Typical price ranges for bicycles in the United States are <$200 for low-end junk bikes, about $500 for entry-level bikes, $1000-1500 for mid-range bikes, and $2000+ for high-end bikes. This is far less to pay for a transportation vehicle than a car, so there is no good reason to get less than a mid-range bicycle.
A general rule for used bicycles is that they cost about half as much as a new bicycle.
Given that bicycles cost much less than cars, it does in some circumstances make sense to own more than one bicycle. For example, one could have a fast road bike for commuting and a heavy utility bike for grocery shopping.
The best generic bike that will fulfill most purposes is the steel frame touring bike. It is reasonable fast (only a road bike is faster) and it carries a decent load. Several companies make touring bikes. The classic entry-level touring bike is the Trek520. You can usually buy these used during winter time or early spring. Expect them to disappear fast as touring season starts. If you ever get tired of this bike, it is easy to sell again. You can also make your own steel frame touring bike using an old 1980s/early 90s no-suspension mountain bike. Put panniers and slick tires on and you have a reasonably fast bike. It is not as fast as a road-touring bike, but a MTB-based touring bike is capable of off-road and since it is based on mountain bike components and wheels it is generally cheaper to get parts and repair it.
Steel touring bikes currently in production include
- Jamis Aurora
- Raleigh Sojourn
- Rivendell Atlantis
- Salsa Casseroll
- Soma Saga
- Surly Long Haul Trucker
- Cannondale T2000 (older models)
- Novara Randonee
- Trek 520 (mentioned above)
Large database with pictures of loaded touring bikes. Notice which bikes they are based on.
Bad choices for commuter bikes are beach cruisers (very slow and heavy), and suspension mountain bikes.
Panniers are very useful for a bike used for commuting and grocery store buying. Even when you do not plan on carrying weight, depending on your climate you should also bring your jacket for the cold climates and/or a waterproof cloth of some kind. You probably would bring your shiny delicate work shoes in the panniers but while cycling you would wear some sturdier and waterproof boots if there is risk of raining. Also bring an extra pair of socks, just in case yours get wet. If the climate is hot enough, you may just wear sandals instead of waterproof boots.
Light weight (especially carbon-framed) road bikes usually lack braze-on eyelets for mounting panniers. Instead of panniers you could also use a bike trailer.
Fixies and Single-speed bicycles are also very efficient regarding energy usage (you get farther with same amount of effort spent), are very low-maintenance and cheaper to buy and fix, as they are simpler and have less parts to fail. For these it is important to get a good gear ratio that it matched to your local terrain. A ratio which is too high will make it impossible to climb hill. A ratio that is too low will make the bike too slow on flat terrain. A good way to discover the better ratio for you and your terrain is observing the speeds you use more when riding a multiple speed bike.
A steel frame is better when it gets broke and you need to weld it, because aluminum frames will require a special kind of weld that is not available everywhere. Steel frame also absorbs better the impacts from irregular road, making for a better cycling experience without the need for suspension. The ultimate in repairability is a lugged steel frame. A modestly skilled amateur will have a good shot at repairing such a frame with a blow torch. Enterprising types would build their own frames video.
Traffic rules vary from country to country. For example, in the US, bicycles are considered slow vehicles and obey the same rules as cars. In Europe they are considered a special case, for instance, left turns in intersections are generally not allowed.
A red light of a full stop sign is NOT a suggestion! This is how people die. Other ways for people to die is to ride in the wrong side against traffic or side on the sidewalk and then onto the street as would happen for a side street (cars don't expect to see bicycles doing that).
A fast bicycle makes it much safer to navigate intersections safely as it is possible to out-accelerate cars and thus clear the crossing before the cars.
Keep the following three things in mind at all time
- Ride as if cars haven't seen you. It is very likely that they haven't. Try to establish eye contact with the drivers, especially semi-trucks.
- Take the lane according to the speed of the road/traffic. If traffic is moving at 20mph and you move at 20 mph, you should be close to the middle of the road. If traffic is moving at 50 mph and you move at 15 mph, you should be on the shoulder.