Saturday 22 July 2017

The best value commuter and utility bicycles available in Australia

Summary: The buying a bike and gear category on this blog contains several posts with guidance on choosing the most useful, reliable, low-maintenance and value-for-money bike and accessories to suit your circumstances.

However, I often just get asked to recommend some worthwhile bikes for commuting or getting around that are currently available in Australia, especially Melbourne - as that's where I live.

In this post, I will collate a list of the best value-for-money bikes available in Australia that I would consider for commuting or utility cycling. I include all of the bikes I own (Fuji Declaration single speed; Cell Otway 2.0 road bike, XDS Adult Street 5 speed internal gear hub bike), as well as ones I would consider buying if I had to replace one of my current bikes.

Some higher-end bikes become value-for-money when temporarily able to be had at steep discounts which is why I suggest starting with a search on - Bikes - New - Between $190-$700. Higher-end bikes more purpose-built for utility cycling (e.g. Specialized Globe Work models) can occasionally be had for up to 50% less than their normal price, thus making them worthwhile.

As of July 2017, the best value-for-money bikes available most of the time are: Pedal Messenger ($199 on sale), SE Bikes Tripel ($350 on sale for a 3 speed), XDS Adult Street 5 speed (~$400 on sale), 2nd hand Cell Messenger or Fuji Declaration (~$180), Breezer Uptown (~$400 on sale), Polygon Path 1 ($399), Fuji Absolute (~$350), Progear FB-100 ($249), Progear RD-140 ($269), Polygon Strattos (~$580) or 2nd hand Cell Otway (~$300).

Related Posts:
> See the buying a bike and gear category on this blog.


1. First determine your key bike features given your circumstances and which ones are essential and which can be compromised on

 See this post for full details on choosing the most practical bicycle to suit your circumstances: > Designing a better utility bike in developing cycling cities

Key priorities should include some of these:

- Frame clearance to allow at least 28mm tyres and ideally up to 40mm (~32mm is a good starting point).

- Sufficient frame clearance and mounts to allow full fenders or at least detachable mudguards. A Zefal Swan rear guard can always be fitted but prioritise a suitable fender/guard for the bottom rear of the front wheel as this sprays the lower legs and shoes.

- Puncture-resistant tyres. I always switch out the stock tyres and fit the most suitable puncture-proof Schwalbe tyres but some utility bikes now come with puncture-resistant tyres so if not replacing them yourself then this should be a priority.

- Theft protection (no quick release levers or at least ability to fit front wheel lock or carry 2 locks). I use a U lock through the rear wheel. And if the front wheel needs securing I use a padlock or chain.

- Can choose handlebar style (e.g. flat, bullhorn, swept back) and adjust height/tilt/reach sufficiently.

- Handlebars not too wide (facilitates traffic filtering) and bike has steady, responsive steering.

- Rim brakes unless stopping power of disc brakes is essential due to circumstances (hub brakes like coaster back pedal can be annoying too due to accidentally braking when just coasting).

- Single speed, 3-8 internal gears, or if external gears then 1-2 chainrings at front (not 3).

- Allows most suitable gearing to be obtained by switching rear sprocket size (single speed, IGH).

- Robust, rust-proof ChroMo steel or Aluminium frame. Not carbon. Bike not too heavy to carry when necessary (stairs, onto transit) which usually means steel only for fixies.

- Frame mounts for racks and attachments. There are value-for-money ways of getting the exact type of rear rack you need. However, if you want a certain type of front rack, consider bikes that have one included as they can be sturdier with in-built mounts.

- A suitable frame style (e.g. step-through if more convenient).

- Can fit a kickstand if desired. Check kickstands meet your sturdiness needs (e.g. if carrying kids). Centre-mounted is best and double foot are the most stable.

- If carrying kids, that the frame, seatpost, headset or axle is suited for child bike seat or trailer attachment.

- I recommend USB-rechargeable detachable lights. The front ones easily attach to any handlebar. To be best viewed the rear one may need to be on your saddle bag or rear rack so check it has a flexible attachment fitting.

- Avoid cheap suspension in seat posts or forks (often found on hybrid bikes). If you really need front suspension then get something of decent quality. Cheap suspension wears out quickly and then creates a worse and inefficient riding experience.

In the sections below, I provide examples of commonly-available bicycles in Australia, suitable for utility cycling, and that can be had for value-for-money prices.

However, to review what's available at any time I recommend using with the filters "bikes", "new" and "$190-$700" and sorting by price.

Bikes - New - Between $190-$700
- Then select either Mens or Womens plus Unisex
- Set Availability and Location if you wish to buy from a local store and exclude online
- Enter any essential keywords (e.g. "Nexus" or "Sturmey Archer" and "internal" are useful for finding bikes with internal gear hubs; "step through" is useful for finding bikes easy to step over.
- Finally, choose the relevant bike category filters in turn. I suggest these ones: Urban, Flat Bar Road, Hybrid, Fixie Bikes, Track Bikes, Folding Bikes, Road Bikes, Touring Bikes,Vintage Bikes. (Use the browser back button instead of clearing the category filter to avoid having to re-select filters each time)

In the detailed sections in this post, I focus only on Single Speed/Fixie/Track, Internal Gear Hub Bikes, Hybrid/Flatbar Road/Urban, and Road Bikes. To be comprehensive, I've provided direct links for the suitable bikeexchange categories here:

- Urban Bikes
- Flat Bar Road Bikes
- Hybrid Bikes
- Fixie Bikes
- Track Bikes
- Folding Bikes
- Road Bikes
- Touring Bikes
- Vintage Bikes
- Cyclocross

2. Single Speed or Fixie (Fixed Gear) Bikes (often classified as "urban")

For suitability and tips please read:
When is a Single Speed bike most suitable and how to make the most of one
- Most critically, change the rear sprocket size to a larger ideally even-numbered size (e.g. from 16 teeth to 18 or 20 teeth)

Note: Most bikes sold in Australia as fixies or single speeds actually have "flip flop hubs" with a freewheel side (if riding this way it's known as "single speed") and a fixed side (if riding this way it's known as a "fixie"). I recommend using them as single speeds for most people but you can just flip the wheel and ride fixed if preferred. I use "fixie" below for conciseness but am referring to single speeds too.

Australian Listings:
- - Fixie bikes

Nixeycles is a seller of value-for-money budget bikes and makes the FactorySIX fixie. It usually retails for ~$350 but can be had on special for ~$260 on its website or bikeexchange.
- One plus of the FactorySIX is the stock gearing is 44 teeth for the front chainring and 18 teeth for the rear sprocket which should suit most utility cyclists thus avoiding having to upsize the rear sprocket. Stock tyres are 23mm (too narrow) so check clearance as using 28mm tyres would be best.

Nixeycles FactorySIX Fixie sells a budget fixie called the Pedal Messenger. There is often one version on sale for just $199. You need to be a member to get the discounted prices but membership is only $5 in-store at any time. Stock tyre width is 28mm which is better than the narrow sizes.

Pedal Messenger

Progear makes budget bikes but with good quality components at their price point. Progear bikes on special are always excellent value-for-money.

- The Progear fixie usually retails for $350-400 but can often be had on special for $199 directly through the Progear website or via one of its retailers which you can find on Bikeexchange

Progear Fixie

Fuji makes some quality urban bikes but in the fixie range I consider only the Fuji Declaration to be value-for-money for commuters (very rarely you can also get a Fuji Track at a steep discount). The Fuji Declaration used to be distributed within Australia by Oceania Bicycles but they currently only distribute the Fuji Feather.

I bought my Fuji Declaration on special for $380. Even though not sold new anymore, you can occasionally buy Fuji Declarations second hand on Gumtree or eBay for ~$120-$250 depending on age/condition and they would be very worthwhile.

My Fuji Declaration 2012 has done around 12,000km and will last 20 years with minimal maintenance. It is my bulletproof, park-anywhere workhorse I use for getting around.

My Fuji Declaration 2012

SE Bikes is an American company founded by a creator of BMX racing but it now makes some good value urban bikes: the Lager, Draft, Draft Lite, Tripel and Tripel Step-through. Oceania Bicycles is the Australian distributor so to find a retailer use its website's Dealer Locator after selecting "SE Bikes". You can also search for the particular model on a second hand website. Because there are several models the best option is - SE Bikes - Fixie

These bikes are almost always on special somewhere and can be had for around $150-200 less than their full retail price. These bikes have also been around awhile and can turn up even cheaper on second hand websites. Note the Tripel is actually a 3 speed and is covered in detail below under IGH bikes.

SE Bike Single Speed Range

Cell Bikes is one of Australia's biggest online retailers with a physical store in Sydney and an authorised dealer in Melbourne. It has quality bikes at the budget end and the components on its fixies are no exception. It has two options worth considering:

- It's custom fixies where you can choose your handlebar style and colours of most components.

Cell Custom Fixie

- It used to sell a non-customisable Cell Messenger for around $250 to $300. You can find these second hand for around $150 to $200. Second hand custom Cell fixies should only be slightly more expensive.

Reid Cycles probably sells more bikes than almost any comparable retailer. At like-for-like specs, the price is often hard to beat. However, their assembly of bikes and fitting of new components is sometimes unreliable. So if you know what you're doing and can check or fix-up then it can be a decent option. However, in the fixie category I think the options covered above are preferable. Reid Cycles has a few fixie models: Griffon, Harrier, Harrier 3 speed, Downtown and SSCX singlespeed.

Reid Single Speed Bikes

Samson Cycles sells a lot of budget bikes and has a $250 single speed bike always available (no special needed at this price). I don't know this bike well and the specifications aren't listed, but I've included it as the owner is apparently a top bloke.

3. Internal Gear Hub (IGH) bikes

For suitability and tips please read:
Are internal gear hub bikes the secret to low maintenance commuting?

On after selecting a Bike Category=Urban you can then use the Gearing Type filter to choose "Internal Gearing":

(Note: Not all IGH bikes are listed under Urban so you also need to use the keyword "internal gear hub" to find other models)

In the blog post above I list several value-for-money IGH bikes I recommend considering, so I won't duplicate the information here. The common style choice is a Dutch/vintage bike, city/commuter bike, or fixie-style.

Some of the fixie bikes in section #2 above have an IGH option - usually a 3 speed Nexus, sometimes a 7 speed Nexus.

Note that the SE Bikes Tripel also has a step-through version which would suit many women better than a horizontal bar. Urban Velocity is one retailer that often has SE Bikes including this on special. XDS also has a step-through version of the 5 speed Adult Street.

Other bike models worth considering but not listed in the IGH post above include:

- XDS COM 8 (no longer sold but available 2nd hand)
- Reid Blacktop
- Chappelli 3 Speed and Internal Gear Hub Range
- Birichino Jasper or Gigi
- Avanti Discovery (Nexus 3 speed version)
- Avanti Ubo ($500 on sale)
- Breezer Uptown range
- Specialized Globe Work 3 ($600 on sale)
- Kona Paddy Wagon 3
- Polygon models that are IGH

Breezer Uptown 7

4. Flat bar road, hybrid or "city" bikes (7 to 21 speed)

Suitability: If you go into most bike shops and ask about commuter bikes, this is the category you'll be pointed toward. While appropriate for many novice cyclists who just need a practical bike purely for their commute, people who turn into experienced cyclists or eventually wish to cycle for more reasons (recreation, fitness, etc) often move away from in-between styles and end up with multiple specialist bikes.

"City" bikes are given various names like the above but the common design is based on a road bike but with flat handlebars, aluminium frame, a more upright geometry, and commuter-friendly options like fenders and racks/baskets.

A subset of this range also rationalise the gears to either a single or double chainring at the front. This usually makes them either a 7 speed or a 16-22 speed.

There are a lot of bicycle brands and models in this category so below I have only listed some of the better examples: those which have been made most practical and low-maintenance for commuting and/or offer exceptional value-for-money. I tend to particularly recommend bikes with only 1 or 2 chainrings at the front - this filters out a lot of the stock models which pointlessly stick to triple chainrings. sells a 7 speed version of its Pedal Messenger fixie for $349. These can be found under its Commuter & Recreation bike category. E.g. The Pedal Messenger Tokyo 7-speed

Pedal Messenger Tokyo 7-speed

Under its Commuter & Recreation bike category, also sells a Schwinn Traveller for ~ $580. This is a practical and comfortable commuting bike which includes fenders, rack, chainguard, swept-back handlebars, cushy saddle and 38mm wide tyres. It is 7 speeds in a wide 14-34 teeth rear cassette range.

Schwinn Traveller

The Momentum iNeed Street comes in two similar options: the DD and Mid Step. It is a 7 speed bike, with an upright riding position and a lot of practical extras: fenders, chainguard, kickstand, integrated rack with straps and removable pannier bars, frame mounted U lock carrier and even a cup holder.

Momentum iNeed Street DD

These utilitarian bicycles aren't yet popular in Australia and, like the Trek District above, older stock is often cleared out at well below sale prices. Occasionally, below cost. As of July 2017, you could get the Momentum iNeed Street for as little as $225 which is a steal! - Momentum iNeed Street

Nixeycles sells a 7 speed derailleur version of the FactorySIX called the Factory7. It can be had on sale for $295.

Nixeycles Factory7

Polygon Bikes makes a range of urban bikes. Within the urban category, the Speed Utility (Path) and City bikes (Zenith Active, Sierra) are suitable. Polygon bikes are usually available on sale on at good prices. E.g. Polygon Path 1 2017 for $399.

Polygon Path 1

The Fuji Absolute is a value-for-money utility range from Fuji. In part because the range is extensive and new versions of each model come out each year, these bikes can often be had at significant discounts - from as little as $309. The bikes come with either 2 or 3 chainrings at front (I recommend 2) and usually have wide tyres (~35mm).

Fuji Absolute 2.3

The Jamis Commuter range are practical city bikes. They all feature lightweight aluminum frames, fenders, rear carriers, and single-chainring drivetrains. Not all models are sold in Australia, but the Commuter 1 can be had on sale for as little as $300.

Jamis Commuter 1 Femme

Progear Road & Commuters Bikes are always value-for-money options. The FB-100 Flatbar can be had for as little as $249.

Progear FB-100

The Marin Fairfax "speed commute" series is designed for commuting. The Fairfax SC1 can fit fenders plus 32mm wide tyres, and is 24 speed. It can be had on sale for as little as $479.

Marin Fairfax

The Trek District is a 9 speed bike with full fenders, a front basket, 32mm tyres, and mechanical disc brakes (rim brakes would be simpler and cost less to maintain). It can occasionally be had on special for $500.

Trek District

Some other worthwhile city/urban bikes in this category (including some that are no longer sold new but are occasionally available second hand) are:

- Reid Osprey Flat Bar
- Shogun Mach 100
- Breezer Liberty range (only because of especially large sale price discounts)
- Polygon Path
- Giant Roam models (hybrid bike often on sale for as little as $420)
Felt Qx 70 Eq ($599 on special at a single store but rarely available at this price)
- Cell Urban Chill (second hand)

5. Road bikes (ideally with only 2 front chainrings so typically 20 speed)

Suitability: If you haven't ridden one before, the drop handlebars and horizontal riding position of road bikes can be hard to adjust to. They are unsuited to those doing short, casual or stop-start trips where being upright is essential and comfort is a priority. Also, the default brake levers are best reached from the drop position so a second set of brake levers may be needed if commuting upright using the flat part of the handlebar. However, if your regular trip length is over 8km, or facing significant resistance - from hills, wind or loads - then a road bike can be the difference between enjoying riding daily and giving up because it's too hard.

For value-for-money, robust commuter bikes, I recommend aluminium not carbon frames, having enough fork and brake clearance for 28mm wide tyres, ability to fit a rack if desired, frame bolts and style (e.g. non-tapered) that makes it easier to carry things like U Locks or other attachments.

I own a Cell Otway 2.0 road bike that was $550. It or the Cell Otway 1.0 would make great value-for-money commuter bikes with their aluminium frames, 2 chainrings and 10 rear sprockets (20 speed), and an all Shimano drivetrain and shifter that is at the extreme value-for-money end of the quality spectrum. If you can get them second hand they are highly recommended.

Cell Otway 2.0 Specifications:
- 16 speed Shimano Claris: compact 34x50T front with 8 gears at back (11-30)
- Shimano STI shifters integrated with brakes that are easy to use
- Strong Mavic CXP22 rims

Cell Otway 2.0

Progear Road & Commuters Bikes are always value-for-money options. The RD-140 can be had on special for $269

.Progear RD-140

Fuji makes quality bikes and occasionally they can be had at steep discounts. The Fuji Sportif 2.5 can be had for as little as $399 on special but at least ~$500 (search bikeexchange).

Fuji Sportif 2.5

Scott Contessa Speedster is an entry-level quality bike which usually retails for around $900 but can be had on sale for as little as $499 (search bikeexchange)

Scott Contessa Speedster 45

Polygon Bikes makes a range of road bikes. The Strattos (search bikeexchange) and Bend (search bikeexchange) models are the suitable ones to look for on sale. The Strattos S2 can be had for as little as $579.

Polygon Strattos S2

Other recommended value-for-money options include:

- XDS RX280 (On special for around $430)
- Reid Road Bikes
- Bicycles Online Australia - BOA Shimano Claris ($449)

Further Info:
> XDS Bikes
> Chappelli
> Fuji
> Lekker
> Nixeycles
> Progear

Bicycle Blue Book

Best (Complete) Fixie Bike Between $200 and $600