybrid style. You mentioned the potholes and such, so you'll want to avoid the skinny-tired road bikes which go very fast but do best in ideal conditions. So there are a couple of frame geometries -- mountain bikes, in which you're hunched over and your weight is on your arms and knees. These are great for dealing with hazards, as your body is ready to shift weight as needed, but are a bit tiring sometimes. The second is cruisers, where your weight is basically on your butt, and you're more upright. These are slower but easier to ride. There should be several cruiser style bikes around -- try a Giant Simple or an Electra anything. Hybrids are inbetween, and they're ubiquitous at the LBS's. If neither the mountain bike style or the cruiser style feel quite right, try a hybrid.

    2) You'll want slick tires instead of knobby tires. This is not a particularly expensive upgrade, and your LBS will put them on for you, so don't choose based on this, just be sure to get it.

    3) You'll want to fiddle with some combination of rack/panniers, front basket, and large backpack/messenger bag. This is very much a taste issue, and most bikes can be made to work with any of the three in some useful fashion.

    4) You'll want lights and some other safety equipment, but again, these are not bike-specific.

    Overall, my suggestion is to hit a couple of LBS's nearby, try out the cruisers and the MTB style commuters, and get a feel for how you like to ride. Then hit Craigslist (Chicago Craigslist is good) and get a solid used bike that's similar to one you liked when you tried it out. Then, after a few months, either upgrade your bike or swap out for another.

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the feedback. I like the lightness of the road bikes but I am worried that they might end up with a lot of flat tires. On the other hand two or three of the LBSes have recommended them. Another prefers the commuter bikes with the narrow, smooth road bike tires. I feel like it's a bit conflicting.

    A rack is definitely up my alley!

  5. #5
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    Autumn,
    Everybody has their own style of riding and favorite/comfort level when it comes to bikes. I happen to prefer the IGH city/utility bike.

    Here is a link to someone in Chicago that has a Dutch Omafiets and is loving what it does for cycling in the city. Maybe see if you can catch up with them for some local based ideas.

    Aaron
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  6. #6
    Senior Member st0ut's Avatar
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    Whn i first started riding i started with a low end hybrid. back in those days that ment a mounting bike hardtail not suitable for 'Serious' off road. . At the time i didnt know if i wanted a mtn bike or a road... I thought mtn but i knew most of my riding would be urban so i got the low end hardtail hard front mtb.

    after a couple a year i found my calling was speed. your path my be different.

    A trek FX 7.2, specialized Sirrus, I think would be a great start for you.
    Cars make you weak.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Kimmitt's Avatar
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    Autumn -- your concern regarding flats is quite reasonable; folks at LBS's sometimes forget that technical things take longer for those of us getting into the business. The narrow commuter tires are still wider than the teeny road bike tires, and they operate at lower PSIs, so they're less likely to pop.

    In addition, you can modify the tires on those commuters you see to make them a little wider if you decide you need to, which (I think) is much less the case for the road bikes.

    Remember that the engine is the most important part; you're going to be going much slower than you will be eventually no matter what, so -- again -- buy cheap, take notes for a few months, and don't sweat it.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Timtruro's Avatar
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    I would go with a hybrid, sounds like the right configuration for the type of riding you describe.
    "If there are no cigars in heaven, I shall not go." -Mark Twain

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  9. #9
    Senior Member jaxgtr's Avatar
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    You might want to look for something that you can put a rack on for sure. If your looking at the Treks, maybe the Soho. They are a great looking rig. Has slightly bigger tires, disc brakes and has easy gearing for any hills you might encounter. It's only $700, but you might be able to find a year old model and save a few bucks.
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  10. #10
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    You can put a rack on the Trek FX and the Specialized Sirrus. The FX also has room for fenders.

    I wouldn't get a bike with a front suspension. Get something with 700 x 32C tires. Wide enough to provide comfort but still plenty fast.

    Trek FX. The Trek SU is basically the same bike but with 26" x 1.5" tires; a bit fatter tire than the FX's 700 x 32. The Trek SOHO is another variation of the FX, has disc brakes and an integrated top tube pad. There's also a singlespeed/fixed gear version.

    Specialized makes the Globe and has a model called the Globe City. Comes with a rack, fenders, Headlight, taillight. $630. If you bought those accessories and put them on the Trek, it would cost about the same. Maybe a bit less.



    The Sirrus/Vita is a bit more road bike but still has flat bars which are a bit better at slow speed maneuvering for most people.

    Giant makes the Tran Send series. Here's the LX at $560


    Bianchi makes a number of commute bikes. Here's the Rubino at $530 The Full Chainguard is a nice feature. Keeps you from getting your pants dirty from the chain or stuck in the chainrings.



    All of these bikes have puncture resistant tires. The best way to avoid flats is to keep your tires properly inflated and to dodge debris. It also helps to have a small bag that fits under the saddle to hold a spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, maybe a CO2 pump and cartridge. There are bag designs with a quick release clip system so you can take the bag with you if you must leave the bike outside somewheres.

    Test ride a lot of bikes. A lot of people seem to want mountain bikes because they look "Beefy" but they are heavy and slow and just overkill for riding the streets. My commuter is a Bianchi San Jose with a rear rack. It's a singlespeed/fixed gear bike with skinny 700 x 25C tires. I have pannier bags to hold a change of clothes, lunch, etc. I can also use those bags (aka grocery store bags) to go shopping with.
    Last edited by bbattle; 05-31-08 at 05:20 AM.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Kimmitt's Avatar
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    Heh, I reiterate: Don't spend a lot on your first bike. $500 bikes are for those of us who have ridden around for at least a few months and have a good sense of what we like. Get 'em used, and don't worry if it's not perfect, since you'll want to either change it or upgrade in six months anyway.

  12. #12
    I found a road bike.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Autumn View Post
    Thanks for the feedback. I like the lightness of the road bikes but I am worried that they might end up with a lot of flat tires. On the other hand two or three of the LBSes have recommended them. Another prefers the commuter bikes with the narrow, smooth road bike tires. I feel like it's a bit conflicting.

    A rack is definitely up my alley!
    I love my bike with the smooth, thin tires. The only flat I got is when I overpumped them and they exploded.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member GP's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbattle View Post
    My commuter is a Bianchi San Jose with a rear rack. It's a singlespeed/fixed gear bike with skinny 700 x 25C tires. I have pannier bags to hold a change of clothes, lunch, etc. I can also use those bags (aka grocery store bags) to go shopping with.
    What rack do you have? I also commute on a SJ. Thanks.

  14. #14
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    Autum,

    Driving a car tends to make one blind to the best routes for bicycling. When they get on a bicycle, they tend to take the same routes. Lately (with gas prices) I've noticed some cyclists making extreamly poor route choices. This morning I passed (on my motorcycle) a cyclist going uphill in the left lane! on a road with no shoulders, two narrow traffic lanes and a 35 mph speed limit (meaning the traffic was doing 40). Three blocks over is a paralell road with a wide bike lanes and much less traffic, and about a mile the other way is a MUP. There are also a bunch of low traffic streets running through the neighborhoods on either side of the road this guy was on.


    When you start riding, you'll probably find some routes that have less traffic. And maybe a few shortcuts that aren't available to cars.

  15. #15
    Two H's!!! TWO!!!!! chephy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbattle View Post
    You can put a rack on the Trek FX and the Specialized Sirrus. The FX also has room for fenders. <snip>
    These are all nice bikes, but I get the feeling that the OP is looking at something more road- and speed-oriented.

    I would definitely look at touring and cyclocross bikes. They're similar to road bikes and plenty fast, but allow for a lot more options (racks, fenders, wider tires), offer a more relaxed geometry. Or a sporty hybrid if you prefer the flat bar.

    The flat bar vs. the drop bar doesn't necessarily make that much of a difference. The drop bar allows for more hand position and geometry variation (you can be more upright or tucked in depending on where you place your hands). However, braking and shifting is more cumbersome from some hand positions, and impossible from some others. Most people who ride bikes with drop bars spend most of the time "on the hoods" (meaning the brake hoods), and some find that braking is a little awkward from that possition because you can't firmly curl your fingers around the brake lever. Yet some people just say those other people need more practice, and using the brakes from the hoods is very easy. I couldn't say, because I mostly ride the tops and have secondary levers installed.
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  16. #16
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    Touring bike if you can afford it.I'd look used though. If you give us your specific area we can help you with things on craigslist.In terms of drop or flat bars: often people find that they are uncomfortable when first starting out on drop bars. Remember that you should usually be riding on the top part of the bars/brake levers (hoods) not in the drops. It's a mistake a lot of beginners seem to make, I've noticed.For road riding, I prefer drop bars, but if your rides are all on the short side (20 miles or less) you may not need them. If you do plan on longer rides, give them serious consideration.

  17. #17
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    I second the Trek 7.2 which i test rode alongside a Giant cypress..the cypress had a bit to much relaxed "geo" for me though..kinda of granny, and the shop guy agreed that the Trek would be a bit faster and more reliable in the long haul without the cheaper disc brakes. I went for the Trek 7.3 though, alot of parts are a step up from the 7.2 for only 100 bucks more..i think it was a wiser choice over 7.2. I also test rode a Marin bike in the 500 range, and it was very nice..but the store had poor service..so i went with Mc'Ghies store and their great service people.

  18. #18
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    and i agree look on craiglist first..i did for a week and really saw nothing that caught my eye..except some really cheap bikes..or some nice bikes that where HOT for a few hundred bucks..and most were 5 years old or more..So i just spent the 505 bucks and got the 7.3..best bike ive owned.

    well before this i had a Haro in the 90's and various cheap Huffy from the folks..which i abused as a kid..but yeah..anything under 700 is a very nice ride, compared with Walmart bikes.

  19. #19
    Psycholist radshark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chephy View Post
    These are all nice bikes, but I get the feeling that the OP is looking at something more road- and speed-oriented.

    I would definitely look at touring and cyclocross bikes. They're similar to road bikes and plenty fast, but allow for a lot more options (racks, fenders, wider tires), offer a more relaxed geometry. Or a sporty hybrid if you prefer the flat bar.

    The flat bar vs. the drop bar doesn't necessarily make that much of a difference. The drop bar allows for more hand position and geometry variation (you can be more upright or tucked in depending on where you place your hands). However, braking and shifting is more cumbersome from some hand positions, and impossible from some others. Most people who ride bikes with drop bars spend most of the time "on the hoods" (meaning the brake hoods), and some find that braking is a little awkward from that possition because you can't firmly curl your fingers around the brake lever. Yet some people just say those other people need more practice, and using the brakes from the hoods is very easy. I couldn't say, because I mostly ride the tops and have secondary levers installed.
    +1 - my first bike was a hybrid - I now have a hybrid and a road bike.

    Flat bars are fine but if you think you might want to go longer distances your better off with the drops so you have more hand positions.

    I've seen a few comments about tires and flats - my hybrid had 32s for the first 3500 km and were only replaced after I cut a tire on a piece of glass. I now have 1500 km on a set of 28's. I yet to have a flat.

    Touring or cyclocross would be a first good pick.

    Good luck!

    -R.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by TalkingHead View Post
    and i agree look on craiglist first..i did for a week and really saw nothing that caught my eye..except some really cheap bikes..or some nice bikes that where HOT for a few hundred bucks..and most were 5 years old or more...
    Craigslist for Chicago is good -- if you know what you want, I think. There's an awful lot to go through on there, but I haven't found many/any Trek 1000s, 1.2s, 1.5s or 1500s which fit sort of within what I was looking for. Specializeds are equally as rare. Right now the only real post I see is:

    Allez: http://chicago.craigslist.org/nwi/bik/702722295.html

    I'm willing to be patient and shop around, which I'm doing, but the local stores don't really seem to have much left now that is used. I came too late into the field, it seems.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Autumn View Post
    I'm willing to be patient and shop around, which I'm doing, but the local stores don't really seem to have much left now that is used. I came too late into the field, it seems.
    Not really, the spring rush just ended, but suspect many LBS did not over extend themselves with inventory and the second orders should be arriving in the next 30 days is my guess, but certain popular models will be in short supply as production has ended and 09 models from manufacturers will be prepped for orders.I understand in Chicago there is a shop specializing in used/reconditioned bikes. I have read about them when I work in the area and thought read abut them here as well. They actually may have better previously owned assortment than LBS types would.

    Best of luck...

  22. #22
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    For the type of riding you're describing,a hybrid or rigid(no suspension) MTB would be best. In urban areas,you usually can't go very far without having to stop for traffic,so all the hand postions on drop bars can be moot. Hybrids take full fenders and racks easily;the fenders are indispensible for riding in the rain,and racks allow you to comfortably carry loads. Since you're near Chicago,you might also want to look for a bike that can take wide tires and has disc brakes for winter riding. 26" wheeled hybrids(and rigid MTB's) can usually handle wide knobbie tires,and 700cc wheeled hybrids can usually take cyclocross tires. Discs also deal with bad weather much better than rim brakes. If you later decide you want a road bike for distance riding,you can always keep the first bike around for bad weather riding,grocery hauling,and locking up in sketchy areas.

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