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Buying a bike


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Cost is always part of the equation, since how much you want to spend determines what other things you should consider. Here are two general options:

If you're looking to buy something new for commuting 2-15 miles or so, and you haven't ridden a lot, I would recommend a hybrid-style bike around the $600-800 range, e.g. the Trek 7.3 or 7.4 - Specialized also has a similar commuter setup. The bike you get is solid, but it's not so ridiculously expensive as to make you regret the purchase if you want to move up in a few years. If you ride in a wet or cold environment, I highly suggest you get disc brakes. They tend to add about $100-200 to the total cost of the bike, but they'll save you money in the long run as you don't have to replace worn rims. Plus, they stop way better. When you budget, keep in mind that extras (fenders, helmet, back rack) are way more expensive than they probably should be.

If you're looking to buy a beater off Craigslist, be aggressive and always offer low. Most sellers have no idea how much what the have is worth. Sometimes, this works in your favor with a guy ditching his $7k carbon frame for $150 (NB: carbon is a performance race material - don't splurge for a carbon frame if you don't race), but usually it's people marking up a 30 year old frame from $50 to $300. When checking out a Craigslist beater, make sure:

  • There are no large rust spots or cracks, particularly at the joints.
  • The chain is lightly oiled with no rust. Put it into the largest gear in the front, pinch a link, and gently try to pull the chain away from the teeth. If it comes away so you can see light on the other side, the chain is worn and will need to be replaced (~$20)
  • Make sure the teeth of both the front and back gears are rounded and not pointy. Pointy teeth are old, and mean the part needs to be replaced.
  • Older models of bike have shifters in different places. Most are fine, but avoid those with shifters on the steer tube (the tube the steering connects to). These are like two dull pocketknives permanently aimed at your crotch.
  • The brakepads look fairly new and are in good repair, with not too much slack in the cable before you begin to stop
  • Run your finger along the rim of the wheels. It should feel smooth and flat. It should not be curved inward.
  • Spin the wheel, holding the bike on the stays or the forks near the hub. You don't want to feel any grinding or vibration.
  • Check the tyre for cracks or rips.

For a bike that has fewer than 9 speeds in the back and passes all these tests, I would pay $150 or so. 

 

Hope that helps!

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Telkanuru has good advice. I also think it's worth going to a bike shop known for their service: I don't think there is much quality difference between specialized, trek and fuji at the 500-800 dollar hybrid bike range (or road bike), so the place you get it will often have more of an impact on your riding experience. 

IF you think you want to go on weekend bike rides over 10 miles or so it might be worth getting a road bike. One thing to note is that road bikes are thief bate, so you should invest in a high end lock (50-80 dollars) and a cable or keep your bike inside during the day. 

I live in a huge biker town, and haven't had any theift problems in a year: I notice people who get bikes/accessories stolen are people who do not lock up their bike properly. Make sure that when you buy your bike/lock the bike shop shows you how to do it and be diligent about it. 

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Thanks a lot guys!

I am mostly looking at a commute of about 3 miles on weekdays and around 5-6 miles on some weekends. This being said, I don't think I have the budget of buying a new hybrid bike as telkanuru suggested. But I will definitely check Craigslist for used bikes and I am sure telkanuru's advice about that will be immensely helpful. And I surely agree with GeoDUDE's advice of investing in better locks.

And what are your views about those $100-150 bikes available in Walmart? Like http://www.walmart.com/ip/26-Mongoose-Ledge-2.1-Men-s-Mountain-Bike/26999421 and http://www.walmart.com/ip/26-Schwinn-Sidewinder-Men-s-Mountain-Bike-Matte-Black-Green/26999374

Edited by elijahbaley
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I would not buy a new bike from a large chain store. It will fall apart in a year, and end up costing you way more. You could buy a $150-$200 single speed from amazon or something, but these usually are not put together well, and your local bike store (LBS in the lingo) will probably tell you to do an unmentionable (or charge you a lot, or both) if you ask them to fix it.

Lots of schools now have a bike club or a shop that refurbishes bikes abandoned around campus. This is also a good angle to look at.

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I second telkanuru's suggest to avoid large chain stores for bikes. Until I started my PhDs, all my bikes were from these stores and I didn't really like biking on the road. But then when I moved, I sold my old car and got a bike instead for commuting and it's a world of difference. A good bike is actually comfortable and fun to ride on the road! I don't bike as much anymore as I have a new car but it's a good backup mode of transportation when the car is otherwise used!

The bikes from Walmart et al. will certainly cost you more in the long term. If something happens to it, you basically have to throw it out and buy a new one. I got my bike from a local bike store for about $350. You can get a discount if you buy models from previous years. You can also get a good deal on craigslist. My wife sold her bike (bought new a few years ago for the same price) for about $200 (including all of the extra stuff like lights) to another person at our institution via craigslist. And I see listings similar to this all the time. So, you can find a really good used bike for just a little bit more than the Walmart prices.

I think it's a good investment to get a good bike for the distances you mention. Getting a good U-Lock is essential: do not buy a chain lock! You can also get bike bags to attach to your bike for groceries etc. Adding all of these accessories can be expensive so budget for that, or buy the non-essential things later. The minimum you need would be a helmet, U-Lock, and bike lights (unless you will never bike after dusk/before dawn). Bike lights are a legal requirement where I live (but also a great idea for safety). I found that bike lights are much cheaper on Amazon than at the bike store. If you get accessories with your bike at the bike store, you can often get some kind of discount too. Oh, also a bicycle pump (but see below).

Finally, you should maintain and protect your bike! The Bike Club at your school is a great resource. My school's bike club has "office hours" where they will have club members teach you how to do things and also allow you to use their tools to maintain your bike. You can also pay a bike store to do a "tune-up" (like you would for a car) if you don't want to do it yourself. Regular maintenance for me was keeping the frame clean, greasing the chains (the grease is a few dollars) and keeping the tires well-inflated.

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Will you be going up any hills?

Then using a fixed (freewheeled) bike might be also doable: some people like the look of them and they tend to be lighter and easier to maintain.  I personally ride on a specialized hybrid, and I almost never shift gears on my commute to work, but thats because there are no hills in the city i live in. 

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Will you be going up any hills?

Then using a fixed (freewheeled) bike might be also doable: some people like the look of them and they tend to be lighter and easier to maintain.  I personally ride on a specialized hybrid, and I almost never shift gears on my commute to work, but thats because there are no hills in the city i live in. 

I was just about to post about this. I'm in LA and have no hills to conquer on my commute so was thinking of a fixie. I know many people tend to look down their noses at those types of bikes but I'm pretty much going to ride to and from the Metro station and on campus. That's about it. They seem to be going pretty cheap on craigslist too.

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Just to clarify, there are two types of bikes with only one gear in the back, fixed gear (fixies, also called track bikes) and single-speeds. A single-speed bicycle is like a regular geared bicycle that has one speed (hence it's name), so if you want to stop peddling, you can, and the back wheel will still spin. A fixed gear bicycle has no freewheel or ratchet in the back hub. Whatever the peddles do, the back wheel does, and vice versa. If you peddle forward, the wheel goes forward. If you peddle back, the wheel goes back. If you stop peddling, the force of the wheel will either push your legs around or, if you resist, skid the back wheel. For those experiencing a fixie for the first time, the feel can be... disconcerting, and they're trickier to ride since you can't stop peddling through a corner. However, in bad weather (snow, etc.), a fixie is a lot more controllable, particularly since you can slow down by applying pressure to your peddles and not worry about locking up your rear wheel with your brakes.

In an area with no (or even few) large hills, both fixies and ss are low-maintenance options that can be picked up new for fairly cheap. I am personally a fan of the SE Lager as an intro-level model (it's what I own). Most models will come with what is called a "flip-flop" hub - one side is a single speed freewheel, the other is fixed. By taking off the rear wheel and flipping it, you can chose which one you want to do. If you do go with a fixed gear, I recommend investing in some foot retention - I use HoldFast straps on BMX peddles.

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