Fully Integrated Bicycles
Non-Motorized Mobility: city bikes are practical, convenient and stylish (Photo: ubrayj02 on flickr)
City bikes include several types and styles of bike that are suitable for everyday urban cycling, getting you from a to b while providing a high level of comfort, safety and convenience. Bicycle riders in cities around the world are increasingly choosing style over speed and simplicity over hi-tech. The classic English roadster and it's sibling, the Dutch bike, the shopper bike which first made a splash in the late 1960s / early 1970s as well as comfort-, hybrid-/trekking-, road- and touring bikes are all described below.
A city bike should include as many of safey and comfort features that cycling in the city calls for, namely, lights and reflectors for visibility, a chainguard and fenders to keep your cloths clean and a luggage rack and/or basket to carry loads to work and back, to go shopping or run errands. A city bike is ideal for commuting in business attire or street cloths and is sometimes called an urban bike or commuter bike.
Many new city bikes can be purchased with a luggage rack usually included as as standard equipment. Retro-styled city bikes have been making a comeback. For additional carrying convenience, a porteur rack which can be attached to the front of most bicycles. You'll find other cargo transport options on the load carrying page in the safety and comfort section.
Roadsters & Dutch Bikes
Town & Country: the durable English roadster is a classic, integrated design (Photo: the manufacturer)
A comfortable city cycling experience is had on a bicycle with a so-called 'sit up and beg' riding position where the handlebar grips are setup higher than the saddle. This provides for greater road visibility (one usually rides higher than drivers in even in SUVs) and is also easier on the back compared with most other diamond-frame [aka safety bicycle] designs, including road bikes and mountain bikes.
English Roadsters and Dutch bicycles usually have singlespeed or 3-speed gearing. As these bicycles are generally built of heavy, all-steel construction, they are best suited to riding in relatively flat cities where a high number of gears is not necessary. Vintage models often have only a simple rear coaster brake or an additional (but ineffective) front spoon brake. Better equipped and more recent models will have rims brakes and higher end models have front- and rear drum brakes or rollerbrakes.
So-called 'Dutch bikes' have been around almost since the invention of the original safety bicyle in England. These oma- and opa-fiets or grandmother and grandfather bikes as they are referred to within The Netherlands make for excellent city bikes with the upright seating position as well as fully enclosed chaincase, front and rear fenders and often a pair of clothes protectors over the rear wheel to keep away oil, road spray and dirt.
Black is the new Black: Sparta's modern iteration of a traditional Dutch design
(Photo: the manufacturer)
Some North Americans like to refer to these as utility bikes while the author prefers the term city bikes, reserving the term utility for bicycle designed to transport large cargo loads.
The Low-Down: low step bikes are ideal city bikes for women cycling in skirts (Photo: abikestore.com)
Traditionally targeted at women and seniors, low-step bikes (sometimes referred to as step-through or German bicycles) enable the rider to more easily get her or his leg over the frame's J-shaped down tube instead of having to swing the leg over the rear wheel or top tube as is the case in getting on to a diamond frame bicycle.
Low-step bicycles often serve as the platform for pedelec electric-assisted bicycles.
Stay Put: mixte-frames have three stays and are good for quick mounts/dismounts (Photo: Velo Orange)
A design first popularized in the 1970s and produced in large numbers until the mid 1980s, so called mixte frame bicycles are somewhere between a man's bicyle frame, with it's horizontal top tube and a woman's bicycle frame with it's sloopling top tube.
The mixte frame bicycle is making a small comeback as a practical unisex city bike.
Shop 'til You Drop: a contemporary update to the classic shopper bicycle design (Photo: the manufacturer)
First gaining popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, especially in Germany and the UK, shopper bikes often have load carrying capacity at both front and rear. This could be any combination of porteur and luggage racks or baskets. Ignored until recently by perhaps everyone but their original owners, vintage shopper bikes from the 1970s can with some luck be found for sale in very good condition.
As people seek practical bikes that don't take up too much storage space in urban dwellings and aren't overly complex or technical, shopper bicycles have been making a comeback with major bicycle manufacturers who have been re-introducing them into product line ups after a long absence. Making use of 20" wheels, shopper bicycles are closely related to compact folding bikes that use the same wheelsize.
Comfort Zone: an internal hub and fully enclosed chain are perfect for city use (Photo: Giant)
A 'crank-forward bicycle', 'semi-recumbent bicycle', 'flat foot bike' or 'comfort bike' as this design is variously referred to is for many riders a practical and comfortable alternative riding position. The design, actually dating to time of the invention of the recumbent bicycle in the 1930s, saw a resurgence in popularity several years ago with the release of several models by a couple of the largest bicycle manufacturers.
To some, crank forward bikes might resemble the chopper bikes of the 1970s. Sadly, the modern production runs were short as the bikes appealed only to mainly older buyers creating only a small niche market for manufacturers who returned to more conventional upright city bike designs.
The term comfort bike is also used to market a type of bike resembling a hybrid bike (described elsewhere on this page) but usually without a front suspension.
Take Comfort: a large saddle provides for a comfortable ride on this upright bike (Photo: the manufacturer)
To the Beach: cruisers are all about style over speed (Photo: 2wheelbikes.com)
Beach or no beach, cruisers made a comeback some years ago and make sense in the city for those who don't need or care about gears, a lightweight frame or high-end components, but prefer to place the emphasis on expressing style and individuality without sacrificing ride comfort.
Continuing the well established retro approach to product design long used in the automotive and furniture industries, the current generation of cruisers provide a classic and fun balloon tire bike look'n'feel with build quality significantly differing between the various bicycle manufacturers/brands.
Old School: the first mountain bikes were modified cruisers called klunkers (Photo: the manufacturer)
All Downhill: full-suspension mountain bikes all less than ideal on paved roads (Photo: the manufacturer)
With the earliest examples built in the 1970s using cruisers from the 1940s and in widespread use since the late 1980s, mountain bikes are less than ideal as compared with proper city bikes for commuting around town unless equipped with aftermarket accessories including fenders, a rack, lights, reflectors and a bell.
With a few modifications, you can make a fully-rigid mountain bike (usually an older model MTB with no suspension) more comfortable for riding on city streets. This includes replacing the knobby off-road tires with slick or lightly treaded city tires as well as adding safety and comfort features including lights, reflectors and a bell. Finally, changing the handlebars to ones that offer a more upright riding position may further improve the ride, coming close to that of a hybrid bike
Hybrids & Trekking Bikes
A relatively recent class of bicycle, the hybrid bike (also known as a cross bike) combines the larger, fast-rolling tires of road bikes with the more relaxed frame geometry of mountain bikes for an on- and off-road-ready experience. Of course, many people use mountain bikes for urban cycling, perhpas due to the abundance of streets and lack of mountains near most cities to cycle on.
Cross Town Traffic: cross bikes are useful for both urban and off-road cycling (Photo: the manufacturer)
Today's low-end hybrid bicycles look similar to the first generation mountain bikes from the late 1980s and early 1990s that lacked front or rear suspensions. Today better hybrid models will usually offer a front suspension fork and a seatpost with integrated suspension to increase ride comfort.
Street Smarts: trekking bikes like this Schwinn are great all-rounders for cycling (Photo: the manufacturer)
Not to be confused with a particular brand of bicycle, the category of trekking bike emerged in Germany about a decade ago. A trekking bike is essentially a front suspension fork equipped hybrid bike with fenders and a rear carrying rack, the latter providing the capacity to add touring accessories to the frame. Trekking bikes are very well suited to for commuting, especially if your route includes rough terrain such as potholed streets, park gravel paths or forest dirt roads.
Touring / Randonneur Bikes
Go the Distance: touring bicycles are less than ideal for short jaunts in the city (Photo: the manufacturer)
A touring bike, aka randonneur or as some simply say, a 'French bike', could be used for urban cycling given the presence of fenders, lights, reflectors and load carrying racks but is less than ideal for daily use in the city given increased weight of the bike from all the attached accessories.
On the plus side, compared with a mountain bike, a touring bike has a longer wheelbase which makes it more comfortable to ride long distances. However, the classic narrow front and rear racks on a randonneur bike are not designed to carry the bulky loads like grocercies that other city bikes equipped with racks and baskets can handle.
Finally, most touring and randonneur bikes tend to be highly valued new or rare vintage bikes making them more prone to theft and are best left for their intended purpose of long-distance cycle touring.
Road Bikes & Fixies
The Road Less Followed: road bikes offer speed but little comfort and no utility (Photo: the manufacturer)
Despite the name, road bikes aren't exactly the best bike to use on roads around town. With their thin tires, ultralight, hi-tech frames and components, these bikes are popular with bicycle messengers and style-concious urban riders who perhaps prefer speed and over comfort.
Due to their light weight and setup, road bikes are interesting for cycling commuters who wish to make their journey relatively quickly by bike and for those who's employer provides a cycle-friendly workplace that includes changing facilities.
Fix Knees: fixed-gear bikes can be tricky for urban cycling and rough on the knees (Photo: the manufacturer)
A recent trend in cities around the world is to ride single-speed, fixed-gear bikes, a setup which is better suited to track bikes than to stop-and-go urban cycling. Fixies (as they're called) especially those lacking brakes are totally impractical for safe urban cycling and therefore a bad choice in the city.
Track-style bikes lacking brakes are illegal on public roads in essentially every legal jurisdiction and have been confiscated from owners by police through crackdown actions in more than one European city.
All in all, as long as you and your bicycle are outfitted with the necessary safety and comfort features, you're well underway and might want to explore bikes made for specific uses including folding bikes, cargo bicycles and trikes or the recumbent cycling styles.
sustainable transportation, personal mobility, Dutch bikes, low-step bikes, cruisers, beachcruisers, comfort bikes, shopper bikes, road bikes, 10-speeds, singlespeeds, fixies, hybrid bikes, cross bikes, trekking bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, mtb, hardtail,