Can You Commute on a Road Bike? (Yes + When)

Commuting to work by bike is practically guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, regardless of the type of bike you choose.

However, hybrid bikes, mountain bikes and road bikes are clearly very different from each other.

They’ve been designed for different purposes; they’ve been constructed with different materials and they also have different shapes that mean some are better suited for certain cycling activities than others.

So, can you commute on a road bike? Yes, you definitely can but remember that road bikes are best suited for commutes with good road surfaces and for faster, more aggressive riding. They are not good if you have poor quality surfaces or want a relaxing ride to work.

In this article, I’ll be explaining more about commuting to work on a road bike and talk about some of the differences between them, the tweaks you should make and how you can overcome any minor issues.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • You’ll go faster!
  • You’ll need to travel more lightweight
  • Get used to drop handlebars
  • You won’t have any suspension
  • Your bike tires will be different
  • You’ll feel the burn!
  • You’ll need fenders
  • You’ll have fun!

Let’s dive straight in!

1. You’ll go faster!

With its drop handlebars and lightweight design, you’ll notice that you can go much faster with your road bike than you can with a hybrid or mountain bike. This means you can fly past those commuters stuck nose to bumper and get home much faster.

Having said that, you’re likely to be riding in heavy rush hour traffic so you do need to keep your inner speed demon under control and stay safe. By all means, pick up that speed when you’re on straight roads that you’re familiar with. But exercise caution when you’re on unfamiliar roads or it’s dark outside.

2. You’ll need to travel more lightweight

Although road bikes sometimes have pannier rack mounts fitted, they’re certainly not designed for carrying heavy loads. They are built with lightweight aluminum or carbon fiber frames so neither this nor the wheels will be able to handle anything significant. 

This means that if you’re planning to grab some groceries from the store on your way home, you might need to rethink how you do it. Either get yourself a sturdy daypack or messenger bag, invest in a rack for your seat post. But remember to keep it light!

3. You’ll need to get used to drop handlebars

If you already have a road bike at home, you’ll be used to the forward-leaning pose and low riding position that you need to adopt for a road bike.

This might not be a problem when you’re flying along an open road, but it can be more demanding and intense when you’re navigating your way through traffic. If you’re looking to have a relaxing, undemanding chill out on your way home from work, you’ll need to adjust your expectations.

Luckily, you can also find many bikes with straight handlebars, similar to a mountain bike if you find this is too uncomfortable for you.

4. You won’t have any suspension

If you’re used to mountain biking, you might find the lack of front or rear suspension on a road bike to be a challenge, especially if you’re travelling over uneven ground or want to drop from the sidewalk onto the road.

But don’t worry- this works great for most commuting scenarios as your bike will be lighter and so you won’t have to put quite as much physical effort into the commute. Yay!

5. Your bike tires will be different

The tires on a road bike are also thinner and smoother than the tires you’ll find on a hybrid or mountain bike. This helps them to pick up speed when cycling on straight roads but can have its issues when cycling in a city or urban environment.

As they have a low grip, they aren’t great when it comes to turning at speed. If there are any leaves, sand, dust or, god forbid, ice on the route, things can soon become challenging and more dangerous.

They do also tend to be more resistant to punctures as they have less tread to avoid problems and they usually don’t have the thick layer of extra rubber to help prevent this from happening.

Great ways to deal with this include taking an emergency puncture repair kit with you at all times (you do this already, though. Don’t you?) You can also buy puncture-resistant tires for your road bike, which might be worth the investment.

[Outdoor co-op REI has a great guide to buying bike tires which you can check out here.]

6. You’ll ‘feel the burn’!

When you use a road bike to commute, you’ll notice that you feel slightly sweatier when you arrive at work. As I said before, road bikes do encourage you to ramp up the speed and so you’ll be getting a workout without really meaning to!

This shouldn’t put you off cycling to work on a road bike through. It’s nothing that a slick of deodorant and a regular personal hygiene routine won’t fix. Many workplaces also offer shower facilities that you can take advantage of too.

7. You’ll need fenders

There’s nothing worse than arriving someplace to discover that you’ve been completely splattered by mud, dirt, grime and any other unmentionables that have been on the road.

Because road bikes don’t have fenders, this could become an issue for you if you’re cycling to work wearing your smart office clothes.

But again, with a little prep, this doesn’t have to be an issue. Your first step should be to check whether your road bike has mounts for fenders and head to your local cycle store to invest if it does. Then consider taking a change of clothes to work with you, just in case.

8. You’ll have fun!

Despite how it might sound from everything we’ve discussed so far, it can be a lot of fun to commute on your road bike. Sure, you might need to make some minor adjustments, get a few extra components for your bike and throw your deodorant into your bag, but it can be absolutely worth it.

Whizzing through traffic, having fun, and getting your heart rate up will get those endorphins flowing, bring a smile to your face and make your ride to work even more enjoyable.

Related Questions

1. How far can you commute on a bike? Most people find that they can comfortably commute up to 10 miles, provided they are of average fitness. However, the sky’s the limit!

2. What bike is best for commuting? Most would say that a hybrid or flat-bar bike is best for commuting. This is because tires are wider, allowing for a safer and more comfortable ride on a variety of surfaces.

3. How far is too far to bike to work? If you are reasonably fit, you should be able to cope with distances of up to 10 miles without a problem. However, if you are just starting, you should limit yourself to shorter rides at first to ease into it.

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