Not sure if you guys could tell, but I'm something of a bikesage. As someone who's been cycling all over New York City for over 3 years, I wanted to impart my bikeknowledge to other potential bikies in a bikeblog series!
To paraphrase an oft-used expression in the urban cycling community, there's NOTHING like cycling in New York City. Thus, while I hope my posts will be useful for other urban cyclists, they will be very NYC-specific because that is the only experience I can speak to with authority.
This first post is intended to be a primer for those interested in purchasing a bike for NYCycling.
Unless you're a seasoned urban cyclist, you may be unsure how much you'd actually be riding your bike and are hesitant to spend too much money on it. If this applies to you, buy a cheap used bike on Craigslist and see how much you use it. It's not worth putting lots of money into a bike that's just going to sit in the corner, collecting dust, and staring at you with sad, lonely bikie eyes...
Within the first month of owning the piece of garbaggio I overpaid for on Craigslist*, I found myself cycling almost exclusively. In fact, my monthly unlimited subway card was expiring and I didn't purchase a new one - it was more cost effective to pay per ride for the occasionally craptacular weather day I didn't want to ride. Thus, I found myself wanting a smoother, faster ride, so I sold my old poopy bike on Craigslist (took only a day - things move quickly here) and stopped by my local bike shop to shop for a new one.
If you find yourself cycling more often than using the subway, then I HIGHLY recommend you invest in a decent bike. I spent $450 on my bike (this is the type of bike I bought - the prices aren't listed on this website) plus ~$200 in essential accessories (see below) and, because I wasn't paying for a monthly subway card any longer, my bike eventually paid for itself. The cost of maintaining a bike is negligible in comparison to buying an unlimited subway card. The most expensive maintenance I need to do is replacing the cassette every year or so (I think it's about $60 for me including labor) and this is still less than the cost of a monthly subway card. I'd estimate that it took about 9 months after buying my bike for me to break even. Just like with buying a car, buying a new bike will result in a better-functioning, longer lasting bike. My quality of life improved dramatically when I started using my new bike and I cut my commuting time down significantly.
1) Buy local
It's good to build a relationship with your local bike shop because you will definitely be going there repeatedly for tune-ups, flat tires, repairing a broken break or gear-shifting cable, etc. Also, many bike shops offer free tune-ups for a certain amount of time (e.g., 1 year) after purchasing your bike.
2) If you don't buy a Kryptonite(R) lock, you might as well give your bike away to the next person you see.
New York City has an egregious bike theft problem - it is one of the most common forms of larceny here. There's a running joke in our community that you wind up spending as much money on your lock as you do on your bike.
In fact, bike theft is such a problem here, that Kryptonite has a whole line of locks called New York locks.
This is the one I have and I paid $80-$90 for it at my local bike shop. However, you can get it for cheaper on Amazon.
Kryptonite has less expensive locks that may suit your needs if you have a cheap bike that you're willing to risk losing. However, I wouldn't take a chance on losing my bike that I invested lots of money in because I'm unwilling to buy the best lock.
Kryptonite also has gigantasaurus chain locks, but the only advantage they have is that it's easier to lock your bike up to things like lamposts that are too thick for a U-lock. However, they are heavy and cumbersome AS HELL, so I wouldn't recommend it.
As a rule, all a lock buys you is time - even the strongest, most amazingest lock! If you leave your bike outside long enough someone will find a way to saw through your lock...the stronger your lock, the longer it'll take a bad guy to saw through it or find dynamite to blow it up . Therefore, keep your bike inside if/when you can. I live in a third floor walk-up and I carry my bikie all the way upstairs because that's how much I love him and DON'T WANT HIM TO EVER LEAVE ME!!! If you must leave it outside, make sure you lock it up in different places (i.e., don't lock it up to the same bike rack or street sign day after day) and conspicuous places, as opposed to desolate, people-free places - thieves are less likely to steal if others can see.
Of course, if you're out on the town doing errands, going out with friends, etc, you can feel safe if your bike is locked up with a Kryptonite - generally, no one's going to attempt to break into one of these locks unless it's left out overnight and the person can thus take her/his time to complete the theft. Thieves are going to go for the bikes in crappy locks that they can break into quickly and easily - most likely, a thief is going to pass over your awesomely locked up bike.
MOST IMPORTANT RULE OF BIKELOCKING CLUB: ALWAYS lock your FRAME to the thing you're locking your bike up to! Don't just lock the wheel - someone can remove the frame from the wheel and be able to steal most of a bike and sell it on the internets! Also, make sure the thing you're locking your bike to is not a street sign pole with no street sign (someone could lift your bike up over it) or anything else that looks less than secure.
3) Buy these essential ingredients for safe and pant stain-free biking.
- DON'T BE A DUM-DUM WEAR A HELMET THINK ABOUT TEH BRAINZ!
Doodz...if you don't wear a helmet...just, don't not wear a helmet...like, seriously...You're not biking in an idyllic countryside...you're biking in New York Fucking City, home of the Crazy Cabbie and the Vacuous Tourist who wanders into the street...puh-LEEZ!
- Not only is it illegal to bike without bike lights, it's DUUUUUMB!
You're out with your peeps and the sun is all like "brah, I know you're not gonna like this, but Ima peace out LATERZ!" As much as you may hesitate to cycle at night, especially when you're a n00b, it's gonna happen at some point, so make sure people can see you at nighttime! Get front and rear blinky lights for your bikie! I recommend these because you can easily take them off your bike and take them with you when you lock your bike up outside. I've had bike lights stolen before...people will steal anything here, so definitely don't leave your lights on your bike.
- Buy fenders...no, really...
So this one time in college, I rode my bike to my volunteering job and it had just rained - when I arrived, someone pointed out that I had mud all over my butt. I was never able to get the stain out - took it to the dry cleaners and everything. These are the ones I have - even if you don't plan to ride in the rain, any amount of wet on the road will result in greasy mudstains that permanently ruin your clothes. So the choice is yours: $40 or so for fenders, or forever ruined pants.
Old weird tricks to prevent bike theft, aka, why I still have my bike after 3+ years.
1) Make it look old and fugly by wrapping up the frame in discarded tire inner tubes - ask your local bike shop for these. This is such a common practice that when I asked my bike guys for some inner tubes, they offered to wrap up my bike for me.
2) Make it look super special by decorating it with stickers! Thieves are less likely to steal a well-loved bike that stands out from the crowd in a quirky (not expensive and shiny) way. Plus, in case dog forbid your precious gets stolen, when you report the theft to the cops, you can tell them to be on the lookout for the bike covered in happy faces and unicorns.
I mean, who on earth wouldn't want to steal that beaut?
BIKIE AFTER: Um, gah-ROSSSSSS! Not touching that with a 10-foot saw...
3) Lock your seat to your frame. This is yet another common practice, so if you ask your bike person for a seat lock, s/he'll know what to do. My guy made a makeshift one out of a bike chain and concealed it in a discarded inner tube. Three years later, I still has my seat!
4) NO QUICK-RELEASE ANYTHING, ya hear? Quick release = quickly stolen. Many bike brands have quick-release tires and seats...just, NO!
TA-DAAAAA!!! Now you know everything you need to know about buying a bike in NYC! Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments. I'm planning on writing more bike posts, so feel free to make suggestions for future posts.
*I stupidly fell for the allure of a "vintage bike," which is nothing more than a sales tactic to make money on old shitty bikes that you'll be bringing to the bike shop for repairs at least once a week. You'll wind up spending a disproportionate amount of money repairing it - you're better off buying a modern used bike or a new bike.