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How to Buy a Bicycle Fit for New York City's Streets

By Meredith Hoffman | August 1, 2012 7:04am

NEW YORK CITY — When he started working at Transportation Alternatives — one of the city's biggest bike advocacy groups — Mike Murphy knew he wanted to buy a two-wheeler, but he had no clue where to begin.

"I hadn't biked since I was 10," said the Astoria resident, who asked his colleagues to help him navigate bicycle options.

"I told them how much I wanted to spend and said 'give me something that will take care of itself, not too hardcore.'"

Since most city dwellers aren't as lucky as Murphy, whose cycling-pro colleagues led him to his bike match, DNAinfo.com New York has done the footwork and compiled a guide for different riders' desires (and pocketbooks).

While not an exhaustive list of stores, the styles and brands can be found citywide at one of the area's hundreds of bike shops.


Riders looking to go short distances and to deal with the lowest upkeep possible might want to purchase a single-speed bicycle since they require no tune-ups, longtime bike vendor Nathanael Rotsko of the shop Bicycle Habitat said.

"If you're commuting with a single speed there's very little to go wrong. They've gained popularity because there's very little maintenance," said Rotsko of the trendy gearless rides. "With a geared bike you have to have tune-ups."

Single speeds are also often light-weight so are easier to carry up the stairs in an apartment, and their prices range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 for a high-speed model.

Bicycle Habitat (which has shops in SoHo and Park Slope) sells its cheapest single speed at $425, the simple '11 Trek Gritty with a steel frame and narrow bars for maneuvering crowds. In Greenpoint, the community staple B's Bikes also sells a variety of single speeds at around the same price, with salespeople who are eager to share their expertise with buyers.

Riders willing to throw down more cash for high speed and a chic local brand might head to the Williamsburg shop Affinity Cycles, which makes its own line of "performance bikes" that can send pedalers flying down the street for $1,200 or more. The shop also sells Specialized brand bikes to offer a more diverse selection, owner Chad Selberg said.


While some bikers opt for single speeds even for longer distances, hybrids are the most versatile type of bikes since their gears help riders adjust to inclines and different surfaces, Rotsko said.

The cheapest hybrid at Rotsko's shop is $379, the Trek 700, and another of the popular more affordable models is the Trek Fx 7.1 at $430 for "all around to go grocery shopping, to work, or bike on the weekends," he said.

Linus bikes, another popular commuter bike, are steel frame bikes that are "sturdy, upright, comfortable and stylish," said Rotsko, with a steel frame and their "pretty vintage look" attracted Murphy to buy an off-white one for his first adult ride.

"I certainly could have gotten a lighter weight bike but I wanted something sturdy and safe, Murphy said, noting the "psychological sense of security" with a heavier bike. "And it's a three-speed which helps me go over bridges."


Bikes optimal for exercise rides generally cross over with models best for commuting and even for family rides, said saleswoman Elena Hoesch of Metro Bicycles, with outposts around Manhattan.

Hoesch said Metro Bicycles, which allows practical-minded bikers to try their wheels for a 15-minute ride before they buy (and which also offers hourly and daily rentals), most popularly sells the hybrids Trek FX, which start at $470 and range to cost more than $1,000, depending on the exact model's features.

"It's hard enough that you get resistance riding, but the lightness of the frame allows you to go longer distances," she said, and noted that the Giant Rapid and Giant Dash were other popular lines that start at $630.

Some die-hard single speed lovers maintain that their rides provide the best exercise because of all the effort they require when ascending hills or bridges and because of their high speeds, but Hoesch disagreed with that approach.

"It's trendy to have a single speed, everyone wants one," she said, "but you're working a lot harder than you need to."


Even devoted members of the single speed school concede that hybrids are generally the best for practical riding with kids, since the bikes can stop easily and transition to different gears.

Hoesch said the Trek and Giant bikes (recommended above for exercise rides) were optimal for riding with kids, and the classy TriBeCa shop Adeline Adeline offers the ultimate style for family riders (at a higher price).


When choosing a bike for your child, Rotsko said size is a key consideration to begin the selection.

"The first thing you want to do is have the kid stand over the seat," he said. "If their crotch is touching the top tube — [you] want to get largest size they can stand over so they have room to grow."

The lightweight models of the brand Specialized start at $250 for kids' bikes, he said, with the model Hot Rock the most popular.

And at the upscale Adeline Adeline, kids bikes include push bikes for young children, and the $385 Finnish model Helkama Jopo, "the perfect transition from a push bike to a pedal bike," according to the store's website.


For serious distance (and even competitive) riders, two-wheelers known as road bikes are the way to go, local vendors said. Many road bikes have handlebars that allow for different holding positions for comfort, and their light weight and frame structure make them efficient for rides longer than 20 miles, Rotsko said.

A Trek 1.1. is one entry-level road bike that costs $680 (which Bicycle Habitat and other city stores sell), and Specialized Allez models start at around $700 for "speed hungry road riders and racers...often new to the sport" who seek a "fast, lightweight, efficient bike," the brand's website explains.

Another option for riders willing to invest in hardcore distance riding is the Trek Project One, which Hoesch said starts at $3,000 and can be custom designed online by model, style, fit and color.


When Murphy started off with his new stylish ride, his nerves flared at the sight of vehicles.

"It was fine until there were cars on the road and I got nervous," he said, "but Transportation Alternatives puts out a pamphlet on biking rules so I knew what to do."

New York City law requires that bikes have a white headlight, a red tail light and a bell, according to the Department of Transportation's website, and helmets are also legally required for riders age 13 and younger and working cyclists. They are highly recommended for every rider.

"Having a pump is very important, because if you pump your tires on a regular basis you avoid getting flats," noted Rotsko of the oft-forgot addition to bikers' purchases.

And to combat bike theft, experts advise riders to invest in quality locks (which can be purchased at the store where you buy your bike). Police recommend getting your bicycle etched with an identification code, which can be done by calling your local precinct for an appointment.