Okay, bloggy peeps, talk to me about bicycles

Sheesh, can you tell I’m on a self-improvement kick? Healthier foods, the 100-push-up challenge (are you in?) and now — I’m thinking of bicycling in to work. Can you tell I get all fired up by the spring sunshine?

It’s about a 10 km jaunt from home to work for me. Most of it is along Woodroffe Avenue (four lanes at 80+ km/h — eek! — but with a lovely bike lane set off from the road) and it’s largely flat. I just need another week or so to psyche myself into it, and a day with nothing planned for first thing in the morning, just in case it takes me two hours instead of the anticipated 40 minutes to make the trek!

And of course, like any new convert, now that I’m thinking of biking seriously I’m also thinking about upgrading my gear. Just this past weekend I bought myself a nice 1L coffee thermos so I can make a pot to go rather than ride through the drive-thru at Timmy’s, which was my biggest hurdle. Oh wait, you mean I’m supposed to be coveting bike-related gear? Yeah, that too!

I have a really nice bike. It’s about 15 years old, and has had, um, only moderate wear through the years. Let’s just say it got a lot more wear in the seven years before the babies arrived than it has since! It was a good investment at the time — I spent about $400 on it, and it’s still in pretty good shape. It’s not the most comfortable bike in the world, though. The handlebars are too low, and I have tried unsuccessfully to get them raised. I want one of those new cushy seats, too. Let’s face it, an ass in its 40s deserves a bit of comfort!

A year or so ago, I saw one of those retro-cruising bikes, and instantly coveted it. The big white-wall tires, the fenders, the pastel colours? Covet! But, are they practical? I don’t even know which type of bike I want — or, more specifically, which one is the best investment for the kind of riding I’ll be doing. A one-speed cruiser might be a little simplistic for the 10 km communte, no? (Who am I kidding, even with my current 21-speed bike, I only use about three of them and usually only then when I change gears by accident!) The hybrid bikes look like a good choice, and my cousin suggested I make sure I get something without those big knobby wheels if I’m planning on doing a lot of city riding.

Gah, so many choices!

I was surfing around the bike shop Web sites, and it seems like the base bike-shop price is more than $500 — about double what I was thinking I’d spend. (And think of the gorgeous camera lens I could get with $500!) But then, my existing bike is a testament to investing in a good product. Canadian Tire has a bunch in the $200 range. Can someone tell me the difference, and whether it’s really worth the extra $$ for a casual rider like me? I’m not out to win any races, I just want a comfy bike that will make me want to ride it.

Talk bike to me, bloggy peeps. What features do you love and hate about your bike? What do you covet? What should I watch out for? Is it worthwhile to invest in a $500+ bike that will last me another 15 years? (Ack, just realized that will bring me to age 55 and retirement — I think I have to go lie down now. When did I get to be so old???)

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian, blogger, portrait photographer, government social media strategist, mom to 3 boys, inveterate storyteller, professional dilettante.

31 thoughts on “Okay, bloggy peeps, talk to me about bicycles”

  1. You probably want a commuter/hybrid bike. I bought my Raleigh from Kunstadt a few years and love it. In fact my Husband loves it so much he traded in his bike for a commuter (albeit more expensive than mine). Mine was about $350 (but I don’t think they make this model anymore). The commuter bikes are really comfortable for riding.

    You have to watch with the retro bikes that they are not too heavy, otherwise it will be a lot of hard work riding.

    Good luck!

  2. Hi,

    It’s best to spend a little extra on a bike for a few reasons:

    1. bikes from bike shops tend to be much lighter than the ones at the big box stores
    2. customer service from a bike shop is much better
    3. bikes from bike shops are put together by someone who knows what they are doing while a lot of the time the ones put together at box stores are put together by kids that are getting paid by how fast they work (not always the case of course)
    4. a hybrid/commuter that is fitted to you properly is much more enjoyable to ride and if you enjoy the ride you will be more likely to do it regularly
    5. perhaps you can bring your old bike into a shop and ask them to give you their opinion on new handlebars and to check if the bike fits you.

    Joe Mamma’s on Bank at 2nd carries Norco which is a good Canadian brand. Fresh Air on Wellington in Westboro carries Giant which is also Canadian. I’m not sure what lines Kundstat carries so I can’t speak to that.

    Anyway, hope this helps! Enjoy the ride!

  3. You should walk unafraid into the cool punky urban bike shop in town (there has to be one, there always is!) and tell them what you want to do and they’ll hook you up. Here in Hamilton we have a shop that specializes in commuting bikes and I know they are also concerned about budget friendly gear, something that is usually important to a commuter.

    I’m looking forward to your adventures!

    I haven’t been on my (Canadian Tire bike with a big huge gel seat for my big huge butt!) since I had the kids – more than 7 years! But, now that Kieran is on a two wheeler, I’m going to invest in a bike trailor to drag the little guy around this summer. The nice thing about our cool bike shop is that they’ll do a spring tuneup on any kind of bike, too. Though, I suppose they all do.

  4. I’m not a bike expert, but we do like biking as a family. I used to bike to work back in the day, but not since I started teaching – too much crap to carry back and forth. I think the commuter bikes are great and it would likely be perfect for you. I have an old part-mountain part-road bike that is still in excellent condition, so I just use that. It’s definitely heavy and makes pulling a chariot pretty hefty work. I will be checking back to see what you do, as I have recently been diagnosed with arthritis and have been told by my doctor “never to run again” (uh, YIKES!!) so my plan is to get back into cycling more.

  5. Another, important consideration is whether you are of average proportions, or say, long legs/short torso or short legs/long torso. While your overall height will be the same, it will make all the difference as to whether a particular bike will be able to be properly adjusted for you. Just be sure to point out any such factors to the person helping you, and you should do just fine.

    Oh, and consider taking a morning off work to go shop, so you can avoid the crowds this weather will bring. You will get better service.

  6. I wouldn’t rule out finding a good bike on Kijiji or Craig’s list. People have buyers remorse when they spend a lot or a little. There are even a few used bike shops that may have quality bikes.

  7. I just got a new bike, so here are some tips, fwiw. Don’t go to Crappy Tire. No service, which is sad. Fine for little kid bikes, but not impressive for large purchases.

    You want a city bike, as they are called. Not off road tires, and not the ancient 10 speed type we grew up with. And yes, you should have the nicer one you spend a few bucks on, because you aren’t going to grow out of it, and it will be easier to customize and change parts on. Like adding a super cushy gel seat and front and back fenders. (Less mud spray, not cool at work)

    You also want detachable saddle bags for the rear (waterweatherproof, closeable) and a little bag for the front so you can carry things like work items, drinks, or snacks/lunch/first aid kit, ID, cash, wallet etc. when biking with the kids, and yes, they will start biking soon and you can all do a family bike trip or two! I’d also think about a newer, better helmet, depending on how old yours is, and either gel cushions for the handles or cushy gloves for hands. (protects against road rash if you fall, and hand strain). Get the best damn lock you can afford. No question on that. I assume you can lock it up inside at work? If not, ask about that. Seem to remember some govt buildings let you put them in underground parking, but you might need to go somewhere else. Don’t worry about special bike clothes or shoes, although if you do get sweaty on the ride to work, you can always wear standard workout stuff on the bike and pack a fresh shirt in the saddle bag. Always amazed at women I see biking to work in high heels and skirts. Sigh….

    That said, the first option is to go to a really good bike shop with your old one and see if they can tune it up or upgrade it a bit, like new tires, or add stuff on. Much cheaper to start when you don’t know how much use you will get out of it yet. If it was $400 then, I bet they could fix it up nice.

    They also sometimes take trade-ins and have used bikes for sale that they have fixed up. My husband bought a reconditioned bike at one point, that was top quality but had a bad paint job to discourage theft!

    If you do get a new one, get aluminum, and invest in a good one, with a decent frame that will last a long time. Tell them exactly what you are looking for, and make it clear you aren’t racing, or winter biking. An ethical place will steer you right. Try a few. Sit on them, bounce on them, ride around the block. (Offer to leave a credit card if they look nervous about this. Again, a good shop should be willing to let you.)

    Also at some point, chat with your husband about getting a bike rack for your car from craigslist for all the kids and you both. Not just for trips, which can be great, but in case your bike breaks down and he needs to rescue you.

    Good luck!

  8. I think Aurelia covered everything i was going to say. I commute to work by bike for six months. My new job is just over 10kms and it takes me about 30 minutes. I am fortunate to be able to shower there, which is great.

    I would really discourage going for the retro bike. They are crazy heavy and have no gears. Even if you aren’t using many of them, the do help out on the small slopes when you’ve had a long day and can’t bare the thought of anything tough on the way home.

    Saddle bags are a must. If you are supper kean, you could get all your clothes ready for the week and drive it into work Sunday night. Then you don’t have to worry about getting your clothes all wrinkled. I aim to do this, but haven’t managed to yet.

    DON’T get clip pedals! They really are only for racers. There is absolutely no need for these for the casual or commuter rider. And they can lead to some pretty nasty injuries if you have a spill.

    Unfortunately I don’t think you are going to get around spending the money. I bought mine for $600 about 10 years ago. Other than getting it tuned up every year, I haven’t had to put much more money into it other than new tires this year. Seats are much more comfortable now. After the first few rides, your butt gets used to it. Though I won’t lie, the day after the first ride, it’s pretty tender to sit on your seat again.

    As for gear, invest in good all sport stuff. It doesn’t have to be bike specific. But a good wind breaker and some rain gear (if your committing totally to the bike commute) is a good investment. And hell, it’s good for anything you want to do in our clime.

    Good luck! One less car on the road. Woot woot!

  9. Ah, I so love you guys for your excellent feedback and thoughtful opinions — but I can’t imagine spending $600 on a new bike right now. Sigh.

    Well, it’s free to look, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Hi. I would avoid the thick tires, often with a retro bike, as they will noticably slow a rider down. And I would lean away from ‘thin tires’ of the racing bike for better durability. An ideal model might be an old five speed commuter grade bike of 25-30 years’ vintage; especially if a (round front ring) Chain Guard is also a part of it.
    Oridnary pedals for ordinary ‘running shoes’, included fenders for the puddle splashes, and handlebars that aren’t stretched out low and away from you, nothing gimmicky in the framing.
    A community spring yard sale might have something in that cycling line – and cheap.

  11. Good for you! We caught the same bug a few weeks ago, and bought bikes for the first time since mine was stolen 6 years ago. Much as we would have loved high-performing, made in Canada rides, we only had Canadian Tire budgets, so we bought them there then took them into a local bike shop, put up with the chastising (though I’m pretty quick at shutting snobs down), and got them tuned up professionally. The huz has been riding his <$200 bike to work and back (over 20k) and says it's fine. I've only tooled around on mine, and would only ride something cute, but it's fine for me.
    My advice would be to ride your bike to work for a week to see if it'll do. If yes, awesome. If no, go get the best bike you can for the budget. And remember, you're doing something good for your health and the environment; don't get caught up in feeling like what you have is not good enough.

  12. Hi Dani!

    Oh this post made me laugh because I almost bought myself a $600 bike just this past weekend! It was just sooooo cute! It was a retro styled one with a custom paint job of bright funky colours AND a basket! AND those sparkly strings that hang down from the handles! How is one supposed to resist that??

    But alas, I passed on it. I saw it just as I had walked out of Lululemon and passed on more than $200 worth of cute clothing!

    In both instances it was a way of trying bribing myself into something: “look Julie! all you need are FUN clothes and FUN equipment and boy, oh, boy, exercising will be FUN too!”

  13. I don’t bike to work anymore as it’s just too far these days (55km each way). It’s not so much the distance as the time it takes away from the family.

    One of the things I love about my work, even though I’m not making use of it, is the “Bicycle Users Group” or BUG for short. The folks that commute by bike have a free group that you can join, and it’s for serious and not-so-serious riders alike. They have repairs kits and locks you can borrow, know all the special places to lock up your bike (they even have an outdoor covered cage – much like a big bus shelter – so the bikes don’t get wet) and can provide access to the showers for changing once you get to work.

    I’ve discovered that many larger companies have these types of groups – maybe your work does too and those folks might have additional tips and help for you.

    Good luck!

  14. Dani, I just bought bikes for the girls at SportMart in Kanata Centrum. The girls are getting bigger, and Leah is just one step down from an adult bike (at 10, yikes!). The prices were comparable to Canadian Tire — I bought last year’s models, which were marked down from $179 to a very affordable $129. No PST. And once they were paid for, a work order was filled out and the bikes were tuned up before we left the store (well actually we browsed around Chapters for 45 minutes while the bikes were being tuned up.

    Contrast it with my neighbour’s daughter’s bike which I think they bought at either Can Tire or Walmart, the handlebars had been put on backwards and the fork that holds on the front wheel was facing the wrong way.

    I didn’t check the prices for adult bikes, as mine is still fine, but it might be worth a phone call or a visit.

  15. I have a retro bike. My siblings and I had bought it for my mom ages ago and she never used it so I inherited it. It is great for toodling around the neighbourhood but I would never commute anywhere with it. On my rides if I hit even just a slight slope I have to really pedal hard. God forbid I am in a hurry (say late for yoga class) it just about kills me. I love the seat though and I plan on getting a basket so I can ride over to the superstore for small loads of groceries now and then. I think I may invest in one of those commuter bikes some day. Just don’t have the cash at this time.

  16. I miss the days that I used to be able to bike to work. We moved outside of Ottawa and now it’s just not possible. Def. get a lighter bike and a gel seat. I also love my handle bar extenders.

  17. Good for you, Dani!

    Caitlin had some great points. To add, some additional considerations….
    I bought a Norco with a very light frame. Paid about $800 in 2000. But what a difference it makes, compared to Nat’s conventional Giant (est. $300). Get something decent (ie pay a little extra), and you’ll likely use it more. Plus, you’re likely to have this bike for a long, long time.

    Talk to the people at the shop, and figure out what size frame you need. — Everything else can be swapped out. Watch the for sale ads (ie. paper, kijiji / craig’s list) for a higher end bike. It’s the frame you’re after. Even look in the West coast. There are a lot of professional bikers out there that have titanium bikes that get upgraded each year. Shipping a light frame would be pennies.

    Tires….For commuting, get skinny, not “big knobby” wheels . They’s provide less resistance. Furthermore, you’ll be on paved bike paths, not dirt. You can always buy “big knobby” wheels and swap them, when you hit the trails with the boys.

    Once you figure out the size, let me know. I’ll keep an eye out here.


  18. For shopping, I would try Bushtukuh. They have a big selection and usually great service too. They also have a large selection of accessories – I agree with Aurelia, saddle bags are wonderful!

  19. I’ve been pondering all these questions myself since there are mornings when biking for 10 minutes sounds so much more preferable to walking for 30… We’re debating if it’s worth fixing up my 10 year old crappy tire bike or buying a new one.

    I have no advice but I appreciate reading all these comments. Food for thought!

  20. Great suggestions by Aurelia – a big factor will be how you want to ride. Personally as a (literally) seasoned cyclist I use saddle bags and bring a complete change of clothes depending on the weather. If you are planning on riding in rain then fenders are a must, and you probably need a change of clothes. If you think you’ll only be a fair weather rider, then just one or two removable small bike bags would be enough. I advise against a backpack as it will make your back sweaty and you’ll probably tire more easily. An appropriately padded bike seat would be best for you if the one you have is of the more sporty kind. Lastly consider either a chain guard or some pant clips to both keep your clothes clean and prevent getting caught in the chain.
    Fourty minutes is a good estimate – I’m usually at 30 minutes for a 10k ride but I press a bit harder and wear cycling clothes. Add in some time in the morning to pump up an unexpected low tire.
    I am partial to the LBS (local bike shops) as they will take time to fit a bike to you or help with upgrades. Some may give free tune ups as part of a purchase. For costs, consider a Mazda 5 (9L/100KM) city driving to cost $36 a month (9*4wks*$1) – if you ride 6 months in a year, that’s over $200 towards your bike.
    Oh, and there are larger sized drink holders to fit your thermos so you don’t have to go without!

  21. Definitely head to one of the local bike shops and talk to the people who know what they’re talking about! I’m going to suggest Tall Tree in Westboro because it’s run by two friends of mine and they have devoted their lives to bikes since they were teenagers ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. you’ve received lots of good advice and I wasn’t going to weigh in, but maybe I’ll post a few thoughts.
    I’m not a racer, but I ride a fair bit commuting and weekend group rides. I like bike clothes because:
    – tops are made of quick-dry, wicking material (sweaty cotton is gross)
    – pockets on the back are handy for keys, i.d., etc.
    – padded shorts help with sore bum and tight legs prevent chafing. Plus they’re easy to move in (I can’t imagine riding in jeans anymore!).
    – if you’re not sweating, what’s the point? ๐Ÿ˜‰
    – clip-in pedals let you do full revolutions, pulling up as well as pushing down – more efficient, you can spin faster, and if you keep them fairly loose you’ll pop out automatically if panicked and falling.
    – shift often to keep your cadence high (80+ rpm) – more than 1 revolution/second. If you’re pushing too high of a gear, you’re hurting your knees and wearing yourself out too quickly.
    – a computer makes a nice b’day gift and lets you keep track of how you’re doing and inspires you to improve gradually.
    Have fun!

  23. I see that all my best thoughts have already been captured, but I wanted to support Valerie’s comments.
    Before Kids I commuted. And getting a bike that fits, with a few good add-ons – right shorts, pedal clips, good seat – makes the world of difference.
    Cheap bikes will not just slow you down, but the componentry, shifters etc will wear and eventually not stay in tune.
    My thoughts are to go with what you have, but don’t get frustrated. Spend the money when you need to, to keep in the game. You can strip all your fun add ons ( computer, pedals, good seat, and of course helmet) for use on your next bike!
    Have fun.

  24. As an avid commuter, here are my suggestions. I’m trying not to dupicate as there are many great ideas from the others, so these are the ones I feel strongly about:
    1. Buy the best bike you can possibly afford. if you dont make your self as comfortable (as your wallet will allow), you will find reasons to not ride.
    2. Buy your bike from a bike shop – there are mnay good ones around, but shop around. Some have crazy high prices, some do not. Some include tune ups for life, others do not. ( I can recommend the one I bought mine from)
    3. You will save money by not driving
    4. You wont need to go to the gym as often so you actually will save time as well. You could probably put your gym membership on hold ( also save $) for a few months.
    5. Have at least 1 bike bag/pannier. In the summer I use only one but in the winter I need 2.
    6. Upgrade your seat ( see #1).

    I guarantee you will feel great – cycling to work is a great method of weight control too, along with fresh air, time to think.

  25. I’ve been biking to work for years and I love it! I bought an awesome cushy seat from MEC last year and can’t believe I waited so long to make that purchase. What a difference!

    My bike is about 15 years old, but it’s a good one. Every year I take it in for a major tune up. It’s expensive but, when you do the math, it ends up being a lot less expensive than taking the bus or driving over a number of months. Over the years many of the parts have been upgraded and my bike is as good as new. If you still like your old bike, I suggest you get a bike shop to give you an opinion about whether or not it is worth salvaging. I was told that my old Trek has better quality parts than more modern day versions.

    My other advice:
    – make sure you get the right tires for commuting on pavement. If you are riding on pavement you want to avoid having thick, bumpy treads. The right tire makes a huge difference to how fast you can ride.
    – Paniers are so much better than a backpack. No sweaty back.
    – Always carry an extra tube and a mini bike pump in your panier. I’m a mechanical idiot but I’ve had total strangers come help me fix a flat tire on the way to work.
    – Search the web for advice from other cyclists on the best routes to take. There are some great shortcuts out there that you may not know about!
    – And, of course, always wear your helmet!

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