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I live in Los Angeles and have a 2hr commute to UC Irvine by train with bus connections on either side. After doing this for a year, I am looking to start bike commuting to and from the train stations to get back in shape. Because the routes are so different, I'm wondering which bike type is best?

The ride to school is 2 miles with a downhill incline to Union Station on a busy street without bike lanes. Then I can hop on the train with plenty of bike racks. The ride to school is a nice 6 mile ride in paved bike lanes and paths the entire way, and very flat. I would ride the opposite way home, but the ride is slightly uphill the entire 2 miles home in busy traffic.

A road bike sounds like a great option for the 6miles near school, but would this hold up well on a busy paved street in Los Angeles? I'm just starting to get back on the bike after 15+ years with I borrowed mountain bike, so I know I can make the trip at least :)

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    What kind of bike have you ridden in the past? I'd probably go the hybrid (a rigid MTB shape with flat bars.) mostly because suspension isn't needed on the road, and road bikes are more for speed than usability. A touring bike might be a good compromise too, it should take fenders/mudguards and a rack. – Criggie Feb 9 '16 at 22:34
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    @Criggie The need for fenders in L.A. is certainly debatable. :) – junkyardsparkle Feb 9 '16 at 23:25
  • @junkyardsparkle Most of the time you don't need fenders, but on those rare days when it rains in L.A., it really rains and you really will wish you had the fenders. – Michael Hampton Feb 11 '16 at 3:14
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    @MichaelHampton - Exactly, the few days of rain we've had so far this winter were so bonkers (50+ mph winds?!) that you'd be unlikely to be trying to ride in that anyway, if the bus was an option... especially considering that nobody here knows how to drive in the rain. Also, after the last storm there was a lot of debris in the form of small branches on a lot of streets for days afterwards, which, from what I understand, can be problematic with fenders... – junkyardsparkle Feb 11 '16 at 6:16
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    Probably the hybrid is what you want. The touring or road bike would not be unfeasible, however, if you wanted the bike for other purposes as well. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 12 '16 at 22:58
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8 miles each way is a reasonable commute.

In the city a pure road bike is not as stable.

You should test both flat and drop bars to see which is more comfortable for you. Drop are a little more efficient but that is not a long commute. For an uphill I think flat bars are fine.

A full touring bike is probably more than you need unless you are looking to mount racks and also using it for longer rides. And you probably don't want rack or fenders loading it on and off bus and trains.

Look for mid sized tires (like 32mm).

A light bike is also nice for getting it on an off bus racks.

The also have styles of bikes called urban or city.

Even a mountain bike with street tires would work. Not a first choice but if you found a good deal used.

A local bike store (LBS) will help you out with fit and selection. You can get some decent new bikes for $600.

If you are on a budget then CL but be careful.

I like a cyclocross bike fit with touring tires for commuting but maybe not the optimal for you.
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    Agreed, you should try before you buy, if possible, not just bar style but tire width. Being painfully familiar with the road quality in Los Angeles, I would say maybe tend towards the wider side of medium tires (37mm) at least until your comfort with riding on bad surfaces in bad traffic increases... being less impacted by road conditions can really make or break your ride in those circumstances. – junkyardsparkle Feb 9 '16 at 22:10
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Having ridden most bikes I found the best was a hybrid style bike for a similar commute, 4miles in town, 1 massive hill and 4 miles in the countryside with a back pack on.

Dropbars in town makes it harder for you to see around /over traffic and makes you slightly smaller when people are looking at you about to pull out and harder to hit your brakes.

  • Conversely, drop bars are narrower so you can fit through gaps better. Flat bars can be massively wide in comparison, and they're just at wing-mirror height (as I've found out) – Criggie Feb 13 '16 at 0:52
  • if you are quibbling about the difference between the handlebars to fit through gaps your riding style is going to put you in hospital. – baffled Feb 16 '16 at 8:05
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    @Criggie has a good point though one that I (and many cyclists) would only apply to stationary traffic. – Chris H Feb 16 '16 at 8:24
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I would say the distance is a bit short for a road bike. Road bikes are incredibly uncomfortable for riding without kit, and with instances like these you probably wouldn't want to bring out a full kit and deal with showers etc. That said, there's no better riding than road bikes once you're out and about.

For the need you're outlining I would look into a folding bike, Brompton have really nice ones. Since the train ride is such a large part of the commute you would have a much easier time on the train with a folding bike than a full, large frame bike with large wheels.

  • I find road bikes are fine for rides up to 20 km before you need to worry about kit. A commute is not a race. – Criggie Nov 16 '17 at 7:46
  • The folding bike is an excellent idea for the train part, but they do compromise on a lot of other things, and OP said they have bike racks on the train, so I'd put Folding down on the "minor benefits" list. – Criggie Nov 16 '17 at 7:47
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    Each to their own i suppose. I love riding my roadbike, but I find the aggressive forward position and hard sadle rather uncomfortable in trousers and other more loose pieces of clothing. You are right about a commute not being a race, it’s just that once you’re riding on a fast responsive bike … – Kristian Kalvå Nov 16 '17 at 23:19
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I'd go with hybrid, personally. Straight bars so you can see around you. Of course, for my part I need a strong bike to deal with the road conditions where I live, so your milage may vary. I'd definitely stick with something that has a comfortable riding position that is going to provide plenty of visibility if you're going to be riding in the city though. Always assume the cars are actively trying to kill you.

  • Can you please expand on this point "Straight bars so you can see around you" ? I don't understand this - are you saying that flat bars make visibility for the cyclist better? The rest of your points are good. – Criggie Feb 21 '16 at 8:34
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    Sure! A bike with horn shaped drop bars encourages a rider position which is hunched forward with one's head somewhat more "down" and closer to the bars. This position is very aerodynamic, but limits peripheral vision for the rider to only what is in front of him/her. Straight bars encourage a more upright position, where one's head will be higher and closer to the middle of the bike. This lets the biker see more in periphery, and more effectively swivel his/her head to scan for threats. Personally, I also think the more "mountain bike" position is more maneuverable, important in traffic. – IDBUYTHATFORADOLLAR Feb 21 '16 at 13:22
  • Fair call - thats the level of detail that makes a correct answer into a good answer. One downside of flat bars is their width - city traffic tends to have narrower spaces, and handlebars are at wing-mirror height. Drop bars with hands in the hoods position are fine for city riding, the drop position is sub-optimal. – Criggie Feb 21 '16 at 20:11
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I'm using my drop bar touring bike (Kona Sutra) as a commuter and it fits the role really well. Tourers tend to have more upright position for the rider, which is great for city traffic. They also typically have racks and fenders.

I don't like hybrids that much. They tend to have mediocre aluminium frames and cheap drivetrain components. I would rather invest a few hundred $ more and get a real bike.

  • A $1500 touring bike with rack and fenders for student in LA with an 8 mile commute and loading on a train? LA gets 15" of rain a year. Not to advertise a brand but they have real hybrids now specialized.com/us/en/bikes/utility/sirrus – paparazzo Feb 16 '16 at 13:53
  • @Frisbee You can get the Sutra for $1200. Otherwise good points. I just find that hybrids are easily "outgrown" if you get more seriously into cycling. Their resale value is also not that great. – Jussi Nurminen Feb 16 '16 at 14:12

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