Best Bikes for Commuting: How to Choose

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Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green From versatile folding frames to go-anywhere gravel bikes, we’ll help you find the best models to get outside and moving again. August 14, 2020, 11:00 AM As Covid-19 reshapes our cities and way of life, many find the idea of cramming together on public […]

Cargo bicycle commuter

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

From versatile folding frames to go-anywhere gravel bikes, we’ll help you find the best models to get outside and moving again.

As Covid-19 reshapes our cities and way of life, many find the idea of cramming together on public transportation to be not just unpleasant, but a threat to their own health. Employees beginning to return to work are looking for alternatives. Enter the bicycle.

Thinking about skipping the train as you roll back into work this fall (or maybe for every season)? Cities around the world are investing in and encouraging cycling as an alternative to cars. Retailers can’t keep bikes in stock, and manufacturers are struggling to deliver everything from cheap hybrids to bicycle tubes. 

There are many types of bicycle, but the humble commuter is now taking center stage. The varieties of commuter bikes share two constants: They’re overbuilt for reliability and tailored for the environment in which their owner operates. As a result, there’s no single “best” commuter bike, and what works for you will not necessarily work for others.

With many bike shops sold out, you can start your own commuter build from a bike you have lying around or by purchasing used. Sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace might offer some good deals on second-hand bikes, but nothing beats establishing a relationship with—and supporting—your local shop. Such an establishment will become a vital resource as you set off on this new adventure. We’ve put together a photo guide to commuter bikes and those who use them to help new riders find their way.

▲ Edward Fishkin, physician and Chief Medical Officer at NYU School of Medicine, commutes on a Specialized Turbo Vado e-bike.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Dr. Edward Fishkin has been commuting by bike since 1995. He rides every day as long as it’s not raining, snowing and the temperature is above 30˚ Fahrenheit. Between his commute and riding for pleasure, he usually racks up around 5,000 miles a year.

“I commute because I love to ride,” he says. “It takes half the time as the train and it’s more enjoyable. And now, in the Covid-19 era, cycle commuting is a socially distant form of travel.”

Edward Fishkin, physician and Chief  Medical Officer at NYU School of Medicine, commutes on a Specialized Turbo Vado e-bike.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Since sustaining an injury last November, Fishkin has been commuting on a Specialized Turbo Vado e-bike. The electric motor hidden in the frame eases the physical effort required to ride, and sales of such models, long popular in Europe, are now growing rapidly in the U.S. as well.  “I don’t need to shower when I get to work,” Fishkin says. 

His bike is equipped with a variety of mounts for lights and cycling computers, bar end extensions for additional hand positions, along with a rack and panniers. 

Specialized Turbo Vado 3.0 bike

▲ Specialized Turbo Vado 3.0

Source: Vendor

Our picks: Specialized has made a recent investment in ebikes. The company’s Turbo Vado line (starting at $2,700) comes in a variety of color and build options that should satisfy almost any commuter. Each bike features a battery and motor that are integrated directly into the frame, with a range of 80 miles. That same battery powers integrated lights, both front and rear. Giant Bicycle’s Fastroad E+ EX Pro is similarly equipped, and comes in a menacing stealth paint job ($3,500).

▲ Karen Yung commutes on a custom two-speed Brompton folding bicycle.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Karen Yung was an avid cyclist, but only an occasional bike commuter, before NYC entered lockdown this spring. She intends to commute by bike more often when regular office life resumes—whenever that may be. “Right now, for any errands outside of my neighborhood, I’m commuting by bike,” she says. 

Though Yung owns three bikes, one is specifically designed for commuting: the Brompton folding bicycle. The company has been making essentially the same design in west London since 1975. The bike, easily distinguished by its smaller-than-average wheels and longer-than-average seatpost, can be folded down to the size of a briefcase in a matter of seconds. 

Karen Yung commutes on a custom two-speed Brompton folding bicycle.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Karen Yung’s Brompton is a custom two-speed version made for members of her cycling team, The 5th Floor. It’s got a special colorway, matching front and rear fenders and integrated lights, which are powered by a dynamo in the front wheel. That means there’s no risk of running out of power.

The bike is all about convenience, Yung says. “It’s relatively light and because it’s foldable I can bring it inside and not worry about locking it up.” 

Though the bike is comfortable for short commutes, it really shines in filling the gaps in long commutes. Ride it to the train station, fold it up, carry it on the train, hop off near your destination and ride the rest of the way. When you arrive, just bring it inside with you. 

“Enjoy the ride,” Yung says. “It isn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B. It’s about seeing the city in motion before you settle into work for the day—seeing, feeling, smelling, and taking it all in.”

Brompton folding bicycle

▲ Brompton Folding Bike

Source: Vendor

Our pick: There are imitators, but in this case, nothing beats the real thing. Bromptons come in a variety of colors and are almost infinitely customizable with bespoke accessories (like bags, lights, and handlebar styles). There’s even an electric version. Prices start at $995 for a basic version, while customizable bikes start at $1,199.

▲ Nick Murray, 40, a project manager at Dowbuilt, rides a Bianchi Milano with an Xtracycle Freeradical cargo conversion, often with his two children in tow.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Nick Murray’s Bianchi Milano, with an Xtracycle Freeradical cargo bike attached, allows him to carry children, groceries and any other supplies with relative ease. The setup frees Murray from the hassles of car ownership and public transportation. 

“We have a birthday party in one park or another every other week,” he says. “Public transportation can only get you so close and if you drive, you spend more time looking for parking than it would take to ride a bike.”

Nick Murray, 40, a project manager at Dowbuilt, rides a Bianchi Milano with an Xtracycle Freeradical cargo conversion, often with his two children in tow.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Murray bought the bike used, with most of the wild customizations you see today already in place. The upgrade that made the greatest impact on his life is the Xtracycle Free Radical conversion kit, which extends the wheelbase and allows Nick to carry multiple children (and bikes of their own). 

“The panniers are really useful for carrying beach stuff or groceries. The running boards give my older kid a place to rest his feet, but I also use them to strap their bikes to so I can tow them to a park where they can ride them independently.” He says that one of the company’s hoops that wrap around the seat was an important safety feature to his wife. “After a long day out and about they’ll occasionally rest their heads on them and fall asleep, although that’s not sanctioned by Xtracycle.”

Rad Power RadWagon 4 electric cargo bike

▲ Rad Power RadWagon 4

Source: Vendor

Our pick: While we salute Murray’s commitment to using his own power to ferry his children around the city, it’s a lot easier to do with some help. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a cargo bike, try an e-cargo bike like Rad Power’s RadWagon 4 ($1,499), which is big enough to haul almost anything (or anyone). If you’re looking for something a bit smaller, Tern Bicycle’s GSD S00 ($4,999) is incredibly compact, but can still fit two kids on the back.

▲ Mikhail Budhai, 30, a furniture design engineer at West Elm, commutes on a Aventon track bike.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Mikhail Budhai commutes most days from his home in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights to his office in nearby Dumbo. He’s been riding regularly for over 12 years, racking up about 600 miles annually. “It’s great for the environment and saving money but most importantly, commuting by bicycle means you’re in control of your own destiny,” he says. “There’s no train to wait for, or delays, very minimal traffic to get stuck in. If a trip takes 25 minutes, it’s always 25 minutes.”

Mikhail Budhai, 30, a furniture design engineer at West Elm, commutes on a Aventon track bike.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

He built his latest bike, a black Aventon track frame, from scratch. His previous bike was white and ended up being stolen, so he figured a black frame wouldn’t stand out as much. A single-speed or fixed-gear bike like Budhai’s is about as simple as it gets. There are no gears, so there’s less maintenance. 

That simplicity comes at a cost: These bikes are best for those who live in extremely flat places. Even the grade going up and over a bridge can turn into a quad-busting exercise session for the uninitiated.

Budhai’s advice for new commuters applies to every kind or rider, no matter what kind of bike they ride: “Look through the back windows of parked cars to see if anyone is getting out so you don’t get doored.”

Aventon Cordoba Fixed Gear bike

▲ Aventon Cordoba

Source: Vendor

Our pick: If you’re looking for a fixed-gear commuter bike, check out Aventon’s Cordoba Fixed Gear ($459) or State Bicycle’s Core-Line ($299), which comes in a variety of colors and allows riders to easily change between a fixed gear or single-speed setup.

▲ Carla Clifford, 41, works in sales at Penguin Random House, and commutes on a Marin Nicasio RC.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Carla Clifford started commuting by bike to cut down on the time she spent in the subway. “Over time, I just stopped riding the subway altogether,” she says. “Commuting by bike is more efficient and I really enjoy the time outside to clear my head before and after work.” She’s been making the trek between Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill and Columbus Circle in Manhattan year-round for about eight years now, racking up about 3,600 miles annually.

Carla Clifford, 41, works in sales at Penguin Random House, and commutes on a Marin Nicasio RC.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Her bike is a Marin Nicasio RC, a steel frame with classic upright geometry. Everything has been optimized for the rigors of commuting. The 47mm-wide tires are large enough to handle riding in the snow, full-coverage fenders keep Clifford clean and dry, and disc brakes provide full stopping power regardless of road conditions. The bike’s 8-speed internal hub provides enough range for climbing up and over the Manhattan Bridge while also requiring less maintenance than external gearing.  

“I outfitted mine with a Porteur Front Rack from Velo Orange,” says Clifford. “It can hold up to 50 pounds, looks super stylish, and all you need is a couple bungee cords to keep your packages or bags in place. You definitely want a basket or a rear rack when commuting. Backpacks are great, but you get to work and your back is sweaty and gross and it’s not ideal if you have a meeting to get to right away.”

Kona Dew Deluxe bike

▲ Kona Dew Deluxe

Source: Vendor

Our pick: The Kona Dew Deluxe also offers an upright riding position, durable 47mm tires, fenders and disc brakes right out of the box ($899). The Pure Cycles City Classic comes in both an 8-speed external gear and 3-speed internal gear version $499. Both come stock with a rear rack and fenders.

▲ Mahmoud “Mo” Mfinanga, 22, a photographer and photo editor, commutes on a steel-framed 1992 Specialized Allez.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Mahmoud “Mo” Mfinanga uses his steel 1992 Specialized Allez, for running errands in Brooklyn and attending meetings in Manhattan. “I wanted something tried and true with classic racing geometry,” he says. “I like the idea of giving life to something old that still has a lot of miles left in it.”

The bike has been modernized, with a new wheelset, but maintains much of its original parts—and charm. Many cycling enthusiasts adore steel bikes. While they’re often slightly heavier than modern aluminum or carbon bikes, a good steel frame delivers an incredibly smooth yet lively ride.  

Mahmoud

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

“At the end of the day, the bike needs to be able to make commuting easy and fun,” Mfinanga says. “If it looks sexy while doing all the above, more power to it.”

Masi Strada bike

▲ Masi Strada

Source: Vendor

Our picks: If a traditional steel road bike appeals to you, consider the Masi Strada ($1,299), which oozes vintage racer charm, with tan sidewall tires and Campagnolo Veloce components. For those who want the ride quality of steel but in a ready-made commuter, the Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1 ($1,399) comes with custom front and rear racks.

▲ Parker Feierbach, 29, a photographer, commutes on an unbranded cyclocross frame bicycle.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Parker Feierbach has no set commute. As a freelance photographer, she uses her bike to shuttle between her apartment in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights and whatever studio or location she’s shooting at that day.  “I’ve never been the sort of person who likes routine too much, so I’ll often give myself more time than I need to get to where I’m going,” she says. “I don’t take the train other than when I’m completely unable to bike for health reasons—rain or shine!”

Parker uses an old, unbranded cyclocross frame to get around the city. Cyclocross, a variant of bike racing that combines elements of road racing with off-road obstacles, has a small but dedicated community of fans in the city. The bikes appear identical to traditional road bikes with drop bars, but are built to handle rougher terrain and can fit larger tires. This bit of added strength makes them ideal for the rigors of commuting—potholes and curbs are well within their capabilities.

Parker Feierbach, 29, a photographer, commutes on an unbranded cyclocross frame bicycle.

Photographer: Bryan Banducci for Bloomberg Green

Gravel bikes, which are made to withstand similar terrain, albeit out in nature, rather than on a cyclocross course, are also a great option in this category. Unlike cyclocross bikes, which are designed for short intense races, gravel machines are designed with extra mounting points for water bottles, racks and gear, making them a great frame on which to build your commuter. 

“I actually picked it up for an ex-partner years ago,” Parker says of her bike. “It’s too small for me but I put so much work into it that I took the bike back in the breakup.” That work includes unassuming but carefully-chosen parts, like a simple and reliable 1×11 drivetrain, larger 32mm tires for both comfort and durability, along with fenders and racks.

“I put all my gear on the front of the bike because it gives me better control as I’m moving through and around traffic,” Parker says. “I also always have a rain jacket on the bike in case the weather goes south.”

Canyon Inflite AL SLX 6.0 Race bike

▲ Canyon Inflite AL SLX 6.0 Race

Source: Vendor

Our pick: If a cyclocross or gravel bike sounds right for you, there are a variety of great entry-level aluminum models to choose from, like the Canyon Inflite AL SLX 6.0 Race ($1,699) or Trek’s Checkpoint AL 3 (1,199). 

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