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I'm looking for a bike that would work for a long commute to and from work, around 45 miles each way, country roads and some city traffic. I am a pretty experienced runner, and can do my barefoot 10 - 13 mile trail runs 4 - 5 times a week, and I feel I can handle the physical toll. I've done a 20 mile commute, to and from work, and my boss lets me shower in the mop sink / freshen up and change. Any recomendations?

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    Go for it!! I used to commute and take a "short cut" of about 30 miles in the AM, then 12 miles home. And I'm "crippled" with polio. (But don't do this every day to start out -- give yourself at least 2 days to recover, until you get used to it.) – Daniel R Hicks Aug 12 '14 at 2:56
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    Are you looking at upright bikes only, or are you open to electric assist and recumbent/velomobile suggestions? That's a pretty solid daily ride even for someone who's very fit. – Móż Aug 12 '14 at 4:01
  • I'm all for people cycling around the place, but 45 miles each way seems too far, not so much in terms of it being too hard (although for most of us this is probably the case), but in terms of amount of time you'd spend in the saddle each day. Maybe, as Mσᶎ suggests, some kind of HPV is the way to go? – PeteH Aug 12 '14 at 6:48
  • 90 mile seems a bit excessive. My own ride is 12 mile per day, and I would happily do twice or three times that, but once you start talking 50 mile or more that puts you in the "super athlete" ranks. Are you a super athlete? – vikingsteve Aug 12 '14 at 11:58
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    Personally, I wouldn't want to commute 45 miles each way to/from work by any means of transportation, unless perhaps there was a helicopter or door-to-door high speed train (100 miles/hour) option. It would just be too much of a time sink. It would be nice to have the option to spend 4 hours a day biking, but doing it on the same route every day to get to work would become quite a chore. – Kibbee Aug 12 '14 at 12:27
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90 miles is roughly 140km, so if you're riding that every day it's about 700km a week. Which puts you in elite rider territory for upright bikes without power assist.

It's doable, it's just going to be hard and you'll need to work on nutrition and health as well as fitness. Note that there's also a balance here - if you use world class equipment to get a bit more speed, but need extra recovery and dress/undress time, you might not gain anything. So it might be better (as well as a lot cheaper) to go with elite level gear. I've assumed you'll do that below. You could drop further down that scale, but you will start to lose overall and also the sheer time involved will mean you can only sleep, ride, work (you're already looking at riding 4 hours a day, working 8, sleeping 8, eating 1... that's 3 hours for everything else in your life).

If you're just going to buy a standard elite road bike ($5,000+ and riding kit $1,000+), I suggest joining your local club and buying whatever their favourite bike shop recommends. It will probably help to have two bikes so you can get your weekly service done without having to panic about whether your LBS can get it done in time. Especially initially, you're probably going to need to ride alternate days, and you'll benefit greatly from going on your club training rides once a week or so rather than commuting every day. That way you get training tips and someone to help you understand how your bike works and how to get best use out of it.

One option is to buy a power assisted bike. You'll need to look really hard at battery life, and if you can get a second charger and leave that at work it'll be much easier. I'd also buy two batteries, because 90 miles a day is going to hammer the battery. From your use of imperial units I'm going to guess you're in the USA, which means power limits are hard to predict (they vary haphazardly around the US).

Note that most ebikes and kits are designed to boost low speeds only, and in Europe you can't boost high speeds at all (assist has to cut out at 30kph). So you'll need to shop specifically for kits that will boost you at 20-30mph. Those exist, I've seen a couple of triathalon bikes set up with 500W front hub motors that could cruise at 70kph/45mph for an hour... but those were "money no object" demonstration units at a world solar challenge.

A recumbent is the obvious way to deal with some of the problems. If you choose a fast lowracer or highracer style bike and use bright lights to compensate for the lower profile you will get better comfort and similar speed, assuming your ride is relatively flat. The big win really is comfort - you won't be fighting saddle sores anywhere near as much as on an upright, and you won't be as sore after the ride.

Zocra lowracer highracer

The lowracer style (on the left) is slightly faster in a time trial, slightly slower in a slalom, but you're in a time trial. The main reason to buy a high racer is wheels - they typically use 700c wheels so you can use the wheelset off your existing bike, or buy them easily anywhere. 406 wheels for lowracers are typically harder to find and there's not the intense market contest to get you really nice wheels are a reasonable price.

Combining those two will require a little more work, but a recumbent will probably take a power assist kit better than the road bikes you're looking at. IMO this is the way to go, as you get a small, light, fast bike at a reasonable price (under $10,000). If you did put a kit into your front wheel it would be relatively easy to swap in and out, so you'd only have the wiring and battery mount in place when you wanted to leave it at home.

Trisled Avatar

The no-compromises approach would be a velomobile, possibly with power assist. The Trisled Avatar is designed to go 50kph/30mph using 200W from the rider. Other velomobiles give similar numbers, especially if you pay extra for the fast versions. If you're fit enough to consider riding 90 miles a day, every day you should be able to exceed that fairly easily. That would cut your commute time without compromising your body the way staying in a time trial tuck for 90 minutes would. I believe someone in the USA is doing a 30 mile each way commute in an Avatar. (full disclosure: the Trisled factory owner is a friend of mine).

Trisled don't support electric assist, but there are other fast velomobiles that do. The eWAW is one, but their focus is on helping with stop-start riding so you'd have to talk to them about getting better top speed on long rides. The Avatar is about $15,000 in the USA, the eWAW starts at about 7,000 Euro(google docs link, in Dutch) but I think the electric version is 8,500 Euro.

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    added a couple of pics so it's more obvious what I'm talking about – Móż Aug 12 '14 at 7:46
  • Start-stop oriented e-assist isn't as bad as it sounds as acceleration and ascents will be the the main energy focus of a lightweight low-drag vehicle (especially 2-wheel recumbents who avoid the extra rolling resistance inherent to trikes). – Emyr Aug 12 '14 at 12:36
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    FWIW at one stage I was commuting ~20 miles each way every day, on a recumbent trike (a racing model), with a pannier. The trike took it from a little over an hour most days to under an hour every day. Especially in headwinds the trike was significantly faster. And commuting is not just about "fine calm days", it's about agreeing to work an extra couple of hours just before the weather changes, then riding 45 miles home on a rainy night. That would suck. TBH, even 20 miles on those nights sucked. – Móż Aug 13 '14 at 4:37
  • A note on velomobiles: having to start at e.g. traffic lights is quite painful due to weight and riding position. So if the commute has lots of stopping points, e.g. goes through several major cities, think twice before putting down the sum for a small car. – arne Aug 13 '14 at 6:43
  • Backing what Arne said, for a while I commuted only about 10km, but through 32 traffic lights. The velomobile was slower and more tiring to ride on that route, and frankly it was a silly thing to ride in busy traffic with lots of bikes in the bike lanes. But 30km along less busy roads with few traffic lights it was a joy, and both faster and easier. On wet days... the velo was marvellous :) – Móż Sep 6 '16 at 21:21
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Background

Starting in the late 90's I have done a lot of long distance commuting over the years. Typically my volume has been about 200-300 km / week, not quite the 700 km/week you are proposing, but a decent amount. This is done on an upright bike with no power assist, in all weather conditions (sun, rain and light snow). In that time I have also done a lot of experimenting on setup and have been slowly amassing data (e.g., see Relative efficiency of different commute bike setups), which I hope to publish one day. I have tried quite a few set-ups (road, cx, touring, hybrid, mountain) and drivetrain types (e.g., derailleur gears, internal gear hubs, fixed, single speed). As I personally prefer upright bikes, I will restrict my answer to these types of bikes.

The Ideal Distance Commuter (Personal)

From my experience I keep coming back to same set up, which is a mix of classic and modern. A road bike (surprise), sport geometry (as opposed to a race geometry), steel (or some other compliant ride) with eyelets and rear rack mounts, derailleur gears, efficient wheels, efficient tires, clearance for larger volume tires (e.g., 700c 28-35mm) and metal fenders.

As an example below is a picture of my fast commuter (Soma ES), which I have a hard time improving on at the moment. I tend to ride a lot of country back roads, open chip-seal (rough) and a bit of compacted gravel. I have been moving towards larger volume tires (e.g., 700c 28-35mm) that have a race tire construction (e.g., supple, fast rolling compound) and the gains over rougher roads are noticeable. They feel a little sluggish compared to more race oriented tires (e.g., 700c x 23mm) on smooth roads, but this seems to largely be perception as the numbers I am recording seem to suggest otherwise. If the roads were smoother I would probably settle on a more narrow tire (e.g., 700c x 25mm).

Soma ES - pulling a trailer Soma ES - Fast & Functional - picking up a present 50 km errand

Interestingly, this is very close to the coveted randonneur design that Bicycle Quarterly seems to advocate, but I find many Rando bikes are often a little too upright and bulky which tends slows you down on the flats. Not to say Rando bikes are not optimized for their purpose which are very long rides often over much rougher conditions.

What to avoid

I have tried other upright bikes setups that promised to be maintenance free (e.g., internal hubs, disc brakes), but over long distances you really start to notice the inefficiencies either in weight or lost power transfer. At least for more inexpensive internal gear hubs (IGH) such as Shimano's offerings, I found the lose in efficiency could be substantial at bigger distances. For example, over 80-100 km I was losing about 20-30 minutes on a "fast" hybrid with IGH compared to a classic well sorted road bike.

Contact Points

When you are riding this type of distance you will need to be mindful of your contact points and position. This is personal preference and can take quite a while to sort out. It took me years really before I have gotten quite happy.

  • Find a good bike fitter
    • Don't get anything until you have seen a top rated fitter. They can save you a lot of heart ache and time.
  • A Good saddle is very important
    • I have had the best luck with Brooks, but it took me trying a number of different models before I finally found a really good fit. The break in time is also long.
  • Good shoes and pedals.
    • This is how you transfer the power. Stiff shoes and pedals with a good platform and smooth float will often pay dividends
  • Bar and bar tape
    • This can often be overlooked, but depending on your build and position some bars may work well others not. Many 'race' bars are really put the priority on sprinting and wind efficiency and as such make lousy distance bars. A good fitter should be able to help here.
    • A high quality bar tape can dampen a lot of high frequency vibration making your ride more comfortable.

Position

Position on the bike is very important for long distances. Here you have to find a delicate balance between efficiency and comfort. If you are too 'slammed' (handle bars far below the saddle) you may be efficient (in terms of drag) but not comfortable. As your ride progresses you will actually ride slower due to discomfort.

Here again a fitter can help. The optimal position really depends on your build, flexibility and experience. For example, after I stopped racing and had kids my upper and mid back flexibility took a bit of a nose dive. This ended up causing me to be tight, resulted in knee pain and even made me alter my position. After a good physio therapist identified the functional deficit, I got my flexibility back and was able to ride in a more slammed position again.

Carrying gear

Another important consideration is carrying gear. I typically have to take my laptop with me so I use panniers. On Monday's I tend to ride my touring bike out with everything for the week, leaving me lighter loads for the rest of the week. If you mix transportation modes and drive, take everything you can for that week. Some swear by backpacks but I find them annoying.

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You haven't indicated how frequently you intend to do that commute by bike and people are just assuming it is 5x/week. Not saying it is impossible, but I will answer this question as though you are asking about what is appropriate for a "long" commute.

I've done a 32mi roundtrip commute regularly (1-3x/week), and a 12 mi roundtrip commute daily. The most practical bike for long distance is a randonneur type roadbike: fenders, relaxed geometry, eyelets for light racks, decent wheels with 3-cross lacing. A racing bike is fine as well, but on a crappy day you'll appreciate fenders. As you start pushing near/past 1 hour each way, you will of course need good lights, appropriate clothing, puncture-resistant tires, and clipless pedals. Bikewise, the most important thing is the "FIT" NOT brand or component choice.

Logistically, it is easier to just keep clothing at your work and stock up on days where you drive. Likewise, you'll want your work IT department to provision you with a laptop for home that you don't have to lug back-and-forth to work.

Here's my bike (w/o rack). I've since gone through 2 bottom brackets, crank/cogs, 2xpedals, one seatpost and many tires. enter image description here

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I have been riding 50K to work everyday from May to November (Eastern Canada) on an old Peugeot steel frame converted to fixed gear (build guide) since the ride is mostly flat. Although I am considering a touring/cyclocross bike because I can no longer stand the grinding into the wind. There is something to be said about gears. Also since I started commuting, I have been through many chains, 3 bottom brackets, numerous tubes, multiple tire, one headset, two sets and 3 sets of pedals. I'm starting to believe that the so called low maintenance fixed/single speed theory is simply fallacy. And again the wind really sucks.

I agree with keeping clothes at work if you have good access to a dry cleaner. I simply bring in clean shirt and sundries. I have also ditched the laptop altogether and carry an iPad back and forth and use either Remote Desktop via VPN or access to a VM through a browser for the medium work load. Keeping it light is key.

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    Having commuted on both, I agree it is mostly a fallacy. You do need to keep the cogs, derailleur pulleys a little more clean with a geared bike (perhaps 10 min every couple of weeks), but the advantage gained by being able to have the right gear on long commutes is huge. Older lower speed drive trains (e.g., 7,8,9 speed) seem more immune to conditions than higher speeds (10-11) in terms of consistent shifting under bad weather. – Rider_X Apr 21 '15 at 20:26
  • Thanks for the tip on the lower speeds. I run 11 speed cassette on my carbon road bike and pretty much keep that as clean as possible. I was thinking of using an 11 speed 105 cassette but now I'm thinking differently. – JohnnyCanuck Apr 21 '15 at 20:44
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    For winter I went back to 9 speed. It stood up quite well to the continual mud bath I was riding in on the gravel trails I take in the winter. I simply wiped the chain clean (then oiled and wiped clean again) every couple of weeks. Some how was getting 2500 km out of a KMC chain in that muck. Shifting (Durace bar cons) remained flawless all winter with no adjustment. I also used long metal fenders and a wide leather mudflap that comes to within an inch of the ground. This kept a lot at of junk at bay. – Rider_X Apr 21 '15 at 22:56
  • Even dug out some 15 year old 9 speed cassettes from the collection. Still ran fine. – Rider_X Apr 21 '15 at 22:58

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