HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT BIKE FOR YOU?
When you’re considering the idea of cycling to work and use cycling as transportation, it’s easy to get stuck at the first theoretical steps before even riding for the first time. Should you get a road bike to be faster? Or should you get a hybrid? A Dutch bike? Or even a cargo to drop the kids to childcare before going to work? This is an intro (a good one we think) to what you should think about. If you still have any doubt, just give us a call.
The perfect everyday bike needs to be practical so you can carry everything you need, comfortable so you don’t have any aches when you use it, and durable, so maintenance doesn’t get into the way. People are different, as is their situation, so the bike that suits you my not be the same one your friend got. It should be practical alright, but also fun (or pretty, or low maintenance, whatever is high on your list).
We’re going to structure this post around three key points:
- What to consider before choosing a bike
- Different types of bikes and how good they are for everyday use
- Extra features that will make the bike perfect for you
Each bike type is designed for a specific terrain. The bike’s geometry, tyre size and width, handlebar type, the presence or absence of suspension forks, gear range all work together in harmony. They all serve one end: to give you the most efficient riding experience for the terrain it’s meant to be used on.
Unless your commute is through the woods or on a very challenging terrain, you can ride 3 miles (5 km) or less on any bike. The longer your commute, the more thinking needs to go into choosing your bike.
Spending more than 15 minutes in the saddle can get uncomfortable. It can happen easily if your bike isn’t the right geometry and it isn’t perfectly dialled in for your needs.
Think of how you intend to dress, and whether it’s practical. The more time you spend in the saddle and the more formal you dress for work, the less likely you can do it in your work clothes.
Riding 5-6 km in the city on a dutch-style bike (a.k.a city bike) is perfectly doable in your work clothes, but riding 8km or more in a suit on a road bike will make you frustrated.
If you ride in your suit, you will probably look for a comfortable bike, something like a dutch-style bike, which you can ride in an upright position.
Things you need to carry
The two most common forms of carrying stuff are in a backpack or in a pannier. While neither is superior to the other, one of them is going to be more practical for your commute.
Backpacks can be practical if you have fewer things (maybe a pair of trousers and a shirt), but the more things you put in a backpack, the more it will make you sweat. If you have a laptop, some books and a change of clothes, panniers are a much more comfortable option, because they allow for ventilation on your back.
If you decide to use a pannier, you need to keep in mind that you will need a bike that comes with a bike rack or has mounting holes for a bike rack.
Rain can quickly ruin the most enjoyable of cycles if you are not equipped with the right gear. Mudguards keep the water off your back, legs and belly. They can turn an otherwise miserable commute into something enjoyable. They are a highly recommended addition to a commuter bike, especially in Ireland.
Cycling experience and fitness level
Your experience and fitness level are completely individual to you and they change over time. The more you ride the fitter you get.
If you are new to cycling you should pick a bike that isn’t built primarily for speed, but rather something practical and comfortable. As you gain experience and want to go faster or explore various routes and types of terrains, you may find yourself looking for a more specific bike built for those special needs.
Different types of bikes
Road bikes – (built for speed)
Road bikes are the fastest type of bikes. Everything about them is built for speed: geometry, wheels, weight.
Their geometry is designed so you sit in a forward-leaning, aerodynamic position. You need a strong core to avoid your hands getting numb from too much pressure.
Their wheels are narrow and slick (typically between 23 and 28mm), and they offer low rolling resistance. They are built with lighter components than most other bikes, because saving weight means being able to go faster, especially on a climb.
Road bikes have drop handlebars, which allow for several hand positions, making it easy to find the most comfortable and convenient grip even on longer rides. When going really fast, you can get in the drops and minimize your wind-resistance.
Because they are focused on speed, some comfort is sacrificed: except for the newest models, they have no mounting holes for bike rack or mudguards, and their thin and narrow wheels don’t absorb bumps, which is not great for Irish town or cities.
They feel most at home on paved roads at high speeds under experienced riders. In order to feel all the advantages of a road bike, you need to pedal at speeds higher than 25 km/h.
Consider a road bike for your commute if you:
- Commute mostly on well maintained, paved roads
- Don’t need to carry too much stuff (you’re limited to a backpack)
- Are an experienced rider
- Commute in dry weather mostly
Our favourite road bike in our range: the Orbea Avant H60 D. Comfortable, fast and behaves well on longer distances.
Flat bar road bikes or fitness bikes (built for speed and agility)
Similar or identical in geometry to road bikes, flat bar road bikes are built for fast rides, mostly on paved roads, but they offer a little more comfort.
Because of the position and the geometry of the handlebar, you can sit in a less aggressive position. This allows you to keep an eye on the traffic better and it allows you to rely less on your core muscles.
Their wheels are slightly wider (typically between 25 and 32 mm), therefore they absorb bumps better than classic road bikes.
Many fitness bikes come with mounting points for mudguards and bike racks. This is a welcome addition for commuters because it allows them to ride in wet weather and opens up the possibility of using panniers.
Flat bar road bikes are fast bikes that offer more versatility than road bikes. They are a good option even for new riders.
Consider a flat bar road bike for your commute if you:
- Have an urban commute that may include low quality paved roads
- Want to commute in all weather conditions
- Want to carry your stuff in panniers
Our favourite flat bar racer in our range. The Orbea Vector 20. Very slick, it is the perfect do it all bike as it combines road gearing with hybrid specs such as mudguard eyelets, with the great addition of maintenance free, very efficient hydraulic disc brakes. A best seller at Rothar.
Touring bikes (built for long distances and heavy loads)
Built to carry heavy loads on long journeys, touring bikes strong and durable machines. To the untrained eye, they can appear as road bikes because of the drop handlebars. When inspected in more detail, it’s evident that they are not the same though.
Their geometry offers a more elevated riding position than road bikes. This makes it easier for the rider to keep an eye on the cars approaching from behind.
Touring bikes have multiple mounting points on the frame, and they often come equipped with mudguards and a rear rack. These characteristics are essential for multi-day long-distance trips. It is very easy to put several large panniers on them.
They have wider tires than road bikes, which absorb bumps, resulting in a more comfortable ride.
Their downside is that they are heavier than road bikes. This, however, doesn’t make a big difference for most commuters, where the difference in marginally higher speeds are offset by traffic and weather conditions. In other words, you may be slightly faster on a road bike, but the speed difference really doesn’t matter as soon as you have to stop at a few red lights.
Consider a touring bike for your commute if you:
- Want multiple hand positions
- Have a medium to long-distance commute
- Don’t want to spend too much time on maintenance
- Want a bike that can carry a lot of stuff
- Want to commute in all weather conditions
Our favourite touring bike in our range. The Marin Four Corners. Made of steel, ultra comfortable, it will be used for many years, on many roads.
Hybrid or trekking bikes
Hybrid bikes borrow some characteristics from touring bikes and some from mountain bikes and combine the best of both worlds in one.
Usually they come with riser bars that allow the rider to be in a more upright position. This makes them comfortable even on longer distances.
Their tyres are usually slick or semi-slick, so they can travel fast on paved roads. .
Hybrid bikes come in a wide variety of forms. Some come equipped with fenders and a rear rack, while others have mounting points only, so you can put on some as an option. Some come with suspension front forks - it makes the bike more comfortable but heavier.
Consider a hybrid bike for your commute if you:
- Are looking for a comfortable bike and an upright riding position
- Commute on particularly bad urban roads or on gravel segments
- Want the option of carrying your stuff in panniers
- Don’t mind the extra few pounds of weight of the front suspension fork
Our favourite hybrid bike with suspension forks at Rothar. The Marin San Rafael. Perfect for mixed surfaces (think commute + cycle in the Phoenix Park), and plenty of gears for commuting and for leisure cycling.
Folding bikes (built to be practical)
The major advantage that folding bikes offer is that they are super practical, and can be easily stored.
Because they take up very little space, they can be easily stored in the office and they can also be brought onto public transport. This latter feature makes them excellent for multimodal commuting.
You can ride them to the station and take them with you on the train. You have a quick way of getting around once you get off. It is a very convenient way of commuting in the city.
Most folding bikes are built with commuting in mind and come with fenders and a rear rack.
There are a few downsides to folding bikes. You’re somewhat limited in range because they are not built for long-distance rides, but rather for short and relatively flat ones. Their small wheels don’t offer as much riding comfort as their big brothers. Their gear range is also somewhat limited, making them adequate only for smaller hills, but not for steep climbs.
Consider a folding bike for your commute if you:
- Have either a short, city commute or combine cycling with public transport
- Have limited space to store your bike either at home or in the office
- Don’t mind riding at a slower pace
Our favourite folding bike in our range. The Tern C8. Comes with a carrier and mudguards, fold in seconds, fits everywhere you need, including a campervan or a boat.
Gravel bikes (built for speed off-road)
Gravel bikes combine the speed of road bikes with the ruggedness of mountain bikes. Their speed and durability make them a very appealing choice for commuters.
Gravel bikes come with a slightly more relaxed geometry than road bikes. They have a more tire clearance and wider tires, which translates to a smoother ride even on gravel roads or low-quality urban roads.
Most of them have mounting points for fenders and racks. These are welcome options among commuters.
Almost all gravel bikes have powerful disc brakes. Disc brakes offer the rider the confidence that he can come to a full stop whenever he needs to, even when cruising at a high speed with heavy loads.
Gravel bikes come with drop handlebars, which offers multiple grips without having to add handlebar grips.
The downside of gravel bikes is that they are among the most expensive bikes. Since they are a relatively new breed of bikes, used ones are not easy to come by.
Consider a gravel bike for your commute if you:
- Have a medium or long commute
- Speed is important to you, but so is comfort
- Ride off-road or gravel road segments
- Want the option of panniers and fenders
- Don’t mind spending some extra money.
The favourite gravel bike in our range. The Orbea Terra H40. You cannot do much better. You will be gone for hours and will never want to get off the saddle. A truly special machine.
City bikes or Dutch style bikes (built for comfort and practicality)
These are the classical looking bicycles most used as commuters in flat cities. They can be found in many cities that offer bikes for hire as part of their transportation system.
They are low maintenance, durable bikes and come with a number of comfort features, which make them ideal for city commuting.
City bikes come with mudguards and racks, and they often come equipped with a handlebar basket too. There is plenty of storage aboard.
They offer a very comfortable upright sitting position, which is not very favourable from an aerodynamic point of view, but since they are built for shorter city rides, this is not an issue. They have swept-back handlebars and usually an internal gear hub of 3-8 gears. These gears make them adequate for moderate hills, but the gear range is quite narrow, so you will struggle on steep slopes.
They often come with added practical features such as a hub dynamo, so you don’t have to worry about lights and batteries.
They are easy to get on and off, and can be ridden in work clothes.
There are two downsides to city bikes. Their robust body and the added comfort comes at the price of a heavier weight.
Consider a city bike for your commute if you:
- Have a short city commute
- Want to commute in your work clothes
- Don’t want to ride fast
- Want a comfortable, understated commuter bike.
Our favourite city bike in our range. The Achielle Ophélie. It is equipped with a carbon belt, hydraulic disc brakes, puncture protection tyres and internal gearing, making it the most maintenance free bicycle ever. Keep those tyres pumped and you'll be cruising the mean streets of Dublin while looking smart and cool.
Electric bikes (built to help you when your legs need it)
If you need some extra kick on steeper hills or you need to carry children in a trailer or some heavy stuff on your commute, an electric bike can be of great help. It’s also a good help if you want to reduce how much you sweat.
Electric bikes come in a variety of forms ranging from folding bikes to MTBs to road bikes to trekking bikes. They provide some extra power when needed, but switching off the motor they ride as normal bikes.
Charging the battery is very cheap, and you can go anywhere between 60 – 100 km on a single charge. If you are looking for an electric bike for commuting, it’s worth checking out the distance you need to ride and measure it against its range.
Electric bikes used to be heavy, but thanks to new technologies, you can find ebikes that are 13 or 15kg such as the Orbea Vibe. If you have kids, it is worth checking electric cargo bikes, that can be used to do the school run but also for your own commute or your grocery shopping.
Consider an electric bike for your commute if you:
- Have steep hills you find hard to climb
- Want to carry extra heavy stuff (here’s an article about pulling trailers uphills with an electric bike)
- You want to minimize sweating
- You see the extra cost as an investment in your health.
Our favourite ebike in our range for commuting / everyday transport. The Orbea Vibe. Beautiful, very well spec:d and equipped, and very light.
Our favourite cargo bike for everyday transport. The Bicicapace JustLong. Super practical, compact, it transports 2 + 1 children (2 at the rear, one at the front), with the added advantage of a front carrier or bag that will make the shopping trip much easier.