A friend of ours from college days bought a house this summer. Now that she lives in a neighborhood that is more conducive to bicycling and she has a safe place to store the bike, she told me she’s thinking about getting a bike.

I was so excited. “I will send you some links and information,” I promised. After I wrote her this long email, I thought it might be worth sharing. Every person buying a bike has different needs, so when someone asks me for bike advice I ask how they’ll be using the bike. Hannah’s needs are fairly typical: she’ll use it to run short errands. She probably won’t be going on long rides, riding in bad weather, or commuting daily.

Dear Hannah,

I recommend Big Shark. [For people who live in the Kirksville area, I recommend Walt’s in Columbia for new bikes, until our own local bike shop gets some bikes in!] My friend Patty works there. Having the right sales person is very important-- there are a whole lot of WRONG ones out there! The sales person can help you with bike fit. Bike fit is absolutely critical. If you aren't comfortable on your bike, you won't enjoy riding it. 

Of the bikes Big Shark carries, you might like the Raleigh Women’s Detour 2.5 or the Giant Cypress W. [Walt’s carries Trek, which has similar options. Hannah had complained about bikes being “too big” and I thought she might be more comfortable with a step-through frame.] The Raleigh is a little cheaper but the Giant is aluminum. Aluminum frames are lighter weight so easier to carry or lift--not something you may need to be doing much, but it makes a huge difference. The concern about aluminum frames not being as strong probably only applies to off-road, mountain biking. Any decrease in weight is going to make the bike faster. (Racers get ridiculous about spending tons of money to save a few ounces, and the joke goes that they could lose many ounces of fat but would rather spend money on their bike to make it lighter weight!)

Those are both under $400 which is pretty good. I would not recommend spending less than that on a new bike. It's so tempting to go to Walmart and get a new bike for $100, but I do not recommend that. Walmart bikes are heavy, uncomfortable, and the components don't work well. When it's the shifter that doesn't work, it's frustrating and no fun to ride. When it's the brakes that don't work, it's downright dangerous!

In addition to the bike, you're going to need a few accessories.

1) A U-lock. Kryptonite is the best brand. A cable lock is good to have too, because sometimes there isn't a bike rack and you can't get a U-lock around a tree. If you go with ONLY a cable lock, Kryptonite again is a reputable brand, and get the strongest one. A U-lock is $40, which seems a little steep but you know it is money well spent. [The last bike Hannah owned, many years ago, was stolen off her front porch. After breaking her bike lock, the thief tried to break down her door!] I think that Walmart does not carry Kryptonite but I'm sure the bike shop does.

2) Lights. You might plan to ride only during the day, but it's easy to spend just a little too long in a store and it's getting dim when you come out. If you have lights, you don't need to worry about it. I think you'll be riding on streets that have street lights, so you don't need to worry about being able to see the street, you just need to be SEEN. If you get lights at the bike shop you'll spend $20 or $30. This is one area that Walmart is pretty decent. They sell a set that looks like jewels and is super easy to mount. It uses rubber bands, no screws required! (They are also very easy to take off, but if they do get stolen, you're only out about $12. And you can always drop them in your purse instead of putting them on the bike, until you need them.)

3) Cargo space. I would recommend a front basket, a rack, and panniers. Unfortunately this can get pricey, but this is one area where you can start out small and add on later. I'd expect you could easily spend $150 on these things.

4) Helmet. (I almost forgot to list this.) A Walmart helmet is fine and as little as $20. The helmets sold in the bike shop are $40 or $50, but the straps are more easily adjusted and personally I think they are more comfortable. But as far as safety is concerned, Walmart helmets meet the same specs as other brands.

I'm a little concerned about the seat on both the bikes I linked to. They look like wide gel seats. Those are supposed to be more comfortable but I've heard they are actually pretty uncomfortable. A harder, narrower seat is actually more comfortable. The gel compacts when you sit on it and it ends up very hard. The width of the seat that is comfortable for you depends on the width of your sitbones, which has nothing to do with how much fat is surrounding them! So a very wide person might need a narrow seat and a very thin person might need a wide seat. Or vice versa. You can't tell until you sit on the seat.

On the other hand it won't matter until you've been on the bike for a while. If you're only going 2 miles at a time, any seat will be fine. So you probably don't need to worry too much about it, later on when you are ready to go for a longer ride, if you find the seat is uncomfortable, you can get a new one. My leather saddle cost $84 but I'd guess if you need a new seat a $30 or $40 saddle is fine.

When you come up in January, I will show you a couple simple things that will help a lot in riding. [The most common reason people think a bike is too big is because they think they should be able to rest their feet on the ground while they are sitting on the bike. Bikes aren’t designed for that. I teach the “Power Pedal Start” which is easy to show and hard to describe. This might be Hannah’s problem with “too big” bikes, but I won’t know for sure until I can show her.]

Once you have a bike, I cannot recommend strongly enough the class Traffic Skills 101. In Columbia it's an $80 class, I don't know how much St. Louis instructors are charging. It's a 9-hr class, usually taught over 3 sessions.

I really love the women's bicycling forum, Team Estrogen. I really hate the other bicycling forum, bikeforums.net. Team Estrogen has tons of great info, and it is very well moderated. I've been on it since 2008 and I have never seen even one flame war.

Hope this helps-- call me if you have any questions.

Take care,


Hannah forwarded my email to her parents, and her mom asked, “Why don’t you just take my bike?” Her mom used to really enjoy biking, but between health problems and a close call in traffic she has stopped. Hannah and her mom are close to the same height, so the bike is likely to fit her, and it is a step-through frame (or, as her dad described it, a “girl’s bike”). It’s been sitting in storage for a while so it will need some repair and maintenance and probably new tires before she can ride it. This is a great time to get it fixed up, as the bike shops aren’t so busy at this time of year. In the spring, she’ll be all set to ride!