Author Topic: Bike Commuting Question  (Read 4619 times)

Ron

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Bike Commuting Question
« on: January 21, 2015, 03:34:31 PM »
Hello all,

I am a new forum member and I have been following MMM blog/forum since April. I am glad I found this great community! I have a 12 mile round-trip commute and want to start using a bike. I would like to get your recommendation and opinion on whether should I use a normal bike or an electric bike. I am out of shape and currently weigh 200 lbs (56 tall). One of the main reasons I would like to commute with a bike is to lose weight, as well as the other reasons stated in this forum/blog.

I am concerned with safety, as 1 mile of the commute is a narrow road and if I need to avoid a car I feel I can go faster with an e-bike. People tailgate me in my car (I hypermile), I imagine this would be similar on a bike.

The normal bike I am interested in (Schwinn Voyageur) would be about $500 and the e-bike (Haibike Trekking RX with is pedal assist only - no throttle) would be about $3600 with a discount. I think I would be motivated to use the e-bike more frequently for errands or weekend rides (grocery shopping, etc.) but I understand that it might not be very mustachian.

A little about our financial situation, we are debt free and our annual income is about $130k/year. We save a little over 65% of our monthly income, so technically I can afford either bike.

Thanks in advance for your recommendations and I look forward to this forum!

TrulyStashin

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2015, 03:49:11 PM »
How about a third option?  You could (maybe) do a mix of drive-bike commuting.  It's what I do because the only route from my house to work is deadly on a bike.  It works like this:

Keep a bike rack on your car. 
Put bike on rack.
Drive to an area where you can park for free and that is safe. 
Take bike off car. 
Finish your commute on the bike.

Using this method, you can start out with more driving-less biking as you get in shape and lose weight.  As you get stronger and more comfortable you can reduce your driving and increase your biking until you're biking all/ most of it.  Perhaps you can always drive the narrow stretch that might be unsafe due to aggressive drivers?

Just a thought... YMMV.


JJsfr

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2015, 03:56:05 PM »
My first thought is to find another route that avoids the scary road, but that would maybe lengthen your commute to a distance you wouldn't be able to handle yet on a normal bike. If you think an e bike will get you on two wheels, go for it. After you get into shape, pick up a pure pedal power and free up the cash in the e bike.

You can also start with weekend practice rides before diving in deep.

vhalros

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2015, 04:02:02 PM »
12 miles is a distance that is pretty comfortable for an experienced cyclist in good physical condition, but if you are not accustomed to cycling it would take you a while to work up to doing that regularly (perhaps a month or two). This is around the distance where bicycle clothing can start to make a difference.

I have no personal experience with the Schwinn Voyageur, but it is marketed as a "comfort" bike, which usually means an extremely upright posture. I usually find that makes it a huge pain to go more than 5 miles or so, but I guess opinions vary.

I guess if we look at it in purely financial terms, the eBike is going to require you to replace 7.2 times as many driving miles as the Schwinn to pay for itself. If you feel like you will be able to ride the eBike 7.2 times as often, then it will save you the same amount/time. You could always start with the eBike and sell it as your fitness improves.

Regarding the route, are there alternatives? There may be routes that are impossible to drive through, but are bikeable (by, for example, walking the bike on the sidewalk for a block). Does the road have shoulders?


Edit:

I totally missed that you mean 12-miles *round-trip* i.e. 6 miles there, 6 miles back. That is a lot easier. Honestly, to  heck with the eBike for that distance unless there are horrible hills.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2015, 04:38:20 PM by vhalros »

TrMama

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2015, 04:30:50 PM »
I think the 3rd option of doing a hybrid bike/drive commute would be the best way to go for both financial and health reasons. It really isn't as big of a PITA as it sounds (I do it from time to time when I want to bike and have to drop the kids off somewhere).

I say this as the spouse of a big guy with an electric bike. It was a really expensive toy and I've seen zero improvement in his fitness as a result. I believe the electric motor just acts as a crutch and he'd really be much better off having to literally pull his own weight.

johnny847

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2015, 04:35:01 PM »
Along the lines of what others have said, 6 miles one way is nothing for somebody in good shape. But as you state, you're not in shape.

I'm sure you realize this, but you will get in shape much faster with a standard bike as opposed to an electric bike. I'd recommend getting a non electric bike and just start commuting on it. If you get an electric bike, my guess is that you will end up feeling very comfortable with it, and never end up getting a standard bike, even when you get into enough shape to comfortably commute on a standard bike.

As for getting a "comfort" bike - the comfort bike will always feel more comfortable initially because you're sitting upright. But that is an inefficient way to bike. After a certain point, the extra energy expended because of the inefficiency will become more of an issue for you than the discomfort you may feel from a racing style bike (and for a racing style biking, you will over time become at least somewhat accustomed to the leaning forward position). I would look into "commuter," hybrid, or perhaps cyclocross bikes. And road bikes if you're feeling a bit adventurous.

With respect to the route, do try and see if you can find a safer one. But I will say just in my experience, while some drivers will get pissed at you because they mistakenly think you are legally obligated to not ride in a car lane, they still give you enough space. Enough space may be mere inches, where you might have gotten hit. But of the accidents that I have seen (which admittedly, is a very small sample of all bicycle accidents), I have not seen any occur while a driver passed a cyclist on a normal section of road. I have seen cyclists hit on left turns, the classic right hook, getting doored, etc.
One source does agree with me http://bicyclesafe.com/ - see collision type #10. It was only 3.8% of bicycle collisions.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #6 on: January 21, 2015, 04:51:32 PM »
I started out with a comfort bike.  I was 45 and hadn't biked in 30 years.  I had a garage sale and used the proceeds to buy an Electra Townie (7-speed).   With my hybrid drive-bike commute, I typically rode 2 miles each way.   I felt safe and really loved it.  I've ridden the Townie for as long as 15 miles and it's fine as long as there aren't a lot of hills.

That was two years ago and I've been biking ever since.  I still use my Townie for day-to-day commuting because she's comfy and has plenty of baskets/ lights etc. to make it easy.  And the upright posture adds to my illusion of safety.   But I recently added a mid-90's Trek Mountain Track bike (used, upgraded components, CL for $130).  I really LOVE my new bike and took it out on the trials on MLK day.

So long as you don't have monster hills on your route, it's fine to start with a comfort bike, especially if that is what gives you the sense of safety you need just to START somewhere.  Just accept that after a bit, you'll be ready for a "real" bike.   That's ok, too. Check Craigslist -- comfort bikes have been in the market for a couple of years now and I bet you can find one used for a great price.

Ron

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #7 on: January 21, 2015, 05:19:57 PM »
Thanks so much for your responses!

Are there any bikes aside from the Schwinn which you'd recommend? My experience with bikes is very minimal (I have not ridden one since 2009) so I basically chose the Schwinn based on the specs and reviews.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2015, 05:41:57 PM »
This isn't necessarily Mustachian advice but it's designed to help you make the leap....

Go to your local bike shop and talk to them.  If the first shop is snooty and tries to sell you an expensive bike, leave and go somewhere else.   The right shop will have someone who is really approachable and helpful.  They'll talk to you to get an idea of what you want to do and they'll suggest various models that fit your needs.  You should also be able to test ride as many bikes as you like.

When I bought my Townie, I did this.  But I arrived at the LBS with a clear idea of what I wanted.  I told the manager I was looking for _____.  She listened to me and said "I think you might prefer a Townie, but go ahead and ride _____ and see what you think."   (I forget what I wanted now!)  I rode the other bike and it felt really floaty and I didn't have a good sense of the road.  It didn't feel good. 

Next, I tried the Townie and it felt safe and solid.  I rode for half an hour and couldn't get the smile off my face.   I still smile when I ride that bike.  "Carmen" is coral and turquoise with flowered fenders -- 'cause, why not?

The bike that makes you smile is the right starter (or re-starter) bike for you.  I didn't mind paying the LBS price (around $400).

arielcole

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2015, 05:45:24 PM »
Hi Ron!

I am so glad you are about to jump on the band wagon of biking! It's pretty much the greatest thing ever. I am a huge biker, last year when I graduated college, I was 22, I biked down the west coast, starting in Seattle and ending in San Diego!

So, If a 22 year old girl can ride a bike that far in two months, you can certainly ride a bike to work. A 12 mile round trip commute sounds like the perfect length of a commute, just enough to clear your head on the way to work, and clear your head on the way home. The busy narrow road will feel scary for the first few weeks, then it will feel like a fun adventure, and then it will be mundane like your car commute is now. Don't worry about the drivers, they can go around you.

As a former bike mechanic I recommend 2 things for new commuters. Number 1: A high quality steal frame, steal frames are indeed heavier, but they feel way safer because the vibrations on the road don't radiate through them and they don't flex like they do on aluminum or carbon do. Also, for someone of your size, the steal will make an even bigger difference, and be better for the wear on your bike. Number 2: Along those lines, get some nice tires, some commuter tires that are a little wider that stock tires, and that are 'flat-protected'. If you are worried about getting a flat, or getting stuck in tiny cracks, or rolling over bumps, your commute will be less fun. Cozy tires are great, they make the ride nice and smooth.

These two characteristics actually make 80s mountain bikes THE BEST bikes to commute on. Most 80s mountain bikes were made in America with Chromoly steal, hand welded together. You can find some really nice bikes, maybe some of the nicest for 200 bucks on Craigslist. That's just me nerd-ing out though.

Also, last tip, splurge less on the bike, and more on the all the good stuff to go with it: A super nice rain jacket, super sweet bright lights, FENDERS, a rack and a nice bag to go with it, cozy handle bars that enable you to sit up in traffic and see where you are going. These things are even more important than they bike, they are what's going to make the commute great. I also recommend going for a regular bike, upgrading to the electric once you have toned your badass bike muscles and know a little bit more about bikes.

arielcole

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2015, 05:54:38 PM »
Speaking of, I just found you a sweet Trek from the late 80s. This thing is perfect. Take it to a bike shop and upgrade the handlebars and tires, and you've got yourself an American made steal frame, with 'thumbie' shifters and cantilever breaks. Perfect:

http://cincinnati.craigslist.org/bik/4842015627.html

skyrefuge

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2015, 07:10:48 PM »
As a former bike mechanic I recommend 2 things for new commuters. Number 1: A high quality steal frame, steal frames are indeed heavier, but they feel way safer because the vibrations on the road don't radiate through them and they don't flex like they do on aluminum or carbon do. Also, for someone of your size, the steal will make an even bigger difference, and be better for the wear on your bike.

Oh geez, let's not overwhelm our poor nascent commuter with a bike-snob deep-dive into frame materials! Any material will serve him just fine. If he goes used and ends up with a steel ("steel"! and, "brakes"!) MTB, great! If he goes new and ends up with an entry-level aluminum hybrid (which all have steel forks anyway), great! He'll have no idea what mostly-imaginary benefits he's missing out on with the other frame material (I've also taken my bike down the west coast, in all it's comfortable aluminum glory).

A concur with everything else in your post though, including the vote for a non-electric bike, and particularly a Craigslisted one (though while a re-tired 80s MTB is a good choice for a commuter, at $400 for that one you linked, I'd recommend going new for the same price instead, especially for a biking newbie).

vhalros

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2015, 07:46:54 PM »
Considering that it is only 6 miles each way (not 12 that I mistakenly thought), a "comfort" bike might not be a problem. Since you already have a high savings rate, going to the local bike shop as TrulyStashin recommends might be a good idea.

The problem with Craig's List is that you can only check out one bike at a time, and if you haven't ridden since you were a kid, how do you even know if it feels "right"? Going to the shop means you can check out of a lot of bikes and take them for a test ride.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2015, 07:48:45 PM by vhalros »

darkadams00

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2015, 09:58:11 PM »
1) Get a bike that fits reasonably well. Much is said about fit, but for six miles each way, you should be fine if you can get good leg extension (keeps the legs happy) and aren't stretched out too far (keeps the back happy). Let the road warriors worry about the minor details.

2) Now is the best time to buy used unless you're near a college campus (May is best then). Craigslist is great and has landed me every bike in my garage.

3) A comfort bike is okay but very questionable for a commute that long unless you already own the bike. My non-athletic wife wanted a comfort bike to start, but she migrated to a hybrid after one summer. Now the comfort bike is the Saturday morning coffee shop and local park bike. Commute (5 miles each way) and almost any other ride over three miles sees her on the hybrid.

4) Get a bike that will accommodate a rear rack. You might not want one to start, but if you like riding, it will likely be the first upgrade to improve utility. We have three of the slightly more expensive Topeak racks, and we interchange trunk bags and baskets weekly as needed, just slide on and clip.

5) Regardless of your bike, smooth road-style tires will be much faster than knobbies. 28-35mm tires will be more comfortable. Of course, the added resistance of MTB tires will definitely amp your effort level. Just don't get too depressed if you're whooped your first few weeks on knobby MTB tires.

Searches on this site will give you plenty of additional info since there are many bike riders/commuters here.

so.mpls

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2015, 07:34:44 AM »
Since you don't have any experience, I'd also recommend going to a bike shop and seeing what they recommend, what size etc.  There's no golden rule that you have to buy a bike there... you can still look for something similar to what they recommended on the second hand market.  If you feel bad doing that, you can always but a helmet/pump/shorts/whatever from the shop that gave you advice.

You're getting conflicting advice here... but I would really strongly suggest that you don't get a comfort style bike.  6 miles might not sound far to some of us, but for a complete beginner it will feel like a good distance.  Getting a comfort, which are designed to be comfortable and NOT efficient, will only make it harder for you.  I'd look for something in the 'performance hybrid' category... Trek 7.x series, Specialized Sirrus... anything along those lines.  It won't feel like a lazy boy, but it'll be more comfortable than a pure roadie and it'll get you to work without turning your lungs inside out.

« Last Edit: January 22, 2015, 07:36:53 AM by so.mpls »

vhalros

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #15 on: January 22, 2015, 09:25:24 AM »
I concur with so.mpls,  the Trek FX 7.x or anything in the  Specialized Sirrus series would be a pretty good way to go.

TrMama

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2015, 11:22:27 AM »
Go to a bike shop and test ride a bunch of bikes. At the very least, that will help you figure out what size you need.

Picking out a bike is a bit like dating, when you find the right one you just know. From doing that I figured out that I really like a compact racing style road bike because it's fast and nimble in traffic. This is not the bike I thought I would like.

JJsfr

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Re: Bike Commuting Question
« Reply #17 on: January 22, 2015, 12:25:33 PM »
Will echo the "don't get a comfort." Find one that's comfortable for you. Just go bike dating at bike shops. I prefer hybrids for commuting (have options for rack/bags, fenders, etc) and I do ~20 mi RT.