The diversity of specialized bikes available today may be greater than at any other time in history. Just think, you can go out today and purchase a cargo bike to carry 400 lbs., a folding bike that’s small enough to fit in the trunk of a sub-compact car, or a fully-suspended mountain bike to blast down a dirt road at over 40 miles per hour.
Bikes such as those listed above are highly specialized, while others are designed to be used for a wider variety of purposes. These jack-of-all-trades bikes have been somewhat pushed aside by specialized machines over the past couple of decades, but with a growing interest in using bikes for utility and transportation, versatile bikes are making a big comeback.
Every bike, even those that are designed for a narrow use, can be ridden in at least a small range of circumstances outside of its comfort zone. For example, a fair number of people use their racing bikes for commuting, and while these bikes don’t have facility for hauling cargo, riders work around the limitations of their bikes by using backpacks and messenger bags. And while a mountain bike may not be ideal for road riding, I’ve seen plenty of people ride long distances on the road on mountain bikes outfitted with street tires.
We tend to like bikes that are designed from the start with versatility in mind. Sure, we have specialized bikes like folders, and they’re wonderful for solving very specific problems, but our everyday, go-to bikes are those that help us accomplish a variety of tasks with minimal effort.
A bike that fits our personal conception of “versatile” will, at minimum:
- be able to haul a week’s worth of groceries for one;
- roll well enough to cover 30+ miles on the road with minimal effort;
- handle well on a dirt path;
- fit standard bike facilities such as bus racks and bike lockers;
- have sufficiently wide gearing within a range that’s suitable for local terrain; and
- be set-up to handle changing weather and lighting conditions.
Each person’s list is going to be different depending upon their needs, but the wider the range of tasks any one bike can help a person accomplish, the more it’s likely to be used for everyday utility and transportation, and the more satisfying it’s likely to be to the utility/transpo bicyclist.