Converting a Road Bike to a Commuter Bike

May 7, 2009 § 30 Comments

The New York Times recently published an article on dutch styled commuter bikes becoming the latest rage in our recent economic downturn. And why not? They’re practical, not flashy, comfortable, and made for one thing…commuting.

When I began my path in search of a bicycle, the main options I was presented with were road bikes, mountain bikes, and cruisers. All great rides, and each have a specific purpose. The problem was, I didn’t want to race anyone, and wasn’t a fan of sitting in a crouched position for a half-hour commute. I also wasn’t a fan of lugging around a heavy cruiser up hills and a mountain bike seemed a little extreme. My friends were converting old 10 speeds to fixed gear bikes, but the last thing I want when climbing a hill was a single speed bike. What I truly wanted was a simple bicycle that I could go to work downtown on, head to the store with, carry a light load home, and trapse around to neighborhood bars and restaurants on. Seeing the images of throngs of riders in Amsterdam and Copenhagen made me realize that these people had the right idea: the city (commuter) bike.

So with a little help from some BFOC members, I started with a used Raleigh Technium. You can pick these things up for under $100 on Craig’s List (which I highly advise buying used over new for your first bike…but take it to a good mechanic afterward). After cleaning it up, installing some upright handlebars, a Brooks knock off saddle from the incredible Velo Orange site, and a rear rack, I went from this:

to this:

I can say, after riding this for two weeks now, that it is so much more fun to ride around the city on. First of all, you’re upright, so you see everything better. Secondly, getting your tote bag off your body relieves more weight on long rides than you realize. Next up, I’ll be installing an internal hub gear, like other dutch bikes, so I can shift immediately at stop lights, and keep the mechanics free from weather.

If you’re intersted in a similar conversion, you might start with the classic Chinese Flying Pigeon:

These are the bikes you see when shown pictures of millions of riders cycling through Shanghai. They’re now being imported in the US by Joe Bike in Portland for $400. They’re retrofitted with better brakes, and other improvements. Or you can pick an original up for under $300 from Flying Pigeon LA and mod it out yourself.

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§ 30 Responses to Converting a Road Bike to a Commuter Bike

  • Mark Manson says:

    I think it’s great that you recycled a road bike to an all-around transportation machine, that’s something I have a passion for. Did you buy anything from any local bike shops?

  • mannytmoto says:

    Yes, there were some components used from White Rock Cycles. Most all of the parts can be found locally. I went with Velo-Orange for the saddle because I wanted a Brooks, but was trying to keep the price of mods down. I haven’t found a local supplier of their stuff yet.

  • Mark Manson says:

    Velo-Orange has some fantastic products along with a true entrepreneurial spirit and passion for quality bicycle products. Any bike store who is willing can sell their wares thru their wholesale business, voimports.com

  • Major Taylor says:

    If anyone else is considering having there bike converted like Jasons please contact me. Me and my shop partner, Jeremy, would love to convert your old 10 speed.

    Thanks,
    Ean
    The Oak Cliff Bicycle Company

  • Steve A says:

    Is that seat comfortable? It looks like a finger-catcher.

    The rack looks like a Pletscher. Good combo of affordable, practical and strong. Mine’s gotta be 40 years old and it still does the trick.

    All you need to finish things off are a set of toe clips, which ought to work great with the pedals. Velo Orange again.

    I put an internal gear hub on my old Falcon (now called Frankenbike) – even the Nexus 7 speed is overkill for around here. Try it before you commit – you may not like it – they’re heavy, but I find mine fine for local jaunts up to 10-15 miles. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any close-ration three speed hubs so I use gears 3 and 4 most of the time. Occasionally 2nd & 5th gear get used, mostly for head/tail wind situations.

  • mannytmoto says:

    The seat’s still breaking in….according to reviews I’ve read, it takes about 100 miles to settle in.

    Thanks for the advice on the internal gear. I tested out a 3-speed on a Pashley a few weeks back and fell in love with it.

  • Major Taylor says:

    Steve,

    Usually fingers go on the handlebars, not the seat:)
    There some other internal gear offerings that might work (Intense Bikes makes an amazing infintely variable hub) And the plethora of Sturmey archer hubs out there should fill your need.

  • Gretchen says:

    Speaking of conversions, have you heard of anyone lowering or removing a crossbar on a bike? I have a Specialized Sequoia hybrid which I love riding except for one thing. I want to be able to step through it. I hate the crossbar (I have some knee and hip problems and swinging my leg up and over the bike is literally a pain). Have you ever heard of anyone removing a crossbar from a bike like this? Or radically changing the angle? Do you think it could be done?

  • Mr Christopher says:

    Gretchen, you’re better off selling your bike and then buying a step through frame. The bike you have was designed with that top tube in place so to remove it would undermine the frame integrity.

    There have been several mixte bikes on Craigslist recently and they all looked very clean. Mixte or women’s bike (step through frame) tend to be very cheap when you buy used.

    Buy one of those and replace the racing style bars with upright ones and you’re good to go!

    Also on this subject I use Walds chrome racks on my vintage bikes because, well they have a vintage design/vibe, they’re chrome and you can get them new for $15 or so. How cool is that?

    Chris!

  • luvtoski says:

    I have a much newer road bike that I love, but would prefer a more upright position. I was told I can’t raise the bars, so must be a fixed length stem … have been trying to sell the bike to replace with a commuter but am also thinking of keeping it and doing the handle bar conversion. I have a Lemond Reno road bike … thoughts anyone? should I sell it and replace it or do the conversion? I’d have to change the brake leavers as the shifters are built into the brake leavers … something I’ve struggled to get comfy using!

    Lisa

  • oneordaz says:

    Hello Ski loving Lisa, you do have options to change your stem or bars. Yes you would have to change you levers and brakes, but that Lemond would bike a nice quick riding commuter if you converted.
    As Major Taylor said contact us if you would like to talk more about it. The shop is not open quite yet but we can meet you there.

    214 537 9081
    Jeremy Ordaz

  • [...] we’re obviously advocates for building Frankenbikes, not just for keeping costs down, but also the idea of recycling old and forgotten velos. My [...]

  • Sarah says:

    just wondering what the total cost was for your conversion? I am excited to get building a bike of my own!
    I tried out a couple of Dutch made bikes but they are just too heavy for the hilly streets of Vancouver!
    Im so glad I found this little blog ….I am inspired!

  • mannytmoto says:

    A lot of the pricing will depend on the mechanic and parts you use, but my total conversion came to a little over $250, but this also included a complete tune up and repair of other issues with the bike (it had a broken axle, and a bent wheel). With that said, since Dutch bikes new are typically $800, I was still pretty happy with the amount I spent.

  • Lisa says:

    Oneordaz, thanks for the offer to meet with me, however I think its rather a long commute for me …. I live in the interior of British Columbia!!!! We have a couple local bike shops that are very good so will chat with them. I know I can’t raise the handle bars as they are right now, so need to see if I can replace the stem and bars and then change out the brakes/shifters as well. When I look at all the specs on the newer commuter bikes, my road bike is pretty much right in there. Thanks, been swamped with work so not much bike time right now. Another week and then look out!!!

    Lisa

  • Sarah says:

    are they the pyramid ‘north road’ handlebars?

  • joncatwood says:

    Great looking commuter! What kind of rear rack did you use and where did you find it? What did you use for handlebars?

    -Jon

  • Mari Lynch says:

    I definitely prefer upright position–for body comfort and a better view of my surroundings. And you’re so right about getting the weight off your body too. I bike to the farmers market and, loaded down with produce in my daypack en route home, I kick myself for getting rid of the Burley trailer I had when my 20 yr old was a baby. Thanks for this post.

  • Lisa says:

    Converted my road bike to commuter by simply switching out the handle bars and brake leavers/gear shifters. Love it, still as fast as with the dropped down bars but now with alot more comfort.

    highly recommended!

  • dave says:

    I would like to convert my Ol’ Motobecane Super Mirage ,1981, to a commuter,…but, by the time i buy bars,brake levers, shiters, saddle, fenders, etc,…its gonna add up $$.

    Ive been lookin at the Trek Alllant,..any comments ?
    Thanks much!dave

  • oneordaz says:

    Hello Dave, we helped Jason and many others convert their bikes. We love keeping older bikes on the road. The super mirage you have is a great candidate for some commuter changes and was built better than most new entry level bikes. At the same time you do get a warranty and free repairs for a while on a new bike. The Allant comes with entry level components, I’m curious what the Super Mirage has. Also if it is the mixte frame, well the you’re just gonna have to convert that lovely machine. Cheers.
    Oak Cliff Bicycle Co.

  • Forrest says:

    I’m curious why you added flat handle bars, as opposed to adding brake levers to the flat tops of the ram handle bars the bike came with? Wouldn’t that be cheaper and less work, not to mention give you some more options on how to sit while you’re out and about?

    The reason I ask, is that I’ve been riding mountain bikes all my life, until mine was stolen this past summer. I found a great deal on a cycle cross bike with two sets of brake levers, the top ones feeling a lot like a slightly narrower mountain bike. I didn’t think I’d use the lower, front position, but it turns out to be great for climbing hills.

  • [...] REI has a decent quick description of the differences.CommuterBicycle.com has a very in depth analysis of the styles.This Bike Friendly blog tells the tale of choosing a bike. [...]

  • Randy says:

    How does the shifting work for you? I have an old (1973) CCM ten-speed I got when I was in 10th grade that I have been wanting to convert. I have most of the parts to do it, but was wondering about how convenient it is to shift with the upright handlebars and the levers still down low.

    Thanks

  • James Jones says:

    An elliptical trainer is often referred to as a cross trainer. This is an exercise machine that mimics walking and run without pressure on joints. This machine eliminates impact injuries.

  • [...] Fuji or Raleigh road bike for under $200 is a very doable proposition.  Keep in mind you can convert an older road bike to very cool city/commuter bike without getting a second [...]

  • Anthony says:

    It seems like its been awhile since left a comment, but I couldn’t seem to find your email. Did you change your brakes/shifters, or did you keep the road bike style shifters in the handlebar conversion? If you kept them, how do they work?

  • Jason Roberts says:

    Hi Anthony,

    I ended up changing out the brakes.

  • Desai says:

    Great post. Just what I was looking for.

    I am looking to convert very similar road bike to commuter bike. I am perticularly unconfortable with hight (I am a bit short for the bike). Wondering did you changed your wheel to small ones or the same size

  • Jesse Conner says:

    Exactly what I was looking for!! This is what I want to do with my schwinn continental before I leave to college. It looks like you put slightly larger tires which is my main thing. I want the bike to take more of a beating since I’ll be racing to class and around town. How did you do it?

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