Urban bikes are a special breed; built to stand up to neglect and knocks and still keep taking you from point A to point B. They are a lot like commuter bikes in this way, but need a bit more durability built in to handle the rough urban bikes environment.
Urban Bikes vs. Commuter Bikes
The two main differences between urban bikes and commuter bikes (you will want all the traits of a commuter bike) are:
- the tire/tube combination
- the security of the bike and components
- the frame finish durability
City streets can be a mess with debris everywhere including puncture inducing glass and metal. You will want especially tough tires and perhaps puncture resistant tubes too. On a standard commuter bike, especially one that you log long miles on, you may not want to compromise ride quality. For an urban bike, you will probably prefer a harsher riding bike to changing flats all the time.
Security of The Bike and Components
All of the components need to be secure on the frame. That is generally not a problem for bolted on parts like derailleurs and brakes, but you will want to replace quick release skewers with theft proof skewers if you are locking your bike up. In especially theft prone areas, you will want to take extra precautions, even with components. One trick is to glue ball bearings into bolt heads. A thief with a wrench will generally skip such a countermeasure.
You will also need a lock that is appropriate for where your bike is locked up. Do some research and see what you need for your area. It is likely you will need to remove lights and bags from your bike when it sits outside, otherwise they will disappear quickly.
Bike Frame Finish
Finally, the finish of your frame on your urban bike should resist scraping and banging around in city bike racks. This could mean a brushed or powder coated finish. It could also mean a non-steel frame, so if the paint is compromised the frame will not rust.
The Best Urban Bikes
It is likely that you will need to make some of the above additions to the bikes below. But they are a good starting place to build your ideal urban bike or city bike.
Trek Lync 5
The Trek Lync 5 is an integrated package designed to be as maintenance free as possible. Lights are integrated into the frame with a USB rechargeable battery. The drivetrain has an internally geared eight speed Shimano Alfine hub and belt drive in place of a chain. This will keep wear and tear from road grime down to a minimum. Disc brakes keep stopping power regardless of conditions. Fenders (do not forget to add mud flaps) and a rack are included, keeping you from shopping for any additional necessities. The rack does not have a top shelf, so a trunk bag will not work. You will have to hang a pannier off the side, but it is quite a minor point on this all inclusive package. It is a great choice for someone that will be commuting in all conditions, short distances as well as a little bit further with some hills.
If you are short on space either at home or in your office and your commute is relatively short, a Brompton folding bike could be the bike for you. You can fold it if part of your commute involves a train or car too. They fold up quite small but also pride themselves on their ride quality. You can spec them with all of the features you need. They are great for urban mobility, with a tight wheelbase to maneuver nimbly and small wheels to accelerate quickly. There are other folding bikes out there, but Brompton is the benchmark. With this bike you will want your commute to be on the flatter side and not excessively long.
Jamis Renegade Exploit
The Jamis Renegade Exploit may not be the best commuter bike for the short trip across town but for longer rides with conditions that might not be ideal, and you should always be prepared for surprises from weather or terrain. This bike is top notch. While the bike does not come with racks or fenders, it does come with mounts for both should you need them (you do). Drop bars give you more hand positions for that longer commute, along with fatter than standard road tires – 36 millimeters. Hydraulic disc brakes in an integrated brake shift lever (a relatively recent innovation) gives you premium stopping power. Jamis is known for a nicer spec than most relative to price; you will get a very nice all around bike that can tackle almost anything.
Efficiency is what the Specialized Langster is all about. When bike couriers were common, a fixed gear bike is often what they rode for simplicity of maintenance and efficiency. There is little to wear out and little to cause drag in the drivetrain. If you are jetting to work in a city or relatively flat place, this is a fun way to go. Fenders will take some work to add, but that extra effort will be worth it. A rack will be a stretch too, but a messenger bag will complete the look anyway. For a quality complete bike, it is a bargain. Just make sure you put the brakes on; you will definitely not look cool after you need serious dental work.
Dahon Speed Uno
The Dahon Speed Uno is as basic as it gets for a folding bike. If you do not want to drop much money on a bike that is compact to get you to where you need to go, this is a great way to go. There is not much to complicate the package. Because it folds you will not have to leave it outside locked up in the elements, keeping it in better condition.
The SE Draft shares many of the benefits of the Langster in a less polished package. This is a great choice if you know the bike will take some abuse. It is an easier pill to swallow if your bike is not a top shelf item. It is still a solid city bike that will get you around town with efficiency and less weight on your conscience.
Make your own beater
Do you have an old bike laying around? This could be your chance to resurrect it and not worry about it, much like the SE Draft. It also gives you a chance to figure out your usage pattern and what works best. When it is time to spring for a new bike, you will have a better idea of what to look for.
If there is a bike share in your area, that is phenomenal transportation asset. You will not have to worry about maintenance. The bikes are overbuilt to handle city bike riding. They might not be the highest performing city bikes, but they are reliable and there are lots of them (if you live in the right place). A yearly membership gets you a lot of riding for cheap with no upkeep at all.
Urban Bikes and City Bikes
Navigating urban environments is best done with urban bikes. It is the most efficient way to travel because you do not sit in city congestion. You can also stop wherever you want but also move far faster than walking. Ride your city’s streets!