Bike commuting is healthier and more environmentally friendly than driving, faster than walking, and cheaper than a few months’ worth of MetroCards, yet getting started can be intimidating. If you’re interested in riding to work, you may wonder how you’ll carry your stuff, where you’ll store your bike, what to do if it rains, and most importantly, which bike should you buy.
To demystify the process, I spoke with bike store owners (John Keoshgerian of Zen Bikes, Charles McCorkell of Bicycle Habitat, and Andrew Crooks of NYC Velo) and bike-commuting advocates (Rich Conroy, director of education at Bike New York, Steve Taylor, communications manager at the League of American Bicyclists, and Susi Wunsch, founder of bicycling-lifestyle website Velojoy). They explained what features to look for in commuter-specific bikes and how much you should be ready to spend. While a top-of-the-line, aerodynamic racing bike can set you back a few grand, the experts I spoke to agreed that you can find a dependable commuting bike in the $350–$700 range. Be wary of anything much cheaper, as they’ll likely have lower-quality parts that will wear out more quickly.
Below, their picks for the best commuter bikes (most are available in men’s and women’s versions) on the market today.
Best upright commuter bikes
Unlike drop handlebars on road bikes, the flat handlebars commonly found on commuter bikes keep you upright for a more comfortable ride. Crooks said, in these bikes “you’re sitting in a position that is comfortable. You’re fairly upright and not straining your back or your neck to look at traffic signals, cars, or other road users.” Wunsch recommended a bike with seven speeds, like this sleek-looking one from Public, to give you some options when you hit any hills.
Wunsch likes step-through bikes especially for wearing skirts or dresses to work, since the style allows for more modesty and comfort. She said this “Dutch-style upright bike is the most basic, sturdy, and least complicated [type]; best for riding on mostly flat terrain and shorter distances.”
The Linus Roadster is a stylish, upright bike that McCorkell likes for riders prioritizing comfort and style over speed. McCorkell recommends upright bikes for those seeking what he calls the “retro-urban style,” bikes resembling the European models of the ’60s and ’70s but have been updated and modernized so they aren’t as heavy. It also comes fully decked out with a rack for carrying your stuff and fenders to protect you and your bike from dirty, wet street spray.
Opting for a single-speed bike may save you some cash, but since most commutes involve hills or bridges, Conroy recommended multiple gears. The Franklin 3 is a three-speed bike with an internally geared hub which, Conroy said, “looks like a single speed, but all the gears are inside the hub. The chain doesn’t move when you switch gears so it’s easy to operate and maintain, and it looks nice.”
Best hybrid commuter bikes
Hybrids bring some of the speed of a road bike to a bike that’s still sturdy and comfortable for commuting. Wunsch said, “A hybrid will be more versatile especially if you’re riding for both commuting to work and fitness on weekends. A hybrid is going to be a little bit lighter and faster.” A sport hybrid, the Coda is Conroy’s choice for a durable city bike. The steel frame won’t be as lightweight as an aluminum racing bike, but it’s a lot cheaper and strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of daily commuting.
Flat tires are one of the most common issues city commuters face, due to potholes and bumpy roads, and can mean showing up to work late. The Alibi was a top pick of both Keoshgerian and McCorkell because of one very cool feature: its semi-solid tires never go flat. Keoshgerian said, “This resonates with new commuters. If they don’t want to be bothered with pumping a tire, a flat-proof bike is pretty darn good.”
The Sirrus is one of the few aluminum-frame bikes at this price point. Lighter than steel, an aluminum bike will make your commute feel speedier. McCorkell said it’s also a good option for those looking to use their bike for fitness as well, and will work for doing laps in the park on the weekend.
Less likely to slip on wet or banged-up wheels, disc brakes — located at the center of the wheel — are safer than traditional brakes attached to the wheel’s outer edge. Keoshgerian called them a “crucial, New York City must-have” for dealing with bad weather and uneven roads, and likes that the Specialized CrossTrail incorporates this feature in a relatively affordable bike.
If your commute includes climbing hills or crossing bridges, look for a lightweight and efficient bike like a Trek FX. Compared to a cruiser bike, this style, according to McCorkell, is “aimed at someone looking to cover the distance a little quicker. You’ll be a little bent over, which puts more weight on the front wheel for less wind resistance and more control over the bike.” It also includes disc brakes for added safety.
Best roads bikes for commuting
A few steps up from the standard commuter bike, Crooks said the Kona Rove, with its aluminum frame and carbon fork, was “originally intended for off-road, gravel riding but we found it works really well for on-road commuting. Drop handle bars allow you to commute fairly quickly but you can still carry a bag and [attach] a full set of fenders.”
Best folding commuter bikes
City commuters love the convenience of space-saving folding bikes, but a smooth and easy-to-use folding mechanism can be an investment. “If money is no object, go with a Brompton,” said Conroy. “They’re really well-made folding bikes that fold up to nothing.” Crooks, also a Brompton fan, said their “utility allows a much easier way to do a multi-modal commute: you can take a folding bike on the train during rush hour without bothering your commuting peers and, then unfold the bike in a matter of seconds and complete your commute.” McCorkell called watching it seamlessly fold up “a visual experience.”
Keoshgerian said folding bikes are “brilliant” and recommended Tern’s more affordable models. He likes how folding bikes eliminate the need for locking up your bike or worrying about storage in your building, and Tern bikes come with a bag that’ll fit the folded-up bike for easy carrying. “Just shoulder it and walk into your office,” he said. Taylor agreed that folding bikes are “quite comfortable and zippier than they might look. [The handlebars and seats] tend to be very adjustable so several people in a household can share one.”
Best electric commuting bike
“The electric bikes are going to be what the cars were to the horse and buggy,” said Keoshgerian. Motorized bikes can make commuting possible for those who live far from work or aren’t in the best shape. However, most cities are still determining if electric bikes are street legal, and the prices for the reliable models are high. If you want to be an early adopter, though, Keoshgerian recommended a pedal-assist model with a motor from the German company, Bosch, a leader in the field. Pedal-assist electric bikes, like this one from Electra, are currently legal in New York City, and require the rider to pedal to engage the motor. Another option, suggested by Wunsch, is a Copenhagen wheel which turns any bike into an electric bike by replacing the rear wheel.
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