In the spirit of NYC’s bike to work week, here’s some guidance around buying your first bike. Like most things you read on the internet, please take this with a grain of salt, but know that I’ve been riding a bike to work for about 7 years (5 in SF and 2 in NY).
First of all, get excited!
Riding a bike is incredibly freeing. What used to be a 45 minute G train ride from Williamsburg to Prospect Park is now a 25 minute cruise with plenty of scenic brownstones in between. And with the immutable presence of fried chicken in this town, we could all benefit from more exercise.
But aren’t bikes expensive? Not really! Depending on whether you want a used or new bike, you can find yourself a reliable steed in the range of $500. If you consider a monthly metro pass is $116 or even the cost of owning and maintaining a car (gulp!), bikes offer incredible value.
Buying a Bike
Option one – go analog (also known as, support your local bike shop):
Physically going into a bike shop and actually checking out the models is a great way to get to know what you like and see what’s out there. Bicycling.com recommends calling two or three different shops to get a sense of the styles and brands they carry in advance to save time. You can also get a sense of how amenable the shops are to first-time bike owners.
Two bike shops I’ve found to be very good are Velo in the East Village and Bicycle Habitat in Soho. Even if you don’t end up buying your bike there, you can patronize these shops by picking up a light, or a lock there.
For a great first commuter bike, I recommend going single speed. New York is relatively flat, and single speed bikes are easy to maintain with less moving parts to break or have stolen. A bike with a flip-flop hub will enable you to switch to fixed gear. Even if you have greater aspirations of going from being commuter to a proper cyclist, the single speed will carry you through many a long ride up the Westside Highway or around Prospect Park.
Option two – the Internet:
Once you begin to familiarize yourself with brands, you can read up on various reviews. Bike forums are chock full of information and personal feedback around different brands so its easy to start to learn how models stack up in terms of quality.
For example, in reading up on a frame I was considering, I learned that an online retailer (Performance) had a house brand that was more affordable and getting great reviews.
Option two and a half – Craigslist is your friend:
Once have an understanding of what brands are good and pricing, you can take a much more targeted approach to your Craigslist search. For someone on a budget, Craigslist can be a great path to getting value. Just understand like anything else from Craiglist, caveat emptor.
In my experience – some of the most important factors that play in when owning a good commuter bike are having a good comfortable seat, good wheels and durable tires (saving the headache of a flat).
For seats I really like the Fizik Arione, but everyone’s ‘seats’ are different. You can always go the route of the classic Brooks saddle, but don’t forget the not so classic Nylon chain to help keep it from being stolen.
As far as helmets, my number one recommendation is to wear one. After that, buy something comfortable and not too expensive, because that way you can lock it to your bike without feeling nervous. Giro makes a nice range at accessible prices and if you are looking for something more urban check out Bern.
Comfortable sneakers with a hard rubber sole like Vans, Superga or Chrome will do you right. If you’re aiming for a bit of a higher rung on the style ladder, maybe a good wedge sole will catch the discerning lense of The Sartorialist
Overall – Get a bike you like, that feels good to ride and you’ll be excited to hop on in the morning, or after a long day of work.
So, I’ve Bought a Bike. Now What?
My Go to Streets for Navigating Manhattan are:
North: 1st ave, 6th ave & 8th ave
South: 2nd ave, Broadway & 9th ave
West: Spring Street , 9th St. & 21st St.
East: Grand St, Stanton St., Bleecker St. & 20th St.
A PDF of the 2013 Bike Map for New York can be found here.
Tips & Tricks?
Don’t be a jerk. Running red lights into oncoming traffic, darting in front of pedestrians and riding the wrong way is a fast path to getting hit, or at the least bad karma. And don’t get frustrated with salmon, those impatient cyclists or even roller bladers who feel the need to go the wrong way in the bike lanes.
Reward your new purchase by riding to Ferdinando’s in Red Hook and having their focaccia sandwich. It’s not easy to get to by subway and you’ll never look at ricotta cheese the same way again.
There are no shortage of jaywalkers, double parked delivery vans, and errant food carts to complicate your ride, but if you ride with respect and keep aware of your surroundings, you’ll do great and have a blast. Now get out there and enjoy yourself!
Questions? Say hi on Twitter. I’m @brosbeshow.