Best Commuter Bike Under $500 (Year 2018)
City living has plenty of benefits: no shortage of entertainment, quality restaurants, and a faster-paced lifestyle that appeals to many professionals of any age. Another perk? You don’t have to be a slave to your car—in fact, in some cities, owning and operating a car just isn’t worth it.
While some city dwellers prefer walking and public transport to get around, many incorporate bicycles into their daily travel. Commuter bicycles fill the unique needs of city inhabitants, with features like lighter frame designs and carrier racks. Our buyer’s guide will answer some common questions from shoppers in the market for a quality—yet affordable—commuter bike, and will also feature four of our favorite picks to make your daily grind a lot less grinding.
Stowabike MTB V2, 26
What are commuter bikes? Do I need one?
Commuter bikes are hybrid designs made especially for daily travel. Some have features like padded seats and angled handlebars, to make long trips more comfortable; others are built very light to optimize speed for short trips.
Usually, commuter bikes have baskets or carrier racks, so riders can transport items like backpacks, groceries, and more.
Many feature chain guards, so you don’t have to worry about your pants or dress hems getting caught. Additionally, a lot of models have front and/or rear lights, to increase safety.
If you find yourself tired of walking or catching the bus, spending a fortune on taxis, or can’t stand the thought of one more minute in rush-hour gridlock—yes, a commuter bike is for you. It offers the exercise benefits of walking (but at much quicker speeds), makes it easier to navigate heavy traffic, and can save thousands per year in fuel and car maintenance costs.
Can’t I just use any old bike, if my commute is short enough?
Sure, as long as your bike is the proper height and has a design you find comfortable.
Keep in mind, though, that commuter bikes are designed to be lightweight, respond quickly, and keep riders in upright sitting positions—elements that many classes of bikes don’t offer.
What should I look for when browsing commuter bikes?
Several factors come into play when choosing a commuter bike to suit your needs. Consider the following before you start browsing:
- What’s your city like? If you’ll be cruising over flat landscapes with lots of smooth pavement, a basic bike without a lot of speeds (or even a fixed-gear or single-speed) will suit you well, and allow for a lighter bike with less parts and upkeep. If your city has a lot of hills, you might need multiple speeds; rough, uneven roads or patches of dirt and grass might necessitate shock absorbers and thicker tires.
- How long is your commute? The longer your trip, the more comfort features your bike will need—like elevated, angled handlebars so you can sit properly, rather than hunched over, or a padded seat to take pressure off your hips and spine.
- Do you need to carry a lot of stuff with you? If so, your bike should have baskets or carrier racks, or at least places to mount these after purchase.
- Are you able to maintain your bike (or hire a shop to do so for you)? The more parts a bike has, the more upkeep it tends to require. Even simple bikes need some basic maintenance. Make sure you can clean, lubricate, and inflate your bike’s components as needed—or find a nearby bike shop that can provide these services. While it’s a lot less work (and money) than maintaining a car, maintaining a bike is every bit as important.
- Are you in good shape? Be honest with yourself on this one! Not only should you get a bike meant for your skill level, but it should also sport features to accommodate your fitness level and unique health needs. If you have knee problems or find it difficult to pedal uphill, for instance, a bike with multiple speeds can help.
Additionally, buyers should take their budgets into consideration. While you don’t have to drop a fortune to get a quality bicycle, you should spend enough to get all the features you need for a comfortable and useful model.
Do I need special brakes, since I’m riding amongst vehicular traffic/pedestrians?
As long as your brakes are manufactured well, you shouldn’t need a specific kind. The exception to this might be for commuters in rainy or snowy cities where the pavement can get very slick: disc brakes are better for compromised surfaces.
Overall, though, the kind of brakes you get are a matter of preference. Test your bike at varying speeds, with both sudden and gradual stops, to give yourself a good feel for that type of brake. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to stop, consider a different bike or upgrading the braking system.
Best Commuter Bike Under $500 Reviews
1. Harper Single-Speed Fixed Gear Urban Commuter Bike from Critical Cycles Review
Based out of Los Angeles, Critical Cycles has a decently large following of fans—from experienced cyclists and athletes, to first-time bike buyers and hobbyists.
All research and development is done in the same location as manufacturing, so customers are getting quality materials, progressive designs, and sturdy construction, all from the same company.
Rider looking for a made-in-the-USA brand with handcrafted quality and attention to detail should consider Critical Cycles—and any riders who like the idea of single-speed and fixed-gear options in the same bike should take a good look at the Harper Urban Commuter. With a range of sizes and styles, the option to freewheel/coast, and a price that will work with almost any budget, this model is set to be a real crowd pleaser.
2. Beaumont 7-Speed Lady’s Urban City Commuter Bike from Critical Cycles Review
With the aesthetic of a cruiser and the performance of a city hybrid, the Beaumont Urban City Commuter from Critical Cycles offers both form and function.
It’s designed for women, with a curved top bar and saddle-style seat—but doesn’t sacrifice some top riding features, like extra-grip tires and seven speeds.
There’s little if nothing to dislike about the Beaumont Urban City Commuter. While even the largest size might be too short for very tall riders, it should suit short and average-height women well. Additionally, Critical Cycles boasts responsive and friendly customer service, so riders nervous about “buying before trying” can ease their worries.
3. Stowabike MTB V2, 26” Review
Riders with small cars or cramped homes: meet the Stowabike, a foldable model that decreases to half its size for easy storage and travel. Technically classified as a mountain bike, this also has full suspension—which makes it attractive to commuters who might do a little off-roading en route to the office, such as across parks or quads.
While it’s not listed as a hybrid, the Stowabike does seem to fit in this category. In short, it’s not the best commuter bike, nor the best mountain bike—but it offers enough benefits of both to satisfy commuters who need their daily bike and weekend bike to be one in the same. Its folding frame allows for greater versatility in terms of transport and storage, and its shock absorption makes for a smoother ride—whether you’re tearing up trails or navigating a concrete jungle.
4. Mars Hybrid City Commuter Bike by Retrospec Review
This model is an excellent choice for riders seeking a unisex design with old-school appeal—and options to customize performance to their needs. Not only is the Mars Hybrid available in multiple sizes, but it also comes in single-, three- and seven-speed variations.
This is another model we can’t find much wrong with, and we think it’ll be a favorite with most shoppers. The ability to choose your size and speeds gives this a very broad appeal, and the updated vintage design will catch plenty of eyes.
Commuter bikes are designed with city dwellers in mind—but those with suburban roots and urban professions will enjoy them, too. Look for a bike built for comfort and precision, and make sure it has the features you need—a basket or carrier rack might sound like an unnecessary add-on, but you won’t think so when you’re struggling down the street with a backpack full of groceries!
We hope our buyer’s guide has been helpful to shoppers looking for high-quality, affordable commuter bikes. No single bike is right for everyone, and the search for “the perfect bike for you” can be overwhelming. In the end, there’s only one way to truly test it out: by hopping on and taking it for a spin.