Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition

For some people, the first thing on the to-do list to enable bike commuting is “Buy a bike”!

If that’s the case, go to a local bike shop (LBS, in the insider vernacular). This means a place where someone can fix your bike, not just sell it to you, thus ruling out all crappy bikes from big-box stores with no maintenance shop and money thrown away on bikes not worth fixing.

You want to build a trusting relationship with a shop where they get to know you, you get to know them, and you’re comfortable asking questions and stopping in to have the bike checked out when something makes a funny noise.

Some bike shops serve the racing community, others focus on BMX or mountain biking. Ask around and you’ll learn which shops support and supply commuting and transportation/utility cycling.

If you visit a shop and don’t feel welcome as a woman, go somewhere else. Some bike shops feel like the He-Man Women-Haters’ Club of Spanky, Alfalfa and the rest of the gang, and they don’t deserve your money. Others welcome and support women and beginners.

A few questions to ask yourself about the bike you’re considering buying for your commute:

  1. What kind of riding will you be doing? Good bike shop staff will ask you the same question. You can make just about any type of bike work for commuting; it helps to understand a bit about the trade-offs. If you need one bike to serve multiple purposes, tell them.
  2. Are you in love with the pretty paint job? I’m obviously all for style but don’t let ice cream colors blind you to functionality. (It is entirely possible to find a well-made commuter-specific bike in beautiful colors. Your LBS may not have evolved to that high level yet, however.)
  3. If the bike weighs a ton and/or only has 3 speeds will you be happy riding it up the Spokane hills? (You can answer this with a good test ride, which every shop will let you do.)
  4. Can you lift it to put it on the bike racks in your local transit system or to carry it up a flight of stairs if you have to? You don’t need the lightest bike in the world–this isn’t the Tour de France–but remember that when you’re using the bike for commuting you’ll have the added weight of your stuff, not just the bike.
  5. Does it have pedals that allow you to wear regular shoes?
  6. Can you put a rack on the bike?
  7. Does it have a step-through design?
  8. Do you like the way it feels when you ride it?

If the answer to questions 3 or 4 is no then don’t fall for the pretty paint.

If the answer to questions 5 or 6 is no you can address this with modifications to your recreational bike.

If the answer to question 7 is no, bear in mind you’ll be hoisting a leg over that high top tube every time you get on and off. That’s not insurmountable, just a matter of modesty and timing so you don’t flash the passers-by more than you intend, and it does affect your clothing choices a bit.

The answer to question 8 is the key to everything. The right bike for commuting is the one you’ll ride so you have to like it.

More detail to come in future posts about specific aspects of your equipment. Some advice on shopping and various types of bikes from ladies of the Women’s Bike Blogs list:

——————

Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • What kinds of experiences have you had when you’ve gone bike shopping?
  • What kind of bike do you use for commuting? What do you like about it and what would you change in your next bike?
  • How did the appearance of your bike factor into your decision to buy it?
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32 Comments to "Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition"

  1. Rachel says:

    Other things to consider:
    * Do you plan to ride in the rain? Look for a bike you can fit fenders on (the fork must be wide enough and you’ll probably need cantilever or V brakes to give clearance around the fenders).
    * Do you plan to try riding in the snow? In addition to fenders, you’ll need a bike that can fit wheels with knobby snow tires (I’d recommend studs too – yes, they make studs for bikes and they work great). The smallest size snow tires worth getting are 35mm (cyclocross size), and you can go up to mountain bike sizes like 1.9″ or 2.0″. Thinner wheels are nice for wet snow, fatter wheels for more powdery snow.
    * Will you be parking your bike on the street for hours on end every day?
    ** Avoid buying an expensive-looking bike with flashy brand names all over it. Any bike you buy will have some branding on it, but the simpler it looks, the less it will catch thieves eyes. Some people spray paint their frames to make them look more “beater” like, but you probably don’t need to go that far if you invest in a couple good locks and always lock up in a highly visible area.
    ** Avoid quick release. You can usually buy wheel skewers and a seat clamp to swap out any QR things your bike comes with. If you plan to put your bike on a car rack that require the front wheel to be removes, make a habit of carrying around your multi-tool so you can remove the wheel, or keep one QR wheel and always be sure to secure it when you lock up your bike.

  2. Great additions from Rachel! My road bike being used as a commuter won’t take studded bike tires and I don’t feel secure riding in the snow, so someday when I buy a bike truly designed for commuting I’ll be happy to have the bigger tires.

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