recommended by experts

The Best Bikes for Commuters, According to Cycling Experts

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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 continuing to update this post with the best commuter bikes to look out for, 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, over time, will save you a lot on MetroCards (if not stop you entirely from buying them). But getting started can be intimidating. If you’re interested in riding to work, you may wonder how you’ll carry your stuff, how you’ll lock up 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 to $750 range (if they’re not e-bikes, that is). But be wary of anything much cheaper, they say, as they’ll likely have lower-quality parts that will wear out more quickly. Read on for their 23 picks for the best commuter bikes (most are available in men’s and women’s versions) on the market. Because these bikes are all a little different, and each rider will have their own specific needs, we organized the suggestions by the four categories we heard commuter bikes fall into — hybrid, upright, folding, and electric — 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 “cruiser” bike (more on those 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 leaning down on a road bike. Hybrid bikes also have the benefit of being suitable for longer weekend adventures in addition to daily commutes, according to Susi Wunsch, the founder of bicycling lifestyle website Velojoy. She 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).

This hybrid bike from Giant’s Escape line got three recommendations from our experts. A solid commuter bike that won’t break the bank, NYC Velo bike shop founder Andrew Crooks says it’s a “really good value” choice. Notably, it’s got a lighter-weight aluminum frame like those 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. Cycling coach Robert Evans told us that Giant’s Escape bikes like this one are “built for commuting,” pointing to their “durable commuter tires” as evidence. Adam Sokol, a sales representative at Ride Brooklyn, likes that it has flat handlebars as opposed to the curved ones on bikes designed for road racing, which he says “are generally what most people are comfortable with.” Sokol adds that the bike’s wide tires make it a good choice for roads that aren’t always perfectly smooth.

This eight-speed Specialized Alibi hybrid came recommended as a top pick by 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. (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.) “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.”

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.

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.” This bike is an eight-speed with mechanical disk brakes and a lighter-weight aluminum frame.

“What’s awesome about the Co-op Cycles line,” according to touring cyclist (and Strategist contributor) Maggie Slepian, the co-founder of Backpacking Routes, is that it has “really nice components — the same as you’d find on Specialized bikes — but they’re REI branded and therefore more affordable.” (REI launched Co-op Cycles, the retailer’s in-house bike line, back in 2017.) Slepian has ridden a CTY 1.1 for the last two years, telling us it could “easily be $1,200” due to its “efficient wheels, responsive mechanical disk brakes,” and other “durable” components.

This is the same bike as the one above, but with a slightly lower top tube, making it easier to step onto — something Wunsch told us is particularly helpful for women in dresses and skirts looking for a more modest way to get on and off their bikes.

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 be 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. While Keoshgerian didn’t mention this to us, we noticed that the Crosstrail also has shock absorbers on its front wheel to help cushion any bumps or holes on the road (or trail) — a feature the experts say is a rarity on hybrid bikes.

Those aforementioned shock absorbers are the reason 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.” Of this bike, 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. Adam Bernstein, a sales representative at Echelon Cycles, agrees that the Cannondale Quick is an excellent option for commuters because it has an upright geometry, which he says allows riders to keep their heads up and stay aware of their surroundings, as well as disc brakes for controlled stopping.

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 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.”

If you are riding on hills or bridges on your commute and want the option of switching gears, Neile Weissman, the public-relations director at New York Cycle Club, recommends the Trek FX 1. “For most people,” he says, it’s “the best option.” With multiple speeds and a lightweight aluminum frame, it’s also a good choice for commuters who occasionally want to take their bike out of the city for a longer ride at the beach or in the countryside. Weissman adds that because it’s relatively affordable, you’ll have room in your budget for adding city commuting essentials like fenders, lights, and a bell.

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 should you hit any hills. This bike also comes with pre-installed front- and back-wheel fenders, which protect you (and your bike frame) from getting covered in muck if you’re riding through wet, dirty streets.

Conroy agrees that a multiple-gear cruiser would be better for regular commuting. But if seven speeds seem like too many, the Franklin 3 is a less-expensive 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.” This bike also has a low-top tube, making it easier to step on and off of.

If you’re looking for a step-through upright bike but want to spend a little less, Wunsch recommends this “Dutch-style upright bike,” which she calls “the most basic, sturdy, and least complicated” and “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.

Weissman, meanwhile, recommends this eight-speed upright model from Lekker that comes city-ready with fenders (something you often have to buy separately) to protect you from wet weather. Instead of a chain that needs regular greasing, it has a belt drive that’s lower maintenance and more durable — so while you spend more up front, you may spend less maintaining this over time. The bike also has disc brakes that’ll give you more control for stopping on rough roads or wet streets. “If you’re commuting in bad weather or through the winter, disc brakes are a really good idea, particularly in traffic,” says Weissman.

Like the Lekker Amsterdam 8 Speed above, this bike from Roll combines the comfort and style of a traditional upright with performance features found in road and hybrid bikes. Sokol says the bike’s wide tires are a good match for “those bumps and potholes and rougher roads,” noting this bike also has a belt drive for easy upkeep. With ten speeds, he says it has enough functionality for most of the terrain you’ll encounter on your commute.

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 u