How to choose a long distance commuting bike….

Touring bike locked to rack

….or any bike really!

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I recently became the proud owner of a shiny new touring bike. My main city bike is my 2 speed Brompton which is fine for most of the terrain and distance I cover on a regular basis. However, I sometimes want to cycle further across London and may well encounter hills I would fail to get my self up. I also have the romantic notion that I will start cycle touring in the not too distant future. Touring bikes are generally acknowledged to make excellent commuting bikes as they have racks, mudguards and are tough, so it was with great gusto that I set about trying to find the one bike to rule them all (until I realise I need something else as well).

To pick this bike, I went through a process that is probably familiar to many of you already. I thought it might be helpful to some to outline this process and the kinds of things I considered and my process of elimination and refinement. It is somewhat similar to what was highlighted in the recent post about choosing a £1000 carbon bike.

This isn’t really a post about how to choose a touring bike exactly, it is more about the things to keep in mind when picking a bike for ones specific use, it just happens to have a touring bike as the example. I will not be going in to details about the ins and outs of touring specific features here, as that’s an entire blog post in itself.

The really important things

Firstly, I decided the things that were really important to me. These provided a framework to start narrowing my choices and meant that I didn’t get sidetracked and end up with something I didn’t really want because I got distracted by a colour, or sale, or something. It happens, some bikes are just so damn pretty.

Cost

I set myself a budget. It was not terribly restrictive, I know I will have this bike for years to come so I am willing to invest in it a bit. However, the budget was there and it helped. My husband, a non-bike enthusiast, also appreciated it, although I think he would have preferred that it was lower or this whole thing wasn’t happening at all!

Material

I knew I wanted a full steel bike. This material is more comfortable over varied terrain and long distances than an alloy, a feature of equal importance on a tour or on London streets. An overview can be found in a post written a few years back about the different frame materials and their properties. Steel is also easier to fix and weld, should I venture into pastures remoter than the suburbs.

Use

It was important for me to keep in mind my intended use for the bike. The features of the various bikes out there are determined to a great extent by the way the manufacturer envisions the rider will utilize the bike. I was looking for a bike I could use for commuting in the short term and full touring in the long term, therefore I needed a bike with full front and back mounts for mudguards and racks. It also needed to be fairly mechanically basic so as to be easy to fix on the road. There are lots of bikes that have some features of touring bikes and would make excellent commuter bikes but would limit my luggage capacity or fixing ease for long distance touring. Simple is also better for all-season commuting, where the bike will be battered by the elements.

Features

It is useful to pick a couple of features that are a must for you. This kind of ties into my point above about use; by choosing features you are more able to narrow the types of bikes you look at. Bikes used for touring can be anything, but generally a lot of cyclocross bikes would be suitable as well. By having the features in mind, it makes it easier to sift through all the options out there and keep your list of potentials manageable. Choosing features also involves getting the various specifications that are important to you. In my case I wanted to get a good frame primarily. If everything works out for me I will have this bike for a very long time and probably will need to replace various components but will always have the frame.

Fit

Correct fit for any bike is vital. Once I had a list of possible bikes, I tried as many as I could. In the case of touring specific bikes this turned out to be very hard as not many bike shops stock them. I tried a few, worked out what I liked about the fit from them and then looked at geometry charts for others to see how close they were. From there took the plunge and ordered a bike that fit all my vital criteria and looked like it should fit well. If it hadn’t been right I would have sent it back, but luckily it worked out. There is some refinement to be done on the fit still, but those are little things I can tinker around with at some point.

Good bike shops in London to consider when buying a touring bike:

  • Soho Bikes – stock Genesis cyclocross bikes- good lighter weight tourers.
  • Brixton Bikes – Stock a range of touring bikes
  • Condor – several of their frames are touring worthy. Can also provide bike fitting services

This list is in no way comprehensive, most bike shops can point you in the right direction and will help you select other kinds of bikes. Also, checkout the London Cyclist app for iPhone which lists all of London’s bike shops.

Once all these things are set, you can narrow your search and not be so overwhelmed by the choices available. There are so many bikes out there, and many of them will almost suit most purposes. By creating your own list, knowing what is vital to you, what has latitude to change and giving yourself specific search parameters, it is a much less confusing process. It will also stop your hallway/spare room/garage ending up looking like this:

Messy pile of bikes

Online searching is a good starting point, but it is vital to visit local bike shops, try bikes and get actual advice from people who have experience helping to choose. For example, I thought I was set on my features but after a discussion with a bike shop friend, realised that I would be better off with something else. By tying bikes I found out things about the bikes that I never would without test riding. For example, as I am not very tall, the frames of some bikes are small enough that I end up with the front wheel hitting my foot, otherwise known as toe overlap. I hate this it turns out, but would never have known if I hadn’t have tried several bikes.

The process outlined above is in no way fool proof. Obviously, your criteria needs to be reasonable. An old adage in cycling is that there are three main criteria for bikes: Strength, Weight and Price and that is only possible to have two out of three, something is always going to have to give. It is up to you to decide which of those two is most important to you, given the way you will be using the bike.

What did you go through when deciding on your trusty two-wheeled steed? Let us know your tips and selection process in the comments below.

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

16 Responses to How to choose a long distance commuting bike….

  1. Seb 13/08/2015 at 7:21 pm #

    I have mixed feeling about the fact that you used bike shops and the employees time to try bikes and then ordered a bike online.

    Could they not order the bike for you? If not then it’s totally fine to order it online. Otherwise I think it’s unfair.

    • Dave 19/08/2015 at 12:34 pm #

      I research my bike on the Net, tried it out at a bike shop, bought it online and use my bike shop for servicing tyres and etc. They don’t seem to mind.

  2. Dave 14/08/2015 at 10:40 am #

    I faced a similar dilemma a year or so ago and researched the web for people who had done lots of touring, from “How Laura packs her Brompton

    to Scott and Becky go East http://goingeast.ca/blog/ .

    Cut a long story short I really liked the idea of a recumbent tourer and souping up my Brompton for long rides. I bought a HPV Velotechnik Street Machine (no, really!) http://www.hpvelotechnik.com/produkte/sm/gte/index_e.html and upgraded my Brompton to 16 speed with 8 speed hub gear and Ultegra chain rings.

    Gives me a good tourer, that is really fun in traffic and a day to day commuter bike that can beat Shooters and Box hills hands down

  3. Richard 14/08/2015 at 11:33 am #

    For regular commuting, apart from obvious considerations like mudguards, a luggage rack and Dynamo lighting, I’d prefer hub gears to dérailleurs for reliability/low or zero maintenance.

  4. Andy ZE 14/08/2015 at 12:25 pm #

    I agree with Richard on the hub gears, but I also prefer flat bars. With decent flat bars, Thorn comfort bars in my case, I have found that it is not necessary to have bar ends, although I do have Ergon grips. A Rohloff hub may be pricey, but they are fantastic bits of kit. A yearly oil change, chains that last much longer, almost maintenance free status, plus many other advantages. I have one on the Thorn and I wouldn’t buy another bike with derailleur gears now that I have used a Rohloff. Then you need a decent saddle. I have settled on the Rivet Pearl as being more comfortable than any of my Brooks B17 saddles. Combined with a Thudbuster the Pearl makes for a comfortable ride, and I am sure that the cutout has a lot to do with it.

    Enjoyed reading the article. Thanks.

  5. Phil 14/08/2015 at 1:09 pm #

    I started with a Genesis Fortitude Adventure frame, with 26″ Mavic EX719 wheels rather than the 29er/700C it was designed for; this gave me a lower centre of gravity and a wider choice of tyres, Schwalbe Marathon Plus 1.75″ in the end- no punctures. I have an Alfine 8 hub gear to cope with the many hills around Bath and save on maintenance, and a Nexus generator front hub for powering a pair of B&M lights. The saddle is a black Brooks Cambium ( with cut out ), not cheap but very comfy ( paid for by portering at a book fair ) and my handlebars are Velo Orange Tourist North Road-style, again very comfy for the upright position I prefer. Carrying duties are handled by a Topeak tourist DX rack and a pair of Carradice Shopper panniers. I am intending to put a PDW Takeout rack on the front, to handle the small loads a pannier is overkill for. For me, this is an ideal commuting or distance bike; well able to cope with any demands placed upon it, and should last for years- the wheels have yet to require truing after four years of daily use.

  6. Gerry 14/08/2015 at 1:51 pm #

    The way this is written ” I would have sent it back” suggests you tried several models in bike shops and then ordered online. Is this something you would recommend

    • Emily 14/08/2015 at 6:04 pm #

      I got my bike in an independent bike shop. I tried several different bikes but ended up really wanting to try the Trek and no one had it in so I had to get a shop to order it in for me. What I meant by send it back, was get the bike shop to return it to Trek and get a smaller size/different bike in for me. I am a big advocate of using local bike shops, I only went online to research and get reviews as I was looking for a somewhat niche bike.

      • Gerry 16/08/2015 at 9:16 am #

        Would’t have worked like that if you hadn’t liked it the shop would have been left with it as once ordered trek will not accept IBD orders back unless they are damaged in transit .
        Also I hadn’t realised it was a Trek you were interested in or I would not have made the comment as Trek don’t permit their bikes to be sold online . They must be delivered through an IBD

        • Nick 02/09/2015 at 7:00 pm #

          Are you sure Trek don’t allow their bikes to be sold online? An awful lot of them appear to be for sale on the Evans website.

  7. Tom 16/08/2015 at 8:57 am #

    I recently had to replace my bike, I went for a Genesis Croix De Fer from Soho Bikes, it’s a fantastic commuter, and a great bike for longer weekend rides
    Also, I couldn’t imagine getting better customer service than I got from the guys at Soho bikes.

  8. Andy 16/08/2015 at 2:35 pm #

    In retrospect this may seem obvious, but make sure that you test the bike with the exact setup you intend to ride. I tested several frame sizes of Surly Long Haul Trucker until I found the one that seemed ideal. Unfortunately, I test rode the stock setup with dropped handlebars but asked the bike shop to fit touring (Modolo Yuma) bars. These moved the default hand positions several cm back from the position I’d tested, so I felt very upright and bunched up. It took a Velo Orange setback seat post and a very long stem to sort things out – now it’s fine but it would have been better to have ordered a larger frame. Note that the great thing about the Modolo bars is that I can adjust the height and reach on the road by simply rotating the bars within the stem, as the axis of rotation is some distance from the grips.
    Another vote for the Marathons Pluses, BTW – I’ve done 3000 km on this bike and no punctures so far. Ditto for the hub dynamo – I have a Shimano 3n80 that keeps my lights on in winter and allows me to charge my GPS/phone/Kindle/Powermonkey when touring – I built a rectifier/ voltage regulator circuit but the commercial one from Sinewave is more reliable. Essential when camping as it avoids carrying loads of batteries.

  9. Baz 17/08/2015 at 12:02 am #

    Started on a foldaway, then upgraded to a Pinnacle hybrid as I thought I’d combine commuting with leisurely park/terrain riding. Quickly realised that the park riding wasn’t as important to me. So switched out the hybrid tyres for low rolling resistance continental tyres and switched the saddle for a more sporty fit. Last mod was to switch out the riser bars for bullhorns as I wanted more variety on positioning. In the winter months I’ll definately swap tyres for one’s with more less rolling resistance and better grip. I don’t think we need to get hung up on bike types (touring, cyclocross..etc). The frame dimensions are similar if not the same, it’s the spec and things like tyres, brakes..accessories that make one ‘type’ different from another and these are all things that can be added or removed.

    Very nice article Emily

  10. Dan Nistor 17/08/2015 at 12:30 pm #

    Salut !
    – Poti sa-mi explici, pe larg – te rog mult ! -, cum trebuie sa aleg o bicicleta de curse, daca am inaltimea de 1,72 cm ?
    Multumiri anticipate pentru intelegere si raspuns !
    Cu multa stima si respect,
    Dan Nistor
    Timisoara – ROMANIA

    • Dave 19/08/2015 at 12:39 pm #

      Afasa fogo ho’ loses, mover com cuadada. Habbi suber non cotenter

  11. Beth 19/08/2015 at 10:34 am #

    I got Surly Troll frame and forks then cannibalized my old bike for an Alfine hub, Mavic wheels, Richie stem and Ergon grips.And i got disc brakes. It’s fabulous and many thanks to a poster on here who recommended Surly. (And it was put together by BikeFix)

Leave a Reply