What Bike Should I Buy?

Huzzah! A couple of new questions from the mailbag! They’re both similar, so I’m gonna mash them together into a single post.

The first one was submitted anonymously:

Hello, good sir! You seem to be a man that knows his bikes. You seem to know more about bikes than most people I know, so I thought I’d ask you:

What kind of bike feels nimble but can also give you speed? My mountain bike feels pretty nimble, but it’s not very fast. My tri bike is really fast but isn’t so good for dodging pedestrians, turning corners, et cetera. I’d mostly be riding in the cities so mostly pavement, but there might be a few gravel roads on occasion. I’m thinking 80% pavement 20% dirt. I’m hoping it would be comfortable for longer distances (20-80 miles). Price range: $500-1,500. Mostly I’m looking for a bike that “feels” right – one that feels like it’s an extension of my body. Any suggestions?

An extension of your body, huh? Sounds like you should get a fixie. Those hipsters are always getting metaphysical about their bikes. HA. Just kidding. I have to admit that you’ve caught me in my ruse. I talk a lot about bikes, but don’t actually know much about them. At least not the kind that you don’t find abandoned in a dumpster. Those are the kind of bikes I know a lot about.

But, I dunno… have you considered cyclocross bikes? Cyclocross bikes are great for general pavement use, and can reasonably pass for road bikes. But they also provide plenty of clearance for tires that are maybe a little wider or knobbier if you want to take it off-road a little bit. Cyclocross bikes are also designed to be pretty nimble and able to make quick corners and stuff. It sounds like that might be what you’re looking for.

If I were going to buy a cyclocross bike, my first test ride would probably be the Surly Cross-Check, which tends to come in around the $1,000 – $1,200 range.

Surly Cross-Check
Surly Cross-Check

The second question comes from my friend Katie from Creole Wisdom. She said:

Can you write a post about purchasing bikes? Bikes for people who have no bike education? And maybe offer a few economical options, too? I’ve been wanting to purchase a bike, for leisure, but have zero clue what I should be looking for…

Great question!  Well, from what I know about your sense of style, I think you’d look GREAT on a fashionable MIXTE (confession: I think pretty much everyone would look great on a fashionable mixte…).  They’re perfect for be-bopping around town on errands or for leisurely weekend trail rides. I wrote a post about a year ago about the Best Mixte Bikes on the market at the time, and I think it’s still pretty much current. Each of those bikes were in the $500-$900 range, which I think is a good target price range.  There are still acceptable bikes out there in the $300-$500 range at sporting goods stores, but you won’t have many options in that price range. You’ll either like what they’re selling at that price, or you’re out of luck. Once you pass the $500 mark, a whole world of options begin to open up.

Here are some questions you should think about before heading to your favorite local bike shop to inquire about specific brands or models:

  • Internal hub gearing or traditional derailleur system? – internal gearing is quickly becoming the new standard for city bikes. They cost a little more, but I think they’re worth it.
  • How many gears will you need? – This can range anywhere from 1 to 30.  For you, I’d recommend you shoot for about 3-8 gears (bikes that use a single front chainring..). Any more than that, I think you’ll find are entirely unnecessary for leisurely riding.
  • Fenders and chainguards? – if you want to wear regular city clothes and feel confident that you’re not getting a mud-stripe up your back, I strongly recommend fenders, and a chainguard to keep your pant legs out of the chain.
  • Are you willing to pay extra for aesthetic upgrades? – like having the fenders and chainguard color-matched to the rest of the frame?
  • Integral lighting? – you need lights on the bike – both a red blinky in back and headlamp up front.  Some bikes will have integral lighting systems where the motion of the bike powers the lights, so you always have the lights on the bike, and you never have to change batteries.  However, you’ll pay extra for this feature.  Your other option is to buy a bike without lights, and use standard clip-on battery lights.  Integral lighting is a great feature if you’re wiling to pay for it.

My last bit of advice is to send you off to an entire blog dedicated to answering your exact question. Bikes For The Rest Of Us is dedicated to helping regular folks find great bikes that look great and are fully functional. Their archives are full of reviews and recommendations about utilitarian and recreational bikes. They’ve got a good eye for quality, and I like their fashionable style as well.

Any other questions?

Ask Me Anything!!!

6 thoughts on “What Bike Should I Buy?”

  1. Here’s my question: why on earth are you up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning blogging? That’s just too early, even if it’s on a topic like bikes.

  2. So, a bicycle is basically a seat on wheels, right?

    So, you’re really just asking,♪ ♫ ♬”Which seat should I taa-aaaake?”♪ ♫ ♬


  3. The best advice I ever received about purchasing a bike was to simply ride as many bikes as possible. It sounds like a pretty simple concept, but with the last bike I purchased, I had researched online for hours only to be disappointed when I went to a shop to test them out. Plus, it’s just kind of fun to ride a wide variety of bikes, especially the ones you actually never intend to buy.

  4. @Katie – scheduled posts! I wrote this baby on Thursday! (but I really am up leaving comments at 2:17 AM…)

    @Heather – Fun Fun Fun Fun

    @Joe – that’s great advice.

  5. @creole wisdom – beach cruisers??? blech. Don’t get me started. I really don’t consider myself a bike snob, but beach cruisers are the worst. Please do yourself a favor and steer clear of the beach cruisers. You’d be much better off finding yourself a nice relaxed and classy city bike, mixte or otherwise.

    …unless you’ve already bought yourself a beach cruiser, in which case I think beach cruisers are great!

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