How Much to Spend on a Commuter Bike?


Fewer factors can be more important to bike commuters than price when choosing the right bicycle for your needs. It’s also something I struggled with before committing to bike commuting regularly, so I know how confusing and frustrating the process can be. With this in mind, let’s have a run-through of the key points all commuters need to think about before spending on a bike that will help them get to and from work.

How much to spend on a commuter bike? Spending around $500-600 will mean you can get a bike that will be comfy for most commuters, will last long enough to be worth the investment and will not be too much of a concern if it gets stolen.

Obviously, there are a lot of other variables and points to think about from these points so the following sections of this article will cover them in more detail to give you maximum detail for every point.

[Image Credit: PeakPx.com]

How much is a good commuter bike?

As stated above, $500-600 should get you a solid and reliable commuter bike. Spending less than that will usually mean an uncomfortable ride or something just won’t last long enough for it to be worth buying. Choosing the commuter bike at the right price at this point means saving you time and hassle later on, so let’s consider some of the key things to look for.

What to look for in a commuter bike?

Here are 6 things to look for in a commuter bike that suits your budget:

  1. A Bike than Can Be Used for Other Things
  2. Rack for Bags and Panniers
  3. Good (Enough) Components 
  4. Comfy Seat
  5. Integrated Lights
  6. Disc Brakes

Now it’s time to see them in a bit more detail below.

A Bike than Can Be Used for Other Things

Part of the joy of having a good commuter bike is that you can use it for other things. Speaking from experience, I’ve started doing things like grocery shopping and trips to friends’ houses by bicycle only since I started bike commuting, so it’s been a game-changer for me far beyond traveling to work.

I’m not going to pretend that I do every journey by bike these days – I still have a car – but I do more than I ever did before on a bike.

This is simply because the commuter gear that I’ve built up over time can be used in many other ways than on my commute, meaning that it’s easy for me to jump on the bike and get things done quickly.

You might want a bike that is good for racing, in which case go for a road bike for your commuter option and speed. These still work for most commuters.

If you have kids or want to get the groceries, a cargo bike might be your best option as this would mean you could take all your gear to work, while also getting the groceries on the way home or, if going up a little in price, even carry the kids on as passengers!

Rack for Bags and Panniers

Many bikes suitable for commuters will come with a rear rack on them, which is a great addition as this allows you to carry pannier bags and other items on the back.

Using panniers is better for your back, and will mean you are less likely to sweat along the way.

This is great for carrying a change of clothes if you have a longer ride or want to do things like sports or activities at work or on your way home.

Even if you find a bike in this price range that doesn’t have a rear rack, this is not a major problem as they are relatively inexpensive and can be added later on to most bikes, coming in at anywhere from $15-60 depending on your needs.

Good (Enough) Components

The components on a bike are things like gears, brakes and other parts that are integral to the bike.

You might, like me, have bought a cheap bike in the past without riding it, only to find out later on that it just felt a bit cheap and nasty once you took it out for a spin. My experience was that the gears felt sticky and plasticky, while the brakes just didn’t feel reliable enough to stop exactly when I needed.

While you don’t need top of the range components for bike commuting, checking that the gears are made by well-known brands like Shimano is a good check, although even then some brands offer budget options.

Comfy Seat

As you want your commuter bike to be something you will use often, a comfy seat will be a good way to make sure that you feel like using your bike often.

Remember that an average bike commute of 5 miles each way, done just 2 times a week still means being in the seat for 80 miles a month!

This is where taking the bike for a ride is again particularly helpful before buying, something which you obviously can’t do online, although you might find some in-depth reviews that discuss the comfort of the seat.

Again, bike seats are quite cheap, even comfy ones, so it’s not a huge deal but if you can find a commuter bike with a decent seat out of the box, that would be a great bonus.

Integrated Lights

The simple reason for saying ‘integrated’ lights is so that your lights won’t get stolen or lost! OK, so this is not 100% foolproof as someone could technically steal even these kinds of lights, but it seems unlikely as lights that are built into the frame of a bike are only suited to that specific model, so of little use to most passers-by.

Reelight bike light on front wheel
[Image Credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious
Reelight integrated bike light on the front wheel]

Having bike lights stolen is something I am always careful of because I use lights which are worth $80 in total, but leaving them on the bike for the 8 hours while I’m in work could mean that they are not there when I leave the office at the end of the day!

Integrated lights are definitely not a common feature, but if you can find a commuter bike with integrated lights, it’s a big bonus. 

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes are the best I have found for bike commuting as they stop promptly, giving you the rider a lot more peace of mind when riding on roads in wet, dark or difficult conditions.

As you will likely be cycling around traffic, these kinds of brakes will come into their own and be worth every penny if you ride to work in an urban environment at or around rush hour.

Having had caliper brakes until buying my current bike, I have really noticed the difference and recommend for that reason.

A word of warning: even the best brakes on the market cannot help you if you are not riding at a safe stopping distance from the car in front, so always give yourself plenty of space and time to make a stop while riding to work.

How much should I spend on a bike?

I know I’ve written above that $500-600 is all you need for a good commuter bike, but you might like to go a little further than this if you have the budget, longer distances and a safe place to store your bike during the day.

Electric or Standard Bike for Commuting

An electric bike is often double the price of a similar standard bike without a battery, so the price of these is a definite factor to think about when looking into the price range for your chosen commuter bike.

If you can store your bike in a safe location, let’s say indoors or in a busy area with lots of passersby, then an electric bike for commuting could work for you. An electric bike might also work if you have a high-quality bike lock as the added expense will be worth spending more on the bike lock to go along with it. 

There are also the elements to think about, namely the rainy and wet conditions. Most electric bikes are fine in the rain but, specifically for commuters, leaving them outside all day while you are in work does mean that they are more exposed to the elements which can affect the life and performance of the battery.

Distance

Electric bikes are a great option if your commute is a distance that you consider long, or even a journey that you would find tough, like one with lots of hills.

For some, a long journey might be 5 miles each way, while for others it might be 15! The point is that it doesn’t really matter, more that you might want to spend more and get an electric commuter bike if you think the distance is a big obstacle for you.

Frequency of use

The other thing to think about is how often you are planning to ride to work, and what things might hinder you in doing this.

If you think having an electric bike will make you ride to work a lot more often than not, then it’s probably worth spending the extra money and getting one as your commuter option.

If, like me, you have a short ride of a few miles each way and would not feel too comfortable leaving an electric bike outside, then stick to a standard bike – simple as that really!

On a Budget: Buying a Commuter Bike Second Hand

If you take the $500-600 price range above as absolute, then you can extend this a heck of a lot further by buying a bike that is second hand or used.

In the US, the most popular place for buying these kinds of bikes is Craigslist as it is local to each area and often has a whole range of the kinds of bikes on offer. Buying this way can help you save huge amounts on the price of your bike, although there are a couple of points to be aware of.

Quality of a Second Hand Commuter Bike

Always take any second-hand bikes for a test ride before committing to buying one. This might be a bit tricky since some people will be worried that you will just ride off into the distance with their bike, but asking to go for a test ride after speaking with the seller for a few minutes should assure them that you genuinely only want to test it!

The other point is to look for key parts that might be rusting or worn. Although rust isn’t such a concern on a bike as it is on a car, it still gives an indication of the level of care that the bike has received and also its use. Spotting rust before buying means you can also get some leverage when making an offer on the sale price of the bike, so it quite literally pays to be eagle-eyed here!

If It Looks Too Good to Be True…

One thing is to note that many stolen bikes end up for sale on Craigslist. If you buy a stolen bike and it can be traced usually the indelible (and invisible) ink on the frame, then you might end up having to return it to the rightful owner. Although this is unlikely, it is still something you want to avoid.

The best way to spot likely stolen bikes on the used bikes listings is to look for bikes that have minimum details in the ad listing as people selling stolen bikes do this to get rid of them quickly. They also might price them far too low for a quick sale so think twice about the unbelievable bargains as they might have a serious catch to them.

Used Electric Bikes

Perhaps most worrying is the thought of buying a used electric bike for commuting that is faulty. This is because the electric components are costly to repair and make any savings on buying a used bike irrelevant if the batter does not work properly!

In which case, proceed with caution if looking at buying a second-hand electric bike for commuting as it’s hard to know, even with a quick test ride, whether it is in top condition and fully functional.


Related Question

Is 10 miles too far to bike to work? No, it’s not too far to bike to work if you are in good physical shape and it doesn’t have too many hills, and provided that you have a bike that suits the distance like a road bike or a touring bike.

However, most bike commuters who are not in their best physical shape could still build up to this kind of distance with practice over time. This kind of practice could involve driving part of the way and with the car in the trunk and cycling the rest, gradually parking the car at a greater distance from your work, meaning more miles per journey. Another way to build up to riding a 10-mile commute to work is to start riding once or twice a week, and not on consecutive days. This will allow you some rest days in between while you get used to the distance and riding.

Whichever way you do it, you can build up to a 10-mile commute with patience and persistence – remind yourself that there’s no rush and you will be fine.

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