Friday, January 05, 2007

Ask Mr. Astoria Bike (1)

From a comment:

I'm trying to decide on a new bike for riding in the city, commuting to work, and getting to farmer's markets. I figure regular rides will be short- 3-5 miles, but there will be a random 10+ miler once in a while. Any ideas?

I'm looking at some touring bikes and I'm really new to this commuter bike idea. My old cheap mountain bike has an okay frame, but I'd rather not ride it for a while. I'm looking at an old Lemond Zurich frame, but I'm not too sure what the best option is for a commuter bike. What do you suggest- a mountain bike frame or a touring/road bike frame?

Also, is there really any point to a fixie? Thanks.

Unless you actually go mountain biking, I’m strongly against mountain bikes. For the life of me I can’t figure out why people think a big bulky knobby-tired is better for riding down the paved road. Would you try to ride a smooth-tired racing bike down a sandy mountain trail? Of course not. So why would you choose to ride a bike designed for a sandy mountain trail on a paved road? It’s like the SUV mentality for bikes. Bigger isn’t better.

I’m also strongly for steel (or “cro-mo”) frames (and carbon fiber forks). They give so much more than aluminum. And last longer, too (I also think they look better, but that’s not really the point). Aluminum gives a very hard bumpy ride. And then they invented suspension to compensate. But you don't really need suspension on a road bike. And I ride over some bumpy-ass roads. Aluminum is cheaper to make (robots can weld them together very easily), but they’re not better to ride. But it’s getting harder and harder to buy a steel frame. But I would definitely seek one out. You can always buy a good used frame on e-bay, the problem, of course, is the sizing. I frame is more than just height measurement.

I don’t know anything about specific frame brands. I love my Bianchi Alfana road bike more than any other bike I’ve ever had (but don’t tell my other bikes). But that’s a matter of frame geometry and my body. Every person is different. All touring/road bikes are lighter, faster, and more fun to ride than a mountain bike. I also don’t like the bar handlebars. They kill my wrists and arms.

I also say don’t be afraid of thin tires. I’ve never had a problem with 23mm tires. And I weight over 200 pounds. Some people say wider is better… but I don’t agree. I’d say at least give a nice steel-framed road bike with thin tires well inflated (at least 100 psi) a test run. The difference should be something you notice right away. Except for body position with drop handlebars, there should be nothing that you “have to get used to.” Maybe you’ll instantly fall in love like I did. You can also get upright handlebars on a road frame.

Of course for commuting you to worry about carrying things. And then you may want to get a bike more designed for that.

And there are advantages to a fixed gear. Also see this. I like my fixed gear. If I only had one bike, it would not be a fixed-gear. But it is fun to ride one out of 4 times and also makes you a better rider. They’re so simple and so efficient. Going up hills is a breeze (that’s the irony about the one speed). Also good for very slow speed maneuvering (like moving around cars at red lights).


Zora said...

Peter, you're answering the guy's question the same way you answer Andrew's questions about wine. Too vague.

I say, look at the Bianchi city bike (Milano), the one with the fenders, and work back from there, if that's too expensive/doesn't fit right, etc. It's basically the bike you want for cruising around town.

I say, definitely upright handlebars--if you're doing short trips around the city, you want to be sitting up, lookin' people in the eye.

You want all the trimmings, in terms of fenders and baskets and bells.

But you don't need a million gears. I would even say my 7-speed internal hub is too many. The "commuter" bikes I was looking at a while back had waaay too many gears.

Or get a decent one for now that you can fix up a little as you go. The bike I had before the Bluebird was a $100 used 10-speed jobbie that I got from Frank's on the LES. It was a fantastic bike, even though the gears eventually got unfixable--but that was at least four years later. I put better handlebars on it (or Peter probably did), and a different seat. I put on fenders and a back rack and baskets, and I was really set.

And it looked like crap, so no one messed with it, and I didn't get sad when the paint got all scuffed where I locked the lock every day.

Zora said...

Oh, and I comfortably did the Five-Borough Bike Tour on that old ten-speed, and commuted from Queens to SoHo. Going over potholes could be a little jarring, but otherwise, no prob.

Nick said...

I recommend a light, cheap road bike with thin tires, all shifters and derailleurs removed, with just a freewheel and front and rear brakes. You can get a track bike like the IRO Mark V, which is equipped to take front and rear brakes, or you can get an old conversion, and have the shifters and derailleurs and all that removed. This is what I did when I got my wife a bike, and it works for her.

I ride fixed-gear exclusively, but it's not for everyone. Some of the benefits are the simplicity, which keeps the bike light, and saves a lot of trouble when it comes to maintenance. The reason i recommend a single-speed road bike is that you get a lot of the same benefits of a fixed-gear, but don't have to learn a new style of riding. You really don't need gears in NYC, unless you have terrible knees.

Matt said...

Thanks for all of your input (and for making this a post). I'm looking at some older steel frames. I am planning to hook it up with fenders, a rack, lights etc. I don't think I'm going to go with a single speed, even if it is interested. I live just outside Washington D.C. and even in the city there are some hills. I will pass some grade 7's along my route into the city which is nothing drastic, but I assume it's something that I assume not fun on a single speed.

At the least, if I get a 10 speed with horizontal rear drop out, I can always convert to a single speed.

I can also get a flat handlebar if needed. It's just a hard switch since I ride a sporty road bike now, but I know it's helpeful in the city.

So far I found a used 1998 lemond zurich, sold for 450. An old old peugeot 70s or earlier sold for 90 and now I'm waiting to hear back on a Lotus frame from the 80s (with racks and fenders already on).

I'll keep you updated and will probably be back for help to build up the bike. Thanks again for your help.

Nick said...

You're smart to go with horizontal dropouts.