Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Starter Bike

Judging by my own experience and by those reported by other fledgling transportation cyclists, the phenomenon of the Starter Bike is fairly common. The Starter Bike gets acquired when the cyclist is just starting out, and is then replaced - usually between a couple of months and a year later - by a different bicycle that suits the rider better.

Starter bikes can fall into a number of categories. Some start with an old bike that a friend or family member gives them, then buys a nicer one after figuring out what kind they actually want (or after the one they've been given falls apart). Others will buy a second-hand bicycle and will later upgrade in the same manner.

Then there is the "budget bike." New cyclists are often reluctant to spend too much money on a new bike, and $500 seems to be a typical budget for those just starting out. So they will purchase a new bike in this price range, but will soon be dissatisfied with the quality. They will then replace it with a higher quality make and model later.

Some bicycles end up replaced because they are the wrong kind of bike for the cyclist. A novice might love the idea of the Dutch Omafiets, but will discover that they just can't ride it in their hilly town. Alternatively, a beginner may start out commuting on a roadbike based on a bike shop's recommendation, but will find it uncomfortable.

Even among seemingly similar bicycles there are differences in handling that may not be apparent at the time of purchase. A perfectly good bicycle of brand X is often sold and replaced with an equally good (and visually similar!) bicycle of Brand Y after just several months of ownership, because the latter better suits the cyclist's ride quality preferences.

All in all, I would say the majority of American transportation cyclists I've spoken to who have been at it for as little as a year, are not riding the same bike now as they did when they first started. And to me this is kind of interesting. Does it mean that novice cyclists would benefit from educating themselves better before making the initial purchase? At one point I thought so, but I no longer do. There are plenty of stories showing that you could be extremely well informed and still buy a bike that is ultimately not right for you.

Another conclusion that is tempting to draw, is that since chances are your first bike will be replaced within a year anyway, buy a cheap one while you hone your preferences. But one thing to consider here is that a low quality bike can discourage cycling entirely. Typical scenario: things start to rattle or go wrong with the bike, and a novice just stops riding. Or, the bike feels extremely uncomfortable or inefficient, and the cyclist decides that this is characteristic of bikes in general. A higher quality bike, even if it is not right for the person in the long run, is more likely to inspire a lasting interest in cycling.

Finally, there is the simple fact that our preferences change over time. Sometimes this has to do with experience. There are bicycles that feel great to a beginner, because they are exceptionally stable and easy to control for those who have not been on a bike in a while. But as the cyclist grows more confident and picks up bike handling skills, the same bicycle can begin to feel limiting due to a lack in speed or maneuverability. But changing preferences need not be a matter of skill - sometimes cyclists just feel like a change from what they were initially attracted to. It seems that with transportation bicycles, there is really no way to know where on the spectrum you will settle. The Starter Bike phenomenon may just be part of the course.

77 comments:

  1. I still have the first bike I ever bought when I was 16 years old. I've commuted & toured on it and I still love it! Of course, you're right. It's not the only bike I have but it is the bike I love the best.

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  2. The only caveat is that if a bike doesn't suit in a dramatic way, it can be hard for a novice cyclists to tell the difference between problems with that specific bike and with biking in general. A case in point is that I have heard a lot of stories of people complaining about knee problems with the Electra- which has a very unusual geometry. Many people might say "biking makes my knees hurt" instead of trying a different bike.

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  3. I found that I had a very strong idea in my head of what type of bicycle I wanted and in my city in Scotland there is very little opportunity to test bikes out. Having had my pashley for 5 months (I had to order her without a test ride) now I'm not sure if she's perfectly suited to me as I have had no comparison, most people in my city seem to resort to mountain bikes for transportation as that is often the only type of bike in stores that you can add a rear rack to. I think the problem is there is often no opportunity to try different styles of bikes so people often end up going for what's easily available rather that what would suit them best.

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  4. I have an old Schwinn road bike that is a hand-me-down and I barely ride it because it's so awful. I've been test riding bikes when I can but that means travel as no one local to me carries a pashley princess, a gazelle,a viva juliette, an oma. I fell in love with a betty foy but my budget was around 1500, not 3,000. I also see the Betty Foy as for fun and distance, not hauling groceries. I'm looking for something Dutch-ish that can be used by myself and one other as a grocery getter. We're both in the under 5'5" category.

    I am not in a hilly town and am looking for something that will ride in the winter so chainguard and hubs on those bikes appeal to me. But without being able to even take them out and test them I have no idea how to choose.

    I've dug through your site and your older posts again and again and yet the basics don't seem to be covered in "basic" language.

    You do an amazing job of discussing and characterizing ride quality, if someone could get a test ride with say a bobbin or an electra (both of which I disliked) I then have the body knowledge I could cross reference to the bikes which are now available for sale in the US but not somewhere nearby to test ride. Otherwise it's a very open-ended risk and makes me think of not using the 1500 budget to get something nice but to do 500 and save the 1,000 towards a Betty Foy.

    That's not to say that your language is standard but if there were a larger data pool from the same rider then I can make some educated guess or atleast narrow down where I'd need to travel to test ride.

    (If you can't tell I do admire your writing and site quite a lot and appreciate your thoughts.)

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  5. I think a combination of all of the above. $500 seems to be the magic number, where people aren't willing to spend more on something that might end up sitting in their garage. For me, I didn't figure out what I wanted/ was comfortable till my third bike. The first was to figure out if I would ride and it was stolen. The second, I experimented with quite a few setups before I realized that it was unsuitable. It wasn't till my third bike that I knew enough about fitting and geometry to make an educated choice.
    If I were to do it over again, I don't think I could skip the earlier bikes and the learning process it entailed. If I were more educated going in I probably would have spent more money and learned less.

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  6. What kind of bicycle is featured in that picture? Its beautiful! Not sure about the polkadots though..

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  7. This was exactly my situation. I a total novice and bought an Electra Townie (3-speed, coaster brake) not really realizing that it was too small for me. About a year later I bought my Pashley. I am grateful for my starter bike because it did allow me to get comfortable biking around town on a relatively "easy" bike. This helped me to graduate to a bike that had a little more bells and whistles. The starter bike helped me strengthen my love for biking and gave me a great place to dive in from.

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  8. Andromachine - That is an Electra Amsterdam. They have many special edition models, so not sure which one it is exactly. The picture was taken in summer 2010 in Romania.

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  9. I had a bit of a combination of scenarios with my "start again" bike. I tried out a couple Electras, hated them, and then decided to up my game. I tried a Pashley and nearly broke into song. Not long after purchase I realized that what I loved was the construction quality, not necessarily the ride quality. I managed to "make it work" with a set back seatpost. Not terribly classic looking, but it certainly makes it mine!
    I also found that after regaining my confidence on a "safe" bike, I wanted to go faster. That's when my idea of "one perfect bike" began to crumble. . .

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  10. Love the photo, the young ladies has the kind of smile that seems to hint at an overall joy of being on a bike bubbling up within her. As if she had not been on a bike since childhood and getting back into the saddle has rekindled a joy that had been long forgotten. Then again maybe the dude was just crackin wise and made her laugh.

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  11. " tried out a couple Electras, hated them ...tried a Pashley and nearly broke into song. Not long after purchase I realized that what I loved was the construction quality, not necessarily the ride quality.... also found that after regaining my confidence on a "safe" bike, I wanted to go faster. "

    That was pretty much my story Spring 2009 - Spring 2010.

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  12. "There are plenty of stories showing that you could be extremely well informed and still buy a bike that is ultimately not right for you."

    That's brain info, not riding info. Anyone in the game longer than, let's say, a year figures it out.

    (Preachy voice here) Bikes aren't an app you just download - Instagram for everyone. To borrow a phrase from an infamous moron, it's a conversation between the rider & bike. People blame the bike all the time, sometimes justifiably, sometimes it says a lot about the rider.

    Starter bikes exist in all stripes: transpo, faux transpo, Pake fixies/steel used to be real, Serottas, low-level carbon, bmx.

    As the new golf you're going to get all sorts, many of whom have discovered a different gateway drug.

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  13. "That's brain info, not riding info... Bikes aren't an app you just download"

    Nicely said. I think people get too into forum discussions and spec comparisons and don't do enough test riding.

    "Anyone in the game longer than, let's say, a year figures it out."

    For me that has been true with transportation bikes. My preferences stabilised after year 1. I basically know what I want and feel that I can strategically test ride a transport bike for 3-5 miles and know whether it would work for me.

    With roadbikes I feel that I still need more time to get to the equivalent point.

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  14. Would a bike leasing service help here? A monthly fee and security deposit might be an easier for many novice cyclists (and experienced ones). It would allow them to more easily try different bikes, and of higher quality. The service could even include bike maintenance, taking this burden off of the cyclist. Could bikes be a service, instead of a product?

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  15. Another option is for beginners to purchase a used bike. There is a shop in my city that specializes in pre-owned, refurbished bicycles. A few hundred dollars spent on a refurbished bike goes much further, quality wise, than on most new bikes.

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  16. I suspect that what happens to many people (or I am projecting my experience onto others) is that we buy a bike after not riding since our youth- when, due to our young adaptable bodies, EVERY bike felt great. Any bike was HOORAYABIKE! even if it belonged to a friend who was 5 inches taller and you had to push down on one pedal and wait for the other one to come up into reach. I think I expected all well made bikes within a type to feel about the same, because when I was in junior high, all bikes seemed the same- pedals and wheels, a place to perch, a way to steer. So as an adult, once I decided I wanted a city bike, I picked a price range and got the first one that spoke to me. Pricey mistake. I still like the first bike I chose, but it's not my go-to unless I'm hitting the farm stand.

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  17. Brian - I think that is a great idea, and I know that some bike shops that specialise in city bikes have started doing this.

    Having owned my Pashley for a year, then sold it at a (relatively small) loss, in a sense I feel that is sort of what I did. But it would have been more useful if I could have rented it for just a couple of weeks instead of buying!

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  18. I have a feeling that Electra is the starter bike for most women who get into city biking. Not having ridden a bike in 10 years, it just felt so safe when I tried it. Unfortunately, in the real world it did not work so well for me. It was kind of slow and awkward, not to mention parts started breaking after a week! Now I ride an Abici single speed and I'm happy. The Electra is in the garage, not sure it's even worth selling.

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  19. Ah, first bikes. Decades ago I worked in a good bicycle shop, and always liked helping a new cyclist (or someone rediscovering cycling) select a first "real" bicycle.

    The first thing I did was conduct a lengthy (but informal) interview to understand what they were planning to use the bike for this year, the next year, and the year after that.

    Once I had a rough idea of what kind of bike would best suit their needs, I would show them the difference between bicycle quality levels at different price points, and discuss "bang for buck" relative to their intended use of the bike.

    I would then take time to fit the frame and, if appropriate, help determine correct stem length, crank length, etc.

    I would help with the fore and aft setting of their saddle with a plumb bob, which is probably outdated now--then the SOP was aligning the tibial tuberosity with the pedal spindle, if I recall correctly.

    My reward was 1) knowing I was providing lasting value and recruiting someone into a potential lifetime passion; and 2) seeing the smiles and receiving the sincere thanks when they returned to the shop to buy all kinds of (high-margin!) accessories at a shop they now trusted.

    You won't get this type of attention at the average LBS these days, which is why I try to throw my disposable income at Shops That Really Care.

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  20. My first adult bike was a road bike which was given to me so I could do triathlons. I found it quite daunting at first as it was so fast and unstable, but I soon got used to it on training rides and in races. I had the seat adjusted wrongly for a while till someone told me it needed to be higher, then I started using toeclips and the dropbars properly and my riding improved a lot. I was also quite fit when I first started to ride but I am sure that my riding style must have been amusing to more experienced race riders at first. Now I only use transport bikes which are much easier to ride in comparison and I much prefer the upright riding position, but I am not trying to go that fast.

    My own experience has been so different from others' that it is hard for me to relate to what they are thinking when they are trying to choose a bike. If someone gets it onto their head that they want a certain bike based on the looks of it it is difficult to tell them that it might not be that comfortable after the first few kilometres if it is hard for them to ride it.

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  21. I'm writing as someone who replaced their bike after only 3 months. I have always owned a cruiser bike and used it sporadically. I was in REI one day and fell in love with the Novara Transfer. I had to have it. When the salesperson was helping me, he asked if I was going to ride longer than 30 miles. I nearly fell down laughing. 30 miles? Are you kidding? 5 miles each way tops! Well I LOVED riding the Transfer every day. However, I was getting stronger and wanting to take it longer distances. Within 3 months, I was back at the bike store getting a road bike and now riding between 30 and 50 miles. :) There is nothing that would have changed my thinking in the beginning because I truly did not believe that I would ever ride like I do today.

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  22. 500 bucks for a "budget bike" is ridiculous. A bike is only as good as the person riding it. jeez, this blog is snobby and elitist. a bike is a bike is a bike

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  23. Anon 2:48 - Unfortunately $500 does not afford a whole lot of bike these days, so yes if you go into a bike store today that is the "budget" price range. This has to do with the reality of today's costs, not with my blog. And I put the word "budget" in quotations precisely because I think $500 is way too much to spend on a bike of poor quality.

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  24. It has more to do with pretentious little boutique shops catering to the philistines - charging big bucks for some sparkly bianchi. you can get a nice fuji for 400 bucks that with a very basic knowledge of mechanics, will get to work and back for the rest of your days. just sayin'

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  25. My first bike was a hand-me-down 24" Schwinn Tornado. I saw from a catalogue that my father paid something like $39.95 for it. I jammed two sawn-off tines on the fork and added a banana seat to make it a chopper. I think I ditched the fenders too.

    My second - and current - bike is a 1967 Raleigh Superbe I call Sheldon which I bought used in 1979. Neither of us are as pretty as we once were, but it is extremely reliable and my daily commuter and all-purpose bike. The former child seat frame is now a to me essential rack.

    In the past year I've picked up three more Raleighs - a 1974 Gran Prix 10 speed; a modified Sports 5 Speed and a 1951 Dawn Tourist 3 speed with rod brakes, full chain case and also a Dynohub. (Maybe I can finish my partial restoration in time for the next Boston Retro Wheelmen ride.) But so far, I ride only the Superbe. My excuse is that I need to swap the Gran Prix' handlebars to North Road (and thus new brake levers)and saddle, and have to make modifications to the 5 Speed. But really it's because I can't abandon Sheldon.

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  26. Veloria - I presume the lease / rental shops are not nearby. Would you direct me to the ones that you know?

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  27. Anon 3:11 - Which Fuji bikes? And let's say that the commuter we are talking about is a woman who wants to ride to work in a skirt and blouse (don't worry, she is a hard working secretary, not an elitist), and she feels comfortable with a step-through frame. So I am looking at Fuji's website in search for recommendations for this nice woman who doesn't have tons of money, and I see this. $500 and the quality looks not a whole lot different from the sparkly Bianchis you evoke. No front brake either. And no lights. So realistically speaking that would be another $150 or so. The other bike they have that would be relevant for her is this one for $560, again without lights. I don't know. If this woman were asking me for advice, I would tell her this.

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  28. Brian - I know Clever Cycles in Portland OR rent bikes, as well as a Dutch bike shop in Seattle whose name I cannot remember and ditto with a bike shop in NYC. Portland Velocipede in Portland ME might rent as well, but I do not know for sure. Sorry, maybe other readers can chime in with more precise info!

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  29. I hope that today Mr. Interwebs is making bike info easier to find for novice bike buyers. In the early 90s, when I bought my first adult bike for myself, if you walked into a bike shop with a) not a lot of knowledge about bikes and b) not a lot of money, you were likely to walk out with a hybrid/mtb-type bike that might or might not actually fit you very well.

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  30. This is all so true! You just don't know what kind of bicycle you will want at first. So you take a stab at what you think you want and then revise it later.

    I consider myself extremely lucky, in that my first transportation bicycle, which I didn't pick out myself but was a "loan" from a friend, was such a good bicycle: a 1961 Raleigh Sports. It's beautiful, sturdy, dependable, comfortable, low-maintenance, and fun to ride. Sure, it's a little on the slow side, but that didn't bother me since I knew I'd be slow at first anyway.

    Would I be as bike-crazy as I am now if my first bike hadn't been so fabulous? I wonder sometimes.

    I still have that bike five years later, and as a matter of fact, I have plans for it, first of which is installing generator lighting...

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  31. I had the same experience initially with transportation bikes, initially chose a Pashley after test riding like 20 bikes, sold it in under a year. I now have my preferences pretty narrowed down in that department, but like you I still feel that as far as roadbikes go, I still can't just pick one from a brief test ride. I started with a vintage Trek, upgraded to a Sam Hillborne that cost 10x the price, and now... I sort of miss the Trek.

    I think I read all the internet glow about Rivendell and just sort of assumed based on that and my brief test ride (on the wrong size, mind you) where nothing went horribly wrong that I too would fall madly in love. To be fair, I have this problem with shoes, handbags, etc., and I'm quite sure that psychologists have come up with 100 reasons why we (as humans) tend to suck at knowing what we're going to want in the future... c'est la vie?

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  32. I would like to hear about your "strategic" system for test riding a city bike. I bought my first bike after riding it in the parking lot for 10 minutes!

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  33. Even though I am not a new cyclist I decided to buy on a budget since I didn't see a point in spending more on my first upright bike:
    http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/12/coffee-with-sugar.html

    And if you read my review:
    http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/11/2012-schwinn-coffee-review.html

    you will see that I am fully aware of its shortcomings. But it doesn't stop me from having fun riding it.

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  34. Re Fuji: I find the existence of the linked bikes with a coaster brake as the only brake appaling. I'm sure Fuji puts lots of "this is just a toy. do not use in traffic. we are not responsible for anything" clauses somewhere into the fine print of the manual, but come on! It's one thing for some fixster to ride brakeless by choice, but selling entry level bikes without proper brakes to presumably novice cyclist? Just not okay.

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  35. I'm grateful for the Starter Bike phenomenon, because it puts some awfully nice bikes out into the used-bike marketplace. My starter bike is a 1966 Raleigh Lady's Sports Deluxe that I bought for $200 on CL and have put another $200 into for new saddle, tires (cream Delta Cruisers!), brake pads, etc. I bought an old Raleigh, because that was what I rode quite happily years ago in college -- the last time I was a regular rider.

    I've done test rides of a Pashley Princess and a Retrovelo. They're both lovely but nowhere near 3-5 times more wonderful than my Raleigh, so I can't justify the cost of an upgrade until/unless I want to go beyond what the Raleigh can do well. I live where it's flat and don't go especially long distances, so I think I'm good for now.

    Different people will have different requirements and will therefore come to different conclusions about the "best" starter bike.

    Velouria, I can't tell you how helpful your blog was in helping me to really think through the important considerations and choose the bike that best matches my needs, at least as they are now. Many thanks!

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  36. Anon 4:00 - How interesting that we both started with Pashley for transportation and with a Rivendell roadbike.

    If I had to do it over, I would not have gotten the Pashley. I would have put new wheels on the 70s Raleigh Lady's Sports from my parents garage and called it a day. But despite my current growing pains with the Rivendell, I don't regret that one because I don't think I would have otherwise learned to ride a roadbike at all. What are your problems with yours?

    Anon 4:10 - That might be a topic for another post! But I think everyone needs their own system, so not sure how helpful mine would even be.

    bostonbybike - If that works for you, that's a fantastic outcome. But in all seriousness I receive at least a couple of emails every week with complaints about these types of bikes from (usually) women whose hopes have been dashed and whose budget is now blown. Makes me want to forward these emails to the manufacturers with a note saying "you deal with this!"

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  37. My woman's Electra Townie 21-speed is my "resumption bike". I resumed riding after many years of not riding. I actually thought that I would never ride again because of back issues. Decided to take up riding again as part of my exercise program. So being able to bike again because of the Townie "flat foot technology" design is a major plus. Am still learning about the bike and we are gradually becoming better friends. Yes, the pedal placement took some getting used to, but the shifting is great. So is the upright position for my back. The bike is a tad slower than what I used to ride (a Peugeot mixte), but I'm not out to do road races at this juncture. At some point I may recondition my Peugeot mixte and see if I can ride it again. Or I may pick up a newer mixte style bike.

    I do have people ask me about the Townie and even admire it. So I explain its technology, use, and limitations. I also give them a rundown on alternatives, such as the Trek Pure. I've had men look at it and consider riding it because of the step through and fairly sturdy construction. Typically these are middle-aged or older guys who have hip problems. (One of the guys who is in construction looked at it and admired the welding!)

    And yes, $500 seems to be the entry level price for a good new bike.

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  38. I also like the idea of borrowing bikes, at least for a short ride to get some idea of what you want and do not want. Buying and renting is all fine but I try to offer as many peopel as possible to test my (our) bikes and to explain about how they are different.
    badmother

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  39. "Judging by my own experience and by those reported by other fledgling transportation cyclists, the phenomenon of the Starter Bike is fairly common."

    In your experience is this split equally between male and female?

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  40. Anon 4:44 - Probably biased toward female, but not too much. For the most part these are riders of both genders who had little to no experience cycling before the initial purchase/acquisition (which I think is the key here).

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  41. An excellent and relatable essay!

    I have kept all of my bicycles even the starter bikes. (Yes, there were two. One for home and one for our weekend cabin.) I cannot bear to part with any of them and keep them for family and friends who would like to ride with me once in awhile. I don't think I could have avoided the starter bike phenomenon as I wasn't sure what I was capable of or what type of riding I would enjoy doing. I am still not done. Thanks though for making me aware of the fact that I am not alone.

    Marianne

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  42. I buy and sell old bikes. Or maybe I rescue old bikes. The hobby certainly isn't a money maker and on the transportation bike side it definitely loses money.

    I buy bikes from low-information sellers and sell them to low-information riders. The best advice I could give to a buyer out there is don't spend a lot since you don't know what you're getting. You just don't. And you probably won't ride it. At least three quarters of the bikes I sell will never be ridden, unless and until my customer gives the bike to a real rider.

    I include a free fitting when I sell. I actually go for a ride with the customer. And follow up with another ride whenever they're ready. I change stems (locate stems), change saddles, change seat posts, whatever it takes. Gratis. Maybe 10% of those who are offered the service take advantage. More than that will insist on taking a bike simply too large or two small. And I know some of my customers spend many hundreds on fittings done entirely inside a store. Which is a meaningless exercise.

    The worst customer is the one who's been reading bikes on intertoobs. They've read that they will die if they use Phillips brakes on a steel rim and cannot credit that the Fibrax pads from my personal stash that I've already installed on the bike will save them from certain doom. I offer to build them new Dyad rims and new double-butted spokes complete for a buck and a half and they tell me that Performance has a sale on new 3spd wheels for $169.95. Would I please bolt on the Performance wheels at no charge? And change the tires over? At no charge? And the Performance wheels are for 135mm and this nice old Raleigh is 114 but you said you were a bike mechanic so you can make that work can't you? At no charge? And while the Dyad rims I'm offering may be superior to the ??? rims from Performance I don't offer a warranty, do I? Actually I do and it's better than what big box store offers in any particular but you're not buying a bike are you?

    The majority of bikes sold new will never be ridden or will be put away for good before they make 100 miles. I don't buy a bike with over 100 miles on it unless it's terminally classic. If you know for absolutely certain you will be in the minority that actually uses the bike and uses it more than a few rides then you might consider the cost of spending for new. If you are not beneficiary to a trust fund take advantage of the huge inventory in place in garages basements and attics.

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  43. Great topic! I just sold my "starter" bike to a friend of my cousin. She and her husband have decided to give bike commuting a try. I gave her some accessories that I thought would help her get over the newbie hump and also suggestions on resources that might help her in the future.

    I upgraded bikes a year after purchasing my starter bike. To be quite honest, I upgraded to the very bike I deliberated purchasing at the very start but didn't because I was reluctant to spend the money on something that I might not commit to.

    My husband also purchased a starter bike and has since upgraded - at my insistance. He' been very happy and was immediately motivated to bike to work more often.

    My cousin, who started bike commuting last year, has fully embraced the habit and, naturally, is looking for an upgrade that will be more light rail accommodating.

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  44. Firstly,I get a kick out of how sometimes one will take a minor-moderate "pot-shot" at someone specific (in this case,Lovely Bicycle and it's down-to-earth author) while remaining completely anonymous...it makes me think of "Radio Rambo's" in the trucking world...they hide behind the safety of the animosity of their monitors and snipe at people just to get something started while hidden safely behind "anonymous" with not even a screen name given-very child-like...and I feel that's happened here a few times. Sorry,whiny asses and people who think their poop doesn't stink irk me :)That said...

    It's been a few decades since my childhood beginner-bike (I never really stopped riding and came back later as an adult,I'm still here),so I'm not sure how much I can contribute to this,but I did find it thought provoking and a great topic that's not addressed as often as it could be in general.

    Velouria,some very good points you made with links to Fuji's,good points. What works for me (a 38 year old man with a mtn biking preference and spinal injuries limiting riding positions and such) would most definitely not work for the fictitious female rider you mentioned,for example.

    I agree that $500 seems to be a price-point in shops now-a-days,though there are some decent "starter bikes" (at least on the mountain bike side of the pedal stroke) in that price range that are not only pretty decent and last well,but some even have developed cult-like followings (the Redline Monocog comes to mind). There are better bikes for the buck than some,but there again it comes down to how much information and such a potential buyer is armed with,or not as the case may be.

    Robert Linthicum: There are still some good shops like that around,but sadly there are some crappy ones as well. My hat's off to the service you provided :)

    Velouria: You're doing a fine job\service to a lot of people here,people that may have not many other places to ask or see something. Your thoughts and experiences don't always pertain to myself and my riding (again,38 year old mail preferring trail but riding street as well),but I always enjoy the read,as do my wife (non-rider,sadly) and daughter with me :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  45. @Velouria (this is Anon 4:00 of the Pashley then Rivendell) It's only *somewhat* a coincidence that we both had these bikes. I had already chosen the Pashley before I became a dedicated reader of this blog, and I was already interested in Rivendell, having been introduced to the company via Dottie of LGRAB.

    It happened that after reading your blog for a while I was in your neck of the woods with my Dad (my bike riding PIC), and decided to make a detour to Harris and ride one. I was initially thinking of the Betty still, but my Dad encouraged me to choose the Sam after a discussion about how I intended to use it, and my picky issues with the design (not unlike you, lol). I ended up ordering my frame from Rivendell (in a custom light blue) and having it built up locally. I have virtually the same build as you, with like 3 minor differences.

    So what's my problem? I'm not totally sure, but the bike just feels... sluggish to me. I'm pretty sure that I am faster with comparable effort on flats on my single speed Abici, and that just does not seem right. Also, I have felt that the bars were too high and too far from the start, though my current stem is as far down as it can go. I have a short torso and short arms, and wonder if the Riv top tube length is just not right for me. Finally, I have had the bike for a year and have ridden it far more often on short, spirited rides which do not require fenders, lights, or cargo capacity than anything else. It's heavy and has more bells and whistles than I generally need. This last bit is maybe my fault, and as I have decided to keep the bike in addition to my forthcoming "upgrade", and hope that when the spring arrives this year I will venture out on some long meandering rides, even if it means going alone.

    So for now, I am ordering a Sweetpea LBD with custom geometry and switching my Sam's GB Hetres for maxy fasty's and smaller fenders. Sorry for the wordy reply, and I look forward to seeing what comes of your relationship with your Sam.

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  46. Velouria, perhaps the other city bike shops you are thinking of that rent out nice bikes are Dutch Bike Seattle/Chicago and Adeline Adeline.

    I think it's extremely difficult to surpass the $500 price point with beginners - if people think there's any risk it will sit unused, they won't exceed this price. Others do not understand the variety and utility of features available and why those features/materials may cost more. A bike is a bike, right? Even I can't deny that at one point in time I did not believe it would ever be necessary for me to spend more than $500 on a bike.

    My starter was a $60 Sun Cruiser which was actually awesome and fun, but totally inappropriate for my hilly terrain. It was quite comfortable for the short rides I started with, but it had no hand brakes and was a single speed. Shortly thereafter, I acquired a high end vintage mixte that I beautified. I love the bike (super smooth ride!), even though it lacks features that would be better for city riding, as I am leaned too far forward, the shifters are on the down tube, the tires are narrow, it's got toe overlap and is a little twitchy, and the gearing is too high (this sounds like it's absolutely laden with issues, but that's not true!). On top of that, after riding other bikes I realized the frame was too small. I maintain that I was caught up in appearances and spent much more than I should have on upgrading this bike ;-)

    My planning for future bikes will include extensive test rides. It's an important part of determining what will work well for an individual, as is realizing that if you can truly afford to expand your budget, it will often be worth it.

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  47. Anon 6:48 - I agree with you on the "sluggish" ride quality of Rivendell... I have nowhere near the experience of Velouria, but I've ridden a small variety of bikes, mostly vintage, but a few nice, high-end modern bikes, in over a year of part-time commuting, and while I find the Riv ride to be extremely comfortable, stable, and fun, (and certainly beautiful!) it's not fast compared to other bikes I've ridden. One of my friends had the audacity to compare it to a cruiser. I don't agree with that, but there's definitely something slow about it.

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  48. When people ask me what bike to choose to get back into cycling, I always advise them not to buy anything too expensive to start. Most people will simply use a new bike to ride around now and then on sunny weekends, enjoying the nice weather on a local bike path ... not to ride regularly. And that's a wonderful thing. But if you buy a bike that's too expensive, then there's a huge risk of feeling guilty about not riding it more, and then all the fun goes out of it.

    I recently advised a getting-back-into-cycling family member of mine to buy a hybrid bike from a local bike shop equipped with low-end Shimano components (relatively inexpensive, but still very good), make sure it fits well, buy a helmet, and enjoy! And he loves it. He rides paths near his home on sunny Saturdays and Sundays, and now we can happily talk about bikes together. If he rides more over time and decides to upgrade ... great! And if not, that's great too. A bicycle will still be part of his life.

    I started out with a bottom-of-the-line Raleigh hybrid, and although I now ride a good road bike many times a week and at organized events, I credit that super-comfy hybrid for easing me back into cycling.

    So I feel pretty strongly that it's always best to begin with a good, but humble bike, fall in love with it, and then upgrade from there.

    Thask for the excellent, thought-provoking post!

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  49. I cut my teeth flyfishing on an old fiberglass rod purchased at the old Boston sporting goods store Stoddards. Today with all the high modulus graphite wafting around that old stick would be a luaghing stock. But you know, sometimes I 'll take her out and she sings just like Joni Mitchell.

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  50. This is absolutely true for me, and to non-cyclists it seems absurd that you would buy a brand new bike only to sell it and get a new one a few months later. It makes sense though...I really genuinely had NO idea what I needed, and while I got some of the things right, most of it was just wrong...coaster brake (and no front brake!!!), single speed, cheap and squeaky...bad. So I sold it and just bought one that *actually* suits all my needs... 7 speed, front and rear hand brakes, loop-frame step through, etc.

    I'm now thinking the same thing about my boyfriend's bike, which I bought for him as a Christmas present a year before I bought my own starter bike. I now realize that while its "ok," if I were buying him one now I would definitely get a different one, based on how much more I know about bikes as well as his comments on using it. I was/am also limited by a student's budget, but still...I would definitely buy him an upgrade if I could :)

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  51. In the last 2 years I've bought and sold over 15 bikes as my skill and needs change. I cannot always try a bike before I ride it, or I try it and love the way it rides, then find a few months later I want more speed and better components. I went from a $50 used bike to vintage $200 bikes to $500-600 bikes, then bought a $1,000 bike. Unfortunately I didn't try the most expensive bike and it came with too short a stem and standard gearing, which was a disappointment. I know more, now. My current thinking is wait until I want another change, sell 2-3 bikes and get a custom bike that fits perfectly, has quality components and wide gearing for hills. I want a bike that can be used for more than one purpose. I especially like Reynolds steel frames.

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  52. The first bike I ever really rode was an 80's free spirit road bike with a rear disk brake, it was two sizes too big for me but it worked. It was free, I had grown up knowing there were a couple of old schwinn 3 speeds and a 5 speed in the garage but they needed work and didn't bother with them.
    When Senior year in high school rolled around and I moved a bit farther from the school, I took up to figure out how to fix them all up to enjoy the luxury of showing up to school on a different bike every day. I learned how to tune and rebuild every single one of those bikes. Sophomore year in college came around and the university was much farther still and soon enough the bike's began to show their age. 30-40 year old components began to break and I kept at it fixing them as my budget allowed.
    I soon decided to begin selling them all. As attached as I had become to every single one of them. The first cash came from one of the schwinn's which I soon put into buying an 80's khs touring bike, My first road bike with all aluminum components and lightweight tubing. It was amazing to say the least, still a size larger than what I should have been riding. Within a year and a half I had sold all the old bikes to help pay for school and thus began a cycle of buying and selling used bikes hoping I'd find something perfect for myself. The third bike I bought was an 80's miyata 912 missing a few pieces but I slowly restored it and has been the only bike I have held onto. I've gone through a good number of aluminum, carbon, and steel bikes with varying components and I've only held on to that mid tier miyata and an 80's schiwnn madison.
    It's nice to have the opportunity to try so many bicycles. figure out their quirks. I always try to get some of my friends to ride them In the short time that I have them to experience the differences in their own bicycles.

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  53. I think, as others have said, sometimes it's not the case of buying the wrong bike the first time, but rather that after your first year of riding you're not the same cyclist you were when you got your starter bike.

    As for the price, well, $500 is a lot of money for some people (hell, 2011 was a bad year, that's more money than I've earned in the past six weeks), but one can get a pretty good bike for that much. Not a great bike, and certainly not the perfect bike, but it will buy plenty of reliable mountain bikes and hybrids that will get you to work on time.

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  54. Another reason for 'upgrading' after less than a year is the triumph of marketing and the resulting people's self-actualization through retail. The bicycle is the new big-screen tv!

    On a recent holiday in Germany I noticed that (1) lots of people, of all ages, get around by bike and (2) as long as it has two wheels, they'll ride it. Most of the bicycles are black; there are lots of mountain bikes; many seem quite rickety. Most have fenders, kickstands and racks/baskets but I didn't see a single one that struck me as particularly beautiful. Perhaps the Germans express themselves by other means?

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  55. Interesting how different impressions can be. I've been to Germany also. There is a big bicycle boom in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, among other places. Lots of bikes being purchased. New city bicycle brands born in recent years as well. See Retrovelo, Bella Ciao.

    Anyhow, if the bicycle is the new big screen TV I think that's a good thing. After all, people watch those TVs. Maybe they'll ride the bikes.

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  56. Nonna's not a novice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms7y6KWuatc&feature=youtu.be

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  57. I'm grateful for the Starter Bike phenomenon, because it puts some awfully nice bikes out into the used-bike marketplace.

    Hear, hear. I always encourage new riders to buy the bike I want, not the bike they want -- I'll be buying it from them, soon enough...

    Seriously, though I never exactly stopped riding, I purchased my first post-college bike (1984 Peugeot road) for $40 at the Salvation Army in the late '90s. I modified it slightly for transport use (upright handlebars, fenders, rack, etc.) and rode it 'til I crashed it eight years later. I then managed to find an identical vintage bike to replace it, and have been riding it as my #1 bike ever since. Sometimes you do get it right the first time...

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  58. Jvera
    That Miyata 912 may have a humble name and mid-tier paint. It is frame-building at a high level. The mfr lost money on every one of those sold in North America. When you find one that good and it fits right you keep it. Enjoy.

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  59. I didn't mean there's anything wrong with purchasing many/fancy bikes. I simply mean the starter bike phenomenon in the US seems to have less to do with the bicycles than with the consumers (sorry I mean riders).

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  60. Anon 11:22 - To some degree of course there is that. But I think there are also other factors involved. One of them is that people who buy bikes in countries like Germany actually plan to ride them and will raise a fuss if a bike is unridable, so fewer crappy toy-like bikes for adults are sold there in the first place. Another factor is that fewer adults there are starting from scratch skills-wise, compared to the US. And finally there is a huge difference in infrastructure. When you can get almost anywhere via bike paths, as you can in Berlin, for instance, the handling of the bike matters a lot less than when your daily commute includes a good chunk of VC. This is just brainstorming on my part, but intuitively I feel there is a great deal more to it than cultural differences in consumerism alone.

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  61. The "typical" Berlin bike seems to one of three types. The heavily used, beat up transport bike that is left outside year round with the thinnest of cable locks securing it, the highly designed and quite expensive transport bike from the richer neighborhoods, and then the occassional oddballs on a fixie, classic racer, or something else very specific.

    I'll grant that Americans do tend to identify with their transportation more than most people on the planet. But Germans who do ride the beat up black universal transport bikes do also seem to make it a point of pride that it was cheap, old, and they do no maintanance on it. (Does anyone lube their chain in Berlin?) I'll give you that it's a less "consumerist" attitude, but I'm not sure it's any less affected.

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  62. maxutility - You have pretty much described Vienna as well, although I would add a 4th category there of cherished classic-vintage bikes.

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  63. Oh the starter bike....my step daughter said she wanted a bike for christmas after steadfastly refusing to ride a bike last year when she lived with us, nor any bikes she has had in the past. The only time she'd get on a bike would be when visiting and we'd go into town to run errands, go for sushi, see a movie etc. She'd very reluctantly ride and then complain endlessly about how hard it is. gosh, when I was her age, I hopped on my mom's old raleigh and ride to hell and back! Her dad is a hard core rider, so there may have been some rebellion involved. All she said was that she wanted a bike with skinny tires. He wanted to get her a hybrid, and when he took her to look at bikes, she went straight for the vintage bikes, which is what I suspected. Some of her friends must be riding vintage bikes and she is always in awe of how pretty ours are.
    But she lives elsewhere and would not have anybody to look after the bike for her, so he didn't want to get a vintage bike that does not work properly, has steel wheels etc..
    She was unimpressed with everything modern....so, in the end she got my bso, which is the bike she rode whenever she came to visit. It's a giant cypress and has a swoopy frame like a dutch bike except that is nowhere near a dutch bike. It's not the worst bike in the world, but I certainly stopped riding it as soon as possible and regretted buying it. As an experienced cyclist it was so underwhelming etc.
    .....We said if she actually rode it and got into cycling we would get her a spring/summer/fall cool bike.
    As it is, it's hard to tell if she will ride, as she has been unmotivated so far. There is the risk that a cheap bike will turn one off cycling, but to find a really good bike requires a good amount of money.
    I'd take it more as an education, and a right of passage. The benefits far out weigh the cons, even on a pos!

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  64. Hi there
    Started with a new Kona MTB, thinking i'd ride it 90% for offroad and 10% for transportation.
    Ended up liking it so much that i was using it 90% for transportation, getting dirty from the chain and being vulnerable to rain.
    Now i'm riding a used Raleigh 3 speed and really enjoying it! Also, being able to ride in office clothes and carry groceries is very nice.
    I like that you used the Bucharest photo, that's my town :)
    Have a nice day,
    Fritzescu

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  65. This is an eye-opening post. I'm currently still riding my starter, a new low-end Raleigh hybrid that I got last spring. And yes, for me it was ALL about worrying that I wouldn't stick with it. Well, I definitely have, and I've probably put around 1,000 miles on the hybrid if not more, and while I'd like to upgrade I do feel guilty about letting this bike go. Also my husband, who bought me the bike, doesn't realize that there are differences between bikes and thinks it's silly to upgrade after so short a time. Might be a moot point, as I'm fairly certain it wasn't meant to be ridden this much and might potentially fall apart in the next year. (Actual quote from the sports store where I bought it when I took it in for maintenance: "You ride this a LOT, don't you?" with a puzzled expression.) I may just build up my vintage Sports with a modern hub, since I love it but it's not really good at climbing hills.

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  66. Velouria said...
    I would add a 4th category there of cherished classic-vintage bikes

    Ditto for Berlin. When I took my husband there for the first time, he was shocked at the all the classic Italian bikes. I still remember two burly guys (who looked more like they should be on motorcycles) with a perfectly matched set of old Pinarellos. Their confusion and suspicion at some guy photographing their bikes changed to delight when I explained that he was American and those bikes are much rarer in the U.S., and they actually moved the bikes into better position and posed for photos with them. And then there was that Basso mixte that still haunts my dreams...

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  67. I (m., maybe r. has more incisive commentary as a slightly newer rider) initially wanted to say more about the sudden stylishness of bicycle transportation, but I'll bite my tongue and say only this:

    Ultimately, whether it's a "starter" bicycle or a "serious" one, a good transportation bicycle has to fit the rider and run well (and maybe not look too desirable). Period. Anything additional is just gravy and in concurrence with DeBlass (1/3 8:46pm), sticking with it is more important than shelling out on some palliative, atmo.

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  68. After doing as some research (many thanks for your blog!) and test riding a few bikes(there's a lack of quality bikes out there to test) I settled on a Pashley Princess. It is my Christmas present from my husband and I am still waiting to receive it from the maker.

    After reading the comments here I began to panic as 1. This is not a 'budget' bike, 2. I really only had about a mile or so to ride it. and 3. I would really be saddened if I chose the wrong bike for myself!

    However, upon reflection, I made the best choice for myself with the knowledge and riding experience I have at this time. How can I know what will be 'perfect' for me until I actually own and ride it for awhile? Additionally, I wanted a quality bike so that I WOULD want to ride it all the time and not something that would be falling apart 6 months into it. I may feel different later (again, who knows?) but I am more excited about starting this great adventure than worrying if I bought the 'wrong' bike. The Pashley is beautiful and I can't wait till I can feel the wind on my face with my Princess.

    I love your blog, by the way, and look forward to your posts. Thanks so much!

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  69. I always feel like my head is going to explode with info after reading the comments, Velouria :) Im in a starter bike mode ( a Schwinn collegiate for around town and it's fine for an hour's ride) but I have a feeling choosing my upgrade will be like picking a mattress. I still havent found the perfect one for my back. So, I'm waiting til my family is at a different stage and I am able to ride more and see what I need at that level before I upgrade at all. When I do, I will have lots of mental notes taken from your blog to help with my decision. Until then, I really am looking for that elusive mattress.

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  70. I think you're missing the point.

    There are no readily available spots to test ride, even for 15 minutes, different higher end commuters where MOST of us live. So we're stuck reading on the internet. And then risking 1,000 or more dollars to order something to be shipped to us??!!

    There is a rant above about how we need more ride time to learn and more ride time to adjust. How do I get that when it's thousands of miles to a bike shop that might carry two of the better models?

    I buy a 500 dollar piece of junk locally or I read on the internet.

    Velouria you are perfectly positioned to give us a wider range of cross-referenced 'test rides' so that if I'm going to spend my money to travel to a bike shop with one or two of the bikes at a higher price point I will have at least a chance of narrowing it down to Chicago or Seattle to travel to. Or I can feel more comfortable with the risk of ordering online.

    The reality of my choices is pretty limited if I'm to spend at the level I've budgeted.

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  71. I am so thrilled to have found your blog! I live in LA and I just turned 40 and recently realized I have never owned a bike as an adult. My husband is an experienced cyclist who hasn't been riding much in several years. We both want to get new bikes, and because of our backgrounds, our approaches are pretty different, but we are getting close to making our decisions, thanks in part to you! It's been so fun reading your reviews, looking at your gorgeous pictures, and thinking about all the philosophy that many of your posts touch on. Thank you for the inspiration!!

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  72. I've gone thru this 'starter bike' rigamarole in the past year, but not as a new rider; rather, as a reformed rider of what i call 'necessity bikes': those purchased/acquired with little regard to much other than affordability (usually under 200$) and aesthetics (must reflect my taste). This method has brought a variety of low-quality vintage bikes and a couple of budget hybrids into and out of my life.

    About this time last year I was in search of a new bike after my latest- a 1980s Gitane mixte that looked cool but weighed a ton- was seriously banged up after having been parked on the street. I decided a brand new bike would be refreshing. Research led me to your blog, which has been a tremendous resource in my quest to "get it right this time". I test rode many before settling on a Linus... and regretting it after a couple of short months. That's when I decided to stop letting price be prohibitive and started saving for something I would love, not merely settle for.

    Finally I am riding an authentic Dutch bike- the one I really wanted but felt I couldn't afford or handle. It rides like magic. I've never treasured a bike so much. Buying a bike in late fall is also a great way to get it on sale ;)

    A decade of adult bike riding has taught me that while preferences and environments may change, quality is best not compromised. Huge thanks to you for all you've done to improve my knowledge and appreciation for bikes and cycling!

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  73. I am working with a friend/coworker who is looking at buying her first bike since she was a kid. She's recently lost a lot of weight and thinks she would like to pick up cycling - after much discussion with her I am exited to help her look at bikes. She's specifically looking for intermediate/beginner road bikes ($500-800 price range so her budget allows for helmet and other gear) that she can start using on local trails and some organized rides.

    We've already been to one shop with a fairly large selection but nothing was in her price range (all much higher or the wrong type of bike). She rode a couple higher priced models in the $1,000 to $1,200 range and they were way beyond her skills. After riding them myself, I was loving them, but with hairtrigger responses, there was no way they suited her. She's also taller than average which complicates things. Moderately priced bikes are hard to find, and I disagree that just because it's in the moderate price range that it's a poorly made bike. If one does research and finds the bike that's the right size, type, etc, and performs regular appropriate upkeep, that bike should last for some time. Not everyone is ready to spring for a thousand dollar bike if they are unsure about starting up in the first place. And my local bike shop, where we are going next, understands this. They carry a good selection of good bikes in a moderate price range. I am confident she'll find a bike she'll love.

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  74. I've gone through the "starter bike" phase twice. The first time was for a road bike, the second for a transportation bike.

    I went through a few bikes for the road bike because as I got more into it, so many things changed... my fitness level, the kind of riding changed, the places I went riding -- over about five years, everything changed! You can get away with lesser quality and no fit when you're just doing 15 mile weekenders. But if you catch that bike fever and get into greater distance or more interesting terrain, I have to say that fit and quality really made a difference in how I felt after my rides. For somebody catching the road cycling bug, I honestly don't think it is a snobby thing or fashion when you trade up on your bike.

    A decade or so later, I've recently gone through a similar thing with finding a commuter bike -- much to my surprise! I thought I knew a lot. But I've changed bikes three times just getting used to what I actually needed for carrying stuff and still being able to keep up a reasonable pace. Cheaper bikes do tend to be heavier and not as nimble -- not that I want to race, just don't want to be so slow as to make bike commuting a time suck or a tiring thing. My commute is 18 miles round trip and I want/need to arrive fresh and able.

    Anyway, I think the "starter bike" is a real issue because we're always changing -- it isn't always vanity or consumerism. I certainly think I'm fortunate to have had my process. But I work hard and save my money and this is my guilty pleasure. There are worse things I could be spending my money on -- like designer shoes and handbags... it's amazing what some women pay for far less utilitarian items. I'm just a bike girl -- at 48! :)

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  75. Twenty years ago I went through three bikes in a year - a 'starter' cheap mountain bike, a better quality mountain bike, then a custom build up on a nice Italian frame with wide road tyres.

    I agree with Anonymous 8:52PM that cheaper bikes are heavier and not so nimble. The little custom build up was a super bike compared to the original starter.

    Three years ago I did it again when I wanted to get back into riding but wanted a vintage ladies' bike with a more upright riding position. I got a lovely vintage bike but it didn't fit as well as - you guessed it - a loop frame Pashley Princess I got a year later after finding out more about upright bikes.

    Maybe starter bikes are like cars. When you're first learning to drive you don't do it in a Ferrari with a flappy paddle gearbox. You learn the rudiments on something cheaper until you get the hang of it and when your budget allows you move onto something that suits your skill level and your needs better.

    Learner cyclists, even cashed up ones, are usually reluctant to spend big dollars on their first bike. What if they don't enjoy riding? What if that first tumble puts them off? In these tight financial times even $500 can be a big outlay on something you're not sure you'll be using in a year's time.

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  76. When we were re-starting my wife, it was not easy to find what we wanted. One problem with the expense is that you don't necessarily want to spend a lot of money before you are sure exactly what you want, or exactly how you will use the bike.

    Choices documented here. We had peculiar requirements, It still needs a dynamo light.
    http://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2008/05/09/choosing-a-new-bike/

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  77. or maybe they buy a new bike after reading blog posts like this! ;P

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