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Novice College Commuter Seeking Advice

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Novice College Commuter Seeking Advice

Old 07-18-15, 09:32 PM
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mellifluent
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Novice College Commuter Seeking Advice

Hello. :-) Quick introduction I am an 18 year old female starting university in the fall. I live off campus and I'm planning to take advantage of the bike-friendly town and buy one as my primary method of commuting.

The ride is a bit under 7 miles, pretty flat with an elevation gain around 160. Most of the route is a paved bike path. Currently I have an crappy 3-speed cruiser from Goodwill, but the gears don't really work and it makes weird sounds. I occasionally ride for leisure and my usually route is about 8 miles which can be a little tough at times, bringing me to my first question...

1. Will a quality bike make a significant difference in the ease and comfort of my ride?

Also, I've been advised many times NOT to bring a spankin' brand new bike to campus due to the high risk of theft. If I were living on campus, I would follow this advice and rely on my current bike as beat up as it is, but with a longer commute I think I will need the added comfort and functional gears. So,

2. Is it worth spending a hefty chunk of scholarship money on something that may be stolen? Also, I will only be on campus 3-5 hours a day and will not be leaving my bike unattended at night. If I plan to invest in 2 quality bike locks and store my bike responsibly, will I be okay?

3. What about bicycle insurance?

4. I am in need of guidance on what kind of bike will suit me best. I described my situation pretty thoroughly so as you can probably assume, I need something comfortable and durable that will take me long(er) distances. I've been looking and women's urban bikes but many of them seem so flashy and "froo-froo," although I'd like something with character.

So far I've been looking into a Breezer Downtown 8-ST and the Electra Loft 7D. Any opinions or recommendations? Best brands for commuting? My ideal price range is about 300-500 and not more than 650-700.

Thanks for reading and (hopefully) responding. Please excuse the complete helplessness!
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Old 07-18-15, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by mellifluent View Post
1. Will a quality bike make a significant difference in the ease and comfort of my ride?
Yes, however, that quality bike might be your bike, fixed up. My commuter is about 30 years old, on average, with a 50+ year old 3-speed hub. My commute is about 4 miles each way, with a similar elevation change. What make and model are your bike? Typical 3 speed hubs are practically indestructible, and may only need adjustment of the shift cable.
2. Is it worth spending a hefty chunk of scholarship money on something that may be stolen?
Also, I will only be on campus 3-5 hours a day and will not be leaving my bike unattended at night. If I plan to invest in 2 quality bike locks and store my bike responsibly, will I be okay?
I'd put off buying anything until you actually commute for a while and get a better feel for the situation.
3. What about bicycle insurance?
In my view it doesn't help. It might be part of your home or renter's insurance already, but the deductible is likely to be too high to be worth anything.

Now, about a new bike, that's outside my area of knowledge.
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Old 07-19-15, 12:33 AM
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Some comments:

1. Yes, a quality bike will make a big difference.

The critical factors are fit and condition. If the bike is making weird noises, that's usually a sign that something needs to be adjusted or fixed.

For a 7 mile commute, a 3 speed with working gears and otherwise in good repair could be your quality bike; I also commuted for years (15-20 miles per day) on a 3 speed. Since you already own the 3 speed, I'd look up how to adjust the gear cable. This is a simple adjustment. I'd also identify what's making the noises.

If the bike fits well, I'd start commuting with that; if it has the wrong frame size I would recommend selling it and getting something that fits.

2. & 3. If you can keep the bike for 4 years, a new one could be worth it; if theft is bad it might be cheaper to buy 2 or more used bikes. Depending on the quality of your current 3 speed, cheapest might be a few basic repairs.

As Gresp15C noted, the cost of your new bicycles is less than the deductible on many insurance policies, so I wouldn't expect to find useful bike insurance.

4. I have no experience with the Breezer or the Electra. I'd see if you can find any comments from owners on reliability.

Whatever bike you ride, make sure you have lights. I also find racks very useful carrying computers/books and groceries.
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Old 07-19-15, 06:21 AM
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Another vote for the bike you have now. I commute daily on a 45 year old bike (yes, it has had a few upgrades) and I can't see that any new bike gives me any advantage. Give us some details (and pics) of the bike you have now and we can give better advice on the feasibility and cost to get it in good operating order. You can always upgrade later after you have some more experience with the area.

Thefts are a real issue. Even the most expensive lock is no match for a thief with the right tools. There are plenty of posts on this forum on strategies for theft prevention so take some time to read them. One strategy is to lock up next to bikes that are more attractive to thieves (they will steal the others before yours). Having a "crappy" used bike is an advantage.
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Old 07-19-15, 06:41 AM
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A few thoughts.

- What city do you live in and what city is your Uni? Good transportation (vs recreational) bike shop nearby?

- I would avoid Electra. Firstly, their 'flat foot' geometry places the saddle way too far back. People who have them often experience backache. They are also overpriced for the low to mid quality that they are. Breezer may be an OK option. Be careful of cruiser and beach bikes. These often have poor geometry that will not prove comfortable in the long run.

- KISS is a great principle to follow. Probably half the bikes in The Netherlands (and Europe) are single speed coaster brake and maybe 40% are 3-speed coaster brake. They're relatively inexpensive, last forever, and rarely need maintenance. From they way you describe your commute either of these would likely work for you. External gears and brakes and cables need more maintenance, are more likely to endanger your clothes, and are a pain to ride in regular clothes.

- As said above, your current bike might be worth fixing and riding. At least to start. Make/Model of bike? Make/Model of Rear hub? Photos?

- For theft, sometimes spray paint is your friend. I've known many people to take a can or two to a brand new bike. It kinda hurts to do it but it can quickly make your bike look ratty enough that thieves will be less interested.
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Old 07-19-15, 08:07 AM
  #6  
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I'd definitely look into an option that is cheaper than the Loft or the Breezer. Bike theft is serious business, even when you have the locks. That being said, however, you do need something more reliable and comfortable in order to commute that distance over a long period of time. While fixing your old bike is a good option, I could also suggest looking at the used market. It's usually easy to find an older bike that will work as well as any new one, at a fraction of the cost, even if you factor in some basic maintenance by the local bike shop.
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Old 07-19-15, 08:22 AM
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Originally Posted by CrankyOne View Post
- I would avoid Electra. Firstly, their 'flat foot' geometry places the saddle way too far back. People who have them often experience backache. They are also overpriced for the low to mid quality that they are. Breezer may be an OK option. Be careful of cruiser and beach bikes. These often have poor geometry that will not prove comfortable in the long run.
I completely disagree. Their Townie model with flat foot technology moves the cranks forward, not the saddle backwards. It is also the top selling bike in the U.S. I have sold dozens of them, ridden them a lot, and have never had/heard a single back pain complaint. They are one of the nicest bikes to build up, as the quality of assembly is impressive. They need very few adjustments in comparison to more expensive brands. Some of their other models are a bit overpriced, I agree, but they certainly aren't low quality.

As for the OP, I'd first look into fixing your current bike, it shouldn't need much! Then you can try it a while before investing more money.
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Old 07-19-15, 12:01 PM
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Try some fingerless cycling gloves for a quick upgrade to the comfort of your handlebar grips. I found Sheldon Brown's advice in this article actually helped me have a much more comfortable saddle without exchanging any parts. Of course, getting a new one is also absolutely fine.

As for the used market, I'd probably pick key words like commuter/road/touring bicycle. Bicycles generally age well, so you shouldn't have much problem with picking one that works just fine for your purposes. Going to the LBS and letting them do a routine check-up is always a good option, unless you want to do your own maintenance.
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Old 07-19-15, 12:39 PM
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Welcome to Eugene... if it is new to you And best of luck at the UofO.

The bike in your photo is a 5 speed and not a 3 speed.

There is a lot that depends on what you like and what your ultimate goals are.

There are a lot of "good" bikes in the $100 to $300 range.

I commuted to the UofO a few years ago. About 8 miles each way, but it wasn't entirely flat. I generally would aim for the 30[SUP]th[/SUP] avenue hill as part of my commute.

I always liked riding an old Italian road bike... which has just gotten older over the years. I suppose I locked it a fair amount during the day, but kept a watchful eye on it at night. But, fortunately that was during the MTB boom, and everyone ignored the road bikes.

Anyway, the old Murray fat tire bikes are nice for being pretty hardy bikes... but not particularly the easiest riding.

I'd probably go for a hybrid (straight bars) or cyclocross (drop bars) bike for a short flat commuter. The used hybrids show up from time to time in the $100 - $150 range, or even less if you keep an eye open for deals.

I still like my skinny tire road bikes though.

How is your access to tools and spares?

The Center for Appropriate Transport on 1st street, behind REI near the Washington Jefferson Street bridge is a great resource, with tools, advice, and cheap parts. An annual subscription for maintenance access is available.

Oh, and you may choose to consider fenders for those wet Eugene winter days, although I've ridden both with and without fenders, probably more without.
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Old 07-20-15, 12:05 AM
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The BD Motobecane Bistro at $550 is worth looking into: it comes complete with a lightweight alloy frame, dual racks, 8 speed IGH and is the quintessential utility bike that's been used as basic transportation in Europe for decades. It has everything you need to begin commuting:




The Virtue Encore 5M is also quite traditional, made of steel, comes with a 5 speed IGH and drum brakes. Its priced at $550. You would have room in your budget to add a rack.



A traditional utility bike isn't flashy or glamorous but would allow you to run daily errands far better than on your current bike. As basic transportation, its all you would need in a bike.
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Old 07-20-15, 12:24 AM
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Lights, fenders, layers and rain gear. Good luck! :-)
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Old 07-20-15, 07:19 AM
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Originally Posted by mellifluent View Post
2. Is it worth spending a hefty chunk of scholarship money on something that may be stolen? Also, I will only be on campus 3-5 hours a day and will not be leaving my bike unattended at night. If I plan to invest in 2 quality bike locks and store my bike responsibly, will I be okay?

3. What about bicycle insurance?
2- No. I don't know what your major is, but the job market for new grads is not whatever you think it is, and is certainly not whatever your career counselor says it is. If you have a surplus from scholarships and grants, even loans, stash whatever you can. I got lucky out of undergrad and had a job waiting for me (nothing to do with my degree, but hey I have a family to feed), but even then I had to wait nearly 4 months for my start date. I had to live off of savings the entire time, including a cross country move. The majority of my fellow undergrads had no jobs waiting for them. You may get lucky and score an internship which leads to a job, but you should save what you can while you have it.

3 - I've never needed it, and I went to college (mostly) in a crime ridden southern CA megalopolis.
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Old 07-20-15, 02:28 PM
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I'm just going to leave this here:

Pashley Princess Sovereign Cruiser
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Old 07-20-15, 02:31 PM
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Bicycle insurance is less important if you have the cheapest bike on the rack with the biggest lock. If your seat has a Quick Release, set it to the right height, and replace the QR with a bolt. Probably don't need anything too fancy as long as the bike isn't left overnight on campus racks, just reduce the quick opportunity.

I agree with others... don't go out and buy a fancy new bike.... someone else may decide they need it more than you.

Student Loans are overrated... Try to keep any debt to a minimum. Much less of a headache later.
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Old 07-20-15, 04:28 PM
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Your cruiser style 3-speed is fine for a 3-mile commute but you may prefer something speedier and more efficient for a 2x7 miler. Avoid anything too flashy, you need something that rides much better than it looks.
Bolt-on rack and fenders will be useful. Std hybrid bikes are the most common in used market, so are cheaper. Try and avoid suspension forks.
Don't go cheap on tyres, they get you to college/work on time. Schwalbe Marathon work for me, but marathon plus are even more proof.
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Old 07-20-15, 06:01 PM
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We have bike lockers at the University of Minnesota for $87 / year. Does your school have anything like that?
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Old 07-20-15, 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
Welcome to Eugene... if it is new to you And best of luck at the UofO.

The Center for Appropriate Transport on 1st street, behind REI near the Washington Jefferson Street bridge is a great resource, with tools, advice, and cheap parts. An annual subscription for maintenance access is available.

Oh, and you may choose to consider fenders for those wet Eugene winter days, although I've ridden both with and without fenders, probably more without.
Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
Lights, fenders, layers and rain gear. Good luck! :-)

Clifford and Darth...............neither will steer you wrong. Opinions are like, well................everyone's got one. That's all you will get with bike forums on the internet. Very few times will "facts" come into play.

Cliff and Darth....no problems.
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Old 07-20-15, 06:37 PM
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Originally Posted by View Post
Student Loans are overrated... Try to keep any debt to a minimum. Much less of a headache later.
See...............what'd I tell you. Good advice from Cliff.

OK.

My $50,000 5 word secret to happiness in your "waning" years:


Spend less than you earn.

You can pay me later.
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Old 07-20-15, 07:14 PM
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Originally Posted by advicepig View Post
We have bike lockers at the University of Minnesota for $87 / year. Does your school have anything like that?
They didn't have them 20 years ago. But, times have changed. It is worth asking about. Perhaps at the dorms????

And if not, perhaps one should ask WHY NOT???

I think Eugene was one of the cities involved in cracking the Kryptonite picking mystery a couple of decades ago. I.E. like many college towns, we've had our problems.

Originally Posted by gregjones View Post
Clifford and Darth...............neither will steer you wrong. Opinions are like, well................everyone's got one. That's all you will get with bike forums on the internet. Very few times will "facts" come into play.

Cliff and Darth....no problems.
Thanks for the vote of confidence...

But, like you say, there are many opinions, from new to used to antique. The OP has a large choice, and it all comes down to what she really wants.

I suppose the nice thing about a city like Eugene is that not all people fit into the same box.

LTD?

Last edited by CliffordK; 07-20-15 at 07:29 PM.
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Old 07-20-15, 08:05 PM
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University-centered bike programs

Here in Atlanta, Georgia Tech has a program called Starter Bikes that works with students to refurbish donated bikes so they can get a feel for what they like in a bike before they make a big investment. It sounds like UofO has something similar in it's UO Outdoor Program https://outdoorprogram.uoregon.edu/bikes/rentals. Maybe you could rent one of their commuter bikes for a term or work with them to learn how to upgrade your own. Good luck!

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Old 07-20-15, 08:19 PM
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I was in Eugene a couple months ago on business. It definitely seemed like a bike town. Even my hotel had some bikes to borrow -- it was on a river that has a nice bike path going along it.

A random idea: However much you were planning on paying for a new bike, get a functioning used bike and set the remainder of the money aside. Learn to do your own repairs if possible. It keeps getting better, because your savings and repair skills become your insurance policy.
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Old 07-20-15, 08:23 PM
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Originally Posted by GAPavedTrailRdr View Post
Here in Atlanta, Georgia Tech has a program called Starter Bikes that works with students to refurbish donated bikes so they can get a feel for what they like in a bike before they make a big investment. It sounds like UofO has something similar in it's UO Outdoor Program https://outdoorprogram.uoregon.edu/bikes/rentals. Maybe you could rent one of their commuter bikes for a term or work with them to learn how to upgrade your own. Good luck!

GaPavedTrailRdr
Oh, I didn't realize the outdoor program had bike rentals.

They're also good for kayaking trips, rafting trips, and I think hiking and skiing. And, at least a few years ago, they were allowing all participants. So, one could always stop by early and have a chat, and perhaps sign up for a trip. I didn't really discover them until after college and wish I had found them earlier.

As mentioned earlier, CAT also has community workshop space, and cheap parts, and everything to assemble a bike. You can even learn to build a bike from SCRATCH... although that is part of their apprenticeship program. They seem to be a bit restrictive with access to the welders and lathes.

https://www.catoregon.org/
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Old 07-21-15, 12:12 AM
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For 7 miles I might consider a hybrid or flat bar road bike. If you bought used and a couple good locks you should be good to go. BTW it looks like you have a good way to avoid the freshmen 15.
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Old 07-21-15, 09:31 AM
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Speaking from experience, a decent bike does make a difference. When I was out of shape, the thinner wheels and weight on my hybrid made a difference. You can get a decent hybrid for 300-500. Mine is a brand name (Giant) so it attracted one scumbag who tried to steal it... Luckily I had 3 solid locks. 2 U locks and one chain

If you're getting a bike for that kinda commute, make sure it's comfortable, but nothing fancy. Even still, invest in a couple solid locks.
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Old 07-21-15, 10:35 AM
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i agree that you probably want a better bike than what you have for a 6-7 mile ride x2 a day. you can try fixing up your own bike at a bike shop, or ask them their opinion about what your riding plans are - or if you're better off getting another bike. if you're going to bike that often, it's a good idea to develop a relationship with the LBS (local bike shop) that's going to be servicing you. as time goes on, you'll learn how to tweak things yourself. like if you happen to get a flat on your commute, how to change out the tube. maintaining the bike for riding as often as you're planning (degrease & re-lube) etc.

can you store your bike indoors anywhere at home? also, does your campus provide indoor bike parking anywhere? i would ask around. even two locks isn't going to help you if a thief is determined enough.

if you want a new bike:
you can try something like this: Home page but i think these are more for local trips 2-4 miles and for an easy going ride. also linus bikes are quite popular here as are public bikes. the breezer downtown sounds perfect too! i would test ride them. if a shop can let you test ride for a 6 mile ride, try it. if they're not giving you the ride you want then you can go for a faster bike like a hybrid.

is your commute mostly on roads? i think 700 x 28mm-33mm wheels/tires is probably what you should after. i use gatorskin tires to ward off flats, even tho the ride is not as soft as what other tires might give.

and you can always rebuild an older looking bike with decent components. people here in NYC scratch up their bikes purposely so you can't tell what brand they are and b/c they look old they find they're less likely to get stolen. i'm not sure if that's true though.

best of luck whatever you end up doing!
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