How to choose a commuter bike

Commuter standing with his bike with city in the background.

Bruce Newton

Posted March 26, 2019

Even at under $1000 there’s plenty of choice.

Making the switch to a bicycle commute? There are plenty of commuter bikes to choose from.

Sports hybrid: Scott Sub Cross 30 - $899

The sports hybrid bicycle is the jack of all trades and master of none.

What it attempts to deliver is a comfortable and convenient experience. Essentially, this is the modern take on what your parents rode to school and just like that bike it’s got a relaxed geometry and an upright seating position.

But nowadays the frame will be weight-saving alloy, it will have a wide range of gears so you can pedal upwards without too much effort, hydraulic disc brakes (yep, at $1000), a 700C (28-inch) wheel with chunkier tyres and front suspension with 60 to 80 millimetres’ travel to make it more suitable for gravel surfaces.

Thumbs up: Versatile and user-friendly.

Thumbs down: Fork adds weight as well as comfort.

Copenhagen: Malvern Star Porter I - $799

This is the smashed avocado of commuter bikes. It’s one for the fashion conscious, those among us for whom appearance is as important as function. Maybe more important.

As its name suggests the Copenhagen is more at home on the flatlands. However, while it looks retro, this style of bike now comes with an alloy frame and is a lot lighter than steel-framed iterations of yesteryear that made any climb a real chore.

The Copenhagen is a work horse. You’ll often see them fitted with pack racks front or rear. Being an Aussie design the Malvern Star pictured here can carry a slab of beers… from a boutique brewery of course.

Thumbs up: Serene, fashionable progress.

Thumbs down: Not for the longer commute.

Road bike: Giant Contend 2 - $999

Think of this as the sports car of bicycles. Okay, for $1000 you’re not going to get the same machinery Cadel Evans rides, but the thought process is the same. It’s all about speed.

That’s obvious from the moment you crouch in the cockpit. Forgot about sitting upright, the racer-style roady bends you into a more aerodynamic tuck.

At this price you’re going to make do with an alloy frame – not sexier carbon-fibre. But it’s still impressively light. Combined with thin tyres, rim brakes and fewer gears it weighs in at only nine to 10 kilograms.

These are not the most comfortable bicycles, although a carbon-fibre fork does help because it’s more shock-absorbent than alloy. Those rim brakes are a bit of an issue too, providing longer stopping distances, especially in the wet.

Thumbs up: Fast, focused, good for covering longer distances at speed.

Thumbs down: Rough and tough just like a sports car.

Flat-bar road bike: Avanti Giro F 2 - $819

Essentially, this bicycle takes the upright handlebars from a hybrid and bolts them on to a racing fame.

So you get a more comfortable seating position combined with a lighter weight and decent performance, just not as much as the racer.

What you miss out on at this price is the carbon fork, but you do get the disc brakes. Hmmm, choices, just like picking out the features you want for a new car.

The flat-bar road bike also adopts a wider set of gear ratios and bigger multi-purpose 700C tyres that allow lower air pressures. That means they are less puncture prone and provide more grip.

Thumbs up: Laid back yet speedy.

Thumbs down: Not as speedy as the racer, not as laid back as the Copenhagen.

Don't forget

Bicycles, like humans, come in all shapes and sizes and designs intended specifically for males and females. Typical features that cater for women include smaller frame sizes, a lower step-through height, narrower bars and a differently shaped saddle.