Recreation vs Transportation Bikes: Quiz and Photos

There’s been increasing press lately about bicycling as transportation.

The difference between riding for recreation and transportation matters a great deal for the construction of the bikes, although few bikes focused directly on transportation are seen the US.

Here’s a quiz of sorts to show how recreation vs. transportation attitudes lead to different bike designs. Follow along and see which style of bike matches you!

At the end if the quiz, there are some photos and details highlighting some features available on transportation bikes.


For each of the following parts of a bicycle, see which attitude more closely matches your own. You’ll have to keep the tally of “A” vs. “B” in your head!

Chain Guard:

A: The bike is faster without the weight chain guard and I won’t be wearing important clothes often on the bike anyway. I can be sure to cinch my pant leg when I do.
B: A chain guard keeps the bike cleaner, reducing maintenance. I don’t want to have to worry about getting bike grease on my clothes.


A: Make them lightweight and fast.
B: Make them puncture resistant.


A: Give me a maximal amount of gears so I can ride how I like!
B: Give me a reliable system that needs little maintenance.


A: I’ll add a light if I need one. I don’t plan many rides at night.
B: I need to ride in the dark, especially in the seasons where it gets dark so early. I need reliable lights, and I don’t want to worry about changing batteries.


A: I want maximal stopping power.
B: I want brakes that are very low maintenance.


A: A bell is unnecessary weight. The bike is faster without one.
B: I often ride in traffic or on a cycle paths, and it is very useful to let others know I’m approaching.


A: Fenders add extra weight. The bike is faster without them.
B: It’s important that my clothes stay clean. I don’t want my skirt or long coat getting caught in the spokes, either.


A: I prefer not to carry a lock with me if I don’t have to. The bike is lighter and faster without one.
B: The lock should always be present and reliable. I never know when I might need it.


A: I rarely choose to ride in heavy traffic, and would rather avoid the weight of a mirror. I can look over my shoulder if I need to.
B: I often ride in traffic, and a mirror is helpful to check fast approaching cars behind me.


A: Sometimes I want to carry a few things on the trip.
B: I need to move things to place to place on the bicycle occasionally. This should be a convenient feature of the bicycle.


A: If there is a passenger, they better be pedaling!
B: I want to be able to carry one or more children with me, or an adult that just needs a ride.

If you hadn’t guessed it by the end, I think the “A” attitudes represent more of a “recreation” mindset while “B” is more of a “transportation” mindset for using a bicycle.

American bike shops up until recently have been weighted very heavily towards recreational bikes. I see primarily three kinds of bikes in ones I’ve visited: road racing bikes, mountain bikes and something in between that’s called a “hybrid” bike or “fitness” bikes. There may be also be some BMX bikes there. In any case, these are all recreation bikes.

Transportation Bike Photos

Here are transportation-oriented solutions to the categories above. You’ll see these elements in commuting (or “city”) bikes, touring bikes and cargo bikes.

Chain Guard

A fully-enclosed chain guard provides maximum protection for the chain and your clothing.


This cross-section shows how the tire can be puncture resistent.


Internal hub gears are not exposed to the weather and can need much less adjustment. While 3 and 8 gear hubs rae common, this Rohloff speed hub has a range that rivals a 27 speed bike.


Schmidt Dynamo Hub powers bike lights
A common European solution is have the bike generate electricity to power the lights, so that batteries running out is never a problem. The Schmidt dynamo hub goes in the front wheel and has creates so little additional resistence that it is difficult to perceive. Both front and rear lights can be powered this way. Modern systems can stay running for a few minutes at stop lights, and autodetect when they need to come on.


Drum brakes work just as well in the rain and need less maintenance because they are enclosed. Coaster brakes and Disc brakes are also common on transportation bikes.


Fenders are a standard feature as well. Some bikes include an an additional “skirt guard” to keep long clothing out of the bike wheel. See it in the “Lock” photo below.



A lock and key system can be built into the bike so it disables the back wheel and is very difficult to defeat. While you may still want a second lock if the bike is left alone for extended periods of time, this often sufficient.


Mirrors are my number one recommended accessories for bike commuting. I prefer the Mirrycle mirror. In the Netherlands, mirrors are rare are commuting bikes because they have so many bike-specific facilities that there is rarely fast moving traffic (like cars) approaching in the same line from behind. That’s a nice vision to head towards!


Serious Dutch bike

A transportation-centric bike may have one or more extra strong racks
Xtracycle 2


three happy girls in a cargo bike
Kids are the most likely type of non-pedaling passenger. The bakfiets is an innovative solution for this, which allows you to see up to three children you are carrying, since they are in front of you, and they can see you. Unlike a trailer, there are no extra wheels involved to add rolling resistence.

The model includes a bench seat and three-point harnesses for two kids, as well as the possibility to strap in a baby carrier to the bottom of the bucket, and clear rain and wind hood is available as well.

There are over 10,000 in Amsterdam, and you find one locally as well.

Finding a transportation bike, learning more

Even if your local bike shop doesn’t carry transportation-focused bikes, they should have some awareness they exist, and should be able to order them if they don’t stock them. Online there is Xtracycle.com, and Clever Cycles.

Some great blogs focused on bikes as transportation include Clever Cycles from Portland, “Bakfiets and More” from Amsterdam, and the photo blog Copenhagen Girls on Bikes.

  • Joel

    The “quiz” was an interesting way to look at things, but I have a small issue with the brakes question. I don’t see there being an acceptable trade-off between stopping power and maintenance. My commuter bike has a front drum brake (it has old, stainless rims so I needed something that wouldn’t be impacted by water) and there have been times where the stopping power just wasn’t up to snuff. Mainly coming down a hill and having to deal with someone wandering out in front of me (either a ped or car). In the case of brakes I almost lean towards stopping power (as a safety issue) over ease of maintenance. I guess I see it as something where it’s more important to learn what may be slightly more involved mechanics in order to have the best equipment.
    Love the site, great and useful info.

  • Mark Stosberg

    Perhaps I could frame that better, since I agree with you. Besides being low-maintenance, drum brakes well well in the rain, while brakes more common on recreational bikes are more likely to have degraded performance in the rain.
    I appreciate the sentiment that it’s important to consider safety over maintenance whether you are riding for recreation or transportation.

  • Ken O’Brien

    Your mirror answers do not include an answer that covers me.
    I ride daily, most days in heavy traffic, most days including lots of overtaking traffic . I use the traffic rules of the road to allow me to devote my attention where it is needed when it is needed.
    1) When I am traveling a consistent line down the roadway, I do not need to waste attention on approaching overtaking traffic because the overtaking driver has all the prime responsibilities for a safe overtaking maneuver.
    2) When I change lateral position across the roadway, I need a better view of conditions to the rear than any mirror would provide. I strive to always include a head turn check for any lateral shift.
    3)On my standard configuration bicycle, I have no obstructions around me at all.
    Therefore a mirror is not necessary.
    People who waste a lot of attention to their rear when it is not needed there are doing themselves no favors. As your travel, you are approaching all your major safety concerns, the concern to which you have the most reasonable chance to evaluate situation correctly and have a reasonable response. Therefore ahead is where your attention should be devoted as much as is practicable. If you are going to get a mirror just to waste a lot of attention in that mirror when you should be devoting better quality attention to scanning road and traffic conditions ahead – I suggest you just skip getting a mirror.

  • Mark Stosberg

    I think your argument about focusing primarily on what’s ahead would apply equally to cars as well, where I also find a mirror to be a useful tool. The most dangerous traffic situations are complex with activity happening simultaneously in both directions: I need to merge left while keeping an eye on the slowing car in front of me, as well as the car approaching in the lane I want to merge into. By using a mirror, I can essentially see in both directions at once.
    I do acknowledge that are a spectrum of riders out there who will make choices that don’t put them neatly into the “recreation” and “transportation” boxes I have made.
    Thanks for your feedback!

  • Ken O’Brien

    >The most dangerous traffic situations are complex with activity
    >happening simultaneously in both directions: I need to merge left
    >while keeping an eye on the slowing car in front of me, as well as
    >the car approaching in the lane I want to merge into. By using a
    >mirror, I can essentially see in both directions at once.
    Traffic rules, sound traffic behavior and good facility design allow this complex situation to be broken down and handled by the human physiology in manageable steps – a human physiology that does not allow quality focused attention directed backwards and forwards simultaneously – with or without a mirror.
    You need to break your tasks up some. That is why a good turn should be done in steps. First, develop a good lane lateral position EARLY: 1) to impart clear information to approaching-from-behind drivers about your intentions ahead, 2) to block traffic from overtaking on the side you intend to turn. It is during this merge stage you devote attention to the rear to look for, then yield to any traffic so close that your lateral merge would be a hazard. (Note BTW, this does not mean wait until such time that your lateral merge calls for no response of any kind from approaching traffic; just yield to traffic so close that lateral merge creates a hazard because they are too close for a response with margin.)
    After that good lateral position is developed, go back to devoting full attention ahead and to the intersection and crossing conditions.
    I believe a mirror-look-only for the first step is insufficient. A head turn look is so much superior I believe bicyclists should always attempt to include head turn for the attention to the rear. Plan for/create enough margin to conditions ahead to allow that those well-placed brief bursts of attention to the rear.
    I also attempt never to make a lateral merge in a motor vehicle without a head turn. I believe the importance of mirrors is blown way out of proportion in the present culture for motor vehicle drivers too. I also believe the advantage of always including a head turn look for any lateral merge is underplayed. Mirrors on very large vehicles with a lot of blind spots are important pieces of equipment. However, for most of the vehicle fleet, the importance of mirrors is probably WAY overdone in the culture right now. I suspect it is just another incarnation of the I’m-OK-you-are-not culture. I bet we would ALL be better off with a culture that wasted less attention in mirrors while traveling straight down the road – and used all that extra attention to evaluate conditions ahead – then preparing responses to those conditions ahead as early as practicable. Too often something the exhortation to “defensive driving” amounts to nothing more sophisticated than “The roads are filled with morons! You must attempt to maintain 360 degree simultaneous awareness at all times or you will be squashed!” It is untrue and makes a recommendation impossible for humans. “Learn the rules; devote quality attention where it is needed when it is needed” is a much better characterization of meaningful, useful, percentage and reality based defensive driving.
    BTW, if I go back to your original piece’s statement on mirrors, it did not make this point about complex lateral merge maneuver anyway. You mentioned one of the _least_ complex parts of bicycling – and then suggested inferior behavior, in my opinion. It is not a complex maneuver for a bicyclist maintaining a consistent lateral roadway position to be overtaken. That bicyclist should be keeping all their attention ahead, evaluating surface conditions, traffic conditions and roadway configurations that may call for a lateral merge, so bicyclist is ready to begin any needed lateral merge as early as possible. The only real responsibility overtaken traffic has is not to speed up once they determine someone is overtaking them.
    If a forward-focused scan determines a lateral merge is called for, that is when attention needs to go to the rear. It is a bad idea to waste attention to the rear on the impossible job of divining which of each and every overtaking driver might be capable of the VERY VERY rare GROSS negligence of simply slamming into the back of predictable-travel bicyclist.

  • Mark Stosberg

    Your points are well stated and taken— thanks for sharing them.

  • DennisTheBald

    I’m completely confounded by the trade off between lots of gears and ease of maintenance. Well, I don’t so much care about the number of gears as the range of gears. But I want little bitty gears that let me crawl up the hills with all my luggage… and I want big gears that let me zoom when I’m unencumbered. And having to clean and lube it once a week is unworkable, it would be nice to go 3-5000 miles between oil changes. Please post a solution to this quandary, even an expensive one, right away.
    Oh yeah, I get a lot more use outta my mirrors than I would a helmet. But your mileage may vary.

  • Mark Stosberg

    You are looking for the Rohloff Speed Hub. It gives you a gear range rivaling that of a 27 speed bike in a very low maintenance internal rear hub. It’s fancy engineering with a fancy price to match.