Bicycle Commuting: Which Bike Is Right For Me?

Image by sekihan, Flickr

Image by sekihan, Flickr

Convinced about the benefits of cycling? Looking to make a change in your commuting habits? Great! Here’s a guide to what type of bike is right for you. There are tons of different bike styles out there, but below I’ve listed the ones most relevant to city commuting:

  1. Road Bike:

  2. Road bikes are fast, fun and light. They can weigh as little as 18 pounds and create a low centre of gravity and air resistance. Road bikes are great for commuting in warm climates, but they are not great for year-round commuters because most do not have room for fenders, panniers, or wider tires.

  3. Mountain Bike:

  4. Mountain bikes are great because they provide the rugged durability needed for all-season commuting. They have knobbly tires which can deal with the harsh realities of Canadian winters, but can also be fitted with narrower, smoother, summer tires. However, mountain bikes are much slower than road bikes because they are heavier.

  5. Hybrid:

  6. Hybrid bikes take the best aspects of road and mountain bikes to create versatile bike for commuting. Hybrid bikes are lighter and use slick tires for reduced friction. However, because hybrid bikes are a combination of road and mountain frames, it does many things well, but excels in none. Hybrid bikes are too heavy to be efficient road bikes, and too fragile to be efficient mountain bikes. However, for all-season bikes they are a worthy choice.

  7. Cruiser:

  8. Cruiser bikes are big, slow and luxurious. Big fat wheels eat up pot holes and bumps and its big cushy seat is like sitting on a cloud. If style and comfort is above speed then this is the bike for you. Just make sure you stick to the road…or the beach.

  9. Fixed Gear (fixie) and Single Speed (SS):

  10. Fixed gear means that the drivetrain is mounted to the hub with no freewheel mechanism. Basically, this means that you cannot coast: if you’re moving, then so must your pedals. Fixies, most commonly in road bike style, are even lighter than road bikes because they have fewer components. Braking on a fixie involves locking up the pedals to skid. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to also have a mechanical front break. Fixies offer the rider a fun riding experience and are easier to maintain with fewer parts that can potentially break. They are also much cheaper than other bikes.

    Single speed bikes allow coasting because the drivetrain is not welded onto the hub (the part that attaches the drivetrain to the wheel). Single speed bikes offer many of the advantages of fixies with the added bonus of coasting when you’re feeling tired or lazy, and a mechanical front and back brake.

  11. Folding bikes:

  12. Folding bikes are designed to collapse into a smaller form which allows for easier storage or transport. They’re most often used in busy downtown cores when a commuter may combine public transport and cycling. However, they are much smaller than regular bikes, heavier, have more moving parts and have very small wheels. For these reasons I would only suggest using a folding bike if you specifically intend to use it in the city centre or if you have limited storage at home.

The best way to decide what type of bike is best for you is to assess your needs. Are you a speed freak? Do you like to roll along at a slow and steady pace? Will you be cycling in the winter? Do you want to attach panniers so you can carry things? Are you going to take it off any sweet jumps?

Answering these questions will ultimately point you in the right direction. Here’s a quick cheat sheet:

Road Bike Light, fast, excellent for smooth roads Little room for add-ons, can only be used on roads, expensive
Mountain Bike Rugged, all terrain bike, easily upgradable Not very fast, bulky, heavy
Hybrid Compromise, sturdy all-round commuter Only use on smooth roads, slower than a road bike
Cruiser Extremely comfortable, stylish Slow, heavy, cumbersome
Fixie/SS Light, cheap, fast, easy to maintain No gears, no coasting, no mechanical brakes (fixie), not ideal for hills
Folding Easy storage, convenient Small, heavy, small wheels, not suitable for long commutes

Bicycle fit is also really important to make sure you get the right size. A bike that is too small will make you cramp and will be uncomfortable to ride. It’s best to visit your local bike shop to get a decent fit.

Choosing the right bike for your commute is an important step in keeping you motivated and happy. Take the time to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of different bikes, and explore all of your options. Remember that your new bike is an investment that your body and bank account will thank you for!

This is Part Two of a four-part series on Bicycle Commuting. Also check out:
Part One – Bicycle Commuting: The Benefits for Students
Part Three – Bicycle Commuting: Do I Really Need To Wear Those Unflattering Shorts?

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