In terms of bike commuting for beginners, there are many different options out there for you to choose from and it can be a little daunting.
However, in this post, we’ll narrow down your options by focusing on what exactly you need for your commute. By thinking about all the elements of your journey or route to work for bike commuting, that way we can then start to help you answer this question and get out on your bike as soon as possible. So, let’s begin!
What is the best commuter bike for beginners? The best commuter bike for you is the one that suits your distance, terrain, comfort and can carry what you need. To help you answer this quickly, let’s categorize the main journey types and match them with the best commuter bike for a beginner, as follows:
- Short (<2miles) mostly flat urban bike commute: Golden Cycles Single-speed bike
- Short-medium distance (1-8 miles) urban commute with some hills: Specialized Sirrus Hybrid bike with disc brakes (and multiple speed options)
- Medium distance ride (3-8 miles) combined with car or public transit options: Brompton Folding Bike
- Medium distance ride (3-8 miles) with lower fitness level: Kemanner Electric Mountain Bike with 21 Speed Options
- Longer distance ride (>8 miles) all on roads: Fuji Touring Bike or Giant Contend 3 Road Bike
- Short-medium distance off-road commute: Giant ATX Mountain bike (get an electric version if longer a route!)
To clarify, all the distances mentioned above are for each journey, not for a round trip to work and back. You can take these with a grain of salt since 2 miles of a hilly route can feel more physically demanding than 8 miles on the flats, but they are there as a rough guide.
Urban means mostly on roads, although it could allow for some cycleways but not for rough, off-road terrain.
With that said, let’s look at each type of journey and the pros and cons of the bikes mentioned for every type of commute with beginners in mind.
Best Commuter Bike for Short (<2miles) Mostly Flat Urban Rides: Single-speed bike
Pros of a Single-Speed Commuter Bike
Great on a Budget
A single-speed bike is recommended here since it means you can save a few dollars by not going for a bike with gears, which keeps things simple.
The lower cost here is appealing as it will mean that you are less worried about damaging your bike or leaving it locked up outside your office. This sounds funny but some people spend megabucks on a first commuter bike only to leave it gathering dust in their garage or, worse still, it attracts thieves because they haven’t locked it up properly and it is gone in a week.
Cons of a Single-Speed Commuter Bike
Only for Specific Use
However, the downside to having this kind of bike is that it is limited to the type of journey described above for your commute – shorter rides without any real hills. This is because the lack of gears (or speeds) makes it much harder to climb as you cannot lower the resistance on the chain as you try to pedal your bike up a hill.
What is a fixie bike? This is the same as a single-speed bike but with one difference: it uses the pedals as brakes and cannot coast or freewheel. This means that you pedal backward to brake on one of these bikes and that you need to let the pedals turn with the wheels to go downhill.
As such, these are not recommended for bike commuting beginners but please note that you will find some single-speed bikes that can switch between being a fixed-gear (or ‘fixie’) bike and a single-speed bike, so check this when buying and be sure you know how to switch between the two different modes.
Recommended Single-Speed Commuter Bike
If you think a simple, cheap single-speed bike might be the option for you, then the Golden Cycles Single Speed Fixed Gear bike is a great budget option.
Short-medium Distance (1-8 miles) Urban Commute with Some Hills: Specialized Sirrus Hybrid Bike
A classic hybrid bike will be a great option for anyone starting out with bicycle commuting with a short-medium ride and some hills. Hybrid bikes have the a-typical bike frame with straight handlebars.
Pros of a Hybrid Bike for Commuting
I currently use the Specialized Sirrus for my bike commute journey of 2.5 miles each way and can tell you exactly what I like about having a hybrid bike for this purpose.
Leisurely Riding Style
I chose a hybrid because it has a relaxed riding style with the flat handlebars. This means that you ride in a mostly upright position and have good visibility of what is ahead. When compared with a road bike, riding them feels like it requires less effort so they are a good bet for any novice bike commuters who are less confident riding a bike.
Versatile Rack Options
Hybrid bikes also come with eyelets to attach a rear rack to. This is a great option for commuting since rear racks, or ‘pannier racks’, allow you to carry bags on the back of your bike, making it more versatile as you can also do things like the grocery shopping on the way home from work without too many problems.
Good for Work Shoes
The pedals on commuter bikes are also suitable for work or casual shoes and do not normally have fancy clips or other devices that make getting on and off tricky.
Cons of a Hybrid Bike for Commuting
Not Great for Windy Routes
One of the downsides I have found of having a hybrid bike for commuting is that their riding position is quite upright. This can be frustrating in windy conditions because you can feel the wind slowing you down. I often see people on road bikes or touring bikes going past me quite quickly as their lower riding position makes them much more aerodynamic. However, I still remind myself that their road bikes are good for speed but not much else, so there is a definite amount of ‘give and take’ involved in whatever choice of commuter bike you make.
Not for Long Distance
There aren’t too many cons for hybrid bikes here in that they suit commuters in this range pretty well, just make sure that you don’t try to do too many long-distance rides on your commuter bike as they are not the right bikes for marathon journeys on a regular basis (look at a touring bike for that option).
Recommended Hybrid Bike for Commuting
If you plan to ride 1-8 miles each way on your commute, the Specialized Sirrus Hybrid bike is a fantastic option and comes recommended from my own experience of riding it.
Medium Distance Ride (3-8 miles) Combined with Car or Public Transit Options: Brompton Folding Bike
Some of you might also have a medium-distance ride (5-10 miles) but need to combine it with driving part of the way or using public transit. The answer here is to get started bike commuting with a folding bike, as will be explained below.
Pros of a Folding Bike for Commuting
Versatile for City Commuters
As the title of this section suggests, you can easily combine a folding bike with other forms of transport given their size when folded. The compact size of a Brompton means that you can fit it with ease into the trunk of any car, and even carry it on to buses and other public transit options as they don’t take up much more space than the size of a small item of luggage.
Bromptons also come top of the list for folding bikes because they are extremely well built and because they fold away in seconds. The speed of this transition is much faster than any other bikes that I know about at present and therefore makes them ideal for bike commuters who need to switch between different transport modes.
The folding option also means that you can take smaller folded bikes with you into the office (although cheaper folding bike options might not work here). Being able to take a bike with you means that the threat of having your new commuter bike stolen is almost eradicated and you therefore don’t have to worry about it not being where you left it at the end of your workday!
Great for Small Spaces (Work or Home)
Added to all of the above, folding bikes are great for any commuters living with limited storage for a bike either at home or work. They can be stowed away under desks during the day and under a bed at night, which is a fantastic option to have.
Although I have not owned a Brompton, I am constantly tempted to buy one (but don’t tell my wife that!) as they are such beautifully engineered machines that they appear to last a lifetime and provide a whole range of practical benefits that most other folding bikes could not get close to. I have test ridden one and thoroughly enjoyed it – I was most surprised by the pedal power as I expected to be a lot more effort than it was.
Cons of a Folding Bike for Commuting
Hills are More of a Challenge
With many folding bikes, the design means that they are not great for generating speed or power since the small wheels are a factor of the design. Hill climbing is a challenge for many folding bikes, too.
Although a Brompton can handle hills and goes surprisingly fast given its tiny wheels, you would need to get the 3-speed option to feel comfortable climbing hills on a regular basis with one, and they do not come cheap.
One further point is that, beyond the commute, folding bikes have a smaller range than most bikes in that they require that bit more effort to cover ground. This means that they are not something that you might want to go for a long weekend ride on, but it depends on how much you think you will use them.
Limited Rack Options
The only other issue of a folding bike for bike commuters is that they struggle to carry a load on the rear rack given the design. This might be a concern if you see yourself needing to carry bags or accessories with you (perhaps gym kit) for other activities beyond your usual workday.
Recommended Folding Bike for Commuting
So, a Brompton folding bike is recommended if you want the versatility of combing your bike commute with other forms of transport, or if you have a medium distance ride to work and need something that is compact and easy to use.
Medium Distance Ride (3-8 miles) with Lower Fitness Level: Kemanner Electric Mountain Bike with 21 Speed Options
If you’re a little concerned that your fitness level might not be up to cycling to work, then an electric bike for your commute is a great option. These kinds of bikes are becoming more and more common as the related technology advances quickly, and they can suit commuters down to the ground.
Pros of Electric Bikes for Commuting
Electric bikes have a pedal assist, meaning that they help you along once you are up and riding. They do not, however, ride without any pedaling from you, the rider – vehicles that do not need pedaling are classed as scooters and are a different animal altogether. The pedal assist is capped at a certain speed as this is dictated by regional and national laws, with the current legal limit being 20 MPH in the USA. As I’m sure you’ll agree, traveling at 20 MPH on a bike commute journey with an electric assist certainly sounds appealing to most riders, especially on a sluggish morning or after an exhausting, long day of work.
The obvious benefit here is that the assisted riding means that you can generally travel greater distances with less effort, so any new bike commuters concerned about fitness levels would benefit greatly from this. Ebikes also mean that you are able to get riding to work from the get-go and can build up your fitness as you go. While you do this, you can reduce or limit the amount of time you use the assist function during your commute on your e-bike gradually over time, meaning that you will slowly be doing more of the work. That said, you could just go faster with the electric assist and change it up that – the beauty being that you have the choice to make!
Easier on Hills
Hilly routes are also a heck of a lot easier with electric bicycles when commuting as the battery power can propel you uphill without changing your riding position. I have seen many an e-bike rider fly past me on a hill looking both comfortable and smug – a good combo, I must say!
You might also find that you sweat a little less after hilly parts of your ride if you have an electric bike. I say this because the hygienic side of bike commuting is something that causes concern for bike commuters who have to work in small spaces with other colleagues and might not have a shower at work. If this sounds appealing, then all the more reason to opt for an electric bike.
Cons of Electric Bikes for Commuting
Evidently, electric bikes are not perfect and there are several reasons why they might not be the ideal bike for you. Let’s have a look at these below.
Batteries Can Run Out
As with all batteries, e-bike batteries will eventually run out and therefore you will need to charge them. This might not be a concern for you in terms of electricity or time, but getting used to riding with the pedal assist function means that running out of batter mid-ride could be a big deal for some riders, especially if they are on their way to work! Clearly, this can be avoided by regular charging but if you don’t get the opportunity to charge it at your usual time, it could run out on you unexpectedly.
The battery issue is also a slight problem in that e-bikes weigh a little more than standard bikes of a similar design, making them a touch harder climb up hills on your commute if you don’t have the pedal-assist option due to a flat battery.
Not all are Weatherproof
Another downside to note about electric bikes is that their batteries and components may be more prone to wear and loss of function if left outside in wet climates regularly. Clearly, bike commuting means that most of us will be leaving our bikes outside a lot of the time, so consider whether you have sufficient shelter, a dry enough climate or simply feel that this long-term problem won’t be an issue for you (since it depends on the quality of the components on the bike you choose).
Can Attract Thieves
The price and design of e-bikes can also make them something more of a target for thieves as it is clear from their batter that they are electric, therefore having a higher price tag than standard bikes.
You may find ways to cover your battery or use your e-bike discreetly, but just bear this in mind since most commuter bikes will be left outside for many hours in a day. You can also look into getting bikes that have easily detachable batteries to get around this issue.
Recommended Electric Bike for Commuting
As mentioned, the Kemanner Electric Mountain bike is a good budget commuter option as it means a reliable bike that you can use in the rain without having the usual massive price tag of many of the more well-known branded e-bikes.
Longer distance ride (>8 miles) all on roads: Fuji Touring Bike or Giant Contend 3 Road bike
Both touring bikes and road bikes are well suited to riders with longer journeys of say 8 miles or more each way. However, the key distinction between these two types of bikes for commuters is that touring bikes weigh more but carry more while road bikes weigh less and have less grip on different surfaces. Let’s look at each type more closely below.
Pros of a Touring Bike for Commuting
Good for Cargo
Touring bikes are the only bikes that are truly designed to carry bags both front and back, making them an absolute workhorse of a bike. They are therefore a great option for you if you think you will be carrying lots of bags and items with you on your bike regularly. For instance, you might want to load up with your gym or sports kit while also stopping to do the groceries – these bikes can handle it all in one go, which is unique among the bikes listed on this page.
Suited for Long Distance
As mentioned in the heading above, touring bikes are suited to longer commutes by dint of their design. The heavy-duty frames and design mean that they are built to power through longer journeys with ease.
Touring bikes are therefore a great option if you think you might also like to go bike-packing or do long-distance rides on the weekends or in the holiday season, giving a lot more use out of your commuter bike.
Cons of a Touring Bike for Commuting
The main drawback of using a touring bike for commuting is their heavier frame since they are made for long journeys carrying heavier loads, so their frame is that much heavier!
When riding, you probably won’t notice much difference, but this could be a problem if you would need to carry your bike up or down steps on your commute at any point.
If you will need to carry your bike in this way, a road bike would probably be a better option for you.
Recommended Touring Bike for Commuting
The Fuji Touring Bike comes recommended as a touring bike option since it has disc brakes for powerful braking ability, good reviews and is in the budget price range for novice commuter riders. This bike can handle just about any weight you can throw at it and still keep on rolling – a workhorse of a bike for those who might like to go further or on adventures on the weekends.
Pros of Commuting on a Road Bike
You’re probably now wondering ‘is a road bike good for commuting?’ Yes, road bikes are well suited to longer rides only roads and good cycling surfaces as they allow you to go considerably faster than other types of bikes, a big bonus if you have a long way to go on your commute.
If you are looking to go super fast on your bike commute a road bike is sleek, speedy and aerodynamic. They have drop handlebars which make for a more intense riding style, which is good if you want to get your commute done as quickly as possible.
Road bikes are also lighter than other types of bikes since they are meant to go as fast as possible, meaning less weight in the frame of the bike to slow you down. This can be an added bonus if you plan to carry your bike up steps or stairs at either end of your journey (doing this every day can make a big difference to your commute).
Cons of Commuting on a Road Bike
However, road bikes have several downsides when it comes to commuting.
The first obvious point is that they can only handle roads and smooth surfaces and so they are no good for commuters who have rough parts of their route to work or even need to go off-road. The problem is that the tires on road bikes are skinny and designed for speed, but as soon as you take them off a perfect surface they will lose almost all grip and slide all over the place. If you know your route and the terrain along the way, then you can judge whether this will be an issue for you.
Road bikes are generally at a higher price point than many other bikes, probably due to their lightweight frame costing more. Although this might still be within your budget, the higher price for commuters does mean having the extra concern of a more expensive bike being left outside the office for many hours in the day, with the unwanted attention that this may bring (as discussed earlier in this post).
Although the intense riding style of a road bike is mentioned as a positive above, this may also not be suited to your type of riding. If you want a more relaxed type of ride then a road bike is not for you. This is because they are designed for maximum effort and a low riding position, which is quite different from the leisurely, upright position of a hybrid bike.
Fewer Rack Options
Road bikes also do not cater for racks and pannier bags as well as other bikes. This is again because of their design for speed, so they have not been made to hold cargo.
That said, you can work around this and get a rear rack which fixes to the seat post on a road bike, but these are not quite the same as bikes which have the eyelets on the frame expressly for the purpose of attaching a rack.
Recommended Road Bike for Commuting
So, what is a good road bike for a beginner? The Giant Contend 3 Road bike is a great option if speed is a priority for you on your ride to work and if you don’t want to break the bank as it is in the budget price range for reliable road bikes at around $650.
Off-road commute: Mountain bike (get an electric version if longer route)
If you have an off-road commute, then the only real option is a mountain bike as these will get you through the mud and dirt and on to your
Pros of a Mountain Bike for Commuting
The clue is really in the name here – mountain bikes handle off-road terrain and are therefore a de facto first choice for beginning bike commuters who need to go off-road, be it on mud or through fields.
Bumps and Jumps
They also have suspension for handling bumps and can even do jumps up curbs if you come across any in the urban parts of your ride.
Poor Quality Roads
The suspension is a good bet if you have a road with lots of potholes or rough patches in it, too. Standard bikes are prone to punctures on such surface but, thanks to the suspension on mountain bikes, they will handle these with flying colors and will therefore require less maintenance in the long-term.
Cons of a Mountain Bike for Commuting
Slow on Roads
If you do need to go on roads or paved surfaces during your commute, mountain bikes are likely the slowest type of bike since the tires are designed for softer ground.
Assuming that your commute is mostly off-road, this should not be a major concern as you will have to use a mountain bike for the off-road elements of your journey.
Limited Rack Options
Again, as with road bikes, since mountain bikes are not designed for carrying cargo, you will have limited options for rear racks.
This would mean either a seat post rack or carrying a small backpack, which requires more careful planning in terms of what you will take to work on a daily basis and attempts to keep it light.
Recommended Mountain Bike for Commuting
The Giant ATX Mountain bike comes recommended for beginner commuters because it has an entry-level price point and a quality, reliable ride.
As an additional point, I would recommend paying the extra $50 or so for the disc brake version of the Giant ATX if you can afford it. However, please note that the ATX only offers front suspension, which should be enough for most beginner riders but in extreme cases, a full-suspension mountain bike might be needed, although these come in at around double the price (!).
What is a commuter bike? This is a catch-all term, often used for a hybrid bike with a standard frame and flat handlebars. Commuter bikes will allow for carrying bags on a rear rack (pannier bags and racks) and are a reliable option for most – see the image below for mine!
Are commuter bikes fast? They are in the middle of the speed range, being neither super fast nor super slow. Commuter bikes are also called hybrid bikes as they blend many different characteristics from several styles of bike, hence they come out in the middle on speed.