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BUYER'S GUIDE

7 of the best urban commuter bikes

Our pick of the bikes that are designed especially for the ride to work

You can commute to and from work on any bike you like but here are some bikes that will make the trip a whole lot easier and more comfortable because they're designed especially for the job.

7 of the best urban commuter bikes for 2020

Nearly all urban commuter bikes are made from aluminium alloy which can be made into frames that are strong and relatively light. Most are equipped with rigid forks although you'll occasionally see front suspension as an option.

Suspension softens the ride for a little extra comfort and control but it's by no means essential and bear in mind that it always adds weight (not that weight is by any means the most important factor when choosing a bike for commuting).

Ride position

We all want to get where we're going quickly but an urban commuter bike isn't designed for all-out speed in the same way that a race bike is so there's no need for a low and stretched body position. Instead, an urban commuter bike is more about control and comfort, so the frame is shorter and the front end is higher so you'll sit more upright in the saddle, giving you a good view of the traffic around you and the road ahead.

Flat handlebar

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Each of the bikes shown here has a flat handlebar, as opposed to a dropped bar like you'll find on a race bike. Again, this helps give you a more upright body position. Flat handlebars are usually wider than dropped bars too, making steering a little easier, and the brake levers and gear shifters are always within reach. Most people find it a little easier to control the bike in traffic with a setup like this.

Rack

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You might be perfectly happy riding to and from work with everything you need for the day in a pack on your back – plenty of people do that. For heavier loads, though, you might want to consider a rack and panniers on the back of your bike. Two of the bikes here come with a rack already fitted. If you want to add a rack yourself there are ways to fit one to pretty much any bike, but a frame that's equipped with rack eyelets makes life easier, so check whether they're there before you make your choice.

Mudguards

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Two of the bikes here have ready-fitted mudguards but most don't, so mudguard eyelets are another consideration.

Lots of people do without mudguards but they will keep you and the bike drier when riding on wet roads. That's especially important if you're going to be riding in your everyday clothing rather than changing once you get to work.

Brakes

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Most of the bikes shown here feature disc brakes. We've not chosen them for that reason – there are plenty of good rim brake bikes out there – but this is a reflection of the way the market has been heading lately.

One of the big advantages of disc brakes is that they're less affected than rim brakes by wet conditions. This can be useful on a bike that you have to ride at a particular time of day regardless of the weather.

Cycle To Work Scheme

The Cycle to Work Scheme, which is arranged through an employer, allows you to save at least 25 percent of the cost of a new bike by paying for it from your pre-tax income. You pay through salary sacrifice, generally over 12 months, and you save on income tax and National Insurance on the payments. You can also include accessories – a helmet, lock, lights, and so on.

We've reviewed each of the bikes shown here. There's a link to the original review at the bottom of each write-up along with a link that'll help you find a local dealer. Clicking on the bike name will take you directly to an online retailer.

Eight great urban bikes

Dawes Discovery 201 2020 — £369.99

Dawes Discovery 201.jpg

Don't judge a bike by its marketplace – this might be an affordable hybrid from family cycling expert Dawes, but the Discovery 201 combines a lively compact aluminium frame with excellent 1x Shimano drivetrain to create a bike that will inspire a smile on your commute or weekend potter.

Even in wet weather and headwinds, this is a fun and 'enthusiastic' bike to pedal. Power transfer isn't compromised and while overall weight at 12.5kg is good enough at this point in the market, the Disco actually rides as sprightly as a lighter hybrid. Acceleration from a standstill is easy and there's a definite satisfaction to be had as you spin up to higher speeds.

Steering and control match this positive power delivery, and although the Discovery 201 is certainly happy at a cruise, it's probably most fun when being put through more active tests. The direct front end combines well with good overall balance to make handling surefooted, even in wet conditions. Weaving through traffic is no problem.

With such effective dynamic performance, it's tempting to expect comfort to take a hit, but the Discovery 201 fares surprisingly well here, too. Of course, there's only so much a compact alloy frame can do to insulate you from road shocks, but it's easy to settle back into the saddle and assume a more laidback rhythm, even if one eye does have to keep alert for road bumps and potholes.

Read our review of the Dawes Discovery 201
Find a Dawes dealer

Merida Speeder 900 — £1,300

Merida Speeder 900.jpg

The Merida Speeder 900 lives up to its name as a supremely fast and efficient flat-bar road bike. The combination of its smooth and eager ride, impressive Shimano Ultegra spec and excellent Deore hydraulic disc brakes means that it's a whole lot of fun and not short on quality.

Because I spend much of my time testing commuter and flat-bar bikes, I generally hop aboard with flat mountain bike shoes and flat pedals rather than going down the route of clipping in. However, even in this rawest of states, the sheer speed and efficiency lurking within the Speeder 900 is hard to ignore. This is a very fast bike.

But more than just excellent straight-line speed and effective power transfer – so good, in fact, that I managed to rather upset a Lycra-clad roadie on a training ride – the Speeder's frame and fork offer a very enjoyable and involving ride experience. Front-end control at low and high speeds is fantastically accurate, which makes for a fun time in the saddle. It's so well balanced, in fact, that it really does feel like a well-sorted drop-bar road bike.

Once up to speed, cruising and descending can be kept relatively calm, though; the Speeder never seems to overreact. Because you can't get quite as low as on a drop-bar model, coming downhill on any flat-bar bike never seems quite as invigorating, but this is about as good as it gets with that compromise.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was with climbing. Going uphill is not my natural forte and I've discovered that I'm allergic (sweats, difficulty breathing, etc) to anything over about 5%, but the Speeder offers as much fun going uphill as any flat-bar bike I've tested. It's agile and stable enough to be flung around out of the saddle, and every pedal stroke seems to be returned with the expected amount of forward and upward momentum.

Read our review of the Merida Speeder 900
Find a Merida dealer

B’Twin Riverside 920 — £599.99

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Who could imagine a big old lump of a hybrid – with 38mm tyres and a suspension fork and weighing north of 13kg – being any fun to cycle? Anybody riding something like that is in for a slog, right? Thankfully, nobody told those crazy French cats about accepted wisdom because in the B'Twin Riverside 920 they've managed to put together an incredible bike that combines all the practicalities of a hybrid, with a fun and enthusiastic ride and almost unlimited potential.

The first thing that hits you about B'Twin's Riverside 920 is just how reactive it is. For a big and relatively heavy bike, you can get it up to speed without any real effort, and weaving in and around parked cars or street furniture is exciting and direct.

Crucially, even if the Riverside 920 isn't necessarily quicker than other bikes, it at least feels lively and willing. This is a really rewarding bike to ride.

Read our review of the B’Twin Riverside 920

Goldhawk Rodax — £1,400

Goldhawk Rodax.jpg

On paper, a £1,400 handmade Reynolds 520 steel flat-bar bike with a 1x SRAM drivetrain and matching hydraulic brakeset is pretty enticing. In reality, the Goldhawk Rodax is as close as you'll get to the perfect off-the-shelf urban speed machine. With a ride that marries quick control with instant power transfer and – believe it or not – impressive levels of comfort, all it needs is to be set up to your personal preference and then... enjoy.

The Goldhawk Rodax is probably the most exciting and fast flat-bar bike I've tested since the (aluminium) BMC Alpenchallenge first appeared half a decade ago. The two bikes themselves couldn't be more different, but the fact that the (steel) Rodax shares the same eagerness to get up to speed is, in itself, quite an achievement. Factor in a forgiving, smooth and sublime ride, as well as that responsive performance under power, and you have an experience that is almost unbeatable.

Of course, that smoothness is down to one major ingredient: steel. Steel bikes might not be as instantly reactive as aluminium (although this one gets pretty close), or as clever as carbon, but for an all-round bike that you can live with, it's hard to beat. In this case, the insulating quality of the steel frame deals with lumps and bumps very impressively. It handles big hits and potholes particularly well – you can't ignore them but you're not left counting your teeth. Meanwhile, small surface imperfections do rumble their way up the front, which is noticeably stiffer than the rear end, but this could be assuaged with a slight increase in tyre size.

Read our review of the Goldhawk Rodax

Claud Butler Quest 11 — £648.70

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This is a smart looking sports hybrid with a aluminium frame and carbon bladed fork. It rides very well, though it could do with lighter wheels to make it nippier. It's specced with a single chainset and the not-so-common Shimano Metrea rear mech and Ultegra shifter, which provide super-smooth and reliable shifting.

You'll be pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the Quest gets up to speed and how well it rolls along at a comfortable cruising pace. It's tough, strong and swift rather than racy fast, providing the easy ride you want from a hybrid but with more than a spark of excitement bubbling underneath.

The frame is made from 6061 aluminium multi-butted hydroformed tubing and has mounting points for both a mudguard and a rear rack, which will come in handy for commuting. There are dedicated seatstay bosses and eyelets for four-point rack fixing if you need to carry more weight, though the mudguard will have to share the dropout eyelets. You get mudguard eyelets on the fork too.

Riding in traffic, the width of the flat handlebar (68cm) might give you cause for concern, but you can trim it down if that's an issue. A 42T chainring mated to an 11-32T cassette means you don't get the ultra-low gears of some rivals, and that might be a problem if you want to tackle long, steep hills or savage short ones. There are workarounds, but all involve extra money.

The Shimano BRM-315 flat bar brakes feel powerful on long descents and, although at the cheaper end of Shimano's hydraulic disc brake options, they give no cause for concern.

The wheels are strong and dependable side rather than light and responsive while the 32mm Schwalbe Delta Cruiser K-Guard tyres are well known for their bombproof durability and offer a high level of protection from punctures.

The Quest 11 will prove to be a good base bike should you want to upgrade it as you use it, but there's no need to rush out and do that any time soon. Add lights, mudguards and a rack and you'd be sorted for commuting in all weathers – as long as your route isn't too hilly – and still have money left over from £1,000.

Read our review
Find a Claud Butler dealer

Cube Touring Pro — £699.00

2020 Cube Touring Pro

It's called 'Touring', yet it looks like a townie; expect performance somewhere in between and you'll find the Cube Touring Pro is stable, surefooted and has a surprising turn of speed. Probably most important of all, it's very, very comfortable. In fact, with its rear rack, dynamo lights, kickstand, mudguards and chain case, it's a lifestyle bike that's truly easy to live with.

Because of the nature of the Touring Pro's geometry, the front end feels tall, which provides a high riding position that is good for a commanding view of the way ahead and gives you an enhanced road presence. The slight downside is that communication between the wide handlebar and front wheel feels a little long-distance at first, and initially you may find the Touring Pro just a little unresponsive. This calms down with use and actually improves with speed.

And speed isn't out of the question. This may look like a relaxed cruiser but it boasts great balance, so out-of-the-saddle efforts are possible.

The frame is made from double butted aluminium with an SR Suntour NEX suspension fork providing 50mm of travel. In conjunction with the 40mm-wide tyres, the fork certainly does a decent job of keeping the front end untroubled by irregular road surfaces. Rough tarmac is easily smoothed out and this bike can also handle moderate off-road routes, such as parkland paths and gravel tracks.

The Touring Pro features Shimano Altus shifters and Altus/ Acera derailleurs, teamed with a Shimano Tourney triple chainset. Everything works fairly securely, although gear changes can be a little clunky at times. The 48x36x26T triple is combined with a 12-32T 8-speed cassette, meaning you get gears that are low enough to tackle hills, even with some weight attached to the rear rack.

Assuming you use the Touring Pro to its full potential as a daily workhorse and carry a bit of weight all year round, the Tektro M285 hydraulic discs will serve you right, especially in poor weather. They're not perfect, though, and a heavily laden Touring Pro on a damp descent should still be ridden with caution – these Tektros will scrub off speed surely enough, but there's not a lot of outright power.

Overall, this is a fine leisure and commuting bike with a generous spec.

Read our review
Find a Cube dealer

B'Twin Hoprider 900 — £649.99

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The Hoprider 900 isn't a light bike, but if your commute isn't too hilly it rides really well and is excellent value, equipped with just about everything you could need for cycling to and from work.

This is less a 'bike' and more a 'total cycle commuting solution'! It comes fully loaded with features, emerging from the box complete with rear rack, hub dynamo lighting system, frame lock, front suspension fork, kickstand, hydraulic disc brakes, mudguards, 38mm Schwalbe Marathon tyres and even a chainguard to keep your tapered turn-ups oil-free.

At a total weight of nearly 19kg, this is a heavy bike and it feels it when the road starts to rise, but that mass isn't all bad news because the Hoprider 900 is also fantastically stable even at speed and it offers a supremely inspiring base from which to navigate the urban jungle. If you're at all nervous you'll appreciate the stability when checking over your shoulder or signalling.

The Hoprider 900's aluminium frame is quite responsive and turns effort into forward motion with impressive efficiency. Indeed, despite being accessorised to the max, and having a hub dynamo, disc brakes and mudguards (all things that can easily cause irritatingly inefficient rubbing sounds) the Hoprider 900 cruises along silently.

B'Twin has specced some very decent components. The Shimano Alivio/Deore/Altus drivetrain is bombproof and works well, which is good because you'll probably make the most of its 27 available gear ratios. Meanwhile, the Shimano BM-M315 hydraulic discs have enough stopping power to handle a laden Hoprider 900, even when travelling fast.

A Suntour fork offers 63mm of suspension to take the edge off minor potholes or patchy parkland paths. It can also be locked out, if front stiffness is your thing. The voluminous Selle Royal saddle offers loads of cushioning while other road insulation comes via the excellent Schwalbe Marathon tyres with reflective sidewall strips and puncture protection: a perfect piece of speccing on a bicycle of this type.

And let's not forget those other practical extras, either. The rear rack comes with bungees and a clip. The dynamo system puts out 30 Lux of LED light at the front and a constant red LED glow at the back.

The kickstand comes in surprisingly useful, and while the frame lock might not deter committed ne'er-do-wells, at least it's an extra reason why they might choose to nick the bike parked alongside instead.

B'Twin has worked its customary speccing magic with the Hoprider 900, offering a fantastically fulsome trekking/commuter bike package with a fine riding experience at an astounding price. For those who need a bike to carry kit to work on a reasonably flat commute, you won't find anything better. If only B'Twin could also work its magic on the weighing scales, it would be perfect.

Read our review
Find a B'Twin dealer

Explore the complete archive of reviews of urban bikes on road.cc

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Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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