I wanted to buy a comfortable and safe bicycle for my wife to commute to work. While I was researching the topic, my own bike was stolen (from our garage!), so I needed a new one.

Here is what I learned - before buying the new rides.

Upright Position

I never felt comfortable on my flat-handle-bar mountain bike. I had to lean to far forward for my liking, putting weight on my hands, craning my neck back to see where I am going etc. Turns out, everybody already knows that for comfortable, less aggressive riding (as I get older my desire for aggressive riding, which was never big, gets even smaller) you need to be in semi- or fully-upright position. It is also safer for city driving: you see - and are seen - further. I’ll go for the fully upright.

So, I want:

  • frame designed for the upright position
  • handlebars designed for the upright position
  • saddle designed for the upright position

Chain Case

My wife rides in a skirt, so my primary objective is to eliminate the uncovered chain. It is rare for a bike to come with a covered chain. Aftermarket guards do exist, but mostly cover just the top of the chain. I need a fully-enclosing chain case.

Because of the front derailleur, that needs certain freedom of movement, it is unlikely that any of the aftermarket chain guards will work. With only the rear derailleur, range of available ratios will probably be insufficient. And even if it is, I want to try something without derailleurs - namely, internal gear hub. (Also, I may want to try belt drive, which requires gear hub if you want more than one speed.)

Internal Gear Hubs

It is cleaner, less prone to banging out of shape, requires (I heard) less maintenance, and seems the way the things are going anyway: allegedly, in 1999 Shimano’s president said that derailleurs will be gone in 5 years. That did not happen, but I’d like for the next bike I buy to not have them!

Number of speeds, the range and the spacing is less with the hub than with the chain+derailleurs system. But, hubs require less maintenance, are not exposed to the elements, and gears can be shifted while the bicycle is at a complete stop or moving in reverse.

A lot of information about gear hubs is given by Sheldon Brown and phatdivide.

My wife’s previous (stolen) bike wass a 21-speed one: front: 48-38-28; rear: 28-24-22-20-18-16-14.

She says that gear settings she used were:

  • on the flat: #2 (38) or #3 (48) front; #6 (16) on the back; ratios: 3:1 or 2 3/8 :1.
  • uphill: #1(28) on the fron; #1 (28) or #2 (24) on the back; ratios: 1:1 or 1 1/6 :1.

(To find out how many speeds are really necessary one needs to know how to use them :))


We are talking about a city bike, so the frame has to be able to accommodate fenders, racks (including heavy duty ones) and a plate for two-prong kickstand (apparently, not all do!).

I think I want wheels bigger than the mountain bike’s 26”, so the frame has to be designed for them.

Quality (chromoly) steel is more expensive than aluminum, but is softer to ride. That is why they put shock absorbers on aluminum bikes :)


Bicycle tires for on-road use have no need of any sort of tread features; in fact, the best road tires are perfectly smooth, with no tread at all!

Since most bicycles have substantially more weight on the rear wheel than on the front, the rear tire should almost always be inflated to a higher pressure than the front, typically by about 10%.

Rough surfaces generally call for a reduction in pressure to improve ride comfort and traction, but there is a risk of pinch flats if you go too far. Even at the lower appropriate pressure, wider tires, because they also are deeper, are more immune to pinch flats. Sheldon Brown, in his text on tires, gives pressure recommendations.


There are many types of brakes: rim, drum, disk… Some say that disk brakes are more reliable (especially, hydraulic variety). Some say they add weight to the bike. For a short commute, I do not think the weight of the bicycle matters - but I do not have practical experience :)

A given brake system may not be compatible with a specific hub or frame.

Kool Stop Salmon Colored Pads have a good reputation.


Turns out, there are front wheel hubs with dynamos built into them! With some capacitors added, the lights work for a few minutes after a stop.

Otherwise, LED lights is the way to go. There are dedicated lights that last a long time - but are not very bright.

There are ways to mount a flashlight on bike; current flashlights are very bright - for a short while ;) Since I carry a flashlight anyway, this seems like a good idea.


Glasses-mounted mirrors - like Bike Peddler Take A Look - get better reviews than helmet-mounted mirrors.

Further reading

Of course, there turned out to be a bunch of communities around “bike to work” and “urban bike” ideas, not to mention the belt drive people, the internal hub crowd etc.

Here are some interesting bikes: Proletariat (Joe Bikes), Ceres (Norco), Uptown Infinity (Breezer), Via 1 (Giant), Soho Deluxe (Trek), Bryant (Civia), Cocoa (Trek), Sub 10 (Scott), Chance (MEC), 2008 Commuting Bikes.

The Decision

Sheldon Brown’s store turned out to be near us, and although staff there doesn’t seem to be on his level, I bought our new bikes there. I chose Breezer, which our local store doesn’t carry anyways:

  • 2011 Breezer Uptown 8 low-step for my wife and
  • 2012 Breezer Uptown Infinity low-step for myself.

We used the saddle adjustment advise from Grant Petersen’s “Just Ride”. Our PBHs: 31.5” and 32.5”. As Grant warned, the saddle was set too low in the store :)

The bike is not upright enough for me, so I am about to swap the handlebar to Nitto Bosco from Rivendell. Once that is settled (I may have to change the stem and/or seatpost to accommodate the swept-back handlebar), I’ll start looking into saddles.