I am new to the Chicago biking community. I have never needed to purchase a city bike before and was wondering whether anyone had any advice for me.
To set somewhat of a starting point for this discussion, I have been eyeing the Fuji Declaration 2012.
The intention is to use is both as recreation and to get from point A to B within the city.
Any and all advice is appreciated!
>>>What's the benefit of the wider wheel? Most if the city bikes I looked at seemed to have similarly thin wheels.
As others have correctly said, for comfort mostly, and wider tires seem to have less flats. I ride a CX bicycle with 700X32 tires through Chicago to work, and in 2 years have never had a flat tire. You can also run bigger tires at lower pressures without fear of a pinch flat. Bigger tires may also be safer in the sense of easily running over bad pavement, steel bridge grids, and other obstacles.
There is a very big difference between a 21mm wide tire and a 32 mm wide tire with respect to ride comfort and safety.
Even a 28mm tire is a huge improvement over a 25 and especially a 23. It's not just the width of the tire but the volume of air inside it that allows tire pressure to safely be much lower without so many issues. Let a 23mm tire get a little low and you are in the red zone pretty quick.
If you're new to riding in a city, start on a bike that gives you a more upright posture to help you get used to turning to look for traffic from all directions, starting and stopping quickly, and developing the other nuances of city riding. When you move to drops or a more streamlined position you'll be more comfortable and safe. I went from this to this to this.
Also, for every minute you spend thinking about your new bike, spend thirty seconds thinking about how and where you plan to lock it up! Day and at night. My sense is that a lot of people have their first bike stolen while they get used to keeping it around the city.
For both reasons, you could scout Working Bikes, A Nearly New Shop, or the upcoming Swap for something low-committal but quality. Good luck!
As for as tires go. I have been using 700x23 slicks year round for about 4 years and switched to 700x28 last year and it is a HUGE difference. The tread is a factor as well. 700x32 slicks are still slicks. Try to find something that resembles a car tire made for all weather and handels just about anything the city can throw at it. ALso as a new rider to the city make sure you check your tire pressure often. A weekly check has kept me flat free for going on 18 months on three different bikes.