« Back to Archive

NEED ADVICE! Beginner biker

Hi! My name is Lisa and I just moved back to Pittsburgh from NC. I brought my Schwinn Cruiser bike with me, but quickly remembered all the hills and varying terrain and found that the Cruiser, even with gears, was not a good fit. I am looking for a good hybrid beginner bike that can help me get around the city, but that I can also use on trails. I have researched many different websites, but it's hard to know what is going to be the ideal pick for Pittsburgh's terrain. Any and all advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!!!
2014-10-19 16:00:56
Honestly, go to your local bike store, tell them what you want and how much you are willing to spend. This is Pittsburgh. Someone will be willing to spend 30 min with you to find a good bike.
2014-10-19 16:42:56
Find a bike store you like first. The Wiki ( has a section on finding a bike, including a list of local shops. People here have their preferences about one shop over another; visit a few and see which ones suit you. Find one near where you live.
2014-10-19 16:54:41
Golden Triangle Bike Rental just had their annual sell-off of rental bikes, I'd give them a call and see if they have anything left that would be a good fit. If you need to conquer hills and your legs aren't up to it, just about any hybrid out there will probably have the right gearing. You're looking for a wide cassette on the back with low gearing (big cogs, at least 32 teeth on the largest although maybe 34). Probably best to find a bike with a triple crankset so that you have at least a 30t small chain ring on the front. Hybrids tend to have mountain bike (mtb) cranks which would be appropriate gearing.
2014-10-19 17:15:44
What sort of riding do you plan to do? Commuting, errands, social, mountain biking, weekend excursions, etc. There are lots of group rides, too, some of which go all winter, as some of us ride all winter. All of us on this board have a different mix. Myself, I'm mostly a commuter, and use bus bike racks quite a bit. Biking in, busing the bike home (I'm tired, it's late, it's uphill, it's often raining, getting dark, I want to write stuff after a meeting, etc.). No shame in that. Whatever you need, ask. Someone here will be glad to help.
2014-10-19 19:34:05
Thanks for the help, everyone! Edronline- Thanks so much! I guess I'm having a hard time debating how much money is a good price for a bike, and if it's worth getting a used on or new. Jonawebb- Thanks for the link! I will look through the shop list. Drewbacca-Thanks! Helpful info. StuInMcCandless- I plan to do mostly errands and social riding. Thanks again everyone!
2014-10-19 19:53:15
A bit late, and all the good advice has been given... I would add: check out a bunch of bike shops, but if you can settle on one that close either to home or to work. Ideally walking distance. It makes things a lot easier when the bike needs to go in for service. A drive train that gets you down to ~25-26 gear-inches will handle pretty much all the normal hills around town. Eventually you can shift up to a higher range. You can manage the local trails with ~32mm tires, though for the funkier ones (like the Montour, in the wet season) you might want ~42mm ones. But make sure they're slicks; the knobby ones aren't so good on pavement (more pedaling effort, can feel somewhat wobbly).
2014-10-19 20:36:13
If you aren't bothered by the seating position, and if it's in your budget, I would at least consider a cyclocross bike. It should be more efficient than a hybrid on pavement, and with a set of road tires the efficiency will be on par with a decent road bike. With the original cyclocross tires you can ride it on gravel trails, and even a lot of the county's single-track mountain bike trails, without a problem. Add a rear rack and saddlebags and you have a decent touring bike for trips on the rail to trail system. The versatility is hard to beat.
2014-10-19 21:24:51
Welcome to the Burgh. Stu's question was the right first one... and some more questions that might help narrow things down. When you mention social riding do you mean potentially fast and/or long group rides, or just short mellow stuff? Are you looking to do a lot of trail riding or mainly just road? When you mention errands, what sort of cargo capacity would meet your needs? When you think about riding do you see yourself doing it in the rain? What about the snow? The more you have a fairly clear idea about these things the better chance you'll get something that serves your needs well. Other point I'd say, is to just to test ride at least a couple different bikes, really the more the merrier, to get a reasonably good feel for what you like. Used or new, the key thing after meeting your needs is to find what puts a smile on your face. It's ok to spend more than you were thinking as long as it's still within your means and you get a lot of miles out of it. It's also ok to spend less, esp. if you're feeling unsure. As for picking a shop, my opinion is that's a silly thing to worry about right now. Right now focus on getting in test rides and finding the right bike. True that if it's new you might want to favor that shop for a while if there's some servicing as part of the deal, but that's minor in the grand scheme. Remember, you're always free to take your bike to whatever shop you want. My experiences here have been pretty much fine with all of them here, some a little better than others, but nothing so overwhelming that I would say you MUST go to this or that shop or MUST avoid another. And generally, you'll get more face time and knowledge from a shop you've never been in during less busy hours than you'll get from a shop you're totally loyal to if they're slammed so I'd pick based on your logistics and location with that in mind rather than worrying about being loyal. You also get more perspectives and learn more just by talking to different people generally. And you'll learn what you like. Think of it as test riding bike shops ;-)
2014-10-19 21:26:04
All great advice stated above. But may I also suggest that you consider just changing the gearing of your current bike. You'll need to talk with a shop about what this might cost and then weigh the cost/benefit of this vs. getting a new bike. But one good aspect of this is that you can get acclimated to the hills with your old bike and have time to determine what type of bike you want to buy -next year- when you better know what your bike needs are. Plus you can then keep the old bike as a winter bike to keep the new bike looking good. And welcome back to the Burgh!
2014-10-20 09:15:01
I second Marko's re-gearing and keeping the old bike idea. That way, if you get company, you can always have a 2nd bike on hand for going for a ride together, as well as an immediate backup in case Bike #1 gets a slow leak and you don't have time to fix it right then.
2014-10-20 09:50:52
@byogman, the only reason to choose a bike shop first is to make sure you get good advice, help with sizing, good opportunities to test ride, and so on. Maybe a break on price, too, depending on what they have left over from last season, etc.
2014-10-20 10:16:57
Disagree with Marko and Stu... the bike is both heavy and a single-speed. You can change the gearing, but it sounds to me like the OP wants multiple gears which isn't an option on that bike.
2014-10-20 10:40:55
@ Drewbacca If you need to conquer hills and your legs aren’t up to it, just about any hybrid out there will probably have the right gearing. I guess I'm an outlier, but that isn't true for me. When I had a triple ring where the largest cog in back was 32 teeth and the smallest in front was 28, I spent considerable time wanting a lower gear. I walked out of a bike store, never to return, when the sales 'droid tried to convince me that I would be OK with a 1:1 ratio "when you get used to it." I've been riding for over half a century, how much longer do you thing it will take, dude? IIRC, my main ride now has a 22 tooth chain ring in the front. Seems just about right, although up to 26 could be tolerable. I'm not saying this to be argumentative. Many people neither need nor want gearing as low as mine - but I see people struggling with road bike 10 speeds, after some one convinced them that the athletic gearing (maybe 35F: 32B) was "THE correct way to do it."
2014-10-20 11:04:18
"@byogman, the only reason to choose a bike shop first is to make sure you get good advice, help with sizing, good opportunities to test ride, and so on. Maybe a break on price, too, depending on what they have left over from last season, etc." Well, obviously bike shops are the obvious place to start looking at bikes, just saying just because someone's a beginner doesn't mean that can't or shouldn't also test ride bikes from rental places fleets or even Craigslist bikes, with the caveat that they should take precautions to avoid riding bikes reported stolen: I haven't really had the opportunity to test the waters broadly on sizing and guidance because I've generally always only looked at old, not new. Though the one shop I went to for new didn't have a fitting system, just eyeballed a bit, saddle height and asked after the test ride what I thought. I'd say the advice comes in here at least as well, and probably generally better than in bike shops. And having said all I did about all the questions Jacob's, cyclocross with saddlebags and call it done advice isn't bad. Bottom gearing might not be as low as on a hybrid though (mine bottomed out at 18:28 which was kind of absurd, but allowed me to sit through just about anything... now riding a single speed LOL). Anyways test rides should include a hill at least as stern as the sternest you'd regularly ride. But anyways.
2014-10-20 11:43:17
@Mick Just some perspective, and I agree that it's all relative... I'm over weight at 200#. I really could/should make a solid effort to lose at least twenty pounds, if not thirty. I barely touched my bike this past summer, partly due to an injury and party due to just being in a mental funk... That said, there isn't a hill in Pgh that I've been on this year of irregular riding where I thought a 30t to 32t wasn't sufficient. Actually, I don't even think I've gone to that extreme (but I'll also stand up to ride up the bigger hills, I won't attempt to stay seated). I would have to be carrying one heck of a load before I ever felt the need for a 22t up front... in fact, at that point I'd rather walk up the hill instead of spinning my legs off to go 4mph. To each his/her own though... if that's the right combo for you, so be it. Perspective is everything, so I thank you for adding another experience. I can only speak for myself.
2014-10-20 12:30:31
I concur with everything @Drewbacca said in their last post. Overweight at 200lbs? check. Missed a lot of riding this year due to work/mechanical failures/state of mind? check. And I still feel like every hill that I regularly encounter in Pgh could be ridden up, with a normal commuting load, using my low 34x32 gear. I do have a 22t granny ring as a failsafe, but I've never really felt the need to use it this year (except that one time when Google Maps directed me up Rialto). I will say that pedaling 180rpm in the 22x32 at the Oval is great for comic relief.
2014-10-20 14:10:19
+1 for cyclocross bike. Great for commuting. It may be worth it to buy new if you don't know what you are looking for and don't know fit, but expect to spend $800+. If you want to spend less consider getting a hybrid bicycle.
2014-10-20 14:43:56
Also worth considering is that there's usually a less steep route option that, while often longer, is casual and pleasant for utility riding. (and not that much longer)
2014-10-20 15:08:38
I have a 11-32t + 38t ring on my steel bike; it gets me up all the commutering hills around town that I need to climb. But there's also hills I know not to go on. According to the Sheldon this provides 32->94 inches. I would still recommend a ~25 inch bottom to start.
2014-10-20 16:13:19
@ drewbacca. in fact, at that point I’d rather walk up the hill instead of spinning my legs off to go 4mph. My lowest gear is ~19 gear inches. That is a way, WAY low gear At 4 mph, with that gear, pedalling is about 70 rpm. That's below maximum efficiency. Walking is like having a lower gear. Pushing a bike and not trying to run up the hill, I'll go ~3 mph. Maybe. The shift from walking to my lowest bike gear is roughly equivalent the shift from a 32T cog to 24 T cog (e.g. same rpm, going from 3 to 4 mph). That is a helluva wide gap between two gears. And walking is definately in my repetoire when I might be running into hills like Sycamore. I struggle riding hills - even with an unloaded bike going up relatively short, gentle slopes like Negley.
2014-10-21 13:30:14
Duh. Misposted. Mick's got me beat. My lowest gear is 20.3 gear inches. With it, I can make it up about half the hills in the Dirty Dozen.
2014-10-21 13:40:36
@Mick & @JAWs: I've got you both beat with a low gear of 18.4 gear-inches. If I use it on flat ground, I feel like I can travel back in time. That said, 28 gi seems to be the lowest I ever feel the need to use, but I'm sure in a few years (or with a few more pounds) that number could change.
2014-10-21 13:58:33
I love you, @Mick.
2014-10-21 14:17:29
2014-10-21 17:31:09
Got all a yinz beat (barely). The 18:28 gearing on my old hybrid comes out to 17.75 gear inches. Hahahaha.
2014-10-21 18:07:10
You know, we're supposed to brag about having more inches. Not the other way around. Oh wait...
2014-10-21 18:54:20