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Choosing the type of bike to ride

For traveling only short distances without difficult hills, you can use almost any kind of bike. Otherwise, choose a bike which is reasonably well suited to commuting.

If you are just experimenting with bike commuting, or your budget is tight, modify for commuting a bike you already own. Or modify a cheap bike you find in a classified ad.

There are several varieties of bikes that could work, but I will only discuss the more common ones here. I also talk about folding bikes in the security section of this website.

If you live a car-free lifestyle, it's good to own more than one bike. One morning, you might get ready to ride, and find your bike has a flat tire or mechanical problem. Perhaps you'll be in too much of a hurry to stop and fix the problem. And you might need that second bike to fetch parts for repair.

There are bicycle models designed for commuting. Sometimes they are difficult to find in retail stores in the U.S. You can search online for vendors.

Commuter bikes come with some or all of these: kickstand, reflectors, bells, fenders, racks, smooth tires, and chain guards.

Touring bicycles are intended for long-distance travel. They are designed to accept panniers (and often fenders also). If they don't already have fenders, installing them should be easy. I think these are an excellent choice for an all-weather bike.

Touring bikes won't be plentiful in your local classified ads, and they'll be somewhat pricey. You must be willing to either buy a new one, patiently search for a local used one you can inspect, or buy it without first inspecting it (on eBay.com or elsewhere).

Road bike - a fast low-effort commuter

Road bike

Road bikes tend to be fast and light, so less effort is needed to commute. That is especially nice on hot days or over long distances.

Installing full-length fenders can be difficult or impossible, because there is so little space between the tire and other parts.

You should find lots of used road bikes available. Prices vary widely.

Converted mountain bike - commuting bicycle

Converted mountain bike

Mountain bikes can sometimes be converted into acceptable all-weather commuting bicycles.

At least where I live, there are lots of used ones available, and this is often the cheapest kind of bike.

I suggest looking for mountain bikes with no suspension for the front or rear wheels (a seat post shock is OK). Their brakes offer lots of clearance for fenders. Your bike shop might refuse to install a full-length fender over a wheel with shocks or suspension, because they think it's impossible or at least dangerous (this happened to me once).

If the bike has suspension, you can install shorter fenders designed specifically for mountain bikes. Or you could try on your own to install full fenders anyway. It might work fine. Check to make sure that no part of the bike can strike a fender when the suspension does a big bounce, and in general use your judgment about whether the installation is a safe one. You could also show your work to bike mechanics and ask for their opinion.

You should replace the studded knobby tires with smooth and narrower road tires, unless your commute goes off-road. Road tires will make your pedaling noticeably easier. If you commute both on and off pavement, buy tires that are smooth where they normally touch the ground, but rough to either side (toward the sidewalls).

If you commute over pavement with lots of ruts and debris, a mountain bike (even with smooth tires) will be better than a road bike. The mountain bike's tires will be wider, so they'll cushion the ride better and be less likely to get caught in a rut.

If you like to go offroad on your mountain bike, you might prefer to keep the studded tires and buy a second set of wheels with smooth tires. This way, you can quickly swap wheels, to use the same bike for both off-road and street travel. If you want, this gives you the chance to use a differently sized set of cogs for the higher speeds of road travel.

Comfort bike - a heavy, high-rolling-resistance bicycle for commuting

Comfort bike

Comfort bikes look sort of like mountain bikes, but they often have:

I once owned one of these bikes. Its heaviness and somewhat knobby tires made it harder to pedal. Even so, it was fine for short commutes. The cushy ride and upright posture were enjoyable. However, that bike would have been better with handlebar extensions pointing forward, to allow me to lean forward (to avoid wind resistance or just to enjoy a change of posture).

Smooth tires and low weight would make for a true "comfort bike", in the sense that less effort is required. Low weight is especially helpful if your biking involves a lot of hill climbing or stop-and-go (unless you are trying to exercise and want the hard work).