Author Topic: What to look for in a commuter bike  (Read 6515 times)

hybrid

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What to look for in a commuter bike
« on: June 12, 2013, 01:02:28 PM »
I've begun riding my bike home over the last month and have found a decent way to travel, it's about nine miles and significant portions are all uphill.  I work near the James River in Richmond VA so everything is uphill from the river, naturally.  The current bike I use is a light duty mountain bike which set me back $200 a few years ago, and now that it has it's first 100 or so miles on it I can tell that it is a $200 bike, and not in a good way.  So now that I am moving beyond the "it's just a fad" into the "it's part of your routine" phase I'm nearing the point where I want some more serious gear.  Here is what I want to do with the bike.

Commute home from work 3-4 times per week (weather and schedule often do not permit five days).
Ride around the neighborhood for recreation.
Occasionally go to the nearby grocery store (about 5 miles round trip) for light runs and an excuse to exercise.
Nothing off road - commuter bike only.

So I feel like I need something with easy to work gearing (which I have now), a setup for carrying stuff (panniers, front and back or just rear?), and of course reasonably priced, and I am willing to pay for the proper quality required of a bike and equipment that may get a lot of work.  I know next to nothing about decent bicycles and what I should expect to pay so advice here up to and including get this pannier (hyperlink) would be greatly appreciated.

Signed,
Cycling newbie.

amerikian

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #1 on: June 12, 2013, 03:06:54 PM »
I just started commuting in February and have almost 1000 miles.  I think the most important thing in a commuter bike is that YOU LIKE IT!  If you like it, you're more likely to ride it.  It must be comfortable and fit you.

As far as racks, just the rear rack.  I bought a set of panniers and only use both of them at the same time twice out of 47 times.  IME you only need one pannier.  I just switched to backpack and don't mind the sweaty back.  That is really the only draw back.

IMO - Don't let weather dictate whether or not you commute or you'll find yourself only commuting 1-2 times a week.  Just get a dry bag/pannier for you work clothes/shoes and you'll be fine.  Gortex upper & lower shells are crucial for winter, early spring, later fall.

Cycle Cross bikes have become very popular for commuting, due to their "one style fits all" geometry and spec level.  They can small or wide tires, can get disc brakes, and a more laxed riding position.  Many also have fender mounting holes.  I use a rear fender and front "splash gaurd" thingy.

I have the CAADX Disc Ultega.  Definitely overkill for a commuter, but i got it 1/2 off and have already realized enough gas savings to pay it off.  Check out cycle cross bikes.  Kind of the SUV, or Cross Over if you will, of the bike world.  And check craigslist, though if you're on MMM you probably know this.  L8R

clutchy

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2013, 03:08:31 PM »
Trek FX 7.5

It's rugged; has all the mounting hardware built in and it's a trek.


specialized makes something equivalent. 

REI has something called the big buzz which has disc brakes and better components and can sometimes be purchased at a heavy discount.  It also is pretty heavy.

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2013, 05:42:47 PM »
Based on your "never off road" description I'd suggest a hybrid flat bar road bike from specialized, cannondale, or trek. Used on Craigslist for around the same price as your MTb, maybe a little more.

More precisely the type of bike that you want to ride, though, I enjoy riding my mtbike on my daily commute also, it's not much slower at all (16 vs 17 mph moving average over 10 miles each way) and the mtbike is a fairly aggressive all man rig on knobbies, a full susp nomad with 7" of travel at both ends

markstache

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2013, 06:46:30 PM »
Could you tell us more about what you dislike about your current ride? Do you feel to upright (lacking power)? Are you cramped? Does the suspension (I'm going to assume a full suspension MTB) bounce around? Do your hands get numb? Does it lack attachment points for fenders and racks?

Good suggestions from others. I'll add a few thoughts:

1) I think a folding bike makes a great commuter as you can take it inside with you during the day. I've been mostly commuting on my folder since I got it a couple of months ago. It's great to just stick it in a closet all day and not worry about theft or rain. On a few occasions I've met my wife or someone else and tossed it in the trunk of a car. I took it to a conference in Chicago a few weeks ago and enjoyed riding the Lake Front trail both days.

At the upper end of the price scale you have Brompton and Bike Friday. Dahon and Tern make folders at a variety of price points. At the lower end of the scale, Downtube has a decent reputation.

2) If you want something more conventional, I think Breezer has been knocking it out of the park lately with their commuter line:

http://www.breezerbikes.com/bikes/transportation

3) I'm always of mixed mind in suggesting a used bike. They can be a great bargain, but they can also be a maintenance head ache. This is said by someone who has spent some time rehabbing a few older bikes. I'm very happy with the results, but I enjoy turning the wrenches myself.

hybrid

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2013, 07:42:08 PM »
Hi markstache and all,

To answer a few of your questions, the bike I have now is just not very high quality, I've had a pedal come undone once already and have had to tighten it again recently, and I can just tell it's going to go for good one of these days because there is a little play in it.  The chain slips too easily when changing gears, had to fix that a few times while on the road.  The two inch tires and the front suspension are a hindrance rather than a help.  I'd rather do without the front shocks (unnecessary) and go with thinner tires (less resistance).  It's not a bad bike per se and it gets the job done fairly comfortably and routinely most of the time, I just got what I paid for and its not a good long term solution.  As for no off road, I am 46 and have knees that are shot from a lifetime of sports and they just don't take shock of any kind well at all (volleyball at age 40 ruined them).  Off road just ain't happenin'.  But I can pedal and pedal with zero issues because it is no impact.

I like the one pannier suggestion, I don't see myself in a backpack.  I'm not riding to work because there is no shower at work and I rather desperately need one after riding 9 miles.  But I can get the bike there most days and stashing it is no problem, we have plenty of office space.

Hamster

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2013, 09:17:13 AM »
I second the rear-only rack/pannier rec. It is rare that you'd want front panniers unless touring with a large amount of gear. Loading the front end impacts handling.

I personally like having drop bars over flat bars unless you are pulling a trailer or going off-road and want that extra width for control in those situations. Otherwise, a drop bar will give you more hand positions so you can adjust more on longer rides, and you'll be more aerodynamic.

I also strongly agree with avoiding front suspension since you aren't going off road. Cheap front suspension hurts more than it helps - more weight, more maintenance, no real benefit. If you want a little softer ride with a non-suspension fork, increase tire size or decrease tire pressure a little.

My rec for any commuting over about 5 miles each way is a touring bike (basically a heavier-duty road bike that can handle heavier loads and bigger tires, and has lots of attachment points for accessories), or for a nimbler ride, a cyclocross bike. Some will argue, but I consider a hybrid or flat bar bike mostly for lower speed (not 9 mile commutes unless you want to lounge along slowly) or for pulling loads/kids, etc. Otherwise I think a hybrid can be good for a new rider to transition to get you used to riding before moving on to a more efficient geometry.

A final comment is that any bike, after 100-200 miles will often develop a little play and needs to be tightened/tuned. Cables stretch and nuts/bolts loosen up when breaking in a new bike. Tuning these things appropriately can prevent damaging your bike and yourself.

hybrid

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2013, 10:15:15 AM »
Thanks for the advice folks, all good stuff here.  So I am now leaning toward touring, fenders, one rear pannier, perhaps a Trek, maybe $400 total including the bike (from Craigslist), gear , and a tune-up if required, and hopefully less.  I don't need to move on this immediately, so I have plenty of time to continue researching.  Fortunately one of the attorneys at the firm owns multiple cycles and I can bend his ear as well.  But I definitely wanted a variety of opinions and not just his so this is a real help.

Lee42

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2013, 09:17:24 PM »
I recently just received my first new commuter bike for my birthday (gift from SO's family). I didn't own a car for five years, and I used a free road bike, an early 90s steel frame. Now, I use a cyclocross, which is faster and more nimble than a hybrid, but more rugged than a road bike. In my experience, there are several things you want to find in a commuter bike:

1). Thin tires that can handle imperfect road conditions. That usually means road bike, cyclocross, hybrid, or touring. I would avoid mountain bikes, too heavy and tough on hills. Road bikes are most expensive, followed by touring, cyclocross, and hybrid, generally. Road bikes are the quickest, but most expensive and least rugged. I like cyclocross because my bike is nimble and light, but has thicker tires and some other options that make it zippy.
2). Water bottle holder. Drink up!
3). Good headlights and tail lights.
4). The range of gears you need for a comfortable ride. While I know some folks who enjoy fixie (one gear) bikes, I need a range (like 18 speed) to comfortably manuever hills and whatnot. I'm no primo athlete, just a bike commuter.
5). Some way to carry stuff. Either a nice backpack with moisture wicking back, or a rear rack with room for a crate, bag, or cooler.

A lot of the other stuff are bells and whistles. I would pick a price point and find the best possible bike you can within your price range that matches your criteria. If you can, test ride, because all bikes feel differently and go to a pro bike store and get yourself fitted. Every bike model and make are different, so its important to understand your size needs. Finally, get a biddy to ride with you (motivation), learn the easiest and safest route, and don't be shy to use public transit or other modes as a complement. What make bike commuting doable for me is flexibility; when it rains or tired or whatever, I take public transit.

kms

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2013, 02:59:23 AM »
4). The range of gears you need for a comfortable ride. While I know some folks who enjoy fixie (one gear) bikes, I need a range (like 18 speed) to comfortably manuever hills and whatnot. I'm no primo athlete, just a bike commuter.
One thing I'd like to add: an 18 gear derailleur covers about the same range as a 7-9 gear internal hub (Alfine or Sachs). There's also 11 (Alfine) and 14 (Rohloff) hubs for more hilly areas. The prime advantage of these hubs is that they're practically maintenance free and cause much less stress on the chain, which in return causes much less stress on the bearings. However, they're usually a bit more expensive.

That said I don't think that it makes much of a difference in a commuter bike. I've stripped mine down to seven gears by removing the front derailleur but as usual, YMMV.

man_is_obsolete

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2013, 09:59:06 AM »
I have 5000 miles on a Trek FX 7.5 and I enjoy it.

My accessories: rear rack (Topeak Explorer), cargo net to strap things to the rack, Power Grips pedals/straps, a hi viz mesh vest, rear view mirror on helmet, rear blinky light, hi viz stickers on the bike, front light, little under seat bag (with Topeak Alien tool, extra tube, tube patch kit), water bottle, topeak road morph pump, KryptoFlex combo cable.

Sometimes drop bars would be nice, but my commute has always been <6 miles so it's no big deal. I think drop bars are more versatile and future proof, but they can add a lot to the price of the bike.

If you're going to be riding a bike for any appreciable amount of time and mileage, you will not regret getting something nice. Get a bike that fits you, and is stiff, light and efficient (700c wheel with smooth tires), and you'll be amazed at how it seems to pedal itself.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2013, 10:02:29 AM by man_is_obsolete »

prodarwin

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2013, 01:03:16 PM »
The current bike I use is a light duty mountain bike which set me back $200 a few years ago, and now that it has it's first 100 or so miles on it I can tell that it is a $200 bike, and not in a good way. 

What problems do you have with the current one?  Just things that are out of adjustment?  This is the most common problem with a lot of bikes.

I got a $Free Specialized steel-frame mountain bike from the late 90s/early 2000s.  $100 in parts from amazon and it fits me a lot better.  Slapped some cycle-cross tires on the existing wheels, and it moves pretty good now.  Its a lot of fun, and very effective for the price... especially compared with my mountain bike that I now have ~$1200 invested in  :(

capital

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2013, 09:22:37 PM »
Was your $200 bike new or used? A $200 used mountain bike can be a perfectly good commuter for the long run with a tune-up, road tires, and maybe a new seat and handlebar setup. A $200 new mountain bike is unlikely to be durable or enjoyable to ride.

If you are looking at a new bike, my girlfriend has this bike and has done very well on it:
http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/gravity/liberty_cx.htm
It's a very nice bike for $400, with wide tires for a comfortable commute, wide-ranging gearing, and drop bars to get out of the wind. It does need assembly, which you'll either need to learn to do yourself or pay a bike shop $50-75 to do.

If you can find a late-'80s or '90s-era used touring bike for less on Craigslist, it would be worthwhile, but such bikes have gotten popular and aren't easy to find cheap in many markets these days.

dweebyhawkeyes

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2013, 09:47:11 PM »
You've racked up plenty of great suggestions for the bike itself but if I may offer an idea for storage: a milk crate. Now, I found out the hard way that an actual milk crate is illegal to use (even if it's been sitting in your family's garage for 30 years grrr) but you can buy a new, unmilk, legal HDPE crate at Storables or The Container Store for $10. Strap it to your rack with a bungee cord and voila! You can use any backpack, grocery bag, lunchbox, or whatever with no issues. With another bungee handy to secure the goods, I've found my crate pretty versatile. I like it better than the old panniers that I had been using, since it allows much more freedom in what you want to bring with you. The only caveat would be if you worked in an area where people would steal it off your bike while you were away.

capital

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2013, 10:44:43 PM »
I have been using a grocery pannier to carry my backpack:
http://www.rei.com/product/825299/novara-round-town-single-bike-pannier

It's about as versatile as a milk crate, but easy to take with you. You can take your backpack out at the grocery store and pop in a full-sized grocery bag when you make a grocery run on your way home.

REI and many other companies make them. I got mine when they were half-price.

hybrid

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Re: What to look for in a commuter bike
« Reply #15 on: June 18, 2013, 07:05:48 AM »
Was your $200 bike new or used? A $200 used mountain bike can be a perfectly good commuter for the long run with a tune-up, road tires, and maybe a new seat and handlebar setup. A $200 new mountain bike is unlikely to be durable or enjoyable to ride.

It was $200 new, a Diamondback mountain bike from Dick's Sporting Goods.  Although the air pressure is good on both tires it felt like I was riding with a flat yesterday (and no, the brakes were not rubbing).  Hey, I can certainly use the extra exercise in the short term but long term I am looking for something quicker and better.

Oh, and I'm finding that the market for Treks on Craigslist is significantly higher than expected.  $300 - $1200, median price around $700.  Wondering if perhaps I'll snag a better deal when the weather turns colder and people decide to get rid of that bike they never used all year.  And that's OK, I am still in research phase anyway....