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Buying advice for city-utility bike: 3 spd classic or modern 21 spd hybrid?

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Buying advice for city-utility bike: 3 spd classic or modern 21 spd hybrid?

Old 07-13-09, 10:03 AM
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TheCappucinoKid
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Buying advice for city-utility bike: 3 spd classic or modern 21 spd hybrid?

I am looking for a bike for my GF's daughter, aged 19-20, around 5'4" in height. It will be used for transportation in a large city, ie. going to school, groceries, etc. It's inevitable that sometimes the bike will be facing a steep hill; either up or down. I'm not sure if the bike will need to be lifted up the stairs; it may just be kept locked on the street below. (But obviously, lighter weight is an advantage).

The question is.... I am hovering between buying her a classic vintage English 3spd ladies bike; ie. the late 60's Raleigh Supreme (fully decked out with chainguard, fenders, basket and "Dynohub", oooh!), or going with my more modern Mongoose hybrid (20" CroMo frame, 21 spd, cantilever brakes, 700c tires, Giant gel seat, upturned hybrid handlebars - not straight mountain bike style). I figure it would cost about the same to get my Mongoose road-ready and accessorized, as it would to buy a used Raleigh 3speeder (about $85).

I know NOTHING about vintage 3 spd bikes; I have never ridden one. The bike will be used for more than just a leisurely Sunday cruise on flat bike paths, so I'm trying to get an idea of which would be more suitable, safe and comfortable for transportation around town. ie. Is 3 speeds enough to go up steep hills? Are those backpedalling coaster brakes enough to safely and quickly stop; especially stopping down a steep hill? The Mongoose isn't the lightest hybrid around, but those vintage bikes are likely to have steel frames, and look pretty heavy. Whereas the 3 speeder appears to have a reliability advantage, at least, and perhaps a more intuitive braking and gearing system, and the natural, casual curved handlebars.

Thing is, will she end up cursing me for getting a 3spd vintage city bike (instead of the modern hybrid) or love me for it?

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Old 07-13-09, 12:27 PM
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Any 3 sp internal hub bike is not that good for hills that are much past a slight rise in the road. If your area has any hills that make you stand up to pedal then get the 21 sp bike for sure.
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Old 07-13-09, 12:40 PM
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You need to also face the possibility of it getting stolen if left on the street for any length of time. I would go with the hybrid for ease of getting parts and general lack or popularity.
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Old 07-13-09, 12:44 PM
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It would help to know what your budget is.
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Old 07-13-09, 01:43 PM
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CYNIKAL: I don't know if it is otherwise where you are, but here in Montreal Canada, hybrids are VERY popular, because they are what is made for city riding. Having said that, my hybrid in particular is very very ugly (I painted it sh%t brown and put decals of a cheaper bike brand all over it, to avert theft). OTOH, although it is a high theft area, I would be surprised if an old Raleigh 3 spd ladies utility bike with front basket from the late 60's is at all attractive to theives; if not especially because of the lack of parts. But you're right, the rareness and high cost of getting parts makes it unattractive for the poor student owner as well (which is why I'd only buy it in good condition and hope it won't need major fixing up in the future; which would mean disposing of it if it does). In either case, the bikes will be locked with an Onguard Bulldog Mini and a cable lock for the front wheel.

EDITZ: I am not looking at any other models than what I mentioned.
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Old 07-13-09, 03:56 PM
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Give your GF's daughter your hybrid if she'll use it and she agrees to take it inside at night. Then get yourself a nice English Racer to style around on!
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Old 07-13-09, 05:21 PM
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wouldn't a 20" hybrid be too tall for her? I fixed up my daughters small 26" wheeled mtn steel bike for touring and it's surprisingly light, it fit her at 13 and 20. I'd go with a bike with comfortable stand over height. If she cannot comfortably stand over your bike why consider it at all? The 3spd might work if you put on a larger rear cog for lower overall gearing.

It sounds like your budget is $85,,pick the bike that fits her then go from there.
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Old 07-13-09, 06:01 PM
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Those are really different bikes to ride -- she probably will have an opinion on which suits her better, and I'd follow it.

I ride some pretty serious hills with a 3-speed. It's my opinion that people worry about it too much. YMMV.
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Old 07-13-09, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by LeeG View Post
wouldn't a 20" hybrid be too tall for her? I fixed up my daughters small 26" wheeled mtn steel bike for touring and it's surprisingly light, it fit her at 13 and 20. I'd go with a bike with comfortable stand over height. If she cannot comfortably stand over your bike why consider it at all? The 3spd might work if you put on a larger rear cog for lower overall gearing.

It sounds like your budget is $85,,pick the bike that fits her then go from there.

You may be right, the 20" size frame might be the dealbreaker here. But I am only a couple inches taller and I can stand over it (not with any slack though). I was thinking maybe it doesn't matter if her feet are not fully flat on the ground when she stands over the bike. Because I always lean a bike against a curb when I am stopped at lights, and that keeps me balanced. Does it really matter?
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Old 07-17-09, 07:18 PM
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Good commuting/utility biking site

Here's a site that might help you if she's a relative newbie:

http://www.biketoledo.net

Lots of good stuff beyond just the bike.
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Old 07-17-09, 08:09 PM
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Originally Posted by TheCappucinoKid View Post
I was thinking maybe it doesn't matter if her feet are not fully flat on the ground when she stands over the bike. Because I always lean a bike against a curb when I am stopped at lights, and that keeps me balanced. Does it really matter?
To a newb? Desperately. Remember, they're worried about control, and having the backstop of being able to at least stand over the darn thing is a big deal. Heck, it'd even matter to me.
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Old 07-17-09, 08:22 PM
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I would agree that a hybrid vs. an old 3 speed are very different rides. And the biggest factor for which bike is best is going to be which bike fits the rider's style. I got a hybrid a couple of years ago, 24 speed. I rode for about a year before I picked up an old, 1972 Sears Tote/Cycle. It's a classic style 3-speed bike. Once I got it running, it became my regular ride. In spite of some fairly steep hills, and in spite of the fact that it was slower and heavier than my hybrid, I ended up riding the old 3-speed more. I would only use the hybrid when I was worried about keeping up with faster riders, which was a rarity, or when the 3-speed needed some work, which was a little less rare.

So while I would say that the hybrid will almost certainly climb the hills better, the best bike is always the bike you enjoy riding, and that should be your first concern.
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Old 07-19-09, 04:49 PM
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just a thought--
Schwinn makes a bike called the Coffee that's essentially a copy of an old English three-speed but with modern components and standard threading/sizing. The three-speed model is about $350; the singlespeed is currently on sale for $250 over at performance bike. DEFINITELY worth looking at, especially since it eliminates many of the problems with the old three-speeds (need for maintenance up-front, lack of readily available replacement parts, weight) and comes with a rack and fenders.

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Old 07-20-09, 08:01 AM
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+1 on the hybid. I almost bought a 3spd recently for my four-mile-all-uphill ride home. Everytime I get a headwind and use the granny chainring at the end, I'm glad I got the 24spd.
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Old 07-24-09, 11:37 PM
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What ended up hapenning is.... I got BOTH kinds of bikes. A 3-spd woman's CCM Elan complete with front basket, fenders and chainguard, and a recent model 21 spd Minelli Mojave hybrid. The reason is because when we introduced the CCM 3 spd she seemed to dig the bike aesthetically, but when we asked if she would prefer a 21 spd hybrid for riding around town.... well I shouldn't be too surprised I guess, but she expressed a clear preference for a hybrid, and it was agreed that it was more practical for commuting around the city. So later I bought a hybrid. She never asked to try the CCM at all. I didn't insist she should, because I pretty much knew it wasn't going to change the fact that the hybrid is much more suitable for every day city-wide commuting.

It isn't just the 3 speeds of the CCM; it's also a heavier less nimble bike, and you move a lot more slowly on it (no matter for a Sunday cruise, big matter when you are late for class or work). Once I got used to the fact that you have to pedal backwards before you shift gears, I generally liked the unusually different kind of ride it offered. Except it was the most cramped bike I've been on. The seat could only go up and down, but no matter what position it was in, my knees always seemed like they were going to hit the Northroad-style handlebars. I'm not tall, but it seems these (26?) bikes were made for really short people.

Rob E: What was the attraction of riding your 3 spd over the 24 spd?
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Old 07-25-09, 03:50 PM
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Originally Posted by TheCappucinoKid View Post
Rob E: What was the attraction of riding your 3 spd over the 24 spd?
I preferred the riding style and the fit. The hybrid was too short in the top tube for me to stretch out, and too short in the stem for me to sit upright, leaving me in this half bent position that is probably perfectly appropriate for mountain/hybrid riding where you're dealing quick turns and questionable terrain, but I found it uncomfortable, especially on longer rides.

The 3 speed, even though it was a smaller, shorter bike with 20" wheels and only 3 speeds (occasionally only 1 speed), put me in a much more comfortable position. It's basically upright riding, old-style north roads-like handlebars. It also has a long, stable wheelbase. Sitting upright on the hybrid made it feel overloaded in the back and too light in the front, but on my old Tote/Cycle, it feels perfectly solid.

I've since traded in my hybrid for a Long Haul Trucker, which is the most comfortable bike I've tried yet. The Tote/Cycle still gets an occasional outing, largely because it's more portable, but the hybrid I don't miss at all.
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Old 07-25-09, 06:43 PM
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3 speed beats walking or riding a beach cruiser.
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Old 07-25-09, 11:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
I preferred the riding style and the fit. The hybrid was too short in the top tube for me to stretch out, and too short in the stem for me to sit upright, leaving me in this half bent position that is probably perfectly appropriate for mountain/hybrid riding where you're dealing quick turns and questionable terrain, but I found it uncomfortable, especially on longer rides.

The 3 speed, even though it was a smaller, shorter bike with 20" wheels and only 3 speeds (occasionally only 1 speed), put me in a much more comfortable position. It's basically upright riding, old-style north roads-like handlebars. It also has a long, stable wheelbase. Sitting upright on the hybrid made it feel overloaded in the back and too light in the front, but on my old Tote/Cycle, it feels perfectly solid.

I've since traded in my hybrid for a Long Haul Trucker, which is the most comfortable bike I've tried yet. The Tote/Cycle still gets an occasional outing, largely because it's more portable, but the hybrid I don't miss at all.
On my bike path, there's a bike shop which rents bikes. One being an Electra Sparker; a surprisingly light 3 spd beach cruiser with enormous swept back (Northroad) handlebars, coaster brakes, fat tires (fatter in the back) and a very low centre of gravity; kind of like a non motorized version of a Harley Sportster. So I got to test ride that today, and now I can totally get the appeal of 3 spd (well, cruiser variety). It was a lot more fun to ride than my hybrid, which felt quite utilitarian after that. You could not go fast on the Sparker but the comfort was unmatched; you could stretch out it on it like there's no tomorrow, and really get a feel for what the word "cruise" implies.
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