A Quick Biking Guide

Bikes are an amazing invention.  They are economical, environmentally conscious, fitness inducing and generally practical.  Unfortunately, it takes gas prices going through the roof to keep Americans talking about them.  But, that's exactly what's happening right now.  Average gas prices in the U.S. are right around $3.50/gallon, up almost a dollar from the same time last year.  A quick search for the average commute in the U.S came up with 32 miles round trip, totaling about 50 minutes, though I will admit that data was from 2005.  

Even with slightly old data, that tells us that people are spending lots of time in their cars and lots of money on gas.  Probably one of the easiest ways to save money and get some exercise all at the same time, would be to ride your bike to work.  

It may not be the easiest switch you'll make, but imagine the savings, the fitness gains and just the joy of knowing that you don't need stop at the gas station.  To be honest, the reasons to ride are often documented.  If you need more reasons to love bikes, check out "10 Reasons To Love Bikes".  

So how do you get started? 

The LA Times ran an article today about commuting bikes, though it seemed to me that many of those bikes were overpriced.  If you want to spend that type of money on a good bike, by all means go ahead.  But it just seems more practical to get something that works for cheap.  And honestly, you can get a pretty nice bike without paying $600.

The best place that I've found to get cheap bikes is on craigslist.  I got mine for 40$, but that was with some searching.  100$ doesn't seem over the top, but you should definitely take a look at the bike and ride it a bit before you buy.   And for 100$, it seems like the bike should be in pretty darn good working order.  See here for the things my untrained eye looks for when buying a used bike.

If you're no bike expert, and I'm certainly not, take your bike to a local bike shop and just get them to do some basic maintenance.  It's cheap and it'll put out any fears that there might be something wrong with the bike.  And if there is, often the fixes aren't too expensive.  

Other options include ebay, yardsales, local classified ads and word of mouth.  Basically, I could go on all day about where to get bikes.  But your best bet is to just start with a decent used bike for cheap.  There is so much enthusiasm and opportunity surrounding biking, that you'll no doubt be able to figure out a way to get started.   

If you're looking for a good cause Bikes Not Bombs in Boston offers a great way to help the local and global community, learn about bike maintenance and safety and even earn credit toward building or fixing up your own bike.  

And last, but not least, safety first! Always wear a helmet.


What to look for:

First, ride it around a bit and see how it feels.  Does it fit you?  If you're reaching too much for the pedals or handle bars it might be too big for you.  If you can't extend your legs when your at the bottom of your pedal stroke, it might be too small.  Try adjusting the seat, but if that doesn't work, find a different bike.  Riding a poor fitting bike is just uncomfortable, so find the correct frame size for you.

If it feels good, take a look at the chain, gears, tires and brakes.  There is some amount of upkeep and work that you can do on them yourselves, but there is no reason to think you can't get a clean, workable bike for cheap. Worst comes to worst though, you can find a local bike shop and see if they can fix it up for you.  As an overview, look at:

The Wheels:  Wheels can be expensive, so watch out for dented or bent rims.  They can be really difficult to fix and often will end up being replaced.  They also make it tough to ride.  Also, some older bikes will have tires that need to be replaced.

The Chain: If it's rusted, you'll probably need to replace the chain, which is something like a 20$ cost.

Gears: Also watch for rust here.  Does the shifter work well?  Does the bike even have gears?  There are lots of fixed gear bikes out there these days and if that's not what you're looking for you'd be in for a bit of a shock when you start to ride.

Brakes: Do they work? Seriously, that's about it.  I'm not a fan of squeaky brakes either, but problem number one is if you have trouble getting them to stop you.  That will definitely need to be fixed.