Bike Commuting Long Distance: How Anyone Can Do It

Bike commuting long distance seems daunting for many and is enough to put them off doing it, but it need not be the case as there are many ways in which you can approach a long-distance commute by bike, even with limited time and resources.

To get started, let’s jump right into some of the key questions for anyone considering a long ride to work by bicycle.

What is considered a long bike commute? For most, more than about 8 miles one way would be a long commute by bike. However, it also depends on your level of fitness, the type of terrain on which you will be riding and the type of bike you have, as will be explained below.

How far can you commute by bike? This really depends on your circumstances and the time you have to do it. More than 8 miles each way will feel like a major journey for most commuters, but experienced bike riders could push this to an upper limit of 10-12 miles with the right equipment.

What is the best bicycle for commuting to work long distance? The best bicycles for a long-distance commute are the following, according to your journey type:

  • Urban riding with the option to drive or use public transportation part of the way: Brompton folding bike
  • Urban riding on roads for fit riders carrying few bags: BMC TeamMachine ALR ONE Road bike or Trek 520 Touring bike
  • Riding on roads and some cycleways for fit riders carrying multiple bags: Trek 520 Touring bike
  • Riding on roads and some cycleways for less fit riders carrying multiple bags: Trek Verve+2 Electric Hybrid bike

Please note that these bikes are not in the budget range since the longer distance means that you will need to go for a slightly more expensive bike to make your ride as comfortable as possible while also getting more years out of the bike with less hassle.

Now that you know the type of bike that will suit your kind of riding or journey, let’s look in a little more depth at each type of bike and journey, and how to do it properly, followed by a run-down of all the essential gear for longer bike rides to work.

Urban riding with the option to drive or use public transit part of the way: Folding bike

If you have a lot of ground to cover in an urban environment, or even just on roads all of the way, using a combination of both motorized transport and a folding bike is the perfect option.

By traveling part of the way using another form of transport, likely the one you already use, you can get the benefits of riding a bike to work while also not having to cover the entire distance. This makes many journeys which you might have previously considered ‘impossible’ that bit more doable.

The other benefit of taking these journeys using both bike and motorized transport means that the time will be a lot less than you might have thought, so saving you there.

The flexibility of this option is also a huge bonus as it allows you to try your journey in various different ways, suddenly making it a challenge, rather than a hassle.

Why a folding bike for long-distance commutes split with car or public transit?

A folding bike comes into its own on this kind of journey since the compact size when folded means that you can quickly and easily stow your bike in the trunk of your car, take it on a bus, metro or train, and even store it under your desk at work once you get there.

Why a Brompton for this kind of long-distance commute?

For a long time, Brompton bikes were the only ones allowed on the underground in London given their surprisingly compact size once folded, hence they come recommended here.

Bromptons are also an extremely high-quality bicycle, giving you an unexpected amount of pedal power for such tiny wheels.

The quality of Brompton bikes is reflected in their premium cost, but this should be money well-spent as you can expect many years of happy riding on a Brompton once purchased. They are also in-demand in the used bikes market too, meaning that you can get a good amount for a used Brompton if you choose to sell one on after a period of use.

You can see just how quickly and easily Brompton bikes can be unfolded in the video below, showing a user doing it in about 12 seconds:

Splitting the Journey for Easier, Cheaper Transport

Car Drivers

If you currently drive to work, you could look into parking somewhere further our from your usual parking space and potentially save money on your current parking costs. For instance, there might be free parking in a secure area a couple of miles from your work that you could make use of. 

Alternatively, you could make use of sites like JustPark, PaveMint, SpotHero to find cheap parking just about anywhere. These sites work on a similar model to Air Bnb in that they let ‘hosts’ rent out their parking space at their house, usually for much cheaper rates than dedicated parking spaces. Make sure that you check out the details around any hosts before using them to ensure that your vehicle is as safe as you are happy with before proceeding. This can be done easily using an app for each platform, so it’s certainly straightforward.

If you can make a habit of this, you should then see some savings from your usual commuting costs.

Public Transportation Users

If you’re currently using public transportation, then you still have quite a few options available to you if you want to combine this with a long-distance cycle to work.

The first thing you can do is to try getting off your chosen form of public transportation a few, or even many, stops earlier than usual on your commute. This means you can start riding part of the way to work, with some of the ‘heavy lifting’ done for you by the use of public transportation part of the way. Obviously, getting off in an area that you don’t know well at all is not ideal, so planning your journey is highly advisable here. 

To do this, first check your route using the cycling directions planner on Google Maps. Then do a trial run on the weekend, allowing for mishaps and longer than expected journeys – this will reduce the stress when it comes to trying to do this on a workday for an actual commute and is always recommended. If you find the route torturous say because of a hill, then try looking at an alternative route, or even get off your form of public transportation earlier/later depending on how it goes.

The beauty here is that there are infinite combinations of routes and journeys that you can make, so think of it as an exercise in exploration and also an investment in your health. It might even make the commute a little more fun, as crazy as that sounds.

Great for Flexible Commute Options

Whichever way you currently commute, the flexibility in this type of combined journey means that you can choose how far you want to travel on any given day. This allows for you to skip these kinds of rides on days when you don’t feel up to it and simply revert to your usual journey mode, or even just ride a small part of the way.

Option to Build up to Full Bike Commute Journey

Another appealing aspect of these journeys is that you can also build up to a full bike commute in future, if that appeals. This would allow you to become familiar with your chosen route, and also get an idea of your fitness levels and how you might cope with it.

The point is that there is no rush to get yourself to a level where you can do the entire journey on your bike, just whatever time frame suits you (which might be next month or it might be never – you decide!).

Use Your Savings on Gas or Transportation Costs

If you are looking at making the full long-distance commute a regular trip by bike, then you can start to use the money you save from reduced spending on parking, gas or other transportation and look to invest this in a more suitable bike for the journey, that is if your folding bike isn’t already suited to your needs!

Urban riding on roads for fit riders carrying few bags: Road Bike or Touring bike

If you already feel fit enough to tackle a bike commute of 8-12 miles, then a road bike or a touring bike will likely be the right option for you.

Is a road bike or a touring bike best for a long-distance commute? A road bike is best if you want to go fast or are conscious of the time, while a touring bike will be the best option for your commute if you want to ride more slowly and go out on longer journeys in your free time.

However, if you will be going on surfaces that are less than ideal for any stretches of your cycle commute, the touring bike is more suited to this since it has better grip on a variety of surfaces.

Road Bike for Long-distance Bike Commute

riding drop handlebar bike on road with sunset
Photo by Flo Karr on Unsplash

The key advantages of the road bike are the light frame and aerodynamic design. This means that they are built for speed and ideal for urban roads. If you need to get to work in as short a time as possible, then a road bike will be the one for you.

The downside to a road bike in this context is that you will not be able to carry many bags, other than a light backpack (which I don’t recommend for reasons explained in my YouTube video below).

They also do not offer much grip on any surfaces that are less than ideal, think mud, sand, gravel, wet leaves, etc.

Recommended Road Bike for Long-distance Commute: BMC TeamMachine ALR ONE

The BMC TeamMachine ALR ONE road bike is another quality bike that will help you on a long-range commute. It has the quality to get you flying on your way from A-B, without you worrying about it lasting It also has a lightweight aluminum frame offering, as BMC state, “high speeds at a low price”.

This excellent Swiss-made bike also works great for those with minimalist design preferences.

Touring Bike for Long-distance Bike Commute

Touring bikes are a good option if you have the luxury of not being in a rush on your commute and are able to go at a more leisurely pace.

They are also ideal if you plan to go on longer rides in your free time, since you can buy a bike that serves all your needs, for commuting and leisure.

You will also have the option of loading them up if you need to – more in this in the section below.

Recommended Touring Bike for Long-distance Commute: Trek 520 with Disc Brakes

The Trek 520 with disc brakes is a solid option in the mid-price range for touring bikes. This trusted brand provides high-quality bikes, while this model is highly rated by users and a safe bet for bike commuters. It also comes with front and rear racks, meaning you have the option to load it up from the off.

Riding on roads and some cycleways for fit riders carrying multiple bags: Touring bike

If you already feel fit but know that you will need to carry several bags on your long ride to work, then a touring bike is the best option for you.

These bikes are heavy-duty and a proper workhorse of a machine, being designed to load up with bags both front and back.

They also have tires that are wider and can offer grip on a wide variety of surfaces

The downside of touring bikes for longer commuting journeys is that they come with a heavier frame, something that might be a problem if you have to carry your bike, for example up or down flights of stairs, at any point in your commute.

Recommended Touring Bike for Long-distance Commute: Trek 520 with Disc Brakes

As mentioned in the previous section, the Trek 520 is recommended for its quality, price and reliability, an essential factor in your long-term bike commuting experience.

Riding on roads and some cycleways for less fit riders carrying multiple bags: Electric Hybrid Bike

If fitness is a concern for you, and you really want to or have to ride all of the way to work, then an electric hybrid bike is the best option. 

A hybrid bike is the stereotypical bike style, being neither super fast nor super slow and offering a relaxing riding position.

A hybrid bike also allows you to carry bags on the rear rack, which is essential for longer journeys since carrying backpacks over these kinds of distances will likely result in you having back pain.

The option to carry several bags in this way adds welcome flexibility in terms of your journey, meaning you can go to the gym after work or pick up some groceries on your way home.

Recommended Electric Touring Bike for Long-distance Commute: Trek Verve+2 Electric Hybrid Bike

Trek’s Verve+2 Electric hybrid bike comes recommended here for the usual features of the other bikes in this post: reliable brand, reasonable price and meeting the needs of a long-distance commuter.

Another nice point here is that it has both a standard frame and a low-step version, meaning that it will suit you if you plan to wear a skirt or have mobility issues with your legs or lower body.

Essential Gear for a Long-distance Bike Commute 

Below is a list of the essential gear that you will need specifically for those of you making longer journeys as part of your bike commute.

However, you can see an even more extensive list, see the dedicated post for bike commuting gear elsewhere on this blog for more generic items like waterproof clothes and other safety gear.

Quality Bike

This should be a given since the longer distance of your rides will mean exponentially more wear and tear on your bike. Going for the simple budget option won’t be a good idea in the long-term as you will feel the difference both in terms of comfort and also riding experience.

The more expensive bikes are priced higher because they use better quality components. Since there are so many components that go into the humble modern bicycle, you will feel this difference in everything from braking, comfort in the saddle, and changing gears. You might also notice that components on a better quality bike will last that bit longer, so the added cost should more than pay for itself over time.

Puncture Prevention

As you will be spending more time on the road than the average cycle commuter, you should also do the following to prevent getting punctures in your tires:

  • Keep tires at maximum pressure (PSI) using a quality bike pump with pressure gauge
  • Switch to puncture-resistant tires on your bike
  • Add Slime tire sealant to your tires to prevent small punctures
  • Carry a puncture repair kit with you for all rides
    • This should include tire levers and a spare inner tube handy so that you can fix this at any point in your journey for larger punctures
    • If carrying this is not an option, have an idea where the nearest bike store is instead!

Bike Pump

The best kind of pump for your commuter bike is a floor pump with a pressure gauge. This means minimal effort when pumping but also gives you a direct reading of the pressure in the tire, removing any guesswork. This floor pump by BV Bicycle will do just the trick!

I’d recommend checking the pressure and pumping your tires every week if you plan to commute long-distance on a regular basis. Being diligent here will likely save you in punctures and time.

Puncture-resistant Tires

If you do not have them already, then look into getting puncture-resistant tires on your commuter bike. These have harder outer surfaces and are therefore less prone to letting objects on the road pierce them and cause the inner tube to puncture.

I’ve used these kinds of tires ever since having issues with punctures early on in my bike commuting experience and would recommend them as they helped reduce the number of punctures I experienced.

Tire Sealant

Slime tire sealant is also a good investment in terms of prevention. This is added to the inner tube of your tire to fill any holes from punctures almost immediately. It uses a chemical reaction that is formed when a hole is formed in the inner tube and quickly creates a bond that fills the hole (I’m no scientist so will go no further!).

Puncture Repair Kit

A puncture repair kit, like this one by Kitbest, will serve you well in case of any mishaps en route. The nice thing about this kit is that it comes with a multi-tool for any minor adjustments needed, as well as tire levers for changing an inner tube and a handy carry case.

If you find this is a bit big for your needs, then look into the other combinations of puncture repair kits available.

Rear Rack and Bags

You’ll also want to get a bike with rear rack options and bags to go with it (usually called ‘pannier bags’). As alluded to earlier, having bags that fit on the rack means less strain on your back. This will result in less chance of any issues with your back in the long term, as well as reducing the sweat on your back!

Some of the bikes above will come with a rear rack, while you will need to get a seatpost-mounted rack for use with a road bike as they do not have the option to mount them onto the frame as on other bikes.

As for bags, the Venzo waterproof pannier bags hold 25 liters each, and can be bought individually or separately, as per your needs.

Power Bank Charger as a Back-up for USB Bike Lights

This should be fairly obvious but a power bank charger can effectively be like having a spare set of lights, which is a must for longer journeys, especially in the darker months of the year. I’d recommend at least a 600-lumen front light if you are traveling on anything without street lighting, while a much cheaper 20-100 lumen rear light should be fine in all conditions.

Getting USB lights is a practical option for many as they can be charged easily at work or home with standard cables with the added advantage of them being possible to charge on the move with a power bank.

The Anker PowerCore is a great slimline option for rapid charging.

Quality Lock

As with a high-quality bike, you will also want to get an equally high-quality lock. This will mean that you are not terrified of leaving your bike locked up outside your work and it will also act as a deterrent for thieves. Clearly, no bike lock is 100% guaranteed, but spending more here is definitely worth it since cheap locks will simply invite thieves to your bike as it will look like low-hanging fruit!

In terms of a recommended lock, I’ve been using a Kryptonite U-lock and cable for the last few years and it’s been great for me.

Have a Plan B(!)

OK, so if not all goes to plan, you should also have an idea of what to do at any point in your journey.

You might need to think about any friends you have in each area on your journey, or whether there are bike stores nearby that might be able to help you out.

The problem with the longer distance you will be trying to cover is that small problems can become major problems without a proper plan in place.

You should also have an idea of how to fix simple things like a puncture (using your repair kit!) as well as having an idea of how long it takes to walk your bike home or to the office with a flat tire.

You could also look into suitable bike parking options en route as you may need to leave your bike in one area for the day, hop on public transportation and come back to it later. The point being that having some idea of what’s available around you and where the safe spots to lock your bike will help you to stress less and take action if you have any problems.

Related Questions

How to do a 20-mile bike commute? A 20-mile bike commute is quite an undertaking even for serious riders with high levels of physical fitness. The best way to tackle this would be to use a premium bike, carry all the tools and spares that you need and make sure that your fitness is up to it.

However, if you think that your fitness will not cope and you really need/want to bike commute, get yourself a good quality e-bike with a good range, like the Trek Verve+ 2.

Having the electric assist in this bike will help you cover more ground with less effort, making the journey feel more manageable and that much easier, meaning that you might just do it more often. But remember to get yourself a premium quality bike lock to go along with your e-bike since the added price of e-bikes makes them all that more appealing for thieves.

How to ride a bike to work without sweating? Wear thin, breathable clothes, take your time and don’t try to race. If commuting on a hilly route, consider getting an e-bike to make the ride less intensive for you as the electric assist will give you a push.

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