The key to choosing the right commuting bike is ensuring that it is comfortable and practical for the type of riding you intend to do — you’re highly unlikely to commit to regularly riding to work in all conditions if it's a chore in the first place, so we’ve put together this handy guide to help you make the right choice.
- Best folding bike: buyer’s guide
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What type of bike you choose to ride to work will depend on a number of factors such as journey distance, terrain, where you live and your taste in bikes.
To help make your decision easier, we’ve done our best to explain how eight common types of bike fair when turned to commuting duties.
It's also worth 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.
Looking for suggestions for lights, mudguards, jackets and other commuting tips and tricks? Check out our other best list recommendations:
- Best mudguards/fenders: a buyer's guide
- 6 of the best: rear lights
- The best bike lights for road cycling
- Best waterproof jackets for cyclists
Hybrid / flat-bar bikes: the best all-round commuting bike
Hybrids are best thought of as a more hardy road bike that take some influence from mountain bikes — with flat handlebars and a more upright, traffic friendly position
Like a road bike, most modern hybrids are usually built around 700c wheels. However, the tyres are considerably wider than a road bike’s — but 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 because 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 equipped with disc brakes. Disc brakes offer 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 them 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 last year — that include accessories as part of the bike package. 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
- Budget: Adventure Double Shot, £449 (unavailable outside UK)
- Buy the Adventure Double Shot from Amazon
- Sensible:Genesis Skyline 30 £799.99 (unavailable outside UK)
- Buy the Genesis Skyline 30 now from Hargreaves Cycles
- Luxury:BMC Alpenchallenge AC01 Alfine 11, £1,999 / $4,550 / AU$4,549
- Buy the BMC Alpinechallenge AC01 Alfine 11 now from Evans Cycles
Folding bikes: best if your commute involves a train or bus
Most often built around diminutive 16in or 20in 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 to ride 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, go ‘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 when space is 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 too, 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, confidence inspiring or comfortable as a ‘full-sized’ bike
- Luxury: Airnimal Chameleon Sport, £1,999, international pricing TBC
- Buy the Airnimal Chameleon Sport now from Airnimal Folding Bikes
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
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 generally 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 can make 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. For what they lack in range, however, they more than make up for in fit-and-forget practicality.
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 hop-on-and-go 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 leisurely style, a town bike may be the ideal option for you.
Pros: Relaxed riding position, eminently practical, perfect for the maintenance-phobic
Cons: Damn heavy, not the easiest on the hills, often not that cheap or the easiest to work on
- Sensible: Pendleton Ashwell, £330, international pricing TBC
- Buy the Pendleton Ashwell now from Halfords
For reviews of the latest town bikes, check out the 'urban' section of our Bikes & Gear browser
Fixed gear/singlespeed bikes: best if you hate maintenance
Long adored by hip 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 appeal for a singlespeed bike 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.
It’s also worth clarifying that a fixie has no freewheel; 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 probably 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 riders choose to ride fixies without brakes (as is done in track racing), but be aware that — at least in the UK — it is illegal to do so. A bike must have at least two braking systems (the fixed rear wheel counts as one brake), so make sure you stay on the right side of the law.
With only one gear, riding a singlespeed bike in a hilly location can be challenging, so think carefully before buying.
So, if you’re after an easy to maintain ride and you don’t mind mashing a hard gear, a singlespeed or fixie may be the perfect commuting choice for you.
Pros: Incredibly simple, often good value for money
Cons: Potentially unpleasant in hilly areas, not very adaptable, high risk of being labelled as a hipster
- Budget:Charge Grater 0 Mixte, £430 / $459 / AU$598
- Buy the Charge Grater 0 Mixte now from Hargroves Cycles
Road bikes: best if you're riding a long distance on roads
For those that plan on travelling longer distance, road bikes can make a great commute.
Best suited for use on tarmac, road bikes are the best way to ride long distances fast. However, a road bike subjected to constant abuse from potholes, poor weather and rough terrain will inevitably deteriorate quicker than a hardier bike. But given appropriate care and regular maintenance, it will of course last for years.
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.
While carbon will of course offer the lightest and stiffest ride possible, value for money — which a cheaper alloy or steel bike may offer — and longevity should be your primary concerns. If you do decide to go for a carbon bike, greater care should be taken when locking it up.
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.
Finally, most road bikes will come with lightweight and fast rolling tyres. While these will feel great 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
- Budget: Giant Contend 2 (2017 model), £57, international pricing TBC
- Buy the Giant Contend 2 now from Giant
- Sensible: Canyon Endurace AL 6.0, £999 / $N/A / AU$1,599
- Buy the Canyon Endurace AL 6.0 now from Canyon
- Luxury: Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra Disc, £1,999 / $2,660 / AU$4,199
- Buy the Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra Disc now from Hargroves Cycles
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 want to ride far on bad roads
A gravel, adventure, cyclocross, #groad or whatever else you want to call it bike is best thought of as 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, massively smoothing out the ride on broken surfaces. The wheelbase of a gravel bike is also 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 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 a 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: Not as quick on tarmac as a road bike, but more suitable for commuting overall
- Sensible: Specialized Sequoia Elite, £1,850 / $2,189 / AU$TBC
- Buy the Specialized Sequoia Elite now from Evan Cycles
- Luxury: Scott Addict Gravel 10 review, £5,999 / $7,098 / AU$TBC
- Buy the Scott Addict Gravel 10 now from Evans Cycles
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 truly rough terrain
The upright riding position and sturdy nature of a mountain bike has long made it a popular choice for commuters.
While a mountain bike’s stock knobbly tyres are great if your commute follows an off-road route, they will add a considerable amount of drag when riding in town. If you plan on using a mountain bike solely for commuting, we'd recommend that you fit slick tyres to unleash its full potential.
We 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 that 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: Upright riding position, super durable
Cons: Heavier than other options, slow on tarmac, not the most versatile
- Budget: Calibre Gauntlet, £600, international postage available
- Buy the Calibre Gauntlet now from Go Outdoors
- Luxury: Specialized Chisel Expert 1X, £1,700 / $1,850 / AU$2,600
- Buy the Specialized Chisel Expert 1x now from Cycle Surgery
For more reviews of the latest mountain bikes, check out the 'mountain' section of our Bikes & Gear browser
Electric bikes: best if you need a hand up the hills
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, 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 for commuting, with the helping hand that an electric assist e-bike affords — assist being the key word here — it allows those that live out of town to consider riding long distances to work, even with a heavy load.
We 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 we don’t want to speculate too much, we 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 is be a viable option.
Pros: Possible to cover great distances, even when loaded, very efficient, a true car alternative
Cons: Heavy, must be recharged, expensive (for now)
- Luxury:Trek Super Commuter+ 9 , £4,000 / $5,680 / AU$7,300
- Buy the Trek Super Commuter+ 9 from Evans Cycles
For reviews of the latest electric bikes, check out the 'electric' section of our Bikes & Gear browser