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I'm looking at getting a new bike to replace my current hardtail mtb for commuting about 8 miles a day, plus possible train travel, and longer commutes elsewhere.

With a budget of under £400, do I go for a mid range singlespeed/fixie with a flip flop hub, and just man up and struggle through the hills, or get a bottom/low range road bike, risk it getting stolen/trampled/damaged, but have the ability to go on longer rides (which doesn't really interest me, but will still happen occasionally).

As I see it, a singlespeed is less flashy, so therefore will not attract as much attention with regard to theft, and although would be a struggle on longer pleasure rides, will outweigh the benefits of a road bike with gears?

  • I second an SS bike, buy a cheap bike frame with used components – azer89 Feb 8 '15 at 16:47
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    Why not keep the hardrock? It can have racks + fenders, is pretty durable and not flashy. The gearing is fine for commuting as well. – Batman Feb 8 '15 at 20:20
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    If you have to ask if a SS is suitable for you, its not. They are cheap, but Knee replacement at 50 years old is not. – mattnz Feb 9 '15 at 0:05
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There are only really two things. First, as you identify, there is the issue of gradients. If you think that difference goes away if you just "man up", good luck with that. Even if you had the leg power (most of us don't, we'd end up pushing the bike and likely mashing our knees in the process), it would be very difficult to select one gearing that would be suitable for all gradients.

The second thing is maintenance. Single speeds are a bit easier to maintain because there is no derailleur arrangement. Get your chainline right and you're basically down to fixing punctures. So if you're not into diy, or money will be tight as regards keeping the bike on the road, then that could be a factor. But you still have tyres, brakes and less frequently bottom brackets and chainrings to worry about, just like a road bike.

I think your reasoning about theft is likely wrong, or at the very least governed by geography. I can imagine certain places where it is ultra-cool to ride a fixie, and therefore they would be in strong demand. For example, London, Tokyo, probably other cities too. I mean, these things are largely fashion accessories. Also I think buying a bike because it is less likely to get stolen is a recipe for disaster (especially when it gets stolen).

I think you're right in terms of your price analysis though. In the "new" market, a budget of £400 will not buy a good road bike. You might have a chance of finding something if you're wanting a flip-flop, although my flip-flop (a nothing-special Charge Plug) retailed new at around £600 iirc. Secondhand gives you more scope, of course (I got mine off eBay), but you need to know what you're looking for.

You mention mountain bikes in the title, but not really in the question. The pros/cons of these are pretty much the same as the pros/cons for road bikes, in this context at any rate.

  • Yep, a fixie is mush more likely to go AWOL – andy256 Nov 1 '15 at 22:54
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I had been communing on a fixie for a couple of years after switching from a hardtail mountain bike. It felt so fast and wonderful at first. But I ended up getting a road bike after a while and then loved communiting on it. I have since put a rack on the fixie and put a 3 speed internal gear hub on the back and it really serves me well. Sometimes coming home I was just so tired from work and then if it was windy, I really wanted some gears. 3 seems like the perfect amount for me now. Also very low maintenance because it really behaves like a single speed.

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In your case, go with a used hybrid-style bike.

Something light, with ~28inch tires you can pick the best tread as is applicable. MTB bikes will ultimately be "slow" for a commuter, you are primarily going to be on city-streets so don't bother with an MTB-design, too much of your energy is transferred or absorbed by the wheels, shocks, tread, etc.

Street bikes make up the other extreme -- fastest and lightest; nimblest, but equally less comfy and ultimately less fun. After all if it's not fun to commute on the bike, what is the point? I don't feel that shocks are needed, at-most a comfortable seat in terms of things that slow the bike down in exchange for comfort.

I ride a hybrid that is tig-welded aluminum, 18 speed, looks like a cruiser but has the upright-stance that, well ... it meets the middle between a comfortable, practical and efficient stance. I'm up high on the bike -- I look down the rooftops of cars - this particular bike is out of your price range but if you watch whatever your euro-equivalent of Craigslist is closely, you'll find an awesome hybrid that is light, nimble, safe, like-new and as fast or faster than most road bikes.

I don't want to sound biased or like I'm plugging a brand but I ride a 2011 Townie 2200d; it's a rare design and the company doesn't build this design, the bike or an 18-speed gear set anymore (Shimano-custom - 2 up front, 6 rear w/ an extra low 1st gear) today they make 7 speeds, which can be had new in your range.

They are extremely popular commuter bikes in California mainly for being fun, safe, light & fast -- the winning combo for getting from point a to b then back.

"fixies are less likely to get stolen," is false. Fixies are in high demand due to the reasons you cited that you might want one. They are a bit cheaper since there are no derailleurs ... but a bike thief can turn a fixie into cash same-day making them just as desirable as a MTB, hybrid, beach, or road bike of equivalent value. Sometimes more so, due to the demand. What good is a stolen $5000 bike unless you have someone ready to buy it?

The biggest mistake I see with bike owners is that the quality of the lock and bike are often in inverse-proportion. Once you settle on a bike - choose a quality u-lock and use it always. Just to run into a store? Those times when you think "I can leave it unlocked, this will only take a moment + I'll be able to see it the whole time." That's when you should at least lock the bike to itself. No opportunist is going to jump my townie in such fashion; they'd have to carry it away + have a truck or something ready to throw it in, otherwise the theft would be entirely impractical. If everyone took the same extra time I do with security; far less bikes would get clipped.

Also take note that I've had knee & ankle replacement in my right leg - the stance, feel and ride to that bike is perfect for my needs. If I can ride with dexterity and speed (and I am not in awesome shape, not even close) then anyone can - great design goes especially far when it comes to commuter bikes.

Go with gears! At least 3. Even if 99% of your ride is on a flat, it's that errant steep driveway or uncommon hill that will leave you hating life if you cannot shift.

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For your budget, price a pair of slick tyres, and buy a decent track/stand pump for home. All that should cost under a hundred pounds. If you want to go MTBing you'll have to swap the tyres over for the day is the only downside.

An MTB makes a fine commuter, and it can probably take the mudguards and lights you'll want. Do lock-out the front suspension on the road, else you lose leg-energy to bouncing.

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Go with the bike that you will have the most fun riding on a daily basis, don't think about those longer rides that you're not even interested in.

Personally, I used to live in very hilly Seattle, WA. I had a variety of bikes, but riding SS was and is my favorite. I love the feeling and simplicity. It's not always the most convenient or the easiest physically, but it's what I enjoyed the most. If I could only have one bike, I'd go geared, but I love biking too much to ever have only 1 bike.

Fun and hard over boring and easy, most days of the week, ATMO.

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do I go for a mid range singlespeed/fixie with a flip flop hub, and just man up and struggle through the hills, or get a bottom/low range road bike, risk it getting stolen/trampled/damaged, but have the ability to go on longer rides

Neither, if you ask me. For commuting, you want these things:

  • Endurance. Top priority. You don't want to get late to work every so often because your bike has failed you.

  • Performance on hard surfaces. This one rules out the mountain bike.

  • Gears. For accelerating at traffic lights, and for adjusting to slope. A fixie has a max slope that it can manage, if the slope is stronger, your center of gravity would rise even if you stood on the forward pedal. This inevitably means that you would need to dismount and push your bike up the hill.

With this in mind, I would go for a touring style bike. I would suggest to look for the following features:

  • Internal gear hub instead of chain shift. IGHs are very robust and provide shifting performance unrivaled by chain shifts. They loose a bit in terms of efficiency, though.

  • A fit that's half forward, neither too much bent forward like a road bike, nor too upright. You should be comfortable with your posture, and it should allow you to put out a lot of power. You cannot have both fully, you should strike a compromise.

  • Slim touring bike tires. The slimmer the tire, the lower the rolling resistance. However, you don't want to go for true road bike tires: You'll need to be able to take uneven bike lanes (with roots, bad connections to the asphalt at crossings, missing stones, etc.) at full speed. The slimmer your tires, the harder these things become to your bike. Again, you need to strike a compromise. I see a good compromise in tires that allow for pressures around 5 to 6 bar.

  • Puncture resistant tires. This is a must, and worth every penny. Remember I said that endurance is top priority? Well, punctures are the most frequent cause for repair with normal tires. With good puncture resistant tires, they are less frequent than problems with your chain.

  • No suspension. This drains a significant amount of power, and is not really needed for commuting.

  • A good, and most importantly, robust luggage rack. It's unbelievable what crap is on the market in this area, but it's essential to not have to wear a backpack while commuting. Of course, if you don't need to transport anything to work, you might want to skip this, but I for one would advise you to have rain clothes with you at all times. The rain clothes have to be stored somewhere, and that's where a luggage rack comes in handy.

I hope this help. At the very least, it describes my bike pretty well, and that has been adjusted for commuting only over the years. You may want to deviate a bit in one point or another, tastes are different. But if you are serious about using it for commuting, I think you'll come close to this sooner or later.

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I'm a failed commuter. I've tried commuting a number of times but usually don't last more than 2 weeks. I'm not going to blame my various bikes for failing because there is a lot more to it than the bike. My last attempt was an 18 mile one-way commute in Fairfax County Virginia. For those of you not familiar with it, it is just outside of DC and stretches out west to Dulles Airport, hugs the Potomac river to the north, and borders another river, the Occoquan, to the south. George Washington lived here. My commute was along the east west axis and a good portion of it was on the WO&D rail trail.

The rail trail was the good part but it would seem that until fairly recently a majority of residents in the County viewed an integrated and connected bike trail system as a decadent symptom of creeping European Socialism, or worse, as a diversion of automobile designated resources. The getting to the trail, and from the trail part of the commute were problem areas. The roads are typically full of cars and narrow. While Virginia grants a cyclist the right to the full lane, a lot of people found sharing a foot and a half on the edge moving with traffic an affront to their driving liberties. Virginia is an open-carry state and while this would have mitigated the car versus bike power dynamic, my employer has policies prohibiting that solution. It wasn't a good idea any way. I think it would have required an RPG-9 and that is beyond Virginia Open-Carry allows, beside not being aerodynamic.

Nothing so far has anything to do with the bike.

There are a few things, bikewise that would have helped. A pedal-assisted e-bike, while way over the budget of the OP, would have helped with the RED-ALERT air pollution days. I've also noticed that there are single speed versions of pedal assist. I'm a big fan of Archimedean mechanical advantage so I like gears. I had a single speed when I was very young. It had a big wheel in the front and two little ones in the back and I feel no nostalgia for it.

I tended to chose my commute time to least coincide with the majority of car commuters. This usually meant coming home in the dark. Of the trails that are bike designated and even have a barrier separating cyclists from traffic, they are only on one side of the road, so opposing headlights from automobiles create a blinded vision situation. Having a good high intensity headlight on the bike helped a lot. I could avert my gaze to where my own beam was shining.

The last bike related issue was flat tires. My faster bikes tended to have more flat tires than my slower bikes, which after averaging commute times seemed to even out. So it seems to me that tires, while part of a bike, are an important factor. Puncture resistant faster tires are more expensive than heavy fat slow tires.

The kind of commuter bike is certainly something that needs to be chosen but it would seem that a good characteristic in one part of your commute can be a less desirable characteristic in another.

I speak from failure.

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