Monday, May 05, 2008

NYC bike

In a comment, Carlos DJ writes:
Hey Astoria Bike, I'm sure you get emails like this all the time. I just moved to astoria (close to astoria park) and wanted to get back into biking. I haven't biked since the early 90's when i was in high school so I'm quite outdated. Do you have any tips for buying a bike fit for nyc? I plan on doing mostly weekend daytrips to central park, brooklyn, and that sort of exploring fun stuff. ... Great blog, it's been fun reading it.

A lot of email? Maybe you mistake this blog for something people actually read!

I was at a wedding last night, and somebody asked me the same question you did. My first answer always is: not a mountain bike. That usually gets a strange look and a quizzical, "Why?" Because you just know they were eying some high-tech full suspension aluminum frame thing is the bike store. Why? Because we have no mountains!

If you go bike in mountains, get a mountain bike. That's what they're designed for. If you bike in cities, get a city bike.

But what is a city bike? Here's my answer. Something comfortable, fast, and able to carry.

Ask yourself which of those three things is most important to you and go from there. Fast? Get a nice road bike? Able to carry? Get any bike with eyelets for a rack installation and buy some gigantic saddle bags online from Holland or somewhere. Comfortable? Well, all bikes should be comfortable. But think of the seat and the handlebars you like most. But that's hard to know without riding.

I will say this, the most comfortable position for you hands on a bike is when they're in the hand-shaking position. What you don't want is the flat straight handlebars of a mountain bike. Drop handlebars and old-fashioned shaped (bending back) handlebars are the best. In general, until you know better, get a super high stem for your handlebars so you can sit upright. But keep in mind there's nothing naturally uncomfortable about drop handlebars at about seat height.

And whatever you get, make sure you can carry something, even if it's just a bike bag. And make sure you have fenders. And don't get knobby tires (see my no mountain bike rule) unless you plan to biking off road... which you simply won't do in NYC.

I'm very partial to steel frames because 1) they give a much softer ride, 2) they're safer, and 3) they look better. Aluminum frames are popular because they're easier for machines to weld.

I'm against suspension, but don't want to preach against it, because it can be kind of cool. Maybe it's right for some people. But if people didn't ride aluminum frames and hold on to those dumb flat mountain-bike handlebars, there probably would be no need for suspension on bikes. Ride steel. Don't grip your handlebars tightly. And ride around potholes. Plus, without suspension, you can hop over things.

To answer your question, the ideal bike for a city is a city bike. The best city bikes are out of Holland and France. But you should avoid French bikes because they have non-standard sizes for everything (well, I'm sure they're standard for them). But you'd be hard pressed to run across a French City bike here anyway.

If you ever come across a used Batavus Barcelona, grab it. I also think the Bluebird (featured on this bike), is a pretty damn good city bike.

On money, the more you spend, the less trouble you'll probably have. Newer bikes have fewer parts. That means less to brake. Spend money on tires, because they won't get flats. Think about what you want in a bike, and then start hunting. Astoria, by the way, is not a bad place for finding and buying old bikes. There are some nice Schwinns in these parts.


JOHN said...

Very good post. I never thought about how uncomfortable the 'straight' handlebars can be because I've always had them on my bicycles (I guess that says something about the quality of bikes I've owned?). I've also been 'intimidated' by the dropdown handles. I feel like I'm less aware of what's going on around me than if I was upright. I'd like to know if you have any suggestions on handlebars for your Xootr Swift (if you still own it) because that's my main commuter and I'm always up for improvements in my riding. Thanks for the posts.


AV said...

It drives me nuts when people have suspension on bikes that are neither mountain-worthy nor ever going to be taken anywhere _near_ a mountain. Nevertheless, I'm a big fan of pre-1997 (maybe 1997 was the last year? Mine's a 1996) mountain frames, from before they became overbuilt and full of suspension. And I _hate_ nubby tires in real life, but here in Granada I keep wishing that I had them since there are so many cobblestone-paved roads where my 1" slicks get stuck. And I have straight handlebars on my Trek 800 (the 1996 that I use as a commuter in the Bay Area), but with barends that bend and add two more comfortable positions. I love the drop bars on my road bike, but I like commuting with the barends. Just adding my 1.3 euro cents ...