The Best Commuting Bikes and Kit
How to choose your bike for riding to work
You've decided to ride to work – a great choice because it's cheap, it’s green and it'll help keep you fit and active. It can also be quicker than many other modes of transport because you can avoid traffic jams and other delays. So what’s the best bike for commuting?
You can ride to work on pretty much any bike you like; go on a BMX if you want. But spend some time choosing the most suitable tool for the job and you’ll probably get there quicker and more comfortably.
We’ll run through a few different types of bikes and explain why each one might be the best choice for you, then explain a few things you need to consider before making your final choice.
Flat bar road bikes
A lot of people prefer the vision and control that they get from a bike with a flat handlebar over one with a dropped bar. With a flat bar road bike you get the fast wheels/tyres of a standard road bike and gearing that allows you to commute quickly.
If you’re after something a little cheaper, Specialized’s Sirrus bikes come with a road bike geometry, the cheapest option priced at £400.
We reviewed the Hoy Shizuoka city bike (£620.00) a while back and we were really impressed. It comes with 10 gears, hydraulic disc brakes and room for bigger tyres, mudguards and a rack, all of which are strong draws if you’re looking for a bike on which you can commute.
Plus, at 10.5kg (23.3lb), the Hoy Shizuoka is much lighter than the sort of mountain bike that many people use for commuting, and it’ll easily handle long road rides at the weekend.
If you want more gears, there are other options in the Shizuoka range.
Cannondale’s Quick Carbon is fast like a road bike and comfy like a mountain bike, and offers disc brake confidence. It's usually £1,499.99, but you can currently pick it up for £1,199.99.
A road bike is a fast option if you have a long commute, especially if a lot of your ride is on open, out of town roads where you can make its speed and efficiency really count.
Also, a road bike is ideal for riding sportives, training rides, or just getting out and seeing the country.
Priced at £299.99, the B’Twin Triban 500 SE is an entry-level road bike but we found it amazingly sprightly. It’s built around an aluminium frame and carbon fork, and gets a 3 x 8-speed Microshift drivetrain (you can get a Shimano Sora-equipped version of this bike for £449.99). Threaded eyelets on the rear dropouts and the fork plus rack eyelets on the seatstays are welcome additions for commuting.
The Triban 500 SE weighs in at a surprisingly light 22.4lb/10.08kg – way below average for a bike at this price.
The Whyte Dorset (£999) is ideal as a year round commuter and it’ll handle much more besides.
The £1,199.99 carbon-fibre Lapierre Sensium 100 is a comfortable, lively endurance bike with plenty of upgrade potential.
A hybrid combines features of a mountain bike and features of a road bike to give you, theoretically, the best of both worlds: a bike that is pretty quick and also tough and durable. In truth, it’s often difficult to tell where the flat bar road bike category ends and hybrids begin.
First impressions of the review bike our teenage tester is riding to school daily are good. It has a suspension fork and seatpost to improve comfort over rough ground, and the transmission is decent quality, for the money eight-speed Shimano Acera.
Less obvious, but very welcome, it also comes with Continental Touring Plus puncture-resistant tyres and trigger shifters rather than the twist-grips you often find on cheaper models. You even get a fairly decent set of metal-bodied pedals, a significant step up from the resin-bodied jobs found on most budget bikes.
Boardman bikes are ubiquitous on the city streets and just lately main man Chris Boardman has been all over the media advocating for cycling rights and plugging his book on bike design, The Biography of the Modern Bike.
Boardman somehow finds time to design nice hybrids too, like this aluminium-framed, round-tow speedster. At this level you start finding hydraulic disc brakes, usually a bit more reliable and less fiddly than cable brakes. The Hybrid Team also has a carbon fibre forks, which helps take the sting out of potholes, and wide-range SRAM gearing.
Although there are some compromises, the £900 Trek 8.6 DS is competent and comfortable both on the road and off it.
Fixed gear bikes (ones without a freewheel so you can’t coast, your feet have to turn whenever the bike is moving) aren't quite as fashionable as a few years ago. They're simple, thanks to the lack of derailleurs, gear shifters or cables to maintain or replace, but having to pedal constantly turns out to be fairly inconvenient.
Just having one gear whatever the profile of your ride isn’t ideal if you live in a really hilly area, but in flatter town fixies have given way to singlespeeds, which at least let you coast. Many singlespeeds have a flip-flop rear wheel that you can turn around to run it fixed if you want to experiment with compulsory pedalling.
The Charge Plug 1 is a simple, tough steel singlespeed with a flip-flop rear wheel and large 32mm tyres for comfort.
We reviewed Kona’s Paddy Wagon fixed/singlespeed a few years ago (priced £550 at the time, now priced at £599). It’s made from Reynolds 520 butted chromoly steel, comes with 28mm tyres that’ll help smooth over rough roads, and there’s plenty of mudguard clearance (you can go to 32mm tyres if you do without mudguards). There are braze-ons for the mudguards but not for a rack.
We reckon it’s worth putting on the shortlist if you're shopping for a fast commuter bike.
A touring bike is built to be strong and to carry loads, both of which are useful qualities for commuting.
When we reviewed the Roux Etape 250 touring bike, we said that it bore most of the hallmarks of a classic big journey tourer but that it would be just as suitable for everyday use as a load bearing workhorse commuter. It’s one of the few disc-brake equipped heavy duty tourers on the market at this price.
The Surly Disc Trucker is a well thought-out tourer with bags of character. It's a super-practical bike and a lot of fun to ride.
We were mightily impressed by the Surly Straggler (£1,499.99) earlier this year too. It’s a sturdy and adaptable steel all-rounder with disc brakes. You can use it on the roads, on towpaths and trails – pretty much wherever you like – and it comes with braze-ons for mudguards and racks.
Cyclocross bikes are designed for riding off road but the fact that they’re built to be both fast and durable means they can be excellent for everyday commuting, sometimes with some tweaks for the road.
The Genesis Day One Disc is a singlespeed cyclo-cross bike that’s an ideal everyday commuter if you live in a flat area.
Is the Genesis Croix de Fer a cyclocross bike? It could be. Or a road bike, a tourer, an adventure bike... it’s a do-it-all bike, and that includes commuting. The Croix de Fer is a bit of a modern classic – a capable on- and off-road mile-muncher. You get braze-ons for mudguards and racks as well as mounts for a down tube-mounted mudguard.
A folding bike is often the best option for multi-modal commuting. Say you want to ride to the station, take the train, then get off at the other end and ride to the office: a folder could be the ideal bike for you. Most people want something that’s quick and easy to fold and manoeuvrable when packed down.
The Tern Link C7 is a straightforward little bike with 20in wheels that folds down in seconds.
The Birdy World Sport is a jack-of-all-trades folding bike that does all its jobs well.
Bikes from British brand Brompton are among the most sought after folders. The most basic one-speed Brompton costs £765, but you can choose your own components, luggage, and transporting bags. and the price will alter accordingly. We reviewed the Brompton S2L-X a few years ago and concluded that it was a really neat package, especially if the fold is as important to you as the ride.
Some cyclists get all sniffy about electric bikes but they make a lot of sense for some people, providing a solid alternative to a car for urban transport.
The Giant Twist Lite (£1,199) is an assisted pedal power bike with a slim front hub motor.
When we reviewed the Koga E-Nova RT electric bike we found it to be a great vehicle for getting around with consummate ease. The whole bike oozes quality and does a fantastic job of smoothing over the hills to make any journey cycle-friendly.
The Bosch drivetrain is excellent. The bottom bracket unit contains the motor, and three sensors monitor your pedal input and match it with a push from the motor. The E-Nova is able to assist you with a maximum of 250W of power up to a maximum speed of 25kph (16mph); after that you're on your own.
There’s no doubt that the E-Nova RT is expensive but we found it a joy to pilot about town.
Cycle to Work scheme
Many employers offer Cycle to Work programmes that allow you to get a bike tax-free, saving you a lot of money.
Your employer needs to sign up to a Cycle to Work provider, like Cyclescheme. You join the scheme, choose a bike, do a little bit of online admin and collect the bike from the shop. You then hire the bike with payments taken from your gross monthly salary. At the end of the hire period, you are usually given the opportunity to buy the bike for its market value.
Essentially, this is a cheap way of getting a bike for riding to and from work, and you are free to use it at any other time too.
In most cases, the maximum value of a bike and cycling equipment you can get through a Cycle to Work programme is £1,000.
When riding to and from work you’ll almost certainly need to carry stuff with you, at least occasionally: maybe a laptop, some clothes and shoes to change into if you’re riding in cycling gear, food...
Some people are happy carrying this in a bag on their back – either a backpack or a messenger bag – especially if the load is light and/or the journey is short.
For heavier loads and longer journeys you might want the bike to take the strain by fitting a rack and using a rack bag or panniers. If so, many bikes have eyelets designed specifically for taking a rack. If your bike doesn’t have them, you’ll probably be able to use other rack fitting fixtures but bear in mind that disc brakes can sometimes make things awkward.
Mudguards and racks
Some bikes come fitted with mudguards but most don’t. If you’re going to commute by bike in all conditions you might well want to fit mudguards to stop your tyres spraying you with water from the road.
Many bikes are built with eyelets for fixing mudguards. Again, there’s usually a solution if your bike doesn’t have them, but if you intend to use mudguards, eyelets make life that little bit easier.
A lot of people like an upright riding position for cycling in town so they get a good view of the traffic, pedestrians, and so on. For that reason they might opt for a flat-barred bike rather than one with a dropped handlebar.
On the other hand, if your commute takes in a lot of open road, a drop-barred bike is likely to be quicker and more efficient.
You need to decide on the best option for your commute.
Some manufacturers offer bikes with other commuter-friendly features. Puncture-resistant tyres are popular. No one ever wants a puncture but it’s particularly bad news if you need to be at the office for an important 9am meeting.
Disc brakes can be useful if you’re going to commute in all weathers because the braking surface is much further away from the road than with rim brakes so you get a more consistent performance in the wet.
Hub gears are often cited as a good choice for commuters because the working parts are sealed away from the rain and spray. That’s true, but derailleur gears will keep working with minimal maintenance as long as you give them a clean and re-lube after riding in wet conditions.
It could be that you’re buying a bike solely for commuting, but it’s more likely that you’ll want to ride it at other times too. That makes things a little more complicated – or interesting, depending on how you look at it!
If you’re going to have just one bike and you want to use it for both commuting and for riding sportives, for instance, you’re probably going to be attracted towards a drop-barred road bike.
If you want a bike you can both commute on and ride on weekends away, you might be attracted by a touring bike.
We all have different commutes and different cycling preferences outside of commuting so there’s not one bike, or even a type of bike, that’s right for everyone.