Choosing a commuter bike is a tricky thing to do since you need to find a bike that is well suited to your commute but also has a wider use beyond just riding and back forth to work.
Having been through a few commuter bikes, I’ve figured out the key to choosing just the right bike for commuting, as I’ll explain now.
How to choose a commuting bike? Choose a bike that will be comfortable to use regularly and something that will be practical for other activities outside of work, like traveling around the city or meeting friends. Don’t spend too much as you will be less likely to use it for commuting!
So that’s how to find a commuter bike that suits you in a nutshell, but let’s dive a little deeper to help you choose the perfect bike for your commute and other needs.
Comfort is Key
I’ve put comfort at the top of my list for a reason – because a commuter bike is supposed to be used regularly and if it’s not comfy, the chances are that it is not going to be used more than a couple of times a year.
Think about this way: we all probably have that uncomfortable chair or seat in our house that, for some reason, we never get rid of and that we only use when we have to (think guests, family, kids, etc.). But even then, we don’t like spending time on it.
Well, the same goes for a bike! If your every experience of riding it is literally a pain in the butt, then it’s unlikely that you’re ever going to really warm to it and make riding to work a regular thing.
The most common reasons for an uncomfortable bike are:
- Buying a bike online (and not trying it first)
- Buying the wrong size bike
- Having a saddle that needs adjusting or changing
However, if you get a bike from your local store, you should be able to avoid all of the common pitfalls with bad commuter bikes.
Finding one that is just the right size, feels good to sit on and has the right riding style for you (think upright, low down or somewhere in between) should give you the best chance of finding a bike that you will want to use more often than not.
A Bike With Other Uses
In addition to being comfortable, if you think about a bike that has many possible uses for your life beyond commuting. For instance, do you want a bike that you can do the groceries on or just ride around town?
Thinking about these other uses helps you to choose a practical commuter bike that also will have the added value of doing all the other things you could want it for.
I know I had a big mindset shift when I started to view my bike as a form of transport. This seemingly small change really made me think more about my bike and how I could use it to get around town on the weekend, for instance.
Practical for Your Commute
Thinking about the type of journey on your commute is an absolutely key factor in choosing a good commuter bike.
The terrain, surfaces and distance all play a part in which type of commuter bike is best for you.
As a quick guide, the following types of bike should suit most bike commuters for the corresponding journeys:
- Off-road commute (any distance): mountain bike or ‘fat bike’
- Short, urban commute: folding bike or hybrid bike
- Medium-distance urban commute: hybrid bike or road bike
- Long-distance urban commute: road bike, touring bike, electric bike or folding bike + transport
An off-road commute leaves you with only one choice: a bike with suspension and extra grip, so a mountain bike or a fat bike (so named for the extra-wide tires) are the only two options. If going for a mountain bike, you’d probably want to get one with both front and rear suspension as this will help massively when going over big bumps or on rough ground.
A fat bike, on the other hand, takes care of extreme terrain like snow, sand and mud.
A short urban commute is well suited to a hybrid (or ‘commuter’!) bike. I’d call a short commute anything less than about 3 miles, which should take less than 30 minutes. This is because hybrid bikes are steady performers that are designed for urban roads, so this should work fine for that purpose. If you are a little unfit or have lots of hills on your route, then look into an electric hybrid bike to help you get going as as having the pedal assist from the electric motor will be a big boost in terms of effort and speed, and can make starting bike commuting a lot less daunting.
A medium-distance urban bike commute lends itself well to either a hybrid bike or road bike. The key differences being speed and grip. A road bike is best for going fast with an aerodynamic and low riding position, while a hybrid bike has a more upright riding style making it a more relaxed, but slower ride. In terms of grip, a hybrid bike has slightly wider tires with more defined thread, meaning that it offers more grip than most road bikes.
For a long-distance urban bike commute, a touring bike is suited to any journeys where lots of bags will be needed. This is because a touring bike holds bags both front and back and is made for being loaded up and ridden for days (hence the name!). The slightly heavier frame means that it is extremely hard wearing and it has tires that should hold up well on any urban commuter journey. E-bikes are also a great option for long distances as you can cover more ground with less effort, again suiting anyone who is less confident or not as fit as they would like to be.
As an alternative long-distance bike commute option, a folding bike is another possible bike if you want to combine cycling with another form of transportation. For instance, you could cycle part of the way and use a car or public transportation for the rest of the journey. This means that you can then cover more ground and still ride to work – win-win. A good folding bike, like a Brompton, should pack away in seconds and fold up small enough to take with you just about anywhere, even being small enough to stow under your desk once at work (meaning no lock and almost no chance of it being stolen!).
If you’d like to see more detail on all of these choices, check out my ultimate guide to choosing your first commuter bike.
The final point to consider when choosing a commuter bike is that of cost. Simply put, you don’t want to spend so much on a commuter bike that it makes you reluctant to use it. Remember that commuter bikes are practical vehicles, not ornaments to gather dust at home!
Finding the sweet spot in terms of how much to spend depends on a couple of factors. For example, ask yourself the following questions:
- How safe is the place where you will lock up your bike at work?
- How much more are you willing to spend on a good lock?
- What is the maximum you would be willing to pay for a bike that could get stolen?
I know, some of these seem strange but if you go for a bike that is a real target for thieves in terms of value, the chances are that it won’t last that long or you’ll be so proud of it that you’ll be terrified to leave it outside during your working day.
Neither of these situations are conducive to bike commuting regularly, so think carefully about the value of your commuter bike.
As mentioned above, a folding bike can actually come with you into the office, meaning that it is far more theft-proof than any other type of bike since you can store it indoors, far from the prying eyes (and hands) of would-be bike thieves. This kind of bike might cost you more, but it could also be worth it for the peace of mind and reduced anxiety about theft.
What should I look for in a commuter bike? A comfortable bike is the best commuter bike as you will be using it a lot! Also look for a bike that is well suited to the route you will be riding it on. Best is to buy a commuter bike in person as this means you can try it first (always recommended).
Remember that you can make small changes to a bike that you’ve bought but you can’t change the overall design and frame, so choosing wisely is a must. This again comes back to the value of trying a bike before buying it.
What is a commuter bike? This type of bike has a hybrid design and looks like a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. Commuter bikes are suited to urban environments and medium distance journeys. They are also good for upright riding styles.