Here’s How to Choose an Urban Bicycle

So, you've decided to join the urban cycling lifestyle. That's great! But you're not sure which bike is best for you?

No worries. We’ve got you covered.

Urban bicycles are all-purpose bikes for leisurely riding and regular transportation. They typically have a more upright riding position and cushioned seat than other bikes. You’ll hear urban bikes referred to by a lot of different names – urban bikes, city bikes, cruiser bikes, commuter bikes, hybrid bikes, gravel bikes, and e-bikes. But essentially, there are three main types of urban bikes: commuters, cruisers and gravel bikes. (For a comparison with non-urban bikes, see below.)

A benefit of cruisers, commuters and gravel bikes for urban riding is that they typically have extra features that come with, or can be added to, the bike. For example, fenders to protect your clothes from road spray on wet days, racks to carry cargo, baskets, and – our favorite – panniers. 

Commuter Bikes

Commuter bikes are designed for everyday transportation. They offer a mostly upright riding posture for comfortable commuting. Typically, commuters have straight handlebars but can come with drop handlebars. These have an additional downward curve where the ends of a straight handlebar would be, creating a second, lower location to place your hands. 

These bicycles have medium-width tires designed for paved surfaces but can handle some off-road riding, like on a gravel path. Also, they typically have several gears to choose from, which help you find a comfortable pedal cadence at a range of speeds. Multiple gears are also helpful when going up or downhill. Finally, commuter bikes often come with a bike rack attached or pre-made holes in the frame where a bike rack can be bolted on. 

Cruiser Bikes

Cruiser bikes have colorful options and evoke the feeling of ambling (or cruising) along the beachfront. One reason for this is that cruisers have an upright riding position – more so than commuter bikes. This is partly due to their handlebars that curve toward the rider, allowing you to grip the handlebars without leaning forward. They also have wide, thick tires and a cushioned seat to soften the riding experience. 

Woman walking white cruiser bike in the city


Generally, cruisers have fewer gears – one to three – making them ideal for a flat ride but not much else. They also usually come with coaster brakes, where you cycle backward to stop. As a bonus, their few gears, brakes and heavier frames mean they require less maintenance and are more durable. Cruisers tend to come with racks already attached or part of the frame and are color-matched to the bike. 

Gravel Bikes

Gravel bikes are quickly growing in popularity for urban riding. They are a lot like a road bike, with multiple gears and drop handlebars, but they knobby tires designed for gravel. These bikes do have a more robust frame than a typical road bike, making them perfect for the demands of a daily commute. These bikes are also set up to be fitted with frames for baskets, panniers and other accessories. 

Other Types of Bikes

Urban bikes differ from road, mountain and touring bikes. While these other types can be used in an urban setting, they are often not as suited or comfortable for everyday commuting or leisurely riding. 

Road bikes are designed for athletic pursuits on smooth pavement (think the Tour de France). They have a lot of gears, drop handlebars, and thin tires. Their frames typically place the rider in an aggressive position. Combined, these features make road bikes less balanced or comfortable for daily commuting. In addition, road bikes usually come with cleat pedals, which means you need a separate pair of shoes that attach to the pedals – one more thing to carry if you are commuting for work. 

Woman riding mountain bike over urban bridge


Mountain bikes are designed for off-road adventures and steep uphill or downhill riding. They have straight handlebars, thick tires, and heavy-duty suspension. They usually have lower gears than urban bikes. This is better for climbing hills easily but makes it harder to ride quickly. These bikes are slower and more challenging to ride on the road. 

Touring bikes typically look like road bikes but are sturdier because they are designed for self-supported long-distance riding (where you carry your luggage on your bike). They have slightly wider tires and a more upright position than road bikes. However, they will still be heavier and have a more aggressive position than an urban bicycle. 

In addition to the types of bikes we have covered, will also hear often about e-bikes. This is an umbrella term and many of the types of bikes we’ve discussed can also be found in e-bike versions. 

How does all this help you buy a bike?

Now that you know more about the different kinds of bikes, you can compare how their unique attributes impact which bike is best for you.  

Do you remember your answers to the 7 Considerations Before Buying a Bike?  

The type of riding you want to do and your typical route need to be considered. For example, if you are going to be on a hilly route or need to go on unpaved paths, a commuter will be a better choice than a cruiser.  This is because of its gear and tire options. Or, if your destination requires you to lock the bike up without a bike rack, you’ll want to add a kickstand – a common option on urban bikes, but less so on other types of bikes. 

Most people consider a more relaxed, upright posture more comfortable for daily commuting and leisure riding. This makes urban cycles a good choice. However, remember that cruisers have the most upright position if you determine that this is important to you. 

How do you feel about changing gears and braking? If either or both sounds overwhelming to you, consider a cruiser. Bikes, like cruisers, with two or three gears allow you to change the gears while stationary. 

Do you need to carry anything on your bike? Depending on how much, you may want to consider a bike rack and or basket. Any urban cycle or touring bike can meet this need. If you are planning to use your road or mountain bike for your daily commute, you will need to get a rack fitted as an extra. 

Green cruiser bike with wicker rear basket


Last but certainly not least, remember your personal style! We strongly believe that functionality doesn’t mean having to sacrifice style. (After all, it’s why we created our Sunnyside Wicker Pannier in the first place!) Urban bikes come in a range of colors and styles. They can evoke the beachside or cityscape, be modern or classical, and allow you to step through (great if you wear a skirt) or not. 

Now that you’re on the road to choosing a bike, you'll want to consider which accessories are most important. To find out more, click below to sign up for our newsletter and get this next post as soon as it drops. 


How to Buy a Bike

7 Considerations Before Buying a Bike

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