Open forum: what are some good road/commuting bikes?

My current ride.

Bike Week is wrapping up today, so I thought I would throw this completely self-serving question out there to Source readers: what kind of bike should I buy?

Background: I was gifted a Diamondback Topanga mountain bike when I moved to California in 1994. I’ve had it ever since and it has served me well — mostly on roads, not mountains — but the bike is falling apart. Latest problem: the thingy that holds the back tire to the frame is occasionally not holding the back tire to the frame, which may also be bent. It’s kind of a problem when riding.

So I’m in the market for my first new bike since President Clinton’s first term. I plan on using it for some commuting and errands around Pasadena, fitness and light touring. I don’t plan on going off pavement with it; I do plan on taking it on Metro Rail. Lightweight is good. My budget: $400 to $800. I’m guessing it’s the same kind of bike that would also work well for other Metro riders interested in biking more.

Please leave a comment and share your bike knowledge. Assume I know nothing about bike brands and models and technology.

And Happy Bike Week!

Categories: Bicycle

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10 replies

  1. If you’ve been biking this long, go with a road bike. To be honest, if you’re going to spend $200 or more on a bike, there is absolutely no reason to buy a mountain/beach cruiser/”comfort”/style bike.

    You can find used vintage road bikes on eBay and Craigslist in great condition, sometimes with minor repair needs like cables for as low as $100.

    You’ve been biking for a long time on an older mountain bike so you know by now the engine is more important than the bike and I’m sure you have plenty of leg strength. If you want to take full advantage of that and you’re willing to spend up to $800, I would check out

    They give huuuge discounts off of retail, give free shipping and free accessories in most cases.

    That would probably be perfect for you. Throw on some decent pedals and a real U-lock (this is the most important accessory you can have IMO) and you’re ready to beat traffic any day. Having a brand new road bike is a great thing but it is a bigger target for theft. If you plan on leaving your bike somewhere that you’ll be out of site for an extended period, you may want to detach your front wheel and lock it with your frame/back wheel.

    Also, I think no matter what bike you’re riding, knowing your gears and its capabilities plays a very important role. Be capable of estimating your crank RPM (say 60rpm for cruising vs. 90rpm for hills/etc.). If you bike in the same area a lot, know the roads. If there is a grade that is not flat, you will need to find the sweet gear that can handle the whole thing as it gets harder/easier.

    I’ve been riding a vintage Nishiki 12-speed for some time, and it took my friend, going from a fixie to an amazing 2011 Specialized, at least a motnh before he could keep up with me because he wasn’t shifting enough. And I’ve got manual shifters!

    It is also helpful to find a gear ratio calculator on Google and enter all of your info. Shifting down one on your rear hub is not the smallest ratio difference most of the time. For example, on my bike, I have two crank gears and six rear hub gears. “2” is the larger on the front, and “6” is the smallest on the back (this combination would be my highest gear with most resistance).

    I used to cruise a lot in 1-6. But I was finding that as the grade changed slightly or I would get hit by some wind, I would get worn out trying to keep up speed. So now I often choose 2-4. One up on the crank, two down on the back. Or vice versa to shift up. This also allows me to make a simple push to the small crank gear at stops, allowing much easier start up.

    This is totally dependent on your gears, but in a lot of cases one gear change on the rear hub is about a 15% resistance difference. Changing One crank gear up and two hub gears down or vice versa is usually about 7-8%. Making these subtle changes is much easier on newer bikes with brake shifters because it’s as simple as “click-click-click” without having to finesse a lever to the perfect positon.

    You’ve probably noticed that most of your mountain bike gears are useless. 21 and 24-speed on cheap bikes is usually just a ploy to feel like you have diversity. This is because the rear hubs are not logarithmic (where the size gets increasingly larger, not just +3 teeth on each one) You’ll find that that mid-level+ road bikes have better gear sets so that you’re not overlapping lots of gear ratios and you’re able to stay in one range for most of your ride.

    I can’t emphasize enough, regardless of your type of bicycle, how important it is to determine the effort you’re willing to put forth, and finding the right gear that will give you optimal speed at that effort. Shift down if needed before you know you’re going to slow down so you’re not wasting time/energy doing it after the fact, or standing on your pedals to get back up to speed. Recognize the resistance change when the grade changes and shift promptly.

    Know that you have a larger reserve of endurance muscle fibers (comfortable 60rpm) vs. sprint muscle fibers (wailing 90rpm). It is easy to estimate your RPM without a bike computer. Just count each full rotation of one foot and see how close to one rotation per second it feels.

    In conclusion: Get a road bike. And regardless of what you’re riding on, willpower and smart biking prevail any day.

    • Hey Lucas and everyone else;

      Thanks for all your helpful suggestions. After testing a lot of bikes at several shops, I bought a Cannondale CAAD-8 road bike for $700 — marked down from $900 — at Helen’s in Arcadia. It’s a 2010 model, thus the discount.

      I had a road bike through my teen years that I rode all over Cincinnati. I’ve missed having a road bike and the drop-down bars. I tried several bikes with the flat bars and decided I wanted the drop-down option. This is probably more bike than I need at the moment, but I also plan on taking it to some places around the West where I can ride and it will last me a long while.

      Lucas — thanks for all the info about gearing, etc. I don’t know much about it, but plan to learn and maybe do some longer rides with friends who belong to clubs.

      Cheers everyone,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. I would say the Surly Cross Check is a good all around bike.

  3. I’d get something with a pretty comfortable, upright posture.

  4. Most people spend an unnecessary amount of money on a road/commuter bike. You can get brand new bikes of this type from eBay for $200-$300. Two examples:

    There are multiple competing eBay road bike vendors. Choose your favorite and then assemble yourself (30 minutes) or pay the bike shop to assemble for $60.

  5. Hey Steve,
    Juan has ordered a Jamis Coda Sport. It’s about $800. He got it from Orange 20. It’s on back order right now, so you can’t get your hands on it right away. It’s got a steel frame and a carbon fork. It should be great for commuting, running errands, and light touring. It’s 25 pounds, which is pretty good for a bike in that price range.

    I own a Jamis Allegro 1X. It’s also good for errands, commuting, and very light touring (very, very light touring).