Suggestions for newbie?

This topic contains 13 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Italianblend 2 yrs, 11 mos.

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Aug 4 2013 at 9:59pm #

Hi BikePGH,

I am interested in getting into cycling for fitness reasons. I haven’t been on a bike for any serious amount of time since before I had a drivers license ~15 years ago. I am scared to death of riding with cars; I drive quite a bit and see the road rage and negligence daily, and all the stories in this forum don’t exactly help build my confidence. Mostly I’m interested in exploring our area’s vast trail system, and some other areas like Laurel Highlands. Hopefully eventually working up to some higher-mileage excursions.

So my question is, what kind of bike should I invest in? I’d hate to get something only to later find out it is totally inappropriate for my purpose. Do I need a mountain bike (with or without shocks) for this kind of activity or would a road bike suffice? What about hybrids? Any advice for browsing Craigslist? Things to look for/avoid? More gears/less gears? I want to spend enough money to have an enjoyable experience on something of quality, but not so much that it necessarily becomes my baby.

Appreciate any help from knowledgeable locals!



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Aug 4 2013 at 11:42pm #

Cost of entry is about $400 for a new bike and about $200 for something used. If I were you, I’d hold off and start watching the end of summer sales… Golden Triangle had some Kona Dews a year or two ago after the rental season was over. There’s a bike shop along the GAP that has yearly sales as well, to get rid of the last year’s rentals (I forget which one).

If you go mountain bike, get a non-suspension fork or be sure the fork has a lock-out feature.
If you go road bike, make sure you get a touring or cross bike… as these types take wider tires and usually have mounts for fenders.
A “hybrid” is the safest bet, but it’s a general term and hard to pin down exactly what is/isn’t a hybrid.

The Schwinn Tourist at Target for $250 isn’t a bad choice, but it only comes in one size and if it isn’t your size, you’re out of luck.

No shame in avoiding roads, it takes time to build up confidence. I stuck to paths for years.


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Aug 5 2013 at 6:04am #

Not a mountain bike, more of a hybrid like drewbacca said.
If you don’t sort of know what you’re doing, avoid Craigslist, there’s a lot of junk on there to sift through for the occasional deal.
Rent a couple times from Golden Triangle to get a feel for things, and do watch for that end of season sale.
If you are 30something you will probably ramp up pretty quickly in terms of fitness and ability, so maybe look for a bike a smidge higher than the middle in terms of performance.
Shop around at some good shops, Thick, REI, Trek. Have fun.


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Aug 5 2013 at 8:00am #

Question for the group: Isn’t there a “Try a Bike” event coming up? Or did I miss it?

To the original poster: The Try a Bike event is a great chance to try a bunch of different bikes. And, it provides some clues as to the mystery of size – there are 52/54/56’s,there are 15/17/19’s and there are small, mediums and larges. And not all 52’s are the same “fit. It Just depends on the manufacturer. Knowing your “size” in a variety of styles will make the used rental bike (or any other bike) purchase process faster and easier, if you go that route. Otherwise, when you enter the bike shop, be preapared to offer up your height and your inseam length. These are pretty good indicators of “bike size.” But a good bike shop will help fit you to the right bike.

Generally, for your uses, stay away from bikes with front shocks. They will smooth out the bumps, but are frustratingly slow, as the shock also absorbs some of the energy you want the bike to use to propel you forward. It doesn’t sound like you’ll be doing the type of riding that would make shocks a good investment. At least not yet.

Congratulations on your decision. I hope you stick with it. A friend of mine with bad knees took up cycling a year or two ago to help rehab his knees. He did his first 70 mile ride the other day. You may never get to the point where you WANT to ride 70 miles in a day. But, being in SHAPE to ride that long, if you wanted to, is a great feeling. Good luck! We’ll watch for you on the trails.

Oh, and p.s. please learn to use proper trail etiquette from the outset. It’s pretty much all based on courtesy. Stay to the right, announce your presence when approaching from the rear (bell or voice), keep your speed moderate when in a crowd or at a junction, etc. A crowded trail is not a good time for surprises!


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Aug 5 2013 at 8:21am #

Yes I meant to mention that – Try a Bike Jamboree, Aug 24 at the Harris oval on Washington Blvd, starts at 10:00 am.


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Aug 5 2013 at 8:33am #

+1 for Golden Triangle rentals. They have a few different styles of bikes, and different bike sizes that you can try. Just make sure you get there early (or during the week) because they have been completely out of bikes on nice sunny days – which is freak’n awesome! They also sell off all of their bikes in the fall.

helen s

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Aug 5 2013 at 11:04am #

As far as being afraid of cars- the complaints you see on here are just that, complaints- plus the occasional collision or death. If you drive, you are also likely to have some sort of accident at some point also.
Almost all drivers are at least a little tolerant, and some are downright courteous to cyclists. It is just those few that get you angry. If you have confidence in your handling skills and act predictibly, riding on the streets is a great way to get around.
I like sometimes pretend I am riding with herds of large dangerous beasts that are sort of stupid and nearsighted and will leave me alone to ride near them as long as I am aware and try to stay out of their way and do not make them mad. Sort of like running with the bulls.
Welcome to the cycling community.


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Aug 5 2013 at 11:57am #

To build on what helen is saying… most of the really bad interactions are coming from those of us willing to take on the main-roads. Some of us feel an obligation to be out there, visible, reminding people that cycling is an acceptable form of transportation. Some (a small minority) of drivers are bothered by our audacity to “inconvenience them” on more heavily traveled routes.

You can stick to side streets, many of which are listed in the BikePgh map in order to get around without the intimidation that some of us see. FWIW, I’ve had more trouble from the occasional not-tied-up dog than I’ve had from drivers. It just depends where you are riding.


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Aug 5 2013 at 12:57pm #

Thanks for the advice everyone! The Jamboree sounds like just the introduction I need, unfortunately I do most of my traveling on the weekends so I won’t be able to make it. I will definitely check out Golden Triangle during the week though. So it sounds like hybrid is the way to go for the trails. Nothing too heavy or bulky but also nothing with too skinny tires. Sound about right?

I have been in a few automobile accidents in my life (and hurt pretty badly in one) so do I know things can happen in any situation, but seems my skeleton versus a big metal box is a bit different than two big metal boxes vs each other! I can see sticking to side roads being much safer though; maybe eventually I’ll start doing some actual commuting, but for now my interest is more on the nature side of things.

Any more comments greatly appreciated!

helen s

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Aug 5 2013 at 1:08pm #

“Stay to the right, announce your presence when approaching from the rear (bell or voice), keep your speed moderate when in a crowd”

And when someone blows past you too close at a high rate of speed without warning, shout “ON MY LEFT” so they can hear you.

Saturday and Sunday mornings are great times to cycle on almost deserted streets.


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Aug 5 2013 at 3:41pm #

mixolydian wrote:Nothing too heavy or bulky but also nothing with too skinny tires. Sound about right?

Sure! but… the criteria is relative. Lots of people out there will tell you that 27# is too heavy, but for an introductory bike I’d say that number is dead on.

Tires thinner than 28mm will be too harsh on bike paths… you could go as high as 40mm but ideally will fall somewhere in the 32-35mm zone. For comparison, most road bikes run on 23mm (many can’t even fit anything wider, and if they can, they likely can only go up to 28mm at most). Most mountain bike tires will be 50mm+ (but measured in inches instead of mm).


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Aug 5 2013 at 7:30pm #

I’ll put in a plug for the concept of being multi-modal, in particular, using the bike rack on the front of every Port Authority bus. You don’t have to ride in horrid traffic, that’s what the bus can do for you. You ride your bike in quiet neighborhood streets down to the main drag, wait for the bus, mount the bike on the rack (takes 15 seconds), pay your fare, and off you go. Get off the bus somewhere close to where you’re headed, get the bike back off the rack (another 15 seconds), and ride away on some other fairly quiet street. So the bus gets you the big distance, up the big hill, deals with crappy traffic, and/or avoids the big downpour for you, and gets you that distance quickly with no perspiration necessary on your part.


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Aug 5 2013 at 9:41pm #

The suggestions so far have been good. But, hey, it’s the Message Board and it’s after dinner… So here’s my bits:

— Bikes aren’t that complicated. If you’ve really decided to bike, just buy one. All the local bike shops (“LBS”s) are very good about steering you to the right bike and then continuing to adjusting things until you’re happy.

— You want a hybrid, but be careful what you get. The high-end ones have racer-like frames that can be temperamental. Go low to mid. You want to cruise, not hammer (at least for now).

— You want slick tires, but probably in the 30-40mm range. Those “mountain” tires with their big knobby treads feel unstable on pavement, though ok for limestone trails and such. But, really, a ‘regular’ bike will get you over most anything that has a visible path, If you’re into rough, you’ll eventually graduate to downhill.

— It takes time to get used to the street and all those crazy drivers in speeding cars. Don’t give up, and remember that you are legally a vehicle with full right to travel any road in the state (excepting freeways). But do be careful until you figure it all out.

— And, of course, practice, practice, practice. It’s how you’ll get to Carnegie (from town).


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Aug 6 2013 at 5:05am #

Was in the same boat a few years ago. You can read my thread. I still ride the llbean bike to this day and its perfect for riding around the city. Sure there are times when a person with a road bike blasts past me with ease and I have 2 seconds of bike envy, but it passes and I realize my bike is rugged enough to go on any pothole road, trail, or bike lane in the city. Too bad the local llbean stopped selling bikes.

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