There are dozens of reasons to ditch the traditional commute by car and pedal to work by your own power – saving money, environmental concerns, keeping in shape, and more. But commuting by bike can be tough, discouraging some would-be cyclists. Having the right commuter bike makes a huge difference in the ease and comfort of any commute.
But what makes a good commuter bike? These are our thoughts on how to choose the best commuter bike for you:
While there are many factors to consider, what ultimately makes a good commuter bike is it being a bike that makes you want to ride to work. Some other important things to think about when picking a commuter bike are it having a comfortable seat, splash guards, gearing, decent carrying capacity, the right tire and bike type, and cost of the bicycle.
Things to look for in a good commuter bike:
You may not think of the seat as being one of the most important parts of a commuter bike, but it is where your body has the most contact with the bike. Having the right saddle for your bike will mean the difference between looking forward to your morning commute or having a sore backside. For shorter commutes a wider, more cushioned seat will work best. For anything longer than a few miles you may want to consider a more ergonomic racing-style seat.
Unless you have a shower and change of clothes waiting for you at your place of employment you may want to consider a bike that has splash guards (sometimes called fenders) around your wheels. These will keep rain and mud from splashing up on you and your clothes. The last thing anyone wants is to work a full shift with wet/dirty clothes!
There are many choices when it comes to bike gearing. From fixed gear to 21-speed bikes with derailleurs, there are enough options to make your head spin. In general, the flatter your commute is the less gears you will need. More gears make it easier to navigate hillier rides. For more information on gearing, be sure to check out our article on how many speeds a commuter bike should have.
Think about the things that you normally bring to work with you – A laptop, bagged lunch, work documents, etc. Now try to imagine biking to work while holding all those items in one hand. Not exactly ideal. Some bike commuters will opt for a backpack, but too much weight on your back and a long commute is a recipe for an aching back. Many bikes on the market today have the ability to add a carrying rack over the back wheel which can have a crate or panniers (bike bags) attached. This will save your back and keep your luggage dry if you opt for waterproof panniers. Another option on some bikes is a carrying basket over the front wheel. While this works in a pinch, it usually isn’t ideal as it can affect your steering and isn’t waterproof.
Tires are not as exciting as suspension, gearing, and overall bike ergonomics, but are nonetheless a very important part of your commuter bike. There is a common saying – “don’t skimp on anything between you and the ground” – that means mattresses, shoes, and TIRES. The right bike tires don’t only reduce your chances of having an accident on your bike, they increase your efficiency on different terrain and keep you from having to change flats as often. The type of tire you choose will be mostly decided by the type of terrain you commute on. If you ride on streets, road bike tires will be the best option for you. If the route to work takes you over dirt trails and loose gravel, knobby mountain bike tires will serve you better. Either way it would be wise to spring for puncture resistant tires. The last thing anyone wants to do on their ride to work is change a tire, especially when it is cold and/or raining.
Road bikes, hybrid bikes, folding bikes, electric bikes, and mountain bikes are all viable options for a good commuter bike. Like tires, the type of bike that you choose really will depend on what terrain you ride on to get to work. Mostly on roads during your commute? A road bike will most likely work best. Some off-roading? A mountain bike will probably be better. A little bit of both? A hybrid or gravel bike will get the job done here. A relatively recent innovation in the bike industry is the electric bicycle. These can greatly extend the possible length of your bike commute but will cost you significantly more. Lastly, a folding bike comes in handy if part of the commute is on public transport or you need to store the bike in your office.
One final thing to consider is the cost of the bicycle that you commute with. An expensive bike may encourage you to commute via bike more often, making the extra cost worth it. But at the same time, unfortunately we live in a world where bike thefts do exist. There is no worse feeling than coming out of your house, work, or a store and seeing your bike lock cut and your bike missing. If your commute takes you through or to an area where bicycle theft is common (like cities), it may be wise to opt for a less expensive ride.
While there are many things to look for in a good commuter bike, the most important thing is that it is a bike that makes you want to ride it to work. Both a $25 craigslist find and a $10K+ Bianchi road bike will take you to your place of employment if you have the willingness to ride it. But having the right bike, gearing, and tire type will make your ride a lot easier. And features such as a comfortable seat, splash guards, and enough carrying capacity will take you from a mediocre to a great commuter bike.