Buying a road bike as a beginner can be quite the daunting task. You’ll likely see bikes available to you starting at $60, going all the way into the $1000s with seemingly little differences between them. But even the smallest of parts do make a difference on a bike and should be considered carefully. The following is my experience of going through that beginner phase and some lessons that I can offer from it. If you’re a beginner, it might help you not make some mistakes that I did.
My first roadie was a Sears Free Spirit 10-speeder with a shiny and sleek looking frame. When I bought it, I didn’t know what I was buying and was attracted by the low cost and what seemed to be a good condition. My advice to you: don’t buy a Free Sprit bike!
The Free Spirit brand was founded in the 60s (I think) and has been ubiquitous around North America since. You’ll find 100s of these bikes on Craigslist for very low prices; they look attractive and stylish (have a vintage look to them), but are utterly crappy contraptions. To be sure, the Free Spirit brand applies to a wide swath of bikes some of which are better than others, but they are department store grade and were always meant more for show than a good ride.
I rode mine for over a year with my typical route being 25ks including many steep up-hills. Needless to say, I did not enjoy those rides very much, and it almost ruined biking for me. I ended up using the bike more so on flatter surfaces with predictable routes. Here as I learned slowly were the specific problems with the Free Spirit:
- Frame made out of “gas pipe” (32 lbs) – really heavy, your pedals become quite inefficient when going up hill
- Swagged crank
- Steel rims with non-700c tires (but look alikes)
- Stem Shifters
- “Suicide” Lever Brakes
Avoid those things. Seriously!
If you go for vintage bike, you are still likely to meet stem shifters and extension levers, but just make sure they have quality derailleurs, like Shimano 600 (Ultegra on new bikes), 150, Exage, or other higher-end models. This makes a huge difference in the overall efficiency of your bike.
My current bike is not a vintage, but not exactly a new-order bike either. It’s a Giant Kronos touring bike. By no means the best, but certainly good. It has a CroMoly frame (23 lbs for the whole bike) with Shimano RSX derailleurs (again, not the best, but good). The brakes are double-pivoted as opposed to cantilever – this is not such a big deal for normal city riding, but if you find yourself on wide roads with fast moving cars often, try and upgrade to the former.
The Kronos is an absolute treat to ride when compared to the Free Spirit. It glides effortlessly on flat roads and makes going uphill extremely easy. I do the same path as before in literally half the time now.
Moral of the story: don’t buy Free Spirit bikes.