You’ve decided what type of bike you want. Here are some things to consider to ensure it’s capable and comfortable for your commute.
You can cycle to work on any bike as long as it’s road legal. Different types have their own pros and cons; there’s no ‘best’ or ‘worst’. The right bike is the one that you find comfortable, practical and – don’t forget this – enjoyable to ride. You’ll need to weigh up different models, and possibly choose or change certain components and accessories.
You wouldn’t buy a road bike if you didn’t want a sporty ride but some are more race-focused than others. For commuting, look at ‘endurance’ or ‘sportive’ models. These are designed for long-distance comfort and have a more upright riding position that takes some weight off your hands and the strain off your lower back. A more steeply angled stem or riser drop handlebar can sit you up still further, while a seatpost with more layback will shift your weight back. Fit 28mm wide tyres if there’s room: they’re comfier and more pothole-proof than skinnier ones. Good options include Continental Grand Prix 4-Season, Schwalbe Durano Plus, and Michelin Krylion 2. If the frame won’t fit conventional mudguards, try SKS Raceblade Long; they’re just about wide enough for 28mm tyres. A bikepacking seatpack or big saddlebag is a better option for commuting luggage than a rack-and-panniers on most road bikes.
Good news: all hybrids are designed to accept practical accessories like mudguards and luggage – and some come with them – so any hybrid can make a good work bike. The flat handlebar that’s one of a hybrid’s defining features locks your hands into one position. If this makes your fingers numb or tingly, fit flared grips and/or bar-ends to improve comfort. Or choose a ‘butterfly’ or backswept handlebar, either of which will orient your hands differently but still accept flat-bar gear and brake controls. On the subject of brakes: get a bike with discs unless you’re on a tight budget. They work better in the wet and you don’t pay a premium for them like you do with drop-bar disc brakes. If you’re getting a bike with hub gears and aren’t confident you can remove the rear wheel to change an innertube at the roadside, use puncture-resistant tyres such as Schwalbe Marathon Plus or Panaracer Tour Guard Plus. Luggage is easy: rear rack plus two small panniers; often you’ll need only one.
Any bicycle or tricycle can have electric assistance. All of them are heavier than their unassisted alternatives due to the battery and motor. The lightest ones (with an Ebikemotion rear hub motor and a battery hidden in the down tube) look like normal bikes and tip the scales at 13-14kg. Budget e-bikes or those with a bottom bracket motor and large battery tend to be 18-25kg. While this weight makes it harder to manhandle an e-bike, on the road or trail it’s negated by the motor’s extra 250 Watts – the equivalent of a fit cyclist pedalling hard. That extra power means you don’t need to worry about the weight of accessories, the rolling drag of the tyres, or the range of the gears. Look for wider and/or tougher tyres and all the accessories you might want – rack, mudguards, kickstand, lights that draw power from the main battery… If you’ll be doing long day-rides, the facility to fit an auxiliary battery is useful.
Riding performance or folding performance? They’re not mutually exclusive but all folding bikes will be better at one than the other. For travelling by train every week, a compact folder with wheels 20-inches or smaller in diameter is best. You won’t need a bike reservation as it counts as luggage. Prices for compacts range from £150 for a basic B’Twin Tilt to around £1,000+ for the iconic Brompton. Conversely, if you want a ‘proper bike’ that’s easy to stash in a flat or car boot, a larger-wheeled folder from Tern or Airnimal will serve you better. Either way, mudguards are a must. Commuting folders are usually ridden short distances in normal clothes. Luggage can be tricky to fit on the bike, especially on small-wheelers. Unless it has a dedicated front carrier, like the Brompton and some Terns, you may be limited to a rack-top bag, big saddlebag, or backpack.
Mountain bikes have some features that are commuter-friendly – robustness, wide gear range, flat handlebar for head-up control, and powerful brakes – and others that aren’t. Chief among these are knobbly tyres, which are slow and noisy on road. Slicker tyres such as Continental Contact Speed will transform your commute but hinder off-road adventures at the weekend. If two pairs of wheels isn’t an option (one fitted with road tyres, one with off-road), fit a semi-slick mountain bike or gravel tyre such as Schwalbe G-One Bite on the rear and adjust tyre pressures: firm for commuting, softer off-road. Since suspension can sap your pedalling energy on road, look for the facility to lock this out. Less expensive hardtail mountain bikes (no rear suspension) make better commuters as they tend to come with mounts for a rear pannier rack and often conventional mudguards. But stick with mountain bike mudguards if you’ll be using them off too. Security skewers, axles and bolts will help prevent ‘piranha theft’ of your wheels, expensive fork or seatpost.
Traditional tourers make good commuters ‘off the peg’. They’re comfortable, have wide-range gearing, and they come with mudguards, a rear rack, and sometimes dynamo lighting. The problem is that they sell in small numbers so economies of scale don’t apply: prices start at around £800. Your local shop might not have one in stock, so buying one is a leap of faith. It’s one worth making so long as you bear in mind that tourers are not sports bikes. They’re solidly built, often from steel, so that they can carry heavier loads without flexing or breaking, and the handling will be stable rather than exciting. If you’re after a sportier alternative, buy a gravel bike – essentially a tourer stripped of any equipment and given a single-chainring drivetrain and cyclocross tyres. While gravel bikes are lighter (aluminium frames and carbon forks are common), they’ll put on weight if you fit the missing equipment, which they can usually accommodate.
Bicycles are almost two dimensional. Trikes aren’t: whether upright or recumbent, delta (two wheels at the back) or tadpole (two wheels at the front), they’re big. Check the wheel track (width at the twin wheels) against the gateways, doorways, cycle track bollards, and narrow passageways you need to use. You want to be able to push or ride it through, not haul it sideways. Because they’re big, trikes can be difficult to transport by car and they’re seldom welcome on public transport. Folding recumbent trikes are available from ICE and HP Velotechnik , while folding uprights are available from Pashley and DiBlasid. None is what you’d call compact but they’ll fit in a car and can be stored indoors. Since trikes are always expensive, take a test ride before buying.