Bicycle people - a commuter bike?

My SO is shopping for a new bike. He rides it to work in the summer, it is about 18 miles RT. We live in a hilly town, a river valley. He currently has a Raleigh SC-30 he bought a few years ago.

  1. He does not want to spend more than $500 (this is pretty much firm) - he’s not looking for a race bike, or a high end model
  2. He is not interested in doing it in the fastest time possible
  3. Durability is important, but having the lightest components known to man is not important - he likes to have to work a little bit, if he wanted an easy ride, he’d drive.
  4. He has had numerous problems with flat tires, as some of the ride is along public highways littered wtih glass and trash. I know tires should be considered separate from the bicycle, but since there are bike experts here it won’t hurt to ask for some good tire suggestions. He tried the more expensive Kevlar tires recommended by the bike shop, but they went flat just as easily as the cheaper tires.
  5. He is interested in single speed bikes, how are these for commuting?

I know there are a lot of opinions out there, I’m just looking for a good place to start. We will be visiting bike shops later today and this week and there are so many brands and types out there.

a commuter bike, that’s easy, go find an older or used rigid frame mountain bike (mid '90s vintage on up) and build up from there…

why an old(ish) mountain bike, you ask?, durability, MTB’s are built to take a pounding and be ridden off road, their tires are wider than road bikes, and aren’t as sensitive to pinch-flats from rough road surfaces and/or broken pavement, where you’d have to swerve to avoid broken pavement on a roadie, a MTB can roll right thru it without flinching, the wider tires also give a more comfortable ride, at the expense of more rolling resistance

take off the stock knobbies and put on slicks, especially if the commuter is never going to see dirt, slicks will work fine on rail-trails and dirt roads, but won’t work too well for dedicated off roading, doesn’t sound like he’d be doing that anyway, a side advantage of slicks is lower rolling resistance…

on my Trek 4500 with Serfas Vermin “semi-slicks”, i average about 8 MPH on the flats riding at a nice, steady pace, on my old Fila Taos commuter with WTB Slickasauras i average about 10-12 MPH, on my road bike, i average about 14-16 MPH, same amount of exertion, same gearing (typically a 40/42-20 gear ratio) similar upright position on the bars

put a rack on the back, then hang a set of panniers off it, or if you prefer to carry things on your back, get a backpack/hydropak, then put as many “blinkies” (LED flashers) on the back as you can stand, the more the merrier, you want to increase your visibility to motorists who may not be expecting to see a bike (more on this later)

put a nice set of comfortable grips on the handlebars (the Serfas Rx grips are a nice, soft “Ergo-Grip” designed to absorb vibration and reduce hand numbness due to vibration

a few other considerations…

try to get an old steel-framed (Cro-moly) bike, steel is more durable than aluminum, has an inherent “flex” to it (you’re essentially riding a giant spring) so it absorbs a lot of the road “buzz”, aluminum is extremely stiff and rigid and will transfer every vibration up to your arms and backside, aluminum bikes are fine for off road, but uncomfortable for long road rides due to “road buzz”, that’s one of the reasons you’ll find mid and high end roadies with carbon-fiber forks and seatstays, to absorb road buzz

i’ll break the post up so it won’t get too long…

Hijack: Why does your husband want a fixie? Why are they so popular all of a sudden? I’ve never ridden one and am curious. I initially assumed it was just bike-messenger-cool-factor, but it seems to have exploded beyond fad.

MacTech - He doesn’t really want to build one himself, he wants to buy. He’s been riding to work for years on the Raleigh, so he has racks and some really nice lights (as bright as auto lights, IMHO) and flashie things. If he was a do-it-yourselfer he’d modify his current bike, probably. I’ll run your suggestions by him, though.

gaucho there was a thread about fixed gear bikes a short while ago. We saw one in the local bike shop and the chap who works there who has done a lot of work on my SO’s bike went on about it - it was light, strong, nice, easy to ride…blah, blah, blah. He hasn’t ridden it yet, so I don’t know.

Part 2;

why rigid instead of front suspension/full suspension?

again, unless he’s going off road, any form of suspension on a road-going bike, be it a mountain bike, a cross/comfort bike, a road bike, etc… is useless, there’s nothing he’ll be dealing with on road that will require any form of suspension, ask yourself why don’t road bikes have suspension? they don’t need it because it wastes energy, energy that could be going to drive the rear wheel goes into flexing the suspension, wasted energy when on-road

singlespeed vs. gearie?

i like singlespeeding, i feel it makes me a better cyclist, it’s a challenge, if i hit a big hill, i can’t drop down onto the "granny gear"to make pedaling easier, i have to either stand up and start hammering the pedals before i get to the hillclimb, or get off and push it up the hill, no shame in pushing, especially when you’re learning, but bear in mind, having gears does make it easier
if this is his first/only bike and he’s using it for commuting, he’d be better off starting off with a geared bike, he can always convert it to SS down the road anyway…

flat tires…
it happens to us all, there are many solutions, the first being… ride closer to the middle of the road, don’t hug the shoulder, that’s where most of the crap is, you’re on a vehicle and have the same rights as a car, you can ride more towards the center of the road, just move to the right if you hear (or see, in your mirrors, which you really should have on a commuer anyway…) a motor vehicle approaching, as a slower vehicle, you should yield the right of way unless it compromises your safety

get a good, sturdy helmet, and use it, yes they look stupid, yes, 90% of the time you’ll never need it, but that last 10% of the time is when Murphy’s Law can show his ugly face, better safe than sorry…

and the most important hint for bike commuters, especially ones riding in low light (early mornings and evenings)…

increase your visibility to other road-users, not just motor vehicles, but joggers, other cyclists, etc… your best bet is to use both active and passive illumination…

passive illumination; reflectors, reflective tape, reflective vest, and wear light color clothing, all these things require light (be it vehicle headlights or natural light) to hit you and reflect back

active illumination; lights, lights, and more lights, more critical to the rear, as you stand a greater chance of being struck from behind, you have a few choices when it comes to lights…

front lights;
LED lights; long battery life (50-300 hours) and attention-grabbing, great as blinkers and “here i am!” lights, however, most of them SUCK when it comes to usable light to ride with, they just don’t have the power to throw a usable beam for night riding on unlit roads, they’re fine for areas lit by streetlights though, the 1. 3, and 5 watt “Luxeon” LED’s are very quickly appoaching the point of usability though

Halogen lights; the same kind of lights as standard car headlights, bright, usable light that drivers can’t help but not notice, the main drawback is short battery life (1.5-6 hours depending on model/battery/wattage)

HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights; similar to the “bluish” lights on high-end luxury cars, they straddle the point between halogen and LED, they throw similar light as a halogen, but brighter watt-per-watt, but have a longer battery life (4-12 hours, depending) than halogen, the main drawback is they’re incredibly bloody expensive

rear lights;
LED lights, same advantages as the LED lights above, drawbacks are the light is extremely variable (50 degree visible radius) most newer LED blinkies use multiple LED’s facing in different directions to reduce that liability

Xenon strobes; similar to camera flashes/police light-bar lights, advantages are nondirectional light source (180 to 360 degrees), MUCH brighter than LED blinkies, drawbacks are short battery life, and flashes reduce in rate as the battery drains

Neon tubes; just like you see on “riceboy” cars, but these lights actually serve a purpose, aside from looking silly, when used on a bike, they create a “puddle” of light around the bike that most drivers will instinctively steer around, giving the rider room, main disadvantage to neon tubes is they really only work when it’s really dark out, ambient light can overpower them and they’re worthless in the daytime…

just to give you some examples of good rear lighting, check out these QuickTimes of my commuter Fila Taos MTB…
the lights are as follows;
Trek Disco Inferno (visible up to 2 miles, rapid flash) on the seatpost
2 Blackburn Mars 3.0’s on the arms of the rack, set to chase mode
1 Vistalite LED/reflector thingy set to “Cylon” chase mode (visible up to 2 miles)

okay, looks like you responded as i was typing out my second page response…seems like he already has some of the neccecary equipment (racks/lights/etc)

as far as bikes go, it’s personal preference really

road bike; fast, efficient, aggresive riding stance, might not be comfortable for extended rides, depends on how he feels on it, narrow, high pressure tires have minimal rolling resistance, but don’t tolerate rough pavement as well as a cross bike or mountain bike, not meant to be “pounded on” like a MTB

Cross/Hybrid/Comfort bike; a cross-breed between a roadie and a MTB, has narrower tires than a MTB, wider than a roadie, has the narrow-ish frame of a roadie (slightly overbuilt, as roadies go) often has suspension front fork with minimal travel, may have suspension seatpost to smooth out the ride

mountain bike; heavy (compared to a roadie) overbuilt bike, built to be ridden off road and abused, wide, knobby tires usually come stock, but aren’t the best for road use due to rolling resistance and the knobs make the bike squirrely in corners, switching to slicks/semislicks solves this problem

the roadie will make the most efficient use of his pedaling effort on road, but will be the least comfy of the three, the MTB will be the most comfy, but he’ll get more of a workout riding it on the road

a poster on one of the bike forums i frequent went on a ride with some freinds (who rode MTB’s on road), he’s normally a roadie, and typically burns around 600 calories a ride, his bike was in the shop, so one of the freinds let him borrow a spare MTB, on the same road, and with the same effort, he burned around 900 calories…

I think a perfect commuter bike that will be comfortable, fun to ride, durable, easy to maintain, and cheap would be a used steel road bike.

search ebay for “steel road bike” for something like this. That’s what you’re looking for. You should be able to find one for $150. Check your local classifieds and call your local bike stores to see if they have any used road bikes there.

Some will. Some won’t. Some nicer/newer ones will go up to $500. I’d recommend something like that over any new bike that costs less than $500.

I like a road bike because they are comfortable, fun to ride, a little faster than a mountain bike. They’re durable, and they look cool.

A fixed gear. Who knows. I haven’t ridden one, but they look fun to ride. They’re definitely in fad territory, though. They’re, supposedly, good training for cyclists, but as far as I know, Lance doesn’t train on one.

I know some guys who ride them, though, and when you get on of them on a geared machine, they’re pretty good riders.

Also, if he’s just looking at 18 RT miles, that’s not a ton. A lot of the things we do to make a bike more comfortable come into play when you have ridden more miles than that.

I’d think that the Kevlar tires the shop recommended would be good. THIS tire is known to be quite indestructible.

If your husband is popping a lot of tubes, he should make sure he has enough air in them. A common cause of flats is the “pinch flat”. Basically, the tube “flattens” over the sides of the rim when you hit a pothole and gets pinched flat. The characteristic of that flat is that it looks like a snake bit the tire. There’s two little holes right near each other.

Steel vs. aluminum isn’t as big a deal as many enthusiasts claim. The “flex” of steel frame is negligible compared to deformation of pneumatic tires, unless you have extremely narrow high-pressure tires. While steel is a more durable material, aluminum frames are overbuilt and therefore just as durable as steel frames.

Also, I think mountain bikes are overkill for commuting. Just get a decent hybrid bike and you’re all set. Remember to leave enough money to buy lights, rack, panniers, and most importantly, fenders. Even if you don’t ride in rain, there will be wet and dirty surfaces.

As for flats, the most important thing is to carry spare tubes, tire levers and a pump. I highly recommend the Topeak Road Morph pump - almost every bike rider I know uses one.

I wouldn’t get a singlespeed. Trying to pedal too high a gear is bad for your knees.

A fixed gear or singlespeed for commuting in a hilly town? Nah. I agree with the suggestion of an old steel road frame, or just upgrading what he already had. For under 500 he’s not going to do much better-- might as well get some nice new parts and rain gear for that.

I have commuted between 4 and 17 miles a day for 13 years. My best commuters have been touring or hybrid bikes. Only one was purchased new. I had it about 6 years before it was stolen. I have had 4 others including 1 mountain bike and my first which was a Wal-Mart type bike someone gave me (lasted about 2 months).

If you don’t go single speed purchase something with large enough gears. Many mountain bikes require smaller chain rings which in turn means you have to purchase larger cogs to achieve decent road gearing. Also make sure you have low enough gearing, a triple crank can be nice.

Purchase used/cheap if possible because commuters take a lot of abuse and often are stolen.

Commuters should be easily repaired and hard to break. Cable changes on down tube/bar end shifter which can convert to friction are easily done in 10 minutes. Brake/shifter combo’s that are only indexed are a bit harder to fix, break more easily and cost substantially more.

Tires/flats are what delay bike trips most frequently. I use tire liners (slime and Mr. Tuffy are brands). While these make changing the tube slightly harder, they have greatly reduced the number of flat’s I get. Mounting fairly wide tire helps with a lot of things. Make sure the bike frame has enough clearance.

Having a way to mount a rack and panniers is quite nice, and if it rains much where you are fenders are good too.

In short my ideal commuter is one which is cheap and pre used, has a road bike equivalent gear range perhaps 32,42,52 chainrings with a 12-26 cog set, is very simple to repair, and durable tires with liners a rack and fenders (it rains a lot here).

You ask about single speed bikes. I currently use 2 bikes for commuting. One is a fix gear (not the same as SS but close), the other is a lot like what I just described. The FG is fun to ride and gives you a very different ride but I would not use it as my sole commuter. If for no other reason than that riding to work day in and day out sometimes you just don’t want to have to work any harder than necessary to get to the office.

I have found all of my used commuting bikes through word of mouth, bicycle clubs, or asking around bike shops. I bet Ebay, Craig’s list or newspaper classifieds would work just fine.

Five hundred is a lot for a commuter. Right now one of mine was free and the FG was 30 (with about 200 in upgrades). The new one I used to own cost 300 and that was like 1993.

I have a Diamond mountain bike frame circa 1996 that is still an excellent ride. No shocks because I don’t ride offroad. I replaced the knobby tires with street slicks (no noise & more tire on the ground). The bike has a great feel when riding and is very comfortable, even for hours at a time.

Mactech was right on in everything he said, IMO. Nice job, dude. :smiley:

The problem could be with the tubes themselves. I quit buying tubes for my bike at a certain shop because they’d all go flat within a short time. I suspect that everything that particular shop has in that size is defective.