Bike to Work Week: Finding the Right Bike for You

May 17, 2018

It is currently Bike to Work Week—which will hopefully serve as a sort of gateway to a bike-to-work life for many of us. Our society is undeniably car-dependent, but in a relatively bike-friendly city like Denver, the option of commuting to work by bike is worthy of serious consideration, and it’s a much more ecologically and financially responsible alternative to ye olde automobile. Plus, urban cycling nowadays offers a plethora of models for all sizes, interests and ability levels. So for those first-time bikers among us, let’s take a look at just what all of our options are.

Road Bikes

Characterized primarily by their thin wheels and light frame, road bikes are a popular choice for lengthy commutes, and for those of us interested in bulking up our thighs. They typically have many speeds/gears for handling inclines and declines, but because of their thin tires, they’re best suited for relatively well-maintained roads. Because this class can range from high-grade performance machines to commuter bikes, they can also range in price from $200-$10,000 or more (really).  

Pros:

If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, and eventually figure out what you’re doing, you can’t go wrong. Also, if you’re spending a lot of time going up and down hills, the multiple speeds and gears come in handy.

Cons:

If you’re trying to get serious about road biking, then you’re going to spend a pretty penny to do so. It all starts with the bike, but since road biking is an intense sport, you’ll probably find yourself soon wanting to invest in all the accessories as well. And because they’re expensive, these bikes can be thief bait when you’re locking them up.

Who They’re Best For:

People who want to travel longer distances and might be interested in sport riding. Also, if you like spandex, you’re in luck…

Folding Bikes

These have become all the rage in recent years, particularly for urban bicyclists who are mostly interested in just getting from A to B quicker than on foot, or who rely on buses or trains for part of their commute. Their main benefit, as the name suggests, is a clever design that allows them to fold into a compact, storable (and portable) cube. For those of us living in a proverbial sardine can apartment, folding bikes can be a godsend for the spatially deprived.

Pros:

Mobility, storage, and security.

Cons:

They’re pretty single-use, as they lack the stability needed for something like off-road jaunting or road biking. Plus, while their folding design makes it easier to store them at home or work, they’re still pretty clunky.

Who They’re Best For:

People who have storage problems in their apartment or live on the top floor of a walkup. Public transportation users who want last-mile connectivityor anyone who really, really, really hates walking around in cities. 

City Bikes

These aren’t a type of bike as much as a biking option for the everyday urbanite. We happen to think city bikes are one of the great urban innovations of the modern world, as they’ve helped usher in a new age and mode of public transportation. If you’re visiting from out of town, city bikes are an amazing way to get a unique tour of the city. If you’re a local, they’re  a quick way to not be late for the 9am meeting you almost slept through. Plus, since you’re essentially just renting a bike, they can be extremely cost-effective for the less bike committed.

Pros:

You can’t beat the price and convenience of renting a B-cycle bike for the afternoon ($9 for the first 30 minutes, and $5 for every additional half hour after that). Plus, since these bikes are utilitarian (read: sturdy), they’re made for people of all shapes and sizes.

Cons:

Most people don’t approach a city bike with helmet in hand, so they aren’t quite as safe as owning a two-wheeler and being fully prepared for the random and sudden open car door as you whiz past. And bikes can be a very personal item that people love to customize, which is obviously a no go for these. 

Who They’re Best For:

Tourists and people who are noncommittal about the prospect of owning and riding a bike very often.

Mountain Bikes

As the name suggests, one would assume that mountain bikes are quite popular in Colorado—and rightfully so. The mountain bike is in some ways the yin to the road bike’s yang. Where road bikes have thin tires designed for consistent speed and efficient distance, mountain bikes have wide wheels designed to tackle virtually un-walkable terrain. In cities they can sometimes seem impractical—their knobby tires and spring-loaded forks and frames make them considerably slower than road bikes on urban streets--but if your budget dictates a work-and-play option all in one, a mountain bike may be the right move.

Pros:

They accommodate urban transport and outdoor activities. Can handle virtually any terrain and provide an “extreme” element, if you want that sort of thing.

Cons:

Like road bikes, mountain bikes can get insanely expensive very quickly. Also, they’re typically pretty heavy.

Who They’re Best For:

People who want to take their urban biking into the outdoors, as well as those who are trying to turn biking from a weekly activity into an actual lifestyle.

Fixies/Single Speed Bikes

A lot of people think fixed-gear bikes and their more conservative, single-speed cousin are the quintessential hipster calling cards—and they are—but they also happen to be an extremely practical city bike option. They’re typically a lot cheaper than road bikes, lighter than cruisers and mountain bikes, and simpler to maintain while still exuding the “cool” factor. Riding a fixie can initially take some getting used to, as you don’t have the free-wheel advantage of single-speed bikes. But all it takes is a little riding around Denver, and before you know it, you’ll be able to talk about Krautrock’s influence on LCD Soundsystem in no time!  

Pros:

Cool factor. Simplicity. Weight. Price. Customization.

Cons:

Fixed-gear bikes in particular take a lot of muscle to get up hills, if you’re able to do that at all. And braking takes some getting used to.

Who They’re Best For:

Bike messengers. And people who have serious opinions about record stores, veggie burgers, and artisanal coffee.

Cruisers

We’re landlocked here in Denver, so we can’t exactly take advantage of the beach-heavy surf lifestyle that popularized cruisers. Still, there are plenty of reasons to ride one. A cruiser is undeniably the most comfortable of the bike family, since a leisurely ride is ultimately what they were designed for in the first place. But the other main perk of a good cruiser is a nice basket (or rack) that accommodates a fair amount of groceries, gear, or whatever else you may want to take with you. 

Pros:

Extreme comfort. Storage capacity. Massive wheels for minimal poor road interruption.

Cons:

Because of how smooth and comfortable they typically are, cruisers can also be insanely heavy.

Who They’re Best For:

People who have first floor apartments, want to grocery shop without taking a car, and/or have adorable but disciplined little dogs who can ride in the little front basket.

Two-Story Custom Bike

Look, we get the idea of a custom bike. We understand that it’s cool to create something from scratch, and yes, welding seems pretty fun, but the two-story bikes you see from time to time are absolutely outrageous. In the bike world, they seem like the equivalent of cars with deafeningly loud exhaust pipes. They probably serve some sort of personal performance or existential purpose, but are so annoying and disruptive to the public that you just kind of seem inconsiderate by having one.

Pros:

None

Cons:

All of them.

Who They’re Best For:

People who like unicyclist-level attention and/or have an irrational wish to ride a bike while going eye to eye with semi drivers.