What to look for when buying your first commuter bike

Getting to and from work can be expensive, even if you live close to the office. Whether waiting for the bus or sitting stuck in gridlocked automotive traffic, it’s time out of your day that you won’t get back.

MTB, Road, Hybrid or Cargo bike?

Which style of bicycle you choose is highly dependent on what terrain you are riding on.

A mountain bike is a great do-it-all bicycle; it can go off-road (obviously), are comfortable on the road and sturdy in various weather conditions. Usually fitted with a suspension system, they’re designed to be comfortable and for the rough road. They are, however, slightly more bulky, heavier and slower when compared to a hybrid or road bike.

Road bicycles are fast, usually lighter and great for zipping around on good roads or bike paths. They have narrow wheels and tyres, which don’t fare well off-road. Road bikes also don’t have any suspension. The seated position is more aggressive and does take some getting used to.  

Hybrid bikes are in between mountain and road bikes. They feature a more relaxed geometry than a road bike, have chunkier tyres with some grip and often have a flat handlebar, like a mountain bike. These are the ideal bikes for commuting through the city, as you can hop between the road, paths and the occasional piece of dirt if necessary.

Cargo bikes have been popular in countries like the Netherlands for years; however, they are only just making their way into the mainstream bike market in the UK.  They allow the rider to transport cargo and feature a basket or rack; some even have additional seating or a box. These bikes vary significantly in design and size. Cargo bikes are perfect for those who’ve ditched the car, and we’re sure you won’t find yourself missing it once you’ve got one of these.  

Electric or non-electric?

The two significant sub-sections of bikes are electric and non-electric bikes. Non-electric are your typical everyday bicycles, you know, the ones that you grew up with. Non-electric bicycles are powered exclusively by your legs. Electric bikes are growing in popularity exponentially and provide power to the bicycle via an attached battery pack.  

An e-bike isn’t a free ride to work, and you’ll still have to put in some effort.  If you’re not a strong cyclist and have a very hilly or long commute, you may want to consider an e-bike to help make things a little easier for you every morning and evening. They’re great for getting around quicker and more manageable whilst still getting a workout in.

Non-electric bikes are often more budget-friendly, require less maintenance and are often easier to store and transport than e-bikes.

Disc or Rim brake?

Brakes aren’t just brakes anymore; you get various styles with different stopping abilities. You will typically find bikes on the lower end of the price spectrum have rim brakes. Rim brakes come in 3 different forms and apply force directly to the rim of your bike’s wheel to stop you. These brakes are a good, low-maintenance, easy-to-service option. They’re notoriously poor in wet conditions, so living in the UK, you might want to opt for disc brakes that operate better in the wet.  

Disc brakes work by applying braking force to a disc rotor mounted onto the hub of the bicycle’s wheel. Without getting too technical, there are two different types of disc brakes, namely hydraulic and mechanical. Hydraulic disc brakes use a sealed fluid system to transfer a braking force, and mechanical disc brakes use a braided steel cable to transfer the braking force from your hands to the brakes.

A set of hydraulic disc brakes is the most effective braking system currently; however, they are more costly and require more specialised mechanic work should something happen. Mechanical disc and rim brakes are home-mechanic friendly and best for someone on a budget.

If you’re riding something heavier like a cargo bike or have steep, sharp descents in your area, you may want to go with hydraulic disc brakes for sharper stopping ability.  

For a complete technical breakdown of the differences between disc and rim brakes, check out the Cycling Networks article.

Gears or singlespeed?

Single-speed bikes are great; they require very little maintenance. You don’t have to worry about suffering from a broken derailleur or gears that jump. If you are choosing a single-speed, you can select a fixed-gear bike without a freewheel hub, meaning that you always have to be pedalling and typically without brakes. Alternatively, if you’re not so confident or just like the skin on your knees and not on the road, you can get a single speed with a freewheel hub and brakes.

Gears require slightly more maintenance, but they do allow you to ride many more places. If you live in a hilly area or one that experiences lots of wind, gears might be the right choice for you. They allow you to effortlessly pedal over hills and increase the resistance on flats or descents, enabling you to pick up speed.  

Green Commute Initiative (GCI)

The Green Commute Initiative’s vision is to get more individuals on bicycles and commuting by bike through their Cycle-to-Work scheme. Simply put, more bikes mean fewer cars in car parks, less pollution, less congestion on the roads, less crowding on public transport and an overall happier and healthier population.  

Individuals can purchase their commuters through GCI and save up to 47% on their new bikes and safety equipment. You’ll pay your bike off through a salary-sacrifice agreement with your employer. Learn more on how to purchase your commuter bicycle through GCI. As an employer, you can register your company to the Green Commute Initiative to allow your employees to buy bicycles for commuting. Find all the information you need to register your company with GCI here.

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