Best Bikes for College Students of 2018 & Buying Guide
College students have some of the most unique travel needs of any group, largely because no two college campuses—and no two students—are exactly alike. There are small, intimate campuses where your dorm is less than a minute’s walk from any classroom; huge, sprawling campuses that make you feel like you’re navigating a small city; and campuses that are actual cities all on their own. And there are students who need localized transportation, long-distance transportation, or a mixture of both on a regular basis.
Which bike is best for a college student, though? This depends on a few factors and, ultimately, your personal likes and needs. Our buyer’s guide can clear up some common concerns from students when it comes to purchasing a bike, and will also feature a few of our top picks for cycling around campus.
Should I get a bike, even if I have a car?
Unless you have a very long commute to class every day (if you live at home and attend community college, for example), it’s worth considering a bike over a vehicle. Of course, you don’t have to give up your four-wheeled beauty just because you have a bike; the benefits of cycling can still be numerous, just by swapping it out for your car a few days a week.
A 2015 study estimated the annual operating cost of a car to be $8,000—compared to only $300 for a bike. It costs about sixty cents to drive one mile in a car, but only ten cents or less to ride your bike.
Only you know your personal preference, fitness level, and the layout of your campus, so only you can decide if a bike would be suitable to your needs. Some campuses are truly better for cars, and some are best with a bike.
What kind of bike is best for campus use?
Some students use mountain or BMX bikes on campus, either because that’s what they happen to own already, or because they plan on hopping curbs or cutting across grassy areas.
Others like the fast pace of a road bike, since it’s designed for speed, or commuter bikes that are lightweight; some even fold up, for easy storage in dorms.
Beach cruisers are incredibly popular too, since they’re designed for casual riding and comfort, a must for some students. Hybrids also get their share of the spotlight, since these models are comfortable but fast.
No matter what you choose, there are some features you should consider getting:
- Lights, if you plan to ride during the night or early morning.
- Multiple gears, if your daily commute involves a lot of steep streets.
- Rear carrier rack and/or front basket, if you need to carry heavy books, groceries, etc.
- Proper fit. This isn’t a feature—it’s an absolute must. However fancy your bike, or how many great additions it’s got, it won’t perform well (or safely) if it doesn’t fit you properly. You can determine the right size bike by measuring your height and inseam. When mounting, you should be able to lift your leg over the bike easily; when standing over the bike, you should have an inch or two of clearance between your crotch and the bike seat, and be able to balance effectively.
Some important add-ons to include in your purchase: a great helmet, an air pump, and a very secure lock system to protect your bike from theft.
Are used bikes okay for college students?
Yes, but only if you can be sure of the quality. Used bikes are a good option for students who can’t afford anything but the bare minimum, or who get their bikes stolen frequently and don’t want to invest a great deal in it.
Before you buy a used bike, look for dents, scratches, rust or cracks (depending on the material), or signs of poor welding at the joints. Test the brakes both while riding, and by squeezing the calipers on the tires with your fingers (in the case of linear-pull brakes); they should spring back immediately.
Try changing gears and gauging how smooth the shifts are, or if you get stuck between gears. Check its alignment with a quick, hands-free ride; if it’s not up to snuff, the bike will wobble.
There are benefits to buying a new bike, however, which students should seriously consider. If you aren’t familiar with bicycle mechanics, can’t or don’t want to perform more frequent maintenance, and don’t have the means to replace parts as they age, a new bike might be the best option.
Look for models with generous warranties (oftentimes, the frames are covered for the life of the bike, and the other parts are covered for a year in the event of defects).
I can’t afford much; can I still get a good bike?
Absolutely. Good bikes do have a threshold (you probably aren’t going to find one worth riding under $100), and the old saying “You get what you pay for” is pretty true when it comes to bikes. The more you spend, the better the bike’s construction and materials (usually), which means it will last longer and perform better.
Quality bikes can be found for $150 and up, with $300 or so being where price differences (in terms of quality) become evident.
If you don’t require the latest and greatest features, consider an outdated model. Manufacturers and distributors will often apply deep discounts to their older models to make way for their new ones, which means you can get an “old new” bike—one released a few years ago, but never opened or used—for much less money than when it came out.
My dorm or apartment doesn’t have bike racks/does but the area is shady, and I’m fearful of theft. What are my options?
If there are bike racks near your residence and classrooms, use them. Lock your bike with a strong, high-quality lock—it’s not worth skimping on. You can also buy a bike with a quick-release wheel, so you can take the wheel inside with you and deter thieves.
If possible, lock your bike in a rack/area with other bikes; there’ll be more “eyes” watching, i.e., other students going to/from the bike rack, which will make it harder for someone to steal them.
If you have gear bags, water bottles, baskets, etc., take these inside with you if they aren’t secured firmly to the frame.
Besides locking your bike to something, you should consider locking your front or rear wheel (or both) so that a thief can’t ride off with the bike even if they detach it from the rack. U-locks are perfect for this, because they’re easy to engage and hard to get off.
Take photos of your bike when you buy it, and write down the serial number. Keep its warranty card and all other paperwork in a safe place. In the event of theft, you can use this information to help track it down if the thief attempts to sell it.
Apart from locking your bike, you can also bring it inside. Some campuses offer indoor bike storage for a small fee (or for no fee at all). You can also bring it into your dorm or apartment, as long as your roommates don’t mind. Consider investing in a wall rack to store your bike on your side of the room, or somewhere else that’s out of the way.
Some students get cheap bikes that won’t be a terrible loss if they get stolen, and that thieves are less likely to steal in the first place. If your campus has a serious problem with bike theft, you might want to avoid flashy and brightly-colored bikes, or expensive models with a lot of features. These elements are fun, but also serve as a beacon to criminals.
Finally, you can get a foldable bike. These models fold up to half their full size or less, making it easy to carry the entire bike indoors with you.
Best Bikes for College Students Reviews
1. Firmstrong Urban Lady Beach Cruiser Review
With adorable vintage style and an affordable price, this cruiser from Firmstrong will be a campus icon that’s sure to turn heads. It’s single-speed with an upright riding position and swept-back handlebars, so while it’s not ideal for speed, it’s perfect for all-day comfort—no matter how far it is between classes.
The Urban Lady Beach Cruiser is adorable and functional, and an ideal choice for students looking to comfortably cruise around campus. Its price is fair, and the durable steel frame—though it makes it nearly impossible to carry this bike in and out of buildings every day—will hold up well through all four years of school, and many more.
2. Critical Cycles Fixed-Gear and Single-Speed Urban Road Bike Review
Students who need a fast ride will do well to consider this road bike, which is designed with a “flip-flop” hub to alternate between a fixed-gear mechanism (where the rider must pedal to move; no coasting) and a traditional single-speed. As a bonus, it comes with all the tools needed for assembly and maintenance.
Whether you plan on riding the fixed-gear or freewheeling (or a combination of both), this model from Critical Cycles can deliver. It’s built for speed and a smooth ride, perfect for fast-paced campus life, or colleges in urban areas.
3. Best Choice Products Shimano 6-Speed Folding Bike Review
This light, foldable bike is ideal for students who need to carry their bike into their dorm, apartment, or academic buildings. It’s discreet enough for public transit, too, and can easily slip into a car trunk or closet. At just over $100, it’s affordable with almost any budget.
Convenient, adjustable, and affordable: there’s little not to love about this bike. We recommend it to students fearful of theft, and/or whose campus doesn’t have bike racks around their buildings.
4. Schwinn Men’s Wayfarer Hybrid Review
With the handlebars of a mountain bike, more upright sitting position of a cruiser or city bike, a rear carrier rack, and 7 speeds, this hybrid from Schwinn can give you the best of several worlds—and all at a fair price.
This hybrid from Schwinn is too large for most women, but can make a great unisex model if riders like the feel. Whether your campus is small and quiet, or huge and bustling, a hybrid can suit your traveling needs with both comfort and speed.
Bottom line: there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to students and getting around. Generally speaking, though, a bike can be a one-size-fits-most solution.
Bikes are economical, fun, and useful. One university’s study found that 47% of its students biked to or around campus, and most colleges also have professors who bike to work. Clearly, this trend shows no signs of slowing down.
We hope our buyer’s guide has served as an informative starting point in your search for the best bike to get to and around your college campus.