Though cars still dominate the American commute, bike commuting has been on the rise for the past two decades. According to data collected by Bike Adviser, the number of commuters who biked to work increased by 61% from 2000 to 2019. And the Covid pandemic only supercharged that growth as people looked for socially distant ways to travel.
“The bike industry experienced an enormous boom during Covid,” said Alex Minier, manager at Recycle-A-Bicycle. The cycling industry as a whole saw a 45% revenue increase from 2020 to 2021, a number that largely held steady from 2021 to 2022 with only a 4% decline.
If you’ve thought about biking to work, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Especially if you are a new rider, knowing which bike to get, what accessories you’ll need and how best to ride is a lot to tackle. We spoke with experts from across the biking industry to get the best advice for new commuters. Alongside tips and tricks, our experts recommended some of their favorite commuter bikes.
What is a commuter bike?
Bike designations have gotten complicated over the past decade, with tons of new categories coming to prominence. And to make things even more complicated, “commuter bikes” do not have a category of their own — instead, they are dispersed across several others.
“A commuter bike can come in a lot of different forms,” said Pete Kocher, owner of Ride Brooklyn. “Anything from a simple single speed bike to a hybrid bike with racks and fenders can be used to commute.”
All of our experts told us that a commuter bike is ultimately one you are most comfortable riding on, and one that can handle the types of challenges specific to your commute.
“A good commuter bike needs to be a workhorse,” Minier said. “It doesn’t need to be the fastest bike or have the latest and greatest tech. It should be sturdy and reliable, and, ideally, have a way to carry your stuff.”
Best Commuter Bikes in 2022
Generally, our experts recommended bikes from well-known brands. Buying from major brands like Trek, Giant, Cannondale, Surly and others ensures a certain level of quality and a certain level of familiarity in bike repair stores.
“Absolutely avoid budget bikes that are built to fail,” said Neile Weissman, PR director of New York Cycle Club. “They are heavy, unsafe, cheap and are usually unserviceable if you bring them in for repairs.”
Our experts only recommended commuter bikes they have personal experience with. I also recommended two bikes that I’ve personally enjoyed commuting with. Every bike we recommend is compatible with accessories like fenders, water bottle holders, lights and more, as per our experts’ advice. With so many different bikes out there, this is far from an exhaustive list of every great commuter bike, but it’s a great place for beginners to start.
The Trek FX 1 is one of the most well-known entry-level hybrid bikes. It’s simple, affordable, customizable and durable, Weissman said. “This kind of hybrid bike is a good fit for people riding less than 50 miles,” he noted, adding that it’s easy to find at most bike shops.
The FX series is one of Trek’s most popular — they’ve been producing it for decades. The FX 1 comes in multiple sizes and versions, including a step-through frame version called the FX 1 Stagger, which is easier to mount and dismount, according to the brand. Trek says the bike itself features a durable aluminum frame, seven speeds, decently wide tires and plenty of mounting points to add accessories like a water bottle cage, rear cargo rack, fenders and more.
The Brilliant L Train is a low-maintenance bike that scraps many of the messier parts of commuting by bike: Most bikes use greasy chains that can ruin a pair of work pants, but the L Train uses a belt drive that’s grease-free and virtually silent when pedaling. The gears are packed into a seven-speed or eight-speed internal gear hub, keeping those cogs away from your clothes and protected from the elements. It comes in four sizes with rim brake and disc brake options. This is my daily commuter bike, and it is a fun, stress-free option fit for any city commute.
For commuting in nasty weather, our experts suggested a weatherproof bike like the Lekker Amsterdam. “If you expect most of your commutes to be rainy, a bike with fenders, racks, strong brakes and internal gearing is what you want,” said Weissman.
The Amsterdam 8-Speed has all of these features and more — all of its components are intentionally weather-ready and low-maintenance, according to the brand. Like the Brilliant L Train, the Amsterdam uses an internal gear hub, which packs all the gears into a sealed, weatherproof drum in the rear wheel. And instead of a chain, which can get rusty and dirty up your clothes, the Amsterdam uses a clean, weather-resistant belt drive.
“These bikes are heavy [though], so if you need to carry it up multiple flights of stairs, you’re going to break a sweat,” Weissman warned.
Our experts recommended a single-speed bike as a simple and affordable commuter. Single-speed bikes are fast, lightweight and widely available. They do not have any gears: This is great for maintenance, but it makes climbing hills difficult. I recommend a single-speed bike for riders traveling on largely flat terrain.
This single-speed Core-Line bike is one of State Bicycle Co.’s most popular products. According to the brand, the bike is made with style and versatility in mind: It features a steel frame, lightweight design, and multiple accessory mounting spots. The bike comes in four sizes with multiple handlebar options and plenty of colors to choose from.
Try-Before-You-Buy: Lyft Bike Share
Many of our experts said that one of the best ways to try out commuting via bike is by using a local bike share program. Multiple major cities across the U.S. have extensive bike share programs, such as Citi Bike (New York City), Divvy Bike (Chicago), Bay Wheels (San Francisco), and Capital Bikeshare (Washington D.C.). But the largest bike share network is Lyft. With Lyft, you can access multiple bike sharing programs in major cities across the country.
“Bike shares are an excellent introduction into biking in the city, especially for folks who don’t know if they want to commit to keeping a bike in the limited space of their apartment,” said Minier. “By the time you’re ready to buy a bike of your own, you have a better idea of what you want from your ride.”
Lyft bike sharing operates via the Lyft mobile app. The app shows you the location of nearby bike stations. At a station, unlock a bike via the app, ride to your destination and return the bike to a nearby docking station.
How to shop for a commuter bike
Even if you know what kind of bike you want, shopping for that bike can be a challenge. All of our experts commented on lingering supply chain issues hobbling the bike industry. “It’s not as bad as it was in 2020,” said Minier, “but we’re still experiencing the fallout from increased demand and limited supply.”
Regardless, here are some tips our experts said to keep in mind when shopping for your ideal commuter bike.
Know what you need
Bikes can be complicated, with terminology around brakes, gears, shifters and aerodynamics deterring many first-time shoppers. The advice all of our experts had was simply this: Buy what you need. Riders who commute everyday, rain or shine, will need more than people riding on flat, paved sunny streets.
The best commuter bikes are easy to adapt to your needs. Whether that’s attaching a bag to haul groceries or adding new handlebar grips for added comfort, a great commuter bike is flexible and compatible. “Ultimately, a good commuter bike evolves with the rider,” said Will Hough, owner at Bike Fix NYC.
Go to your local bike shop
Going to your local bike shop is an invaluable part of finding the right commuter bike for you. A local bike shop lets you see the bike in person to try it out and get a much more holistic understanding from experienced employees.
How to commute on a bike
Once you’ve got your chosen commuter bike in hand and are ready to go out on your first biking commute, these tips will help keep your commute easy and safe.
Plan your route ahead of time
Every expert we spoke with emphasized that you should plan your route ahead of time. “You want 95% of your attention to be on the road, not looking at Google Maps” said Weissman. “Knowing your route before you go is key.”
All of our experts recommended commuters stick to bike paths and less crowded streets, even if they are not the most direct route. “I find it well worth the time to go a little out of my way to stay on a greenway or a protected bike lane rather than take a street without a bike lane,” said Minier.
If you expect to commute in the dark, you’ll also need front and rear lights. “Your commute will help determine how bright of a light you need,” said Hough.
And, of course, always wear a helmet.
Bring your bike inside
Since the pandemic, bike theft has been on the rise, especially in urban areas. Most of our experts recommended bringing your bike inside, if possible. “You don’t want to leave any bike that looks half-decent locked outside,” said Weissman.
Bringing your bike inside also keeps it away from the elements. “You’d be astounded at the amount of rust that will show up on your bike after being left out in the rain,” said Minier.
Why Trust Select?
Select writer Harry Rabinowitz has been commuting on various bikes for the past several years. He has used many different categories of bike, and has ridden them in the street, over bridges, on bike paths and through off-road detours.
For this story, Rabinowitz spoke to multiple biking experts within the industry, including bike sellers, bike repair specialists and bike club organizers. Combining their guidance and recommendations with his own expertise, he included reliable and well-known commuter bikes from top brands.