What to look for in a commuter bike

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High fuel prices, improved infrastructure, and government subsidies have made commuting by bike more appealing than ever because it’s cleaner, greener, and often faster and cheaper than other modes of transportation. When you have the best bike for commuting, all these benefits are yours for the taking.

Riding a bike for utility as opposed to sport performance redefines the bike’s purpose. Aerodynamics and weight are losing features when it comes to a commuter bike, instead rider position and components take precedent. Then there are external factors too, which influence your choice of commuter bike, like length of trip, terrain and what you need to carry with you because the best type of bike for commuting is the one that gets you safely to your destination in comfort, style, speed, and/or all three.

What is a commuter bike?

Any bike could arguably be a commuter bike if it gets you from A to B without incident. That argument is a little too simple for most bike commuters, who need to securely store their bikes at points A and/or B and must reckon with a range of variables in between.

Depending upon your commute, a good commuter bike can roll over multi-surfaced terrain, prevent would-be thieves, keep you dry, and sometimes haul large loads.

To find the best type of bike for commuting, first you’ll want to assess your commute:

  • How long is it?
  • Is it only on paved roads or does it cover cobbles, dirt, and/or gravel as well?
  • How will you store your bike at your destination?

Your answers will help define which commuter bike is right for you because, if anything good can be said about the COVID pandemic, options for bike commuters have exploded in the past few years.

They start with the bikes, like the ones below.

What types of commuter bikes are there?

Road bike

Road bikes are designed for speed and efficiency on pavement. Features and performance vary between brands and models, but lightweight, agility, speed and efficiency are the key characteristics of all road bikes.

If your commute is an uninterrupted ribbon of asphalt, a road bike may be the best tool for the job. A traditional road bike has drop bars, which are less helpful for a stop-and-go commute.

If your route is subject to traffic controls (lights, signs, roundabouts etc.), a better choice for you might be a:

Flat bar road bike – derived from road bikes, a flat bar road bike offers speed and efficiency, as well as a more upright and comfortable position thanks to a flat handlebar. This single-hand position also puts the bike’s controls at your fingertips.



Fast and efficient on pavement

Rider may be too stretched out to comfortably (and safely) ride in traffic

Shop all Road Bikes

Hybrid bike

Borrowing their design cues from road and mountain bikes, hybrid bikes usually feature a light frame similar to road bikes, and flat handlebars commonly found on mountain bikes.

Tire width is usually somewhere in-between mountain and road bike tires, which makes things more comfortable on rough streets and cycling paths. Neither a hyper performance road bike nor a high-tech mountain bike, hybrids often make excellent choices for commuter bikes.

You’ve got options here as well when it comes to buying a hybrid bike.

Urban hybrid – Designed to put the rider in a comfortable, upright position to surveil traffic and be fully aware of the surroundings, the urban hybrid bike also has tires that are wide enough for rough roads and gravel bike paths but skinny enough to sustain a brisk pace on busy city streets. This hybrid will also have mounting eyelets for racks and panniers.

Recreational hybrid – Also known as a fitness bike, rider position is less aggressive than on a road bike and more engaged than on an urban hybrid. Slightly skinnier tires help increase average speed for getting around more quickly. Mounting eyelets for racks aren’t always a given on this bike style so better check and see if the model you’re after is equipped to haul gear.



Bikes that can do double – and even triple – duty as transportation, fitness bike, and cargo hauler

Doesn’t perform well as either a road or mountain bike

Touring bike

Made for hauling rider and gear over long distances, this bike possesses attractive features for the rider who lives by bike – not just commutes with one. A virtually bomb-proof frame equipped with equally durable components makes this bike one of the most reliable choices.

Where it fails in weight (it’s heavy), it more than makes up for that in rider comfort. The frame is also designed to accommodate wide tires, racks, and mudguards.



Durable frame and components give this bike lasting power; frame design provides superior rider comfort

Tends to be heavier than the other bikes listed here

Shop all Hybrid Bikes

Electric bike

E-bikes have literally mobilized entire populations, which is terrific because now there are more styles of e-bikes than ever to keep up with diverse consumer demands. E-bikes offer a personal solution to lowering emissions plus, national and local governments are getting involved by subsidizing the costlier price of e-bikes.

City/commuter, mountain bike, cargo, gravel/adventure, and road e-bikes are the different categories available, but they all have some fundamental features in common, in case you don’t know yet what type of e-bike you need.



Using an e-bike for commuting doesn’t depend on personal fitness

A new e-bike can be expensive (a used one can be a reasonable alternative)

Shop all E-Bikes

Folding bike

This bike is a brilliant choice if your commute is multimodal. Designed to fold into a compact unit, this highly portable bike can be discreetly carried onto a crowded train, bus, or subway and stowed under your desk.

Frame design and material vary among manufacturers but the main objective for a folding bike is to quickly and easily “fold” into a fraction of its original size. What’s gained in portability, however, is lost in speed, comfort, and efficiency, but as far as covering “the last mile” of your commute, you could hardly do better than a folding bike.



Unmatched portability that’s perfect for covering short distances

Smaller 20” wheels make handling twitchy, even unsafe at times

Now that you know what kinds of commuter bikes are out there, you can zero in on what matters to you when choosing a commuter bike.

Shop all Folding Bikes

What to consider when looking for a commuter bike

Riding position/comfort

Opt for an upright position that allows you to see what’s around you and be seen by other road users. This position is recommended for shorter, low-effort rides in traffic. A more aggressive position for longer rides is recommended for greater pedaling efficiency.


External drivetrain – As it sounds, this drivetrain (composed of chainring(s), cranks, chain, derailleur(s), and cassette) is installed on the bike’s exterior where it is exposed to the elements. Likely the most commonly available drivetrain, it can be personalized by swapping in preferred parts.

Internal gear hub – This drive system puts the gearing in a sealed unit where it’s protected from the contaminants and daily abuse that commuting can thrust on a drivetrain. An internal gear hub is particularly advantageous to commuters who ride in rain, snow, slush, sand, and salt.

Singlespeed or fixed gear – One gear is all you get with these systems, which are preferred by urban riders in flat cities. Simple and easy to maintain, a single speed drive system has a freewheel that allows the rider to coast when not pedaling, whereas a fixed gear system features a single cog that’s threaded or bolted directly to the rear wheel hub and requires the rider to constantly pedal.

Belt drive – A clean, quiet, and low maintenance system consisting of a highly engineered belt, chainring, and cog combination that boasts three times the lifespan of traditional chain drives. This system is gaining popularity and is available for urban, mountain, and e-bikes.

Shop all Gearings


Rim – The once dominant braking system that works by squeezing the wheel rims between two opposing brake pads. Cheaper than disc brakes, this system is less effective in wet weather.

Disc – The go-to braking system for off-road riders (and increasingly for road riders), disc brakes feature a broad metal rotor mounted on both the front fork and rear stays that gets squeezed between brake pads to provide superior stopping power.

Shop all Brakes


700c – Standard road wheels designed to accommodate a variety of tire widths according to rider preference.

650b or 27.5” – Less common wheels for commuting, these offer the added advantage of wider tires (up to 54 mm) for particularly rugged commutes.

20” – Typical of folding bikes (and kids’ bikes), these wheels serve specific demands for smaller wheels, like portability and better bike handling for smaller riders.

Shop all wheels


Racks – Usually bolted onto the rear, racks can increase your carrying capacity when you need to haul cargo or swing by the supermarket on the way home.

Shop all racks

Mudguards – Less an accessory, more a life-altering solution for protecting you from whatever’s coming down from the sky or getting churned up from below, mudguards are clipped or bolted onto the frame and seat post.

Shop all mudguards

Lights – A front and rear light will keep you on the right side of the law if lights are obligatory where you live. Not only are they often required, but they are also simply a bright idea and should be installed from the start.

Shop all bike lights

Locks – To commute, the bike locker is a must have to be confident that you will be able to commute back to your initial destination with you bike. The Cable, the chain and the D-lock are the three main types of bike lock.

Shop all bike locks

*Make sure your commuter bike is equipped with mounting eyelets for installing racks and mudguards.

Here are the do’s and don’ts of what to consider when looking for a commuter bike:



Find a bike that fits your commute

Pick the cheapest bike you can find

Make sure it’s the right fit

Prioritize aesthetics over comfort

Theft-proof it, if necessary

Neglect your bike’s security

Personalize the components to suit you and your commute

Suffer through your commute, that’s missing the point

Explore buying a used bike


How much should you spend on a commuter bike: how does price impact quality

Toss out the notion that “any old bike will do”, it’s like telling yourself you can eat a soup with a straw when you’ve got a spoon at your disposal. That’s not to say you must have the most state-of-the-art commuter bike to get around town, but you do want a hassle-free ride that you can rely on every day. Both come at a price, the difference is what you decide to spend your money on.

Before you buy your commuter bike, calculate the importance (to you) of the following characteristics:

  • Durability – The frame, fork, and all components should be able to withstand the punishment of your bike commute, whether that’s daily, frequently, or occasionally. Be prepared to replace parts (brake pads, chain, chainrings) as they wear out over time.
  • Weight – Often a consequence of durability, a heavier bike made from cheaper metals is assumed to be durable, but a lighter carbon fiber or titanium bike may be more durable but also much more attractive to thieves.
  • Performance – How you want your bike to perform depends upon your unique commute. Get an electric bike if you need to cross town, climb hills, and still arrive fresh to your destination. Get a hybrid if every commute is an adventure over multiple riding surfaces with abundant traffic controls. Get a road bike if your commute doubles as a training ride.
  • Theft risk – This is a big deal if you must store your bike in a risky area. Luckily there are loads of theft deterrents beyond just locks, like proprietary bolts for wheels, hubs, stems, and seat posts, seat leashes to secure your saddle to the frame, and even clever accessories for hiding air tags so that you can locate your bike in case it gets ripped off.

If you want that state-of-the-art commuter bike because in the past you’ve tolerated the “any old bike will do,” learn the difference between a cheap and an expensive bike because you may find that a used bike is above your pay grade but within your budget.

Commit to choosing the right commuter bike for you and gain access to a whole world of benefits, like saving time and money, improving your fitness, and reducing your individual impact on climate change. The right commuter bike will comfortably get you where you need to be without getting in your way.

Consult a Cycling Avenue expert

To get further assistance regarding everything around how to choose a commuter bike, you can book a call with one of our Cycling Avenue expert advisors that will help you throughout your research of the perfect commuter bike!

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Further reading

Road bike sizing can vary significantly among brands, which is the main reason for finding your bike size before you buy. A bike that’s a perfect fit also helps you ride more efficiently, avoid injury, and simply makes riding more fun. Understanding what affects bike sizing will not only help you choose wisely but will give you more control over how to fine tune your fit.

Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or casual commuter, or someone who rides on smooth roads, or gravel trails, selecting your faithful gravel bike should take into account several criteria; type of riding, surface, intensity, and frequency. Here are a few tips to help you choose the perfect gravel bike.