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Road vs. Commuter

April 27, 2010

So you’re thinking of a bike to get around town on.  You’ve seen folks riding all sorts of bikes, talked with friends who ride and gotten their various opinions and now your head is spinning with the possibilities.  Let Bicycle Sport Shop help clear up some of the confusion about getting around town. The two main candidates for pedaling the pavement are commuter bikes (sometimes referred to as hybrid or city bikes) and traditional road bikes.

Get Acquainted With the Commuter

The commuter bike is about utility—and until recently—function over form.  Commuter bikes are all about getting from point “A” to point “B” and typically place a premium on rider comfort and more day-to-day ergonomics.  Commuter bikes typically feature saddles that are wider, grips that offer more wrist support, and a rider position that puts the commuter in a more upright stance, making it easier to see the road.

Some commuter bikes have basic suspension systems, typically on the front forks, as their primary mission is riding on smooth pavement.  What nearly every commuter bike does have is a wider, heavier tire, which translates into a more stable, comfortable ride.  Heavy tires generally mean tougher tires, ideal for the daily commute on which you can’t afford to be slowed down by flats—particularly when trying to get to work or school on time!

Many commuter bikes come equipped with features to make commuting by bike easier and more practical.  Good examples are generator-powered lights, fenders, and racks such as on the Specialized Globe, front baskets with stabilization springs like on the Gary Fisher Simple City, and even clean belt-drive systems with internal gears as featured on the Trek Soho, all of which make commuting a snap. For those looking for a little extra push, products like Trek’s electric assist make commuting by bike effortless and fun–and a lot less sweaty on a hot, humid Austin afternoon!

For folks who have what many call a “hybrid” bike (essentially a road bike with a flat handlebar akin to a mountain bike and slightly wider tires than a traditional road bike), these bikes often feature frame fixtures that make mounting fenders and a racks for pannier bags a piece of cake. Basic, but easy to transform into a tricked-out commuter!

While past iterations of the commuter bike seemed clumsy or overbuilt, many manufactures have looked to Europe, where bike transportation is a way of life, for design inspiration.  Bikes like the Globe, the Soho, the Electra Amsterdam, and the Simple City speak not only to the utilitarian nature of the commuter bike, but also to many folks’ sense of style and elegance.  There is no need to put on special shoes or tight black shorts to make your way around town in style and comfort on a bicycle.  After all, it’s not just about how fast you get there but how you look and feel doing it.

Get to Know the Road

Why would someone want to commute or get around town on a road bike?  Most folks only have one bike, but some  commutes are 10, 15, 20 or more miles each way to work!  When covering those distances twice a day, the efficiency gains of a road bike are key!

Traditional road bikes, sometimes referred to as “10 speeds,” place a premium on efficiency and speed.  Everything about the road bike is focused on speed, from their construction to the rider’s position.

Road bikes do not have any sort of suspension, instead maintaining a rigid frame and fork.  The benefits of rigid frames and forks are that they save weight compared to suspension systems, making the bike more nimble and easier to ride up hill. And rigid frames and forks offer greater efficiency as the rider’s weight and torque on top of the bike while ridding is not activating a suspension and instead that energy is converted to easier forward motion.

Road bikes also traditionally have 700C wheels, larger or taller wheels that provide more “roll out” than a smaller wheel, like one found on a traditional 26” mountain bike.  The larger the wheel, the further one revolution of that wheel takes you down the road!  Combine that with narrower tires that have little tread (but still plenty of cornering grip because of the compounds used) and you get a wheel that offers lower rolling resistance, again speeding up the ride and giving the bike a livelier, snappier feel.

Rent this Bike

While nearly every road bike is lighter than a mountain bike or a hybrid/city bike, higher end road bikes can be extremely light, some tipping the scales at a mere 14 pounds like the Serotta HSG!

The reason someone would want a lightweight road bike is primarily for climbing hills, but also for quick acceleration.  Many of the lightest road bikes on the market today are used for racing where both climbing and acceleration are key.  And the biggest gains here are to be found in reducing rotating weight, again going back to the thin tires with little tread.  The lighter the wheel the easier it is to push up hill and get down the road!

But the bike is only part of the equation.  The rider also plays a role in the efficiency/speed focus of the road bike.  The road bike rider’s traditional position is one that is fairly aggressive.

The handlebars are positioned down in front for aerodynamic gains, but also this position helps the rider recruit bigger, stronger muscles to push the bike—and rider—even faster. There are some bikes out, like the Specialized Roubaix or Cervelo RS that bring the front end of the bike up, but only a bit, relaxing the rider’s position some to offer greater comfort on longer rides.  But at the end of the day, even those road bikes are focused on performance and efficiency.

Stop in any Bicycle Sport Shop location and see whether a road bike or a commuter bike, or maybe some other bike, is right for your trips around town!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2013 7:19 am

    Awesome post.

  2. February 18, 2014 5:01 pm

    A true race performance road bike probably isn’t the best option for commuting, unless you are training, want to get to work really fast, or just enjoy riding your road bike. Something a little less aggressive for everyday use is probably better. Checkout my outline of the pros and cons of road bikes vs mountain bikes for commuting.

  3. December 10, 2015 5:14 pm

    There’s another reason people don’t used bikes to get to work – it’s insanely dangerous especially in a crowded urban environment.

  4. Selvam permalink
    December 27, 2016 6:35 am

    great write up. Please check the beginning of the last paragraph- begins mid sentence.

    • Bicycle Sport Shop permalink
      December 27, 2016 9:56 pm

      Thank you for catching our oops!

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