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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello, I am a long-time recreational cyclist who would like to try commuting to work via bicycle, at least occasionally. I live 16 miles from my office and the route I would take is mostly flat, though there is a gradual slight gain in elevation, all on paved roads varying from very light to somewhat heavy traffic along the way. I don't have to carry much with me. I anticipate starting out by cycling to work about once a week - just being realistic with my capabilities and schedule. I do feel I a have a sufficient level of fitness to try this out.

I am looking for advice on what to look for in a bicycle I can use for this purpose, as well as the occasional organized/charity ride (30- 75 miles), weekend recreational rides, or just riding a few miles around town to run errands. (My current bicycle is an old Specialized hybrid and is too heavy to commute for that distance with - I'll be too slow and it will wear me out too much.)

For example, is there an optimal material - ie aluminum, carbon, steel, etc. And are flat handlebars or curved better? I already know I need a women's design as I have the typical long legs and short torso type of build.

Are there any other tips or pointers for a first time bicycle commuter?

My budget is $1200, but if I can get away with spending less for what I want to do, I'm good with that!

Thanks for any input!
 

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Materials don't really matter. At your price point, aluminum is most common.

A road bike, with the drop bars, is what most people find best for distances like that. go to a good shop and test ride some.

good luck. It's a good thing to take up.
 

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First things first, and that would be fit. Best thing to do is shop for reputable LBS's (with experienced fitters) along with shopping for bikes, because they'll be an invaluable resource both before and after your purchase.

If this is going to be a 'do it all' type of bike (within the parameters of your intended purposes), I would suggest a drop bar bike over flat bars. Reason being that while hybrids are nice bikes for the money, they aren't well suited for those longer rides that you're thinking of doing. You'll have many more options for changing hand positions, so a drop bar bike is more apt to keep you comfortable for a longer period of time. How aggressively you like the bike set up will depend on your flexibility and personal preferences, but that'll get sorted out with test rides.

As far as frame materials are concerned, I think a full carbon fiber bike is out of your price range, but any of the aluminum and steel bikes will work for you, with some cyclists having their preferences. Best course to take is to visit some LBS's, discuss your cycling experience, fitness/ flexibility, intended uses and goals and they'll guide you to the better choices available. If you want to add fenders, racks or run wider tires, mention this with your LBS at this time so they'll keep it in mind when suggesting brands/ models.

After being sized/ fitted, head out on the road and focus on fit/ feel, ride and handling of the bikes. A ride around a parking lot isn't going to tell you much, so stay out on each bike and get a feel for them. The better shops will encourage you to do so.

Some choices (but there are others) are:
Jamis Satellite Femme (steel)
Specialized Ruby
Trek 1.5 WSD
Felt ZW95
There are 'standard' counterparts to all of these models.

BTW, it's good that you're aware and open to including WSD bikes in your search, but let a knowledgeable fitter assist you in that decision, because they'll know (based on a number of factors) which geo would work best for you. OTOH, be pro-active in the process, because it's ultimately going to be you riding the bike, and a good fitter will seek (and need) input from you.
 

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Nena said:
I am a long-time recreational cyclist...
I live 16 miles from my office ...

My current bicycle is an old Specialized hybrid and is too heavy to commute for that distance with - I'll be too slow and it will wear me out too much...
Consider working with what you already have - convert it to a road bike style commuter. Depending on what's on it already, it could be as little as handlebars, bar end shifters and brake levers (total about $100), or if you don't have them, add city tires, fenders and a rear rack. Chances are the fenders and rack would have to be added to any new bike you buy, so those costs really don't count if you're comparing a conversion to buying a new bike.

I recently converted a fairly old Cannondale Hybrid bike to an excellent commuter and I have no doubt it would work well for longer rides. My commute is about 25 miles RT including long and steep hills as well as city streets and bike paths. This affects the choice of gearing, but not the other factors you want in a commuter.

The bike:
A pretty old Cannondale "H 200" hybrid frame, built for 700c wheels. I imagine this is pretty similar to your Spec. hybrid. It has eyelets for fenders and a rear rack. If your frame doesn't have eylets for this sort of stuff, you should probably consider a different bike or frame, because those things are very handy for a commuter!

My frame is a by no means light weight! It's a stout one. I won't say a pig, but it is very heavy, comparable to my old steel non-suspension mountain bike. But I've found weight is not really a meaningful issue - and I have a lot of hills compared to you. Don't discount your current bike for that purpose just because it's "heavy".

In fact, an older bike - if it can be made to be comfortable and work well - is an advantage for a commuter because you don't worry as much about rain, bumps and bruises, or theft.

Even though my bike has 700c wheels, it has a MTB drive train - MTB triple crank and front derailleur, MTB rear derailleur and MTB "V" brakes. This is great for me because I have some severe hills, some on gravel. It sounds like that for your commute, whatever drive train you have - MTB or road type - would work fine. I could very easily put a road bike triple drive train on this bike (and might do so, but keep the V brakes).

I'm going to assume that your current hybrid has some sort of brakes that will clear wide tires and/or fenders. If not, that is one change you might need to make, and if you do, think about matching the brake pull to whatever brake levers you want. (see below). Virtually any brake can be made to work with any lever (with adapters), but if you're buying any new stuff, might as well match them up. Decent brakes are not expensive as long as you're not looking for top-end, racing grade stuff.

I'd say whatever drive train and brakes your hybrid has on it will work fine and can be converted to "road bike-type" controls. for commuting.

Same for the wheels. Whether your wheels be wide or narrow rimmed 700c road wheels, or typical wide rimmed MTB wheels, you can put whatever tires on it you think you need. Probably for the best all around use, you'd choose a 28 mm or 1.1 inch which won't slow you down at all if you do longer organized rides. I use 32mm (1.25") tires because of the rough roads I have (but found they're not slow at all!). My wheels are narrow-rimmed road wheels... so wide tire on narrow rim works fine. I put 1.1 inch (=28mm) tires on my daughter's wide rim MTB wheels for campus use. Therefore narrow tires on wide rims are fine too. You can therefore use whatever wheels you already have, or if you want to "upgrade" the wheels, you can do that too and still use whatever tire or cassette you want.

The signifcant conversion is the handlebars, brake levers and shifters. I converted the handlebars to some drop bars, bar end shifters and road brake levers that I already had, but these would cost $25-$50 each new, about $75-$100 total if you find good prices or used. You can change the stem angle and reach for your own needs if the current stem doesn't cut it with the new bars. All of these conversions are easy DIYs, or a cheap bike shop bill.

A compatibility issue you might run into is brake lever "pull". Normal road bike brake levers have let's call it "short pull" which matches with road bike brakes. "V" brakes on mountain bikes have what let's call "long pull", which matches long pull MTB brake levers. To use normal road bike levers or "brifters" with V brakes, you need to use something called a "Travel Agent" which amplify the short pull of the lever to the long pull needed by the brakes. Cheap, easy to install and work perfectly.

But, if I didn't already have the levers that required the use of the Travel Agent, I would have simply bought "long pull" road bike brake levers which are available, and it would have been a simpler installation.

I don't know, but the other type of common MTB brake, cantilever, may or may not have long pull. If you have canti's, check into that.

As far as shifters goes, if you're buying new (or used) shifters, you can then have the choice of either match them up to the number of speeds on your current cassette, or take the occasion to also buy a new cassette and change to more speeds. You probably also can go with whatever rear gears you want, from narrow road gears to wide MTB gears, within the limits of whatever rear derailleur you have. Most "9 speed" bar end shifters and "brifters" can be used with 8 speed anyway, but going to 10 would require that both shifter and cassette be 10.

I just went with the wheels and cassette I happened to have in the garage (9 speed), and everything works fine. I'm sure that would be the case if you did the same with your current cassette and just bought shifters to match.

Compared this heavy, fat tired commuter to my lightweight full-on carbon fiber road bike with narrow tires, there is VERY LITTLE FUNCTIONAL DIFFERENCE! The weight is probably doubled from one to the other!

This bike is just as comfortable, which isn't surprising because I set it up very close to the road bike - identical saddle and very similar handlebars, reach, etc.

I've found that these 32 mm tires - and the heavy bike - aren't signficangly slower on my commute. Maybe at the most a 0-5 minutes difference on a commute that takes me 45 minutes going in (trends downhill-ish) and 1:05 going home (trends uphill-ish).

I won't say that in a fast group ride the commuter would be as fast as the lightweight road bike, but for 99% of my recreational rides it would not be a meaningful difference, even less-so if I removed the rack, fenders and changed to 25mm tires for the fast, longer rides.

That's my recommendation!
 

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In addition to the advice above, one thing to consider is where you might park your bike at work. If you work in an area with a lot of bike theft, you may not want to park your nice bike outside. If you can park outside, you may want to budget around $80-100 for a strong U-lock and cables to secure wheels and seat to the lock.
 

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I'm in the process of converting my old KHS (20 year old) mtn bike into a commuter. It has a nice frame that I am striping and prepping for a new paint job. I'm cleaning all the parts and getting everything all ship shape with new cables and tires. I have a 4 mile round trip commute to work. I can't think of a nicer way to spend 12 minutes getting to work.

I think my total investment will be $150 when all said and done. Salvaging an old unused piece of equipment feels good.
 

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Since you said you are not carrying much with you, a regular road bike would be best. You wont need the extra beefyness of a touring bike or cyclocross bike, because you are not carrying extra weight with you and dont need to attach panniers or racks and such. And because you said you may want to use the bike for other rides and events, I would stay with a regular road bike with drop bars. You may want to pay attention to frame clearance for putting slightly bigger tires on it, if necessary to avoid flats.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful suggestions and advice.

While converting my current bike could be fun and economical, I think I will check out some new road bikes first. My office is in a fairly secure area so I am not too concerned about theft.

I did some careful research of the shops in my area and found one that got some great reviews for service and they include a fairly extensive fitting process with the purchase. I think I had some preconceived notions about needing to go after a specific brand, but it sounds like the fit and the LBS service are more important!
 

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Nena said:
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful suggestions and advice.

While converting my current bike could be fun and economical, I think I will check out some new road bikes first. My office is in a fairly secure area so I am not too concerned about theft.

I did some careful research of the shops in my area and found one that got some great reviews for service and they include a fairly extensive fitting process with the purchase. I think I had some preconceived notions about needing to go after a specific brand, but it sounds like the fit and the LBS service are more important!
Fit comes first, so the LBS employing the fitter that gets you a good fit is very important. Brand matters to the extent that you want a strong warranty, but different brands/ models offer variances in geometry, which affects fit. Some work better for an individuals anatomy than another.

But all that said, an experienced fitter will recognize these issues and act accordingly, and the majority of shops offer more than one brand. Ideally, you shop for a shop along with a bike, so it's really a package deal. You want to avail yourself of pre/ post purchase services and ultimately end up with the right bike for you.
 

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getting a bike that is comfortable and that you like is the most important. So don't be afraid to spend a bit more to get a bike that you'll ride the extra 50 miles/week, 500 miles/month.
 

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Good Plan!

Nena, Sounds like you have thought this out carefully. I commute three or four days a week on my road bike and ride with a club on weekends and enjoy centuries. I put by stuff in a backpack, which is kinda sweatty...inquire about a rack. Also, I'd recommend inner tubes called "thorn resistant" because of the city riding. They are much thicker than conventional tubes but I haven't had a flat in over 3,000 miles (knock on wood). I use the Forte brand and get them online. The rides to and from work really make the difference in my fitness level! Good luck.
 
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