Bikes suitable for commuting take many different forms, and these are the very best that we’ve reviewed on road.cc over the past year.
Many people think of a commuting bike as something with a flat handlebar and mudguards ready-fitted. That’s certainly one option, but we take a wider view based on what road.cc readers really use.
Commutes come in many different shapes and sizes; the best bike for a flat urban trip to the office isn’t necessarily the best bike for riding a few miles to a neighbouring town, especially if there are a couple of big hills in the way. The right bike for a spin along a mushy towpath might be different again.
Our other reason for including bikes of different genres is that not everyone is able to afford or store multiple bikes. Many of us want a bike that's good for commuting in the week, and for doing something else at the weekend: road rides, gravel rides, or whatever.
Of course, you could ride to work on a 10 grand time trial bike if you really wanted, but that’s pushing it just a touch too far for this category! Here we’ve included bikes that are burly enough to stand up to everyday use and abuse, with mudguard and rack mounts for practicality, and any other features – such as disc brakes or clearance for wide tyres – that might be valuable for riding to and from work in all weathers.
Other key considerations in compiling our shortlist include easy handling, comfort, durability, reliability, versatility and, of course, value for money. We’ve not capped this category at a particular price – especially since there’s no longer a limit to the amount you can spend on a bike through a cycle to work scheme – but most of our picks are well under £1,000.
Just a quick reminder that only bikes reviewed on road.cc during 2020 are eligible for consideration in any of our Bike of the Year categories (and reviews from previous years that have been republished don’t count!).
Some of the bikes featured here are proving hard to get hold of because of interruptions to the supply chain caused by the global pandemic coupled with increased demand. We've not taken availability into consideration here; this is simply a rundown of the best bikes for commuting that we've reviewed over the past 12 months.
Let’s find out which bikes have most impressed our reviewers.
The Merida Speeder 200 flat-barred road bike comes with a raft of up-to-date features including comfort-maximising 32mm tyres (and room for wider ones) and high-quality hydraulic disc brakes. The combination of the stiff and well-finished aluminium frame and tapered carbon fork offers a dynamic, controlled ride that's equally at home on fleet-footed fitness rides and urban and suburban commutes.
It might weigh over 10.6kg (small/medium size) but that does nothing to dent the lively quality of the Speeder's ride, apart from on the steepest hills and initial acceleration. If you want it for hard training sessions you can get out of the saddle and crank it up, the stiff frame rewarding your pedalling efforts impressively. This makes the Speeder 200 a more-than-decent training machine with a low-enough bottom gear for climbing most hills in the saddle.
If anything, descending is even more impressive with pinpoint steering accuracy and perfectly controlled stopping from the hydraulic brakes.
Control is excellent at slower speeds, making it a good choice for urban commuting and longer rides when comfort is more important than speed. It'll take you nimbly through low-speed city traffic, but hit the bike paths and open road and you can spin along easily, freely, and comfortably.
The Speeder 200's frame is made from 6066 aluminium and the tapered fork is carbon. Unlike some similar bikes around this price, Merida has stuck with quick-release axles which may look a little old-school, but wheel changes are quick and easy and there’s no obvious reduction in braking performance even when trying to induce brake rub. All the cabling is neatly routed through the frame.
For a bike that's very well suited to commuting, the absence of rear rack mounts at the top of the seatstays is surprising. It's not a game changer, though, as you could use P-clips for a four-point fixing, in conjunction with the seatstays' lower mudguard-cum-rack threads. We’d still prefer rear rack bosses, but this is our only real criticism of the Speeder's frameset.
Shimano's 9-speed Sora comprises most of the Merida's drivetrain and gearing – providing quick and accurate shifting. Sora is good to see on a bike at this price and is at the upper end of what you might expect.
The Shimano MT200 hydraulic brakes and 160mm rotors are absolutely great. You get a light single-finger action, unparalleled stopping power and pinpoint control.
The Merlin Malt G2X GRX is a gravel bike with lots to offer the commuter who wants something tough and dependable for weekdays and something exciting at the weekends. It has a new geometry for 2021 – a shortened top tube and lowered front end – without losing the neutral yet fun ride style of its predecessor, and it still offers strong value for money.
The Malt’s balanced handling means you don’t need to focus too much on what's going on underneath the tyres. You can just kick back and enjoy the scenery. It's fun to ride because it's so controllable and easy to live with.
The steering is quick enough to deal with whatever comes your way – you can still chuck this thing about should you want to get a shift on.
The GX2 is no slouch through the bends either. There are decent levels of feedback coming through from the tyres, letting you guide it through corners on your desired line making subtle changes if necessary.
Stick a set of wide slicks on the Malt and it cruises at a decent pace and covers big miles in relative ease and comfort. Pressed into commuting duties, its mild manners only help on wet and greasy roads.
If you are going to use the Malt for commuting, one thing to consider is the gearing. The 40/11T top ratio isn't that tall, and you find yourself spinning quite a high cadence on the flats and downhill. At the other end of the range though, the 40/42T combination helps drag you up the climbs.
The triple-butted 6061 aluminium alloy frame not only gives a good ride quality but looks the business. Everything you expect of a modern gravel bike is here, such as flat mount brake callipers, 12mm thru-axles, and internal cable routing (for the front part of the frame, at least). Mudguard and rack mounts add to the versatility.
The Malt GX2 model is equipped with Shimano's gravel-specific GRX 600 groupset, albeit with GRX 400 brake callipers. It's very good equipment with great shifting and plenty of braking power, even when conditions are horrendous.
The updated GX2 takes everything good about the previous GX1 and makes it better. The tweaked riding position feels great and makes the bike even more fun, while you can't fault the build at this price.
Stock is very limited; GRX and other aluminium gravel bikes have sold quicker than Merlin expected. More stock has been ordered, but it's not scheduled to arrive until May or even June 2020.
The entry level Specialized Allez isn’t designed specifically for commuting but it’s an all-rounder that’ll do the job well, particularly if your ride is fairly long and you want to get there fast.
The Allez offers a great frame, good components and high-quality finishing kit, making it one of the best sub-grand bikes available.
The handling is pretty neutral, which will suit all-weather commuters and those carving through traffic, but if you've had a challenging day and need to blow off some steam you can stamp on the pedals and really go for it on the way home.
The overall weight is 9.66kg which is pretty good for a sub-£700 bike. It climbs well and acceleration doesn't really feel like it’s hampered too much.
Specialized has always delivered a comfortable ride from its aluminium bikes and the latest versions of the Allez continue that theme. It uses Specialized's own-spec E5 Premium aluminium alloy tubing in various shapes and diameters, finished off with decently smooth welds.
Specialized has dropped the seatstays lower for aerodynamics; it's not a major concern for this type of bike but hey, every second counts. They are thin, too, which brings a little more comfort to the rear end, and they feature rack mounts.
It's good to see a threaded bottom bracket shell on this type of bike – the fact that the frame is designed to take mudguards means it'll probably see plenty of wet weather. Bottom brackets screwed into the frame tend to be resistant to water and dirt getting in, which can cause creaking in press-fit alternatives.
The fork is full carbon fibre, which is impressive for the money, and the mounts make fitting a mudguard relatively straightforward. That said, clearance between the guard and the 25mm tyre will be tight.
The Shimano Claris groupset is a good 'un. You're getting the same looks, shifting and feel as you'll find with more expensive Sora and Tiagra while sacrificing sprockets on the cassette.
The Tektro dual pivot brakes do a decent job. They aren't the best out there, but they offer a degree of power and feel that isn't scary if you find yourself braking consistently in traffic.
Overall, the Allez is a much better bike than any spec list or set of scales would have you believe, although the low guard/tyre clearance at the front could be an issue for some.
We reviewed the 2020 version of the Specialized Allez; the most affordable 2021 model is £799.
If you want a bike that's almost fuss-free, that you can just jump on and go ride to work, to the shops or for a day's pootling round the lanes, the Cube Editor is a model you should consider. That it's a friendly and appealing ride too is the icing on the cake.
What we have here is an aluminium-framed flat-bar town (and country) bike with an aluminium fork, Shimano Alfine 11-speed hub gear, Gates Carbon Drive belt drive, Shimano Deore hydraulic disc brakes and Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tyres.
The central feature that sets the Editor apart from most round-town bikes is its Gates Carbon Drive CDX belt drive. This comprises a toothed belt with matching broad sprockets instead of your usual chain and narrow pointy chainrings and sprockets.
A belt drive's big advantage is that it doesn't need any lubrication, so it doesn't get grubby. That means it is civilian clothes-friendly. It won’t leave oil marks on your trousers or snag your cuffs.
The Gates belt drive is smooth and silent and the Alfine gear shifter needs just a gentle touch to pop you from one gear to another, though it doesn't quite have the light and precise feel of Shimano's top-end road bike shifting.
Alfine 11 is the most expensive and sophisticated hub gear Shimano makes and requires little maintenance to keep it working pretty well, so it's an attractive proposition for a bike of this kind.
Cube has got tyre choice bang on here with 42mm Schwalbe Marathon Supremes, which combine sensibly low rolling resistance, decent puncture resistance and loads of comfy, cushioning width and grip.
The Shimano Deore hydraulic disc brakes provide plenty of stopping power from just a single finger on the lever, and more importantly it's easily controlled power.
Lack of rack and mudguards is the biggest downside of the Editor. Sure they're not hard to retrofit, but a bike that's described as 'the ultimate urban assault bike' really needs them as standard.
The Editor is a terrific round-town bike with a smart, balanced specification and impeccable road manners, that begs you to do more than just dash into town. It's both day-to-day practical (once you've added a rack and guards) and weekend enjoyable.
The Dawes Discovery 201 combines a lively compact aluminium frame with excellent 1x Shimano drivetrain to create a bike that will inspire a smile on your commute or weekend potter. It rides a lot better than you'd probably expect. Even in wet weather and headwinds, this is a fun and 'enthusiastic' bike to pedal.
Power transfer isn't compromised and while overall weight at 12.5kg is good enough at this point in the market, the Disco actually rides as sprightly as a lighter hybrid. Acceleration from a standstill is easy and there's a definite satisfaction to be had as you spin up to higher speeds.
Steering and control match this positive power delivery, and although the Discovery 201 is certainly happy at a cruise, it's most fun when being put through more active tests. The direct front end combines well with good overall balance to make handling surefooted, even in wet conditions. Weaving through traffic is no problem.
With such effective dynamic performance, it's tempting to expect comfort to take a hit, but the Discovery 201 fares surprisingly well here, too.
If there’s anything to criticise, it would be that the Disco encourages a fairly head-down position, and keeping your head up doesn't feel quite as natural as on some other urban bikes.
By using a 1x system with an 8-speed cassette, Dawes is able to bring down weight, cost and maintenance while also adopting an in-vogue spec choice. The Shimano Altus setup worked faultlessly during our test period with swift and secure gear changes, while the combination of 42t chainring and 11-32t cassette offers decent gearing options for moderately rolling routes, although tough climbs may leave you running out of ratios.
When the roads are wet, the unbranded alloy linear-pull V-brakes aren't the best, but feel and modulation isn’t bad taking into account rim brakes' natural limitations; they’re far from a major weakness.
It's hard to fault the Discovery 201 in terms of its ride characteristics. Indeed, rather than being just 'the best you should expect', it's a case of being 'far better than you might imagine’.
Equipped with mudguard/rack mounts, it’s a dependable and really well-rounded commuting and leisure bike that won't break the bank. Dawes has a little gem here.
Claud Butler's Primal is clearly a gravel bike – about the cheapest gravel bike we've encountered – so why include it in our list of commuter bikes? Simply because it offers a lot as a ruff 'n' tuff street basher too, and we suspect the majority of most Primals' lives will be spent on tarmac. It is a fantastically fun machine that takes open roads, urban rat runs or even moderately slippy and slidey trails in its stride. It's comfortable, reactive to your efforts and quite a joy to ride.
Boasting a fairly solid-looking aluminium frame, it should come as no surprise that power delivery is decent. It can't rival high-performance road bikes but, as a jack-of-all trades, there's enough reward for your effort to keep you enthusiastic.
That enthusiasm is heightened by excellent overall control and stability, and there's a very reassuring quality to the bike's handling. It instils in you a confidence that the bike is always going to head where you point it. Even when you're bumping along, balance is exemplary.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is comfort with the moderately chunky 38mm tyres helping here. Over rough surfaces, very few things felt too hard or jarring, and on smooth roads the Primal is a veritable drop-bar armchair.
The Primal is fitted with mounts for the easy addition of a rear rack and you can fit mudguards front and back that’ll come in useful for year-round commuting.
The all-up weight of just over 12kg is okay, and it would hard to criticise too much, anyway, as the Primal doesn't feel heavy or leaden in the saddle.
The Shimano Tourney groupset features a 7-speed cassette with 11-28t sprockets that’s paired with a fairly basic compact chainset, but you should still find enough range for most purposes. Gear changes are far more assured than its bottom-rung status on Shimano's hierarchy might have you believe.
The Schwalbe CX Comp 38mm tyres are just about perfect for this bike, offering good comfort, fairly low rolling resistance with a slightly reduced central tread, and very decent grip with heightened nobbles at the shoulders. The K-Guard puncture protection is a useful feature for commuting.
The only real weakness is that the Tektro mechanical disc brakes don’t have the outright stopping power that you’d ideally want, which is why the Primal doesn't finish higher. Even so, this is fun, sufficiently quick, comfortable and boasts great manners both on and off road.
Claud Butler reports strong sales across its range over the past year, and in many cases models have sold out months in advance. It hopes to have more stock of the 50cm Primal next month (February). More stock of the larger sizes will be available, although the dates have yet to be confirmed.
The Triban RC 520 Women's Disc – which is also made in a men's version, if you're lucky enough to get your hands on one – tops our list by virtue of its incredible versatility, comfortable ride, and serious value for money. If you're looking for a bike that can handle the daily commute, and then gravel trails and maybe a bit of touring, the Triban is well worth considering.
Weighing in at 10.5kg, the Triban isn’t light but reviewer Emma found that the gearing helped on the hills.
The Triban is fully capable of handling the tame stuff, and Emma swapped the 28mm tyres and took it on some off-road trails too. That it's compatible with tyres up to 36mm certainly adds to the versatility.
The ride position is more compact and upright than you get on a performance-minded road bike. That’s fine: what you have is a position that's perfect for commuting, endurance rides and adventures away from asphalt.
The aluminium frame is well up to dealing with the roughest roads, and comes with a lifetime guarantee (as do the bar and stem).
There are standard mudguard eyelets at the ends of the carbon-legged fork behind the dropouts, but Triban's decision to use post-mount TRP HY/RD brake callipers, despite the fork clearly having been designed for flat-mount callipers and flat-mount versions of the HY/RD callipers being available, makes fitting standard mudguards harder than it could be.
That said, the Shimano 105 R7000 gear on the Triban really does make it an outstanding investment. Shimano 105 on a bike of this price is amazing!
The Triban comes with a compact 50/34-tooth chainset and an 11-32-tooth Microshift cassette. This is perfect for commuting and entry-level rides on any terrain.
The brakes are TRP's HY/RD open hydraulic system with 160mm discs – a mechanical operation at the levers with hydraulics at the calliper. The performance and power are dependable in any weather.
The wheels are tubeless ready, which is great news if you want to avoid punctures and/or run low pressures. If going tubeless isn't for you, you're still getting a great endurance tyre with the Resist+ clinchers. They feel grippy in wet and dry conditions.
Tribans are incredibly popular and Decathlon has been struggling to keep up with demand this year. Although the RC520 Women’s Disc isn't availabe at the moment, we're told that new stock should arrive at Decathlon before the end of January 2021. The price has now gone up to £799.99.