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Choosing your ideal commuter bike

Looking around the bike room where I work, one thing that always strikes me is the variety of bikes used for commuting.

Looking around the bike room where I work, one thing that always strikes me is the variety of bikes used for commuting. Glancing at the racks, virtually every kind of bike is represented: hardtail downhill bikes, carbon road bikes, modern racers, Dutch cruisers, custom touring bikes and even the occasional fixie. Which begs an interesting question: is there such a thing as the perfect commuter bike?

This is important if you plan on riding regularly. There are pros and cons to each model, but I've pulled together tips for the next time you head to the local bike shop for a test ride.

Road bikes are fast and light. I ride mine to work from time to time, and even with the most capricious traffic light timing it usually knocks at least five minutes off the half-hour trip. They're not a comfortable commuter option, however. The riding position means you have to crank your neck to keep a close eye on traffic, and with no suspension, every drain cover and pothole makes its presence felt.

Cruisers are comfy, with an ideal riding position to keep your back happy and your horizons wide. They're a good choice if you've found yourself uncomfortable on bikes in the past, and the step-through frame can also be reassuring for new riders who haven't completely found their balance. They also look good; the most eye-catching two-wheeler in our bike room is a beautiful Batavus Fryslan. However, cruisers tend to be heavy, which can make them a drag on hills, and the wide bars are more challenging to manoeuvre and park.

Downhill bikes are another comfortable option, as their suspension makes for a forgiving ride over even the biggest potholes, and disc brakes make stopping on a dime a cinch. But knobby tires take more effort to pedal on the road, and a bike that's built for trail riding may have more technical bells and whistles than you need for city commuting.

A safe bet are hybrid models that market themselves directly to commuters: medium-weight frames with slick tires, flat handlebars and an upright riding position. Optional extras help transition any bike into a good commuter vehicle. Those include handlebar extensions and a rack for panniers, bungee chords and other bags. My personal must-have on a commuter bike is disc brakes. The nature of urban riding-traffic, intersections, other riders, pedestrians-means you can't put a price on the ability to stop swiftly.

My commuter vehicle of choice is a battered and much-loved downhill bike. The front suspension makes for a smooth ride. I prefer the upright riding position when I'm in rush-hour traffic, and it's old and beat up enough not to be a high-theft risk.

Ultimately, there are as many ideal bikes for commuting as there are commuters: it's just a question of finding one that feels right for you.

Kay Cahill is a cyclist, librarian and outdoor enthusiast. Read more at or email [email protected].