Bike Buyer's Guide: Utility Bikes

Purchasing a new bike can a daunting process. We have the tips and advice to get you rolling.

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    Photo: Courtesy of Specialized

Road or mountain bikes are great for exercise and entertainment, but for getting around town, picking up groceries, and going to and from the bar, simpler city bikes provide more utility at a lower cost. They can be a little heavier than their more performance-oriented counterparts, but these commuters also tend to be more durable and offer lots of practical niceties like racks, lights, fenders, and even built-in locks.

  • The most fundamental choice is what sort of drivetrain to purchase: single speed or geared. Many utility bikes cut costs and complication by going one speed, but if you’re hauling gear or live in a hilly place that trade-off might not be worth it. Instead of a standard derailleur configuration, consider an internal hub, which packs the gears inside the rear axle for cleanliness and less maintenance but also tends to cost more. Finally, belt drive designs, such as the Spot Dualie, eliminate the grime and weakness of chains, though they don’t come cheap.

  • Some people think bikes with sloping top tubes as built only for girls, but these “mixtes” make great utility bikes for everyone. The extra clearance means you can ride in work clothes without hefting your leg high and it also makes for easier maneuvering on city streets. The Specialized Globe Daily 3 is a well-built option.

  • Consider the trimmings on a utility bike carefully. Kickstands can be cheap and tipsy, so look for solid hardware and attachment points built into the frame rather than simple clamp-on designs. A chain-guard is good for keeping pants clean, but steer clear of the fully enclosed variety, which make fixing a dropped chain difficult. If you live somewhere rainy, you’ll need fenders; in drier climates, they are just costly ballast. And while Dynamo hubs that power built-in lights are great for recreational use, for regular after-dark riding and commuting, more powerful, rechargeable after-market lights are a better option.

  • Though you can always buy panniers or carry a pack, many bikes, such as the Yuba Boda Boda, come with front and rear baskets or removable packs that easily clip and unclip from the frame. There are even bikes built for hauling huge loads, such as the Metrofiets Cargo.

  • Electric-assist bikes, which supplement your pedal power with a little help from a built-in battery, are great for those with long commutes or heavy loads who still want to ride. Some people call e-bikes lazy. We say they are smart and just a lot of fun.

  • They might look strange, but folding bikes, from the likes of Tern and Dahon, are useful options for city dwellers with limited space and those who frequently travel from bike to train or bus. They ride as well as a standard bicycle but snap down with Transformer-like ease to fit neatly in a suitcase or beneath a bed.

  • You don’t have to spend a lot of money. If all you want is a simple bike to beat around, there’s a whole slew of tough, inexpensive, and even customizable options, such as the ranges from Pure Fix and Big Shot Bikes

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