What makes for the best commuter?

Mountain bike, hybrid, road bike or fixie?

As far as I can tell, cycling in cities is becoming more popular. I have commuted by bicycle to work for the last 8 years or so, first in Paris, then in Singapore. Over this period, I have the feeling there are a slowly increasing number of people riding to work.

Cycle commuters seem to come in various flavours.

Some choose vintage road bikes that have seen better days.

Some use fixies or single gear with freewheel, with or without brakes, coloured chains, aero wheel discs etc.

Some use purpose built hybrids with mountain-bike style frames, often front suspension and larger than 26″ wheels with skinny tyres.

Some choose Dutch-style town bikes, usually with a basket somewhere and sometimes with backward pedalling brakes.

And some choose old mountain bikes, that have probably never seen a mountain…

I fall into this latter category and, for the most part, rode old, ugly mountain bikes to death work for much of the last 8 years…

I have had the good fortune to commute in countries where public transport is efficient and cheap, so cost was never a motivator.

For me the main incentive was that I enjoy riding, that it got me to work faster than public transport and that a little bit of exercise doesn’t do you any harm.

Cycle commuting is something that takes a little time to get used to. And in that time, one probably changes the route taken, clothes worn, equipment used, the bike itself and the attitude to other road users.

For me these choices were generally driven by the principle of “I don’t want to die”. Crashes aren’t nice. Everyone has had one (or more), and would like to avoid them as much as possible.

For a time, I commuted by 1980s road bike. It was exhilarating and fast, but it didn’t take long before I had enough close shaves to figure out it wasn’t sustainable. Also I find the dropped position on the handlebars limits visibility and comfort (on the neck), high-pressure 23mm tyres on cobble-stones are like riding a pneumatic drill, and 30 year old brakes and drop handlebars aren’t the best way to avoid getting splatted.

So while a 90s MTB isn’t the coolest way to get to work, it’s safe, comfortable and bulletproof.

That said, if you’re going to spend a lot of time riding, you may as well enjoy it. So maybe spend a bit of cash and get something decent looking instead…

So I’d say, whatever you’re riding, keep safe, and enjoy your commute.

What do you guys and girls commute on? What do you enjoy most about your ride?

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12 thoughts on “What makes for the best commuter?

  1. I switch between a 1984 Univega Viva Sport that has the front derailleur chopped off. Fat 32MM slick Gatorskin tires(US spelling), cheap WTB saddle, platform pedals, fat Wald Basket, Riser bars and clap on fender. The paint is gone to shit and it’s old, but it’s reliable and fast when I need it to be fast and cruises when I need a cruiser. I like mountain bike frames, but sometimes they are a little heavy and I like to add on accessories for commuters like lights, maybe a rack and a pannier or a bag. My other around towner and semi long distance bike is a 1985 Fuji Del Rey. It can be loaded up with gear and is still stable. Hybrids are nice too, but I just go slow on a road bike and when I go out of the city I can crank up and go fast. You are right about 30 year old brakes being garbage, but that is why I upgraded to Tektro R539 caliper brakes that stop on a dime and look gorgeous.

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    • MTB frames sure are heavy, and 26″ wheels make for slow progress… funnily enough the Fuji Del Rey was my racer commuter, but I find I’m mentally incapable of riding it slowly. So it’s not good for my longevity in heavy traffic!

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  2. My recent place of work is about a 20 min ride. I use an TT argon 18 to work, it beats the crazy traffic and gives me an excuse to ride.

    I’ve kind of gone a bit lazy on the cycling scene since all my friends left me for greener pasture overseas. I’m still sporty but cycling alone although has its perks seems really lonely in the city in the morning.

    It also gives me a sense of nostalgia riding to work.reminds of my younger days and the various friends i made via cycling

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  3. I have the good fortune of having several bikes to cycle through (pun not intended) so that the commute is rarely boring: a couple of fast road bikes and a track bike (outfitted with a front brake) depending on my mood, and another fast road bike that has been converted with wide tires, full mudguards, and porteur-style rack and handlebar for foul weather or more relaxed riding (or both). I realise that not everyone has that luxury, so I definitely feel lucky!

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  4. Well my direct route to work is 1.8 miles but I choose to ride somewhere between 10 and 20 miles just for the hell of it. At the moment I’m doing an 18/19 mile route in the morning and a 12 mile route in the afternoon. As for bike choice, I mainly for for my Holdsworth. It’s fast and agile. I can filter easily and keep up with traffic on most roads. Friday’s I always break out the Fixie and while it isn’t as forgiving I love riding it… Hills are interesting. I’ll continue to rise both over the winter but I’m looking at building a custom winter commuter so I can give the Holdsworth a rest.

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