First lets make some assumptions about my circumstances:
1) The commute will be on London roads - far from perfect, with physical characteristics of pot holes, uneven surfaces, speed humps, and cycle lanes full of broken glass.
2) Train travel is not part of the journey - Typically train "services" offer no provision for accommodating conventional cycles.
- I want squidgy front suspension, to save my wrists and smooth out the bumpy road surfaces.
- I want a hardtail frame (no suspension on the rear) so that all my pedalling power is transferred to the rear wheel - not partly lost bouncing up & down.
- I want excellent brakes - to be able to stop PDQ when other road users do something silly to warrant it. e.g. Pedestrian steps out in-front of me.
- I want skinny thin tyres to reduce friction, allowing me to go further, using less energy per pedal stroke.
- I want bulletproof puncture resisting tyres, which last for years between punctures.
- I want a pretty large chainring to allow me to sustain high average speeds, at a comfortable cadence.
- I want a soft, ergonomic saddle to spend years of comfortable riding with.
Two years ago, I asked myself this very question, to find out what I wanted from a commuting bicycle. For the price range I was looking in, (£500-£600) I could not find anything "off-the-shelf" which satisfied all the needs above. I was very surprised that such a practical solution - my ideal commuting bike, did not exist!
The manufacturer's choices at that time, were pretty much: a) Mountain Bike. b) Road Racing Bike. c) Old Style Hybrid (shopping baskets, no suspension, etc).
My solution then, was to buy a hardtail front suspension mountain bike, fit semi-slick tyres, better saddle, and a saddle bag. However, on reflection this was probably not the best compromise because the frame is stronger and heavier than I require, and the tyre thickness (1.75 in) supplied far more grip and friction than I ever use.
2006 Supply & Demand
I'm observing this year (2006), that manufacturers are at last beginning to take the market of dedicated commuter bikes more seriously. The popular concept seems to be utilising gearing and tyres more like a road bike, and upright good visibility riding position & handlebar layout more like a mountain bike.
Cannondale Road Warrior 600 - 53/42/30 tooth chainring - 700x28c tyres - £650
Gary Fisher Utopia 2006 - 48/36/26 tooth chainring - 700 x 42c tyres - £600
Specialized Sirrus Sport Disc 2006 - 52/42/30 tooth chainring - £500
Trek SU200 2006 - 48/38/28 tooth chainring - £430
Personally, I would demand my ultimate commuting bike includes:
1) Front suspension (purely soft, just for ride comfort)
2) Hydraulic disc brakes, for maximum stopping power.
None of the examples given above, have any of these. There is definitely room for improvement.
So, the search goes on for my ultimate commuter bike...