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Bike Recommendation

Hi, I’m a newbie, looking to buy a used bike appropriate for RAGBRAI. But I have no idea what to look for. I’m 5’1″, so I need something to accommodate my height. What should I look for and where should I look for a reasonably priced used bike? Thanks for any input you can provide.

8 Replies

Roy Trent, April 14, 2018 at 5:38 pm

I personally like a carbon road bike because I do not want to push the extra weight of a different type bike with larger tires. However, since RAGBRAI is more of a casual ride with lots of stops, a good hybrid with medium width tires will be a very comfortable ride. My son and daughter each have a Trek FX 72. They are very good for 60 or so miles but I don’t think they I would want to ride it 100 miles. Also, it has a triple crank so if you do not like to work hard on the hills you can just go to the small chainring and spin up hill.


T. Gap Woo, April 14, 2018 at 6:57 pm

Welcome to the rolling party!

My best advice and recommendation is this: visit your local bike shop! They will not only match you to a bike that meets your needs, but also fits your budget. They will also “fit” you to the bike so that you are riding in safety and comfort, regardless of your physical size. They may have a trade-in program where you can buy a pre-owned bike that has been checked out by their repair shop.

See you along the I-O-Way in July.


Russell Ball, April 14, 2018 at 8:43 pm

Craigslist is your friend if you have some idea of what you are looking for. If that seems too chancey I have purchased new bikes over the internet from bikesdirect and nashbar and been quite pleased with what I got. They did require a little assembly but not much in the way of adjustment. They will also have bikes of the correct size and bikes direct will give sizing advice. Many people sneer at mail order bikes but my experiences have been poitive.
A used bike from your local bike shop, if you have one will provide a level of service and a chance to try the bike out.


Marla Shifflett, April 15, 2018 at 10:42 pm

Hi Paula! Welcome to RAGBRAI! Such a simple question, but I’m sure this answer will be long. :) First of all, how much cycling experience do you have? I had ridden bikes a great deal as a youngster, but hadn’t ridden for many years. I started back riding on a hybrid (Trek FX) and even rode RAGBRAI with it a couple times, but I must admit, it was definitely more work than on a road bike. I still ride the bike, but mostly on the Katy Trail (cinder), etc. Second, what bike will serve your riding at home best? If I lived back home near the Katy Trail, I’d invest in a good hybrid. If you’re going to be riding paved trails, perhaps a road bike. RAGBRAI will only be one week out of the year. Third, what is your overall fitness level and core strength? If you are young and in good shape, I’d go with a road bike with handlebars that allow for different hand positions. If not, look for what meets your needs and is comfortable. Fourth, are there cycling groups in your area? For instance, in Des Moines, Iowa there is a sub-group of women in the Des Moines Bike Collective, groups within the Des Moines Cycle Club, etc. Many cities probably have these options. They can help, give you good advice, etc. In our area (rural), we have a “group” that supports one another. We loan bikes and helmets to new riders, so they can try them and see what they might be interested in, help one another shop/look for new bikes, etc. Fifth, as mentioned above, do you have a local bike shop? If you have a good one = life changing! :) Test ride some bicycles! Sixth … Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and all of those places can be a great place to find a bike, but more difficult to find a bike that fits you and definitely not a good place to try different bikes. If you have a friend who is very knowledgeable to guide you, you could try looking there, but if not, it can be daunting and you may end up with a bike that doesn’t fit you well, or isn’t mechanically sound, etc. Seventh, with your height, you know you’ll be looking for a smaller bike. Height alone doesn’t determine bicycle size, but it’s a good place to start. Check some sizing guides online. You may find a women’s design bicycle fits better, but in the used market, you may also find a bicycle that a youth triathlete has outgrown. I found a bike that way one time. Eighth, don’t let any of this scare you. I think 2% (if I remember right) finish RAGBRAI on a mountain bike and you’ll see fat tires, unicycles, and all sorts of wheeled vehicles. Please reach out if you want any more “advice” or if you have questions. Good luck!


KenH, April 16, 2018 at 9:14 am

Most people do RAGBRAI on road bikes so you cannot go wrong if you decide to buy a road bike. Between used bikes and entry level bikes and new bikes you should be able to find one to fit your budget, whatever your budget is. Any rigid framed bike, hybrid, 29er, cyclocross could easily be set up to be comfortable and efficient on long rides like RAGBRAI. Bikes of this type will generally accept wider tires than road bikes and wide tires are really an advantage on a long ride that is not a race but a tour. They deal better with the outrageous slings and arrows of paved roads that are well maintained and often specifically patched for our benefit but still have the occasional “challenges” that affect skinny tires more than fat. And if you should decide to take the gravel loop you will love tires as wide as will fit your bike’s frame. Make sure that whatever bike you buy has attachment points for water bottle holders and any racks you would like to mount to it.

To my mind the bike that is ideal for RAGBRAI is a touring bike. They are built to be comfortable on long rides and their handling stability leads to less fatigue at the end of the day. They will take wide tires and they will have plenty of mounting points for any accessory you might want to add for RAGBRAI with mounting points to spare for things that most of us would not take to RAGBRAI. They are not trendy right now so perhaps a little harder to find but that is what I will replace my present bike with when the day comes to replace it.

My present bike is a Fuji “performance hybrid” or “flat bar road bike” as they call it these days. It is basically a road bike frame but a little wider so it will take decently wide tires. It came with a flat bar handlebar and I would shy away from those because I personally find them to be murder on my hands after about 30 miles. There is no way to use different hand positions on them to combat numbness and there is no way to get lower on them to fight a headwind. I would really look for something with drop handlebars the next time out but in my case the Jones Loop H Bar that I added to it before my first RAGBRAI has also proved to be a very good handlebar on all counts. Whatever you buy, be sure to do long rides on it prior to RAGBRAI so that you can identify and work out issues like this.

I would shy away from any bike that has a suspension. Suspensions find very little use at RAGBRAI but their weight penalty will be with you all day, every day, all week long. A rigid framed bike is much better for this gig, in my opinion.


Brian Wallenburg, April 18, 2018 at 8:01 pm

Three words, local bike shop!


Luv 2 Ski, April 20, 2018 at 11:35 am

A follow up to the previous post:

Ten words, “Road Bike with 28″ tires from a local bike shop.”


Jason Stoller, April 20, 2018 at 10:44 pm

My personal advice is to visit at least three different bicycle shops. Never buy the first time in the store. Ride several different styles of bikes until you find one you are comfortable on. A good bike store will fit you to a bike not the bike to you. If you are pushed or pressured in anyway then walk away.

You need to make sure the bike you buy is not only comfortable but has the right gearing for you to climb hills without hurting your knees. So do some reading and educate yourself about this. You want a bike with good quality components on it. Be prepared to pay more for that. Again prior to buying read reviews and make sure the bike you choose is for you. Do not be afraid to go back to a dealer and ask to test ride a bike two or 3 times, or for an extended test ride of 1/2 hour or so. Keep in mind used is ok if it meets your requirements. I have bought every single one of my bikes and Recumbent Trikes used with the exception of 3 in my lifetime. Keep in mind I am mechanical and also have a great working relationship with my local bike shops. So if you are considering used, only do it with an agreement that the local bike shop checks any bike out before you make your purchase.

Hope this helps!



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