Commuting is the first experience of cycling for many people, replacing the car or bus it’s generally cheaper, easier, more enjoyable and better for your health.
You’re going to need a bike though, and the type of bike you choose depends on what your commute is like. Is it long and hilly, flat and short, involved a train journey? Those are the sorts of questions you need to answer to arrive at the right bike for your commuting needs.
There are no rules about what sort of bike you can commute on. You can literally use any bicycle you want, which is why you see such an assortment in the cities, towns and countryside across the UK.
In this awards top seven we’ve rounded up seven bikes that offer different commuting options. We’ve got folding bikes, ideal if storage is an issue or you need to use the train for part of the commute. Road bikes are good for longer commutes where speed is necessary, and singlespeed bikes reduce the cost and likelihood of things wearing out or breaking.
Lastly, we’ve added a couple of adventure bikes, appealing because they are so versatile they can be used for just about any sort of commute. Plus, you can fit very wide tyres which are great for smoothing out rough roads, and the disc brakes provide great control in all weathers. The two in this list also have mudguard mounts as well, and they are great for wet winter commutes.
Despite the differences in these bikes, we reckon there are some key features that people buying a bike for commuting will be looking for: value for money, easy handling, comfort, durability, reliability and versatility. These bikes take all those things into consideration.
(There is one bike missing from this list which originally was a contender... it's the 2018 Specialized Allez Elite. We were really impressed with the bike, a nice aluminium frame with a good riding position, mudguard eyelets and a good spec. However, since the publication of that review, the Allez has been recalled due to a problem with the fork and isn't' likely to be back on sale for a little while.)
7. Dahon Qix D8 £750
With 20-inch wheels and a straightforward folding action, the Dahon Qix D8 doesn't pack away as small as the market leader, but it's very good value for money and has a nippy ride.
Folding bikes inevitably get compared with the Brompton, so let's get the broad comparison out of the way. The Dahon Qix D8 is less complicated to fold than a Brompton, but ends up as a considerably bigger package when folded. It's substantially cheaper though, and thanks to its 20-inch wheels feels a bit more like a regular bike than a smaller-wheeled folder.
The Dahon Qix D8 folds to 82 x 64 x 37cm. That's quite a bit bigger than a Brompton's 58.5 x 56.5 x 27cm, but the Dahon costs £750 (and can be found for under £700) while the cheapest comparable Brompton, the rack-equipped, six-speed M6R, is £1,130.
Despite its larger folded size, the Dahon has another advantage. Its 20in wheels give a ride that's rather more like a full-sized bike than a folder. You're not going to mistake the Qix D8 for a carbon race bike, but the larger wheels, especially up front, make it a bit smoother on potholed streets. To be fair, Brompton does a good job of protecting your bum from road bumps with a rubber rear suspension bumper that also contributes to its diddy fold.
When folded, it's still small enough to go in the lower luggage spot of most trains, and it's not in the way if you stand it in the vestibule area. It's also nicely balanced for short carries; you just grab the back of the saddle and away you go. Admittedly, you wouldn't want to lug it too far, but lifting it on the train or into the back of a car is fuss-free.
The Dahon Qix D8 has a tight, accurate ride thanks to the stiffness that comes from its oversized main frame member and fat handlebar stem and seatpost. Its handling is definitely on the quick side. It responds instantly to every movement of the handlebar. That's great for dodging potholes, but it can get a little fatiguing on longer rides.
Dahon has done a good job with the Qix D8. It rides well and folds easily to a usefully compact package. It has a reassuring feel of both quality and solidity, as well as handling that's just right for dashing round town. The few component compromises can be forgiven in a folder at this price.
Why it's here: Dependable folder that's easy to stash away and rides well
6. Giant Contend SL 1 £999
Road bikes make great daily commuting bikes, and the Giant Contend SL 1 is a good example. It's a comfortable and versatile sportive/endurance bike with a dependable feel that encourages you to keep going and just do those extra few miles.
It takes whatever it encounters in its stride with an unflappable assurance that's just what you want in a bike for long rides, handling everything from twisty descents on smooth surfaces to tatty dirt roads, Belgian cobbles and even singletrack trails with equal aplomb.
The Contend SL 1 is a steady, efficient climber. Sit down, hunker into the Giant own-brand short-reach bar and it carries you uphill with calm focus. This isn't a superlight, mountain-conquering race bike, urging you to whizz frantically uphill like you're chasing a Tour podium rival, but it gets the job done without fuss. In other words, it suits my climbing style, which doesn't exactly involve dancing on the pedals at 6W/kg.
When the road surface gets crummy the Contend SL 1's Giant P-SL 1 tyres come into their own. They're fast, thanks to a smooth tread pattern, grippy on everything from smooth tarmac to packed-down soil, and confident, with plenty of cushioning and suppleness to keep the bike on track.
The Giant D-Fuse seatpost is supposed to help take the sting out of the road too, but I couldn't tell. Maybe my arse just isn't sensitive enough (stop sniggering at the back) but the composite post just didn't seem to move enough to absorb any significant amount of road buzz.
The Contend SL 1 gets its fine ride from a carefully designed aluminium frame made from the 6011 alloy that Giant calls ALUXX SL. It has the full suite of modern features: tapered head tube and fork steerer; internal cable routing; extensive use of tube shaping and butting to tune the ride and save weight; and a wide bottom bracket shell with press-fit bearings. There are also mudguard mounts front and rear if you want to stay drier when it rains, and Giant offers a clamp for the seatpost so you can fit a rack if you want to carry stuff.
Despite a couple of niggles, the Giant Contend SL 1 is a great bike for £1,000. It has a fine balance of long-ride comfort and assured, sustainable pace and it refuses to be fazed by annoying trivialities like crummy road surfaces.
You can currently get this 2017 model for a few hundred quid cheaper if you shop around. Apart from a new lick of paint, the 2018 model doesn't appear to have changed significantly.
Why it's here: Balanced and assured aluminium endurance bike equally suited to long rides at pace and commuter pothole-bashing
5. Marin Gestalt 2 £1,000
Whether you need something to act as drop bar commuter, gravel adventurer or just a hugely versatile road machine, Marin's Gestalt 2 is likely to win you over with confident handling, even if the frame and fork can be a little unforgiving at times.
The Gestalt 2 is the middle bike in Marin's 'Beyond Road' range, hitting that all-important £1,000 Cycle To Work scheme price limit on the head, making it an attractive prospect as a standalone do-it-all machine or to supplement a mountain or road bike. Note, this is the 2017 model; it's relatively unchanged for 2018, though it is £150 more.
The bike comes with 700C wheels shod in 30mm rubber, though there's decent enough clearance to go a bit fatter if you want. The butted aluminium frame is disc brake only and the fork has carbon legs but a straight 1 1/8in aluminium steerer. If you want a tapered steerer and thru-axles, you'll have to spring for the more expensive Gestalt 3. There's a full complement of mounts for racks and guards though, while the smooth welds and satin paint finish make the bike look like a higher dollar machine than it really is.
Getting the gearing right for both on and off-road use is always going to be extremely tricky, but the ratios were about as good as you could expect. On the road it felt a touch gappy and I'd sometimes be hunting between ratios to get the right cadence. It's also fairly easy to spin out the 42T front ring once you start descending. Off-road, that's all much less of an issue, with the lowest ratio making some really rather steep climbs possible, provided you don't mind getting out of the saddle and stomping a knee-grinding cadence.
Marin's experience in the world of mountain biking comes through in the geometry. At 172cm tall, I rode the 54cm frame and the reach of 373mm was spot on, with the fairly small stem and slightly flared 420mm bar. The head angle of 72.25 degrees and seat angle of 73 degrees vary with sizing, but they felt felt just right to me, striking a good balance between feeling lively on the road but not too nervous when you take it off the tarmac. In fact, I was pretty impressed with how steep and technical the terrain got before the Gestalt felt out of its depth.
Being realistic, it's roads and cyclepaths where the Gestalt will see the majority of use and it's a great bike for city centre riding or back road carving, with a little off-road detouring thrown in
Viewed through the lens of a versatile do-anything machine rather than a hardcore gravel racer, the Gestalt 2 is a great bike at a good price, with handling that'll be instantly familiar to mountain bikers, and confidence-inspiring for road cyclists who want to get off the beaten track once in a while.
Why it's here: A versatile and confidence-inspiring do-anything machine that's decent value too
4. Brompton S6L £1,090
If you're in the market for a small-wheeled folding bike for commuting there are many choices, but one that should definitely be on your list is the S6L from iconic brand Brompton – it's super-easy to fold, fun to ride and you can tailor it to your needs and, assuming you have at least £800 to spend, your budget.
As well as being a well-known name in this market – though there are quite a few others out there, such as Tern, Birdy, Airnimal and Dahon among others – Bromptons are acknowledged as having one of the easiest folding mechanisms and compact sizes when folded. This makes them particularly appealing for commuters who combine their ride with public transport (no need to reserve space for a folding bike on the train, and you can take them on the tube), and the addition of two small wheels that allow you to trolley the bike when folded is very useful. All very convenient.
Riding a Brompton is a very different experience to a regular road bike. It's nimble and agile, and the lively steering takes a little getting used to at first, but you quickly tune into the quick reactions. What might surprise you about the Brompton is how much fun it is to ride – it really does put a smile on your face as you make your way along the road.
The 16in wheels provide impressive acceleration from a standing start – you can get up to speed with minimal lag and the range of gears on the test bike offered good low options for climbing, with enough top-end choice for fast high-speed stretches of your commute. Where the small wheels aren't so good is in dealing with rough roads and potholes, and at very low speeds the bike can feel a bit wobbly and the in-line steering feels very lively. It's part of the compromise for the extremely small folded size, but it's a handling trait you soon get used to
Folding a Brompton is an easy and quick job, and it's mostly intuitive, once you've had a few goes. It's possible to get a bit flustered on your first few attempts, but the key is to remember the steps and to do them in the right order. It soon becomes a doddle and you'll be showing off to your mates just how quickly you can fold it down. The large plastic locking levers are easy to operate and fasten the bike securely into its upright position
If your commute involves public transport, the Brompton really is going to work for you. It's small enough once folded – 585mm high, 565mm long and 270mm wide – that it'll fit in the luggage rack on a train.
The steel frame is tough and you only need see the high number of Bromptons on the roads of various vintages to realise they're built to last. It's not light, though, weighing in at 12.5kg (27.5lb), but the weight is at least offset by the small wheels and the wide range of gears, so it doesn't feel heavy when pedalling along.
The Brompton is both easy to use and a delight to ride. It's hugely customisable with a broad colour palette choice and optional extras, plus – if this is important to you – it's built in Britain.
Why it's here: The iconic Brompton is hard to beat, easy to use and a delight to ride
3. Kinesis Tripster AT frameset £699
Adventure bikes have all the right ingredients to make great commuting bikes, and this Kinesis Tripster AT adds value for money to the mix. You can buy the Tripster AT as a frameset and build it your own way, or as a complete bike for £1,699 with SRAM Rival 1. Buying the frameset would be a good way of keeping the overall build price down, especially if you've got a box of bits you can use to assemble it with.
AT stands for All Terrain and that sums up the ambition and capability of the Tripster AT perfectly. I've ridden it everywhere and over everything in the few months I've had it, and apart from very rough mountain bike trails where any adventure bike would be out of its depth, there's really not much that fazes it. You can bimble along the road quite happily and keep up with road riding friends at sociable speeds, yet turn off the road and explore trails and paths to your heart's content.
Much of its appeal comes down to the large tyre clearance, plus the added bonus of compatibility with 650B wheels, allowing you to spec any tyre that delivers the performance and capability you want. Fit a general purpose tyre like the supplied VeeTire Rail or Panaracer GravelKing SK and you have a bike that lets you easily ride roads at a decent pace and have enough grip to tackle dirt tracks and gravel roads. Those 650 tyres are great for commuting, they're grippy and tough, but there's nothing to stop you fitting a 28 or 32mm slick tyre if you want more speed for the commute.
The tried-and-tested geometry, borrowed directly from the Tripster ATR, works well. It's not the most aggressive setup, it definitely leans towards comfort and off-road stability, thanks to the long wheelbase, tall head tube and relaxed head angle. To put some numbers on it, the 55.5cm bike I tested – one of seven sizes – features a 384.7mm reach, 591.2mm stack, 70mm bottom bracket drop, 172.5mm head tube, 1,043.8mm wheelbase, 440mm chainstays, 70.5-degree head angle and 73-degree seat angle.
The frame is made from the Kinesis' own Kinesium tubeset and all the tubes, their shapes and profiles, have been selected to provide a frame that delivers a high level of stiffness. It's reassuringly oversized in all the key places. It's a disc brake-only frameset with 12mm thru-axles at both ends and flat mount disc brakes (though the supplied demo bike was built with post mount brakes using adapters).
Why it's here: An excellent and affordable do-it-all adventure, road and commuting bike with bags of versatility makes it ideal for commuting as well
2. Pinnacle Dolomite Singlespeed £475
Keeping things simple is a good approach when looking for a commuting bike, and they don't get much more simple than a bike with one gear. The Pinnacle Dolomite Singlespeed is one of a very small number of disc brake-equipped singlespeed road bikes out there on the market, and it puts in a very good performance, proving amply capable of eating up winter training miles with the minimum of things to go wrong. It has predictable handling and decent brakes, and the unexceptional wheels and finishing kit keep the bike very affordable.
The singlespeed or fixed wheel bike has historically been the choice of the road man for the hard winter miles. With one gear there's not much to go wrong and the lack of ratios teaches you to pedal smoothly and effectively over a wider range of cadences. This being a disc-braked bike you don't get the option of flipping the hub over from singlespeed to fixed, so it's supplied as a singlespeed, with an 18-tooth freewheel. You could swap the freewheel for a fixed cog if you wanted, it's just not as simple as flipping the wheel over.
The rest of the frame and fork is neatly made, with the alloy fork colour-matched to the frame. It would have been nice to see a carbon-bladed fork, but since the bike has space for 32mm tyres (or 28s with mudguards) to take the sting out of the ride, it's not a deal-breaker. It comes with 26mm Kenda Kontender tyres. Kenda tyres are rarely the highlight of a bike, and this is no exception: they're okay but feel a little bit dead, and the grip levels aren't stellar, leading to some scrabbling around on steeper, bumpier roads. Switching to better quality 28mm tyres is an easy and relatively cheap upgrade: you can run them a bit softer for extra comfort and grip.
The position is reasonably high – the stack-to-reach ratio of the XL bike I tested is 1.52 (619mm stack, 405mm reach – stack and reach being the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube), putting it at the comfort-sportive end of the road bike spectrum. It also came with the stem in the rise orientation at the top of 30mm of spacers, which made it unnecessarily high. Some tinkering at the front has improved matters, and with one 10mm spacer underneath the flipped stem it now feels very comfortable in terms of position.
The brakes are TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. If you're going to have mechanical discs then these are the ones I'd pick; they don't maybe have the top-end power of some of the other options, but because they have two moving pads instead of one moving and one static, they're a whole lot simpler to set up and adjust. They don't have the power of hydraulics; they're more akin to using a decent calliper brake needing a firm tug for slowing down in a hurry, but they're more predictable in the wet and they don't wear your rims out.
Overall, the Dolomite Singlespeed is a solid choice for a no-fuss winter trainer or a low-maintenance work bike. You get a well-made frame and well-chosen components, and the ride, if a bit firm, is good with the position just about right.
Why it's here: Good quality singlespeed for winter training or fuss-free commuting on the flat
1. Ribble CGR £1,046.49
And so to the winner, drumroll, please... The Ribble CGR has all the credentials to make a great commuting bike, whatever the road or trail you might have to ride along to get to work. A disc brake-equipped, mudguard-shod 'do a bit of everything' machine that makes a lot of sense for the rider who doesn't always want to stick to the tarmac.
The CGR is a very easy bike to ride thanks to some neutral and balanced handling. This might make it sound dull but it's far from it, especially when you go off-road.
With a long wheelbase, mounts for mudguards and racks plus being designed for disc brakes, the Ribble is likely to see a lot of use in the wet and cold of winter where the road surface is often less than ideal. A bike that's dependable and trustworthy when it comes to the handling. It is stiff, though, so when you do really need to get a shift on you aren't going to be disappointed about a lack of power transfer. It's comfortable, too, which makes it a welcome companion for those long, steady, endurance-building rides through the off-season.
When I was commuting in rush hour traffic for two hours a day, a Ribble Winter Audax was my weapon of choice through the cold months and on rainy summer days too. It was easy to ride and dependable, plus it could take a knock or two. The CGR mimics all of that but gives you the added bonus of extra tyre clearance, up to 35mm with guards, and disc brakes for consistent stopping in all conditions. It's not the quickest or sharpest handling bike out there, but it is very good at what it's designed for.
Thanks to Ribble's online Bikebuilder, you can pick and choose how you want to specify your machine. The cheapest available Shimano Sora model comes in at just £799. The model we've got here is specced with Shimano's excellent new Tiagra 4700, a groupset that is a near replica of its mid-range 105 group but without the extra gear; Tiagra is 10-speed rather than 11. Shifting is pretty much identical, with a crisp selection even under load with the Tiagra gear levers.
The Ribble, though, is aimed primarily at the road, where it is very adept, and if you were never to show it a muddy trail you wouldn't be disappointed – it makes an excellent winter trainer. The added value comes from just how good it is off road. It hasn't just had a few tweaks to make it fit with current trends, the CGR really does work across the board
Why it wins: Versatile winter trainer or commuter bike that'll easily take on the rough stuff as well as the road
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.