Purchasing a bike is not a decision that should be taken lightly. With so many bikes on the market, it’s important to know what you’re looking to get out of your investment — yes, investment, as many who purchase bikes quickly become lovers of cycling and don’t look back. Maybe you want to go for 20-mile rides, or are just looking for a way to cruise down to the grocery store. So which bike is right for you? Here is all you need to know about the different types of bikes, what they can do, and who would want to ride them.
1. Road Bike
Best for: Long rides on pavement
The first thing you will notice about a road bike is its skinnier tires and lack of tread on them. These tires are referred to as skinny and flicked. Road bikes also have dropped handlebars, which ram-horn-looking style serves a purpose. Generally when on a road bike, you’re riding for long periods of time in a static position, meaning you don’t have to make quick movements or adjustments because you’re on flat pavement. “The handlebars allow for some movement because of the multiple hand positions they provide,” says Janette Sherman, U.S. marketing manager for Liv/giant. “Plus, the drop itself lends to a more aerodynamic position for you to ride in.”
Road bikes are great to ride in a peloton (group of riders) where you will make dynamic moves, but nothing compared to what you would on a mountain bike. Road bikes have a harder seat, which, though uncomfortable at first, is ideal for skeletal support so you can go on long rides without feeling any discomfort. “You can start with a pad on the seat if you want,” says Sherman, “But you will eventually want to take it off.”
Our recommendation: Orbea Avant M50D; $2,499
2. Mountain Bike
Best use: Off-road riding on dynamic terrain and single-track trails
Mountain bikes are tough. Their wider wheels and treaded tires are made for riding over rocks and roots, and they do well in the mud and water. “They can also be very versatile,” says Victor Jimenez, specialty bicycle fitter and technical consultant at Bicycle Lab and host of Cycling360 Podcast. “You could ride them around town, too, if you wanted to.”
Mountain bikes have straight bar handlebars that sit higher than drop bars and closer to the rider. The top of the head tube will also be closer to the rider. This allows for a more upright, aggressive sitting position, which lends itself to the dynamic terrain these bikes are designed for. “You don’t need handlebars with different hand positions because you’ll be moving your arms a lot riding over rough terrain, in and out of the saddle,” says Sherman. Mountain bikes can either have front (fork) and rear (shock) suspension, front-only suspension called hard tail, or no suspension at all, which is referred to as rigid and not recommended for beginners. More advanced mountain bikers can create their own balance by standing, sitting or moving forward and back on the seat.
3. Cruiser Bike
Best use: Beach riding or other quick errands
Looking at the comfy seat on a cruiser will make you want to sit and stay a while. However, these bikes are not good for long rides. “If you’re going to ride a mile or so on flat ground, they’re great,” says Jimenez. “But you wouldn’t want to go any distance in them because of the position you’re in.” Cruisers don’t have much shock-absorption, and while some have multiple gears, most only have one, which means they don’t travel up hills too easily. The head angle of the bike is really relaxed, meaning the handlebars sit closer to the rider, and cruiser handlebars are typically higher and wider than those on a road or mountain bike. Cruiser bikes also tend to be more stylistic, and the brakes common to cruisers are controlled with your feet as opposed to hands. “Cruisers are usually an extra bike for a fitness person,” says Jimenez. They are perfect for riding at the beach, or running errands.
Our recommendation: For men and women: Electra Coaster 3i Gold; $480
4. Commuter Bike
Best use: Riding to and from work, or around town all day
Hybrid, or multi-functional, bikes are popularly used as commuter bikes. The one you choose will have a lot to do with how many miles you’re commuting every day to work, and whether you’re also riding it out at night to the movies or dinner. Commuter bikes tend to have a more relaxed head tube angle, meaning it is closer to the rider so they can sit more upright. The tires are generally thinner than a mountain bike’s, but not as thin as a road bike. These bikes have a lower price point than road bikes, too, for the most part, which hopefully helps ease the fear of it being stolen when you lock it up outside. Many commuter bikes also feature dip brakes, which allow for more stopping power (ideal for parents towing around toddles in a trailer).
You can expect to find fenders and panniers on these bikes, which are designed for carrying a purse, briefcase or other type of bag. “A lot have a complete chain guard as well so your work pants don’t get greasy on your ride to the office,” says Jimenez.
Best use: Fun!
This bike is definitely not for beginners. Most don’t have a brake on the rear hub like other bikes, meaning that, yes, this bike has no brakes. Its name comes from its makeup of having only one gear, a fixed gear. “There’s no coasting on this bike because the pedals continue to move,” says Sherman. “You have to use the force of your body to slow down, especially around corners.” These bikes take a lot more strategy and practice to ride. It isn’t recommended to jump on one for the first time on busy city streets as the lack of brakes may take some getting used to. But when you’re ready, you’ve got options: from buying new to building your own fixed gear bike. “A lot of people convert old racing bikes into fixies to make them custom,” says Jimenez.
Our recommendation: Big Shot Bikes Custom Fixie; $429
6. Recreational Bike
Best use: Riding frequently around town, on pavement, paved paths or gravel
If you enjoy biking a lot frequently — but not always very far — on roads or paths in your city, this bike might be the choice for you. Recreational bikes, again, fall into the hybrid category due to their versatility. They generally have a wider, treaded tire, with flat handlebars that allow riders to sit more upright in an aggressive position.
“Recreational bikes are great for riders who really want to make a commitment to riding, and would rather sit up straight, without having to throw their leg over the top tube,” says Sherman. It’s important to know what you want to do on this bike — ride on the gravel bike path, or bike through the paved mountain roads. Once you know this, you’ll be able to narrow down the options.
Best use: Riding fast, by yourself, for long distances
“These bikes are solely aimed at triathletes, and the one you purchase depends on what type of triathlete you are,” says Sherman. Do you do sprint tris every now and then, or are you competing every weekend in different distances? There is a huge price difference based on the different geometry, or construction, of these bikes. However, they all have similar features.
Tri bikes in general tend to have more aggressive geometry. The goal is for you to go as fast as you can so many have aero bars to help you remain in the most aerodynamic position for long periods of time. “This less stable position doesn’t allow you to move around much or react quickly,” says Sherman, “which is why it’s great for tris where you’re not allowed to ride in a peloton and [have to] instead ride alone.” Tri bikes also generally have gears and brakes in different places — the inside handlebars are shifters, and the outside are brakes. The bike’s frame also makes it easier to transition to the run.
If you want biking to become a part of your life, it might be time to invest in a bike that’s in line with your goals. While it may be pricey, it will be worth it for the enjoyment of your riding choice. And if you decide you want to try a different riding style, not to worry. “The cool thing about bikes is that their resale value is great,” says Sherman. “So if you have a road bike, but get tired of it and want to try mountain biking, you can sell the road bike for a great price.”
Which bike is the right fit for you, and what adventures lie ahead? Tell us in the comments below.