1. STYLE (choose a city, comfort, or touring bicycle)
The style of the bike will dictate how you travel and what you can wear. There are many, many styles of bikes and they work well for what they are designed for. For example, road bikes are for going fast on pavement and mountain bikes better for riding on dirt, rocky trails or gravel roads. Could you ride a road bike or mountain bike as a commuter? Of course you can! But without swapping pedals or tires or adding racks and fenders, the bike may not be as functional or comfortable as a city, comfort, or touring bike — which is what I recommend if you plan to use your bike to run errands, grab coffee or lunch with friends or ride to work.
Dutch style city bikes such as the Papillionaire “Sommer” with its swooping step-through frame is also a good option.
Above all things — you have to LOVE, LOVE your bike or else you will not ride it. So pick a bike that you like the looks of!
Depending on where you live, you may or may not need more than one gear. If the terrain is flat like Florida, a single-speed bicycle will work. If there are many hills along your route, like where I live, having more gears will be helpful.
Additional gears can ease your pedaling comfort and effort when riding uphill or downhill, and give you more speed on a flat road. For example, a 3-speed is perfect for mild to intermediate hills so you can get some assistance going up or down hills. An 8-speed is ideal for more challenging commutes to handle more difficult inclines and for greater power on downhill and flat gradients. I ride a 20-speed and it comes in handy near the end of my 10-mile commute when I’m riding up a mile-long hill with 5% to 9% grades.
Fenders aren’t just for rain. Front and rear fenders protect your bike and your clothing from grit and grime when the roads are wet from irrigation run off and puddles. While you can add fenders to your bike, try to find a bike that comes with fenders that are factory installed. They tend to look and fit better.
4. RACKS (you need a gear-carrying strategy)
You may only need a purse or a messenger bag to carry your stuff around in. But if you plan to carry A LOT of things with you (like we women tend to do) and/or for distances longer than 3 miles, then you really need a bike with racks to support panniers or baskets. Unlike a car, there’s not an extra seat or trunk on a bicycle to carry your stuff. You will need a way to bring the things you need with you on your bike.