Choosing the perfect commuting bike is not that hard, as long as you keep in mind some basic things. As easy as it might be, this is not a decision one should take lightly – since you will be spending significant time on the saddle, you may want a safe, sturdy bike that you look forward to riding every single day. Are you ready to start shopping but aren’t sure what exactly to look for? Then this guide is for you. Here is how to choose the perfect bike for your commute.
General Factors to Take into Consideration
Even before looking at particular models, you should take into account several general factors. By answering the following questions, you will be able to make a more informed decision:
- Terrain – Plan your route accordingly before going for a specific model. What type of ground will you be riding on your way to work? Flat, rocky, muddy? Is the local infrastructure good enough to support an easy commute?
- Distance – This is quite self-explanatory. Can you cover the whole distance, from start to finish, on your bike? Assuming you live somewhere in the suburbs and you want to commute to the city for work, could you do that every single day and reach the office on time?
- Comfort – Here, you will have to decide what you value the most, speed or comfort. Are you willing to sacrifice speed for increased comfort?
- Physical condition – We are not asking here whether you are a world class athlete, rather if you have any back, hip, or knee problems that could make your commute unpleasant.
- Storage – Will you need a small bike that can fit in an office cubicle, or do you have a spot to park it? What are the chances of your bike getting stolen?
- Reasons for commuting – Do you want to get into shape? Are you concerned about your environmental impact? Or do you genuinely believe that commuting by bike rather than a car is more practical in your particular situation?
- Gearing – Do you have to climb up hills during your commute or is it a flat road? Do you need multiple gears or a simple bike with a single speed setting?
- Budget – Are you on a tight budget or are you willing to spend whatever it takes to get a good bike?
These are some of the commuting-specific questions you will have to ask yourself before taking other things into consideration, such as the features of the bike. Study the distance, the quality and the specificities of the road (whether it is bumpy, rocky, muddy), and decide between comfort and speed.
If you are planning to commute daily to work, you will have to take into account the rider position. For shorter distances that do not involve excessive amounts of physical effort (say, a straight road with no bumps and slopes), an upright, relaxed position is ideal. Many bikes (classic, hybrid, urban, etc.) support this position.
In the case of longer rides, a forward-leaning riding position is required. Bikes that support this rider position are the track, road and triathlon ones. Finally, for average distances and medium effort that require a combined upright-forward position, flat-road bikes are ideal.
Commuting through suburbia and thick city traffic means that you will need a bike with sturdy, responsive brakes. There are two types of brakes specific to commuter bikes:
- Rim brakes. You squeeze the lever, and then two rubber pads push against the wheel rim, slowing the bike down until it comes to a full stop. Also called ‘’caliper brakes’’, these are the most common brakes. They are responsive, reliable, easy to maintain, and cheaper than disk brakes;
- Disc brakes. A technology borrowed from cars and motorbikes, disc brakes are highly appreciated by experienced riders for their reliability. Although they are much more expensive than caliper brakes, they are suitable for all weather conditions and are generally easier to maintain. Disc brakes are found in two variants – mechanical (cheaper, but harder to maintain) and hydraulic (better performance, and easier to maintain).
Features That Make the Ride More Pleasant
As functional as the local infrastructure might be, there is no such thing as a perfect road – you will always find yourself bumping into holes, riding on muddy roads, dodging rocks, passing street, and sidewalk cracks, and so on. In these cases, you will need high-quality wheels and tires for a comfortable ride.
Tires are the unsung heroes of commuter bikes – since they are the primary source of traction and shock absorption, they will make the difference between a pleasant commute and a bumpy nightmare. Light tread tires are ideal for city riding. For commuting outside the city limits, wide tires are ideal thanks to their puncture resistance.
Since you will be shopping for a complete bike, you will not have to worry about selecting the tires by hand. However, they will eventually wear out, forcing you to replace them. In this case, look at the sidewall of the tire for a number pairing – that is the size, with the first being the diameter, and the latter being the width.
As for the wheel size, the 700c wheels (28 inches) is the standard variation, which can be used for both mountain and road racing bikes. Smaller wheels (26 – 27.5 inch), typically found on some mountain bikes, offer lower weight and easier maneuverability.
Commuter-Specific Features to Look For
These are the types of features that are not mandatory, but rather nice to have. If you plan to use the bike for commuting, there are a few things that will make your daily ride more pleasant:
- A rack or a basket. Surely you do not want to keep your work dossiers under your armpit while riding, right? For this reason, you will need to look for a bike that either has rack compatibility (in the form of mounting holes) or comes with one already installed;
- Fender. This is important especially for areas with plenty of rainfall. Ideally, you should pick a bike that supports rear and front fenders, because you would not want to show up at the office covered in mud. While some urban bikes include fenders, for most of them, you will have to purchase one separately and install it.
Seats, Grips, and Pedals Make All the Difference
The final aspects you will need to consider – except for the type of bike, which we will cover briefly in the next entry – are the seats, grips, and pedals:
- Pedals. Most commuter bikes come with flat (or platform) pedals, which are designed for short and moderate distance rides. If your daily commute is longer than that, you should look for aged or clipless pedals as they greatly increase pedaling efficiency, especially uphill or on wet, muddy roads;
- The seat is the biggest factor that will influence your level of comfort. Sadly, there are no objective criteria by which to judge a seat’s comfort level, so you should figure it out yourself by taking the bike on a short, 5-minute test run. Before doing that, make sure the bike is adjusted correctly. Do not be afraid to adjust the saddle if it feels uncomfortable. You can find some really good bike seats in my dedicated article.
- Grips. A small, yet important detail that is highly subjective – what feels comfortable for you might feel like a nightmare for someone else. If you find the ideal bike, but with bad stock grips, you can always exchange them for something more suitable at a relatively low price.
Common Types of Commuter Bikes
Now that we have covered the factors that you should take into consideration before buying a commuter bike, it is time to look at the styles available on the market. Some of these models’ roles and features overlap, while others are designed for specific road conditions and distances.
- Hybrid bikes are exactly what the name suggests – mixing the best design elements of touring, mountain, and road bikes. They are ideal for city riding and rural roads with dirt and gravel and support an upright position;
- Road bikes are ideal if you cover long distances on your daily commute, especially on rural roads. Road bikes feature light components like frames and thin tires while supporting an upright position. Even though road bikes typically do not come with the commuter-specific features discussed above (namely rack and fender compatibility), they are still great for commuting if you have nothing against carrying a backpack;
- If you want to store your bike inside a tiny office or take it on public transport (bus or metro), a folding bike might be up your alley;
- Flat-bar road bikes are slightly upgraded versions of road bikes, which support a relaxed, more comfortable position. The flat handlebars, as well as the height of the saddle, grant the rider greater visibility through the usually chaotic city traffic;
- Urban bikes are a relatively new addition to the market and are designed to meet the requirements of both avid city riders and commuters. While they are built primarily with city riding in mind, urban bikes can handle themselves pretty well on short stretches of dirt, cobblestone, and gravel;
- Single-speed and fixed gear bikes are ideal for people who prefer a minimalist approach to bikes. They look good, are easy to maintain, and reliable. Also, they are very trendy in US colleges, and they are considered a very good choice for commuting to college.
This concludes our article about choosing the best bikes for commuting. Whether you have chosen the bike over the car for environmental reasons or simply because it is more practical, commuting by bike can be a life-changing experience – not to mention that it is a great way to stay in shape. But before picking a specific model, it is best to ask yourself why you want to buy it in the first place, and then look for the features that are designed for that exact purpose. We hope this article will provide some insight and lead you in the right direction.