What's a commuting bike? The best commuting bike will depend as much on you and your riding style as what's on offer in bike shops. A bike for a 15-mile commuting journey on city arterials will probably be very different from one for a two-mile pootle across the park. In this article we take a look at a wide range of possibilities in commuting bikes.
A vast range of bike types work well for the office run. The distance, terrain, road surfaces and what else you want to use your bike for all factor in to your choice.
In flatter towns, the good old roadster and its modern hybrid descendants are great urban transport.
Want to go a bit faster? Drop-bar options like cyclo-cross bikes, gravel bikes and touring bikes have a good turn of speed combined with wide tyres to ward off pothole damage.
Look for rack and mudguard mounts on the frame for all-weather riding, and the capability for on-bike luggage.
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, and it's a lot more fun than sitting traffic or avoiding eye contact on the Tube. 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.
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 inexpensive but decent, Specialized’s Sirrus bikes come with a road bike geometry, and the the cheapest option from the 2021 range is £499.
There aren't many carbon fibre flat-bar bikes around, but if you want a luxury option, the FX Sport Carbon 4 has to be worth a look. As well as a carbon fibre frame that incorporates the Isospeed decoupler from Trek's Domane road bike, the FX Sport Carbon 4 keeps things secure with hydraulic disc brakes.
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.
Decathlon's Triban RC120 is built around a comfort-orientated aluminium frame and carbon fork, and gets a 2 x 8-speed Microshift drivetrain (you can get a disc-equipped version of this bike for £429.99). Threaded eyelets on the rear dropouts and the fork plus rack eyelets on the seatstays are welcome additions for commuting.
With disc brakes for all-weather stopping, 28mm tyres that point and laugh at potholes and mounts for a rack and mudguards, the Cannondale Synapse Disc Sora is ideal as a year round commuter and it’ll handle much more besides.
The Ribble R872 Disc Tiagra is a carbon fibre road bike that's built to a sportive-friendly geometry and it offers a much higher performance than you've a right to expect at this price. Plus, there's the bonus that you can tweak the spec to suit your taste and budget.
Very much a fast commuter, then, though there's room — and mountings — for mudguards even with 28mm tyres.
A carbon fibre endurance bike that'll take mudguards and 32mm tyres (35mm without the guards), the Giant Defy Advanced Pro 3 is a quick-feeling bike that's nevertheless poised and planted on crummy surfaces.
Just five years ago a bike like this was a relative rarity, but as disc brakes have allowed bike designers to make room for fatter tyres and mudguards there are plenty of choices. The Defy Advanced Pro 3 gets you Giant's eminently likeable Advanced Grade carbon frame and carbon fibre wheels.
Racing aside, it's all the bike you really need for year-round riding in the UK, fast enough for sportives and pacy training runs, comfortable and reliable for grinding out winter miles, and at home on longer commutes.
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.
The Elops (formerly B'Twin) B'Twin Hoprider 500 comes with everything you need to pootle round town, to the office or the shops or just round the park for exercise. It's not the lightest hybrid ever, but it's very well specced for the money.
Off the peg, the Hoprider 500 comes with hub-powered lighting front and rear, mudguards, rack and kickstand. That's a great set of accessories for a hybrid (too often they're just a bare bike) and really makes this bike an excellent choice for commuting and other practical riding.
Boardman bikes are ubiquitous on the city streets and main man Chris Boardman is often in the media advocating for cycling rights.
Boardman somehow finds time to design nice hybrids too, like this aluminium-framed, round-town speedster. At this level you start finding hydraulic disc brakes, usually a bit more reliable and less fiddly than cable brakes. The HYB 8.8 also has a carbon fibre fork, which helps take the sting out of potholes, and wide-range SRAM gearing.
With the 2021 Trek Dual Sport 4 Disc Trek is on board one of the best trends in urban bikes: wide-range single-chainring gearing. There's only one gear shifter, which operates the rear gears and provides access to a really wide gear range that'll see you speeding along on the flat and downhill and comfortably climbing the steepest hills. That keeps things simple: push the thumb lever and riding gets easier, pull the trigger and you go faster. With a short-travel suspension fork and 40mm tyres it'll also handle light off-road riding.
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 towns 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.
London's Brick Lane Bikes is the centre of the capital's single-speed and fixed-gear bike scene, and the place to go shopping if you want a stripped-down, simple bike for the office dash. The City Classic is made from 4130 chromoly steel from and takes most of its styling cues from Spinal Tap's Sniff The Glove.
A touring bike is built to be strong and to carry loads, both of which are useful qualities for commuting.
A typical British touring bike, the Spa Cycles Wayfarer has a frame in Reynolds 725 double-butted chromoly steel and wide-range gearing from its triple chainset and Shimano gears. The low ratio is a wall-climbing 28/32, which should get you up anything, even with a full load of luggage.
Modern touches include the TRP Spyre disc brakes and clearance for 47mm tyres with mudguards, making this a bike that mixes tradition and up-to-date technology to great effect.
We were mightily impressed by the Surly Straggler. 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 and gravel 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 10 is a hub-geared gravel bike that’s an ideal everyday commuter if you want to avoid worrying about wear and tear on derailleur gears if you commute in all weathers. It has an aluminium frame, and Shimano Alfine hub gear.
Cannondale's Topstone is a classic example of a modern gravel bike, with wide-range gearing, steady handling and fat tyres so you can take trail detours or point and laugh at potholes.
These rugged bikes are becoming increasingly popular, with cyclists fed up of being limited to riding just on the road. More and more riders are wanting a versatile bike capable of exploring the countryside via some of the wonderful bridleways, woodland trails and long-distance off-road tracks that exist right across the UK. And the Topstone is a bike that fulfils these criteria.
Ribble's CGR AL Shimano 105 is a hugely versatile and superb value bike for everything from gravel bashing to cyclocross and road commuting.
The CGR bit of the name stands for Cyclocross, gravel and road, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about where this bike is pitched, namely as a do-it-all drop bar bike. The impressive thing is that it actually delivers on this promise, having taken in everything from gravel rides, road Audaxes and tow-path bashing commutes.
Larger tyre clearances, a new carbon fork and a tapered head tube have now upped the performance and dropped the weight of the latest version of Cotic's venerable do-everything bike, making the new model an absolute joy to ride whether on or off road.
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 C8 is a straightforward little bike with 20in wheels that folds down in seconds.
Bikes from British brand Brompton are among the most sought-after folders. The range has just been revamped and renamed with a new incarnation of the Superlight at the top of the range as the new P Line, and a facelift for the rest of the range. 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.
Its unusual aluminium frame and front and rear suspension makes the Birdy one of the most distinctive folders, but also one of the most effective.
Electric bikes make a lot of sense for many commuting cyclists, providing a solid alternative to a car for urban transport.
Decathlon's Elops 920 is an assisted pedal power bike with a tidy mid-frame motor, disc brakes and built-in lights.
If you’re looking for a dependable and well-specced city e-bike that you’re going to use all the time, then around the £2,500 mark is where you’ll find a lot of choice. It’s a big enough budget to get a good mid-motor and very solid transmission and finishing components. The Raleigh Motus Grand Tour is a fine example of a great quality workhorse: The new Bosch Active Line Plus motor is a big improvement over the previous version, and the high-quality build will keep you rolling for years to come. It’s a really nice bike.
French firm Moustache makes a big range of electric bikes from the everyday to the esoteric. The Samedi is probably the most recognisable of their designs, using a custom low-step-through frame. It’s one of the nicest e-bikes we’ve ridden. The styling is unique and interesting, and that’s backed up by a good ride and quality components. You’re paying a premium price, but you’re definitely getting a premium product here.
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.
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.
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.
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Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.