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BEANBYDESIGN SparkPoints: (0)
Fitness Minutes: (36,402)
Posts: 1,021
5/9/13 12:31 P

One other note on using a local bike shop - my husband and I just bought new bikes from our local bike shop (in NY) this weekend, and we were very up-front with them about our budget. They were helpful, friendly, and happy to show us bikes that fit what we were able to spend. We were looking in the $300-or-less range, and the shop had a pretty wide selection of possibilities in that budget range. If you tell a specialty shop your budget and they can't (or won't) meet it, try another shop!

KATIENIU SparkPoints: (5,014)
Fitness Minutes: (10,640)
Posts: 116
5/9/13 11:54 A

I also live in the Chicago area (northern suburbs) and agree with post about going to Village Cyclery. I went there to get my bike and they were great. I've also bought a bike from a big box store (Dick's) and the difference in expertise between a local shop and a chain is huge. If you go to the local shop and tell them what you are looking for and price range they will set you up. You may pay more up front, but they will make sure you are fitted properly and you have the correct equipment. Also, with Village Cyclery (and many other local shops), they will let you bring your bike in for a quick tuneup after 10 rides and at the end of the season they will do another tuneup for free.

While the cost of a bike from a local shop is generally more expensive, in the long run you will save because the bike will last longer and is built better, thus saving you money in repair and replacement.

In terms of what kind of bike to get, I would recommend a hybrid. It's a cross between a mountain and road bike. It weighs less than a mountain bike and has a little bit bigger tires than a road bike.

I can not stress this enough, but please make sure you get a helmet. You don't need one of those fancy ones, just a basic one.

I have a standard lock on mine. I generally keep my bike either in my car or in my house. I bike to work a lot so when I'm at work, my bike is parked in the warehouse (I work in a small office).

I honestly think you will be happier if you go to a local bike shop. They know their stuff and they are experts in cycling so they will know what you need.

5/9/13 10:21 A

Recommendation from my partner, make sure any bike you purchase has a woman specific saddle, she will not ride one without that option. As an aside, between us we own 7 bikes both road and mountain with the mountain bikes retrofitted with street tires.

Check out the Spark team Slow Riders to see if it resonates with you.

ANARIE Posts: 13,192
5/9/13 9:33 A

Talk to the folks at the bike store even if you're not going to buy there. They can get you started on the right size and type, and they probably offer fittings/adjustments for around $25 on bikes purchased elsewhere. If you know what you want, you can shop around and find one used. Be sure to check out pawn shops; they often have good prices on really high quality bikes. For that matter, a LOT of good bike shops sell used trade-ins.

As for the helmet, women's sizes usually adjust down really small. You shouldn't have a problem-- but if a child's size fits you best, go ahead and get that. Children's helmets are as tougher or tougher than adult ones. Little girls' helmets often have a ponytail groove, as do most of the ones made specifically for women. I definitely wouldn't ride without; most of the people I know who have had serious falls did it on designated bike paths at slow speed. Helmets aren't really meant to do much in a crash with a car on the street; they're meant to stop you from getting a head injury in the silly falls where you just bump a curb or lose traction on a wet sidewalk or something.

DUNNAL SparkPoints: (15,340)
Fitness Minutes: (32,413)
Posts: 53
5/9/13 7:56 A

The worst knee pain I ever had was after an hour long bike ride on a bike that did not fit me. Make sure you get fit. I'm not an avid biker, but my husband and I both got bikes last year and we use them on some weekends when the weather is nice. My recommendation is make sure you get a good fit and have fun.

BEEZAUR SparkPoints: (525)
Fitness Minutes: (1,740)
Posts: 74
5/9/13 2:56 A

A really good fitter can take one look at you and get the frame size right away, and get really close on the adjustments that need to be done. It's pretty much included as a free service with the sale of a new bike. The page you linked to should give a good estimate, but it's kind of an art.

There are special, for-hire fitting things that can be done, but that is best done after you are used to the particular bike involved. A lot of your riding form can undergo slight changes as you get used to the machine and to riding.

You can estimate helmet size by measuring around your head at about the largest part where the edges of the helmet would go. Sizes are usually cm. Small usually fits down to 51 cm.

A hybrid bike is a great idea. Straightforward, does what you want, good and ergonomic.

EGILONA SparkPoints: (7,495)
Fitness Minutes: (6,423)
Posts: 34
5/9/13 2:19 A

Thank you so much for all the feedback - tons of amazing information here! I'll definitely be purchasing a helmet; my concerns there mostly had to do with head size (my head is small enough that I can wear child-size hats, so I really hope I can find a helmet that's meant for adults AND fits me) and hair issues (I stopped regularly riding my bike as a kid because I started wearing my hair mostly in ponytails and they wouldn't fit in my helmet...and my parents wouldn't let me ride without one or buy me a new helmet). From the cursory research I've done, my first thought was that I'd want a hybrid, though I can see how a mountain bike would make sense, too. Will absolutely check out some bike shops - I've been doing some Yelp research and am planning on trying Roscoe Village Bikes (great reviews, but I'm not as sure about affordability) and Uptown Bikes (solid reviews, & it sounds like they have some affordable options), but I will definitely add Village Cycle Center to my list, too - thanks for the recommendation! Regarding fit, I found an online fitting calculator (
PAGE=FIT_CALCULATOR_INTRO) - would it be worth it to try that out to give myself a general idea of what to expect before I start shopping? And can I expect to pay for a fitting in a store?

As far as the affordability caveat goes, I'm pretty sure my boyfriend would be comfortable in the $200 range, and he might be okay with the $300s, but beyond's iffy. I wouldn't have a problem with supplementing the cost myself, but my job this year was only a temporary position (I'm a teacher), I haven't locked down anything for next year yet, and I'm having to pay out of pocket for classes necessary to update my certification (plus I've got piles of student loans!) I feel like my own financial situation is too unstable for me to put too much of my own money toward this purchase. :/

Anyway, thanks again for all the help! You guys are fantastic!

BEEZAUR SparkPoints: (525)
Fitness Minutes: (1,740)
Posts: 74
5/9/13 12:40 A

One of the things I have found helps me enjoy cycling more is getting up to speed on safety. I really had no idea what I was doing safety-wise, and that made me really uneasy. Being familiar with the basics of it helped my confidence quite a lot.

There are sites like

A book I found that gets good reviews is Cyclecraft. I've not read that one yet, but from what I've heard and looking at the contents, it looks like a really good reference:

I regard the skill of riding a bike as much more important than something like athletic ability - it's pretty hard to ride a bike and *not* get high quality exercise. It's a huge confidence builder.

Edited by: BEEZAUR at: 5/9/2013 (00:41)
SIMPLELIFE2 Posts: 707
5/8/13 11:48 P

If you're in Chicago, go to Village Cycle Center in Old Town. They have a huge inventory and offer great deals on prior year models. The service people are knowledgeable and really care about getting the right fit and right bike for customers.

Contrary to what others have recommended, I would go with a hybrid rather than a mountain bike because it will serve you better for your location. Hybrids are versatile and good for going around town and you can build up mileage for events like Bike the Drive. Heck, I even did a century (100 miles) on my hybrid, though I wouldn't recommend it. And, if you want to do day trips, like the I&M canal trail, it's perfect.

If your boyfriend is willing, why set a limit? A good bike really does run $400 to $500, but is worth every penny. And unlike big box crap, it will last you years with routine maintenance. And if that still seems steep, offer to throw in the balance to get what you want. And *always* wear a helmet. You can crash in places where it seems safe and really mess yourself up without one.

Edited by: SIMPLELIFE2 at: 5/8/2013 (23:49)
5/8/13 8:50 P

I'm also 5' tall and recently bought this steel-frame hybrid bike:
and absolutely love it! You definitely want a helmet and a u-lock for the best security.

5/8/13 2:57 P

Simple answer, go to a dedicated bike shop and test ride several which are fitted to you. Most bike shops have an excellent selection of quality used bikes so that is often a lower cost alternative to purchasing a new bike. A mountain bike frame with smooth tires would be your best choice unless you will off road a lot.

Edited by: SERGEANTMAJOR at: 5/8/2013 (23:32)
BEEZAUR SparkPoints: (525)
Fitness Minutes: (1,740)
Posts: 74
5/8/13 12:56 P

A little about fitting:

The seat should be pretty much level. If you put a book on top, it should not be tilted. That's how seats (a.k.a. saddles) are designed to support the body. There are two prominences on the bottom of the pelvis where your legs plug in, the "sit bones". Most of the weight should be supported there. Soft tissue was not meant to bear weight. Not a big deal for a little riding, but more important the more you do.

The seat should be high enough that your leg is not quite straight when the pedal is all the way down. That is way higher than a lot of people expect, but it does two things. 1) it allows you to get more power with less effort, and 2) it prevents knee injuries from overuse.

The seat should be adjusted forward and backward as follows. Make a plum bob out of a piece of string and a weight. Sitting on the bike with the pedal pointing directly forward (at 3 o'clock) hang the string off the front of your kneecap. It should hang and point about through the center of the pedal. Different riding styles and bikes call for some differences, but that's a start.

In riding position on the bike, the plumb bob should hang from your nose approximately through the handlebar. But this adjustment is getting into the finer points. There are a lot of variations for specific purposes.

Then there is the wide handlebar thing. A super-wide handlebar gives better control on super-rough terrain, but it's often a problem on smooth surfaces. When you get over about 15 mph or so steering can be a little twitchy.

Stopping and starting is important. Ideally you want to remain sitting on the seat and be able to put your foot down to stop. Your other foot should be on the pedal so you can push off and go. Or something like that. This is the biggest potential problem with a bike (or wheel size) that is too big. Just something to check.

CORTNEY-LEE SparkPoints: (67,852)
Fitness Minutes: (69,867)
Posts: 3,526
5/8/13 10:17 A

I would go to the bike shop and get fitted.

I agree that a mountain bike is the way to go. You can ride them anywhere!

I am a fan of Trek, but there are lots to choose from. They may cost a little more, but they will last you a lifetime

BEEZAUR SparkPoints: (525)
Fitness Minutes: (1,740)
Posts: 74
5/8/13 12:03 A

Five-foot tall female, riding outside of roadways mostly . . .

I would say get a mountain bike, don't worry about full suspension (maybe just in the front), go for 26" wheels.

A lot of bikes have "full suspension" for crazy riding on rocky trails, etc. I wouldn't worry about that with your type of planned riding.

Most wheels today are 29"; the old standard was 26". 29" is bigger, more expensive, and I suspect would be a problem at that height. Tires should be wide but not huge - 1.5" to 1.75" or so. Narrow tires don't cushion much.

I put 7500 miles on a 26" wheeled mountain bike with suspension in just the front end before I got a different bike. I'm 6'-1", 185 lbs, and it works just fine.

It would be really important to make sure the bike you get fits you. There are different sized frames. A knowledgeable salesperson can help. There are a few important things to know. That is a big deal, and makes a lot of difference in how much you enjoy riding.

But I will say be particularly careful that the handlebars are not too wide. Control can be twitchy if they are too wide. That's part of fitting a bike.

I wouldn't worry a whole lot about the particular shifters, 8-speed versus 9-speed versus 10-speed, disc versus V-brakes, etc. Just get something relatively standard and it should be perfectly serviceable. There is an *awful* lot to know, and sales pitches can make anything sound better. Unless you are riding several thousand miles a year the finer points truly are not that big a deal.

Helmet - yes. I am alive because I was wearing one when I was knocked off my bike. Cheap works just as well as expensive. Round and smooth is safer. My new summer helmet cost $23. Just get something you like and make sure it fits.

Security - I use 3 ft of chain I bought at a hardware store and a padlock. I put the chain in an old inner tube to protect things from it. If you are going to lock it where it can be stolen, you'll need something substantial. The person who fits your bike can give recommendations.

If you ride in the wet at all you'll need fenders. If you want to carry things, you'll need a rack with some kind of "container". I have wire baskets behind my seat on my bikes. Panniers work too, and are usually waterproof.

HUNNA13 Posts: 180
5/7/13 11:33 P

I just recently invested in a Trek and it was the best $500 ever spent. It has top of the line gears, shifters, disc brakes, etc. It will most likely last me a lifetime. Best bet is to go into a real bike shop and actually get fitted on a bike- you would be amazed and how many little measurements go into fitting on a bike, plus there are several different sizes of bikes as well, and ones made for males/females. I bought the Trek 3500 with disc brakes and I have no regrets. I would recommend going with a mountain bike because you mentioned you may take it elsewhere in the future. If you get a road bike or even a hybrid, most of the tires aren't made for dirt trails or even the slighest bit of off roading. I am near Chicago, and have ridden in the Moraine Hills State Park near Mchenry. It has some pretty awesome bike paths that aren't super hard. As for security, I live in the ghetto so I keep my bike in my apartment, and never leave it on my rack on my car or in my car. I only wear a helmet if I am doing a rough trail where I may fly off into the woods, or if I need to ride on the street at all. Otherwise they just make my head sweat, although helmets are made quite well nowadays. Biggest thing is to get correctly fitted. You can basically walk into any bike shop and they will talk your ear off and you don't neccesarrily have to buy anything. Bike nerds LOVE talking about bikes and recommending the best for your size/budget/use. Hope this helps!

EGILONA SparkPoints: (7,495)
Fitness Minutes: (6,423)
Posts: 34
5/7/13 11:26 P

My birthday is coming up, and I told my boyfriend that I'd like my present to be a bike. The problem is, I have no idea what to expect when shopping one: my past bikes were all from, like, Walmart or Meijer or other similar big-box retailers. They seemed fine at the time, but when I brought my old bike to college a few years back, I found it to be less than ideal. So I'd really like to get a legit bike, but I want to keep it affordable, too. I don't expect my boyfriend to spend $600 - or even half that! - on me, you know?

Right now I'm mostly planning to keep my biking to the park across the street (though I'll probably take it more places as I get more familiar with it), which has mostly paved paths, but also some unpaved; right now, the idea of riding in the street makes me uncomfortable. I am a 5' tall female and live in Chicago. Here are some things I'm wondering about:

- What type (mountain, road, hybrid, etc.) of bike should I be looking at? Spec recommendations?
- At what types of places/at what types of or brands of bikes should I be looking in order to keep this affordable? If you're familiar with the area, specific shop recommendations would be great, too!
- Helmet: y/n?
- Security - best options? I'll keep it inside my apartment when it's not being used.
- Is there anything else I should be considering? I want to make sure I'm making the most informed decision possible!

Thanks so much!

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