Bicycle advice (road vs hybrid for commute)

Hey everyone - I’m looking to replace the heavy, slightly too small bike I bought last year to make the approximately 2 mile commute to work. I didn’t want to spend too much money on it in case I abandoned it, but it looks like I’m ready to trade up.

This one was a Wal-Mart special, a Schwinn hybrid bike that has 700c wheels but the standard fatter tires of this kind of bike. It is very heavy compared to my roommate’s middle-of-the-road Cannondale road bike.

So, I’m in the market for a new bike, and willing to spend somewhere between $500-800, which, given the choices among the Internet and the LBS near me, I’m looking at either the Trek 1.1, the 7.3, or this little Schwinn jobbie I found on Amazon that has good reviews (and a liberal return policy in case I hate it.)

Now, my question(s): For this short of a ride, am I going to notice any benefit from the narrower tires and lighter body of an actual road bike? For the beginner rider, is there any increased chance that I’m going to kill myself with those skinny tires? Is there any advantage to buying something like the 7.3? I don’t just commute to work, we also take our bikes as a means of transportation to get to places within a few miles of us, but I’m not going to be getting out and doing 100 mile rides on weekends.

And, just because the whole thing makes me so uncomfortable and awkward, would it be worth paying the 25%+ more to go to my LBS for a purchase? I think I’d be OK taking a bike purchased elsewhere to them for service, but I only have the most theoretical of knowledge about bikes, and trying to buy one in a shop scares me like going to a new car lot. I’d be willing to not have the best-of-the-best to just have the comfort of ordering from Amazon and putting it together myself.

For a two mile commute, comfort and safety should be your priorities. Yes, you’ll notice the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike, or even between a road bike and a hybrid, but IMO it’s not worth worrying about. It’ll be the difference between an 11 minute commute and a 12 minute commute. And it sounds like you’ll enjoy the hybrid riding stance over a road bike stance anyway.

Go with the LBS and get fitted. That’s what you are paying for, not their pleasant smiles. It will certainly pay to establish a relationship with them for future purchases but it doesn’t sound like you’re going to be breaking the bank there. Get the bike fitted properly, learn how to change a flat (or simply buy kevlar tires) and enjoy. I’d probably swap out the tires for some road tires to make the commute a bit easier.

A good LBS can help advise you which models would best suit your needs. They can also assure that you get the right fit and set-up, and likely would swap out components (e.g. seat, pedals, handlebar stem) to tailor it to you. The less you know about bikes, the more valuable their expertise and service will be to you. In my experience, most of them are worlds apart from the stereotypical used car lot.

I wouldn’t recommend a true “road bike” for commuting. They are designed for racing, not practicality. You can’t fit fenders or luggage racks (at least not very easily). The narrow tires are purely for aerodynamics; they need to be properly inflated (usually >90 psi or higher), otherwise the tube gets pinched and punctured while going over bumps on the road (“pinch flat”). And on many modern road bikes, there isn’t enough clearance to fit wider tires.

I think a hybrid bike would be a better choice. Also, some manufacturers make “city bikes” which are like hybrid bikes, but usually come standard with fenders and rack. The Gary Fisher Simple City series and the Trek Belleville series, for example. Although they tend to be a bit on the heavy side.

If you want something more performance-oriented without sacrificing practicality, a cyclocross bike is also a good option. They look just like road bikes (with drop handlebars), but have enough clearance for wider tires and fenders, and usually have attachment points for racks and other accessories. My own commuting bike is a Surly Crosscheck cyclocross bike fitted with moderately wide slick tires (700x28), rear rack and fenders.

ETA: I also recommend going to a local shop and explaining what your needs are. Assembling a bike is not trivial if you’ve never done it before. And I think it’s worth the higher cost to establish a good relationship with the shop; in addition to the free 30-day checkup (usually), many shops would do minor adjustments for free. See if you can find avid cyclists in your area and get recommendations for a local shop.

“Road bike” is generally considered to be a broader category than you’ve described. Specifically, it includes touring bikes which can certainly fit fenders and racks and sometimes even come with them. Narrow tires are probably more for reduced rolling resistance than aerodynamics, and are perfectly suitable for riding on pavement.

Damn, I knew everyone would want to make me go to that place for all the reasons listed! :wink:

I actually have one here in town that I’m planning on hitting up; they are the one that comes endorsed by the president of the local bicycle club (my roommate’s dad, how funny!), and they carry Cannondale and Trek bikes, which is what I’ve done most of my research on.

I have the day off Thursday and plan on going up there - putting together a bicycle doesn’t scare me, I’ve done it before and didn’t break anything but my patience. What does scare me is walking out of that store with $2500 worth of water bottle holders! :wink:

Still loving all the advice coming my way though - the idea of a road-ish bike that I can put slightly fatter tires on is appealing. Having been on my roommate’s bike, the altered stance doesn’t seem too bad, because the handlebars have the divot on top to rest the hands as well. My old road bike (a few years ago) had one option if you wanted to reach the brakes, and that was full-out leaned over. I didn’t like that so much.

A couple more thoughts:
Where are you located and how often does it rain/snow? Fenders are awesome!
Don’t worry about getting upsold- know what you want and go for a ride on several bikes. If they are selling you a bunch of things to put on your bike they are decreasing the price of the bike to put it on (Buying a $1500 bike is not compatible with loading it up with $500 of attachments). Stick to a bike and maybe pedals- the $15 toe-strap version (don’t buy clips and shoes until later). Most LBS employees love biking and want others to share the love so they are quite honest and helpful in my experience.


Unless you enjoy fixing flats I’d stay away from the narrow high pressure tires. It’s the weight of the bike that matters. Yes, lighter rims roll faster but you’re not going to notice it.

Seconded the idea of a cross bike - versatile rides for commuting.

If you’re going to the CDale store take a look at their bad boy commuter - not a cross bike but more of a hybrid. This is a superb bike and available at a few different price points.

Most bike companies have a couple of models whose design has stood the test of time and are widely admired - the bad boy is (one of) cannondales. Versatile in terms of tyre clearance / racks / guards etc but the frame also has a lot of class to it and will be lighter than most in the price range.

Buying online is great if you do a lot of biking and know exactly what you’re looking for in terms of fit. Just picking one up sight unseen off a website is not really recommended - you might hate it.

I am no expert, but I have yet to see a hybrid bike that is as comfortable as either a mountain bike or a road bike.

If you get a road bike, buy it at a shop, not online. You’ll at least want to get fitted correctly for whatever model you’re looking at. The fitting makes all the difference in terms of comfort.

Personally, I traded in my not-so-great mountain bike for a very nice road bike a couple years ago and I love the bike, but I do miss riding offroad. But it sounds like you’re not interested in offroad biking. If you’re looking strictly at commuting on roads, I don’t see what advantage a hybrid would give you.

a skinny tire bike can be a problem if you encounter sewers, rail tracks, patched streets, sand and small debris on the surface. it takes longer to stop. you need to keep a sharp eye out an put effort into being OK.

  1. If the shop is recommended by a cycle club president, go there and don’t look back. There are bad bike shops who will try to rip you off, but a good shop is incredibly valuable. They’ll not only get you the right bike, but they’ll set it up for you (very important) and will do tune-ups, even show you how to do minor repairs yourself.

  2. You probably won’t notice weight differences for a reasonable range of bikes. You don’t want a high-strung racing bike, and you don’t want a completely bombproof full-suspension mountain bike. You want either a lighter no-suspension road-oriented mountain bike or a hybrid/touring/city bike (actually, I’d recommend considering an old ten-speed, with slightly wider alloy wheels and a rack, as the real sweet spot for performance versus price/anti-theft undesirability, but that’s not for everyone. But you did say you’re comfortable putting together a bike?). The big decision is whether you want upright or drop handlebars. The upright is more comfortable in the short run, but not as nice for longer rides (the drop bars let you shift positions so you can rest different parts of your arms, and the more bent-over position makes pedaling more comfortable).

What they said. I think you’ll probably end up with some kind of cross or hybrid (and I include the commuter bikes in those); something with not-as-skinny wheels and slick tires. You do want to be able to add fenders and packs and such, although you don’t have to do that right away.

Your LBS will let you ride all the different kinds of bikes so you can see what you like. They will get you a bike that fits, which makes a huge difference. They will trade out parts to get what you want.

Many of them even sell used bikes that they took as trade-in, which is a great way to save some money. (They figure on hooking you on biking and having you as a lifetime customer. :))

And all the ones here do free lifetime minor maintenance and adjustments. They won’t replace the wheel you bent, but they’ll adjust and lube your chain, fix flats, etc.

Bike store guys aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it for love of the sport. Some of them are better than others at helping newbies, though.

And generally they won’t try to oversell you on goodies. They’ll wait patiently for you to come back for those. :wink:

One thing to realize - the difference between a big-box-store bike and a good bike from your LBS is huge. You’ll love it. OTOH, the difference between the beginner bike and the incredibly expensive bike at the bike store is primarily weight and components. Don’t worry about getting light components - you can trade those up as they wear out. And you don’t need a super-light frame for commuting - in fact, the opposite, as those frames break more easily.

Semantically you are right. But if you look at bikes sold as “road bikes” by major manufacturers, I think you’ll find they are all racing bikes. Cyclocross bikes, city bikes and touring bikes are generally listed as separate categories.

The first part is a myth; for the same air pressure, narrower tires have higher rolling resistance. The reasons for narrow tires on road bikes are air resistance and weight (narrower tires are lighter than wider tires, obviously.) And arguably, pressure - i.e. given the same construction/material, narrower tires can withstand higher pressure. But that comes at the cost of a harsh ride, and more work to keep the tire properly inflated.

I got the Trek 7.3 hybrid for my commute last summer and it worked out great - and my commute is 9 miles each way. I think that the hybrid will be a lot more comfortable. I’d recommend using the LBS at least to test ride the bikes, and its probably a good idea to buy from there. My LBS had very competitive prices so that’s what I did, and I didn’t really pay more than I would have elsewhere. They also threw in some extra stuff ($$ off the helmet, a couple of free tuneups, etc) so I would check with your local store to see what they’ll do for you.

I stand corrected, and thanks for the link.

I wonder about the pressure thing, though, since that concept is not addressed in the article. Since they do say that casing deformation is a critical factor, I would think that higher pressure corresponds to less resistance, at least in a given tire. I suspect the “less pressure = less resistance” thing is a distortion of the whole story, perhaps from a wider/lower pressure tire having less resistance than a narrower/higher pressure tire – but not because of the lower pressure. Do you have more info on that issue?

My husband and I were both in your exact position several months ago, except the distance was closer to 1 mile than 2. (I’d normally just walk, but I admit the bike is a lot faster.)

We both went to a reputable local bike shop and had them help us, and we’re both really happy with our bikes (both hybrids). I didn’t want to go to the bike shop at all (I still hate going there for no rational reason), but I’m glad my husband convinced me. I ended up with a bike I actually enjoy riding and a lot of good advice.

Also consider disc brakes. These have far more stopping power when it is wet out. Very important when commuting in traffic.

Another “yes” for the bike shop.

I’ve been to bike shops all across the country and the experiences ranged from very good to superbly excellent. I have developed a very friendly relationship with two local shops and information they have provided over the years has been invaluable. The people have always been friendly and very helpful. People that work in bike shops aren’t there to get rich, they are there because they love bikes. The likelihood of getting ripped off is minimal. If you buy a bike at a shop you can probably take it back once a year for a free basic tuneup.

I once bought a bike that experienced frame failure within a week. (Infant mortality.) They replaced the entire bike right away. I hate to think of the hassle if I had purchased it by mail order.

BTW, I did some long distance touring in the UK. There were several times when I had to take the bike to a shop for repairs. The people were very helpful and their mechanical expertise was tremendous. They were far more interested in getting me back on the road then in ripping me off. There are some great bike shops and great bike mechanics in the UK!

I have the 7.3 and it’s a fantastic bike. I have a 2.5-4 mile commute each way and it works great. It’s also nice for quick runs to the grocery store and biking about 15 miles around the closest lake. I almost got the 7.2, but am really glad I opted for the 7.3. A friend of mine has the 7.2 and I borrowed it; it’s a fine bike but the upgrade to the 7.3 well worth it.