Which Bike for Commuting?

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Inexpensive 3-speed bike for commute/get around town

Sept 2013

I'd like to find a light-weight, upright, 3 speed bike that I can use around town to go distances and at times pull my son in an attached trailer. It doesn't have to be fancy, but I would love for it to be a smooth, relatively easy to pedal/fast - and not too expensive! Any ideas? Many thanks, want to bike more as primary transportation

I am the director of Waterside Workshops at Berkeley Aquatic Park. Each weekend, we open to the public and sell bikes that are fixed up in our programs as a fundraiser to support our free services for low- income youth. We often have bikes that fit your description, and our average price is about $250. We are open for sales Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 12-6. However, this is our busy season with CAL students coming back into town, so it is best to come in on Fridays at 12 to get the best selection. We are located at 84 Bolivar Drive in Berkeley. We are a nonprofit organization and all proceeds support our free programs for local low-income youth. For more information, check out our website www.watersideworkshops.org or call our office 510-644-2577. Amber Rich watersideworkshops [at] gmail.com

I recently bought a bike at Waterside Workshops. It was a very good experience. My brother, who has owned a bike store for ~30 years, was also impressed. - BPN Moderator


Best folding bicycle for commuting up to 10 miles

Oct 2012

I need to be able to carry bikes for at least 3-4 of us and have not found a way to do so on my car. What is the best folding bicycle for around city and some day trips riding? We are not intending to use them for touring or mountain biking, but would like to take them in the car, on busses/ BART then to ride around for a day. Many thanks. Longing for a portable bicycle

My fiancee and I own a pair of Dahon Speed 7 folding bikes that we bought at Missing Link in Berkeley. They are not at all fancy and retailed for around $500 each when we bought them over two years ago, so the price has most likely risen a bit since then. I originally bought them to take to the East Coast with us (they can be stuffed into a suitcase with some disassembly and elbow grease) to explore Cape Cod and the Maine coast. What I did not expect was how useful I find them at home, despite owning full-size bikes. They can go on BART at any time of the day, as well as any AMTRAK train, and of course they are MUCH easier to transport by car. We can fit both into the trunk of our Honda Civic without too much trouble (I take the seats out but they are quick-release so this is not a problem).

If cost is no object and you want the absolute best fold of any bike on the market, Bromptons fold the smallest and the quickest. They use slightly smaller wheels than the Dahon and cost from $1500 to $2500 each depending on options, but the folding mechanism is absolutely ingenious. I have heard that spare parts can be hard to come by, because they are made in England and use all proprietary parts: brakes, shifters, etc., that are not compatible with standard bike parts.

If you believe in buying American, Bike Friday makes very nice folding bikes and are located in Oregon. Their bikes use as many standard parts as possible, but to me the fold is not much better than a Dahon but the price is closer to Brompton. They seem best suited for long tours where one wants a folding bike to get to the starting point. I hope this helps. Daniel

We recently moved to Oakland and my husband commutes to work in San Mateo via BART and bicycle. He did a lot of research on the best folding bike to accommodate a roughly 15 mile commute round trip. He found a Montague on Craigslist for $400 (I think they are twice that new). It is pricier than the Dahon and Girl Fridays, but sooooo much more comfortable, as it is a full-size bike that pivots and folds in the middle. He loves riding it and is very happy that he spent a little extra to get it. Good luck! anon

Commuter bike for commute from Berkeley to Oakland

April 2010

Although I exercise regularly & do an indoor spin class, I missed out on cycling. My last attempt, several years ago, resulted in a crash. Although the physical injuries healed, the fear & anxiety lingers. However, I want to get over that & get back on a bike. My job is 5-6 miles away & it's a flat trip so I want to get a town/commuter bike with very few gears, since they only intimidate me & won't be needed. If I get to the point where I'm riding so much I need to upgrade, that would be great indeed. So, looking for suggestions on bikes & resources to get me to work on my own 2 wheeled power from W Berkeley into downtown Oakland. cycling commuter wanabe

To ease back into commuting by bicycle, check out the East Bay Bike Coalition's classes. http://www.ebbc.org/?q=safety They are great: lots of info, designed for adults, great instructors. There's 2 sessions, one classroom, one on the street. I went last year and there were all sorts of bikers from re-entry to the very experienced. Focused on urban biking and the issues you'd encounter in commuting. Highly recommended--and free! Susan

Tips for Bike commuting within the east bay: 1) Bikelink bike storage at Frank Ogawa Plaza -- much easier and more secure than lugging along a 2 lb U lock. 2) There are bike racks on AC transit -- nice backup plan on days that you don't feel like riding home. 3) Many parking garages have bike racks near the attendant. 4) Racks and paniers are easier than backpacks/messenger bags. Fellow bike commuter

Beginner's bike for commuting from Albany to UC Berkeley

July 2002

I have never bicycled much before, but I have decided to attempt to bike to work (from Albany to UC.) Can anyone recommend a good beginner's woman's bike that can take hills and doesn't cost an arm and a leg? I only saw kids bikes on the past recommendations. I don't need anything fancy- and let's hope I enjoy bicycling enough to do this!
hopeful two wheels

Hi! I have been commuting from Albany to UC/Berkeley for a couple of years on my trusty three-speed Schwinn. Depending on where you live in Albany, it is not really necessary to take on serious hills during your commute. I live over by Memorial Park, but I bike back to the bike trail under the BART tracks and follow them down to the North Berkeley BART station, then bike to campus on Hearst, taking a right on Oxford. Of course, campus gets really hilly too in some places -- I work in Dwinelle, so I don't have to handle the steep campus hills. The ride up Hearst is a steady gentle incline and you can get your heart-rate up a bit there, but even with my old Schwinn clunker it doesn't pose much of a problem. If you have to deal with steeper hills from your part of Albany or on campus, you would probably want to go for a lighter bike with more gears. But for the ride I describe, most any bike will do. It takes me about twenty-five minutes to ride in and twenty to ride back -- there's no searching for a parking space, however, and the bike takes you door to door! I highly recommend it (for the exercise as well). Happy biking! Linda

I've been commuting for the past several years by bike (and I'm no athlete by any stretch). I started out with a big, clunky, mountain bike, that eventually was stolen. I replaced it with a MUCH nicer bike, called a ''road'' bike, I believe. It's a Marin brand, and it has thinner wheels, it's extremely light, and it's built like a ''girls'' bike, that is, you can wear a dress or skirt because it doesn't have the bar straight across--does that make sense?

Anyhow, I found that the mountain bike was much too heavy and too much work to ride on the streets. A lighter bike was more practical for me, especially if you end up carrying it up stairs. I also recommend buying a basket, if you have a purse, lunch, whatever to take with you everyday. It does take awhile to get fully equipped (for weather, storage, etc.) so that you don't have to sacrifice things b/c you're not in a car. Also, I highly recommend you go to Missing Link on University (at Shattuck), if not only for advice. They're knowledgable and honest and they have a good selection. A good bike isn't cheap (I think I paid $350 for my newer one) but neither is parking on campus!

Good luck. It's fun and practical. I'm 5 months pregnant right now, so no bike for me these days, but I sure do miss it! Nina

Good for you!!!! I would recommend going to Velo Sport or Missing Link in Berkeley and looking at city bikes/commuter bikes...no mountain bikes, fat tires, etc. Tell the sales people your budget and needs and test ride a bunch of bikes. I like VeloSport alot and have always felt thaa they listened to me when I went in. I would get upright bars and some packs for your ''stuff.'' Good luck. Amanda

I admit to a bias, having worked at the Missing Link, but here goes... I strongly recommend getting a Marin Larkspur for your commute. The Larkspur is really light for the price ($360 ) and the Link includes a year's tune-ups and adjustments. For someone who's never ridden before, the free service is really important because your bike needs to be set up right and reliable or you'll give up on commuting. Whatever you decide to get, learn how to change a flat tire and carry your equipment. Feel free to contact me for more information. Good luck! Sienna

Here a few general recommendations based on the long-ago days when I worked in a bike shop:

You'll probably find a mountain bike or hybrid bike most comfortable. Hybrids are better suited for riding on pavement but seem to have a bit of an image problem compared to mountain bikes. (Think minivans compared to SUVs). If you like the very upright position of a cruiser (picture a '40s paperboy bike), some cruisers have 7 speeds. Some brands may be be more comfortable than others depending on your build and flexibility. Take several bikes for 10-minute test rides so you have a basis for comparison. This is really important: a bike that's comfortable for somebody else may not be for you.

Commuter bikes start at around $300, although this time of year you can usually find significant markdowns. ''300 bucks!?!'' you say, ''but they're only $120 at Target! Geez, didn't she read my post? I specifically said I didn't want to pay an arm and a leg!'' Here's why I'm recommending that you go one step up from the most basic bikes.

''Department-store'' brands may cost less up front, but there is a real difference in quality. They're generally heavier (which you'll feel going uphill) and transmit more road vibrations (i.e., rattle your fillings loose on the potholed streets around here). Mostly, though, they're harder to fix when things get out of adjustment. This may mean having to live with gears that won't shift smoothly (again, a real pain going uphill) and brakes that squeal annoyingly or don't stop you very well. These are easy to take care of on bike-shop-brand bikes, and most shops provide free adjustments (for a certain period of time) for the bikes they sell.

Also, if you're buying a bike at a shop, you're not stuck with a package deal. Let's say you've found a great deal on a bike, but you're leaning just a little too far forward. You usually have the option of having them install a different handlebar or stem (the part that connects the handlebar to the bike) to make the setup more comfortable. If the seat is making you unhappy, you can usually trade it in for a different one as well. (FWIW, all the gel or cutouts in the world won't make a seat comfortable if your weight is on -- ahem -- sensitive tissue; look for a seat that's wide and flat enough that your weight is on your sit bones.) The charge for these things varies.

All of the brands carried by bike shops (Trek, Specialized, GT, Bianchi, etc.) are pretty much equal in quality, so base your choice on comfort, quality of service at the shop, and whatever's on sale.

You mention that you're not sure you'll like cycling enough to make it all worthwhile. The Missing Link used to rent bikes by the week or month, and I believe that a percentage of the rental fee can be applied towards purchase. Call them to get more current information.

Last, 2 more tips specific to buying a bike in Berkeley. 1) Sale prices will keep getting better as the summer goes on, but don't wait until the middle of August or you'll be in competition with hordes of Cal students. Bike shops are mobbed around the start of the semester, and salespeople just won't have as much time to spend with you. 2) Berkeley has one of the highest bike theft rates in the nation. Unless you only store your bike in your office, budget for a good U-lock and have the shop personnel show you how to use it.

Sorry for the information overload.
Happy riding,