Do I really need a new bike?

Hi everyone! This will be my first time doing RAGBRAI. As far as bikes go, I have always had a mountain bike. I have been looking into getting a nice bike for the ride, probably a hybrid, but after a trip to a local bike store yesterday, it seems like its really hard to find one which fits me and is comfortable, looks appealing to me, and is within my budget range (the big kicker). I just graduated college and don’t have a full time job yet, which means this is a great opportunity to do RAGBRAI but I don’t have the money coming in to justify getting a really nice bike. My parents will buy it for me if I ask, or at least chip in some money, but I hate to have them continue to provide for me. Ideally, I’d find a nice Schwinn at a Dick’s Sporting Goods or something, but I know selection can be limited so I’m worried I won’t find one.
Currently I’m riding a Mongoose mountain bike. I know that Mongoose isn’t a super good brand and mountain bikes are not very good for long road tours like RAGBRAI. However, all I’ve ever ridden on is a mountain bike, so it’s what I’m used to. Furthermore, this bike is technically several years old, but has been sitting in the basement or barn for most of it – my mom got it because she thought she would join my in cycling and then never did. Until I started using it to train for RAGBRAI two months ago (after I wore out the bike I had been riding since I was 13), it probably had less than 50 miles on it. So it’s in near-perfect condition. I’m in good shape myself, and while I have never done a lot of long distance on a bike (any bike), I can do 20 miles on the Mongoose easily, without feeling sore or exhausted. As for RAGBRAI, I’m planning on stopping in almost every town along the way, taking it easy, and I’m not planning on doing the optional loops.
So, do I really need to get a new bike? Or do you think I can manage on what I’ve got? I’m just frustrated at being a broke recent college grad. Sorry for the long post. :)

13 Replies

reddog1, June 24, 2018 at 11:16 am

Just get some smooth tires. You will be fine.


cmparsley, June 24, 2018 at 3:17 pm

Simply put Michaela, yes. You should find a different bike. I ran the service department at a local bike shop for a few years. I am certified as a League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor, and I am the former president of our local bicycle advocacy group. I list that stuff to lend credibility to my advice.

A person who is going to do RAGBRAI should take steps to give them the best experience possible. My first RAGBRAI was in 2009 and I rode 2 days and I did it on a mountain bike. The second year, I rode every single mile on that same mountain bike. I have ridden every mile, every year since then on a road bike. What a difference! Yes it took a little getting used to, but now I won’t ride anything else.

Now I am not saying you NEED to ride a road bike to enjoy RAGBRAI. What you need is a bike that is comfortable and FUN to ride. You don’t want to wake up in the morning and think, “Ugh, I have to ride this thing all day.” The mountain bike I rode was aluminum. My guess is your mountain bike is steel. I changed the drivetrain on my mountain bike making much more like a hybrid bike. I also added clipless pedals and slick tires. I loved that bike and I loved riding it, so RAGBRAI for me was awesome and life changing.

The Mongoose you have has derailleurs that are finicky to get adjusted properly and they rarely stay adjusted. The department store bikes might have drivetrains that say Shimano on them, but that doesn’t mean it is Shimano’s best or most reliable product either. The department store level of bicycle is not built to be a long lasting, quality bicycle.

So what is a broke college student to do? You have options. And some mighty good one’s too. First thing is to go to your local bike shop and look at their used bikes. Many LBS’ will take bikes in on trade towards new bikes. The trade in bikes where I worked got full on overhauls before they were resold. New cables, housings, tubes, tires, etc… While you are there have them help you determine what size of bicycle is best for you. Take notes. You will need to know the sizes later. Ask if they rent bikes. Maybe they have a decent rental bike you could get for the week.

Get in touch with you local bike clubs and advocacy groups. Maybe one of them has an extra bike you could borrow?

Craigslist is another place to find deals on good used bikes.

Finally, There are bike vendors that will let you “try” one of their bikes for a day on RAGBRAI. You will need to know the right size, and you will have to go talk to them at the expo in each overnight town, but this is a way to hop on a brand new bike each day of RAGBRAI. This option is not guaranteed, and you should make sure you are comfortable on whatever style of bike you borrow.

Whatever route you go with, make sure you have the bike checked over and tuned up like soon. You really should have your bike serviced with enough time to put 50-100 miles on it before taking on RAGBRAI. Cable housings seat into place and such in those first 50 miles after a tune-up and you want to catch those things now rather than out in the middle of Iowa trying to sort it all out.


jay williams, June 24, 2018 at 5:17 pm

Rule #12: The correct number of bikes to own is N+1.


Geoff Butland, June 24, 2018 at 5:53 pm

This sounds familiar. I somehow talked my college age daughter into riding RAGBRAI this year. She, too, has a department store mountain bike. She was ready to ride it but I couldn’t see it being much fun. I searched Craigslist for a few weeks and we found an aluminum frame Specialized Dolce road bike in exactly her size (51cm) for $195. It needed tubes, but otherwise it’s solid. She was surprised at just how light and how fast it was. So….I’d start looking through Craigslist! You still have a couple of weeks to hunt one down.


Norm Ovens, June 24, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Listen to cmparsley and Geoff Butland. If you can swap to a well-fitting light road/touring bike with 25-28mm tires on it, well-tuned. 20-22 speed WITH a good saddle, you will enjoy life so much more on long hot rides. Also if you are a newbie – have you heard of Chamois Buttr? you will thank me if you have not….


Jon Hopcia, June 25, 2018 at 7:34 am

I agree with cmparsley, Geoff & Norm.


Chad Frana, June 25, 2018 at 7:37 am

If you cant afford an expensive bike from a LBS, craigslist is your best bet. I have seen $1500 bikes sell for as low as $200 because people with $$$$ just want it gone!


KenH, June 25, 2018 at 8:13 am

No, you don’t need a new bike unless the one you currently have is not working or is unsafe and it sounds like neither of those is true. If buying a new bike right now would put you in a situation you would rather avoid then your mountain bike will be fine. If you can afford to put a set of smooth road tires on it for the ride you would be doing yourself a favor but folks ride knobbies every year and if you choose to do the gravel loop they would be great for those few miles.

Personally, since you are young and fit and easily able to overcome the limitations of a mountain bike, I would rather see you wait a year or two until you are able to buy a nice bike from a local bike shop instead of what amounts to another department store bike from Dicks. Do some research, determine what kind of bike you would most like to own, save your money, and then get THAT bike. Seriously, if you just ride your mountain bike a little slower than you could ride a road, touring, or gravel bike it won’t beat you up at all and you will have a grand time.

On the other hand, if you really do want to get a new bike right now and you feel uncomfortable taking all or part of the money from your folks (bless your heart!), you could ask them to make it a loan and then make sure to pay it back as you can. My dad lent me the down payment on my first car when I graduated from college and I paid him back over the next year or two. It is a way to let them help you and yet still justifiably feel like you are standing on your own two feet. Just a thought.


hnschipper, June 25, 2018 at 8:58 am

I rode my first 6 or 7 RAGBRAI’s on a mountain bike with no issues whatsoever. Yes, I rode slower than I do on the road bike I have now. But it is doable. So my advice is if you don’t have the funds for a new bike now, and don’t want to take money from your parents for one, then ride what you have and you’re comfortable with and upgrade when you’re able to.


HillsAngels1, June 25, 2018 at 8:59 am

You don’t need a new bike but it’s RAGBRAI so that’s a good excuses to get 1. I convinced the wife that we needed 2 new gravel bikes so we could do the gravel loop this year :)


John Bilsky, June 25, 2018 at 10:06 am

Hey Michaela,

Should you get a new bike for the ride? Egh… maybe but probably not. IF IF IF I were in your shoes:
A. they certainly wouldn’t fit
B. I’d take stock of everyone’s opinions and advice here
C. Decide wisely based on your situation.

For starters, a Mongoose with street slicks or road type tires would be my minimal requirement. Knobby tires WILL both slow you down and wear you out. I will be riding a custom camouflage painted mountain bike with street tires and think it’s excellent. (Say hello if you happen to spot me. Likely it’ll be the only camo mt. bike with a blue “trunk” on the rear rack.) The BIG advantage is if one has to leave the pavement quickly to avoid some danger, a mountain bike is much less likely to dump you on your keister.

A good saddle is IMO the next optin you should consider. If your butt hurts; you’re not doing it right. There are several great saddles out there designed specifically for women AND the great thing about buying a new saddle is that if & when you get a new bike, you can transfer the saddle. Be sure it’s properly installed in the right position for you.

With a mountain bike you won’t have as many different hand positions on your handlebars so you might want to think about adding some sort of “bar ends” just to give you additional flexibility for comfort.

Obviously you want your current bike to be as well tuned as possible. This year’s ride is going to be fairly flat so I wouldn’t fret too much about having it perfect. In the past I’ve met a wonderful Japanese young man doing a world tour. His rear wheel had THREE spokes broken or missing and needless to say was WAYYYYYY out of true. His brakes were marginal to say the least and he had the full touring package with panniers tied up with bungie cords and poorly tied cordage. Every working component need lubing; his chain was a mess. BUT he was completely happy and really.. isn’t that the goal? Of course I did my best to give his bike a little tuning and the language “barrier” was easily overcome with smiles and hand gestures.

Other possibilities are of course the Craig’s List option which is pretty good.

Personally I’d stay as debt free as possible regardless of all else. This is only a week long ride and any adversity will make for great “story” in the end. That “story” will be told for years and years and with each telling it will get better.

Do you need a new bike? Egh… I’ve seen a guy do RAGBRAI on a unicycle. Best of luck to ya.



jeffreydennis, June 25, 2018 at 10:17 am

Just make sure this one is in good mechanical condition. Lots of miles can give you the chance to break lots of equipment. You’re young, you can do this


Elizabeth Moreau, June 25, 2018 at 9:01 pm

My two cents, for what it’s worth: Spend your money on a good tune up before ragbrai and save your bike funds for when you’ve got time to get used to a new ride. You’ll know a lot more about what you want after you spend some time on your current bike. I rode last year on a fairly knobby hybrid. I was slow and I had a great time. There’s plenty more important stuff to worry about (peach or strawberry rhubarb pie, for instance!) and you’re best off on the bike you’re most comfortable on. And only you know what one that is!


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