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Guidelines for Buying an Errand or Commute Bicycle

The following are general guidelines, not hard rules. Use your own judgment. Whatever bike you get, test-ride it to see if it "feels" right for you. As you would expect, prices on new bicycles are indicative of quality. If you are frugal, shop the used market (classifieds, garage sales, etc.); good quality at half the price is common. Generally speaking, electric kits work fine on $89 bicycles.

Tires - medium width (1.5"), 26" diameter is standard

  • somewhat "knobby" on the front for better traction and handling

  • smooth down the center of the rear for efficient, quiet rolling
  • Flat Prevention:

    • put Slime in your tubes (see SLIME below). Because Slime is somewhat messy and dries out after a couple of years, I use it after I get a flat; squeeze the Slime in, pump up the tire, go for a mulit-mile ride. Slime seals small punctures.

    • better at flat-prevention are tire liners. Mr. Tuffy and Slime are commonly available. For twice the price, you can get twice the puncture resistance and half the weight from Spin Skins from http://www.warwickmills.com/Stop-Flats-Bike-Tube-Protection.html
    • better still is a combination of tire liners and thorn-resistant tubes.
    • The ultimate solution is no air! Flat-free tubes and tires are semi-solid rubber, with no air, so they can't go flat. You can get either an air-free tire, which replaces the whole tube & tire (e.g. Greentyre, Air Free, Nu-Teck), or an air-free tube, which fits inside your existing tire (e.g., No-Mor Flats, Toobz). Here's a rundown on products: http://bicycleuniverse.info/eqp/flatfreetires.html

Shifter - index shifting has been standard for years. You can get the common lever type or the "grip shifter" type (pictured).

Gears

  • generally speaking, a 6 or 7 speed model works fine on even the steepest hills when combined with an electric assist. (Cut down on maintenance with a Nexus 7-speed internal hub.)

Brakes - look for cantilevered or "V" for better braking

Frame - Cro-Moly is good, but steel will do since you'll have an electric assist

  • exotic materials and unusual designs may make installation of an electric-drive kit difficult (or impossible)

Style

  • look for wide tires and upright seating; comfort and cruiser bikes are good, road bikes are not.

  • the plush feel of a cruiser (wide handlebars & soft seat) may "feel" best
  • recumbents are luxurious - and they're safer.

Quick-release seatpost - quick seat-height adjustment makes your electric bike the right size for everyone.

Headlight

  • get the brightest you can afford. Make your own from Malibu garden lights. Wire two Malibu offers an "outdoor heavy duty floodlight" with 20-watt Halogen bulb (model # CL507) in series with an XLR connector at the end of a 6-foot wire so you can plug into your battery's charging port.

  • Safety Tip: Although the 4-AA/halogen types of lights are quite visible to drivers approaching from ahead, drivers on your right and left can't see them as well.

Taillight - the standard bike taillight with flashing LEDs works well enough. If you really want to be seen, Xenon strobes are much more visible - in the daytime and in low visibility conditions such as rain or fog. Xenon strobes are much less directional, with visibility over an 180 degree range. Among other places, available for $40 at http://www.easystreetrecumbents.com/stuff/safety.html

Kick stand - handy for parking. Look for one that attaches near the rear axle to allow easy backwards rolling. (See photos at top of page.) Center stands are even better for balancing the extra weight of an electric drive system.

Rear rack

  • get a rack; it's the support for your small cargo loads

  • bungee cords for holding cargo on the rear rack

Wald folding basket(s) - designed to hold paper grocery bags perfectly and fold up out of the way when not in use. They mount on an existing rear rack. (See photos at top of page.)

Fenders - extends your riding opportunities and prevents surprise wettings from water that oversprayed the grass and landed on the street .

Chain guard - bikes with a single front sprocket often have a chainguard so you won't need to band your right pants leg to prevent oil marks.

Shocks - test-ride a bike with front shocks; the ride may be worth the price.

Helmet - legally required for electric-bike riders. Safety Tip: Your best safety investment. Cheap insurance for anyone with a brain.

Sunglasses - wrap-around style to keep dust and chilly air out of your eyes

Mirror - for handlebar end (left side) or clip-on to glasses frame.

Future Enhancements

As you determine your uses of this vehicle, add appropriate accessories:

  • a trailer for big shopping trips ($200)

  • a kiddie trailer for hauling children (Burley - $400)
  • rain gear (one option is http://www.rainshield.com)
  • rear pannier that doubles as a briefcase
  • brightly colored jacket so you're obvious to drivers
  • anything else you feel will make your ride safer or more comfortable
  • "The Urban Bikers' Tricks and Tips" by Dave Glowacz from Wordspace Press, 800/888-4741 (IL). $15.

Articles for beginner cyclists: http://sheldonbrown.com/beginners

The best frame size and specific adjustments that can be made to obtain a good fit based on the rider’s height, proportions, bike style and riding style are at: http://www.kleinbikes.com/guide/fit/index.html

Plan to commute by bike?

Learn the ins and outs at:
http://www.olywa.net/leveen/commute/ch1.html or
http://sheldonbrown.com/commute

BikeToWork is dedicated to bicycle commuters - those that are and those that will be.
http://www.biketowork.org/

The League of American Bicyclists offers these resources:

An alternative to baskets or briefcases is a courier bag. Here's one with high marks:

The courier bags I'd mentioned are made by Timbuk2 designs - www.timbuk2.com. I pack for all weather contingencies, carry shoes, breakfast, lunch, shower supplies and all manner of other junk that no other sane commuter would carry, and I just throw it all in there willy-nilly. There are 3 sizes - in my opinion only the largest (think it's the ''dee-dog'') is the real article. Even fully loaded up it rides well.

ICEBIKE web site is dedicated to the winter cyclists, who brave ice and snow and cycle for transportation, recreation, or competition in winter. Ride on through winter. http://www.icebike.org

Doing your own maintenance?

  • The Third Hand, 541/488-4800 OR, sells a video called Fundamentals of Bicycle Maintenance - 55 minutes of instruction for $20

  • Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair, Rodale Books, $19; 800/848-4735 PA)
  • Online guide to basic maintenance: •Do-It-Yourself: http://sheldonbrown.com/diy
  • The WWW Bike Repair Shop - the online bike repair manual: http://www.uidaho.edu/~baile934/links/index.html

SLIME: Slime is more than green goop you squeeze into your tire. Here's how it works: As the air leaks out of a punctured tire, it draws the fibers in the Slime to the hole, quickly sealing and patching the leak permanently. Slime works for two years and adds around 100 grams to each inner tube. An eight-ounce container (enough for two tubes) costs about $6.50 at bike shops.

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