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Escape the Pandemic - Tips For Picking Your First Commuter Bike

A tricycle rider in Malabon City, Philippines

Public transport is an affordable and convenient way to travel. However, as the world tackles the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been restricted to maintain social distancing and prevent disease transmission. This has left many commuters with lesser options to get from point A to point B.

Bike commuters before boarding a ferry crossing from Jordan, Guimaras to Iloilo City

One alternative we’ve always had, and allows proper social distancing, is commuting by bike! Aside from being a mode of transport and a solution to road congestion, cycling provides exercise as a method of disease prevention. A bike does not emit carbon when used. This makes them environmentally-friendly and a tool in fighting climate change. Since you’re the one propelling the bike, you’ll be burning fat, not fuel.

Cities across the world have been promoting cycling in recent years to solve their traffic, pollution and health problems. And now it’s being done more urgently as a result of this pandemic. In the Philippines, Baguio and Pasig have led the way in integrating bike commuting into the new normal. You too can benefit from cycling. All you need is a bike!

There’s no one kind of bike that’s best for commuting. It depends on how you’ll use it and where you’ll ride. Your destination affects your route and how long you’ll be riding. Paved roads are expected in cities. In the Philippines though, this isn’t a given. Road surfaces can be so poor that it’s almost like you’re off-road. Don’t worry, some bikes are built for this type of beating.

Tires

Here’s when you should consider your contact points with the road, the bike’s tires. Wider tires pass easily over potholes and road debris more easily than slimmer ones. They also will lessen chances of getting a flat on your commute and improve comfort on the saddle. Mountain bikes built for rough terrain, whose tire widths are 1.5 inches (35.56 mm) and wider, are a commonly used by Filipino bike commuters. Their only downside is greater rolling resistance, or drag, on the road. You’ll need to put in a bit more effort in exchange for the comfort and peace of mind.

Mountain bike tires were built for riding off-road.

For comparison, road bikes roll easier with tires less than 28 mm wide, but these will be more prone to flats on bad road conditions. Others types like folding bikes or granny bikes have tire widths between the ranges of road and mountain bikes.

Granny bikes are a common commuter bike around the world

 

Folding bikes are made compact by its folding mechanism allowing for its easy storage

In the past few years, gravel bikes have evolved as a hybrid between mountain bikes and road bikes. Their tires come in between 32 mm and 50 mm. These widths are similar to folding and granny bike tires. However, the gravel bikes were built for gravel roads and light trails. Their tires have tread patterns designed to have better grips on surfaces. Folding bikes and granny bikes are designed exclusively for paved surfaces and have smoother treads.

Size and Geometry

The next thing to consider is the level of control and comfort you’ll want on your bike. These are primarily determined by the bike’s size and geometry.

Your height determines the bike size for you. Riding a bike that isn’t in your size may be uncomfortable or be difficult to control. Ask your local bike shop what size will suit you best. And if you’d like cycle in a skirt, check out bikes whose frames are curved down between the handlebar and saddle. You can also check out this bike size calculator to help find your best sized bike.

A bike’s geometry determines if you’ll ride a relaxed or an aggressive position. A relaxed position means you’ll be sitting more upright, allowing for easier balancing and handling. Examples of bikes with these geometries are folding bikes and granny bikes. Mountain bikes also have riders sit in a more upright position since they’re built for better control when riding off-road. On the other hand, road bikes built for speed have more aggressive geometries to reduce aerodynamic drag.

Gravel bikes, being a hybrid between mountain bikes and road bikes, have geometries in between these two types of bikes.

Route Planning Considerations

Another important consideration is your route’s terrain. Is it flat all the way or are there slopes? Having a bike with multiple gears will make pedaling uphill easier. In some cases the additional gears raise a bike’s price, but worth the investment if you pass rolling terrains. If your route is flat, then a cheaper single speed bike will work well.

Also ask yourself if you’ll be riding the entire way or if you’ll be using other modes of transportation. Full-sized bikes are preferred by cyclists who go all the way. If you’ll be going multi-modal, Folding bikes are more convenient because they can easily fit inside trunks and brought on buses or trains.

And if you think you’ll be finding yourself riding at night, bike lights are essential. These are usually rechargeable and available at most bike shops. Be sure to get a pair of rear and front lights. Other accessories that enhance visibility are reflective jackets, bands and bag covers.

Cargo

Will you be bringing supplies on your ride? You may want check bikes with baskets and rear racks. These come in handy when you have cargo because you won’t need to wear a backpack, dangle a plastic bag on your handlebars or more dangerously, ride one-handed. Many granny bikes are already built with these accessories. Otherwise, clip-on bike racks, baskets and attachable bike bags are available from most bike shops.

Buying Tips

Once you’ve determined where and how you’ll be using your bike, you can start looking for one. Having a set budget during your search helps narrow down the choices. I suggest first finding the cheapest bike that checks everything off your list. Use this bike as a test to validate your preferences in a bike. This is to avoid spending a lot of money on something that you might not like. Knowing what you want on paper is one thing, but riding and feeling the bike completes the picture.

Bike shops always have affordable options. Good deals can also be found at online marketplaces. Buying brand new does have its merits, but sometimes you can find better value in second hand and surplus bikes. If ever you find yourself looking at pre-loved bikes, keep an eye out for the following:

  1. Inspect the tires if they have punctures by asking the seller to inflate them.
  2. Inspect the bike’s drivetrain. This consists of the pedals, crank arm, chain ring, front/rear derailleur and gears. These are metal parts prone to rust when not maintained. And you don’t want them to snap in the middle of a ride.
  3. Dents and other cosmetic damages.

Hopefully, these tips will give you a better perspective in choosing a commuter bike. Once you have one, you can start practicing how to ride!

And when you feel the need for more comfort on your ride, check out Ciclo's latest collections!

All photos by Joseph Angan

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