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Analysis paralysis. My wife says I can spend up to $500 on a first bike. I don't want to spend it on the wrong stuff. My intention is to use it as the "last mile" on public transit on commute/weekends, quick to the grocery, leisure ride, and perhaps even intentional exercise. I've read tons of other posts on this site talking about what to look for in the abstract. Now I need some concrete advice. Which bike to buy?

At 6'4", 36.5 inseam, This calculator says my ideal mountain bike measurements are 21.5" seat tube and 180mm crank. I don't know how that equates to a hybrid. I think the larger frame size limits my options - bikes stores don't seem to carry these sizes. So perhaps I have to order online?

Besides being the best value in all parts, certain luxuries I think I'd like are wheel splash guards and a rear rack as I might commute to work. Can these be added to any bike? Front suspension? Not sure if I need it, but I know to want lockout if I do. Aluminum vs Steel? I've read that aluminum is less shock absorbing than steel, yet my known options below are all aluminum.

Here's what I'm looking at:

http://www.marinbikes.com/2011/bike_specs_compared.php?serialNum1584=1584&serialNum1581=1581&serialNum1580=1580&serialNum1882=1882

http://www.performancebike.com/bikes/Product_10052_10551_1094212_-1_20000__400321

Are these any better than a Dick's Sporting Goods Diamondback brand hybrid?

What others should I look at?

Thanks.

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2  
I don't like suspension forks because their extra weight makes steering a lot less responsive. The bike feels heavier and not as manoeuvrable and a lot less fun. If you're on the road most of the time I would get solid forks. –  Mac Jun 26 '11 at 23:11
    
But of course, before you buy a new bike you should check local bike stores and Craig's List for a used bike that suits your needs. You can easily save half over a new bike, and you'll be able to learn what you like better so that your second bike can be damn near perfect. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 26 '11 at 23:22
    
@Daniel - LBS and CL have 0-few options for large frames. Also, I'm concerned with contributing to the bike theft market. The craigslist ads all seem legit, but so do their reprints in the D.C. crime reports. –  uosɐſ Jun 27 '11 at 11:53
    
Ignoring the theft issue (not a big concern here), CL is worth watching, as often the ideal item will come available and get snatched up quickly. Often your LBS won't take a large bike in trade, since they'll have difficulty "moving" it, so the bike ends up on CL. –  Daniel R Hicks Jun 28 '11 at 5:35
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6 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I've worked on a number of Marin bikes and they are impressive IMO. Simple, straightforward design.

Here's the bottom line. In this price range, regardless of what you get, you are looking at a Chinese-made frame built to "spec" (what the company wants). Then, various major-manufacturer components are bolted on and the bike is shipped.

They are all really rather similar; variations in frame geometry are minimal, variations in component spec are also minimal. It's common to throw on an "upgraded" rear derailleur as this catches the consumer's eye... Costs the manufacturer only a few bucks more.

Not that these are not perfectly fine bikes... The main thing you are looking for is fit, which you already recognize as important, and the best components you can get for your money. Most hybrids are made with a frame that leans more to the "road" type, with a straighter top tube. Most mountain bikes have a more compact design with a sloping top tube so that the rider can maneuver on the bike while off-road. The old "standover height" or "inseam" height measurements date to when road bikes were built with the standard diamond frame with a flat top tube. Modern bike design is a little more flexible.

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Thanks. I am really considering the Kentfield (no FS), swap in a suspension seat post, guards, and a rear rack. –  uosɐſ Jun 26 '11 at 20:56
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Look at the Scott SUB line. The prices vary depending on components, but you should be able to get an excellent road hybrid commuter for $500 approximately. (Keeping in mind than I'm in Dubai, and prices are not the same here.)

On the SUB line, you would ride a XXL, FYI, assuming accurate height and inseam.

Also, consider asking your wife if she would prefer to increase your budget now by $300 or so, or have you replace the bike due to either wear and tear, or changing necessities, in a year or so. Long term, buying a "cheap" bike is generally more expensive, if you ride it.

And yes, both of those bikes would be better than the Diamondback, if not by as much as I'd like.

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I think if I am sticking with this in a year, she'd be happy to have me spend $1000 on upgrades or whatever! Thanks for the link! I hadn't seen Scott. I like the Sportster 60 but they don't make my size. The Sportster 40 has my size and a lockout FS, but I read elsewhere that that suspension and lockout isn't very good, and I think I'd rather have a suspension seatpost than an FS. But even being able to review more similar lines helps me feel more confident about knowing my options. Thanks! –  uosɐſ Jun 26 '11 at 20:48
    
The front suspension is not necessary, but it hurts nothing, and if the lockout comes designed into the fork, there is no real downside there either. Most comments otherwise will be referring to older original designs which didn't work well. The bugs have been pretty thoroughly worked out. –  zenbike Jun 27 '11 at 14:41
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Fenders and racks can be added to most conventional "diamond frame" bikes (though it's nice to have a frame with the mounting bosses already present). However, fenders are problematical on skinny-tire (less than 28mm or so) road bikes and both fenders and racks can be a problem on bikes with "suspensions". For those you need to have some assurance from a knowledgeable person that suitable components can be found and attached.

You don't need aluminum or other exotic frame materials -- the additional weight of a steel frame is not that significant for your use. Suspension is also unnecessary for street riding (and is mostly there to "suck in" the macho types), unless you're dealing with giant potholes, though a shock-absorbing seatpost is sometimes a worthwhile add-on.

Though purists will turn up their noses, it's nice to have a (decent) kickstand.

Based on your criteria, that Fuji Crosstown looks pretty good to me -- fenders, rack, shockpost, 700/35 wheels, reasonably decent components and gearing [though unnecessary AL frame and front suspension]. About all I'd likely do (if I weren't a drop handlebar guy) is change out the seat.

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Nice bikes like that quality Marin and that affordable Fuji are nowhere near as exciting as getting a 'Bicycle Shaped Object' ('BSO')...

Instead of getting one of those quality numbers you cannot fully decide on, why not get a 'BSO'?

Key advantages:

  1. Get to learn lots of mechanics with components that need to be setup totally precisely or else they do not work
  2. Get fit pushing a big and heavy bike
  3. Reliably safe to park outside with no danger of anyone stealing your wheels
  4. Get to spend more on bike parts to keep the show on the road
  5. Become an expert at punctures in next to no time
  6. Most importantly, be able to revel in overtaking people on 'proper' non-BSO bikes

In fact the 'BSO' is so good that you should consider two - one to leave at the other end of the train journey and one for home. In that way you will have a ready-made supply of spares. To read on the subject some more you might like this blog:

http://bicycleshapedobject.wordpress.com/

If that should inadvertently turn you off the idea of getting a 'BSO', pop down your local bike shop, tell them what you have been looking at and let them provide you with some recommendations. They will sort you out the correct size, do you a bike at a reasonable price and provide it fully setup and working, complete with a warranty and maybe a first service check.

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Funny, but not ultimately a good answer to the question asked. Even verges a bit on he link bait/spam side of things if you run that blog. –  zenbike Jun 27 '11 at 14:42
    
Although, on a second read through the last paragraph has value. Sorry, I'll read more thoroughly next time. –  zenbike Jun 27 '11 at 14:43
    
I know that is off-beat, and no that is not my blog! But the questioner might as well by a couple of BSO's if he is going to buy mail order without seeing the LBS first. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jun 27 '11 at 14:46
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Seems everyone thinks buying online with a bit of advice from forums/SE is okay, personally I am disappointed with that as I like to think LBS is of value in this age. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jun 27 '11 at 14:49
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No reason you can't have a sense of humor... as long as you ultimately answer the question, it's all cool. The world needs more humor and satire. –  Neil Fein Jun 28 '11 at 3:56
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Aluminum vs Steel? I've read that aluminum is less shock absorbing than steel, yet my known options below are all aluminum.

I read that too.

I eventually bought an Alu bike with no suspension (and no 'carbon seat post', etc.). I'm riding on paved roads: not hopping or flying or dropping; when coasting over (small) pot-holes and frost-crazed pavement I just stand / lift myself slightly: put more of my weight on my feet/pedals and less on my seat/saddle.

Advantages are Alu are a) lighter b) doesn't rust c) just as strong.

Advantages of no suspension include a) lighter b) cheaper c) more efficient and less maintenance.

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What others should I look at?

My requirements are very similar to yours, I ended up getting a GT Traffic 3.0. Things I like about it:

  • solid forks
  • pinhead security for the wheels and handlebars
  • rubber bumpers so you don't mess up the frame when you park it
  • holes in the right places for luggage attachments and mudguards
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