My story: How to choose a bike for commuting

This is the first in a series of posts leading up to Bike to Work Day – Monday, May 30, 2011

Last spring I decided it was time to retire my old bicycle, Mabel. She wasn’t pretty, but she was mine and she got me around and I loved her. I loved her sleek 70s retro-styling. I loved that she was just the right size for me. And I loved the little reflectors tucked into the end of her handle bars.

What I didn’t love was not being able to stop in the rain (combo of steel rims and old-style brakes), tearing my pants on pedal shafts, and three, out of five, working gears – no matter how many bike mechanics “fixed” her up.

After a particularly arduous trip along the Welland Canal, which was mostly uphill and ALL in the pouring rain, not surprisingly, I decided it was time. I was sad to let Mabel go, but excited to start shopping for a new set of wheels.

What kind of bike did I need and what could I afford?

I needed a city bike:

  • with carrying capacity (books, plants, lamps, pets, groceries, you name it, I’ve probably carried it on my bike);
  • that I could ride (and stop) in the rain;
  • I could carry up the stairs, if I needed to (steel-framed Mabel weighed in at about 70 lbs or 31 kg);
  • with more than three gears;
  • with a step-through frame because I ride wearing dresses and skirts.

Oh, and, I wanted it to be pretty. My first choice was a handmade Italian Abici – the loveliest of bicycles. But alas, they are works of art and beyond my budget.

Me and my bike

Once I started test riding bikes, I was a discouraged to discover that the bike of my dreams may not be available here. I found lots bikes with all the things I wanted (disc brakes, internal hub, 8+ gears, fenders, chain guard) but without a step-through frame. Frankly, it felt like there were many more options for sporty (or male) riders.

In the end, I did have to compromise. I traded an internal hub and disc brakes for built in cargo racks and a chain guard for 21 speeds. I chose the Haul by Globe (a line of urban bikes by Specialized) and spent roughly $900. This model also has larger diameter tires, which are good for Toronto’s rough streets.

This one doesn’t have a name, but she is lovely and a dream to ride. Even in the rain.

Things to think about when buying a bike:

  • What kind of riding are you doing? There are different kinds of bikes for different kinds of riding. Road bikes are great if you want speed, city/hybrid bikes are great for everyday commuting and folding bikes are great for travelling. Choose a style that meets your needs. I chose a city bike because I ride to work and play most of the year.
  • Test ride different styles – always go for a few rides before buying a bike. Most bike shops will allow you to test ride bikes. They should also be able to talk to you about fit and geometry. If your bike doesn’t fit and isn’t comfortable, you won’t want to ride it. I test rode some very nice bikes that just didn’t feel right.
  • Think about budget. There are bikes out there for most budgets, but sometimes, you do get what you pay for. And, if you buy a great bike that you will ride, it could save you money in the long run. I spent $900, so if I keep my bike for 10 years, that works out to $90/year. Ten years is reasonable with proper care and maintenance.
  • Accessories: get a good quality lock and make sure your new bike has front and rear lights and reflectors.

Rebekah McGurran, Program Coordinator, Smart Commute Services



About Smart Commute
Commuter benefits program for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

One Response to My story: How to choose a bike for commuting

  1. Rick says:

    Poor Maybel. Hah. I always want a new bike no matter what I’m riding. Right now I commute by bike but a few times a week my commute is a lot longer. I drive part way and bike the rest. Since the last few miles has the most traffic I’m usually saving time by biking it. I use a Montague folding bike so I can throw it in my trunk. The nice thing about them is that they use full size wheels and ride just like a REAL bike. Most other folding bikes I;ve checked out have small wheels and seem like clown bike. Check them out at

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