Today, owning a bike is about more than just getting from point A to point B; it is a sign of freedom – you can get where you want to go fast and without the headache of traffic, you can go out into the countryside and relax on weekends, you can take your bike out and about when you want to clear your mind and meditate and you can use your bike to keep fit. The question on your mind, however, may be – what are the types of bicycles available in the market and specifically what kind of bike should I get?
This guide will look at the 4 main types of bicycles:
- Road bikes
- Mountain bikes
- Hybrid bikes
- Gravel bikes
Within these categories, you will find that there are further subdivisions depending on a bike’s features. The reason why these broad categories are important is that they tell you about the best use of the bike i.e. a mountain bike is best for steep, rough terrains, while a road bike is best used on tarmac or on paved surfaces.
What bike is best?
The question may seem like an easy one but it is not. When you get into the nitty gritty of the different bikes you will find that there is a lot to consider before you can make your purchase. One way to make that process easier is to answer a few simple questions:
- Where will I be riding?
As you get to understand different bikes one thing that will become obvious right away is that different bikes are made for different terrains. There are those that are made for paved roads, those that can handle paved roads that are a little rough and those that are made for off-road use. There are also bikes that do better on steep gradients. There are bikes that are designed for riding long distances and others that aren’t. Let us break this down a bit. If, for example, you need your bike to cruise around the neighborhood, a cruiser bike is a good option. If you plan to use your bike to commute into and around the city then a city bike is a better option. If you love to spend time outdoors on rough terrain a mountain bike is best for you.
- How much do I plan to spend?
Bikes range from cheap to high end and the bike that you buy will ultimately depend on how much you plan to spend. The cheapest are the kind that you find at department stores. They can cost anything from $80 to around $200. If you are short on cash these may be the obvious choice but they do not last long. They are poorly constructed and you cannot expect to ride them for any length of time before they break down.
According to a recent Consumer Reports survey of different kinds of bikes based on price, the best bikes are those that range between $350 and $600. This is within what most people can afford to pay, but there are many bike models that cost more than that. The price will determine the features of any bike. Pricewise, bikes fall into three main categories:
- $350 to $600: At this range you can expect to get a bicycle that a basic front suspension, a drive-train with between 7 and 24 speeds a good braking system. It will have a sturdy metal frame.
- $600 – $1,000: The main reason why people spend money on bikes in this price category is because they have lighter frames, wheels and tires, but are also very sturdy. They will have better front-suspension and some will have hydraulic brakes.
- $1,000 – $2,000: These are without a doubt the best bikes in the market and they come with very light aluminum or carbon frames, hydraulic brakes and even better wheels and tires.
Of course, you can get any of these types of bikes cheaper if you buy them second hand – lots of people sell bikes online that they don’t use anymore that are in relatively good condition.
- Where do I plan to buy my bike?
There are 3 places that you can buy a bike online and each has its pros and cons. You can choose to buy online directly from the dealer. The cons of this are that you can get good pricing (no added markups) and you have access to dealer support in case of any problems. You also get a good warranty. The downside of buying dealer-direct is that you cannot test your purchase before you buy it, but if you buy from a reliable dealer they will allow you to return the bike in case of any issues.
You can also choose to buy your bike from an online retailer such as Amazon or other vendors who deal in bikes. You can get a good price if you buy from one of these because competition often forces them to lower their prices, but the downside is that you don’t get to test your bike before you buy, you don’t get bike accessories, and customer support may not be very good.
The third place you can buy a bike is on a site that sells used items such as eBay or Craigslist. You can get an excellent deal on one of these, but you have to be on the lookout for unscrupulous vendors.
Of course, you can also buy your bike from a local bike shop. The biggest advantage of this is that you can test out as many different bikes as you like and then choose the one you like best. The only problem with buying from your local bike vendor is that while he may have some excellent bikes in stock, the variety is often limited.
Types of bikes
It is now time to look into each of them in terms of features, pros and cons.
These bikes are designed to be used on smooth roads. The most unique feature of road bikes is that their design allows the rider to achieve high speeds with minimum effort. Here are additional features/pros of road bikes:
- They have a narrow, lightweight frame, wheels and tires.
- Most have a drop handlebar although there are a few models that have flat handlebars.
- The front fork is made of carbon fiber.
- They don’t have a front or rear suspension.
- These bikes come in a wide range of sizes and there are specific models available for men and women.
Who should use road bikes?
These bikes are great for anyone who is keen on fitness and even competitive riding. You can also use them for everyday commutes especially if you travel medium to long distances that you can do at high speeds.
What are the cons of road bikes?
The most obvious con of road bikes is that they cannot be used on rough terrain. They are also not the most comfortable bikes to ride, which is partly why they are not recommended for long distances. They can also become damaged quite easily, and because they are so light and versatile they are a favorite for bike thieves.
If you live outside a city or have spent time in a rural area you have definitely seen mountain bikes. They are made for the rough terrain – their design allows them to be used where roads aren’t paved and/or are steep. Here are the features/pros of mountain bikes:
- They have beefy frames and knobby tires to help them negotiate rough terrain.
- The frame is designed with dual or full suspension. This means that they have suspension for both the front and rear wheels. You can think about bike suspension like shock absorbers – it absorbs the impact from rough trains, making the rider more comfortable.
- Some mountain bikes have no suspension at all and these are known as rigid bikes. They are made for trails that aren’t very rough and require less maintenance.
- The frame of a mountain bike can be made from aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium or steel. There are some that are made out of an alloy of these materials. Each material has its pros and cons and you will find that manufacturers will change materials on mountain bikes depending on what they hope to achieve. The type of material that the frame is made out of will affect the price. One that is made from carbon fiber, for example, will be more expensive than one that is made out of aluminum. Frames that are made of titanium are the most expensive as it is very durable and can withstand a crash quite well.
- The groupset of a mountain bike is also quite unique when compared to other types of bikes. A groupset is the “engine room” of the bike and it contains two important components – the brakes and the drivetrain. The drivetrain is where you will find the chain, chainrings, cranks, the cassette, shifters and derailleurs. The more expensive a mountain bike, the better the drivetrain i.e. better performance.
- It is important to talk about the brakes on a mountain bike. Today’s mountain bikes come with two types of brakes: cable operated disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes. Cable operated brakes are usually found in lower end mountain bikes (usually those that cost around $600 and below). Hydraulic brakes are found on more expensive mountain bikes and they offer superior braking power. They are longer lasting and do not require much maintenance.
Who should use mountain bikes?
These bikes are great for people who do leisure riding in comfort. Because you may want to ride on tarmac from time to time you should get a bike that has slim tires so that you don’t have to pedal very hard to get traction on paved surfaces.
What are the cons of mountain bikes?
These bikes are rather slow on the tarmac and feel very heavy – you need a lot of effort to get any speed at all. Like road bikes, mountain bikes are also liked by thieves so you shouldn’t leave yours lying out in the yard.
One of the most common questions you will come across from cycling beginners is what are hybrid bikes? Simply put, hybrid bikes hit that sweet spot between mountain bikes and road bikes. They take the best features of both bike types so that a rider can be comfortable and gain speed without over-exerting themselves. Common features/pros of hybrid bikes include:
- Hybrid bikes come with a large number of gears so that the rider can find the perfect setting for their bike depending on a variety of factors such as terrain, speed and so on. The important thing to keep in mind when thinking about gears for mountain bikes is that if you will be using yours on flat terrains you don’t need that many gears. While a large number of gears can be great, it also increases the chances of something going wrong. The gears can become stuck, and gear chains can come loose. The lower the number of gears, the lower the odds of you having mechanical malfunctions.
- Most hybrid bikes are made of one of two materials – aluminum or carbon fiber, or a combination of the two. The material that the frame of your bike is made out of matters because it will dictate the weight of the bike, and also how it will perform in case of an accident. If it is made of very light material it will mangle easily and need more repairs. Aluminum hybrid bikes are great because they are light and resistant to corrosion but the down side is that they are heavier than frames that are made out of carbon fiber. While carbon fiber frames are very light, their downside is that they are quite expensive.
- Suspension in hybrid bikes is important because sometimes they are taken off-road. A good suspension will ensure that the rider doesn’t absorb the shock of bumps or holes on the road. If you plan to ride your hybrid bike in terrain that is rather rough you can buy one that has suspension seatposts in addition to ordinary suspension.
- Make sure that you choose a hybrid bike that has disc brakes so that you have good stopping power whatever your riding conditions.
- Mudguards and luggage racks also matter in hybrid bikes. Think about whether you need them when you are commuting and doing chores as not all of them have these two features.
Who should use hybrid bikes?
These bikes are perfect for people who plan to ride on paved roads but don’t want to contort themselves into the crouched position that is forced by a road bike.
What are the cons of hybrid bikes?
There are only two cons of hybrid bikes – they weigh more than road bikes and because they are a cross of road and mountain bikes aren’t as fast as some people would like them to be.
Gravel bikes are also called adventure bikes, monster bikes, all-road bikes, road plus bikes…don’t get confused, they all mean the same thing. A gravel bike does what most bikes cannot – it can traverse any kind of terrain with ease. These bikes come with a wide variety of features that warrant their own article, but we will try to summarize them here. Here are some of the common pros/features of gravel bikes:
- They are fast – yes, and their speed is what attracts most people to them. They are the fastest bike on the market right now and they are designed to be ridden at speed, so if that is not your thing you shouldn’t buy one of these.
- Everything on a gravel bike is minimalist. Why? The aerodynamic design allows for minimum resistance which facilitates speed.
- You can go anywhere on a gravel bike. You can ride just as easily on a paved road as you can on a mountain trail. Of course there are some things that it will not do, such as travel well on sand or over tree roots, but if you can carry your bike over such obstacles you will soon be back on a surface that you can ride on.
These bikes come in several different categories, so you need to think about how you plan to use yours before you buy one. There are backroad gravel bikes, adventure gravel bikes, custom build gravel bikes and more. The important thing to know is that every manufacturer of these bikes creates products depending on how the interpret the definition of gravel bikes and the features that they want to offer the user.
- Most gravel bike frames are made of either carbon or steel – aluminum is quite rare in this category. There are some manufacturers who use an alloy of these materials. At the very high end you will find gravel bikes that are made of titanium.
- These bikes have wide tires like mountain bikes to help them negotiate rough terrain. Tire width can go up to 55 mm, but at around 40 mm you will have a bike that can handle almost any kind of terrain.
- Gravel bikes can have two types of brakes: either Cantilever or disc brakes. Disc brakes are better because they are offer smoother stops in mud and allow for bigger tire clearance.
Who should use gravel bikes?
Everyone who loves to ride and who plans to use their bike often on different terrains can do with a gravel bike. These bikes are also great for fitness enthusiasts as they test different levels of endurance. There is an upcoming category of enthusiasts who convert their road bikes into gravel bikes – you can find clubs and blogs online. It is definitely one way to go, but if DIY isn’t quite your thing you should find a reliable bike vendor and buy a ready-made gravel bike.
What are the cons of gravel bikes?
The biggest problem with these kinds of bikes is because they are so versatile that are much loved by thieves. Since they are not cheap if you invest in one make sure to keep it locked safely away when it isn’t in use. They can also be rather heavy when compared to road bikes.
What about other bike types?
You may be confused as to bike types or best bikes because when you look online there are so many. What about electric bikes, for example? Or city bikes? Or single speed bikes? Or folding bikes?
We mentioned earlier that this article tackles the 4 broad categories of bikes, so electric, city and folding bikes will fall into one of the 4 categories that are discussed.
In order to make this ultimate bike guide as complete as possible we will now look into a few other types of bikes – their main features as well as what they are best used for. These will include:
- Track Bikes/Fixed Gear Bikes
- BMX/Trick Bikes
- Fat Bikes
- Folding Bikes
- Electric Bikes
- Triathlon Bikes
- Kids Bikes
- Beach Cruiser Bikes
- Recumbent Bikes
- Tandem Bikes
Track Bikes/Fixed Gear (Fixies)
For the amateur, the terms fixed gear and track bike are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there are differences and they are worth noting because when you get into the nitty gritty, these two types of bikes are rather different. First the similarity: both these bike types have FIXED GEARS – this means that they are single speed bikes. You will not be able to coast on a bike with fixed gears, which means that so long as you are on the bike you are physically engaged.
Now to the differences; the main difference between a fixed bike and a track bike is in their usage. A fixed bike is best used for fun, while a track bike is best for competitive sport. This is because a fixie has several safety features that are not available on a track bike. A fixed bike has brakes while a track bike does not. There is a reason why track bikes do not have brakes – it is for the safety of the competitors as sudden braking can lead to pile-ups.
A track bike is not recommended for the amateur rider – they are best for professionals who have been riding for many years who have developed stamina and have lots of experience with different types of bikes.
No bike guide would be complete without a look into the popular BMX brand of bikes. These bikes are well-loved around the world by riders young and old. BMX are off-road bikes. Do not confuse them with mountain bikes; while mountain bikes are designed to travel long distances, BMX bikes are for riding on short, rough (man-made) tracks. BMX bikes evolved from motocross bikes in the late sixties and early seventies. They allowed kids to race around their neighborhoods and negotiate rough terrains and soon, these bikes were a must-have for every cool kid in the neighborhood.
While BMX bikes are usually associated with young children and teenagers, there are many expertly designed models for adults as well.
BMX bikes come in 3 main types: BMX racing, BMX freestyle bikes and BMX street bikes. BMX trick bikes can be either freestyle and or street. These bikes have frames made out of chrome or aluminum which allows them to withstand all the tricks that riders throw at them – they can be used on different urban terrains including stairs, off-road and skate parks.
One important distinction to be made is with BMX street bikes. These bikes are made to use on flat terrains and they often don’t have brakes so they should only be used by experienced riders.
If you want to take part in competitive racing then a BMX race bike is best. These bikes are designed to deliver speed in short bursts, so riders are able to compete in single laps over obstacles such as bumps.
Fat bikes were once a novelty affair – they were for biking enthusiasts who were determined to conquer terrain that couldn’t be traversed with any other type of bike. Fat biking has become main-stream over the years and it is now a favorite for people who want to have fun as they explore different kinds of environments in all types of weather.
What is a fat bike? It is a bike that has been fitted with fat tires that are at least 3.8 inches wide that offer more traction than you would find with any other type of bike. You can use a fat bike on snow, it is excellent for negotiating downhill slopes, and going over rough terrain. The tires can be deflated and inflated to cope with different amounts of snowfall.
Fat bikes aren’t just ideal for snow; they are also perfect for riding on sand as well as for off-road travel.
Fat bikes have become especially popular because they help people lose weight and stay fit in all sorts of weather and terrain.
If you live out in the suburbs or in the country where there is lots of room to store your bike a folding bike may not be something you will ever have to consider. However, for those who live in crowded cities, rent small studio apartments and have to store their bikes while at work, folding bikes are a great option. If you visit cities like Hong Kong or Singapore you will find lots of people who own and use folding bikes on a regular basis.
Folding bikes are just that – bikes that you can fold into a smaller, compact form for easier and more efficient storage. These bikes come in different forms. There are lightweight single-speed folding bikes, electrical folding bikes and even cruising folding bikes. Wheel size matters in folding bikes, so consider the terrain you will be riding as you buy yours. If you have to ride on rough terrain you should buy a bike with tires that are at least 4 inches wide.
However, the most important factor to take into account before you buy a folding bike is how small and compact you want it to be once it’s folded. The ease of the folding mechanism also matters – some are easy to fold and unfold while others take a bit of getting used to. Also, find out what the bylaws are regarding folding bikes on your local public transport system. In some cities it is okay to bring such bikes onto trains and buses while in others it is not allowed.
The popularity of electric bikes, or e-bikes, has grown immensely in the last few years. Between 2016 and 2017 sales jumped by a whopping 90%, and in countries like the Netherlands, where the traditional bike has always been the way to commute, electric bikes now outsell all other models.
Electric bikes are made with electric parts that make pedaling easier. They look like other types of bikes but are fitted with an electric motor so that the cyclist doesn’t have to use nearly as much energy to move around or manage obstacles. These bikes have a battery and they come in three forms: pedal only (powered only by pedaling), pedal assist (as soon as the pedals are in motion the motor kicks in for the added boost) and electric only (no assistance from the rider – think moped).
When buying an electric bike it is important to consider the motor. The bigger the motor, the more weight you can pull, but the faster the battery will drain. The battery also matters – it can be SLA or lithium, and they both have their pros and cons.
If you plan to go off-grid for long hours electric bikes are not ideal but if you have a regular commute (to work or to school) they are a great way of getting around.
Triathlon bikes are different from ordinary bikes – they are designed for the highly athletic who ride every day. As the name suggests, these are bikes for people who run triathlons, so amateurs will not do well on them. What makes these bikes different is their design – they are made in such a way as to maximize aerodynamic benefits so that the rider can achieve maximum speeds. The seat, for example, is at a steeper angle to help streamline the torso to the ground.
Because these bikes are made for athletes they also have lots of storage – a typical triathlon bike will have room for tools, a water bottle or two, a food storage area and even a place where you can attach a tool bag. These bikes are made with frame angles and frame tubes to enable them to glide with more ease than other types of bicycles.
This is possibly the widest, and therefore, the most confusing range of bikes that there is. When choosing, the factors to consider are usually the age of the child, how well they are able to balance and how often they plan to use the bike.
If you plan to start your child off really early the best bike for them is a balance bike (also call a strider or a runner). In the past, these bikes came with stabilizing wheels that could be taken off once the child became familiar with the bike, but today’s balance bikes are made without pedals, allowing the child to scoot about using their feet. Over time they learn the basics such as balance and confidence and they can move on to a bike that has pedals.
At around the age of 4 your child will be ready for an upgrade to a proper bike. The best bikes are light and easy to maneuver. They have a solid build – your child will put the bike through a lot, so it needs to be able to withstand some tough treatment.
As your child gets to their teen years you can invest in a BMX or any other type of bike they want so long as it is safe.
When you are buying a bike for your child make sure that you look at wheel size compared to the inseam length. There are detailed charts that provide this information. You shouldn’t buy a bigger bike in the hopes that your child will grow into it. Buy them a bike that fits their needs at the time.
Beach Cruiser Bikes
Beach cruiser bikes, or simply cruiser bikes, are designed for the comfort of the rider. They come with a high seat that allows the rider to be completely upright, a wide seat, upright handlebars and wide tires. Many are single speed, but there are some models that are 3-speed. Most beach cruiser bikes are made with coaster brakes where the rider has to pedal backwards if they want to stop. These bikes are best for casual rides on flat terrains.
There are two types of stationary exercise bikes – upright and recumbent. The difference between the two is the position that the rider sits in. On an upright exercise bike, the seat is higher up (same as you would find on a road bike) but on a recumbent bike, the seat is placed lower so that your legs are more or less stretched out in front of you. The whole point is to target specific muscles in the body. A recumbent bike will target hamstrings, abs, quadriceps, gluteus maximus, tibialis anterior, calves, and hip muscles – in other words, most muscles that need to get a workout.
Recumbent bikes are safer than upright bikes because your body is more balanced and they are a good starting point for those who want to start outdoor biking for fitness.
These bikes are great for people who suffer back problems because they don’t have to lean forward as they cycle. They are also perfect for people who are trying to eliminate a slouch. However, the thing to remember about recumbent bikes is that they can be particularly punishing on the hamstrings.
Say tandem bikes to most people and the first image that comes to mind is the neighborhood eccentric couple that you see riding together on some contraption from their garage. Tandem bikes have come a long way and there are many who choose them because of the specific benefits that they offer. One reason to choose tandem bikes is that riders with different pedaling power can ride together with ease. They are great for parents and children to ride together or even for couples who enjoy spending time together outdoors. Tandem bikes are a fun way to experience the surroundings with another person.
On a tandem bike, the person riding at the front, who is also known as the captain, needs to be the better rider – they should know how to ride a bike and they should be stronger and ideally heavier than the person at the back. It is their job to control all aspects of the ride – they determine the speed when to brake when to change direction and so on. The captain should be sensitive to the person at the back, or the stoker – if they feel that they are moving too fast the captain ought to slow down.
The stoker, on the other hand, should help by pedaling as hard as they can when more power is needed, such as on steep climbs or rough terrains.
You can get tandem bikes for two, three and even four riders – perfect for a small family.
The bottom line
With so many different types of bikes, choosing can be quite difficult especially if you are a beginner. We recommend that you talk to someone who knows about bikes – a friend or relative maybe. Alternatively, if there is a bike shop nearby you can walk in and have a conversation with an employee who knows about bicycle types, their pros and cons. The wide variety may seem confusing, but remember it all begins with you defining your needs.
When you are buying a bike you should also think about the maintenance and additional accessories that you may need. Bikes that have lots of gears, for example, require more maintenance than those that don’t. Some bikes also require specialized accessories which require you to expand your budget.
The most important thing when buying a bike is to make sure that you are dealing with a vendor who allows returns without too much hassle. If you buy a bike and it isn’t quite what you were looking for you shouldn’t make any alterations to it as that can void the warranty.