A commuter bike is a type of bike used to travel from home to a place of study or a workplace rather than for touring, recreation, exercise or sport. Even though there are many types of commuter bikes out there, the classic commuter bike that people think of when you mention the word is the Dutch style commuter bike.
What is the difference between a commuter bike, a hybrid bike and a road bike?
While the road bike, and hybrid bike can all be used as commuter bikes, they have a variety of differences which is perhaps why so many people want to know the difference between them.
The Hybrid Bike
Hybrid bikes are bicycles made as commuter bikes or general purpose utility rides on trails, paths, unpaved and paved roads. They are sometimes referred to as Commuter, cross bike or city bike. The hybrid bike usually combines the features of both mountain bikes and road bikes to create a bike for general transportation and commuting.
The hybrid bike usually makes use of the triple crank on the mountain bike and the flat handlebars for a more upright posture as compared to the road bike. They also use disc brakes or linear pull brakes which are usually used on mountain bikes. From the road bike the hybrid borrows the larger 700C wheel diameter for purposes of improving speeds even though they usually have wider tires and rims for enhanced strength.
The road bike usually refers to bikes designed to travel at high speeds on paved roads. The bike is sometimes referred to as a racing bike though a road bike is generally understood to be a bike designed for endurance and speed rather than a typical racing bike. Because of this they tend to have fewer high tech racing features and more gear combinations.
Some of the most common features of road bikes include;
- Narrow high pressure tires
- Lightweight frames and wheels
- Dropped handlebars to increase aerodynamics
- Rim or disc brakes, and;
- Derailleur gears
Even though many people think of the hybrid as the commuter bike, a commuter can be many types of bikes including a hybrid and a road bike.
The commuter bike will usually come with a frame that allows the mounting of a variety of load carrying panniers or baskets,derailleur gearing, full fenders, 700C wheels and 28mm tires and a carrier rack.
If you are riding the classic commuter bike which is the Dutch style bike, it may have additional features such as an enclosed chain guard so that you will not get your clothes dirty or entangled in the chain. Some commuter bikes will also come with rear and front lights for those late evening or early morning commutes.
Are commuter bikes fast?
Commuter bikes are fast as compared to other bikes and even other modes of transport such as having a car if you consider things such as traffic jams. Still the speed of the commuter bike will depend on the type of bike you opt for and how many accessories you add onto it.
Flat Bar Road Bikes as Commuter Bikes
These tend to be very fast though not as fast as pure road bikes but faster than hybrid bikes. These bikes are aerodynamic and light and hence provide some good speed and efficiency when commuting. Still they are not that fast on unpaved roads and hence if you commute on rough roads these will not be the fastest bikes. However, as compared to other bikes such as mountain bikes they are significantly faster even if less comfortable.
Hybrid Bikes as Commuter Bikes
Since hybrid bikes are a combination of mountain bikes and road bikes, they tend to be slower than pure road bikes and faster than mountain bikes. For your commute, the hybrid bike will thus provide a fast enough speed over both unpaved and paved roads as compared to the road bike which is only fast on paved roads.
How to Choose a Good Commuter Bike
Finding a bike for your daily commute should not be that hard if you keep in mind some specific things. Even if your last ride was two decades ago following these tips should be worthwhile in helping you find a great commuter bike.
The type of bike you go for will often be determined by how far you intend to commute. Long rides tend to be rough on the body and could also be rough on the bike, depending on what you are riding.
If you will be riding for three miles or less every day then any commuter bike will be fine. At six miles if you do not pay special attention to the height of the bike and the seat then ride comfort will go down significantly and even more so at nine miles or more.
Tire Width and Size
While skinny and larger tires might result in a faster ride, this is not always the best option depending on the weather conditions. Larger skinnier tires are usually designed for warm weather touring and if you live in an area with high levels of precipitation your thin tires may not provide the grip when you are riding over slick spots and puddles.
In such conditions a bike with thicker tires may be a better option due to the extra grip they provide. However if speed is what you are looking for and you live in a dry climate and ride on paved surfaces, nothing is better than large skinny tires.
While bikes with suspension are supposed to have more enjoyable and smoother rides, this is not always the case. While suspension systems are designed to take the shocks and bumps on rough roads, low end bikes have terrible suspensions that add a lot of weight for minimal benefits.
If ride comfort is critical for you then you would have to get something well constructed which may mean a solid fork rather than suspension. However, such a bike might end up being more expensive than a regular commuter bike.
If you get a hybrid bike they will come with disc or rim brakes.
Disc brakes are more expensive than rim brakes and are also heavier even though they are more effective and last longer.
Rim brakes are much cheaper and lightweight but are prone to slippage in wet conditions and hence they may not be best if you are traveling on hilly terrain on your commute.
You need to find a comfortable bike since it does not matter how well engineered or fancy your bike is if it leaves you achy or sore every time you ride on it. Before you start worrying about a high performance level from a bike, you first need to find something that is comfortable.
How Much Should You Spend on a Commuter Bike
A good range for a commuter bike is between $500 and $1000.
It is not advisable to get anything that goes for less than $500 as it will not have good build quality and will not last long enough. Such a bike will usually have lower quality components and will likely be too heavy and make for uncomfortable commutes.
Conversely, you should not buy anything that costs more than $1500 as the marginal utility reduces significantly past this point. You will typically get marginal improvements in build quality and components and save some weight but the benefits will be marginal.
What is the Best Budget Commuter Bike
The best budget commuter bike in my experience is the Schwinn Phocus 1600 road bike. It is a lightweight and efficient bike that will provide much of what you need in a great commuter bike.
The bike comes in both male and female variants and with its alloy crank, caliper brakes, and high profile alloy wheels it will go at quite a fast clip for your commuting needs.
What is the Best Commuter Bike for Beginners
The best commuter bike for beginners is the Schwinn Discover hybrid bike which you can get for a mid range price. It provides some great comfort and has several sizes for different heights of riders. It comes with a built-in rack, for your luggage and a suspension fork to absorb the shock on the varied road surfaces.