Bike question from a reader


A blog reader asks,

Another bike question for y’all: What kind of bike (frame type, tire/tyre type, etc.) would you recommend for a commuting bike? I have a bike that I bought years ago for this purpose, but the dimensions are more towards an upright cruiser. What I gain in relief on my lower back I lose in stroke power and strain on my knees, so I’m looking for something else, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t think a long-distance road bike is what I want just yet, but I would like to be able to ride this comfortably for ~10 miles or so at a time.



11 thoughts on “Bike question from a reader

  1. I have a cyclocross bike which I use for commuting and really like. It allows me to ride over the grass easily. It has fenders, panniers, and lights. Love it!

  2. I was in the exact same position this year. I had an upright commuter for a couple years and, although cute and comfortable, not very efficient and often left me with muscle strains. I sprung on this guy – – and it has changed my commuting life! So efficient and handles like a dream. It’s not quite as light or zippy as my road bike, but that’s not what I’m looking for in a commuter. The disc brakes make me feel safe and in control even in the heaviest rains. Highly recommended.

  3. Oh wow! People can and do commute on just about anything. Take a look at sport- touring bikes like what used to be called the Soma Smoothie Es…im not sure what it’s been renamed as, but it has plenty of brazons for a rack and fenders and such, yet is light and responsive.

    Some folks like rigid mountain bikes from the early 90s. Reliable and affordable. No disc brakes though.

    A full on touring bike like the Surly LHT would fit the bill.

    I personally ride a fixed gear bike…track ends and road geometry.

  4. I have a nice hybrid city bike. Fairly light, durable, disc brakes, carries stuff well. I like it because of how versatile it is- I mostly commute but I’ve also done some longer trips on it without minding the extra weight.

  5. MEC (cote), Giant (Anyroad) and Specialized (Diverge??) have introduced bikes that are part touring, part cyclocross. They have brazeons and disc brakes (great in the wet) and look like they would be great fun to ride. Dropped handlebars, but that gives more hand position options if your commute is a bit longer.

    One of these is earmarked for my next bike!

  6. I’ll echo the recommendation of a sport touring bike. When I had the very same question a few years ago, that’s what my cycling enthusiast colleague recommended, and I’m glad I listened. The thing I love about mine is that I can put racks and fenders on it and it works really well as an efficient and comfortable commuter, but I can take them off and it works as a long-distance road bike. I use it to commute in the rain, pull two kids to daycare in a trailer, and ride centuries in the countryside. It’s the perfect ‘if you’re only going to own one bike’ bike.

  7. Your current bicycle may be just fine: Is it sized to your body? When I read “lose in stroke power and strain on my knees”, your saddle position comes to mind.

    Stroke power on an upright bicycle is limited to your bodyweight (or opposing forces if you are clipped to the pedals); stroke power on a recumbent bicycle is limited by leg-pressing strength. I have read soreness from pushing too hard is a concern for recumbent bicycles; we can usually leg-press much more than our own bodyweight against the backrest. You are correct that as the cranks move further in front of you, the less bodyweight is available to counter your stroke-push-power because the down-push is swung further away from the vertical direction of gravity.

    Strain on the knees directs my mind to:
    1) Your saddle height: Do your legs very nearly straighten at the bottom of each pedal revolution? (i.e. Saddle height is adjusted to the cranks for riding, not adjusted to the ground for sit+standing while waiting for red traffic lights to turn green.)
    2) And to your saddle position atop the post: Is it fairly level (so you don’t have to fight constantly to avoid slipping off)? Is it fore/aft adjusted for comfort (and not merely just left alone where it was first installed)?

  8. I love my Specialized Hybrid. It’s simple (with 8 gears, easy click right hand shifting, and disk brakes) and comfortable, holds a detachable side panier really well, and does a good job on the roads and bike paths.

  9. I would recommend to consider the distance, the type of road (flat/with hills, etc) , your skills, your fit (electrical/not electrical), the weather in your region, if you have space at home to park it, parking availabity at destination, security in the area…

  10. Hi guys, I have been on-site all day and have not been able to participate in a meaningful way. The OP’s feedback needs to be taken into account. If we are to recommend a bike for purchase, we need to be aware of what he/she said “what I gain in relief on my lower back I lose in stroke power and strain on my knees.” The decrease in lower back strain will correlate with the loses in stroke power, the additional strain on their knees is a fit issue. I think what needs to be clearly explained is that decrease in lower back strain WILL result in stroke power. The geometry of bicycle (performance hybrid vs relaxed hybrid) gives you one or the other, it’s similar to cars’ gas mileage and acceleration – it’s hard to have both. Get a bike like the Specialized Sirrus for stroke power and a Trek Verve for decrease lower back pain.

    As for strain on knees, like I said and as an ex-bike fitter, this is usually indicative of a low seat height and a function of a proper bike sizing/fitting. The two issues posted by the OP are mutually exclusive and should be treated as such.

    With respect to the questions posted overall in terms of frame/size/tyre, these are for the most part, a function of the bike that you eventually end up having. The two frame materials for commuter will be aluminium and cromo-steel, carbon commuters is neither widespread nor cost efficient. We would be able to give the poster a range of sizes but fitting, etc., should still be done by your LBS. Tyre size will depend on the type of bike that you get – performance hybrid will be 700c wheels and relaxed hybrid will usually be 26″. As for tyre size, there are innumerable sizes that you can get to make your ride faster, cushier, again, these are mutually exclusive, you can’t really have one AND the other.

    Speaking about commuting, the whole idea is to safe environment and to decrease CO2, Speed takes a backseat to usability and I would caution against trying to get a performance hybrid to ride slow and for leisure, by the same token, don’t get a comfort hybrid thinking you are the next pro-cycling.

    Hope this helps.
    Ps. I have spend close to 7 years in the bike industry, working from bike shops to another one and eventually as an engineer. I trust the above answers your question.

  11. I think the saddle nose position will depend on the bike geometry and person. Here I am on my hybrid bike in the winter:

    I would choose a bike that’s light because you never know, you may have to lift your bike up onto a bike bus rack or …into a bike train car for train ride. ..Make sure your bike rack is strong enough to take heavy loads of groceries…I think mine handles around 30 lbs. or more.

    I am upright but leaning abit forward. My tires are not skinny, they are Marathan Schwables that have a tough liner …dealing with urban glass, debris, etc. plus the snow..but they are not studded winter bike tires.
    Bike fit for you is critical.

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