Types of Bikes: Basics & How to Choose

Jul 26, 2015 0 Comments
Types of Bikes:  Basics & How to Choose

When you first get into bike riding and cycling, you may be curious about what types of bikes are out there, and what their specialty is.  As a bike commuter, you'll also be making the choice of what type of bike to ride, and what would best suit your commute.  As a cyclist, you may be picking between different types of road bikes or mountain bikes.  

Without a doubt, one of your best resources is your local bike shop, but here's a little intro to arm you with some information about the types of bikes out there, and how to choose. 

When making the decision, you'll want to consider the conditions you'll be riding in, including weather, ground conditions (pavement, dirt trails, etc.), and distance you'll be riding.

Road Bikes

Is this for me? If you're riding on smooth pavement, want to get into bike racing, or just want a fast commute, road bikes may be for you.

Road bikes are made for riding on pavement, like city or suburban streets, or paved bike trails.  Road bikes come in many varieties, and can be used for bike commuting, racing, fitness rides, and more.   Their traditional use is for racing.

Road bikes tend to be made lighter than other types of bicycles, for speed and efficiency on the ride.  You'll see that road bikes can range in prices anywhere from $500 (or cheaper for a used one) to upwards of $10,000 and beyond.  This will depend on what the frame and components are made of, quality, strength, weight and more. 

Because these bikes are built for speed, they are not designed for comfort, but for aerodynamic benefits.

Frames made be made from steel, or more light weight aluminum, or carbon fiber.  You may see bikes with parts made of a combination of these.  

Road bikes typically use drop handlebars like these below, but can be found with a wide range of handlebar types. 


Flat bar road bikes / handlebars allow for a more upright positioning, often preferred by commuters who may need to stay straighter up to better see cars, pedestrians and more. 

There are many types of road bikes out there, and century cycles has a great guide that breaks them down further.  Time trial and triathlon bikes are great examples of how varied road bikes can be. 

If you're looking to ride on dirt trails a road bike may not be the right choice for you, and you may want to consider a Mountain Bike.

Mountain / Trail Bikes

Is this for me? Looking to ride in the mountains?  You've met your soul mate.  

Mountain bikes are best for, know...mountains.  They're used on dirt and rocky trails, which can be a beautiful way to experience cycling as well as nature.  Mountain bikes are ok for pavement, however, because of their thick tires, they grip the rope tightly which slows you down compared to a road bicycle. 

Unlike road bikes, which are stiff, road bikes are created with more comfortable seats, shock absorbing features and suspension, that allow riders to hit the trails hard, go off of jumps, and knock into debris in the road, with more comfort (necessary comfort!).  Mountain bikes may come with front suspension, called "hardtails" or full suspension, in both the rear and the front. 

These bikes are also built with low gears, well suited for climbing (mountains), as well as descending.  Popular tires are anywhere from 26 inches, which was the standard to 27.5 to 29 inches. 

Mountain bikes can be good for commuters, as they can handle potholes and other large road obstructions much better than mountain bikes, however they are slower and heavier than road bikes.  Mountain bikes also often use disc brakes, which are good for handling all the dirt and rocks that mountain bikers ride in.



Is this for me? Hybrids are great commuter bikes, because they can be comfortable and handle well on uneven pavement.

Hybrids mix a little bit of a road bike with a mountain bike.  This can be a really beneficial mix for city or suburb riders, that don't need to go too fast and may hit rocky pavement or dirt.  

Hybrids usually consist of a comfortable seat, and an upright positioning with adjustable handlebars.  All are great for people looking to run errands comfortably around town.  These bikes are not meant for road racing or mountain biking, as they are not perfectly suited for either version of the cycling sport, but are great for casual city riders.


Is this for me? If you're looking to get into cyclocross in the off season, or need a sturdy multi-purpose commuter bike, this could be a great choice. 

Cyclocross bikes are road bicycles that are designed to be ridden on mixed surfaces--pavement, unpaved trails, gravel, grass and more.  Typically, cyclocross bikes use a drop handlebar and slightly thicker tires than you see on road bikes for better traction on varied surfaces.

Cross bikes or CX bikes, are also made with different angles, and a slightly longer wheel base than your traditional road racing bike.  They also feature higher bottom brackets to allow for better clearance over jagged ground.  

Because of their use on mixed surfaces, often on mud and dirt, cross bikes are made with cantilever brakes or disc brakes which are found on mountain bikes. 

Because of their versatility, and ability to handle many different road types, cyclocross bikes can be really strong bikes for bike commuters.  Combining speed, strength, and flexibility of us. 

Track / Fixed Gear Bicycles

Is this for me?  If you're going to be doing track races, want to get into the fixed gear cycling scene, or want a challenging and fun bike commute, fixed gear bikes may be for you.   Want to coast? Move along. 

Track and fixed gear bikes, are bikes made with only one gear and a fixed wheel.  That means there's no fussing with changing gears, and bike upkeep may be simpler and cheaper.  Fixed gear bike are often popular with bike messenger that don't want to fuss with gears, and can slow down and speed up with just the strength of their legs.

These bikes are not for the faint of heart, as you cannot coast, and on steep hills, the bikes pedals may send your legs into a spin that you must control. 

Track bikes are build for speed, not comfort, and do not incorporate brakes which are not needed in a velodrome, but may be very dangerous in a city or commuting environment.

How to choose?

Try to understand how you'll want to use your bike, and work backwards from there.  If you're looking to ride on pavement, maybe a road bike.  Want to get into trail riding, the mountain bike is your clear choice.  Going to be taking on a daily bike commute, you have a variety of options, but the hybrid or road bike may be well suited to you. 

Go through the exercise of reading the above, and chat with your local bike shop, who will be the best in letting you know what type of bike is suited to the local are you'll be cycling in, can point you in the direction of group rides and more. 

Hope this has been helpful, and ride on!!

- The Team

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