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I'm about to purchase a bicycle in the very near future and have been shopping around at different bike shops to see what I like and what they offer.

My primary goal here is to commute to work. It's a 6 mile / 9.5 km ride (each way). It's all paved road, mostly bike lanes, for the duration of the trip. And that's what I tell the sales people.

Twice now, I've been asked if I intended to use my bicycle for 'fitness'. And when I say, 'Well, sure, maybe it'd be nice to do that too...' the salesman points me away from the bigger 'commuter' bicycles and towards the smaller road bicycles (one said a road 'cruiser' would be best, the other just suggested a 'road' bicycle).

I didn't think anything of it until I was at home - but now it's bothering me. How does having a lighter, more efficient bicycle, that promotes a more aerodynamic position ENCOURAGE fitness? Isn't that the exact opposite?

Surely for any given course/distance the cyclist with the heavier, less efficient, bicycle would be working harder. I'm not a cyclist, but I do know if you go to the gym and use a stationary bicycle the more resistance you have the harder the workout.

What am I missing? Would you not get a much better workout on a heavy bike with an extra 70 pounds and sitting in an upright position....than on a top-of-the-line road bicycle?

Or is it just a reason to get me into a higher price-range?

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Might want to also read: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/1549/… –  Benzo Jul 13 '12 at 14:07
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Not really an answer (hence the comment) but I strongly advise getting decent puncture resistant tyres. I bought a road bike for commuting (which had fast 'slicks') and after a number of punctures changed them for silicon-lined, thicker tyres. Fixing a puncture by the side of the road when commuting is a nightmare, especially if you have a wife and young kids waiting impatiently at home ;-) –  Martin Wilson Jul 13 '12 at 14:50
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A heavier bike won't encourage fitness in and of itself either. The recommendation for a lighter, sportier bike is most likely based on the possibility of you wanting to do group rides with others. –  Stephen Touset Jul 13 '12 at 17:28
    
A lighter bike will get you fitter. The extra cost means less money avalible for petrol for the car, meaning you will use it more. Also have $100 bike not being used won't prick to consciance and much as a $1000 bike will. –  mattnz Jul 15 '12 at 6:37
    
I would guess the mind set of the sales people is if you are going to do fitness then you are going to be more serious about riding and in turn want/need a better bike than what they are trying to sell you. Experience has shown me that people that say they 'want to commute' to work want to pay about $100 and try it. People that want a bike for fitness&commute ride because they have fun on the bikes. Reality is that a low end bike rides like a low end bike and you'll be less likly to just go for a 'fun' ride. You don't take a panel van out for a sunday drive, you take the convertible. –  Chef Flambe Jul 16 '12 at 20:16
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9 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Rob, you are correct that a heavier bike will give you a greater fitness benefit over the same distance.

The only real counter-point I have is that the most effective bikes for fitness are the ones that get ridden. So, if some reason a lighter bike would more fun or appealing to you (while still be a "good enough" commuter), than a lighter bike could be a better choice for you.

In my experience, extra weight is not noticed much for commuting, so I'd rather have the durability of CroMoly over aluminum or carbon, and the practical benefits of fenders, racks, lights and bags.

An anecdote: My wife rides a bike with electric assist. You might think electric assist would reduce the fitness benefit, but opposite is true for her. She takes more trips because she has electric assist (including carrying one or two children plus cargo), and thus ends up riding-- and pedaling-- more than if she had an unassisted bike.

Some will suggest that you should get a lighter bike for "social" riding. That depends on who you ride with and what their fitness levels and interests are. I'm personally a stronger rider, and prefer to ride with my wife, parents and older friends, as well my children. For me, having a bike that's a bit heavier improves the social parity and helps to me ride naturally closer to the same speed with the people I prefer to ride with. If you want a hang with "Group A" club rides, lighter would be way the go instead.

Whatever gets you out riding the most is best bike for you.

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Excelent answer. +1. Personally, I find a lighter bike, being more sporty, is more appropriate do do "sport" instead of "transport". But actually, I think too many salesmen try to label you some way so that they can choose the "right" solution to your "problem" from their current bike portfolio. –  heltonbiker Jul 13 '12 at 15:02
    
A heavier bike does not automagically mean "better" fitness. I would add that there are 2 types of "fitness". When you are in the gym, riding that exercise bike, and you crank up the resistance, you are increasing your anaerobic exercise, and (for most people) decreasing your cadence (pedal stroke count). That builds muscle, and is exercise. But most cyclists lean their definition of fitness (at least in my experience) toward aerobic fitness. Better VO2 consumption, better endurance, and higher cadence and speed, which aid in burning fat. –  zenbike Jul 14 '12 at 4:30
    
Think of it as the difference between heavy weight/low rep lifting, and low weight/high rep lifting. Both are good exercise. But while one builds pure strength, the other one is better for overall "fitness". And since most shop employees are cyclists first, they would likely tend towards the kind of fitness that is helpful for cycling/running/swimming. They probably don't even realize they are making an assumption about what fitness means. They just do what they would do for themselves. –  zenbike Jul 14 '12 at 4:33
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Because fast is fun, and exercising for fitness is often not fun. Faster is funner. :-) Or in more 'justifiable' form:

  • Making your fitness activities fun makes it more likely that you'll continue doing them, and gain the fitness you want.
  • A lighter and more responsive bike is definitely more fun, therefore if you're serious about fitness, you may want a serious road bike. (Which doesn't have to be excessively expensive.)
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If you are looking to use your bike primarily as a commuter, then I don't think it's neccesary to get a Road bike meant for fitness cycling or racing. I'd recommend getting a bike that is going to a) meet your needs as a commuter and b) is built with quality components.

What are common needs or wants for a commuter?

  • Mounts for fenders - to keep you drier when it rains
  • Mounts for Racks - to hold panniers, to haul your stuff.
  • Appropriate gearing for the terrain, cargo load, and ability
  • Clearance for the size of tire you want to run. You can always run skinnier tires on a frame with more clearance, but you can't really squeeze fat tires on a standard road bike.
  • Handlebars and shifters are comfortable for you - If you are not racing or riding with a cycling club doing long road rides, you may prefer flat bars for commuting with bar mount shifters as opposed to drop bars with integrated brake/shifter setups.

    Honestly, steel cyclocross bikes and touring bikes with rack/fender mounts tend to be good versatile bikes that be used for recreation riding and commuting.

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    My first commuter bike was a flat bar hybrid bike khsbicycles.com/06_urban_xpress_m_12.htm and it was great for what I needed and had an upright geometry. My only regret is that I wish I had sprung for a bike with a better component group. However, this bike has been with me for 3 years or so despite the fact that I treat it like crap, don't clean it enough, and ride it every day in the winter through snow / slush / salt. I've event taken it on a tour over 300 miles and it still works fine. –  Benzo Jul 13 '12 at 14:25
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    You should look at touring bikes. They offer all the necessary equipment for mounting racks and fenders, but are more like a road bike. Although a little more upright. I got a touring bike this year, and I use it both for commuting and for "fitness". It can go plenty fast, yet has the ability to carry loads when I'm commuting. –  Kibbee Jul 13 '12 at 18:45
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    +1 on the touring bike. Ideal for a longer commute in many cases. The only problem is that the selection is not great. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 14 '12 at 11:45
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    One thing not mentioned is that lighter bikes are more expensive, and have higher margins than cheaper bikes. Also the higher priced, bikes tend to have higher margins, why sell you a $200 bike and make $10 profit when he can sell you a $500 bike and make 50, or $2000 and make $1000 profit.

    Lighter bikes also last a shorter time - getting back to the shop so they get more $$$$, they also tend to need more maintaince - back to the shop, more $$$$$ - that performance does not come cheap. Also remember that cycling is the new golf - as such, people often want to be seen to have a better (or at least as good) bike than his riding partner. It's nothing more than personal choice if you want to play that game, but the sales guy (If he's any good) will make you feel you have to play it.

    There is a price point where you get a happy medium for you. For me, it's a steel frame hardtail MTB at $900- For others, it's a $200 Walmart special and others a $5000 carbon dream machine. Only thing is, don't let the shop guy convince you need to spend more than you are prepered to, especially if his only reason is "You go faster". Spend money where it counts - for a commuter, reliabilty and comfort.

    To cheap and things are not only heavy , but not well built and unreliable. A bit more will get you heavy and reliable, soon you are spending money to save weight, and trading reliability and length of life to get it.

    Personally I feel that for a commuter, steel frame and mid - high end components is better than carbon with low-mid components.

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    Good points in the other answers, the one bit that I would add is that if you do want it also for "fitness", that somewhat implies that you will be doing some sort of group riding in the future. Here's where the lighter, sporty bikes come in.

    While going 60 miles on a heavier bike will undoubtedly be more of a workout on a heavier bike, you aren't going to be able (unless your name is Aaron Scheidies) to hang with a bunch of guys and gals on "road bikes". Riding with other people can be a lot of fun. It takes something that is fun exercise and catapults it into a social event.

    I'll second the cyclo-cross mention. These can be great all around bikes, throw some slicks (road tires) on them and they are a road bike with attitude. My current commuter is a 'cross bike and on the way home last night I joined into an impromptu 3 man pace line...we smoked through a good third of my commute...better than hanging out at the bar over a beer.

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    While I agree with the existing answers there is something about a relaxed geometry heavy commuting bike that means it feels 'right' to pootle along on it daydreaming on the way to or from work. On the other hand a lightweight racer seems to want to go fast. I know this is entirely irrational but I like meandering through London on a Boris bike, but the sound that the high-pressure slick tires make on my racing bike (almost like a tuning fork) just begs to go faster. It also helps focus on the important stuff, the reason I am not faster on my racing bike is all down to my weight and my fitness, not the weight or quality of the bike.

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    Ultimately you want a bike that you will enjoy riding. An over-heavy bike is clumsy to ride, and a super-racer bike is uncomfortable for most people, so somewhere in-between is usually the best choice.

    I'd actually encourage starting with a relatively inexpensive (perhaps used or maybe borrowed) bike, until you get a "feel" for riding and decide if you're a "racer" or a "loafer", and decide if your body is more comfortable upright or in a racing crouch.

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    Position can have a huge effect on the intensity of a workout. The relaxed upright position of a beach cruiser, for example, makes it difficult to have an intense workout. Some commuters enjoy a relaxed position and low intensity, while "fitness" commuters seek high intensity. The position of a road bike makes it very comfortable to ride at a fast pace and almost uncomfortable to ride at a slow pace. So it's more about the position of the "better" bikes than the lighter weight (though lightweight bikes may offer a psychological advantage for some).

    As anecdotal evidence, I offer the situation of my wife, who on a hybrid bike never exceeded 8 miles per hour. On her first ride on a road bike, she surprised me by averaging around 15 miles per hour. She explained that leaning forward put her in a more athletic mode and almost forced her to ride harder. Likewise, I found the position and handlebars of my mountain bike to be limiting for my fitness-oriented commutes and switched to a road bike.

    This doesn't mean that if you're a fitness commuter that you need a carbon fiber bike, but rather that you may feel limited by the position, handlebars, and seat style of a hybrid or beach cruiser. A touring bike, a cyclocross bike, or even a racing bike may be more appropriate and comfortable if you're really pushing yourself.

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    This is true. A forward crouch does seem to make it easier to ride a bit harder and "encourage" you to do so. Of course, it's a balancing act to not overdo and make riding too unpleasant, especially if you're starting out a little out of shape. (In particular, the amount of forward crouch one can manage comfortably tends to be limited by the amount of avoirdupois ballasting the rider.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 16 '12 at 21:00
        
    Yes, and I think a touring-style bike is probably a good balance for someone getting themselves into shape. –  amcnabb Jul 16 '12 at 22:30
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    People definitely noticed when I'd pass them on climbs I could muscle over, but longer, drawn-out climbs demonstrated that high cadence (80+) is a better approach for the workout. The higher cadence increases the likelihood of hitting the point where you are burning fat. At which point, you don't have to ride hard.

    Any bike will allow you to reach that point.
    But the weight is a factor for the speed you can reach, and sustain. Which only matters when riding with groups.

    There's no frame that's perfect for everything, but cyclocross covers most of the bases enough. They generally support fenders & racks, and disc brakes are becoming very common (even on high end frames). With a triple ring crank, you've got a great touring bike. A compact crank is fine for most commuting, and a standard 53/39 will put you on par with most road bikes.

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    Actually, weight has very little effect on the speed you can reach on the flat. Rolling resistance and air resistance are the limiting factors there. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 14 '12 at 22:30
        
    @DanielRHicks: Sure, but the route isn't likely to be entirely flat. And we don't have the same energy for the hill/etc at the end as we do at the start (assuming long enough ride). –  OMG Ponies Jul 15 '12 at 0:57
        
    Actually, we don't know what the OP's route is like. (And if weight is such an issue then disk brakes would be a negative.) –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 15 '12 at 2:24
        
    @DanielRHicks: You're grasping at straws. –  OMG Ponies Jul 15 '12 at 3:21
        
    I'm grasping at physics. You're grasping at air. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 15 '12 at 18:40
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