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Buying the right commuting bike

Posted Dec 02 2008 3:06am

Image of bicycle shop in New York City
From the Boston Globe, 07.27.08:

When it comes to 2 wheels, there are countless choices
So you want to get back into bicycling after all these years. Or, perhaps it's time to upgrade from your old gray mare to something more sleek and sexy. Shopping for a new bike can seem overwhelming, especially for neophytes. Fortunately, a wise (Belmont) Wheelworks employee like Michael Simon is on hand to help--and to pose all the right questions.

"What sort of riding are you doing?" the veteran salesman typically asks dazed and confused customers like myself. For fun or fitness or both? Occasional or hardcore commuting, casual cruising, or some specialized sport? Mainly riding on roads or pavement plus dirt paths? For many, the debate is between a road bike and a hybrid or mountain bike - and it often comes down to handlebars. "Usually [clients] have in mind drop handlebars, or they want to be upright," Simon said.

For rides or commutes of 1 1/2 hours or less, Simon suggested a bike with flat handlebars. This puts the cyclist in an upright position with hands set far apart for greater stability and a clearer view of the road. Older bikers or those with poor flexibility often prefer riding upright. A hybrid's longer wheelbase (the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels), compared with a road bike, also means improved steadiness. "More stability means more confidence," said Simon. "We have a lot of interest in hybrid-style bikes for people who want to ride to work maybe twice a week."

Another consideration: comfort. A hybrid also will typically have wider tires than road bikes, making for a more cushioned ride. All these factors can make hybrids appealing to less confident riders (though their longer wheelbase can make hybrids slightly slower to respond when maneuvering). Most commuter bikes are in the same category as hybrids, he added; they have thinner tires than mountain bikes but wider than road bikes, and some include suspension systems. ( Read more.)
As discussed earlier on this blog, many fossil fuel refugees appear to be flocking to bike shops with an enthusiastic desire to become bicycle commuters. The "right" bike is a critical component for effective and fun bicycle commuting. Many visitors to this blog and my bike commuting tips site inquire about appropriate bicycles for commuting. In response, I created a page with suggestions for buying a bicycle.

The Boston Globe article cited here offers many helpful tips, beginning with finding a trusted quality bicycle shop and consulting with shop staff. A good bike shop is a great partner for successful bicycle commuting. Don't even consider the cheap bikes sold by big box discount stores. The article also mentions several specific suitable models, including the Trek 7.3 FX, Trek 7000, Specialized Globe and Globe 6, or Bianchi Valle. Of course, many other brands offer comparable models, including most notably the commuting bike pioneer Breezer Bikes.

In general, for commutes less than 10 miles, I agree that a hybrid bicycle is likely the best choice. For my own commuting, I use a two-year-old Novara Randonee touring bike to make the 17-mile ride between home in Sacramento and office at UC Davis. For some multimodal commuting and around town rides, I have two hybrids, a Bianchi Boardwalk and a Jamis Commuter. I also own a road bike and a mountain bike, which I've used for occasional commute rides.

For many years the bicycle industry chased the athletic cycling consumer with high performance technological enhancements. The resulting carbon fiber wheels, carbon fiber cranks, and 10 gear cassettes offer almost no benefit to everyday bicycle commuters. We need reliable transportation, not high speed advantage. Thankfully, the bicycle industry is now producing a greater range of commuting-specific bicycles. This variety can overwhelm the new bicycle shopper. So before entering the store, consider your commuting needs, do your online research, find a trusted bike shop that welcomes beginning bicyclists, and make test rides on several models.

What advice regarding bicycle choices do you offer new or prospective bike commuters?

Image:Ed Yourdon
Visit:Local experts weigh in on how to buy a proper bike, RedandBlack.com (University of Georgia)
Visit:Commuter Bike Off!, Huffington Post
Visit:Tuesday Tips: Buying a Bicycle, Washington Post
Visit:Run on bikes leaves slimmer pickings at some shops, Associated Press
Visit:Interest in commuting by bike on the increase, Boston Globe
Visit:Bikes made for commuting are hot!, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Bikes com in all shapes for all people, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Getting comfortable on a bike, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Buying a Bike: new or used?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Massachusetts: Bicycle shops reap windfall, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit:Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
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