What Makes a Good Commuter Bike?


A good commuter bike might seem hard to find with so many options on the market, but it doesn’t need to be that difficult if you think about your own journey and needs.

Despite many articles online attempting to get riders to buy high-end commuter bikes, chances are that your ideal commuter bike is probably somewhere in the middle.

So, what makes a good commuter bike? A bike that is suited to your specific commuter journey, is comfortable, not too expensive and can be used for other things than commuting will be the ideal commuter bike for you.

Now that you’ve got the gist of what to look for in the right commuter bike, let me explain a little bit more about all the key points above to help you really drill down to making the right choice of bike.

How do I choose a commuter bike?

As mentioned above, the key points to think about when it comes to choosing your ideal commuter bike are the following:

  • Type of journey
  • How comfortable it is
  • Within your budget
  • Good for other uses

Journey Type

There are a couple of key aspects here, namely the distance, type of roads or surfaces, hills and mixed transport options.

Distance

If you have a long commute in terms of distance, let’s say more than 8 miles each way, then instantly you will want to look at either a road bike or a touring bike. This is because both of these bikes are well suited to longer journeys, although a touring bike is likely more suited to most commuters. I say this because touring bikes have tires that can go on a variety of road surfaces, as well as the option of carrying multiple bags on both the front and rear racks, something which road bikes cannot do.

However, if you only have minimal things to carry and know that you will be riding on roads and good surfaces, then a road bike can also be a good commuter bike option for you.

An electric hybrid bike is a great option for a long commute if you are less fit, but be sure that the riding style is suited to you since they require a more upright riding style. They might also not be faster than a standard road bike due to this upright riding position, so think about whether time is a concern for you.

Roads and Surfaces

All on Roads

As mentioned above, good commuter bike options for good roads and surfaces are hybrid bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, fixed gear bikes or even folding bikes.

However, fixed-gear bikes are not recommended for riding on high-traffic commutes given their different, more intense braking style.

Off-road Bike Commutes

If your commute is all off-road, then a ‘fat bike’ or a mountain bike are the only real options. The extra fat tires on ‘fat bikes’ that give them their name are suited to snow, sand and mud. They also have tires with added grip on the tread and suspension. Mountain bikes handle slightly less extreme terrain but are still a good option for off-road bike commutes.

Remember that fat bikes are the best if you need an extreme winter bike commuting option.

Hills

If you have lots of hills on your bike commute, a bike with many speeds or gears will be best for you.

This is because you need a lower resistance (or gear) to be able to climb up a hill without too much effort.

You can also look into an e-bike for a hilly route since the electric pedal-assisted motors on them means that you get a little help to go up hills, reducing the effort needed for the rider.

In terms of bikes to avoid for hilly commutes, fixie bikes or single-speed bikes are not a good bike since they only have one gear option and can be very difficult to climb up hills on.

Mixed Transport Options

To be clear, by ‘mixed transport options’, I mean switching perhaps between a car and riding, or public transportation and riding. These kinds of journeys are common in big cities since public transportation is usually fast and flexible to handle multiple journeys.

For this bike commute option, there is a clear winner, and that’s the folding bike. This is because these bikes can be taken on all public transportation and can also go in the trunk of a car. Riders can also switch between riding and carrying the bike quickly, making them the ideal option for anyone with lots of ground to cover in a big city.

The top bike in this range is the Brompton for their quality, tiny folded size, ease of use and quick (un)folding – see the video below for just how quickly this can be done!

Comfort

Comfort makes a commuter bike good since a comfortable bike is one that will be used more often! If you plan to bike commute regularly, having a comfy bike to ride on is essential.

It’s also hard to know whether a bike will be comfortable for you before you really get to try it, so trying a bike at your local bike store is always a good option.

A bike that is the right size for you and that has a good saddle are the two key features for a comfy commuter bike.

silver hybrid bike locked up with 2 red pannier bags on the back
A standard hybrid bike for commuters – it’s actually the same model as mine and certainly makes for a good bike to commute on for my journey.

How do you pick a bike size?

Most bikes describe the ideal height for riders on the sites on their page, or even on sites like Amazon. That said, I have found that trying a bike in person is the best way to be sure about this.

This is because my current commuter bike is slightly out of the range but it works just fine for me, so if you are in doubt, look at your local bike store options before purchasing online. This is especially true if you are at one of those heights that is usually in-between two different sizes (like me!).

Saddle

Look for a bike that comes with a gel saddle, or perhaps with a branded saddle that you can read about on its own product page. 

If you are not happy with the saddle that comes with the bike, then look into buying a better one since they are not expensive and easy to fit.

If you want to go for a premium bike saddle which many people swear by, then Brookes’s leather saddles are the option for you.

One last thing is that you can adjust the height of your saddle, and seat post, very easily to give you a better riding position. I see this often with new cyclists as many have the seat far too low for them. Remember that your legs should be almost (but not quite) straight when your pedals are at the bottom of the rotation.

Budget

A good commuter bike is also one that you can afford and is within your budget. This is because spending too much on a commuter bike is never a good idea. I say this because you will be less likely to ride an expensive commuter bike to work for fear of it getting stolen (unless you have a folding bike!).

There are also many ways to get good bikes for cheap, as we’ll look at next.

Used Bikes

A great option for budget or cheap commuter bikes is just buying one used. The usual websites like Craigslist in the US or Gumtree in the UK or Australia are the obvious places, as well as Facebook Marketplace.

You can save huge amounts by buying a bike for your commute this way, so it’s definitely a good option.

The only things to look out for bikes which might have been stolen (super cheap, very sketchy details or seller) or bikes that don’t work. As such, always ask to try out used the bikes before riding them.

Buying used electric bikes can also be an issue since the battery might not have such an obvious problem as a standard, mechanical bike.

Fixed-Gear Bike

Another cheap commuter bike is a fixed-gear bike, or ‘fixie’ since they have fewer components and therefore keep costs right down.

These are only for specific commutes, however, since fixies have some clear disadvantages in terms of riding in traffic and on hilly routes.

Hybrid

Hybrid bikes are also a good commuter option with their moderate design and components for most ordinary (i.e. commuter) riders.

Because they have quite a practical design, this keeps costs down and helps to focus on the essentials, like gears, comfort and options to carry bags.

I have a hybrid bike at present and thoroughly enjoy it, although the upright riding style can be a bit frustrating on windy days.

How much does a good bike cost?

A good bike can cost anywhere from $200 to just about any price you like, but it’s only good if it is suited to you, your riding style and needs. $200 is only realistic for a good used bike, however, so you should expect to pay more like $500 for a good bike new.

See another article on this blog for a more detailed look at how much to spend on a commuter bike.

Other uses

As well as bike commuting, think about what else you will want to use your bike for. Just yesterday I did the grocery shopping on my hybrid commuter bike, which was practical and fun.

Getting a bike that can be used for a range of activities is ideal, so try to think about ways in which you can make your commuter bike into a regular form of transport as this transformed the way I viewed cycling, hopefully it can do the same for you!

Related Questions

Which bike is good for long rides? A touring bike is best for long rides with bags and on a variety of road surfaces or terrains. A road bike is good for long rides on good roads without bags. Thinking about the type of journey you will have can help you to decide between the two types of bike.

Touring bikes are, as the name suggests, made for touring, so can handle long journeys easily, especially when loaded up with bags on the front and back.

Road bikes are great for fast riding through urban environments as they are designed purely for speed. You can cover a lot of ground with road bikes, too, but their tires are only designed for road surfaces (again, it’s in the name right!).

You can also check out this guide on how to choose the right commuter bike for you if you are a beginner.

What is a reasonable bike commute? For fitness, a reasonable bike commute is one that makes you feel like you have had to make an effort to complete the journey. The distance of a bike commute journey is not relevant here since a few hills can make a short commute feel long.

Chances are that you don’t have much choice over the distance of your commute so why not just get out there on a bike and see how it feels. Even without hills, a bike commute can be fun and still provide a good bit of added exercise to your work day, especially if you would otherwise travel by car.

The key thing is that riding to work can be a regular thing and therefore add a good amount of exercise into your routine, improving your life in many ways. Have fun with it however far you ride!

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