UPDATE: With the coronavirus pandemic causing interest in biking, whether for commuting or recreation, to spike, a lot of the bikes below are currently sold out. We’re working to update this post with the best available commuter bikes, but in the meantime, if you’re looking for a bike right now, we’ve put together a list of retailers that still have good mountain bikes and road bikes in stock, and another of the best expert-recommended mountain bikes.
Bike commuting is healthier and more environmentally friendly than driving, faster than walking, and cheaper than a few months’ worth of MetroCards. But 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, what type of bike you should buy.
To demystify the process, we spoke with bike-store owners, retailers, and bike-commuting advocates. 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 we spoke to agreed that you can find a dependable commuting bike in the $350–$750 range. But be wary of anything much cheaper, as they’ll likely have lower-quality parts that will wear out more quickly. Read on for their 16 picks for the best commuter bikes (most are available in men’s and women’s versions) on the market. Because these bikes are all so different, and each rider will have their own specific needs, we organized the suggestions by category — hybrid, upright, and folding — as opposed to choosing one best overall model.
Best hybrid commuter bikes
The experts we spoke with recommend “hybrids” as the best commuting bikes for most people because they offer some of the speed of a road bike, along with the sturdiness and comfort of a simpler upright bike (more on uprights to come). Alex Gonzalez, a sales specialist in action sports at REI Soho, describes hybrids as “a mix between a road bike and a mountain bike.” The tires are somewhere in between the narrow, smooth tires of a road bike and the wide, nubby tires of a mountain bike, and the frame is going to let you sit upright, in a more “relaxed” position than if you were sitting on a road bike. Susi Wunsch, the founder of bicycling lifestyle website Velojoy, says that “a hybrid will be more versatile, especially if you’re riding for both commuting to work and fitness on weekends. It’ll also be a little bit lighter and faster.” Instead of the wide handles you’d find on an upright bike, hybrids generally have a flat handlebar that allows for a more active riding position, and the ability to accommodate add-ons like fenders and racks (if they don’t already come with these attached).
The Coda, a sport hybrid, comes recommended by Rich Conroy, the director of education at Bike New York, who says it’s a commuting bike that’s durable enough for city streets. The steel frame won’t be as lightweight as that of an aluminum-frame bike, but he says that for the price, you’ll get a solid bike strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of daily commuting.
The least expensive hybrid on our list (by about $20), this Giant bicycle is another simple but solid commuter bike that won’t break the bank, according to Andrew Crooks, the owner of bike shop NYC Velo, who says it’s a “really good value.” Notably, it’s got a lighter-weight aluminum frame you’d find on more expensive racing bikes, and also comes with 21 gears, so you’ll have a lot of options for customizing the ride and adapting to the terrain.
Due to potholes and bumpy roads, flat tires are one of the most common issues city commuters face — and one that can mean showing up to work late. The eight-speed Alibi, which also has an aluminum frame, was a top pick for both John Keoshgerian of Zen Bike and Bicycle Habitat’s Charles McCorkell because of one very cool feature: Its semi-solid tires never go flat. “This resonates with new commuters,” according to Keoshgerian. “If they don’t want to be bothered with pumping a tire, a flatproof bike is pretty darn good.”
Gonzalez says this eight-speed bike from Pure Cycles is a “great bike for commuters,” mainly because it’s so hard to find a solid bike with disk brakes at this price point. “Disk brakes are much smoother than traditional rim brakes, and great for stopping,” he says, adding that disk brakes generally require less maintenance. This bike uses mechanical disk brakes as opposed to hydraulic disk brakes, which are more advanced but also more expensive. It has a steel frame, so it won’t be as lightweight as an aluminum-frame bike, but Gonzalez and the other experts told us that many commuters prefer steel because it’s better at bearing weight and more durable.
Crooks told us that Kona makes some great commuter bikes, and for a mid-priced option, he recommends a bike from its Dew line. “Kona is an old-school mountain-bike company,” he says, adding that he likes how it has “translated a lot of the durability of their mountain bikes over to the hybrid.” Like the Pure Cycles bike above, this one is an eight-speed with mechanical disk brakes. But the Kona has a lighter-weight aluminum frame.
For a slightly higher price, you can get an aluminum-frame hybrid bike with hydraulic disc brakes, which work to stop the wheel with a pressurized fluid. “It’s the same fluid that your car uses to brake,” explains Jonnie Ling of the Community Cycling Center in Portland, Oregon. Ling told us that while either form of disc brake is going to better than a rim brake, hydraulic discs are “more powerful and responsive,” and don’t require as much pressure to activate. Hydraulic disc brakes are also fully sealed, which is one reason why Keoshgerian calls them a “crucial, New York City must-have” for dealing with bad weather and uneven roads. He likes that the Crosstrail incorporates this feature while still being a relatively affordable bike.
Unlike mountain bikes, hybrids don’t typically feature shock absorbers. That’s why Gonzalez is a fan of the aluminum-frame Cannondale Quick CX 3. “The front shocks are good if you aren’t riding on smooth pavement; they absorb the imperfections of the road.” He adds, “It would be great for people who need to take trails or cut through a park” on their way to work. (It also has 16 gears to help “climb bridges and hills.”) Between the front shocks, gear range, and wide textured tires, this hybrid should be able to keep up with most mountain bikes.
It might seem counterintuitive for a steel-frame hybrid to be the most expensive option on this list, especially considering that another steel-frame hybrid in the roundup is the least expensive. But, echoing some of his fellow experts, Crooks told us that most hard-core city bikers actually prefer steel. “Steel bikes are basically universal among the employees at NYC Velo,” he says, noting that the material is more “flexible” than aluminum, making it naturally shock absorbent and, as we discussed before, extremely durable. For shorter distances and light-to-average use, the comparatively lower maintenance and lighter weight of aluminum will be better, but if you want something truly built to last, you might be better off with steel. Crooks says that while this model is expensive, the price is justified by the especially “high-quality steel and components.” It’s also “super utilitarian,” he says, adding that it “has a bunch of mounts for any bag or rack.”
Best upright commuter bikes
Generally called “upright” bikes or “cruiser” bikes, this style prioritizes comfort, so many of the bike commuters we spoke to say people prefer them for shorter trips. As Crooks explains, with 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.” When it comes to choosing an upright bike, Wunsch recommends one with multiple gears, like this classic-looking seven-speed bike from Public, to give you some options when you hit any hills.
Opting for a single-speed bike may save you some cash, but since most commutes involve hills or bridges, Conroy agrees that a multiple-gear style would be better for regular commuting. If seven speeds seem like too many, the Franklin 3 is a three-speed bike with an internally geared hub that he recommends. According to Conroy, it “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.”
Wunsch likes step-through upright bikes with low top tubes because she says the design allows for more modesty and comfort — especially for those wearing skirts or dresses to work. If you’re looking for a step-through, she says 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 who want to prioritize comfort and style over speed. He recommends upright bikes for those seeking what he calls the “retro urban style” — or bikes resembling the European models of the ’60s and ’70s that have been updated and modernized so they aren’t as heavy. The Roadster Sport also comes fully decked out with a rack for carrying your stuff and fenders to protect you and your bike from dirty, wet streets.
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. When it comes to folding commuting bikes, Brompton makes the hands-down favorite among our experts, four of whom recommend its top-of-the line model. It was also the top pick of Streetsblog editor Gersh Kuntzman, who tested out a variety of folding bikes for us. While the Brompton is pricey, Kuntzman found that it was truly the best around. As he puts it, “Every part of this bicycle has been engineered for maximum compactness.” Conroy agrees: “If money is no object, go with a Brompton. They’re really well-made folding bikes that fold up to nothing.” Crooks, also a Brompton fan, says the bike’s “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.” And McCorkell says that watching it seamlessly fold up is “a visual experience.”
Made in England, Brompton bikes are extremely well-constructed, according to Crooks, who says that “all the things that typically fail [on other folding bikes], like hinges, are bombproof on the Brompton.” He adds that, unlike other folding bikes that “typically still need an additional bag or strap” to carry around, “Bromptons fully fold into themselves and are designed with miniature wheels so you can glide them along even while folded up.” One more convenient feature is the fact that the bike can support itself when folded. “You fold it halfway and it becomes its own kickstand,” says Gonzalez.