Riding to work gives you the freedom to choose your route, set off when you want, have a likely arrival time and feel smug in the knowledge you’re doing your exercise while everyone else is sat in traffic or delayed on a train.
You really don’t have to spend a fortune to start commuting via bicycle, you just have to know what to look out for. Bex Hopkins details what you should expect to find on an urban commuter bike for your budget.
And if you’re also looking for some kit to go with your new ride, take a peek at these:
Urban Commuter Bikes: Getting Started
Urban and commuting bikes come in many guises, some look like sleek road bikes with skinny wheels and flat bars, while others would look more at home stylishly whizzing down an Amsterdam street. Some come with racks to carry panniers, others have wicker baskets that should carry a small dog or a baguette! Many are pared-down for a lightweight ride and any luggage has to be carried on the rider.
There’s no hard or fast rule on what bike should be used for what purpose and in many cases they’ll fill many roles from the school run, a trip to the market and then home from work. It’s what works best for you.
Urban Commuter Bikes: What Type Should you Consider?
For shorter commutes, less than five miles, or purely for enjoyable riding around town, have a look at a proper sturdy city bike. They take many guises but you can find something really cool and stylish in all price ranges.
Women’s city bikes come in step-through frame designs or standard frame shapes, both have nice upright riding positions and usually come with a selection of useful accessories to make life around town easier, such as mudguards and pannier racks.
If you’re commuting further than five miles we’d suggest you look for a fast commuting bike, based on a relaxed road bike with a more comfortable riding position, and ensure you consider the following features:
- Flat bars and a higher stem offer a more upright position, providing a better view of the road, essential for riding through traffic
- Brakes that tend to be stronger than typical road caliper brakes, again better for urban riding when stopping effectively on traffic ladened roads is essential
- Gearing is suitable for fast riding on the flat, but with sufficient range to get you up hills and allow for smooth acceleration from junctions or traffic lights
- As always the frame is one of the main concerns when choosing a bike, but we’d also strongly recommend opting for the best wheelset too
- You’ll need a strong and reasonably lightweight pair of wheels, they won’t be as light as road bike wheels but commuting requires more reliability and can carry higher volume tyres to minimize the risk of punctures
- Mountain bike frame styles are a good choice, they have comfortable and responsive geometry, a sturdy frame and strong wheels. The components will be a mix of mountain bike and road biased and you might even get disc brakes for really responsive braking too. Some have suspension forks, not as much travel as we’d expect on a standard mountain bike, but plenty to aid comfort and enjoy a jolly down the towpath or shortcut through the park.
Urban Commuter Bikes: Bike to Work Schemes
Before you buy an urban commuter bike, check with your employer to see whether they offer a ‘Cycle to Work’ or ‘Ride 2 Work’ scheme.
It’s a government approved scheme that allows you to buy a bike up to a certain amount, at a discount via your employer. You can pay monthly and even get discounted accessories too!
Read more about the Cycle to Work scheme here.
Urban Commuter Bikes: Frame materials
Nearly always the frame tubing is aluminum, the higher the price tag the better the aluminium quality and the more tapering you can expect, this will improve handling, the ride feel and also reduce weight.
We have found some steel frames, not many mind, but interestingly a couple aimed at the niche singlespeed rider, and in the very desirable higher price brackets.
It’s not surprising that we haven’t come across any carbon fibre women’s urban bikes yet, but with advances in the material and technology filtering down through the price levels, surely it can’t be far away?
Urban Commuter Bikes: Components
Urban commuter bikes come equipped with groupsets from both mountain bike and road bike origins, and sometimes a mixture of the two depending on the bike’s niche.
When discussing groupsets, we’re talking about the moving parts of the bike, such as the gear shifters and derailleurs, the brakes and levers, essentially a collection of the bikes mechanical parts.
From Shimano’s mountain bike groupsets expect Altus, Acera, Alivio, DeoreLX, SLX, and maybe even a splattering of the more expensive XT. A few bikes have SRAM equipment, usually X5 or the even better SRAM X7.
Road biased bikes tend to have Shimano components, rising in price and quality from the entry level 2300, through Sora, Tiagra, and ideally but less likely Shimano 105. So far we haven’t come across any Campagnolo components.
Some bikes come fitted with internal hub gears and brakes, these are considered to be more reliable and almost maintenance free. Sturmey Archer are the best known for their excellent hub gears.
Brakes are predominantly rim sited caliper or V brakes, but over £600 we’ve found a variety of hydraulic disc brakes – ideal for city riding where precise braking is required and won’t be affected by weather conditions.
Budget: What should you expect for your money?
Budget: Up to £300
You’re most likely looking at an urban version of a mountain bike or a sit-up and beg bike in this price range. Either will be pretty solid and not particularly lightweight, this doesn’t mean poor quality though, just that speed and weight aren’t the main objectives here.
Don’t expect many named components especially for stem, bar, seatpost, brakes and hubs – manufacturers keep the price down by focusing more on the moving parts. Plus you often get quite a lot for you money in terms of accessories such as mudguards and racks.
More so than on bikes in higher price brackets, you’ll need to take care of the chain and other moving components with regular oiling. The lower level components don’t stand up to weather abuse as well as higher priced equipment.
Expect to see some Shimano equipment such as the Revoshift twist-style gear changers or Shimano ST-EF51-7 trigger shifters, and look out for Shimano Altus parts, the more of these components the better.
Budget: Around £500
Now you’re looking at a much-improved specification on gearing and braking, you can also have a lighter frame and some nifty additions like an adjustable stem.
The components will be Shimano Acera, their budget but reliable groupset that won’t disappoint.
This price range also opens up to a greater variety of bike styles, including those with the larger road bike sized wheelsets, usually fitted with chunky but smooth tyres for added comfort and puncture resistance.
Budget: Around £800
More incarnations of the urban commuter bike are available at this price point, including much lighter step-through bikes, a few flat-barred road bikes and 700c hybrids with extensive gear ranges and suspension forks for a variety of terrain.
All will have suitably bombproof wheels capable of withstanding potholes and other nasty urban surprises, the tyres will most likely have puncture resistant skins.
Look for disc brakes, possibly hydraulic versions such as the Tektro HDC-300, and good quality aluminium frames with profiled tubing making a strong and lightweight frame. Components on more road-biased bikes will be a mix of Shimano Acera and some Alivio and other parts tend to be the manufacturers own brand.
Whilst those with mountain bike style frames may have Shimano Deore components and Shimano M395 hydraulic disc brakes. SRAM components are occasionally seen here too, look out for SRAM X7 parts and 10-speed gearing.
We noticed some single speed urban commuter bikes creeping into this price bracket, we even found a steel frame constructed from Columbus triple-butted tubes – what a welcome surprise and refreshing change!
Within this price range, you can get your hands on the Cinelli Gazzetta Muse, a single-speed commuter, with 700c wheels, flip-flop hubs so it can be turned into a fixie in a moment and a small frontal carrier allowing you to transport a handbag. It’s a pretty stylish ride too.
Budget: £1000 and above
Step-through bikes still frequent the higher echelons of the urban bike world, but these bikes steal properties from lightweight road bikes – just with more casual styling and geometry.
Don’t be fooled though, the frames will be better built, maybe even double butted to minimise weight whilst maximising strength and all with a performance ride in mind.
Components could include delights such as the Sturmey Archer internal hub gears and dynamos on the urban hybrids, whilst you can expect the high end Shimano XT components on the more MTB style bikes and Shimano Tiagra on more roadie models.
Flat barred road bikes are of particular note at this price point, you could easily ride a century or sportive on one. Every aspect of the bike will be well chosen to provide the lightest bike and the best ride possible, ideal for longer commutes and some fast reliable riding.
Urban Commuter Bikes: Folding Bikes
Don’t overlook folding bikes, those of higher quality feature here too, these are for the regular commuter who needs a bike that folds quickly, handles well on the road and likes to keep a turn of speed.
They’re ideal if space a home or work maybe limited or you may need to do part of your journey on a bus or train!
Brompton folding bikes are incredibly popular and arguably the most reliable offering in this range. Although they don’t offer standard models, with each bike hand made from scratch in their west London factory, there are four different types of Brompton, with different handlebar styles designed for different styles of riding and use.
If you’re interested in buying a folding bike, these will be worth a look:
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