As millions of people commute to and from work or school every day, you can bet that they're hoping traffic will be at a minimum, their bus won’t be crowded or their subway train will run on time.
A tremendous amount of energy is spent worrying about commuting issues, and with good reason. How often have you experienced a glitch like a busted streetlight or a broken-down subway car that resulted in you being late for work or for an event at school?
Folks who are fed up with unpredictable commutes are searching for alternative ways to get where they need to go. They want a reliable, less annoying, and less expensive means of transport. So in order to eliminate the stress and uncertainty of morning and afternoon commutes, they're choosing bicycles – commuter bikes – as their preferred transportation.
If you think commuting by bicycle is for you, you’ll want to know more about the different types of bikes out there. What follows is information about the best city bikes under $500.
But before we get into our buyer's guide, where we discuss everything you need to know to find the perfect bike, let's take a quick look at our top picks.
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Schwinn Men's Wayfarer
Aluminum Road Bike
Critical Cycles Harper Single-Speed
Northwoods Springdale Women's
Pure Fix Original Fixed
Critical Cycles Diamond Frame Shimano Hybrid Commuter Road Bike
Critical Cycles Beaumont
PUBLIC Bikes Women's C7
The term “commuter bike” refers to a bike that is primarily used to go from your home location to your work place or school.
Certainly, it can make stops at other destinations and travel outside of the home-to-work/school route, but it’s not meant to be used solely for recreation or sporting events. It's a bike with a purpose: to get you where you need to go on time and in relative comfort!
Commuter bikes are built to ride on smooth ground, like pavement. Since commuters aren’t usually expected to traverse rough or rocky roads, they have simple suspension systems.
In addition, they have heavy tires that can endure the daily trek without damage.
Some areas provide designated bike lanes in an effort to keep riders orderly and safe from motorized traffic.
As commuter bikes become more popular, there’s a higher demand for special features, like a comfortable seat (or saddle), a lighter frame, more resilient tires, etc. Here's a list of parts that can be customized for the commuter (we will detail several of them later in this article):
Even if you're one of the few who don’t mind the hustle and bustle of a normal morning commute via car, train, or bus, there are plenty of reasons to give commuting by bicycle a shot.
It’s Good for the Environment! - Perhaps the most obvious reason is that it's better for the environment! A bike does not use oil or gasoline, nor does it have a tailpipe that spews noxious fumes into the air. As a result, the roads and the air are cleaner.
More commuter bikes mean fewer cars (and buses, and trains) and, over time, fresher air to breathe!
It’s Good for Your Health! - The second major reason for hopping on a bike is that it’s excellent exercise (for some, the desire to lose weight may be a motivating factor). Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of a cardio workout a day can decrease your chance of heart disease. What’s more, the activity is a great way to reduce stress and improve your overall mood.
For example, biking to work may increase your energy level and, in turn, up your productivity. Once this happens, your mood is likely to continue to improve, your energy will remain high and your productivity will keep rising…. and so on and so on.
It's Fast! - Believe it or not, biking is often faster than driving. Although bicycle commuters need to be wary of traffic, they don’t have to worry about traffic jams or possible pile-ups. Many times the bikes are relegated to a special lane alongside the cars.
In this way, even if the cars are stalled, the bikes can keep a steady pace. Studies have shown that fewer accidents occur with bicycle commuting and commuting times are more consistent.
It's Cheap! - Riding a bike regularly to school or work is a sure way to save money. There’s no need for insurance or the constant expense of gas or oil.
You can expect to have a few tune-ups during the year, but overall the best urban bikes will cost pennies compared to what regular maintenance on a car would cost.
It's Easy! - You’ll never have to worry about a parking spot again! Depending on your location, there should be places to securely lock your bike (on a bike rack, a sign post, etc.). Some locations even allow riders to bring their bikes inside for extra security.
Commuters may choose a foldable model so they can easily carry their bike with them wherever they go and not worry about a heavy chain and lock.
It's Cool! - Also, let’s face it. Biking is cool. And when you’re on a commuter bike, you don’t need to gear up with special spandex shorts and tees or high-tech shoes. You can keep to your own style at all times.
Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to begin commuting on a bike. Let’s break it down even further:
Not all bikes are created equal. They range in size, comfort, quality, and price. How do you choose the best city bike under $500?
Things to consider:
To begin, let’s talk about the frame, which can be made from a variety of metals. Each metal has a different weight, flexibility and price point.
Carbon (High-Tensile) Steel
Steel is the most common metal used to build a bike frame and also the least expensive. There are two different types of steel. The first, carbon or high tensile steel, is heavy, strong, and long lasting. It’s a good choice for heavier riders and if you want to use your bike regularly over a long period of time.
Chromoly (Chrome Molybdenum) Steel
The second most popular type of steel is called chromoly steel (also a less expensive choice). While it’s strong, it’s significantly lighter than carbon steel. Chromoly requires maintenance, but it can last for a long time if it’s properly cared for. The frame can vary in thickness, the thinner being more adaptable yet more expensive to manufacture (which means it will cost more than a heavier chromoly model).
An aluminum frame is ideal for riders who need to maneuver their commuter bikes through tight and tricky passages or up several hills. It’s lightweight yet durable and suitable for lighter riders. The downside is that it will probably last only 4 to 6 years.
If you’re looking for a high-end bike, a titanium frame may be the way to go. It’s ideal for heavier riders because it’s super strong, relatively light and extremely flexible (which means a smooth ride!). There’s very little maintenance since titanium doesn’t rust. But all of these great qualities may cost you a pretty penny. A lot more effort goes into making a titanium frame since it is more difficult to weld than steel or aluminum; in turn, it has a higher price point.
Bikes made of carbon fiber just may be the most versatile (and expensive!) of them all, but the material is probably a bit extreme for a commuter bike. Carbon fiber is light, adaptable and strong - perfect for racing bikes. However, because of the way the carbon fiber is constructed, it is prone to cracks and other sudden mishaps. If you’re looking for a bike to use every day on regular terrain, carbon fiber is probably not the best choice.
There are two categories of brakes: disc brakes and rim brakes. In almost all commuter bikes, disc brakes are the best choice because they allow you to come to a faster stop and they hold up even in the sloppiest weather. Rim brakes, on the other hand, are not as reliable in wet, slippery conditions. Commuters should know, however, that disc brakes do require a bit of TLC, as the pads occasionally will wear out and need to be replaced.
When choosing from the best city bikes under $500, you’ll notice several different styles.
With a chunkier but not-too-heavy frame and deep tread tires, a mountain bike is manufactured to handle rough roads, steep climbs, and any obstacle found on a trail. It has multiple gears to conquer a variety of terrains, and an upright seated position for optimal comfort and visibility. Without a doubt, this bike could handle daily commutes on city streets, but you won’t fully appreciate its features unless you take it for a spin off-road. In that way, a mountain bike is probably not the best choice for a commuter bike.
City or hybrid bike
The name “hybrid bike” refers to a style that combines an urban bike with a mountain bike. Its frame is durable yet not too heavy (often chromoly or aluminum), with light yet sturdy tires that can easily hop a curb or cruise on smooth pavement. The bike is easy to maneuver around or over the occasional bits of city debris, like small rocks, broken glass, rough manhole covers or street grilles. What’s more, with a wide gear range it can handle the occasional off-road adventure if the mood strikes!
With a hybrid bike, the rider sits upright on a sleek seat that allows for easy movements and sudden bursts of acceleration. The handlebars are straight and flat across and very easy to maneuver. Look for protective fenders, a covered chain, and mounted lights so you’ll be prepared for sudden changes in weather. The hybrid also has the room to mount a rack to carry your belongings.
Cruiser or comfort bike
With their vintage appeal, “cruiser” or “comfort bikes” are more popular than ever before. They are not as versatile as hybrid bikes in that they are built for slower, consistently paced rides (in other words, they aren’t made for sudden acceleration!). The wide seat is heavily padded and springy. The rider sits upright but lower than on a hybrid bike and the pedals are positioned so your feet can easily touch the ground (and your legs can fully extend when pedaling). The handlebars are comfortable to grasp and easy to reach. There aren’t as many gears on a comfort bike as it is built for steady, even relaxed, cruising.
In an effort to make the daily commute even easier and more enjoyable, foldable bikes, or “folders”, were created. Just as the name suggests, these lightweight contraptions collapse into a small, stashable size that can be carried on buses, subways or stored in a corner of an office. Although they may not offer as smooth of a ride as the traditional urban bike, for some, the convenience factor more than makes up for it. As folders are becoming more popular, they are available in a wider range of materials, styles and prices.
Here's a closer look at our top picks.
Schwinn is a respected name in the bicycle community that began in Chicago back in 1895 (we bet many of you remember your first Schwinn bike!). It remains one of the most popular bicycle companies today, offering a huge range of bikes and gear suitable for all ages and abilities.
The hybrid bike, as described above, is versatile and reliable. With its cool-looking vintage style frame, this model by Schwinn is perfect for the cyclist looking to commute daily or enjoy recreational rides without sacrificing an ounce of style.
The bike has 7 gears and a rear derailleur (the mechanism that moves the chain to switch the gears), front and back brakes, fenders and an accessories rack. The seat is spring-loaded for comfort.
Shimano is a Japanese company dedicated to celebrating people’s connections with nature in the world around us. The bike division of Shimano aims to promote bicycling as the most eco-friendly form of transportation with styles ranging from commuter or road bikes to high-tech racing machines.
Shimano believes they have a bike for you, whatever your needs. For example, if you’re on a strict budget but are drawn to a bike loaded with the latest gear, the Aluminum Commuter Road Bike may be a good fit.
It boasts 21 speeds with an easy thumb shifter for quick gear change and total control. The lightweight aluminum frame can handle flat terrain or steep paved roads, whether you're speeding to work or exploring the hills around your neighborhood. The cushioned urban-style seat provided makes the rider feel comfortable and at ease.
Shimano stands by their products and are constantly working to provide the latest technology. Recently, the braking mechanism on the Aluminum Road Bike was tweaked to respond faster so the bike now comes to a more complete and sudden stop.
Here’s another contender from Critical Cycles, the Harper Single-Speed.
What’s special about this bike is that the rider has two options: to ride at a single-speed with a freewheel (so you can coast without pedaling), or at a fixed gear (your movement is directly linked to the bike’s movement). To make the switch, all you need to do is take off the back wheel and turn it around. (NOTE: the bike comes with the single-speed set up.) For more information, see the detailed instructions on the Critical Cycles website.
This is a bike that is built to last, with a strong, steel frame and dual brakes (front and back). The folks at Critical Cycles are eager to please and offer a 50-day “love it or return it” policy.
Do not be confused by the affordable price tag. Critical Cycles is able to offer lower price points because they do not involve any sales reps or other third party representatives. Instead, the customer purchases the bike directly from Critical Cycles, the manufacturer and seller.
The manufacturing company of the Northwoods Springdale Hybrid Bicycle, Kent International, Inc., has a history that dates back to 1909. What started as a bike restoration shop in the lower part of Manhattan is now a huge operation based in New Jersey, supplying bicycles and bicycle gear to over 20 countries. The goal of Kent is to offer the latest models and designs for bike enthusiasts of all ages at an affordable cost. Their products are created with the customer’s safety in mind.
The Northwoods 21-speed Women’s Hybrid has a lot to recommend, beginning with its sleek yet sturdy design: a step-thru frame allows the rider to comfortably get on and off the bike. Next, the handlebars are raised to allow for an upright posture (less stress on the back) and large wheels expertly tackle level terrain and roads marked by occasional potholes or other small obstacles. Front and rear fenders protect you from dirt, debris and water and the silent brakes are reliable and precise. The multiple gears allow you to cruise on flat roads or hustle up a sudden incline.
Pure Cycles has made it their mission to create bikes that are efficient, safe, attractive and affordable. They have aligned their bikes with various charities, the proceeds of each style of bike giving back to a different cause.
Overall, Pure Cycles is eager to see more (safe) riders on the road and they are committed to ensuring that their customers are as excited and passionate about their bikes as they are. To attract buyers, they generously offer student discounts and a lifetime warranty on all frames plus a one-year warranty on accessories. What’s more, for a bit extra, you can have your bike delivered to your door fully assembled and ready to ride.
Loads of commuters will be attracted to the simplicity of this single speed Fixie Bike.
The beauty of a Fixie is that there is no need to worry about shifting gears or maintain a complicated set up. Instead, you feel at one with the bike, knowing it will respond instantly to your maneuvers. It’s significantly lighter than other urban bikes since it is made with fewer parts.
The bike comes with a “flip flop” back wheel, which can go from a single-speed to fixed gear. Many riders choose to remove the brakes to further streamline the look of the bike, but Pure Cycles reminds us that safety always comes first!
Run by a band of outdoor enthusiasts in Los Angeles, CA, Critical Cycles manufactures and sells a range of bikes for all types of cyclists.
A major attraction of the Diamond Seven-Speed City Bike is its many customizable features. You can choose the size, speed, color, and various add-on options like racks, fenders and headlights. In this way, it’s like a custom designed bike at an affordable price. What’s more, Critical Cycles includes all the tools necessary to put your bike together like an expert; they claim it won’t take you more than 20 minutes to fully construct your ride.
The upright posture is designed for both speedy commuter rides and leisurely wanderings. To switch the gears, all you need to do is move your wrist, so you never have to worry about losing your control or focus. The wheels are designed for smooth pavement and roads with occasional city debris.
The Critical Cycles Beaumont Commuter Bike for women is an obvious choice for novice riders. The main reason is that the step-thru frame makes it incredibly easy to get on and off the bike without fear of getting tangled up in your clothes or tipping over. Another reason is because it is designed for a relaxed ride rather than a high-speed chase; in other words, it’s a simple, stylish model that won’t intimidate riders who have little to no previous biking experience.
Critical Cycles wants to make sure you feel in control of your bike, so they have created a gear shift that is simple to use – all it requires is a flick of the wrist. Plus, there are front and rear brakes for precision stopping and wider tires made to handle wet weather. Other attractive features include an upright riding position, fenders, chain guard, rear rack, and retro bell and headlamp.
Looking for a bike with European appeal? Check out the this model by PUBLIC. The attractive “step-thru” frame is based on a design popular on the streets of Amsterdam and is proven a good match for city streets or recreational roads.
PUBLIC is based in San Francisco, CA and founded by a design guru who believes that when it comes to bikes, style is as important as function. PUBLIC also feels that society at large should rethink urban planning and especially the way public spaces are currently being used. Through good-looking and guaranteed-for-life bikes, PUBLIC is hoping to attract customers who support a safer, cleaner environment.
The PUBLIC C7 works for everyday commuting and errands as well as the spontaneous spin around the park. It has a trusty steel frame, multiple gears, absorbent tires, upright handlebars, fenders, chain guard and racks for carrying personal items. And, of course, the C7 is built with a step-thru frame for easy mounting and dismounting (regardless of your attire).
But before you choose your urban bike, remember to consider all of the possible features. With so many styles and sizes, there is a perfect match for you, regardless of your ability or budget.
Finding the best urban bike under $500 should be an enjoyable process that kick starts your life as a bicycle commuter.
Owning a city bike is an awesome idea. It’s a responsible way to support a cleaner environment and a healthier mind and body. It’s also an efficient and fun way to get where you need to go.