View Full Version : Bike for Newbie Commuters?

03-17-2011, 08:03 AM
I'm working to convince several folks in my office to start biking to work - weather is starting to improve, new bike lanes they can use, Capital Bikeshare is now open, etc. But, I frequently hear: "I don't own a good bike for this. What would you recommend? I don't want to spend $1000, but a couple hundred might be okay to try it out at first." These folks' rides would usually be 5-10 miles each way. They don't want to invest too much in a bike because they're not sure they'll use it - but they also want reasonable equipment to be comfortable and safe.

I've been recommending used road bikes, and to give it to a shop for a once-over before commuting. What do you think? What would you recommend? New or used? How much is reasonable to spend? Where should they shop? Road, mountain, or sit-up style?

The first day of bike commuting is always the hardest.

03-17-2011, 08:21 AM
Used road bikes can be a risky (and potentially expensive) purchase for the person unfamiliar with what to look for from a mechanical standpoint. I usually recommend an inexpensive hybrid from an established bike shop that will stand behind it and offer adjustments at least until the rider feels comfortable doing it themselves. From there it's up to the rider if they want to graduate to something else.

Oh, and it's the second day that's the hardest.. when you're still sore from the first one :)

03-17-2011, 09:05 AM
I ride my 25 year old touring bike. :) I would think the first question would be whether you want drop bars or straight. Personally, I prefer drops to reduce air resistance. So I would go with a steel-framed road bike with 28 to 32 mm wide high pressure tires. I would avoid more racing-type road bikes given the road surfaces you are likely to encounter. If you want to sit upright, I would recommend a hybrid with similar tires. If the roads they commute on are really rough, you might want a mountain bike, but I would recommend getting as narrow and high pressure a tire as possible.

Whether to go through a bike shop depends on the bicyclist's mechanical aptitude. The mechanics of bicycle components is fairly simple. If you can work on the bicycle yourself, explore the wonderful world of craigslist. Otherwise, go to a shop. I would also recommend not buying anything that could have been sold originally through a discount store.

Joe Chapline
03-17-2011, 09:20 AM
Naturally, I'll recommend the kind of bike I ride -- hybrid. They're good on a variety of surfaces, and the stability and more upright riding position make it easier to watch everything that's going on around you.

Employers who want to encourage bike commuting might consider keeping a small fleet of "try before you buy" bikes, and having bike mentors. If a new bike commuter started with a decent bike that fit and was properly adjusted, the experience would likely be better than if they try a random yard-sale bike.

Mark Blacknell
03-17-2011, 09:58 AM
Nothing wrong with used bikes that have been inspected (either by the shop selling, or by a friend who (actually) knows what she's doing). Phoenix Bikes is a good source of used bikes that have been inspected, and I wouldn't have any qualms accompanying a friend and selected a bike from one of the used-bike dealers that show up at the Courthouse market.

My personal ideal for a commuter is a steel touring bike. Drop bars, made for comfort & load, etc. A hybrid would drive me nuts. I've known a number of people who buy a hybrid because it's the most immediately comfortable thing in the shop, and then, after a month or so of riding, get frustrated with the upright & slow nature of it. Different strokes.

03-17-2011, 02:01 PM
offered without comment:


03-17-2011, 02:41 PM
I guess if there was a perfect commuter/transportation bike we'd all be riding the same one. I ride a Dutch-style bike, but then again my commute is fairly flat and less than 8 miles (one way). A commuting bike should have some things to make your life easier like fenders, rack, chain guard, etc. IMO a commuting bike shouldn't require special shoes or attire. If you can't ride it in regular shoes and business casual attire, you won't ride it as much (especially someone just starting out). I'll second the recommendation for Phoenix Bikes or similar co-ops, as long as you don't settle for a bike that doesn't fit. Of course, for selfish reasons I usually point people to http://www.bikesfortherestofus.com/ .

Riley Casey
03-17-2011, 03:27 PM
A few observations in no particular order ...
Unless all of your commute is via virtually empty rural or suburban roads and urban bike trails door to door I would stick with bars that give an upright ride. Visibility in an urban setting - you to them and them to you - is paramount.
Always take a dry run of your bike commute on a Sunday morning so that you have the route down pat before jousting with the rabid car commuters.
Used bikes are, how shall I put this, more expendable in a public urban setting.
Once the ride parameters are established and the joie de vivre of biking where once you drove sets in it's easier to buy up to a bike that fits the needs to a T from a used bike than taking a hit on the investment in a new bike.

YMMV of course

03-22-2011, 05:48 PM
Honestly, if you aren't going 20 miles like some of us, or out for speed, just go pick up a good quality low-cost hybrid/commute. Performance/Spokes/A1 etc all have $300-400 bikes on sale these days that are built with good quality components and will last a long time. You won't be winning the TdF, but that's not your goal. A cheap bike will go a long way. The point is to get out and be doing it. Some of my cycling buddies rag on me for commuting such a long distance on "the wrong bike", but I wouldn't trade my tough-as-nails cyclocross bike for anything. Even with 14,000 miles on it, it just chugs right along. Only paid $700 for it, how's that for a return on investment!?

03-23-2011, 02:18 PM
I've gradually switched to wider and knobbier tires for my cx bike. A little slower, but fewer flats and better traction on the potholes and road creases and gravel or sandy or muddy spots along the trails and DC streets. I'm more comfortable bailing off the trail or on to a sidewalk if necessary. I figure even if the commute takes a little longer, that's a good thing, right? More bike time is better. (Now I need to find a longer route...)

I also think the fit of the bike is probably more important than the dollars spent on it. A good bike fitter very helpful for avoiding injury, getting a really comfortable setup in my opinion.

03-29-2011, 09:21 AM
I use two bikes for commuting.

Dahon Mu Uno and Cannondale Quick 6

Cannondale Quick 6 I picked up from REI for less than $300, they even knocked off another 10% for scratched frame (last floor model, 2010 year)

For basic, on trail commute, I think its great.

Joe Chapline
04-12-2011, 09:50 PM
I thought of this thread when got off the Metro in Alexandria today. The Braddock Road station always has lots of bikes parked there (200? Just a guess.) Today, hybrids outnumbered road bikes about 20 to 1. I suspect that these are almost all commuters with bike trips like mine -- the bike portion of the commute is a short distance on urban streets.