Road bicycle advice/opinions wanted

I started a thread here asking about a bike I saw on CraigsList. Clearly I’m out of my depth regarding higher end bikes so I’m bringing the discussion here.

My situation: Late 50’s male, fairly good shape. I had been doing a lot of treadmill work but I’ve been having trouble with my hip (sciatica) lately so walking/running/jogging is out. I can ride a bike so I thought now would be a good time to get into biking.

I’ve not biked much and am not sure how much I’ll be into it so I wouldn’t want to spend a bunch on it even if I had it (which I don’t). I have about $300.00 earmarked for the cause. I know that’s not much but that’s what I have.

I have read a lot of bike forums and have read (and read, and read, and read…) that I should save up more money and get a decent bike. For this thread assume that’s not going to happen. I’m looking for the best bike in the $300.00 range I can get. Any insights and opinions welcome. Thanks.

I was about to post in the other thread - the Trek 2120 in that Craigslist ad is a 1994 model. Trek made the 2120 from 1994 through 1998, but only the 1994 model had bar-end shifters.


I think $300 is OK for a starter bike, although it’s been a few years since I bought so it may be a bit low. Take everything you read on a bike forum with a large dose of salt - gearheads and hammerheads, damn near all of 'em.

I’ll say what I always do - find a good local bike shop. All those things that you don’t know? They do.

They can help you select a bike that fits, that suits what you’re planning to do, and that feels comfortable. They should be willing to trade out minor parts (seats, stems, bars) to get you a good fit. Most of them will do minor tuneups and repairs for free on bicycles they’ve sold.

Ask about their trade-in bikes. A lot of shops take trade-ins when selling new bicycles. It’s a terrific way to get a lot of value, if they have one that fits you.

A low-end starter bike will be heavier than a more expensive bike is the biggest difference. The quality of components will be lower. But if you get a good one from a bike shop, it will be fine for getting started on. Then once you’re hooked, you start shopping up.

This is why bike shops are willing to sell you a starter bike. They’re planning on selling you lots of stuff for years. Plus, they love bikes and like to share.

If you don’t know anyone local that really knows bikes, don’t try to buy used from individuals, pawn shops, etc. You can get totally rooked.

And above all, do not buy a big-box-store bicycle, unless you’re suicidal.

I have been looking on CL for a bike for my son. The bikes on CL are for the most part, overpriced by about $100. If you keep your eyes open on CL and have patience, you can easily find an older mountain bike from a good manufacturer for under $300. If you find one for $300, I would still offer $225 and not a dime more. The manufacturers to look for are Fuji, Trek, Specialized, Giant, CannonDale, Jamis and a few others. Hard to go wrong with those. Stay away from Next (crap), Roadmaster (crap) and Schwinn (crap, unless older).

One of the easiest ways to keep even a crap bike in decent shape is to keep it in the house. The biggest problem with crap bikes assuming that they are assembled correctly is that they rust in about 10 seconds.

A 10 or 15 year old good bike is scads better than anything you can get from Walmart.

Bikes Direct sells cheap bicycles. I bought a touring bike from them a couple of years ago for $600 and it was a good deal.

They do have some new road bikes for $300 including shipping.

If you are stuck on the $300, this one will save you a dollar.

If you live in a mostly flat area, or don’t mind walking up the occasional steep hill, here maybe be a better bike for $299.

Also remember to budget for a helmet and a pair of cycling shorts. You can get mountain bike shorts that are padded, but not skin tight, if modesty is an issue. Getting a helmet is a no-brainer. Pardon the pun.

This is what I tell people who are looking for a good deal on a bike, but know little about bikes:

Find a bike shop that takes trade-ins and sells used bikes. Usually they offer them with some sort of warranty. Usually they won’t accept Walmart bikes as trades, so most of the used bikes are fairly decent.

Here is a checklist to make sure it is a fairly modern bike that will be simple to buy repair/upgrade parts for if needed:

No Astabula bottom brackets. (one piece steel crank). Some decent vintage american bikes had decent ones (notably the chicago Schwinns) but all were heavy bikes, and anything recent that uses one is cheap junk. This probably means you end up with a square taper bottom bracket. Preferably sealed, but a sealed bottom bracket is a cheap replacement for a cup & cone one. Cup and cone is fine actually, just higher maintenance. There were some growing pains on the integrated crankset/bottom brackets. These are fine if you get a good one, but are pricier to replace.

700C/29er or 26" wheels. Everything else will be a pain to get tires, replacement rims, etc. for. Old road bikes often have 27" wheels which results in very limited tire availability and selection.

1-1/8" threadless steerer. This is the new standard. Old bikes had 1" steerer and needed quill stems. Quill stems, replacement forks, etc. are now fairly scarce.

Indexed shifting. This makes bikes much easier to ride. Also means you get a freehub rear wheel instead of freewheel type. Freehub results in stronger axle due to better positioned bearings, and also much easier to change gear clusters if you want to experiment or wear one out.

I have found even the cheapest Shimano and SRAM deraileurs to be very durable. The higher end ones are mostly lighter, but in some cases work a little better. The higher end shifters are generally more durable.

If it has disk brakes, have the bike shop show you the replacement pads. If they don’t have them in stock, that is a bad sign. Several designs came and went when disk brakes became popular, don’t get stuck with an orphan. Actually IMO disks are a waste of weight on a road bike. They load the fork such that a heavier and stiffer fork is needed, which makes for a harsher ride as well.

ETA: Absolutely the most important thing is to get a bike that fits. Usually each model comes in a range of sizes. This is one advantage of buying new, as a lot of used bikes will be the wrong size.

So, that was my spiel on used bikes. Here it is on new bikes:

Get something with a good frame. Everything else can be upgraded if need be, although not for cheap. These are known as components. High-end components are very expensive.

Shimano and SRAM have several lines of components from cheap to fairly pricey. Campanolo has fewer lines from pretty pricey to outrageous. In your price range, you will be getting bottom of the line to low-end Shimano or SRAM components. These are always heavier than the high end stuff. In some cases this means they are actually more durable, like steel chainrings vs. lighter but pricier aluminum alloy. It all usually works fine. IME it is even pretty durable. It is not light, and it is not sexy, and it won’t have whatever the latest marketing gimmick is.

I would still look for a 9 speed rear end. 10 (or more, gasp) rear drivetrains make too many compromises for my liking. They also cost lots more, and are fussier to keep adjusted right.

If you acquire a few special tools, and learn to work on your own bike, upgrading components can be much cheaper. You can often buy last-years parts brand new for 25% or so of list price. Maybe less if they are pulls…removed from bikes that didn’t sell for whatever reason. You do have to do a fair amount of research to keep everything compatible.

I agree with the need to buy and wear a helmet, and heartily second the padded shorts. After a long ride without them, especially on a trail or badly-paved road, “Ow! My Balls!” is not a fictitious television show in the movie “Idiocracy” but a documentary. :eek::slight_smile:

Great info, Kevbo. Thanks for taking the time to post that.

Also thanks for the links guys.

What is it specifically about “Walmart bikes” that makes them so inferior? Do they injure you? Are they slower? Do they fall apart? Squeak? I too have thought about getting a bike, and I have read in so many places that you have to spend thousands of dollars on a bike. Why is that the case when we were all content as kids riding bikes that cost under a 100 bucks?

I don’t think they will injure you but I do think they are heavier, use very low-end parts (non-indexed shifters) that might not even be standardized (if it breaks, buy a new bike rather than repair) and are hard to adjust and keep in adjustment. I don’t think you need to spend thousands (they start in the low hundreds) but going to a bike shop will get you a bike that actually fits you. The bike shop will put the bike on a trainer and make sure the seat is proper height and distance from bars and then dial the bars in for you. Once you start riding 20+ miles in a single ride, the fit is crucial. A bike that doesn’t fit properly will cause pains in numerous places: Ass, hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, wrists, elbows, etc. I also want to completely trust my bike since I am riding out in the boonies and having something break could mean a very long walk.

The first thing is that they are made to sell cheaply. They use the cheapest parts which don’t last all that long and are usually very heavy.

Next they are assembled by a person who probably knows nothing about bikes. I’ve seen things like the brake pads on backwards. I knew a guy who was paid $5 for every bike he assembled for a big box store. He knew next to nothing when he started that job.

The bikes often look good at the expense of actually working good. For example: suspension parts on a hybrid bike. Those front shocks aren’t going to last long at all. Selling a simpler bike without suspension would probably make for a more reliable bike.

There’s no one to help you when you purchase the bike. If you go to a good bike shop, the salesperson should have a good idea of what kind of bike you may need and, this is important, if the bike fits you. Most adult bikes come in various sizes. If you get a bike that’s too big or small for you, riding can be painful.

You don’t have to spend thousands of $ on a bike. You can get a good hybrid bike from a bike shop for around $500-$700. You can get a very nice aluminum frame bike for around $1100-$1500. Carbon fiber and titanium bikes are $2000+.

As far as our riding a $100 bike back in the day, I’m old enough that a $100 bike would have been a nice bike! :smiley: Other than that, we just didn’t know any better.

It is specifically that they are badly constructed and poorly assembled.

Yes, they do injure people. Handlebars and wheels fall off, brakes don’t work due to improper assembly - have you ever looked at the incredibly bad welding jobs on these bikes?

If you have someone who knows how to check the welds before purchase, then take the bike apart and reassemble it correctly and fix any problems found, that’s one thing. We have done this before, for a kid’s bike. But the damn things are dangerous as they come from the store.

They are also heavier, slower, more difficult to ride, fall apart quickly, and so on - all the things you expect from ‘Walmart quality’ - but that’s not the real concern. It does make it much less likely that someone will actually keep riding the bike they bought, but it’s a tradeoff.

Don’t listen to the people saying you have to spend thousands - you don’t. You can buy a decent starter bike from a real bike store (gaining all the benefits thereof) for a few hundred. Read Kevbo’s posts for how to do it.

WGuy, Jerry and Redtail, Thank you for your responses. I will definitely check out a bike shop between now and summer.

Lots of good advice already.
Just as you can buy bikes of differing qualities from $100 to 15,000+ there are differing quality of cycling shorts/padding. If you're going to get some, don't go for the cheapest; it's well worth spending a few more for decent quality.
Helmets: They all meet basic safety requirements; the difference for the more expensive ones are more/bigger vent holes/better air flow, which keeps you cooler.

Walmart Bikes AKA Big Box Bikes (BBB), AKA Department store bikes, AKA Bicycle shaped object (BSO):

There are two fundamental problems with them:

1)They are made to have as many “features” as possible for the lowest possible price. Corners are cut to save every nickle. Here are some examples:

Start with the wheels:

-They are always machine trued, as hand truing is expensive. The truing machines do not produce adequate spoke tension, because they can’t allow for the spoke twisting that happens as tension increases. This results in spokes that soon fatigue and break and weak wheels that do not stay true.

-Steel rims instead of aluminum. Steel rims are heavier, rust, and have exceptionally poor wet braking performance. Check with a magnet, as it is very common for the steel rims to wear an aluminum plating. If you do by-chance get aluminum rims they are often anodized over the braking surface which offers poor breaking till it wears off, then galls some and causes accelerated pad wear and noisy braking. Machining a braking surface is expensive it seems.

-Iron-based steel spokes instead of stainless steel. Steel spokes rust and freeze in the nipples so the wheel can’t be trued.

-Really crappy hubs and bearings. Good bikes will have aluminum hubs with pressed in hardened steel bearing races or sealed bearings. Crap bikes have swaged steel hubs with integral races, possibly case hardened as if that helps.

-Recently they have started going to low spoke-count wheels. This saves money and looks racy. But it only really works on expensive racing rims, and people who race on these usually have a second set of beater wheels for training because even the expensive ones are a bit delicate. The BSO version might work for a while with a kid or petit woman, but “people of Walmart” should avoid them.

-Frame: Usually low carbon steel, AKA Hiten, AKA 1020, AKA 1018. This allows mig welding which cuts labor cost. Requires thick walls to be strong enough, so bike is heavy and has no give. Aluminum will be low strength alloy similarly chosen for low labor cost weld compatibility, and with thick heavy walls to compensate. Rear dropouts will be light gauge and flexible so that precision alignment is not required to fit wheels. Semi-horizontal dropouts to allow wheel centering in chainstays even though frame is a bit off. Frame alignment is iffy…they are usually OK due to jigging used, but nothing gets scrapped for being off it seems. Bottom bracket usually has notch to accomidate ashtabula bearing cups without needing to be reamed to precision fit.

Brakes: Rim brakes will usually be chrome plated steel fabrications rather than forged aluminum as on good bikes. Centering is usually poor and they are impossible to adjust to avoid dragging a pad on the rim. The linear pull brakes usually are OK IME. Brake cables often poorly prepped causing drag and exacerbating centering problems. Brake levers are often crap that slips on bar, and breaks when you try to snug it down. No bushings or other anti-friction things at pivots, which reduces braking. Brake pads will be cheap dreck.

Bottom Bracket/cranks. Often Ashtabula forgings. Heavy, hard to replace chainrings. Modern Ashtabula bearing sets are all crap IME (the old Schwinn ones were ok, but had proprietary sizing)

Bars: Usually heavy steel, but soft garbage so they still bend when a clyde like me sprints.

Shifters-Deraileurs: Several issues usually conspire to produce poor shifting performance. The owners typically get tired of messing with it, find a gear that works, and leave it there, making for an expensive and heavy single speed.

Too many features: You might be able to build a decent, if heavy, 5 or 7 speed bike for a given price. Walmart will take that budget and build a 27 speed full-suspension mountain bike. Every single thing from the shocks to the handle-grips will be crap.

  1. Lack of knowledgeable support. Working on bikes is not rocket science, but there are plenty of ways to make mistakes. There are a number of things that need adjusting on a new bike before it will work well, even a good one. Department stores do not have anyone qualified. Problems as a result will range from cosmetic to dangerous.
    I have fixed, and fixed again a number of these for neighbor kids. They never, ever, ever stay working for very long. If you want one, go to a thrift store, they usually have a few. The going rate is $5-15. Usually they look pretty new, because nobody can keep one working long enough to put much wear on it. Bike shops usually refuse to work on them, not because they are snobs, but because it doesn’t matter what you fix, the customer is going to be mad when the next thing breaks.

Note: The companies that build this crap have purchased the trademarks of a number of formerly reputable bicycle manufacturers: Schwinn, Windsor, Mercier, Motobecane, and many others are now just names to be stuck on whatever crap Walmart is pushing this week. OR sometimes halfway decent stuff.

Small bike shops have fairly high overhead. If you absolutely must save a nickle, REI or performance bike sell decent hardware in volume and employ quailified bike mechanics. Bikes Direct online has no way to support you, but they do have some halfway decent bikes at good prices. They deal with frame manufacturers directly, and buy odd-lots and overstock components to complete them.

Disclosure: I am not a professional bike mechanic, nor have I ever worked in the industry in any capacity. I maintain my own fleet of bicycles, as well as those of family, friends, cow-orkers, and the odd neighbor kid. I have built up a couple of bikes from components and laced a half-dozen or so wheels that are are still true. I put just over 8000 miles on my bikes last year.

I DO work on cheap assed Walmart bikes, and I am in complete agreement with professional mechanics who refuse to do so. I can give the thing back to the neighbor kid at no charge, and say “here you go, Say hi to your folks for me. Bring it back when the next thing breaks!” That isn’t going to work when you are charging an adult customer the shop rate.

It’s braking fer crying out loud! One of my pet peeves, that. I was bound to get it wrong sooner or later!