Every bike has a part to play within the cycling spectrum, but few get as much use for as little fanfare as the everyday flatbar commuter bike. Reliable, low-maintenance, and relatively affordable, these workhorses offer solid transport options, weekend escapes to freedom, and, for some, serve as a gateway drug into the alluring world of a life behind bars.
The 5 bikes we've selected all boast solid components and reliable heritage, and at between $649 and $1099 they won't put too much of a dent in your budget.
Focus Arriba 1.0
Nice and light for weaving along bike lanes and lifting up curbs, the Focus Arriba 1.0 is an easy choice for weekday commuters and weekend adventurers. Its gently angled head-tube means steering is responsive without being aggressive, and its mid-width tires offer excellent traction without causing undue resistance to slow you down.
Focus is a brand with plenty of pedigree, with one ProTour team and a handful of continental teams riding them in 2015. With connections to major component brands, Focus have opted to deck the Arriba out with a 10-speed Shimano Tiagra groupset with an excellent all-round double chainring at the front, giving the rider 20 available gears. The alloy frame combines with carbon forks to provide a responsive and rather soft ride without undue vibration. Couple this up with Concept wheels, handlebars and seatpost and you have a bike that's great to ride and offers genuine value for money.
Polygon Helios F3.0
The Helios F3.0 is built around a light weight ALX Endurance Alloy frame weighing less than 1.5kg in total - remarkably light for an all-purpose commuter, and is complemented with a new ACX endurance carbon fork with tapered carbon steerer. Theses carbon components are designed to reduce the road vibrations at the front end of the bike and that's exactly what they do. The ride is quiet and comfortable and it feels like a more expensive bike than it is.
Again, the rider is offered a Shimano Tiagra rear cassette, but this time the groupset itself is at the Sora level rather than Tiagra. There's no mystery to this: the only way to make a bike cheaper, especially when it has a quality frame like the F3.0, is to hang more affordable components on it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Sora groupset (and it does offer the optical display to tell the rider which gear they're currently riding in - a really handy feature), but it's just not quite as good or reliable as its big brother Tiagra, and offers 18 gears in total (2 on the front chainring, 9 on the rear) rather than 20.
Giant Cross City 0 Disc
It is a rare thing, indeed, to read a review comparing similar bikes and not come across a Giant. Here's why: as the name suggests, Giant are an enormous company with truly huge buying power that can use their worldwide distribution to sell millions of bikes with low profit margins, bedecked with quality components at prices very few can match.
Built with an ALUXX aluminium frame and a wide range of easy-to-operate gearing, the Cross City is the only bike we looked at with hydraulic disc brakes, which gives it a big advantage in the stopping department.
It also boasts a triple front chainring and a 10-tooth rear Shimano Deore cassette. This gives it a wide-ranging 30 gears to choose from, which in turn means that it's unlikely the rider will come up against a hill too steep to tackle, but at the same time can be ridden on flat roads or paths without "running out" of gears. Its puncture-resistant tires mean you'll (hopefully) spend more time on the road and less in the garage, and with a range of sizes from extra-small to extra-large, there is a frame to suit every body type.
Apollo Exceed 30
In addition to the attractive price, the Exceed 30 has two rather important things going for it: the triple-butted 6061 smooth welded superlite aluminium frame comes with a high-quality carbon 12Kweave composite fork (very high-end for this segment of the market) and integrated pannier mounts - a really important feature if you think you might not fit everything in a traditional backpack.
It also comes with an entire SRAM groupset - levers, chainrings, derailleurs, cassette and bottom bracket. This is a great collection of components for a bike under $1000 - firstly because SRAM make really good gear, and partly because most bikes in this market segment do a bit of a mix-and-match when it comes to components, taking advantage of manufacturer run-out sales and discontinued lines to save some money, so it's quite rare to see a bike with a uniform shifting platform.
Check out the comparison: Flatbar Commuter Bikes – Our first 4 picks under $1000 by Focus, Polygon, Giant, Apollo
Merida Speeder 200
One of the most important parts on any bike is the rear derailleur, the little mechanism that controls the shifting of the gears at the rear wheel. Usually the first thing to break down, get worn out, or get bent out of shape in a collision, it's a fragile and overworked part of what makes your bike go.
The Speeder 200 uses the best rear derailleur of any of our five bikes - the Shimano 105. Good enough to withstand the rigours of road racing, this is a piece of quality engineering. It teams up with a still-dependable Shimano Sora front derailleur and Shimano Altus Rapidfire shifters to provide quality shifting and gear selection.
The alloy frame is solid and dependable, and the carbon forks provide ample cushioning.
Whilst most bikes in this category are a bit drab - often deliberately so in a hipster kind of way - the Speeder is a great-looking bike with an eye-catching paint job.
So there you have it: 5 honest bikes that will get you there and back with no complaint and no dramas. Weigh them up, compare price against features and components, and make up your own mind.
Check out the comparison: Flatbar Commuter Bikes – Our last 4 picks under $1000 by Polygon, Giant, Apollo, Merida