Pop Quiz: Which is the Commuter Bike?

Based on some comments in our recent Torker Interurban bike review, I wanted to put something up…a “pop quiz”, of sorts, to address some points made.

This is a multiple-choice quiz. Let’s begin:

Which is the “commuter bike”? Is it

a) the fixed gear machine

b) the cargo bike

c) the fully-dressed urban bike

d) the high-end touring rig

or e) All of the above?

If you’ve been reading our site for a while, you know that “E” is the correct answer. All of these bikes have their place in bicycle commuting, and in fact all but “D” are actual “commuter bikes” that I ride on a regular basis to and from work or to run errands around town. The point is, there is no “one” solution for bike commuters. We all have different needs and terrain, different ideas about what we like or don’t like, different distances or places to secure our rides once we get to our destinations. A bike that works for me may not work for you (and vice versa), and it is foolhardy to think otherwise.

If you’re newer to this site, I have a couple of tidbits for you, too: This is a good time to link back to a couple of our articles from the past, such as “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” and “What Bike Do I Buy?”

Bike commuters are still but a tiny minority here in the U.S. Divisive attitudes, elitism and snobbery serve to tear us apart, not bring us together. As far as we’re concerned here, if you’re on two wheels you’re ok with us.


  1. Mike Myers

    Well put, Jack. My “commuter” bikes are all very similar. Same Noodle handlebar, same Brooks saddles, same clipless pedals. But they’re all drop bar road/sport touring bikes. Why? Because I have a long commute, and doing it on anything but a road bike sucks.

    If I lived in a city, I’d consider a Dutch bike just about perfect.

    If I lived directly on the Withlacoochee Trail and could avoid roads my entire commute, I’d have a bent with a windsock.

    To each his own. Any bike is a “commuter” if you ride it to and from work, but calling every bike you can ride to work a “commuter” makes for disputes. If everything is a “commuter”, then a “commuter” is both all-encompassing and undefined.


  2. RL

    Great point Jack! Loved the visual examples.

  3. Elizabeth

    Perfect post for Chicago’s Bike to Work Rally. I’ll be sporting my t-shirt! And hope to take pics of all the various “commuter” bikes I see this morning.

  4. Iron_Man

    People are always asking me what kind of bike they should get, and I’m quick to tell them that I can only help them with generalities. Since body-shape, level of fitness, riding style and intensity, expectations, distances, etc are all so unique and prone to change, trial and error is going to factor more into their bike selection than any advice I can give them. So I really just try to help them by raising questions that they most likely have not thought of before.

  5. BluesCat

    Excellent article, Jack. The only thing I could add is that a “commuter bike” which works for ME under a certain set of conditions may not work for me under another set of conditions.

    For instance, my long wheelbase ‘bent — with the slick, high pressure road tires — is ideal for MOST days in sunny, dry Phoenix. But when the monsoons hit, and the roads become slick and wet and full of garbage, for a few days I may take to the mountain bike with the more maneuverable, shorter wheelbase and the inverted tread tires. And if I need to tote a full case of beer home from the store, I’ll take the other mountain bike with the knobby tires and the attachment for the trailer.

  6. gar

    Jack – Thank you for expertly justifying my stable of 5 bikes!

  7. MelissatheRagamuffin

    I have a Surly LHT and a Trek 4300. Before I got the Surly I rode my mountain bike everywhere including to work. Now, I mostly ride the Surly because it’s a lighter bike and capable of higher speeds. I still ride the mountain bike when the weather is crappy because it has disc brakes.

    How you outfit your bike is also a matter of personal preference. My Surly is famous locally just for being the Surly with mustache handle bars. I put them on there because I just don’t like drop handle bars. I don’t like where the brake levers are on them. I want my brake levers to be near where my hands are most likely to be. I also don’t like how far forward drop handle bars cause you to have to lean. I remember when I first started thinking about the Surly my LBS told me I couldn’t put different handle bars on it. Then, another one of the guys who works there said, “If you buy it it’s your bike and you can do whatever you want to it.” I also opted to put 38mm tires on Miss Surly because I just like that slightly wider tire.

  8. Mir.I.Am

    Maybe the it’s about the “bike commuter” not the commuter bike!!! IMHO, whatever you put between your legs is your bidnit! JUSTIFICATION FOR PILES OF BIKES!?! You cant even justify ALL of Ghost Rider’s rides…. (cough – HOARDER! – cough, cough). 😀

  9. Ghost Rider

    @Mike — “If everything is a ‘commuter’, then a ‘commuter’ is both all-encompassing and undefined”. Whoa, brother, you just blew my mind! It’s true…we spend too much time trying to label and not enough time trying to accept all comers.

    @BluesCat — excellent point. It’s what I use to help try to justify my personal fleet.

    @Gar, I was going to include something about having more than one bike to cover a wider variety of conditions, but not everyone has the time, the space or the money to have a stable.

    @Mir — ha ha…it’s tough. I AM a hoarder!

  10. harry krishna

    i’m in agreement with an inclusive definition of “commuter bike”. so why are there so many bikes out there labeled “commuter” that are obviously not?

  11. Nick Tucker

    That’s it! A commuter bike is the bike upon which one commutes.
    The long empty flat roads of the Canterbury plain (and the prevailing nor’ easter) are ideal (I think) for my recumbent. If I look through the bikes at work then I can see other peoples opinions for the same trip include fixies, mountain bikes, and road racers. Vive la différence!

  12. Ghost Rider

    @Harry — that’s part of my point: WHO decides what the “inclusive definition” is? Should it be the companies who make the bikes, or perhaps the RIDERS who want a bike to do what they need for their own uses? What seems obviously not a commuter bike to one may be the perfect vehicle for another.

    I’m curious… In your inclusive definition, what would be required attributes for the bike to be called a “commuter bike”?

  13. harry krishna

    somewhere between 15 and 20 years of commuting (i’m a slow learner), i honed my definition to a bike which didn’t require a large additional outlay for commuting. for example, i now favor a belt drive and/or internal hub over going through the chain/chain rings/cogs replacement, which was at least a yearly thing for me.

  14. Chris Baskind

    Yeah, I tend to think we spend too much time putting labels on things. These are all fine bikes, and will get someone from Point A to Point B. So they can all be considered “commuters,” depending on the need of the rider.

    One might be better suited for a particular rider, route, and conditions than others. I rely entirely on bicycles for transportation, and have several bikes for this reason.

    But you can commute on anything with two wheels. The hardest part isn’t finding the right bike — it’s deciding to do it. 😉

  15. no1mad

    A commuter bike is one that you use as an alternative transportation tool. Doesn’t matter what the drive train is comprised of, nor the braking, cockpit layout, size of the tire/wheel, how you manage your cargo… If it works for you, then it works.

    However, what works today may not tomorrow, as the most ideal conditions don’t occur regularly.

  16. Rick

    As long as it works for you, its a commuter bike. I use a Montague folding bike. Its a folder but still has 700c wheels and standard parts. Its a great ride and a lot of the time I need to be able to take my bike on the train or throw it in a car trunk.

  17. Jack B

    The best bike all depends on the route, rider, cargo and terrain.

    Much of my commute is on greenway trails. I love the nimbleness of a 90s all rigid steel mountain bike for this. Nice fat tires at the minimum pressure are all the suspension I need.

    If I take more of a road route, I like my 1987 Cannondale touring bike, but it has a lot more spokes than you example. Is there really a high end touring bike with so few spokes?

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