The 4 Best Commuter Bikes

Published on 05/13/2023 · 8 min readCommuter bikes are a sustainable and healthy alternative to driving around the city! Cycling Expert Jacob Cummings breaks down the top commuter bikes.
Jacob Cummings, Cycling Expert
By Cycling Expert Jacob Cummings

A perfect commuter - chunky tires, disc brakes, fenders, and a cargo rack make this bike ideal for commuting. Photo by Jacob Cummings

tl;dr Commuting by bike offers a lot of benefits. It saves money, reduces traffic, promotes a healthier lifestyle, and so much more. But buying a bike can be a confusing process. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of commuter bikes and what you should consider when choosing your own.

How to Choose a Commuter Bike

Before choosing a new bike, let’s go over a few factors you’ll have to consider to ensure maximum comfort and practicality based on your specific needs.

Different Types of Commuter Bikes

Hybrid bikes—which offer a combination of features cherry-picked from road bikes and mountain bikes—are a popular choice for commuting due to their versatility and agility in a wide range of terrain. They typically feature flat handlebars and a more upright riding position for added comfort, as well as wider tires and sometimes suspension forks to absorb bumps in the road and trail. Their pedals can vary, and depending on personal preference; most hybrids feature flat platform pedals that are versatile and accessible for casual riders. Though more serious riders may prefer clip-in pedals for the most efficient pedaling and comfort.

Road bikes, which are designed for speed and efficiency, are another common option for commuters. Though some may need to be inspected before purchase—as they might not have proper eyelets or clearances around the wheels for fenders and racks that may be important for your commute.

Gravel bikes feature wider tires and more relaxed geometry while folding bikes are ideal for commuters who need to ride public transit and/or store their bike in small spaces.

Old and cheap - this bike is from the 1980s and in many ways, it’s just as good as any modern option! Photo by Jacob Cummings

Build Materials

Materials like aluminum and carbon impact the weight and durability of the bike. Aluminum frames are a popular choice for their affordability and high durability. Carbon, on the other hand, is a less-than-ideal choice for commuting, as it is expensive and can easily be damaged.

Components and Accessories

Driveline components on a commuter bike can be as simple or complex as you’d like, but a belt drive system with an internally-geared hub will be the most versatile and durable option. Components like handlebars, pedals, and rims also need to match your riding style and preferences. Most modern bikes feature wheels that are a chunky 27.5 inches or a slimmer 700c. The previous has become the more popular option in recent years due to its high comfort value.

Additionally, accessories like rear racks and electric pedal-assist systems can add convenience and efficiency to your commute. Plus, it’s important to consider the security of your bike—so investing in a quality lock and storing your bike in a safe location is crucial.

Finding the Right Size for Your Next Bike

The size and fit of the bike are as equally important to your commuting experience as the design of the bike itself. The top tube, which runs from the handlebars to the seat, should be the correct length to ensure a comfortable riding position, and the seat post should be adjusted for you to achieve proper leg extension.

When dismounted from the saddle and standing over the bike with the top tube between your legs, your feet need to be able to rest flat on the ground. This ensures you have stable footing and can maneuver around without falling over. If you are unable to achieve this, then the bike may be too big for you.

How Much Should You Spend on a Commuter Bike?

This bike is well-loved by @strayintheyard, it’s the ideal commuter. Photo by Jacob Cummings

The answer really depends on your personal budget, needs, and ability to park your bike in a safe location:

A basic single-speed bike with a steel frame and rim brakes can be a cost-effective option for those on a tight budget—and especially for those worried about theft. With prices ranging from around $350–700, these bikes are simple, durable, easy to maintain, and can be a great option for short, flat commutes.

A hybrid bike with an aluminum frame is a more versatile choice. Brands like Trek offer popular models, like the FX1, which typically range from around $700–1,400. Designed to handle a range of terrain and commuting conditions, these bikes offer features such as step-through frames to facilitate standing and dismounting.

Investing in a more expensive commuter bike can save you time and money on transportation costs while giving you a joyful machine to ride. But, it’s also a great way to get frustrated: as mentioned above, commuter bikes are often constantly exposed to potential theft and can get dinged up or simply damaged in bicycle parking areas. So, balancing between the sweet spot of “good enough” and “not too expensive” can be a tricky dance. Let’s take a look at some options below to get an idea of what that balance might look like.

1. Cannondale Treadwell 2 LTD

The Cannondale Treadwell is a great option for anyone who wants a comfortable, upright riding position in a bike that is still engaging and sporty. With snappy handling, agile 27.5-inch wheels, and a lightweight aluminum frame, it has design tips borrowed from classic mountain and BMX bikes; Cannondale is encouraging riders to trust this bike to handle chunky roads and unpaved trails.

Eyelets on both the front and back of the bike make it ready for cargo racks to haul groceries, a work bag, or a picnic across town and into the country. One of the best values on the market today, the Treadwell offers all the basic requirements of a reliable commuter bike, including hydraulic disc brakes and a durable nine-speed drivetrain.

However, it does not come with fenders, which means the bike isn’t ready to go headfirst into nasty weather straight out of the box; but, a great set of fenders can be installed without too much hassle. Further, the saddle may not be super comfortable for some folks—so an upgrade to that piece may also be necessary. Last, while this bike is incredibly versatile, the drivetrain is designed mostly for urban riding and is not designed for multi-day touring trips.

2. Retrospec Beaumont

For me, the highest-value bike in this list is the Retrospec Beaumont. It’s perfect for anyone who wants a versatile and easy-to-maintain bike that's even easier to afford. That doesn't apply to only the upfront cost, but also the maintenance of every single component it comes with. The seven-speed drivetrain is easy to clean; and when parts get worn out, cheap replacement parts have been around for decades.

The same applies to the brakes: powerful side-pull brakes might be squeaky and less effective in the rain, but they are durable. With a frame built from forgiving steel, the Beaumont has most of the tricks one would want from a capable commuter bike, including fenders, a chain guard, and a rear cargo rack.

Though a few safety considerations must be mentioned. First, this bike does not feature disc brakes, which I would prefer to side-pull brakes because they’re more powerful and reliable in all weather conditions. Further, while this bike features a rear cargo rack ready to handle 20lbs of gear, the front fork does not come with eyelets for a modern porteur rack. Though a Wald Basket, which connects to the front axle, or a small basket rack that mounts to the brake bosses, like the Velo Orange, will add cargo space to the front.

3. Diamondback Union 1 Electric Bike

For anyone who’s looking to skip right past lines of traffic stuck bumper to bumper and to fly up hilly urban terrain, the Diamondback Union is the mid-drive electric bike of your dreams.

The Bosch performance motor paired with a 400Wh battery makes this bike capable of assisting riders for a range of 35–55 miles at speeds of up to 28mph. With cushy 27.5-inch wheels, front and rear fenders, and a sporty and compact cockpit, this bike blurs the lines between bicycle and ultralight motorcycle. Plus, it features a rear cargo rack and eyelets on the front fork to add more storage capacity.

Though its weight is a major downside: at 51 lbs, it’s about average for electric bicycles, but when compared to regular commuter bikes, it’s more than 20 lbs heavier. This will impact road handling and versatility, as well as make it more work to carry up and down stairs.

Further, its higher cost makes it essential to always find safe parking. So, it would be wise to carry extra locking equipment—which will add to the weight and cost of the whole package. For these reasons, I highly recommend a renter’s insurance that agrees to cover the value of this bike in the event that it gets stolen or irreparably damaged.

4. Cannondale Topstone 3 Gravel Bike

For riders who want a commuter bike that also can work as a road bike or a monster on forest service roads, the Cannondale Topstone 3 is the perfect bike. It’s also the perfect bike if you’re not looking to take it on forest roads, those chunky tires also soak up all the pavement cracks and potholes; it’s just a great all-around road bike, too. Here’s why: It has the ability to do all of the same things we expect from the best commuters like accepting large cargo racks and fenders, it has snappy and fun road geometry that keeps the bike fast and nimble, and it’s made with all the good components like Shimano Sora 9-speed and a full-carbon fork.

The main downside to this bike is the upfront cost (which is actually fair and standard for this range) and that it doesn’t simply come with all the commuter amenities—you’ll have to locate and install those accessories on your own. So in the end it’s a lot of money to have wrapped into a commuter bike, and you’ll need to make sure you have a safe place to park it (preferably indoors in a protected area) because this is one of those bikes that would go missing really quick if you aren’t diligent with your bike lock.

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Full-timers - folks in Europe along their early-spring commute with waterproof luggage and fenders. Photo by Jacob Cummings

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