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Commuter Bikes Explained: How to Choose the Right Type

By Sam Millers   /  Last updated - March 18, 2022   /  Blog, Commuter Bikes, Guide
Commuter Bike Types

Image credit: Cannondale

When buying a commuter bicycle, it’s important to choose the right type to suit your needs. Not only must you choose between the various disciplines – like road, mountain or hybrid- but you must also choose which style of bike within each discipline to go for.

Each type of bike comes in a wide variety of styles, each designed to meet the specific needs of different riders from all walks of life. Commuter bikes are one specific style that has recently gained popularity as more and more people use bicycles to get around.

Here we’ll explore all the different kinds of commuter bikes available.

What Is a Commuter Bike?

A commuter bike is any bicycle used for the sole purpose of commuting from one location to another. Whether it be to work and back or to visit a friend in the next town, commuting is one of the most common uses of a bicycle.

Recently, social distancing measures combined with environmental concerns have prompted modern cities to improve their cycling infrastructure. As a result, more and more people are discovering the joys of using a bicycle for their daily commutes.

Commuter Bike vs. Road Bike

Commuter bikes differ from road bikes as they aren’t used for fitness or professional racing. They also differ from mountain bikes since they aren’t designed specifically for off-road riding. However, both road bikes and MTBs are occasionally used for commuting purposes, and some commuting bikes can go off-road and provide fitness.

Commuter vs. Hybrid Bike

Commuter bikes and hybrid bikes are very similar but differ in their intended purpose. Hybrid bikes are more focused on fitness and recreation, whereas commuter bikes are geared towards getting from A to B. Most hybrids handle long distances and off-road conditions better, whereas commuter bikes usually have better options for carrying luggage.

Types of Commuter Bikes


Hybrid Commuter Bikes

Hybrid Commuter Bike 1

Cannondale Quick 2 | Image credit: Cannondale

The hybrid commuter bike is one of the most common types in this category. They are characterized by straight handlebars, 700c tires, lightweight frames, and a somewhat upright seating position. As the name suggests, a hybrid bike is a combination of a road bike and a mountain bike: lighter and faster than a mountain bike, but stronger and more comfortable than a road bike.

For example, the Quick 2 is Cannondale’s hybrid commuter bike that gives you the best of both worlds. The lightweight frame and wide gear ratio make it an excellent fitness bike, while the thick tires and straight handlebars are ideal for commuting.

See Best Hybrid Bikes

Commuter Road Bikes

Road commuter bicycles

Cube Attain GTC SL | Image credit: Cube

Most professional road bikes are not ideal for commuting because they’re expensive, uncomfortable, and can’t carry much luggage. However, some manufacturers make mid-range road bikes with comfortable seats, wider tires, and space for luggage racks.

If you need a comfortable bike for getting to work and back but would also like to try your hand at amateur racing events, a commuter road bike would suit you. Besides, if you need to commute a long distance, road bikes will get you there quicker than most. 

The CAAD Optimo 1 is an entry-level road bike that makes for a decent Cannondale commuter bike. It has a strong alloy frame, Shimano 105 gears, and a lightweight carbon fork.

See Best Road Bikes

Touring Bikes for Commuting

Touring bikes for commuting

Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 | Image credit: REI

Professional touring bikes are built from very strong materials and high-quality parts, making them both heavy and expensive. However, many entry-level touring bikes make excellent commuter bikes because they come pre-fitted with lots of useful accessories.

If you’re doing a lot of commuting in varied weather and lighting conditions, you’ll appreciate the mudguards, integrated lights, and puncture-resistant tires that most touring bikes have.

There is a range of affordable touring bikes on the market, from the likes of Trek, Genesis, Surly, and Salsa. The Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 is an affordable option that comes pre-fitted with everything you’ll ever need for the longest commutes.

See Best Touring Bikes

Gravel Bikes for Commuting

Gravel commuter bikes

Canyon Grail 6 | Image credit: Canyon

 

A gravel bike is a new type of road bike that’s been re-engineered to handle rough gravel and dirt paths. They are designed for off-road racing and long-distance commuting over varied terrain. The main advantage of using a gravel bike for commuting is that it rides well on tarmac, pavement, gravel, and grass.

If you live in a particularly cold area with a lot of snow and sleet, a gravel bike is perfect for winter bike commuting. Its extra-grippy tires, high gear range, and strong disc brakes make it safer and easier to ride in wet conditions. Just make sure to do your part and dress appropriately as well. 

See Best Gravel Bikes

Electric Commuter Bikes

Electric commuter bikes

Giant Explore E+ 2 | Image credit: Giant

Commuting by bicycle is now easier than ever with the development of cheap, lightweight electric bicycle motors. Electric commuter bikes come in all shapes and sizes, some full-size with 700c wheels and others more compact with 20″ wheels.

The most common type of electric bike is pedal-assist, meaning you still have to pedal but with much less effort than usual. The harder you pedal, the longer the battery will last. Some ebikes also include a throttle to accelerate independently of pedaling.

There are three different classes of electric commuter bikes:

  • Class 1 – pedal assist with max speed 20mph
  • Class 2 – throttle powered with max speed 20mph
  • Class 3 – pedal assist with max speed of 28mph

The Townie Go! is a popular electric commuter bike at an affordable price under $3,000. It comes in both normal and step-thru frames, with lights, mudguards, and rear rack included. 

See Best E-Commuter Bikes

Urban Commuter Bike / City Commuter Bikes

City commuter bikes

Public C7i | Image credit: Public Bikes

Urban commuter bikes, also known as city commuter bikes, are specifically designed for tackling busy tarmac streets and pavements. They are popular amongst office workers, delivery workers, and bicycle messengers because of their sturdy frames, puncture-resistant tires, and comfortable design. Much like hybrid bikes, they have straight or swept-back handlebars and 700c wheels, but with less focus on fitness and off-road riding. 

The Public C7i pictured above is an excellent city-style commuter bike with internal gearing and upright geometry. This makes the bike almost maintenance-free, so you won’t get stuck on the roadside in the pouring rain with a faulty drive train.

See Best City Bikes

Folding Commuter Bikes

Folding Commuter Bikes

RadMini 4 | Image credit: Rad Power Bikes

Folding commuter bikes have small wheels and frames which split in the middle, so they can fold up into a suitcase-sized block. This makes them great bikes for commuting to work because if you break down or it rains, simply fold it up and hop on public transport.

Folding bikes are made in all kinds of styles, from fast electric bikes to foldable touring bikes. They are very popular with commuters because they are so easy to store in an office or on transport. 

The RadMini from Rad Power Bikes is a compact, folding commuter bike with fat 4-inch tires and a sturdy rear rack. It’ll get you wherever you need to go with no hassle – down city streets, country lanes, or through forests and fields.

See Best Folding Bikes

Cargo Commuter Bikes

Radwagon review

Rad Power Bikes RadWagon 4

Cargo commuter bikes come with added space for large rear racks, child seats, or front baskets. They’re ideal for transporting children, carrying sports equipment, or supplying goods to a market stall. If you need a bit of extra luggage space for your commute, a cargo commuter bike is the right choice for you.

Bicycle brands like Rad Power Bikes, Tern, and Urban Arrow all produce a wide range of cargo commuter bikes. They can carry anything from two children on the rear rack to an entire front loader full of heavy boxes.

See Best Cargo Bikes

Are Mountain Bikes for Commuting a Good Choice?

Mountain bikes for commuting

Specialized Rockhopper | Image credit: Specialized

If you already have a mountain bike, it’s perfectly acceptable for commuting, especially if you’re spending a lot of time off-road. However, if you’re looking to buy a commuting bike for the first time, consider what you’re using it for and the terrain you’ll be on.

Mountain bikes are slow and cumbersome on the tarmac, so they aren’t ideal for commuting around towns and cities.

See Best Beginner MTBs

How to Choose the Right Commuter Bike?


how to choose commuter bike

Image credit: Cannondale

Consider the Weather

When choosing the right commuter bike, consider what type of weather is common in your area. If you live in a very rainy or cold area, you’ll need a bike designed to tackle wet or frozen roads.

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Winter bike commuting can be far more dangerous in areas where it snows or the roads freeze up. You’ll need a bike with wide wheel clearance, thick-treaded tires, and hydraulic disc brakes.

What Are the Road Conditions?

Will you be cycling mainly on tarmac and pavement, or do you need to cross areas with grass, dirt, or gravel? Many commuter bikes only come with thin wheels and weak frames not sufficient for off-road riding.

If you plan to spend a lot of time riding off-road, get a gravel, touring, or hybrid commuter bike. If you don’t, a city, urban, or road bike should be fine.

Can You Perform Basic Maintenance?

If you know nothing about fixing a bicycle and want something that just keeps working without hassle, there are some choices you can make to help.

A belt drive commuter bike comes with a drive train that requires no oiling and should last for years with no maintenance. You should also go for a commuter bicycle with puncture-resistant tires, preferably Schwalbe, as these can go years without getting a flat.

FAQ


FAQ

What is a commuter bike?

A commuter bike is any bicycle used for the express purpose of getting from point A to point B. Whether it be to work and back, to buy groceries, or to visit friends, a commuter bike will get you there.

How to start commuting by bike?

To start commuting by bike, follow the tips above and decide which bike suits your needs. Then just buy the bike and start riding. You should spend some time learning the roads around your area to make your journey easier and safer.

What bike should I get for commuting?

This all depends on your situation. For wet weather or winter bike commuting, you’ll want a bike with big, thick tires and strong brakes. If you just want to get around the city fast, an electric city bike is perfect. There’s also a wide range of women’s commuter bikes and children’s commuter bikes available.

Are folding bikes good for commuting?

Folding bikes make excellent bikes for commuting to work because you can also take them on public transport if you hit bad weather or break down. They are also safer to store because you can take them into your office or your house.

Are road bikes good for commuting?

Road bikes aren’t ideal for commuting because they don’t have luggage racks and aren’t built for rough city streets. Although some people commute on their road bikes, it’s always best to get a bike specific to your needs.

Is a BMX bike good for commuting?

BMX bikes aren’t ideal for commuting because they aren’t comfortable to ride over long distances and usually only have one gear, making them slow and difficult to pedal.

How far can you commute on an electric bike?

Electric commuter bikes have a broad range of battery sizes and motors that use different amounts of power. The batteries also last longer the harder you pedal, so it depends a lot on the cyclist. Most electric bikes estimate a maximum range of between 30 – 70 miles on a single battery charge. This will give most people a full day of riding.

What to wear for bike commuting?

Unlike professional road cycling, you don’t need to wear lycra or tight clothing for commuting. Your choice of bike commuting clothes will depend mostly on the weather. In warm areas, most people just wear their standard clothes. 

However, for cold weather climates, you may need to wear a wind or waterproof jacket and some leggings if it gets muddy. You should always wear brightly colored, reflective clothing when commuting at night time. Office workers usually carry their work clothes in a separate bag and change them when they arrive.

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