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Questions from a soon to be commuter

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Questions from a soon to be commuter

Old 05-18-13, 09:11 AM
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Questions from a soon to be commuter

I just read the "advice for new commuters" thread but still have some questions. I would much appreciate advice from the vets here.


My commute will be apx 6 miles each way, mainly on residential streets with slow and moderate in volume vehicular traffic. One concern is my elevation. I live atop a large hill and there is a 700 foot elevation change from my home to work. Most of that is in the first mile, so on my way to work I will be going down the hill then dealing with mostly flat terrain for the remaining 5 miles and vice versa on the ride home. Timing is afternoon to work, 11 pm to home. I'm looking to buy a new bike and my budget is 500-1000$.

I'm looking mainly for suggestions on the type of bike I should look for including specific models. I want something that is comfortable but somewhat fast, and of course something that can tackle the steep hill on my ride home. Any other advice you may have would be much appreciated.
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Old 05-18-13, 09:24 AM
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Personally, I would Craigslist a used Japanese steel bike and install Gatorskins or Schwalbes. Those are bikes you cant really go to far wrong with, no matter what.
After a year, when your miles and skill level have risen, reeavaluate your needs. 99% percent of new commuters want to move on to something different after they've been riding for a while. It would be sad for you to spend a lot of money on something that you may be unhappy with later. Others will offer different views, but I say a used bike with good tires(flats are very undesirable on your way into work, trust me!!!!), good lights and mirror that can be transferred to a new bike later.

Best wishes, be safe !
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Old 05-18-13, 10:04 AM
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^This is excellent advice.

Things you need: the right size bike!!!, lights, fenders, good slick (not knobby!) tires, low gearing (to make the hill easier on the way home). Allow me to recommend Kool-Stop brake pads. I think helmets are good.

Things you probably don't need: Racks/panniers, suspension, disc brakes, drop handlebars, high-end components. A lot of people like racks and disc brakes for commuting, but six miles will be fine with a backpack and the V-brakes you'll find on most mountain bikes have plenty of stopping power. Don't kick in extra money yet. Once you know what you like and don't like about your bike, you'll have a better idea of where your money should go.
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Old 05-18-13, 10:31 AM
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You are going to want to pay special attention to the gears on the bicycle. You'll want some nice low gears to get up that hill. I ride a 20 year old no-suspension mountain bike that has been streetified with slick tires, fenders, lights, and a rack. It has the low gears that have gotten me up a 20% grade reliably.

Here's a link to the Sheldon Brown Gear Calculator.
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Old 05-18-13, 12:07 PM
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I have a very similar commute; I live on top of a hill, about 600 ft elevation over 5 miles, most of the elevation change within the first mile.

I have a Surly CC. I carry a backpack with a change of clothes, laptop, shoes, and other small things. I keep my ulock and chain at work. In the first week, I was struggling. However, over time, although it is still challenging, I am getting stronger and don't switch to the lowest gear until the last 100-200 yards of my climb.

I find that using SPDs help immensely. Also, I have knobby tires and I wouldn't recommend it for streets.
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Old 05-18-13, 12:30 PM
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A lot depends on how steep the hill is, and how much riding you are already doing, because the biggest hurdle for bike and rider will be to tackle that hill every night.

700 feet in a mile is a 13% grade for 1 mile. Most new riders will not get up that grade on anything short of a mountain bike with that kind of bike's typical 24 x 32 x 26" low gear. No matter how ideal any other bike might be for the "rest" of the ride, walking a mile makes a bike undesirable in my view.

I would:

1. Go on Craigslist and spend $100 on an old '90's rigid mountain bike (MTB). They are plentiful and cheap. Get a good quality machine from a major brand. It has to have triple chainrings in front with the smallest 24 or 26 teeth, and in rear the largest cog has to have 32 or more teeth. It also has to be the correct size for you. Post some CL links that look interesting for people here to comment on, and post if you're not clear about sizing.

2. Spend $80-120 for a full service at a bike shop, they will go through and replace cables and pads, grease bearings, true wheels, adjust shifting and headset, etc. Optionally, replace the knobby tires with slicks ($50-ish).

3. Buy a good headlight and taillight. You're going to be riding near midnight, so this is mandatory. See threads here, there is one that has just started, in which I linked to a $25 light on Amazon that is as good as something you'd spend >$100 for in a shop. Also attach a red blinky to your helmet. You may spend $80 on lights, and it is well worth it. Also buy $10 of reflective tape and stick it on the bike, your helmet, your backpack, etc.

4. Buy a decent helmet (they aren't expensive, $30 could do it).

5. Buy a U lock ($25-40) and find a good place at work to lock up your bike. The good thing is an old MTB is not usually a big theft target. The bad thing is at 11 pm, everything not securely locked up is a theft target.

6. Finally, spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, mini pump ($40 or so all told?) and practice changing a flat tube. At midnight on the side of the road is not the time to learn.

Absolutely do not get a new WalMart type MTB for $250 - the twenty year old MTB is a far better bike. Do not spend up for a new bike until and unless you know for sure that you can handle that climb on it. The cheap old MTB will tell you what gearing you need, and at first you will probably need its ultra-low gearing.

Last edited by jyl; 05-18-13 at 01:10 PM.
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Old 05-18-13, 02:12 PM
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I'm also a new commuter with about the same length commute. I'm a woman, about 5'4, and trying to decide which bike will be a good fit for me.









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Old 05-18-13, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by bikern00b View Post
I'm also a new commuter with about the same length commute. I'm a woman, about 5'4, and trying to decide which bike will be a good fit for me.

Prolly too big. Might be able to play with the fit,but you'd need to go to a shop,and things might still not turn out ok.

Way too big. 31" standover means you'd need to be alot taller.

From the pic I can tell the front tire is shot. If you're willing to replace consumables(tires/tubes/brake pads/chain) it might be ok,but not at that price. If it's not horrible,I'd go $100 on it. Would also have to heft it to see how much it weighs;some of the old steel bikes were made of cheap steel that was heavy as crap.

That would be ok if it fits. Def needs new front tire and tube.

27" standover;what's your inseam measurement? If it's not 28",then that's too big. Otherwise a decent choice.

Size XL frame,way too big.

Hard to tell from the pics,but kinda think it's too big. E-mail the seller and ask for standover,or just how tall he is. Ok if it will fit.

23" frame way too big.

Go to a couple bike shops and get sized. Sit on a couple road bikes and hybrid/MTB's to see what size fits you. Then use this to determine if bikes on CL fit. Also note,REI is having their big sale now(Rockville location about 3 blocks from Twinbrook Metro);most bikes 15% off,and they allow returns.

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Old 05-18-13, 06:08 PM
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A lot of very good advice up there, especially specific tips from jyl, a few notes:

Originally Posted by jyl View Post
replace the knobby tires with slicks ($50-ish).
Nashbar sells 26" slicks (and I mean slick!) that are often on sale for $10 ea, and very well reviewed. I use them myself when I want to take my mtb on the road for a tour.

Absolutely do not get a new WalMart type MTB for $250 - the twenty year old MTB is a far better bike.
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Old 05-20-13, 12:36 PM
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I can only echo what others have said about buying, servicing and street-converting a used rigid mountain bike. Fit fat slick tyres (they make a huge difference) proper fenders and some decent front and rear lights (you will end up out after dark at some point). A rear cargo rack can be useful as it gets weight off your back and onto the bike. It will do everything you want it to, and you can still throw some knobbly tyres back on if you feel like some off-roading.

For commuting, I carry a small tool kit, tyre patches (or a spare inner tube) and a pump- with a bit of basic knowledge, these will get you out of most mechanical difficulties you're likely to come across. Personally I don't feel a helmet is justified for everyday riding and commuting, but it's up to you (there's a dedicated thread with >200 pages of bickering if you're interested). Gloves can make the handlebars more comfortable to grip, and offer a bit of hand protection should you come off as an additional benefit.

Last edited by Monster Pete; 05-20-13 at 01:18 PM.
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Old 05-20-13, 02:00 PM
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+1 on used steel bike.

I don't know if you happen to be in the NoVA area or not but I have one I am refurbishing to sell. It's a road bike but would suit your needs if you're interested.
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Old 05-20-13, 04:09 PM
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I'm still riding the old steel MTB I bought used 8 years ago, and it still does the trick for me. I've changed some parts over the years as I've worn stuff out etc..., but the bike still works for me. Those bikes are great commuters, and some of the parts you may want to ad to them (like lights, bags, tools) change be used on another bike if you upgrade.
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