Choosing a Commuter Bicycle

In the first article of my Bike Month commuting series, I gave you Ten Reasons to Commute by Bike. Now that you’re ready to give bicycle commuting a shot, you’re going to need to choose a bike for the task. Thankfully for the shorter distances of urban commuting, just about any bike will work. If you already own a bike, then you can start bicycle commuting now; however, there are many options available that will make your ride more pleasant or better suit your needs.  The following is a look at some of the different bicycle styles available, and the pros and cons of commuting on each.

Folly Pack
Cruiser Bikes


Pros: Beach Cruiser style bikes are among the simplest bikes available. Low seat height, coaster brakes, and simple shifting (if more than 1 gear), make these bikes easy to ride. Cruiser bikes are fun to ride and they’re relatively inexpensive. Riding position is upright, allowing a good view of traffic, and the fat tires add suspension. Saddles are wide and well cushioned. There is a good selection of aftermarket racks and baskets to add utility. Cruisers are less attractive to thieves, since the parts aren’t worth much if stripped.

Cons: Cruisers are heavier, slower, and less efficient than other bikes. Cruisers typically have 1 or 3 gears, so if you have big hills or strong headwinds, you can get worn out easily. If you have long distances to travel, you will need extra time. Cruisers accelerate slow, making it difficult to zip through traffic.

Freeway Ride
Urban Bike


Pros: Urban bikes are designed for the bicycle commuter in mind, and are pretty reasonably priced. They are the Sport Utility Vehicles of the bicycle world, combining both performance and utility. They are comfortable and efficient, and come in a variety of gearing options. Wide handlebars enhance bike control. The frames are made to accept fenders and racks, and when properly equipped, keep the rider dry and allow the cargo to be placed on the bike instead of the rider’s back. Although the tires are generally road biased, they are wider than skinny road tires, allowing the rider to easily navigate rocks, curbs, pot holes, and other urban hazards. Additionally, urban bikes typically have big 700c wheels which help smooth out the ride.

Cons: If you could only have one bike, you wouldn’t be able to do much in the way of off-roading on an urban bike. Depending on your climate, urban bikes may only be a three season bicycle. Mountain bikes do better in the snow.

Kona Ute
Urban Bikes add Utility

Six Mile Canyon
Road Bikes


Pros: Road bikes are light and fast, and they are nimble in traffic. Road bikes are a good choice if you have a lot of miles to cover, or are looking for the sportiest ride possible. For those on a budget, it’s not too hard to find a used road bike in fantastic shape. Road bikes are generally multi-geared, but you can also get them as a single speed or even a fixed gear.

Cons: You have to be more cautious when navigating road hazards with skinny tires. Road bikes don’t do well in the dirt. Tire choices are limited with the narrow clearance frames, making them more of a three season bike. Many of the racing frames aren’t equipped to mount fenders and racks. The aggressive leaned over posture of a road bike can limit your view of traffic.

Mills Park
Mountain Bikes – All Terrain, All Season


Pros: Mountain bikes are all-terrain and all-season. They are a good choice if you can only have one bike, but want to be able ride anything that comes your way. Many models have mounts for racks and most easily accept fenders. There are a wide range of tires available for mountain bikes including regular knobbies, hybrid tires, studded snow tires, and even slicks. In addition to your regular commute, you can go hit the dirt trails at lunch or on the way home from work.

Cons: Mountain bikes are not as efficient on the road as urban or road bikes due to their heavier wheels and moving suspension parts (if so equipped). Expensive parts may make your bike a target for thieves.

Also worth mentioning are Cyclocross bikes. Cyclocross bikes share some of the characteristics of road bikes and mountain bikes. They are light and fast like a road bike, but have more frame clearance for more aggressive tires. Cross bikes may be good choice for riders that face long commutes over varied terrain.

Bike to Work Week 2010 is May 17th – 21st here in Carson City.  Get those bikes ready for commuting.  I hope to see you out there!

3 thoughts on “Choosing a Commuter Bicycle

  1. Excellent article. Even though we live in a dry climate, fenders are very useful in a commuter, especially when the spring storms leave the streets safe but wet. They can make the difference between changing clothes and not, and also keep the drive train a little cleaner.

  2. Personally I’m kinda diggin whats for lunch in the cargo basket of the Cruiser. That’s my kind of work commuter!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s