Help me buy a bicycle.

We live near theKaty trail, and they’re expanding it to run about a mile behind our house. Yay!

Katy is an old railroad trail that runs across Missouri. It’s wide, flat, and well maintained, and the footing is fine, packed gravel. My husband and I are thinking about getting bikes to ride on it. I haven’t owned a bike since I was a kid, and have never lived anywhere where bike riding was a practical mode of transportation, so while I can ride a bike, I’m not really good at it. For instance, the gear thing frankly confuses me. I could learn, I’m sure, but then, do I need gears on a flat trail?

Anyway, what kind of bike should I be looking for here? I don’t want to spend a ton of money, but I don’t want to buy crap, either. I’m fine with used. I’m also short, 5’2". Would e-bay be a good place to look for this? Thanks in advance.

I am not a bike pro either, but here is my opinion.

Wherever you ultimately decide to buy, you should first go to a bike shop and get fitted for the proper sized bike. Having your bike the proper size will make riding it much more enjoyable as it will minimize any pain you might experience while riding.

Also looking around at a store in person will help you determine what style of bike you will ultimately want, you will be able ask questions, and you can compare prices.

Other things to consider…
If you buy online, you will probably have to assemble the bike yourself, which means you could make a mistake and not have the bike function properly, although you could take it to the bike shop and have them assemble it for you, but that will cost you the price of labor. If you buy from the bike store, it will most likely be assembled and you can ride it out if you wanted. The downside of buying from a store is that you may not be able to find a better deal.

I’ve bought bikes from sellers on Ebay without any problems. The catch was that I had to assemble them myself, which was no big deal. All 3 I bought were phenomenal deals, but I had to do my homework on each purchase to get those deals… lots of online research, reading of reviews, etc.

I’ve been a cycling enthusiast for decades. Go to a bike shop and buy a nice, lower end Specialized (or Trek) mountain bike. These are big name brands that you will have no problem getting serviced and will last you a long time. And be sure to get fitted properly, as Dragwyr suggested. Don’t worry about it being called a “mountain bike”. It’ll be perfectly good for recreational riding on the road, too.

What is your budget?

Do you want to ride for fitness? Fun?

How often do you plan to ride?

Do you want a starter bike, which you would upgrade later, after you decide whether you like it, or are you hoping to get a bike now that will be your only bike for many years?

How much bike maintenance are you willing to try?

What riding posture do you think you would be most comfortable with? For a beginning rider, there is generally a trade-off between comfort and efficiency. Do you have any neck, back, hip, or knee problems?

]What is your budget?
. . No firm budget. I’d have to be pretty convinced it was worth it to spend more than maybe $4-500
Do you want to ride for fitness? Fun?
. . Both

How often do you plan to ride?
… Maybe once a week?

Do you want a starter bike, which you would upgrade later, after you decide whether you like it, or are you hoping to get a bike now that will be your only bike for many years?
… Probably a starter bike.

How much bike maintenance are you willing to try?
. . My husband and I are both extremely handy. We have just about every tool in the known universe. Assembling and maintaining a bike is so not an issue. We will do all the maintenance.

What riding posture do you think you would be most comfortable with? For a beginning rider, there is generally a trade-off between comfort and efficiency. Do you have any neck, back, hip, or knee problems?
No physical issues, and I’m in pretty good shape. Those cruiser type
bikes look the most comfortable to me, and the skinny tire street bikes look awful, but I’ve never tried one.

(on my phone, sorry for the formatting)

Yes. You’ll want lower (easier pedaling) gears for start-up and fighting a headwind, and higher (don’t have to pedal like crazy) gears for cruising along. And who knows, you may find you enjoy cycling and want to use the bike somewhere else, possibly with hills. Single-speed (no gears) bikes tend to be specialty items not suited for trail riding.

Find someone who can give you a common-sense introduction to the gears. For (a simple, outdated) example, a ten-speed bike typically had six different usable gear ratios – the others were duplicates and/or best left unused.* All you needed to know was use positions 1, 2, & 3 on the inner (lower gear) chainring and positions 3, 4, & 5 on the outer one. Similarly, if you get an 18-speed bike you’re not going to use 18 different positions, more likely half that many. It can be explained and understood without getting deep into technical details, so look for someone who can help you with that.

*This is an unavoidable aspect of the most common gearing set-up. The stated number of “speeds” (actually gear combinations) is the technical maximum. In the real world little more than half of them are feasible to use. Still, an 18-speed has more gears (= more versatility) than a 15-speed, etc.

Be warned, chances are you will need to acquire some specialty bicycle tools.

Explore the range of handlebar designs and accessories. Riding in only one position the whole time can get quite wearisome. While they may look odd or uncomfortable, the dropped handlebars on skinny-tire road bikes actually offer three basic positions, which really helps on a long trip. That’s not the kind of bike or the kind of handlebar you want, but see if you can get something with a similar variety of positions.

You won’t want a skinny tire bike (road bike) for riding on gravel, so that’s out.

You’ll want a mountain bike or a hybrid, and based on your description I’d go for a hybrid. They have a more upright position for the rider, narrower (but not skinny) wheels, and generally are aimed for more casual riding.

I second the recommendation for going to a local bike shop, getting fitted properly, and buying an entry level bike, helmet, and bike shorts. You won’t need clipless pedals and shoes unless you want to take it off the bike path and onto more aggressive trails, but if you do that you’ll probably want a real mountain bike, not a hybrid anyway.

I don’t think specific brands are important right now although the ones mentioned (Trek, Specialized) are good choices. I’d also add Giant, those are the top three brands in the US market by far.

For fine crushed limestone like the Katy trail (as well as sometimes rough paved trails) I’d go with a hybrid bicycle. A road bicycle, nowadays despite looking like our old ten speeds as a kid is really only good for smooth pavement, you’ll feel every bump. Comfort and Mountain bicycles are heavier and slower than necessary for for pavement and crushed limestone. I really like my Trek Hybrid that has the front shock absorbed; my road and mountain bicycles sit in the garage 95% of the time.

What kind of budget should I have, just for the bike? Any specific models I might check out?

Re: the gear thing, i think my problem is that I drive a stick, and I’m having trouble getting when and how to change gears in the absence of a clutch. My husband is a good bike rider, though, and he’ll help me out.

Don’t worry about which gear you’re in. The basic idea is to keep your pedaling at a steady cadence, and adjust the gears up and down as needed to maintain a comfortable speed for the circumstances. That, and shift down to a lower gear just before you stop, so that it will be in a low gear ready to start again.

So you probably already have a feel for why to change gears.

When? About three seconds before you need to. :smiley: (You’ll get the timing down with practice.)

How? With a derailleur system, while pedaling but not applying lots of force on the pedals. No clutch needed, it’s rather simple and modern systems work well. You’ll likely spend most of your learning effort on memorizing which way to move the shifters to upshift or downshift. After a while it becomes second nature.

Unless the trail is really really flat you will want some gears to deal with the slight inclines and headwinds. Go take a look at the trail and see what people are riding; if there are a lot people on single speed beach cruiser type bike that would be fine but if everybody has gears you should do the same.

Forget about the old 10 speeds with the two mysterious little levers; the gears on modern bikes are much easier to use. For that kind of trail you don’t need something with 24 or more gears; something with six to eight gears will do you fine … and if it suits your sense of style an old Raleigh three speed could be just the ticket.

Forget drop handlebars – go for something with a more upright position. Forget anything that appears to be racing inspired and lean toward comfort and practicality; chain guard, fenders, rear rack, basket, kick stand, etc.

Forget specialized bike clothing; dress for the weather.

Sizing and fitting a bike is a real thing; you’ll be much more comfortable on bike that is the right size for you. A trip to a local bike shop should definitely be on your agenda even if you think you might buy used from ebay or craigslist. Forget Walmart and other big box bikes – they are engineered to go about 75 miles between showroom and landfill. Somebody mentioned Specialized and Trek – both can be had well within your budget and either would be a good choice. Specialized tends to cost a bit less for similar bikes.

Get a bell. Bells make people smile. If you want a really nice bell look for a brass Crane bell – under $15 on Amazon.

Have fun.

I wasn’t going to mention it but on preview I see the subject has already been brought up … so … please don’t feel like you have to wear a helmet if you don’t want to. Their effectiveness is very debatable. I don’t want your thread to get derailed with the helmet issue – just be aware that there is controversy.
Top scientists on cycle helmets: "The debate will go on (and on and on…)

Something like this, maybe? It looks comfortable.

I know, go to a bike shop, but I can’t today and I like doing online research.

Hm. Dawes seem like not a great brand.

I am a self-proclaimed Katy Trail expert. I’ve ridden the whole thing end-to-end each of the last 4 years including this past June.

I do recommend gears. While most of the Katy is flat, there still can be wind enough to want to change gears. Also the western part from Boonville to Clinton is hilly. Plus there are places like the trail into Columbia that is very hilly. And there’s always the possibility that you will want to ride out on the road some day.

A mountain bike is overkill especially with knobby tires and suspension. So unless you plan on crashing through the trees and rocks also, skip a MTB.

A skinny tire road bike is also a bad choice. I have one and have ridden it short distances on the Katy. The trail can get bumpy and slippery when wet.

My recommendations:
A hybird. It’s a cross between a road bike and mountain bike. Just about perfect for the Katy and usually the most economical bikes. If you can, avoid getting one with suspension. It’s not really needed with the fatter tires.

A cyclocross (AKA Cross Bike) is more like a road bike with fatter tires. They are faster but more expensive.

A touring bike. Make to go long distances and carry bags. It’s what I use on the Katy, but probably overkill.

Where to buy? Your local bike shop (LBS). If you are lucky there’s more than one so you can shop around. Don’t get one from a big-box store or ordering on-line. A good LBS will find a bike that meets your needs and fits you properly.

The bike in the above link would be OK. I wouldn’t recommend one of those old-fashioned women’s frame unless you will be riding while wearing a dress! They are heavier than a standard triple-triangle “men’s” bike and don’t have a second place for a water bottle. As I mentioned above, you really don’t need suspension, but it can be hard to find a hybrid without suspension.

If I may ask, where are the expanding the Katy? Out near Clinton? I know that they are about to start work on another section that goes closer to KC plus another new rails-to-trails that could add another 100 miles or so.

They have the gravel down through Chilhowee, now, and are working on heading west past that. Good to hear from someone who has ridden it. If you get out this way again, pm me, we could make you dinner or something. :slight_smile: good deal?

No, that quibble is about the effectiveness of helmet LAWS, not about the effectiveness of wearing a helmet.

Bolding mine

I’d say a good deal and should fit you.

I now remember about the Chilhowee expansion. Nice! I most likely will be in Clinton on June 24, 2016 which will be at the end of next year’s ride. However I won’t be there for long as I’ll be catching a bus back to St. Charles, MO that afternoon.

Do not get a hybrid. You will pay more for the same level of quality as the mass produced mt bikes.