Types of Bikes
Once you’ve determined where you’ll be riding your bike, how often you’ll ride, whether you have any health concerns, and how much money you have to spend, it’s time to choose the type of bicycle that best fits your needs. Below, you’ll find reviews of some common bicycle types.
Designed for high-speed travel on paved surfaces, road bikes feature narrow tires, a short wheelbase, and a lightweight frame. They’re not designed to be ridden on rugged, unpaved surfaces—hence the name “road” bike. It’s particularly important to make sure your road bike is fit properly, as a poor fit can lead to discomfort and pain. Road bikes can be fitted with cargo racks, lighting systems, and fenders for commuting or touring.
Road bike handlebars typically come in one of two styles. Drop-bar handlebars give you many options for hand positioning, which can really make longer rides more enjoyable and less fatiguing. They allow you to change positions, not just of your hands but of your entire upper body. They also provide an aerodynamic position that decreases wind resistance, allowing you to go faster with less energy expended. However, the more streamlined riding position may put a strain on your back. Flat-bar handlebars can offer a more upright position, which for commuting or shorter distance recreational riding might be more appropriate.
If you’re looking to travel long distances and carry extra clothing and gear, consider a touring bike. Built for sustained comfort on the open road, these bikes feature sturdier components, a smoother ride, and lower gears than the average road bike. The lower gears make it possible to pedal heavy loads up steep inclines. Touring bikes have drop-bar handlebars, but they typically put you in a more upright position than road bikes. Touring bikes also include mounts for racks and fender attachments.
While they don’t go as fast as road bikes on the road, bike-shop quality mountain bikes are equipped to handle rugged trails and gravel roads. They typically feature lower gears, giving you the ability to climb steep terrain. The straight, wide handlebars give you better steering control and keep your fingers on the brake levers, so you are always at the ready no matter what surprise is around the corner. They also include better breaking systems, lower step-over clearance frames, and wider tires than most road bikes. Some higher priced models also feature lightweight frames. Overall, they are amazingly durable riding in off-road terrain.
Although they’re designed to handle off-road riding, mountain bikes can also be a good option for commuting through urban areas. The shock-absorbing qualities of mountain bikes provide stability when riding over potholes, curbs, and other obstacles. If you regularly use a mountain bike on paved roads, you’ll want to consider switching out the knobby tires in favor of semi-slick tires, which do a better job of gripping blacktop and asphalt.
Mountain bikes come in two basic varieties—hardtail bikes and full-suspension bikes. Hardtail bikes have a front suspension fork and a rigid main frame with no rear shocks. They are much less expensive than their full-suspension counterparts. Full-suspension bikes feature both front- and rear-suspension shocks, making them ideal for backcountry adventures and traversing more technical trails. These bikes are heavier and more expensive than their hardtail counterparts, but the added suspension and sturdier frame can handle more aggressive riding and make riding easier on your spine and sit-bones.
A cross between road bikes and mountain bikes, hybrids offer a nice blend of comfort, speed, and durability. Good for short trips on paved roads—they make an excellent choice for commuting to work, exploring your city, or taking a leisurely ride through your local park. Hybrids offer the upright handlebar position that many people favor, and many come with suspension forks for an even smoother ride. They feature slimmer frames than mountain bikes, but are typically sturdier than road bikes. Hybrids also have narrower tires than mountain bikes, allowing them to travel faster on paved roads. However, they are generally not as fast as road bikes, and they lack the gear range of most mountain bikes.
Designed to emphasize comfort and ease of handling, comfort bikes provide an excellent option for riding around flat neighborhoods and bike paths. Most come with ergonomic seats that put the rider in a relaxed, upright sitting position. Many comfort bikes have large tires, allowing riders to traverse gravel and dirt roads, as well as pavement. Some styles also feature bigger wheels and front suspension forks for an extra-smooth ride.
Designed with urban streets in mind, commuter bikes feature sturdy frames and an upright riding position that lets you make better eye contact with motorists. Many include racks, lighting systems, and fenders.
BMX bikes are made for competition biking on trails and courses. These single-gear bikes feature a lower profile than most bikes and include knobby tires with cable-operated caliper brakes on the front and rear. While they are great for street riding, dirt racing, and jumping ramps, the low seat position is generally uncomfortable for commuting over any distance.
Cyclocross racing involves taking laps around a course that includes a variety of surface types such as pavement, dirt, gravel, and grass. Along the way, riders must dismount and carry their bikes around obstacles in the course. Cyclocross bikes are relatively lightweight, yet tough enough to handle extreme conditions. They feature knobby tires that can provide traction in various types of terrain.
When you’re traveling and storage space is limited, folding bikes make an excellent option. These lightweight yet sturdy bikes fold up for easy storage on boats, planes, trains, and automobiles. Folding bikes also make a good choice for commuters with limited storage space at home or in the office.
Fixed-gear bikes, or fixies, lack the freewheel mechanism that allows riders to coast. They have only one gear. Traditionally associated with track cycling, fixed-gear bikes have gained popularity with urban biking enthusiasts for their light weight, low maintenance, and simple riding style.
Great for commuters who don’t want to arrive to work sweaty and out of breath, electric assist bikes—also known as electric bikes or e-bikes—feature battery-powered motors to help make climbing hills and travelling long distances a little easier. You can adjust the amount of assistance you receive from the motor—built-in sensors monitor how much pressure you’re putting on the pedals and apply battery power accordingly. These bikes are heavier than most bikes, making them a little harder to ride when the motor is turned off.
Tandem bikes feature an extra seat and a second set of pedals, allowing two people to ride together. These bikes offer a fun way for families and couples to get around—especially when one rider is weaker than the other.
Recumbent bikes place you in a reclined position with the pedals forward. Some find these bikes to be more comfortable than their upright counterparts, as the natural position requires less flexibility and your weight is more evenly distributed across both the back and buttocks. They can be fitted with windshields to handle headwinds and improve aerodynamic performance. However, recumbent bikes are generally heavier and can’t match the performance of upright, racing-style bikes. They are difficult to manage at low speeds, especially when riding up steep hills. They also make you less visible to other motorists and are typically more expensive than the average bike.
If you’re looking for a comfortable bike with a classic look, consider a cruiser. The bicycle standard from the 1930s through 1950s, cruisers feature wide tires and padded seats for a more comfortable riding experience. Curved, upright handlebars put the rider in a better position to view the world around them. Cruisers typically have heavier frames, but some newer models use lightweight aluminum frames. The traditional cruiser has just one gear, but more modern cruisers come with three to seven speeds. Also called beach bikes or boulevardiers, these classic bikes work best on flat terrain.
Perfect for hauling groceries, camping gear, and other items—utility and cargo bikes feature a sturdy, elongated frame with heavy-duty storage racks over the rear tires. A variety of accessories can be hooked onto the rear rack, such as baskets, child seats, and panniers to hold your gear. The upright seating position gives you a good view of the road, the rims have extra spokes for additional strength, and the wider tires offer a more stable ride.
Of course, the above list isn’t exhaustive. You’ll find a number of additional bike styles including unicycles, scooters, trikes, and more. Each new bike type opens you up to new challenges as a rider. If you have questions about a bike style that isn’t listed above, stop by West Trails Bicycles and ask for help.Previous Next