Nothing beats a well-equipped city bike for sheer practicality. But it’s not all work and no play, either, since the right model can be more fun than you might realize.
All the bells and whistles may cost a pretty penny, but you don’t have to break the bank to get an eminently useful and downright enjoyable bike for urban riding.
Here, we’ll take a look at five price points and what I consider a great value at each. Not the only good values, of course, but a solid price on a bike that’s useful for urban riding and brings something unique to the table.
From a minimalistic all-rounder to a true Dutch bike with every possible accessories, something below should work for just about any commuter or everyday cyclist. Let’s get into it.
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The “city bike” category covers a lot of territory. From leisure cruisers to commuters to car substitutes, it includes something for every practical purpose.
The goal of this guide is to make the overwhelming selection a little easier to navigate. Of course there’s no single best bike, so I’ve narrowed the field to a couple exemplary models by style/purpose—at different price points, where possible.
So, what made the cut? Generally, we’re looking for:
- A comfortable, upright riding position that makes it easy to see your surroundings
- Accessories—namely fenders, rack(s), and chain protection—or at least plenty of mounts to add them
- At higher price points: an internally-geared hub, disc or hub brakes, and perhaps dynamo lighting for low maintenance
- Relatively wide tires for smoothness and traction on rougher roads
Certain uses call for other features, but we’ll cover those case-by-case below. You can also read this guide for more info on why the above are useful, even essential, for practical cycling.
This list is brief because it comes from a ton of real-life riding as well as probably way too much time spent researching. In fact, I’ve owned the first three for years, ridden the fifth, and am desperately trying to pry my credit card out of my hands before buying the fourth. (And never mind how many wildly disappointing bikes I’ve omitted…)
In other words, they’re all a terrific value for the right rider, and I frequently recommend them to people I care about.
Why believe me?
After a lifetime of cycling, and a decade of urban cycling and bike commuting, I’ve ridden countless thousands of miles on just about every style of bike in existence.
During that time, I’ve also helped friends, family, and random internet acquaintances get set up with city bikes of their own.
All this experience has afforded me some perspective on what works—and more importantly, what doesn’t.
So, do all the research you need. Ask around. Ride anything and everything you can.
But meanwhile, this guide is here to point you in the right direction, and to cut through some manufacturers’ hype that confuses new cyclists (and often leads to spending far too much!).
How much should I plan to spend?
I’ve covered the topic of city bike cost in far more detail elsewhere, but here’s the upshot. Nothing under $500 (new) is worth buying.
There may be exceptions for single-speed bikes around $400, but by and large, $500-ish is the floor for worthwhile new bikes. Under that point, the lower upfront costs mean far higher maintenance and ownership costs—often over a shortened lifespan. Avoid Target bikes, in other words!
On the high end, it depends heavily on a) your daily needs and b) whether you want decades of all-weather use or just occasional cruising on sunny weekends. Year-round commuters will benefit from expensive features that infrequent riders seldom care about. We’ll cover examples all around the price spectrum.
I’ve raved about the Brooklyn Franklin in my super-long-term review here, which is a must-read if you’re shopping around this price point.
Long story short, the Franklin (and nearly identical Willow) is a classic, steel-frame city bike with the most perfect ride quality I’ve found under about $2000. The secret is longer-than-normal chainstays combined with slightly relaxed head tube and seat tube angles, and a low bottom bracket. If you’re able to fork out around $2000-$3000+ for a Rivendell, then it’s probably worth it. But below that price, Brooklyn is perhaps the only brand that nails city bike geometry so perfectly—let alone at such a reasonable price.
At the $500 mark, you expect unimpressive but totally reliable parts, and that’s exactly what the Franklin and Willow have (and my review covers in detail). And frankly, in the spirit of simple, traditional, practical bikes…that’s exactly what I want anyway.
Also consider: single-speed bikes are fantastic for flatter commutes and city use, as discussed in this article. And Brooklyn made a $400 Franklin single-speed, but regrettably stopped. Upright single-speeds are rare, but a good substitute is the Public Bikes C1 for around $450, depending on promotions.
$1,149: Norco Scene 1 for comfy and deceptively quick cruising
2022 update: At its previous price of $729—which I personally paid—this bike was an absolute no-brainer. But in light of this year’s massive price hike, it’s worth taking a closer look at the other options on this list. The ride quality and components are still excellent, but it’s just not the screaming deal it used to be.
Norco made their name in the freeride and downhill mountain biking world. As a Vancouver, BC-based brand, they were (and still are) all over the North Shore, Whistler, and most other MTB hotspots—especially in my native Northwest.
But in the 2010, Norco launched one fantastic pavement-friendly bike after another. They reached their pinnacle, in my opinion, with the release of the Scene in 2018.
It stands out as one of the only bikes on the North American market to use something close to Dutch-style geometry: basically upright posture, very slack head and seat angles, and a fairly long wheelbase. But rather than an ultra-burly steel frame with tank-like components in the Dutch style, Norco went a sportier direction with an aluminum frame and MTB-style components.
How does it ride? Suffice to say that after buying one for my wife, I promptly got my own and had a blast on everything from weekday commutes to length gravel road outings. The upright posture and well-chosen handlebars (more on that below) make it supremely comfortable, but it doesn’t have the bloated and ponderous feel you might dislike about, say, an Electra Townie.
You can spend as little as $569 on the Scene 3 or as much as $999 on the Scene IGH N8, but it’s the $729 Scene 1 that gives the most bang for your buck.
The 2.2″ tires are massive, and frankly a bit overkill for the sort of riding one realistically does on a bike like the Scene. But that’s OK: aluminum frames aren’t the smoothest riding, so the extra air volume keeps vibration down to a minimum.
The hydraulic disc brakes have more than enough power for urban riding, and the 1×9 drivetrain uses a wide-range cassette that got me up steeper hills than I’d normally attempt on a city bike.
Even though the Scene positions you upright, Norco chose wider handlebars that sweep back diagonally, not the slightly narrow bars with fully parallel sweep as you’d find on most Dutch bikes. That improves control and lowers speeds and on rougher ground. It also makes it more comfortable to learn forward into a tough climb.
Long story short, the Scene 1 is the sportiest quasi-Dutch bike you’ll find, and the price is hard to argue with—even accounting for the fenders I wish it included!
As for mine? I eventually sold it. The overlap with my beloved Brooklyn Franklin—see above—was too much to justify keeping both. Otherwise, absent the Brooklyn, the Scene 1 would still be my go-to commuter.
Find the Scene 1 here.
Also consider: there aren’t that many Norco dealers around, so if you have trouble finding a Scene, then consider the Specialized Roll. Additionally, the Marin Larkspur and Kona Coco are in the same vein, if not quite identical.
$930: Electra Townie Path 9D EQ as a delightfully upright cruiser-commuter
Electra (now owned by Trek) briefly ventured into city bike territory with their Amsterdam. Regrettably, that one is long since discontinued. But they also released a newer spin on the classic Townie which fills in the gap nicely—and at a lower price and lighter weight.
Labeled the Townie Path 9D EQ, it’s got the rack + fenders + chainguard basics that every commuter needs. Those things alone would set you back about $150+ as upgrades, so their inclusion is notable on a sub-$1000 bike.
But my favorite feature is the dynamo-powered front and rear lighting. That’s incredibly rare in the North American market, and costs multiple hundreds of dollars to retrofit. The Nexus dynamo hub is nothing fancy, but it’s a dependable and cost-effective choice that makes dynamo lighting possible at this price point.
The lights themselves are from Spanninga, a thoroughly reputable Dutch brand, although exact model details are not available. I’m almost certain it’s a 6V3W hub, which would make an upgrade easy if the stock headlight proved too dim.
It offers the standard Townie riding position, which is as upright and relaxed as possible. Any more laid-back and you’d be on a recumbent bike! I find the Townie a bit boat-like to handle (if that makes any sense), but steady and relaxing once you finally get up to speed. Hills are another story, though, and more on that in a moment.
You’ll also get Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, which in my experience perform far better than their mechanical counterparts. Disc brakes are arguably overkill for the speeds and terrain that most Townie riders encounter, but they’re a solid choice that will keep maintenance to a minimum.
The 27.5″ x 2.4″ tires are as fat as you’ll reasonably find on a city bike. Such larger tires do carry a lot of rotating weight, which slows acceleration, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ride a Townie hard enough to notice the difference. As far as I’m concerned, the cushy ride and terrific traction more than make up for it anyhow.
My only reservation is that the gear ratio isn’t conducive to climbs. The rear range of 11-36 teeth is fine, but the 42-tooth chainring means steep climbs are out of the question. Standing up for short climbs will get around that, but Townie geometry just feels wrong when standing. (It’s hard to explain but immediately obvious when you actually try it.)
That’s a trivial complaint, though, since it’s cheap and easy to install a smaller chainring if you’d like to make climbing easier.
Weight is on the heavier side at 37 lbs, but that’s typical of fully-equipped city bikes, and easily 10-15 lbs less than a standard Dutch bike.
It’s also available at Trek-branded stores and independent bike shops all over.
Also consider: I’m not aware of any perfect alternatives if this model is out of stock. If the geometry is what piques your interest, then the best back-up plan would be to accessorize a regular Townie to match. Again, there’s just nothing else with similar geometry and parts.
$950: VSF T-50 for a modern take on Euro city bikes
VSF isn’t a household name in the Americas, but they’ve been a fixture of the German city bike market for decades. Thanks to Curbside Cycle in Toronto, they’re now available on this side of the Atlantic, too.
Like most VSF models, the T-50 includes the city/commuter features we like around here. That means internally-geared hubs, fenders, racks, chain coverage, and dynamo lighting. In fact, Euro bike light standards basically come from Germany’s Straßenverkehrszulassungsordnung (no, my space bar didn’t break) which defines beam patterns and illumination standards.
In short, the T-50 checks every box on the list of desirable bike commuting features, all for a comparable price to the Electra Townie EQ mentioned above.
The key practical difference is the VSF’s modestly upright position versus the Electra’s (excessive) recline. What the VSF lacks in sofa-like comfort, it more than makes up for in responsiveness and climbing ability–all without the neck strain of more aggressive sport/hybrid posture.
In addition, the VSF’s 7-speed internally-geared hub more than justifies the marginal $50 cost over the Townie EQ.
Note that the T-50 includes v-brakes rather than discs. That’s perfectly fine for most of us, as this guide explains. But if you regularly deal with the terrible conditions where disc brakes matter most, then they’re available (but without hub gears) for $300 more.
Also consider: The next-best alternative (in this price range) is the regrettably discontinued Breezer Uptown 8. If you can’t get hold of a T-50, and don’t mind buying secondhand, then it’s worth scouring eBay and local classifieds for an Uptown 8.
$1,050 and up: Brompton for unmatched portability
A folding bike might seem out of place, but the Brompton is too uniquely brilliant to omit.
Read my long-term review here for the full scoop and some important notes, but below are a few key takeaways.
It has particularly nice accessory and luggage options that make it as useful as anything else on this list, but scaled down to a transit- and apartment-friendly package. Even its fenders are thoughtful (if you choose them) with generous coverage and an ample mud flap to keep your shoes and shins clean.
The construction quality is also superb, both in terms of a beautifully built and finished frame and in terms of all-around durability. Mine required no maintenance beyond tire pressure even after nearly a year of daily, all-weather commuting.
Now, a Brompton isn’t the best choice if you cycle mostly for recreation and you have the space for something larger. It rides excellently for its size, but the reality is that 16″ wheels are not as smooth as full-size ones. And while it handles nicely with a light load up front—such as you might commute with—it is unusually twitchy when ridden without a load. To be clear, it doesn’t turn into a bucking bronco the moment you remove your bag; it just lacks the steadiness most of us expect.
But the small wheels and the load-optimized handling are just the ticket for practical use and tight spaces. It’s also the most compact fold around: just 26″x26″x10″, if memory serves. Getting down to that size call for ingenious design up front and very precise manufacturing so that all those extra joints are sturdy and precise. And it delivers, period.
For my money, there simply is no more practical bike on the market if space is a constraint.
A quick note on pricing: Bromptons range from the baseline B75, which is a steal at $995, to partially titanium versions with dynamo lighting and extensive racks and luggage for upwards of three grand. That’s a staggering range, but the $1200-$1700 range should cover 99% of needs and uses. Note that the frame is identical on all versions, titanium parts notwithstanding.
The options and trade-offs are worth a whole article of their own, besides my aforementioned review. But for now, play around with the bike builder on their website to get a sense of what you’d need to budget.
Also consider: the Brompton is a singular design. You can often find Chinese-made knock-offs of varying quality Some, I’m told, are legitimately good. And while other folding bikes abound, there are none with the Brompton’s compact fold and overall build quality.
$1,299: Priority Cycles Continuum Onyx for a sporty, belt-drive commuter
As far as convenience goes, nothing tops a belt drive and internally-geared hub. If you don’t mind paying a little extra, then this set-up offers the lowest possible drivetrain maintenance. (Well, short of going single-speed.)
Better still, Priority Cycles offers this in a compelling $1199 package, decked out with a few other commuter must-haves that we’ll come back to in a moment. I already named this one the best value option in my belt-drive commuter bike guide, which is worth visiting for more details.
It’s safe to assume anyone who wants a belt drive plans on wet-weather riding, so Priority wisely included fenders to keep you clean(er). While they omitted a rack, you can add one to your order for a modest price.
The hydraulic disc brakes are another rain-friendly and low-maintenance choice. And with the Continuum’s sportier, hybrid-style posture, you may find yourself riding fast enough to appreciate their power.
While the belt drive is a great choice maintenance-wise, the single most practical addition is the dynamo-powered lighting. Unfortunately the hub and light manufacturers are not published, but the standard 6V3W power means replacements or upgrade won’t be a problem.
By the way, belt drives do come with a few modest caveats. Check out this closer look at their pros and cons for some important background information.
Find it online at Priority Cycles. Priority bikes are not sold through bike shops, as of writing.
Also consider: If you’re primarily after a belt drive, then I’ve covered a few (including this model) in my belt-drive bikes round-up.
Conversely, if you’re drawn to the hybrid-style geometry but can do without the belt drive, then have a look at these more affordable hybrids (or their higher-end siblings) for more ideas.
$1,500: Breezer Doppler Cafe Plus for getting off the beaten path
If the Norco Scene is a city bike that’s deceptively fun for other purposes, then the Breezer Doppler Cafe Plus is an “other-purposes” bikes that’s deceptively useful around town.
Breezer is the namesake brand of Joe Breeze, one of the co-inventors of mountain biking way back in the day. He’s as prominent as anybody in the industry, but his Breezer brand never grew into the size or visibility of a Trek or Specialized or Giant.
Nonetheless, he’s an ingenious bike designer, consistently on the more practical side of recreational bikes and the more reactional side of practical bikes. And nothing epitomizes that balance better than the Breezer Doppler Cafe.
The build kit is actually reminiscent of the Norco Scene 1 mentioned above, but with a few higher-end differences.
The 650b wheel size has been around for generations, but it has caught on—perhaps bigger than ever—during the last few years. The Doppler line does it right, with 47mm tires on tubeless-compatible rims.
The 1×10 Deore drivetrain (or MicroShift, at Breezer’s discretion) is simple and tough. I’m continually amazed at how modern Deore outperforms pricey XTR from a decade back—and the lowest gear of 40×42 is just enough to handle steeper dirt routes.
While I normally don’t get into the weeds of gearing on city bikes, I stress it here because everything about the Doppler Cafe is dirt-friendly. It is not a rough-and-tumble mountain bike, to be clear, but the cushy tires, hydraulic disc brakes, and slightly forward lean are spot-on for a mix of pavement and other surfaces in all weather. Again, not wildly different from the Norco Scene 1 on paper, but the Doppler’s posture is better suited to speed and its less oversized tires are more agile.
It’s still a highly practical commuter, thus on this list, thanks to included fenders and, best of all, a dynamo hub powering a Spanninga Axendo 40 headlight. That’s a downgrade from the 70-lux Busch & Mueller IQ-XS (a personal favorite) that Breezer spec’d in previous years. Now, 40 lux will still suffice around town at moderate speeds, so I can’t knock too many points off. But if you’ve got a little cash left over, then that’s where I’d put it (along with a dynamo-powered B&M taillight, which is relatively cheap).
I’m inclined to call it a gravel bike, seeing as it’s not as upright and cushy as a “proper” city bike, yet far tougher and more versatile than a road racer. But if I could only have a single bike for all situations with zero modifications (perish the thought!), then the Doppler Cafe would be it.
Find the Doppler Cafe here.
Also consider: in-store availability is tough for most Breezer models. And if buying online won’t work, then check out the Marin Muirwoods RC (with an internally-geared hub!). It’s a bit cheaper, and still similar in spirit, but unfortunately lack dynamo lighting.
€850 and up: WorkCycles for multi-generational car replacement
WorkCycles is the high-end brand for Dutch bikes.
Not just Dutch-style bikes as I so often refer to, but ones actually made in Amsterdam.
They have a handful of models that I’m going to oversimplify and lump together here, since they all serve practical purposes perfectly.
Most WorkCycles models (especially the Fr8 pictured above) are “multi-generational” in two senses. Firstly, the frames are practically indestructible and every moving part is as internal, sealed, and hands-off as possible. With occasional maintenance—as with a car—it will serve your children and probably theirs.
Secondly, the modular cargo design can carry multiple generations of your family at the same time. North Americans find this odd, but it’s not uncommon for the Dutch to ride with *at least* two children on such a bike as this.
The Gr8 and Fr8 have extra-flexible sizing, so it’s easy to share a single bike between parents and older children. They accomplish this with an extra-slack seat tube that greatly lengthens the saddle-to-handlebar distance as you raise the seat.
Note that these are heavy bikes. The lightest model, the Secret Service, seems to start at roughly 40 lbs with minimal accessories. A fully-equipped Fr8 will weight half again that much. All that to say, don’t count on loading on the rack of a bus or carrying them up stairs on a regular basis.
I’ve enjoyed riding the more traditional WorkCycles Omafiets (“ohma-feets“) on typical city terrain and even a bit of smooth dirt—all at very modest speeds, of course. It’s a dignified ride: stately, collected, and restrained. If that’s not your idea of fun—if slightly rowdier riding or higher speed is the goal—then any of the bikes above are both more suitable and more affordable.
And if you’re unsure whether this is even the right type of bike to consider, then check out this article where I’ve covered the pros and cons in more detail.
But to the right person, a WorkCycles is worth its substantial weight in gold. You won’t get decades of car-like utility by pinching pennies or groaning about grams.
Also consider: many people love the posture of a Dutch but can’t deal with the weight and cost, and don’t quite need to haul an entire family. If so, then the right accessories will turn a Norco Scene IGH N8 into something not too different.
$2,199: Tern Verge S8i for a rugged, belt-drive folding bike
Tern has built a huge presence in the folding bike market, becoming one of the most recognizable brands alongside Brompton and Dahon.
Dahon’s founder is in fact the father and husband of Tern’s founders. Apparently family relations are strained, since there was a lawsuit between the brands shortly after Tern was established in 2011.
Family drama aside, Tern has branched out from its initially nondescript, Dahon-style offerings. And one of their most forward-thinking models, which continually catches my attention, is the Verge S8i.
It’s got all the bells and whistles that commend the Priority Continuum Onyx, above, but in a foldable package. Of course, the complexity of folding frame design means a significantly higher price tag. Even so, it’s a unique bike that’s just too well thought out to omit.
A belt drive and disc brakes scream “winter-ready,” so Tern did well to spec wide, 55mm tires. That’s a full 20mm wider than you’d find on a stock Brompton. Now, fat tires do contribute to the Verge’s 31.5-lb heft, but their traction and smoothness are worth it for navigating ill-kept streets.
Belt drives cannot use a derailleur, so they need an internally-geared hub instead. The 8-speed Shimano Alfine hub is one I’ve personally owned and could never find a fault with (besides the weight and slight mechanical resistance that all IGHs share). An 11-speed hub would have been a nice touch at this price point, but given the higher cost of designing folding frames, it may be too much to ask.
The rugged drivetrain and tires are already unique among folding bikes. And even more distinctively, the is one of very few folders with dynamo-powered lighting out of the box.
It’s powered by a BioLogic Joule 3 hub, which actually seems to be a rebranded Shutter Precision. That’s a good thing, since Shutter Precision makes one of the better dynamo hubs on the market today. (Having owned two of theirs on separate bikes, I’m thoroughly impressed with their efficiency and reliability.)
The headlight seems to be a proprietary brand, but it has a thoughtfully squared-off beam design. Its output of 41 lux should be fine for city riding, although more power would help in truly dark places. The hub provides the standard 6V3W output, so upgrading should not be difficult if necessary.
Finally, the Verge S8i has a couple of prudently rugged touches. The rack is unusually sturdy, holding up to 55 lbs. It also includes side rails specifically for clipping on a pannier, which leaves the enormous upper rails free to hold a basket or bag at the same time.
Additionally, the Pletscher kickstand is a respected and name-brand choice (yes, there are name-brand kickstands!) which I expect to stay steady as you approach the max load.
The fat tires and arguably overbuilt frame will also come in handy with heavy cargo. Just remember to add perhaps 6-10 psi to the rear tire if you’re loading near the full 55 lbs.
Also consider: It’s particularly hard to find a perfect alternative to the Verge S8i. After all, that’s part of why I’ve featured this model here, and part of why Tern can charge the price they do.
If you can do without the belt drive and disc brakes, then Tern’s Link D7i is a better deal at just $1149. It still includes dynamo lighting, and a minimalist chain cover, but scales back the tire width and rack capacity.
Otherwise, you can get similar utility and performance from a 6-speed Brompton with the rack-and-fender package (about $1700), dynamo lighting upgrade (about $260+), and careful choice of bags. The Brompton’s steel frame also has a classic elegance that the more modern-looking Tern lacks. And with its diminutive wheels, the Brompton is also a few pounds lighter than the Verge, and folds down to 23″ x 22.2″ x 10.6″ versus the latter’s 16.5″ x 31.9″ x 28.7″.
That said, for sheer burliness and weather-resistance, the Tern has the advantage with bigger wheels, fatter tires, disc brakes, and a belt drive.
But if the Verge’s cargo capacity is its main appeal, then you might also consider the Tern Cargo Node. It’s significantly larger (but still folds) and supports a massive 350 lbs of cargo. Likewise, Tern’s electric HSD and GSD are true car replacements.
We’ve run the gamut from an ultra-portable Brompton folder to a behemoth WorkCycles utility bike, with three terrific middle-of-the-road options as well.
Each is a fantastic value in its own right, but only if it’s a good fit for where and how you’ll realistically ride. For instance, if you prefer the sportier side and commuting is more of a bonus or afterthought, then consider a hybrid as featured in this guide.
Anyhow, step one is to figure out what everyday cycling will actually look like. All answers are “right” answers as long as they’re frank!
Whenever, wherever, and however you incorporate cycling into everyday life, it will pay benefits you never expected. So have fun, stay safe, and above all, get out there!