Comfort bikes are pretty much what they sound like: bikes meant for commuting and tours through the park rather than for road racing or trail rides. Comfort bikes have large seats, fat tires to cruise over road bumps, low-maintenance gear hubs, easy-reach handlebars and an upright riding position. They are usually less expensive than road bikes and true mountain bikes, which can cost more than $1,000. It's easy to find a well-reviewed comfort bike for less than $1,000.
Most comfort bicycles, especially those designed for commuting, have chain guards and fenders to protect your clothes from mud and grease. The accessories on each bike vary, but the most sought-after commuting accessories include fenders, storage racks, bells, water bottle cages and kickstands. Budget commuter bikes usually have fewer accessories than more expensive models, but the frames usually include mounts so you can add your own fenders or racks. Cruiser bikes, used for leisurely rides rather than serious commutes, typically have swept-back handlebars and comfortable upright geometry. These bikes usually have heavy frames and only a few gears.
For long or hilly commutes, most experts recommend a hybrid bike, which combines the skinnier tires and lighter frame of a road bike with mountain bike-style handlebars. These bikes are fast and offer a wide gear range for hills, but they are also comfortable enough to ride for long periods. Hybrid bikes don't come with many commuting accessories, but most include mounts so you can add your own.
Cargo bikes are also becoming more popular. These bikes have rear and front racks for hauling, whether it's groceries or a child (or two!) in a specially designed seat. These bikes are long and heavy, and most have double kickstands to provide stability when loading and unloading. Cargo bikes are much more expensive than regular commuter bikes -- many cost more than $2,000 -- but it is possible to find some budget cargo bikes closer to the $1,000 mark.
You can find comfort bikes in both single- and multispeed versions. Single-speed bikes have only one gear, but they usually weigh less than a similar multispeed bicycle. They're also easier to maintain, because there are fewer components (there are no derailleurs, for example). If you live in a hilly area, you'll likely want a bike with eight or more gears. Even though multispeed commuter bikes require a little more maintenance, you'll appreciate the additional gears when you're pedaling uphill. Although most comfort bikes come with a diamond frame, some manufacturers offer model variants with step-through frames designed for women.
There's no reason you can't use a regular road or mountain bike for commuting, particularly if you want a bike that can be used for weekend riding. ConsumerSearch has separate reports on road bikes and mountain bikes. Commuters might also be interested in folding bikes. These bikes literally fold up for storage or for carrying into your office so you don't have to leave your bike chained to a rack.
We consult a number of sources when researching the best comfort bikes. Some of the best, most detailed reviews come from British publications like Cycle Commuter and Cycling Active. These magazines conduct regular group tests of similar bikes, rating each one on a variety of criteria and providing detailed analysis on each bike. An overall winner is usually declared in each test. Although not quite as comprehensive, American publications like Bicycling, Men's Journal and Outside magazines devote some attention to comfort bikes. Cycling websites like BikeRadar.com and Road.cc are also helpful for determining the best commuter bikes.