When I first started commuting, it seemed like there weren't very many choices for commuter bikes. I had never ridden a road bike before so I naturally ended up with a mountain bike because that's what I was comfortable with. It was hugely better than my former hybrid bike which must've weighed as much as our car and didn't have the gearing necessary for the hills I climb every day.
Every single ride I have been envious of those on their road bikes (cyclocross, touring, road) set up for commuting. After multiple rides last week in the rain and no front fender, I was feeling so done with my trusty mountain bike. it was time to go bike shopping!
What did I want?
more relaxed geometry than my road bike (less twitchy) and fits me well
wide commuter tires
fenders and rack capable
components just needed to be good enough
no weirdness (i'll explain later)
already built and not so pricey that I wouldn't want to leave it locked up somewhere
This list ended up being a little more difficult to find than I thought. Right now bike stores are selling out of 2008 bikes in my size but don't have 2009 bikes in yet. I could have a bike built up but that ends up being very pricey.
First off, we went to Free Range Cycles. K bought his bike here a few years ago and loved the service that he got here. The standout bike for me here was the Salsa Casseroll. See picture below:
It fit me so well and was so comfortable to ride. I took it up and down some hills and over some bumpy pavement and was amazed at how light and responsive it felt for not a real light bike. I had some qualms about the color (so shallow of me I know!). The only real drawback was that it was just a bit more than I was hoping to pay. I tried a couple of other bikes here including the Jamis Aurora Elite (felt clunky which was surprising) and the Surly Cross check (more about this one later).
I was pretty tempted by these bikes. Eventually I decided the used bike was too small for me and the newer version had weirdness in the form of downtube shifters. I was too afraid to even try to shift the bike let alone go climb a hill. The tires weren't as wide as I was hoping and at some point I knocked my foot with the front wheel which made me wonder if the fit was a little off. And still compared to the Salsa Casseroll it just wasn't as comfortable.
This brings me to the biggest pet peeve I have about bike shopping and bike stores in general. I mostly had good help but you often run into some pretty serious attitude from bike store people (read: it's mostly men I hate to say). The guy at Recycled Cycles kept putting me on small bikes and then once we had established that i probably rode the same size bike he did (unsurprising since I was an inch taller than he was), he was unwilling to put the seat high enough for when I was test riding.
When I asked him to put the seat up higher he gave me all sorts of bull crap about how I must be used to the bike seat too high and blah de blahda blah. My road bike was fit by an expert in this area and I loooooved what it felt like after he was done with it. Eventually I told bike store dude that was all well and good but put the seat up higher so I can ride (dammit). The dammit part was unspoken but he may have heard it anyway.
It can be pretty challenging to find a bike for a woman. If you are small, your options are limited and you run into trade off with shoe clearance and wheels (scary stuff actually). If you are taller like I am, generally your legs will be longer than a male of similar height but with a shorter torso so any bike will fit just a bit off. You must keep trying different bikes and try to imagine what would happen with some tweaks to fit (this is hard to do if you aren't used to biking). Add in some attitude at bike stores and it's not always a pleasant experience.
After stomping around a bit after that experience I had to think about it for a bit. We stopped by Montlake Cycles where they really didn't have much else but I did get a longer ride in on the Casseroll. Monday I commuted in on my mountain bike again and had a long hard think.
Salsa Casseroll in ginger beer color here i come! We went to Free Range and got the bike yesterday. I got to meet the owner of Free Range (Katherine) and also thank the gentleman (?name) who helped me over the weekend. I am currently prepping the bike for commuting and cannot wait to ride it!