As a bit of an ongoing series, I've decided to highlight commuter bikes I love. Now I admit. Most of these I haven't test ridden, mostly because my dear TARDIS and I have such a beautiful relationship.
So here's my criteria when I'm highlighting these brands. First, the bikes shouldn't cost more than $900 and ideally I'm trying to keep it in the $300-600 range. On an objective level for most people looking at bikes, $600 may sound like a bit of cash, but for reliable short-range transportation, it'll pay for itself in about a year. Well cared for, any of these bikes should last for years. So I think a $600 price point as my preferred cut-off is actually pretty reasonable.
These bikes will for the most part be steel. Again, this is from a durability standpoint, but that's not to say some aluminum won't sneak it's way in. Variety is the spice of life and to limit myself by frame material is certainly to reject that philosophy. These bikes will typically come with at least fenders, and preferably a rack and pants guard. Some may even come with dynamo lighting. Easy to deal with, easy to ride.
The idea here is that most people, as opposed to me, aren't total bike dorks. When I was setting up the TARDIS, half the fun was in choosing each accessory to add to the bike. This is the equivalent of getting choosy over the exact type of leather on your car interior, the exact model of bumper. Most people just want the thing to come tricked out so they don't have to think about it very hard. It doesn't hurt at all if it matches.
My last criteria is that they should be readily available. You should be able to find a dealer locally without too much effort, or order it directly to yourself. They should be fairly easy to get your hands on.
My next three highlighted bike brands:
Based in Venice, CA, Linus bikes focuses on making affordable, practical commuter bikes for the American Market. When I checked their distribution page, I found at least one distributor in every major city in Texas (including Corpus Christi), though admittedly I didn't look at other states. I've run into a few of these bikes at the Thursday Night Social Ride and generally biking around downtown, and they are well constructed, reliable, and very, very sharp looking. They run in the $500 and up range, which to me is quite reasonable for something this classic.
The model showcased above is the one I've run into around town, but they also make a mixte, a stepthrough Dutch-style frame, and they come in a whole range of component packages.
Electra is an incredibly commonly available brand through most bike shops. While they're (justifiably) most famous for their Townies and Cruisers, I decided to include a picture of one of their models that is less-known, but more deserving of recognition, namely the Electra Ticino.
All Electras are aluminum and they come in a staggering array of colors, gearing options, and accessory packages. In the Townie series alone, you have the choice from a singlespeed with no accoutrements whatsoever, all the way up to the Electra Townie Amsterdam series, which comes standard with a rack, fenders, multiple gears, and dynamo lighting. The sky is really the limit with Electra, and you will look damn stylish arriving at your destination.
Flying Pigeon: The official bike of the People's Republic of China comes to the American Market.
This is the women's model (there's a men's available as well). I have never ridden a Flying Pigeon. They may be creaky for all I know, but I do know one thing - that is a fully tricked out, ready to rock and roll commuter bike suited for flat terrain. That goes for $400. It is easily within the reach of just about anyone with the willpower to save some money for a few paychecks. Say what you will about Chinese construction and components or the death of American manufacture, but in this case if the goal is getting wheels down on the road, it needs to cost a reasonable amount. This bike meets that criteria beautifully.
So there we have it. Three more options for the aspiring American commuter cyclist whose pockets are not bottomless. Each brand will certainly appeal to a different consumer, but that is the beauty of choice. Whether you're for classic practicality like Linus, style over speed with Electra, or pure utilitarianism as best exemplified by Flying Pigeon, there really is a commuter bike for everyone.