Heading off to college is one the most exciting times in your life. New friends, maybe a new town, new sights, and freedom await. For many freshmen, a bicycle will be the vehicle of choice or even a necessity for exploring and enjoying your new world. Of course, your budget right now has a lot of demands on it and you need to get the perfect bike for a reasonable price. But given the bewildering array of bicycle types and brands, not to mention a crazy range of prices, how do you choose the best bikes for college?
Each person’s situation is unique, and bicycles have evolved accordingly. For students heading off to college, it’s important to take a look at a few basic considerations that pertain to your personal needs. The first of these is your budget, which is presumably tight. That’s ok. The best bikes for college students also happen to be at the more affordable end of the price scale. Next, think about how far you’ll be riding. Some students will just need to get from class to class while others may need to commute into town for a job or errands. Finally, the terrain will have a big impact on the type of bike you’ll need. Flat, shorter rides are great for single-speed bikes, but hills and more hills require gears and more gears.
Stretching your budget is something you’ll be learning even before classes start. Of course, getting a bike is much cheaper than a car, but it can still seem like a daunting amount of cash to plop down. Furthermore, where do you even begin deciding how much to spend? Happily, college bikes are more affordable than other types, but it’s advisable to avoid the very cheapest models out there. Unlike cars, bikes don't have to meet stringent quality standards. At the very lowest end, bicycles are considered more toy than vehicle and will be a constant headache. However, at a relatively low price point bikes take a categorical leap from junky toy to a functional vehicle. Casual bikes may range from about $100 on up to $1,000, but your college bike should fall somewhere in the $200 to $500 range. For single speed bicycles, any model below $200 will be unacceptably shabby. A multi-speed bicycle will cost a bit more, but you can still get a great multi-speed bike beginning at around $350 to $400. You can rely on quality to go up with price, but anything beyond $800 is more bike than you’ll need.
The best bikes for college students will be either a hybrid or a cruiser. Whereas cruisers are the simplest and most comfortable sort of bike, a hybrid will offer more functionality and efficiency. Cruisers and hybrids both offer many different options for your specific needs. Before looking into the factors that will inform your decision, let’s take a quick look at these two types of bike.
Cruisers are built with comfort in mind. The riding style is upright, taking strain off of the back. The saddle is large and comfortable, and the handlebars yield a wide, easy swoop for leisurely riding. Additionally, the tires are wide and have lower pressure, which gives the rider a very soft, stable experience, as seen on this women’s cruiser bike here.
Cruisers are not fast or nimble, but they are ideal for shorter rides across campus. An often overlooked feature that cruisers offer compared to other bikes is that they are incredibly easy to mount and dismount. For short trips, this can be more important than it sounds. Although cruisers are usually used on flat, easy terrain, many models like these men’s cruiser bikes now come with gears. Lastly, baskets work great with cruisers. It’s so easy to throw a few things in a basket instead of lugging a backpack. However, don’t overload a basket as a heavy basket on the front can make riding difficult or dangerous.
Hybrids can do things that cruisers can’t, and they offer a more varied selection. Hybrids make use of various combinations of features from both on-road and off-road bikes to create a more general-use bicycle. Compared to cruisers, a hybrid will be faster, more efficient, and more nimble. Hybrids will typically also be lighter, making riding uphill easier, as well as facilitating carrying the bike up a flight of stairs to a second story dorm room. If you’ll need to use your bike for reliable, efficient transportation into town, a hybrid may be the best choice.
In distinguishing between the many types of hybrids, don’t despair. The differences are not as important as they may seem. In general, one type of hybrid will have roughly the same capabilities as another, but you can browse for variations in riding position, handlebar and saddle shapes, and other factors that may appeal to your preferences - not the least of which may very well be style and how much you like how it looks. As for carrying your books on a hybrid, rear racks work better than baskets. A rear rack can handle much more weight than a basket can, but they are not quite as easy to use.
Now that we’ve narrowed the choice down to an affordable cruiser or hybrid, let’s take a look at distance. How far will you be riding each day and each week? Cruisers will be great for shorter rides and hybrids will be better for longer ones. Cruisers are so easy for hopping on and off between short easy jaunts to class whereas hybrids are great if you need to commute or run errands. Choose the cruiser if easy, slower, and comfortable is your style. Go with a hybrid if you’ll be going beyond campus bike paths and into city streets.
Lastly, choose a bike that matches the terrain. Is your college town flat or hilly? For riding in flat parts of the country, single-speed bikes are great, especially since they’re so simple to use and maintain. For hillier areas, both cruisers and hybrids come in multi-speed options. You will usually see bicycles offered with either three, seven, or 21 speeds, which refers to the number of gear combinations. For the occasional slope, a three-speed may suffice. Seven-speeds are a great option for somewhat hillier areas because they have more capability than a three-speed, but are easier to use and maintain than a 21-speed. Of course, a 21-speed is the best choice for the most difficult terrain.As you look forward to this new phase in your life, you’re making a million big decisions. If buying the right bike is one of them, rest assured that you can make the right decision easily by looking at cruisers and hybrids that match your budget, terrain, and the distance of your rides. College will be full of exciting new experiences. Now you’ll have one of the best bikes for college to make the most of it.
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