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!