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I'm 6'0, 275lbs going into my freshman year of college in a couple of weeks. I haven't ridden a bike since--probably--the third grade. I don't know: what's good on the market, whether to buy new or used, how to identify what's a good fit for me, etc..

I pretty much need a crash course (hopefully not much crashing, though) on bicycles!

What I do know is that I went to try a Diamondback XCR29 today with a 20" frame and 29" wheels, and that was perhaps an inch or two too tall for me.

Also, the terrain at my university is almost entirely paved. There are a few bike shortcuts that are gravel, and there's one big hill that I'm going to have to do, both ways, each MonWedFri morning.

Thanks in advance for the advice/help!

Edit: I don't know anything about pricing either - so please let me know what a good range for the bike should be.

In addition to being a commuter, I'd like the bike to be some form of a weight loss program for me. If that changes the bikes you all maybe had in mind, let me know. Obviously, any sort of movement will begin the weight loss process and as long as my diet is in control, the weight will drop. Riding just gets to be the fun part.

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    As shopping questions are off topic here, I will make a suggestion. Buy used. As a college student on- campus storage is likely outside exposed to the elements and not the most secure. If you haven't ridden in a while, an older rigid mountain bike (no suspension preferably steel) should have gearing to allow you to climb hills. It will lack the WOW factor to make it a theft target. If you equip it with a small knob tire, some times referred to as microknob should do well on pavement and gravel.
    – mikes
    Oct 6 '20 at 15:17
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    Two thoughts. 1. Where will you store the bike? Over time a bike left outside tends to rust into a solid mass. 2. How often will you use the bike? Often times college students buy a bike thinking they will ride it and find out that it's a hassle to unlock, ride to class, then lock up outside class and it's easier just to walk. You might try attending college a few weeks, seeing what other people do and then evaluate your transportation needs.
    – David D
    Oct 6 '20 at 17:21
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    Ask around among neighbors and relatives and see if there isn't a suitable bike gathering dust in a garage somewhere. Oct 6 '20 at 17:55
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We usually prefer specific questions that allow specific answers here, but I'll see what I can do...

There are lots of bikes in a huge variety of types out there for sale. To narrow it down, you should at least start thinking about a few decisions:

  • How much are you able and willing to spend?
  • Where will you keep the bike? (When I was a student, most bikes had to stay outside in all kinds of weather. If the bike has to live outside, I wouldn't recommend anything fancy, because bikes kept outside rust.)
  • How will you secure the bike? (If you can't park it in your room at night, then I wouldn't recommend anything fancy, because fancy bikes stored in public areas disappear, whether they're locked or not.)

Then there is the big spectrum with road bikes on one end, and mountain bikes on the other. Stereotypical road bikes have skinny tires, curved handlebars, and no shocks; they're designed to go fast on roads, and are usually terrible on gravel. Stereotypical mountain bikes have straight handlebars, fat knobby tires, and often have shocks (called "suspension" in the bicycling world); they can handle all sorts of terrain, but are relatively slow on the road. Mountain bikes are generally built to be sturdier than road bikes.

These days there are all sorts of bikes in between road bikes and mountain bikes. For instance, gravel and cyclocross bikes look like road bikes and have curved handlebars, but fatter tires with more of a tread pattern that can handle dirt and gravel. Hybrid bikes look like mountain bikes with straight handlebars and an upright seating position, but have skinnier tires for better performance on the road. (It should be said that you can put skinnier, less-knobby tires on any mountain bike.)

Then there's new versus used. New bikes are great of course, but your money doesn't go as far, and lack of money often pushes bike buyers to buy lesser-quality bikes that don't last, which we often call BSOs here, for example bikes from Walmart. BSOs aren't so terrible, I rode them for years, but they do break down faster and are harder to maintain.

You can get a lot more for your money with a used bike, but it's easy to get ripped off when buying a used bike. Someone who really knows bikes could be very helpful when buying a used bike.

So here are some arbitrary recommendations:

  • Because you're heavier than the average rider, and because you haven't expressed a clear preference for a road-style bike, I'd recommend a mountain bike or a hybrid, because they're sturdier. (Quality road bikes can be sturdy, but quality can be expensive for road bikes.)

  • If you have to keep the bike outside, get a cheap (BSO) mountain bike or hybrid. Try to get the right-size frame; look for a frame size chart online.

  • If you can get good advice and you can keep the bike inside, get a good used bike. I'd recommend a "hardtail" (no rear suspension) mountain bike or a hybrid. (Suspensions look cool but rob your pedal strokes of power, so in my opinion it's best to avoid them unless you need them. The front suspension can be switched off on most good mountain bikes.)

  • If you have plenty of money and you can keep the bike inside, go to a bike shop and try all different sorts of bikes. Unfortunately this option is not very practical in the COVID era, because bike shops usually have very little inventory, and typically all the popular models are sold-out.

Some general advice: wear a helmet, get a good tire pump, and learn how to do your own bicycle maintenance if you're at all mechanically-inclined.

Bicycles are wonderful things. There's a joy to riding any bicycle, and you'll be healthier getting places under your own power rather than riding in a car or a bus.

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