I'm a bike newbie who knows little-to-nothing about bikes other than general upkeep. I currently ride a Mini-branded Dahon folding bike, which is fairly okay but slow/uncomfortable for longer rides. It also has a continuous problem with the derailleur not shifting completely, something I would definitely like to avoid. I'm looking for an off-the-shelf bike and was wondering if anyone could give me some pointers as to what brands and styles I should be looking at -- currently I'm considering the Specialized Vita and Ariel (lowest-end models), as I have an LBS nearby that deals almost exclusively in Specialized and provides lifetime tune-ups. However, I'm open to any other brand/model as long as it's fairly affordable. I plan on riding mostly on road for fun/fitness and light commuting, and I live in a community where bike thefts are moderately common so I want to avoid anything with too many removable parts and/or give me extreme paranoia about leaving it out-of-sight. I really appreciate any help I can get!
We have had good luck with Specialized. My teenagers ride Hardrock and a Myka mountain bikes. Both have been owned several years with both very low maintance. They both trail ride and do some shorter road rides. My husband and I own road bikes. Lower end models the Dolce and Allez and the Ruby. All have been great!
We were able to accomplish getting our family cycling and it has been a successful so far! We have also used our road bikes for towing kids in trailers and mounting baby seats and had no difficulty with this what so ever. I think the bikes have held up very well and more than worth the money we spent!
Regardless of which new bike you get, it's probably worth tuning up your folding bike so it shifts properly. You can also buy nicer tires that will help speed it up a bit (you'll still be somewhat limited based on gearing and a non-aerodynamic position, but you should be able to make it snappier).
Catrike 700, Greenspeed GTO trike, , Linear LWB recumbent, Haluzak Horizon SWB recumbent, Balance 450 MTB, Cannondale SM800 Beast of the East
You can learn the basics of bike maintenance for your current bike and future bikes online. YouTube has videos on virtually every possible thing you would need to do including some you probably should leave to a professional. Another site that has great information is www.sheldonbrown.com. He was legendary as a source of information and I have used the site a number of times for advanced information. Fixing your shifting problem probably will not take more than a few minutes and requires at most a Philips head screwdriver.
I'm a great fan of used bikes but you need someone who can help separate the gems from the trash on sites like Craigslist. I'd much prefer to ride a lighter, higher quality used bike than a brand new one that is really a compromise because of my budget. There must be a recreational bike club in your area since it seems as though you live in an urban area. Just Google on "Bike clubs in your town" and see what comes up. You should be able to find a member of the club who would give you advice. Try to pick a recreational rider, not a road racer. You probably will get better advice that way.
Thanks a bunch for the advice! I ended up going with the Vita Sport since it felt pretty good and it seemed like a reasonable upgrade from the base model Vita. I'll look into tuning up the folding bike; I don't have too much of a problem with shifting, it's just a little adjustment I have to do constantly (about once every 3 rides). It definitely seems "harder" to pedal than the full-size bike though, so I don't know if it's just me or if it actually needs some tuning.