Cycle to work: What's the best bike for your commute?

Cycling to work can be a chance to train, explore, and save money. Here's how to pick a bike that will get the most out of your commute

ClockUpdated 13:30, Friday 15th December 2023. Published 09:48, Wednesday 26th April 2023

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The best bikes for commuting

Commuting doesn’t have to be a chore. With the right bike, and the right mindset, those commuter kilometres can clear the mind after a hard day, whilst a morning slog can easily become a quality ride squeezed into your normal day.

Commuting by bike can help you train, allow you to explore new roads and trails, save you money, and reduce your carbon footprint.

To optimise your commute and take advantage of these possibilities, you'll need to think carefully about what kind of bike you need for the job.

But what are the different options available? What are the approaches you can take to commuting, and which one is best? Let’s have a look at the options.

Read more: Everything you need to know about the Cycle to Work scheme

1. Gravel bike: Best for an adventure commute

It’s unlikely that your commute takes you through any proper wilderness, but that doesn’t mean you need to keep to the tarmac. With so many paths, bridleways and tracks laced through even the most urban of areas, all it takes is a bit of imagination to put together a super fun off-road route to work.

It might add a few kilometres, and it might take a bit longer, but you’re going to get a lot more value from that ride than you would from your average commute. Link up any off-road sections you can find to make a dull commute into a ride you really look forward to.

For this kind of ride, the gravel bike is the tool for the job. With chunky tyres and low gearing, it’ll be able to take on all sorts of obstacles and terrains. But with drop bars and a lightweight construction, it’ll roll well on those inevitable stretches of tarmac that link up the fun bits.

The drawbacks? Well, it’s unlikely you’ll want to shred every morning and evening, so you might resent those chunkier tyres when you’re cruising on tarmac, feeling that extra drag. And this kind of ride will probably add both mileage and time to your commute – little paths are rarely direct, and it’s tricky to keep up the pace when the going gets rough.

Then there’s the issue of mud, dust, and bike maintenance. It’s unlikely you’re going to give it the love it deserves after a hard day in the office, so your precious gravel bike might end up wearing out quicker than it would when properly maintained.

Gravel bikes now come in all shapes and sizes, from more race-orientated models to adventure-focused bikes. Those on the adventure-end of the scale will generally have wider tyre clearance, more mounting points and less aggressive geometries, compared to the more aggressive position used at the other end of the scale.

2. Aero road bike: Best for a fast commute

Ultimately, the way to make the daily commute fun is by changing your mindset; this isn’t a slog to work, this is an opportunity to get extra hours in the saddle. So instead of taking the dull roads that get you to the office in the shortest amount of time, take the kind of roads that you’d choose on a proper road ride. Are there any decent climbs you can tackle on your way in? What about some quiet lanes? Treat your commute like a proper road ride, and it’ll soon become the best part of your day.

And if we’re treating this like a proper road ride, then why not roll out your pride and joy?

Leaving the heavy commuter at home and instead taking something aerodynamic and lightweight creates a mindset shift that will change how you think about your commute. This isn’t just about getting from A to B, it’s about getting the legs spinning, the heart pumping and the lungs working.

But this isn’t a perfect solution. Just like with the gravel bike, to keep your bike running at its best, it needs some love after each ride. That can be a lot to ask after a long day at work, and your fancy high-end components might degrade faster than they otherwise would. Then there’s the issue of bike storage and security. Even if you’re keeping your bike in a secure place at the office, the knocks and blows that come to a bike kept in a busy rack might take a toll on your beautiful paintwork.

3. E-bike cruiser: Best for a more relaxed commute

Even if you’re really into your riding, you might not want to take on loads of extra miles each week just because you live far away from work. You might just want to relax, unwind, and let the stresses of the day dissipate as you breeze along.

For a relaxed, speedy ride, an electric bike is the natural choice. With an e-bike, you can cruise at high speeds, without breaking a sweat. No showers at the office required. Best of all, loads of commuter-specific e-bikes have a relaxed, upright riding position that will encourage you to chill out and enjoy the views. And if you do fancy getting some training in, simply drop down into a lower assist mode and stamp on the pedals.

E-bikes are great, but at present, they’re not cheap. For many of us, these will simply be out of the question. Then there’s the issue of charging it. Not an onerous task, but do we need another job to remember each evening?

4. All-road bike: Best all-round bike for a commute

If you’re commuting day in, day out, you’ll know that, ultimately, you need to keep things simple. Because yes, some days you’ll want to take a longer loop and make your commute into a road ride, and some days you might want to try a few off-road paths on your way home. But most days, you just want to get there and back, with minimal fuss and fanfare.

For this kind of rider, the all-round road bike is king. These types of bikes are usually sturdy with lower-end components, mudguards, and puncture-resistant tyres, designed with the stresses of the daily grind in mind. It’s a bike you’ll ride in the rain, then chuck in the garage without a second thought. It’s a bike you’ll lean against a wall without concern for the paintwork or lever hoods. It’s a bike you might even put some of those somewhat unsightly flat-cum-clipless pedals on so you can ride in your trainers or your cycling shoes. Who cares: it's the workhorse.

But that doesn’t mean it has to be a dull ride – these bikes are perfect for a Sunday cafe run or even a weekend gravel trip. It’s a bike that’s as good as it needs to be, and no more.

So is this the perfect machine for the commuter? In a lot of cases, yes. It might well be the 'Jack of all trades, and the master of none'. But as the phrase goes, that’s oftentimes better than a master of one. This is a bike that can do everything you need, to a reasonably good level. Gor competitive road riding or extreme gravel riding, it can’t compete with the specialised bikes, but it will get you to work and back, it’ll get you out on the weekend, it’ll even get you to the supermarket.

Which bike is best for a commute?

So what’s best? It depends on your needs, your riding style and, of course, your budget.

If you want an easy ride, the e-bike is the one for you. If you want one bike for everything, it has to be the all-round road bike. But if you’ve got room for two bikes in your stable, and you’re prepared to wear through expensive components a little more quickly than you would otherwise, consider pairing the fancy road bike with the gravel bike. That way, you can choose your bike based on the kind of ride you want to do, so that whether you’re on or off road, you’re going to have the best bike for the job.

Whichever bike you choose, if you live in the UK, you may be able to take advantage of and make savings through the Cycle to Work scheme. You can learn more about the scheme in our complete guide, linked here.

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