Fresh air, physical activity and focus on something other than a full inbox and crammed meeting calendar can administer an attitude adjustment before you even start your day. Translation: bike commuting can be awesome, and those benefits extend even to cycling jaunts for other reasons. No wonder that even in the midst of a pandemic, we're also in the midst of a bicycle boom.
But before you go saddling up any old set of wheels, consider a few key factors. If you'll be pedaling ill-maintained or dirt roads, consider a relaxed geometry gravel or mountain bike that can run wider tires. If the roads are steep or long, or you deliver kids or pick up groceries, a pedal-assist e-bike may best suit your needs.
If you imagine yourself a speed demon bike messenger racing taxis as you sprint between traffic lights, a single-speed or skinny tire drop-bar bike will help you pin it. And if you live in an apartment or work in an office without much storage space, or your road-tripping combines pedaling plus a train or bus, a folding bike can ease your pain.
When it comes to commuter bikes, one size doesn’t fit all. The best bike is the one you can’t wait to ride. Here are some of our favorites.
Priority Continuum Onyx
Best Overall Commuter Bike
Good luck finding an urban ride as simultaneously user-friendly, safe, stylish and affordable as this one. That first quality owes to features like the Enviolo CVT shifter, which enables smooth, continuous shifting to match every incline and descent, plus the Gates Carbon Belt Drive, which runs smooth for hundreds of miles without a drop of oil (on the bike or your pants). Meanwhile, the safety emerges from dime-quick hydraulic disc brakes and dynamo-powered front and rear lights that come to life when you pedal, so you never have to charge them. The good looks stem from the matte black paint job and internal cable routing for a sleek, uncomplicated profile. Adding all those traits up, the fact that it’s one of the less expensive bikes on this list just seals the deal.
GT Grade Elite
Best Bike for Dirt Road and Gravel Commutes
The adventure-ready, gravel-friendly alloy Grade Elite is lightweight, better at absorbing bumps in the road, and more versatile and adjustable than ever before. The Triple rear Triangle has floating seat stays for better shock absorption without sacrificing pedaling efficiency. A flip chip fork lets you choose the feel of your ride, either extra stable or quick and lively. Mechanical disc brakes give you total control. A range of tube and fork mounts hold bags and bottles in a variety of configurations, for the real road warriors out there.
Shinola The Bixby
Best Classically Styled Bike
Turn heads whether you’re cruising through Central Park or circling the farmer’s market on the timeless, elegant Bixby. The Detroit-built double-butted Chromoly steel frame and fork are nimble and responsive. The copper rail and rivet leather saddle, leather grips and backswept handlebar with a copper bell make it look like a bike your grandad might have ridden. But this three-speeder has modern features, including a smooth-shifting Shimano internal hub, disc brakes, internal cable routing and braze-ons for mounting a rack.
Best Folding Bike
This 20-inch wheel, eight-speed bike origamis open or closed quickly and smoothly when you drop the seat post, compress the telescoping handlebar and release the main latch on the bike’s body. When folded, magnets hold the nose and tail together. Locked open, the Mariner is an ideal city commuter. It rolls on lightweight rims and puncture-resistant Schwalbe Citizen tires, powered by a reliable Shimano drivetrain. It’s 28 pounds, which includes rack, fenders and a strap to secure your load. Folded up, it’s just 33 inches long by 12 inches wide by 26 inches tall.
Cannondale Treadwell NEO EQ Electric Bike
Most Connected Bike
The only commuter bike that tells you speed, distance and calories burned as well as when your bike needs a tune-up, the BMX-inspired pedal-assist Neo has every bell and whistle a commuter could want. The front rack holds a briefcase, backpack or groceries, full-coverage fenders add functional bling, and top tube bumpers protect the frame from dents and dings when you lean it and lock it. With the battery concealed in the downtube and the motor hidden in the rear hub, this bike doesn’t scream pedal assist. But turn on the power, choose the level of assist, check your battery charge with Neo’s intuitive controller, and you’re ready to go.
Rad Power Bikes RadRover Step-Thru 1
Best for New Riders
Don’t let potholes, traffic or weather force you to drive instead of ride. The RadRover Step-Thru 1 e-fat bike is one of the most stable rides around. Low standover height and an upright position make it easy to mount and dismount even in professional dress, while front suspension absorbs bumps in the road. Seven speeds, integrated lights and full-coverage fenders are ready to roll in all manner of conditions. The handlebar display tells you battery life in real-time so you won’t run out of juice, and Rad sells a variety of racks and bags for those with extra storage needs.
Evil Chamois Hagar
Most Versatile Bike
Drop bar bikes are often designed to follow the prescribed path of speed on smooth pavement, The Chamois is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, stealthily sedate until you’re ready to rip off the suit and tie and get rowdy. To build it, Evil’s designers started with fast, stable, low-slung mountain bike geometry, then added a dropped bar — and a dropper post. Thanks to a carbon frame and fork, this bike is solid and speedy when you ride the roads and get to work before your boss. Yet it’s perfectly capable of bisecting a field, chasing down a wooded deer path and jumping a curb or two on the way home. You can tweak it, too: starting with a $2,799 frame, just about every component of the Chamois is customizable.
Why Cycles Wayward
Best Bike For Trail Commutes
This adventure-ready 29-inch wheel flat bar hardtail can negotiate the roughest roads imaginable en route to work, on a weekend adventure or while you’re scheming your next big trip. Welded from butted titanium with sliding titanium dropouts, the Wayward is customizable, too: it can rock a lockable 120mm suspension fork best suited for baggies and singletrack, or pick up style points (and price) with the rigid titanium Oddity Squid fork. Either way, there’s room for a dropper post and plus-size tires up to 3.0, even if they’re caked in mud. Braze-ons galore carry any style bolt-on bag. Choose your components at checkout, and if you buy online, the bike ships to you in an Evoc travel case.
State Bicycle 4130 The Matte Black
Best Fixed Gear/Single-Speed
Dart down side streets and zip through alleys and intersections on the double-butted Chromoly steel single-speed State. This streamlined speed beauty, now in its sixth iteration, is a customizable classic that’s lost two pounds for 2020 with State’s new Lo-Pro wheels. The flip-flop hub lets you go from single speed to fixie on a whim. Personalize the bike with bullhorn, drop, riser or pursuit bars. Six sizes fit riders from 4'10" to 6'6". And at 20 pounds, it’s light enough to throw over your shoulder and carry up a flight or two of stairs.
How To Get The Right Fit
Fix Your Posture: While there is no substitute for a professional fit, many feelings of discomfort and soreness simply result from improper riding structure. To get a feel for how you should be sitting on your saddle, stand with your feet about as wide apart as they would be when pedaling. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward, keeping your back as straight as possible. You should feel the muscles in your lower back activate, along with those in your core. Sticking to this body position while on the bike will help to take the stress off your vertebrae, which is induced by leaning over and bending your spine. It also helps to keep your chest open, allowing for more efficient oxygen intake.
Start with the Saddle: If possible, try out a number of different saddles. Everyone’s body is shaped differently; what’s most comfortable for Chris Froome probably isn’t what’s most comfortable for you. Comfort is subjective, so the more saddles that you can try, the better. Tanner personally recommends Pro’s Stealth saddle, but it may not work for everyone. Saddles with center cutouts tend to be more comfortable when you’re sitting in the correct position with the correct posture on the bike.
Adjust Your Handlebars: As with saddles, it’s best to try out a number of different stem lengths if possible. While sitting with the correct posture, you should be comfortable reaching for the bars without putting too much weight on your hands. If you feel like you’re using too much muscle in your shoulders, or there’s too much weight on your hands, try adjusting your stem up or down using spacers and swapping to a shorter stem.
How To Take Care of Your New Bike
Lube Your Chain
One incredibly simple way to keep your bike running smoothly is lubricating your chain. What’s even better is that it requires exactly zero tools. Here’s what to do:
Clean: Just wipe the chain down with a rag and a bit of soapy water followed by a dry rag to clean as much existing grit off the chain as possible.
Apply Lube: Drip a quality chain lube like WD-40’s Bike line over the entire length of chain. Don’t go too crazy — just aim for the rollers (the spots where the chain articulates).
Wipe: This is the bit that most people ignore, resulting in a grimy chain and stained legs. Wipe off the chain to get rid of all excess lube. We’re only concerned with the stuff that gets inside the chain.
Fix A Flat
This is essential knowledge if you plan to ride solo or care what your fellow riders think of you. All you need in advance is your spare tube, a tire lever and some means of inflating the tube — CO2 or a hand pump if you’re on the road, floor pump if you’re at home.
Remove the Deflated Tube and Tire: Slide your tire lever in between the bead of the tire and the rim opposite the tube’s valve. Unseat the tire and then work your way around until half of the tire is completely off the rim. Push the rest of the tire and tube off the wheel; it should be loose enough to remove by hand.
Check the Tire: Carefully run your fingers along the inside of the tire, checking for sharp objects that may have popped your tube. While you have the tire removed, check the wheel for anything sharp that may have caused the flat.
Partially Inflate New Tube: Give the fresh tube just a couple pumps of air to give it some shape.
Re-Seat the Tire: Pop half of the tire back on the wheel then insert the tube’s valve into the wheel. Work around the wheel, pushing the tube between the two sides of the tire.
The Final Push: Work the remaining side of the tire back onto the wheel with both hands starting at the valve hole and moving each hand in opposite directions. The point where both hands meet is usually where the tire will be the toughest to get on, but be persistent and try to fight the urge to use your tire levers.
Check and Check Again: Once you hear that glorious snap of the final part of the tire seating itself on the wheel, do a quick inspection around the tire to make sure the tube isn’t caught between the tire bead and the rim. If it looks good, inflate your tire to about a quarter of its final pressure and then do another check to make sure the tire is seated evenly around the rim with no low or high spots.
Fully Inflate: Finally, re-inflate the tire to full pressure and put the wheel back on the bike.
Adjust Your Shifting
This is a pretty specific quick fix, but there’s nothing more frustrating than sluggish or unresponsive shifting when you’re on a ride. Luckily, fixing it usually only takes a simple turn of a knob.
Shifting is all about how tight the cable is that runs between either the front shifter or rear shifter and its respective derailleur. If your bike won’t shift to a bigger cog or chaining, you likely need more tension in the system, and if it won’t shift to a smaller cog or chainring, you likely need less tension. The key is to find the perfect balance between the two where everything operates smoothly.
Adjusting the Rear Derailleur: To adjust cable tension on the rear derailleur, turn the small knob on the very back of the mechanism by hand. Counter clockwise will add tension (and aid upshifting), clockwise will remove it (and aid downshifting). To find the right balance spin the pedals and shift the bike until it moves quickly and smoothly both up and down at your command.
Adjusting the Front Derailleur: Adjusting the front is almost exactly the same process except the barrel adjuster will likely be either on the left side of your frame where it first meets the fork or somewhere along the cable between the shifter and the frame. Luckily, after that it’s the same process: counter-clockwise to add tension and help the derailleur move outwards and clockwise to decrease tension and get it to move inwards.
Troubleshooting: Shifting can be fickle. If you can’t quite get it right with these steps, bring your bike into a shop and mechanics will be able to check if it needs more thorough adjustment or even a replacement part.