What's the best bike for commuting?

Hybrid, road, mountain bike or gravel — let us guide you through the options

The key to choosing the right commuting bike for you is ensuring that it is comfortable and practical for the type of ride you intend to do — you’re highly unlikely to commit to regularly riding to work in all conditions if riding your bike is a chore in the first place, so we’ve put together this handy guide to help you make the right choice.

What type of bike you chose to ride to work on will depend on a number of factors; how long your journey is, what kind of terrain you will encounter, where you live and simply your taste in bikes.

To help make your decision easier, we’ve done our best to explain how these eight common types of bike fair when turned to commuting duties.

It also bears mentioning that, with a little modification, most bikes can be made into great commuters — with the addition of full-length mudguards to ward off foul weather, some kind of luggage carrying capability, and lights for year-round visibility, your languishing older ride may be a prime candidate for resurrection as a commuter.

Hybrid / flat-bar bikes: the best all-round bike

The ‘hybrid’ tag covers a variety of flat-bar bikes that are versatile and reasonably fast
The ‘hybrid’ tag covers a variety of flat-bar bikes that are versatile and reasonably fast

Hybrids are best thought of as a more hardy road bike with flat handlebars and a more upright, traffic friendly position that takes some influence from mountain bikes.

Modern hybrids are usually built around 700c wheels with tyres that are considerably wider than a road bike’s — though usually not as wide as a mountain bike — allowing you to traverse broken roads and gravel paths with ease.

Most hybrids have a rigid fork, but some are also sold with cheaper suspension forks. While the idea of suspension may seem appealing, be wary as most models are equipped with low-end forks that weigh a tonne and tend to add little to the comfort of the bike.

Cheaper hybrids will usually come with rim brakes, with more expensive models being equipped with disc brakes. Disc brakes offer far more powerful, predictable and reliable braking — regardless of the weather — than rim brakes and are definitely something you should look out for.

Hybrid bikes also offer almost unrivalled versatility, with many bikes bristling with bosses and mounts for every accessory imaginable. This makes these bikes an ideal candidate for conversion to other duties such as touring.

It’s also worth looking out for hybrids — such as the Genesis Skyline 30 we tested earlier this year — that include accessories as part of the bike. Adding on mudguards, a rack and lights can add considerable cost and these packages often present far better value for money than a ‘naked’ bike.

If you are a beginner looking for a bike for general use, or are a dedicated commuter that favours an upright position in traffic, a flat-bar hybrid is likely to be a great choice for you.

Pros: Fairly quick, hugely versatile, confidence inspiring upright position

Cons: Not the lightest, most comfortable bike for longest distances, or the sexiest

Folding bikes: best if your commute involves a train

Folding bikes are brilliant for those who need to take a train or bus as part of their commute
Folding bikes are brilliant for those who need to take a train or bus as part of their commute

Most often built around diminutive 16” or 20” wheels, folding bikes — as the name suggests — fold down into often impressively small packages, that can be stored just about anywhere at either end of your journey.

Folding bikes are also ideal for those that don’t intend on riding the entire way to work and plan on completing part of the journey by train or bus — or, if you prefer the trendy word of the moment, going ‘multimodal’.

A folding bike won’t handle like a regular bike due to its use of small wheels and the inevitable compromise that creating a packable bike demands. They also tend to feel pretty sluggish on the road, but how likely is it that you’ll be regularly razzing around the streets at full pelt during rush hour on a folding bike?

While some folding bikes are built around larger wheels, they don’t fold down nearly as compact as their small-wheeled brethren, so most trains and buses won’t accept them, making these only really useful for those that have space at a premium at home or work.

The undoubted market leader here is Brompton, with an incredibly clever design that has become something of a modern classic. That said, there are lots of interesting options from other manufacturers, such as Tern.

If convenience, easy storage and the ability to travel on public transport trumps all, a folder is likely the right choice for you.

Pros: Incredibly convenient to store and travel with

Cons: Not nearly as spritely or comfortable as a ‘full-sized’ bike

For reviews of the latest folding bikes, check out the 'folding' section of our Bikes & Gear browser

Town bikes: best for hassle-free, day-to-day riding

Town bikes like this Pashley are an excellent (if heavy) option for urbanites
Town bikes like this Pashley are an excellent (if heavy) option for urbanites

Often referred to as Dutch or sit-up-and-beg bikes, town bikes come in all shapes and sizes, but are generally characterised by an upright riding position and oodles of practical accessories. 

Town bikes are also characterised by generally being bloody heavy. Practicality is the key focus here, with stout, abuse-proof frames and components that are designed to last almost indefinitely being favoured over featherweight, speed-focussed performance. 

The heft and upright position of a town bike makes for a pretty slow ride. These bikes are also usually outfitted with an internal gearhub drivetrain with a limited range, making them a bit of a nightmare to get up hills. 

Usually outfitted with full length mudguards, chainguards, racks or baskets and often even integrated dynamo lighting, town bikes are as practical as it gets, offering true convenience that could even go some ways to replacing a car in an urban environment. 

If you live in a flat-ish area and fancy schlepping baguettes, kids and groceries in the utmost of style, a town bike may be the ideal option for you. 

Pros: Relaxed riding position, eminently practical

Cons: Damn heavy, not the easiest on the hills, often not that cheap

For reviews of the latest town bikes, check out the 'urban' section of our Bikes & Gear browser

Fixed gear/singlespeed bikes: best if you’re a hipster who hates maintenance

Fixed gear bikes, or 'fixies', are a hipsterific low-maintenance option
Fixed gear bikes, or 'fixies', are a hipsterific low-maintenance option

Long adored by achingly hip quinoa noshing urbanites, the classic fixie/singlespeed bike continues to attract devotees in every corner of the world, despite repeated claims that the craze for these simple bikes ended circa 2008.

Goading aside, this fetish for singlespeed bikes is totally understandable — with no multi-gear drivetrain to worry about, fixies and singlespeed bikes offer a largely faff- and maintenance-free ride that’s ideal for commuting.

That said, this fetish-like obsession is probably merely a reflection of the masochistic tendencies that those who have the dedication it takes to ride a bike with one gear — usually the wrong one — possess.

It’s also worth clarifying that a fixie has no freewheel, so if you’re moving, you’re pedalling. Riding a fixie for the first time is an incredibly odd sensation that will no-doubt result in a spill at some point, so isn’t the most suitable for beginners.

Luckily, most singlespeed bikes come in a ‘flip-flop’ arrangement, with one side of the rear wheel being set up with a screw-on freewheel and the other a fixed cog. Our advice is to try out the free-coasting side first.

Some particularly twisted riders also like to ride fixies without brakes, but I would recommend a front brake as an absolute minimum — especially given that it’s actually a legal requirement here in the UK — for commuting, as the idea of rolling an untensioned chain off of a chainring on a bike with no brakes fills me with horror.

While singlespeed riding in hilly areas is perfectly possible, choosing to do so in a place with particularly steep gradients is a punishment best reserved for only for the most abnormal among us.

So if you’re after an easy to maintain, trendy ride and you don’t mind mashing a hard gear, then a singlespeed or fixie may be the perfect commuting choice for you.

Lastly, it’s worth warning that most who try out singlespeed riding quickly become addicted to the oddly satisfying sensation of conquering hills with one gear, putting themselves in grave danger of acquiring ironic facial hair, sleeve tattoos, excessively expensive tote bags and boring their friends to death by reminding them that they ride a fixie. Dabble at your own peril.

Pros: Incredibly simple, often good value for money, sweet street cred

Cons: Unpleasant in hilly areas, not very adaptable, high risk of being identified as a hipster

Road bikes: best if you're in a hurry on good roads.

Road bikes are fast, but best suited to smooth terrain
Road bikes are fast, but best suited to smooth terrain

Despite their spindly looks, road bikes can make a great commuter for those that plan on travelling longer distances. Best suited for use on tarmac, road bikes offer a turn of speed unlike any other.

However, a road bike subjected to a constant abuse of potholes, poor weather and rough terrain will invariably deteriorate quicker than a hardier bike. But given appropriate care and regular maintenance will last for years to come.

You’re unlikely to want to spend a fortune on a road bike dedicated to commuting — even bikes as cheap as the £600 mark can make great and dependable rides — but just make sure that whatever you choose has mudguard eyelets, a dependable groupset and a strong, high spoke count wheelset.

A real song and dance is made about frame materials for road racing, but I’m of the opinion that anything will do for commuting; while early alloy and carbon frames were undoubtedly less resilient than their steel equivalents, modern entry level options made of any material are likely to last the test of time.

That said, greater care should of course be taken when locking up a carbon bike compared to an alloy or steel bike.

On the subject of locks, it’s worth noting that thieves really do love a road bike, so invest in a chunky and dependable lock that will save on stress and potential heartbreak in the long run. Remember that if you opt for a particularly bulky lock you can always leave it attached to your bike rack at work.

Lastly, most road bikes will come with lightweight and fast rolling tyres. While these will feel great messing about on a fast Sunday ride, they’re likely to be far more puncture-prone than a sturdier tyre and you’ll probably want to swap them out for commuting.

Pros: Quick, efficient, great fun

Cons: Not the sturdiest or most comfortable

For more reviews of the latest race bikes, check out the 'road' section of our Bikes & Gear browser

Gravel/adventure/cyclocross bikes: best if you're in a hurry on bad roads

Cyclocross bikes look like gravel bikes, but they're racier and usually lack mudguard eyelets
Cyclocross bikes look like gravel bikes, but they're racier and usually lack mudguard eyelets

A gravel, adventure, cyclocross, #groad — or whatever else you want to call it — bike is essentially a road bike with some changes that make it more suitable and comfortable for off-road usage.

Primarily, clearances are improved so that chunkier tyres may be fitted to these bikes, smoothing out the ride on broken surfaces. The wheelbase of a gravel bike is often considerably longer than a road bike, with the head angle also often slackened in a bid to ease handling in rougher terrain.

Most gravel bikes are outfitted with weather-proof disc brakes, with only a few now available on the market with cantilever or v-brakes.

Gravel bikes are designed with versatility in mind, with most having provisions to mount mudguards, racks and multiple bottle cages. Combined with the road-like fit, these bikes make excellent commuters for those who have to contend with poor roads or even light off-road detours.

Dedicated cyclocross bikes tend to lack these commuter-friendly provisions and also usually feature a more aggressive fit than their all-road minded cousins, but still make great commuters with some modifications.

Pros: Incredibly adaptable with a fast and comfortable ride

Cons: Perhaps not as quick on tarmac as a road bike, but more suitable for commuting overall

For more reviews of the latest gravel / adventure / cyclocross bikes, check out the cyclocross reviews section of our Bikes & Gear browser

Mountain bikes: best if you commute on rough terrain

Mountain bikes are great for those that plan on tackling rough terrain
Mountain bikes are great for those that plan on tackling rough terrain

The upright riding position and bombproof construction of a mountain bike has long made it a popular choice for commuters.

While a mountain bike’s stock knobbly tyres afford you the option of taking an off-road route — perhaps along bridleways or river paths — for your commute, they add a considerable amount of drag when riding on paved surfaces.

If you plan on using a mountain bike solely for commuting, I’d recommend that you fit slick tyres to unleash its full potential.

I would also recommended that you steer clear of full-suspension mountain bikes if your main aim is commuting — you’ll just be paying for a load of technology you'll never use.

Instead, look for a cross-country bike — even one that’s fully rigid — and as with everything else, ensure it has all the mounts you need to make the bike more commuting friendly.

Pros: Great brakes, upright position, bombproof

Cons: Heavy, slow on tarmac, not the most versatile

For more reviews of the latest machines, check out the 'mountain' section of our Bikes & Gear browser

Electric bikes: best if you need a hand up the hills

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, can make your ride much easier, but at the cost of more weight and money
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, can make your ride much easier, but at the cost of more weight and money

As technology has matured, there’s absolutely no denying that e-bikes have become an increasingly dominant force in the cycling market.

And while the proponents and haters of e-bikes will forever more debate whether or not they have a place in the cycling world in our comments section, we at BikeRadar are big fans of them.

Not only do they open cycling up to a much broader audience, but they also allow more experienced cyclists to cover far greater distances than would otherwise be possible.

This really comes into its own with commuting, with the helping hand that an electric assist — assist being the key word here — an e-bike affords allowing those that live out of town to consider riding long distances to work, even with a heavy load.

I highlight the word assist because one of the great misconceptions surrounding e-bikes is that they do all the work for you — this is just simply not the case. You still have to pedal on an e-bike and will invariably tire yourself out riding one, you’ll just do it over a far greater distance than on a regular bike.

Of course there’s a weight and price penalty to pay with an e-bike, but the technology that powers them is becoming ever more accessible.

And while I don’t want to speculate too much, I can totally foresee modern, ultra-reliable e-bikes becoming a truly viable car alternative in the years to come.

With that in mind, for those that live far away from work, it’s definitely worth considering whether ditching the car — and the associated cost of running one — and investing in a e-bike could be a viable option.

Pros: Possible to cover great distances, very efficient, a true car alternative

Cons: Heavy, must be recharged, expensive (for now)

For reviews of the latest electric bikes, check out the 'electric' section of our Bikes & Gear browser

  • Sponsored: UK readers — can you go the extra mile this summer? By running or cycling to work you can be a part of Red Bull’s UK-wide Million Mile Commute. Join the club in Strava to be eligible for a Red Bull sample kit to set you on your way. Don’t forget to share your commutes by tagging @RedBullUk and use #MillionMileCommute

This article was last updated June 2017

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