Choosing the best lightweight commuter bike, women's or men's, can take some consideration. You may think that it's just the same as getting the best city commuter bike you can, but things aren't that simple. To begin with, there are literally ten's, maybe even hundreds of choices. They come in various price ranges, and they have various frame types, component selections and reputations. To make matters worse, many of those bikes advertise themselves as the best lightweight commuter bike, when they're in fact not worth their price tag.
So, how do you choose which one is right for you? Well, join us today as we take a look at the things that you should be paying attention to. We'll discuss the frame and how it impacts your riding experience and we'll discuss safety features such as brakes, lights and bells. We will also discuss components, such as gearing and tires, and we'll touch upon common accessories, for example mudguards and baskets. Once we're done with everything, you should have a great idea on what the best lightweight commuter bike is, and where your money should go when you're buying one.
Without wasting any more time, let's begin discussing the main things about a lightweight commuter bicycle. These bikes are some of the best bikes for commuting to work, and some of the best city bikes for commuting in general.
The key thing about a lightweight commuter bike is the frame
The frame isn't just the largest component on a bike. It's also the one that has most impact on the weight and handling. However, even in your quest for a lightweight bike, going for the lightest frame possible is a mistake. You want balance between the weight and the stiffness. You'll be riding it daily, so it must be comfortable as well. Let's talk about some of the materials you'll get to choose from.
The first option, and the lightest one, is carbon fiber. Race bikes are often made of carbon fiber, as it is very lightweight and extremely stiff. It's also pretty expensive, so it may not be the best choice for everyone. However, the key disadvantage is the stiffness we mentioned. When you're getting a lightweight commuter bike, you'll be riding it daily throughout the city, where not all bike paths are freshly paved and smooth. A carbon fiber frame won't absorb any vibrations, and you'll feel just about every pothole, rock or unevenness in the road. This is very uncomfortable, and can easily ruin your riding experience.
The next lightweight option you'll come across is aluminum. It is significantly heavier than carbon fiber, but it's also significantly cheaper and more forgiving. Aluminum is softer, and you will easily feel the difference when you ride. Aluminum is the common choice for good entry level bikes, as well as some midrange to higher end road and mountain bikes. However, it's still not the best choice for a lightweight commuter bike.
What material do you go for, then?
Chromoly Steel. Even though steel is the heaviest from the bunch, it's still the best choice for a fast lightweight commuter bike. A chromoly steel frame, even a quality one like on our best commuter bike package, is softer and more forgiving than anything else on the market. It will absorb most of the small bumps on the road, and you'll get a comfortable experience like no other. As far as the weight goes, you can balance it out with lightweight components. A chromoly steel frame with lightweight aluminum components can easily be lighter than an aluminum frame with steel bits and pieces. The comfort, on the other hand, is always on steel's side. Our recommendation for the best bike for commuting has a chromoly steel frame, and for good reason. Aluminum is slightly lighter, but you'll feel every bump on the road!
It's not just the frame material that matters, it's the type and the geometry as well
We did come to a conclusion that a chromoly steel frame is as comfortable as they come. But, the geometry of the bike also has a massive impact on comfort. With racing bikes, or ones that are intended for aggressive riding, you're usually leaning on the handlebars. You're using your hands as support, which puts quite a bit of strain on your arms, shoulder, neck and back. Even though racers and active cyclists become used to this after a while, it's not the best choice for a daily means of transport.
Instead, you'll want something that puts you in an upright seating position. Your back should be upwards, and your body weight should be supported by the saddle, not the handlebars. This way, you aren't putting any unnecessary weight on your upper body, and you'll be much less fatigued while cycling. There's also the fact that, because you aren't leaning on your handlebars, steering and handling of the bike will be much better and easier.
So, what kind of bike gives you this kind of geometry, and is a lightweight commuter bike? The dutch cruiser, of course. A good dutch cruiser comes with everything we spoke about so far. A steel frame, a lightweight selection of components, a comfortable geometry, and then some. Dutch cruiser bikes were made as a lightweight upright commuter bike, and the modern iterations are much, much better. They'll often come with a few gears, they'll give you a plush, comfortable saddle, they'll include safety features such as good brakes, lights and a bell, and they're made to be very durable as well. Let's take a look at the other things you'll be getting if you decide to get a dutch bike as your lightweight commuter bike.
The other big comfort factor is the saddle, and the grips aren't far behind either
The frame is the largest part, and has the most impact when it comes to comfort, sure. However, you don't have contact with the frame itself. Instead, you have contact with the saddle and the grips. Therefore, it's these contact points that have quite a lot of impact on the overall comfort factor of your lightweight commuter bike.
When it comes to the saddle, a quality commuter bike should have a saddle that has quite a bit of padding, and is made of a material that won't chafe. The padding is crucial. Saddles tend to have a plastic shell as their base, and you don't want to have any contact with it. A thick gel or foam padding is common, and you'll find that it emphasizes the shell's shape.
The material vastly differs, depending on the brand of choice, as well as the price of the saddle. With higher-end options, such as the excellent Brooks saddles, you'll find that leather is very common. Leather doesn't only look good, but it feels great and lasts a good while as well. Oh, and if you want a tad more comfort, you'll want to take a look at spring loaded saddles. They have two springs at the back that absorb quite a lot of vibrations and bumps in the road.
A good thing about saddles is that if you don't like it, you can easily swap it for another one. The changing process is fairly easy, and you can take a look at this handy cruiser seats guide that will give you a few options and go into a bit more details as far as saddles go.
What about the grips?
While the saddle is where you're sitting, it's the grips that your hands have contact with. Bad or uncomfortable grips can easily ruin your entire experience. If you depend on your bike as a lightweight commuting bike for everyday use, stay away from bad grips. Just like with the saddles, a bit of padding can't hurt here, but you'll seldom see thick padding. Instead, grip manufacturers often opt for materials that have padding themselves. A popular option is rubber, but lately, we've been seeing quite a lot of silicone grips - ESI's models spring to mind. Silicone grips are usually thick (ESI, for example, give you a few thickness options to choose from), very smooth and very comfortable. Another added benefit is that your hand won't slip if you get caught out in the rain - they're incredibly grippy in that case too.
There is another popular option with grips, and that's leather grips. Leather grips are excellent for a lightweight commuter bike, because they're comfortable, weigh very little, and quality models do have a bit of padding inside them. When you have a bike with a leather saddle, leather grips can really tie things together as far as the design goes. They often have colored stitching, too. Depending on the color combination, they can look stunning.
It's up to you which grips you go for. Sure, they're generally easy to replace. But getting a bike that already has quality grips will make things easier for you. You don't have to buy extra things for your lightweight commuter bike, and you're set to go from the start!
Tires are just as important
We spoke about the saddle and the grips as a contact point between you and your bike. But what about the contact point between your bike and the surface you're riding on? That's where the tires come in. Now, sure, you may think "They're just tires". But there's a lot going on with them.
You may have seen the skinny tires on a road bike. They're usually about an inch wide, and very smooth. These are good for long rides on paved roads. When inflated properly, they have very little rolling resistance. This is the best option when it comes to speed and longer distances. However, they're usually inflated to very high pressures. This means little to no vibration absorption, and hitting a larger pothole may leave you with a snake bite and a flat tire.
Mountain bikes are usually the opposite. They're made to go on uneven terrains with things such as rocks, roots and other obstacles, so their tires must be comfortable. That's why they're generally at least two inches wide, and have rough treads. These treads are grippy on various surfaces, depending on the tire. However, even though they're comfortable, they have quite a lot of rolling resistance. For a lightweight commuter bike, they'll slow you down, which is something you want to avoid if possible.
So, what's the middle ground?
Ideally, you'd want the comfort of a wide, mountain bike tire, without the rough tread that will slow you down. And yes, there is such an option - wide, balloon tires also known as beach cruiser tires. They're just perfect for a lightweight commuter bike. They are wide, plush, and have a smooth contact surface for minimal rolling resistance. A popular option are balloon tires, like the ones on the Peace Bicycles Dreamer.
The balloon tire's tread isn't overly smooth, it does have some tread to it. This is necessary if you want to avoid it slipping all over the place at the slightest hint of rain. However, it's still smooth enough for it to give you extremely little rolling resistance, something that is key if you don't want your lightweight commuter bike to be slowing you down. When inflated to the proper pressure, it will absorb plenty of vibrations from the road, even some minor potholes. The side walls are thick enough for you not to tear them easily, which is always welcome.
But we have yet to mention the best thing about it. It has Kevlar, which is not something you see in a lot of tires. Sure, it does add a fair bit of weight, but the benefit of it is well worth it. Kevlar, as a material, is something that is incredibly hard to puncture. Adding it to the tires makes sure that you get little to no punctures. With a regular tire, punctures would be a regular occasion. Thorns, nails and glass can't get through to your inner tube, which gives you quite a lot of peace of mind.
Let's discuss safety for a moment
A lightweight commuter bike is something that you'll be riding out in the streets fairly often. It should get you from point A to point B as you go to work, or go out for a ride, or run your errands around town. And while it should definitely be comfortable while doing so, it must also be safe. You'll be riding in traffic, and there are others who'll be doing the same as well.
The first thing when it comes to safety are the bike's brakes. They'll need to slow you down, or let you come to a complete stop, every time you need to. There must not be any reliability issues, and they must be working well at all times. A pair of quality brakes will easily guarantee this, and every good lightweight commuter bike should have them.
But since you're in traffic, you'll need to communicate with others, too. You'll need to let them know you're there, and even warn them if you're coming up behind them. To do this, you'll need lights and a bell.
Lights aren't only important at night
It's obvious why you may be inclined to think that lights only matter at night. There's little light available, and you do need other participants in traffic to be able to see you easily, from far away. But when you have lights, even during the day, people will be able to spot you from further away. For a car that's coming up behind you, this can be crucial.
When you're looking at your next lightweight commuter bike, make sure you get one that comes with a front and rear light. Yes, you may buy some afterwards, but that's an additional expense you don't really have to incur if your choice already has them. Plus, a bike that comes with lights usually has lights that are thought of as a part of the design. Therefore, they'll look much better than most of the lights you can buy aftermarket. For everyone who's conscious about how their bike looks, this is a big deal actually.
The bell can help you quite a bit, especially with pedestrians
Whenever you're out and about, there are always pedestrians that believe that not only is the sidewalk theirs, but the bike paths as well. They'll walk all over it, leaving you no room to pass them. You don't want to be shouting at them, so the obvious solution is a bell. And while bells come in various shapes and sizes, their main goal is always the same.
A bell on your handlebar can take up very little space, yet is an invaluable addition to any bicycle. This is especially true for a lightweight commuter bike, since you'll be in and around traffic all the time.
With bells, they can cost very little, or they can be very expensive. But still, the best bell is the one that comes with your lightweight commuter bike when you buy it. Just like with the lights, chances are it was a part of the initial design, and is made to fit the overall design language of the bike itself. Quality commuter bikes, such as the Peace Bicycles Dreamer, will come with one, so you don't have to spend anything extra.
What are your drivetrain options for a lightweight commuter bike?
A lightweight commuter bike can greatly vary in terms of what kind of drivetrain it comes with. And while sure, a drivetrain can be changed, it's usually difficult to do. Therefore, you'll want to get the right option the first time around. With these bikes, you either get a single speed, one with a 3-speed drivetrain, or one with a 7-speed drivetrain. Let's take a look at all the options and see which one works best in various situations.
A single speed commuter bike is the simplest option. You only have one gear. There are no derailleurs, no shifters, and no movable parts that you'll need to adjust every once in a while. Oh, and they may get damaged fairly easily. Instead, you have a single speed, and no way to change it. While this may sound simple, and it truly requires little to no maintenance, it's actually the worst option.
When you get a lightweight single speed commuter bike, you don't have options when you're climbing a hill, or descending it for that matter. You can't just put your bike into an easier gear and keep climbing. You also can't put it in a more difficult one, so you can go faster downhill. Depending on where you live, this can be a huge problem. You may get stuck with a lightweight commuter bike that you can't take very far, rendering it useless in a variety of situations.
Next in line we have the 3-speed drivetrain lightweight commuter bike. Unlike the single speed, here you have three gears to choose from. The easiest one can make things more bearable when you've got a hill to climb, the middle one is usually great for day-to-day use, while the most difficult one can get you riding a bit faster when you need it. It's not a system that's too complicated, yet you'll get a bit of flexibility when necessary.
With a 3-speed drivetrain, you have the choice between internal hub gear bicycles and an external drivetrain. An external one has a regular derailleur and shifter, while the internal one has the gears inside the hub. Out of the two, the internal one is much more reliable, as it isn't impacted by dirt and the elements that much, and there isn't a derailleur you could potentially hit and damage. However, when it comes to adjusting and maintaining one, there isn't much you can do yourself, and you'll need to give a bike shop near you a visit. With an external drivetrain, you'll need to be a bit more careful, but they're much easier and cheaper to maintain and replace in case something does go wrong. Both are good in their own regard, and whichever you go for, you should be good to go.
The last option you'll have is a 7-speed drivetrain on your lightweight commuter bike. This is by far the most versatile option, and if you live in an area where the terrain varies quite a bit, you'll want to go this route. A 7-speed drivetrain can also be an internal or external one, as the components necessary are more or less the same as a 3-speed one. However, you have four extra gears to choose from. With this kind of lightweight commuter bike, you'll be easily able to climb hills, even when you're tired after a day of work, and even when you have extra weight on your bike. If you live in an area which does have a lot of uphills and downhills, you may want to get a lightweight commuter bike with a 7-speed drivetrain,
Accessories that can make your lightweight commuter bike truly useful
A lightweight commuter bike, as we mentioned earlier, can make your day-to-day tasks a bit easier when you need to get around. The thing is, it's not just the bike that makes things easier. The bike will indeed get you from point A to point B, but what if you've got a bag of documents to carry around, or you need to buy groceries on your way home? What if you need to leave the bike somewhere? And what if you need to pass through streets that aren't very dry, in clothes that may get stuck in your wheels? Well, there's a solution to each and every one of these questions. You'll need a few accessories, but with a good lightweight commuter bike, you'll get them as standard. The Peace Bicycles Dreamer is a great example.
Basket and rear rack
Few accessories can be as useful as a basket and a rear rack. The basket is at the front, on top of your front wheel and commonly attached to the handlebars. A basket is usually deep and has high walls, so you can store plenty of items inside. There are plenty of variations, from a basket made of wood, to woven baskets that are lightweight and have a retro theme to them. Whichever one you decide to go for, you'll be getting a great place to store just about anything, from your bag to the groceries you bought on the way home.
A rear rack is usually reserved for heavier items. It attaches to the frame, and usually has a stiff and sturdy construction that allows it to carry quite a bit of weight. The interesting thing with a rear rack is that you can also attach a basket to it if you want. As you can see, there's really no shortage of options for storage when it comes to a lightweight commuter bike.
While both a basket and a rear rack are things you can buy additionally after you buy the bike, just like with anything else, it's better if it's on the bike already. The basket and the rack are both big, and have quite the impact on the design. If they're implemented well in the design, they look seamless, not just like something you've added to your bike as an afterthought.
Ideally, you'll want a lightweight commuter bike that has both. This way, you can easily stop and get groceries on the way home, and have a way to store them, without carrying your bags in your hand.
Whenever you're buying a bike that should be convenient as a daily driver, chances are you'll leave it somewhere quite often. A kickstand allows you to park it just about anywhere, without looking for a bike parking or a wall to lean it against. The problem is that bike manufacturers often include a single kickstand. A single kickstand has your bike leaning over on one side, which isn't ideal.
Let's say you're on your way home, and you need to load your lightweight commuter bike with the groceries you just bought. Loading the items would be much easier if your handlebars were straight and you could just put them inside, right? Well, that's why you need a double kickstand. A double kickstand keeps your lightweight commuter bike perfectly upright. This way, loading things is very easy, and you don't have to worry about the weight of the items tipping the bike over.
Mudguards, chain guard and clothes guard
Mudguards are another very important thing, especially if you live in an area where you'll have a lot of rain. Riding your bike in wet streets can get very messy, very quickly, and you'll end up with water spraying from your wheels and into your clothes and face. But with mudguards, your wheels are covered, and you don't have this issue. All the water and dirt will stay inside the mudguards, instead of going up and into you.
Next, you've got the chain guard. The chain guard is commonly a piece of plastic that covers the chainring, as well as the chain above and below the horizontal section of your frame. Its main goal is to protect your clothes from getting dirty in the chain, and it does a surprisingly good job. It also serves to make sure your loose pants or long dress don't get caught up between the front ring and the chain. This won't just make them dirty. It will more than likely destroy them. This is never good, especially if you're on your way to work with no spare clothes in your office or place of work.
Last but not least, there's the clothes guard. In a way, it's very similar to the chain guard, but it doesn't protect your clothes from the chain. Instead, it covers a sizeable section of the rear wheel, so loose clothing doesn't get caught in it. Even though this may sound like something that almost never happens, it's better to be safe than sorry. It's certainly something you'll want on a lightweight commuter bike.
Wrapping things up - what's the best lightweight commuter bike?
To wrap things up, choosing a lightweight commuter bike isn't all that easy. There is a multitude of factors to consider, and you'll want to have as many covered as possible. There are also a lot of brands to choose from, too, which makes things more difficult. But there's always that brand or two who give you all you need from a lightweight commuter bike.
You get a chromoly steel frame with a comfortable geometry, as well as a great, plush saddle and leather grips. You'll get thick, balloon tires, a bell, front and rear light, as well as a pair of great brakes. You'll get a versatile, useful drivetrain, and all the accessories we just spoke about. Of course, we're talking about the Peace Bicycles Dreamer. It's got all we discussed so far, and with a weight of around 30 lbs without the rack, it fits the bill for the best commuter bike!