What Type Of Bike Is Best For Me?
Are you wondering what type of bike is best for me? Congratulations on being interested in one of the most exciting, rapidly growing forms of transportation in the world! We’ve got your ultimate guide to all things bicycling, including that extremely important question: what type of bike is best for me?
To answer that question, we’ll start by taking a look at all of cycling’s terrific benefits, plus provide a thorough breakdown on everything you need to know about the components that will make up your new bike, the types of bikes you can purchase, and how to save money on your new bike. Let’s get started!
Why Take Up Bicycling?
First things first, you’ll need to be crystal clear on why you’re purchasing a bike. Here are a few reasons:
All of these are great reasons to take up cycling, and how you answer them will determine what kind of bike you need to purchase. For example, if you love getting out of doors but want your bike to be able still to handle your daily commute, a gravel or adventure bike is a great choice.
Or, maybe you want to start exercising regularly, but you hate working out in the gym and have a hunch you’re going to love cycling. In that case, you’ll probably want to try a road bike, first, and then consider moving into cyclocross if you decide you want to get competitive (and messy).
Whatever your reasons for taking up cycling are, you’re on to a very, very good thing, for a lot of reasons.
1. Biking is Great for the Environment
We know trading automobiles for bikes can cut down on serious ozone emissions, but here’s something else to think about: every car in the world needs a place to park. And that parking spot is most likely paved. Think about the positive impact we could have on the environment just by replacing a portion of all that pavement with grass and green space!
2. Biking Helps You Live Longer
Exercise is incredibly important when it comes to lowering your stress, helping prevent disease, and improving mental health, and cycling is one of the best types of exercise. A 2017 study in the UK found that people who walked to work and biked to work daily decreased their risk of cardiovascular disease, but the people who biked also enjoyed a decreased risk of cancer and death.
That’s right--people who bike to work live longer. If that’s not a reason to saddle up, we don’t know what is!
Parts Of A Bike (and Why They Matter)
You might be tempted to skip this section--after all, reading about the parts of a bike sounds a little boring. Stick with us, though, because failing to understand a driveshaft from a stem will have you looking like a newbie at your local bike shop faster than you can say “bicycle.”
Plus, the more you understand, the more empowered you’ll be to find your bike and enjoy it. A new bike is an investment--take good care of it!
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Bikes come in a variety of different frame geometries, depending on what they’re designed for, but most are made from aluminum alloy, steel, or carbon fiber. Carbon fiber, as you can imagine, is extremely lightweight and very strong, but because of how labor-intensive its production is, it’s very expensive.
To get the benefits of carbon without the heavy price tag, manufacturers will often add carbon parts--like the fork, the part that connects the front tire to the bike’s stem--to a steel or aluminum frame.
Steel is extremely strong and offers a lot of flex, but it’s heavy. It’s used often when sturdiness and comfort are called for.
Aluminum alloy is relatively light, strong, and affordable. It can feel a little stiff, especially if you’re on rough terrain, but every year new technologies find creative ways to minimize this discomfort.
Did you know bikes have suspensions, just like cars? Bikes typically come in three types of suspension: full, rigid, and hardtail.
Rigid bikes have no suspension. These are usually the cheapest and easiest to maintain, plus you won’t have the extra weight of a suspension system.
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Mountain bikes are the only types of bikes that come with full suspensions--suspension on both wheels. This is so they can absorb shocks and handle jumps with ease. However, they’re often only on high-end bikes and work better for riders who are comfortable with the maintenance they require--and the extra weight.
Hardtail bikes have a suspension on the front wheel and a rigid frame on the back--thus, a hardtail. These tend to be great on adventure, city, and mountain bikes because they combine the best of both worlds.
The relationship between the handlebars and the seat is important because it will tell you about the bike’s intended use and give you a clue about the bike’s aerodynamics. The higher the handlebar is above the seat, the more upright you’ll ride, which means the more comfortable you’ll be. However, it also means you’ll go a lot slower, as you’ll be much less aerodynamic.
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Here are the main kinds of handlebars you can expect to see:
Drop bars and riser bars are the two main types of handlebars, but bikes today come in all different kinds of hybrid handlebars.
Perhaps nothing is as important when it comes to bicycling as the brakes--who cares about the handlebars or what the frame’s made from if you can stop your bike effectively? The two main types of bikes that you’ll see are rim brakes and disc brakes.
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Rim brakes are relatively affordable but can wear out. They also have less stopping power, so they’re not our favorite choice.
Disc brakes are more expensive, but they’re superior when it comes to stopping, especially in wet or muddy conditions. They’re the brake of choice for almost all mountain bikes.
Bikes come on multiple gear ratios these days and while things can get pretty technical, here’s a simple way to look at them: the more ascents and difficult terrain you’ll be dealing with, the more gears you need. If you’re not confident about gears, stick with just a few or with a single speed, which will have the bonus of keeping your bike light.
The Wheel Size
There are lots of wheel sizes to consider when you’re answering your original question: what type of bike is best for me? Generally speaking, the wider the wheel diameter, the slower it will be at the start but the better it will handle ascents. The smaller the wheel, the easier it will be to get going. Here are the most popular wheel sizes:
Types Of Bikes
There are as many different types of bikes as there are people, but here are the main ones, and what they’re all used for.
1. Mountain Biking
Mountain bikes are the outdoor adventurers of the cycling world. They’re tough and rugged, made for seriously difficult terrain that includes crazy ascents and descents. The frames have to be strong enough to handle the shocks, tough turns, and frequent falls, and the brakes have to be extremely trustworthy.
Here are a few tips for finding a top quality mountain bike:
Mountain bike trails come in three different skill levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Stick to the beginner trails until you feel comfortable on your bike, then you can begin taking on different intermediate level trails.
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Beginner trails won’t have many curves, ascents, or features (features are the obstacles you jump or balance over), but intermediate trails will vary significantly. Don’t try an advanced trail unless you feel extremely comfortable with intermediate trails, as this could result in danger for you and your fellow riders.
Cyclocross is a super fun style of offroad racing that isn’t mountain biking but isn’t quite road biking, either. Cyclocross bikes are based on road bikes, so they have drop handles for speed but thicker tires and more open frames for handling extremely muddy conditions.
Unlike mountain biking that has few rules, cyclocross has a World Cup with strict requirements. It’s very popular in countries like the Netherlands and France that have strong road racing cultures. The thing you’ll notice quickly about cyclocross bikes is that they’re extremely lightweight, and have a very large triangle--the open space under the saddle.
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This is because riders do a great deal of running with their bikes in cyclocross, either to climb a steep ascent or get out of a muddy, impassable bog and need to be able to throw the bike over their shoulder and run. Frankly, this doesn’t sound like the most fun you can have when riding, but the popularity of the sport certainly says otherwise!
This next category of bikes is wide because people use them for a wide variety of purposes! Gravel bikes are one of the newest types of bikes to hit the cycling scene, and certainly one of the most interesting types of biking. They’re updates on the old-fashioned touring bikes that used to be popular.
A gravel bike is a beefier version of a cyclocross that’s designed for, well, gravel. It can have tires up to 45 or even 2.1”, which is enough to be called a fat tire bike. They’re characterized by high pedal clearances and sturdy frames designed to hold up to extreme vibrations and poor riding conditions.
They are very popular choices now for traveling or bikepacking and come with lots of mounts all over the place for extra utility. Gravel biking first became popular almost a decade ago thanks to the gravel race Dirty Kanza in Kansas. More races are popping up all the while, and it’s interesting to see the line begin to blur between gravel bikes and mountain bikes.
Which Do You Prefer: Speed or Comfort?
Another interesting development when it comes to gravel bikes or adventure bikes is that they’re being designed more and more for racing, with less weight and fewer utility mounts. Keep this in mind when you’re shopping, because a racing-oriented bike probably won’t have the stability or sturdiness of a normal gravel bike--but it will be faster!
The other great thing about gravel bikes, however, is that they’re designed for maximum comfort, with a more upright stance than road bikes. This means they also make a great city or commuter bikes. For people who want to commute and be out on the trails all weekend, this is our favorite type of bike to recommend.
4. Road Bikes
One of the most popular styles of road bikes is a racing bike. It’s a barely-there bike that’s so light and slim you hardly see it as its riders zips by. These bikes aren’t designed for comfort or utility (you’ll find, perhaps, a single water bottle mount), but they do speed like none other, making racing an incredibly exciting sport to get into!
Another popular kind of bike you’ll see on the ride is the cruiser bike--though this one you’ll likely see around your small town or neighborhood since it’s hardly mean to handle speed. These are designed for comfort, instead, with wide saddles and lots of distance between the handlebars and the seat for maximum riding pleasure.
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You’ll also often see baskets or cargo bags on these bikes, and since they’re so sturdy, the extra weight is no problem.
Just like with every other category of bikes here, road bikes are constantly being updated, too. You might even see specialized versions of road bikes with pull-along trailers connected, or clamps that allow you to connect a small child’s bike.
5. Specialty Bikes
Specialty bikes include electric bikes, which use a battery-powered motor to supplement your pedal power and folding bikes, which--as you might imagine--fold down into smaller pieces so you can store them more easily. Both are fairly expensive, especially folding bikes, but depending on your budget and where you live, each can make a great deal of sense.
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A long commute or a commute with extreme hills, for example, that would be nearly impossible on your own become possible with an electric bike, while a folding bike is just as strong and capable as a frame that remains rigid.
Other popular specialty bikes include BMX bikes, designed for dirt, freestyle, or all-terrain trick riding.
What Kind Of Gear Do I Need?
So, you know a little now about the different kinds of biking you can take up, as well as the different kinds of bikes, and you’re ready to give cycling a shot. Great! But you’re going to need more than just a bike. You’ll also need gear.
This might be a good time to mention that cycling isn’t a cheap store! Fortunately, we have a whole section in this guide devoted to tips for saving money on your new bike purchase. In the meantime, here’s what to expect as far as gear is concerned.
1. A Helmet
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No matter what kind of bicycling you try, you’ll need a helmet. Because you’re already spending so much money on your bike, it’s tempting to try to cut corners and save money here, but don’t do it.
A helmet protects your head--your most vital organ--in case of a crash, but it’s not just your bike skills you need to worry about. You’ll have to worry about other riders, pedestrians, animals, random tree roots that jump out at you, and even vehicles.
Riders can get seriously hurt in an accident, so buy a good helmet, strap it to your head, and don’t take it off until you’ve walked away from your bike. You’ll probably need to spend around $50 to get a good helmet and remember that at any impact, you need to replace it, even if you don’t see any damage.
$50 or more will also get you a well-ventilated helmet, which is a good thing; there’s nothing worse than a hot, sweaty head when you’re trying to ride!
For city riding or commuting, you’ll probably be carrying a backpack, and you can toss a water bottle or two into that. How much water you’ll need will depend on how strenuously you’ll be working and how hot or dry the conditions are, but you shouldn’t ride without hydration.
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Sports riding such as cyclocross, mountain biking, or gravel biking will require a hydration pack or at least a couple of water bottles mounted to your frame. Plan carefully--you don’t want to end up in the middle of the wilderness, dehydrated because you forgot to pack enough water.
3. Reflective Gear
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If you’re riding in the mountains, you might not need reflective gear so much as you’ll need bright clothing that makes it obvious you’re not a deer or wild animal. Frankly, if you’re riding in the city, bright clothing is still a good idea--anything to catch the attention of drivers, so they don’t run you over!
If you’ll be riding when it’s dusk or early in the morning, it’s essential that you have lots of reflective clothing or reflective patches on you, your bike, your helmet, your backpack, and as many other places as possible. This alerts drivers to the fact that you’re there, even if the lighting conditions aren’t great.
4. A Multitool
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This will help you handle most of the minor repairs that you might expect to need on the trail.
5. A Tire Pump
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This is self-explanatory but what’s not self-explanatory is how often you might need it when you’re off the road.
6. The Right Clothes and Shoes
Depending on the kind of riding you’re doing, you’ll also need special clothing or bike accessories. Road racing or cyclocross racing, for example, is so bumpy and full of vibrations that padded biking shorts are must-haves.
If you’re biking on a mountaintop, you’ll likely want some kind of a device that gets a good GPS signal, as well as all-weather clothing such as a slicker.
You’ll also need special shoes, depending on the sport--different bikes have pedals with different tie-ins. Cyclocross bikes, for example, require shoes with recessed tie-ins so that you’ll still be able to run even when your feet aren’t in the pedals.
There are other pieces of gear to consider, but these are the most important and will get you started.
How To Shop For A Bike
Biking, as we’ve mentioned, isn’t a cheap sport, so taking your time and getting the right bike and gear for you is important. Bike fit is an easy thing to overlook, especially when you’re trying to stick to a budget or get a good deal, but it’s by far one of the most important parts of bike shopping. An ill-fitting bike will make you wonder if you truly enjoy your new hobby; a bike that fits will become an extension of you as you tear up the gravel or the asphalt.
Where Should I Shop for a Bike?
Online is a great place to shop for a bike because it gives you a clear idea of the kinds of features there are available and the kinds of prices you can expect to pay.
Our recommendation, however, is to save the online buying for the third or fourth bike that you purchase; your first or second bike purchase should be at a reputable bike shop, where you can try on the bikes and get your fitted exactly to your frame and specifications.
If you do make an online purchase, any good bike company will have clear guidelines on which size bike to choose for your frame. If you purchase an online bike, be aware that it might not come assembled. If that’s the case, you will need to have it professionally assembled at your local bike shop, which can eat into the money you saved buying the bike online.
Online vs. Your Local Bike Shop
At the bike shop, make sure you’re clear about your budget and how much you want/don’t want to spend so that you’re not pressured into maxing out your credit card. There’s always a bike just a little better! The good thing is that bikes tend to hold their value well.
We’ll explain a little more about how to save money on a new bike in a moment, but it’s common for beginners to start with pretty basic bikes, then sell and upgrade to a better bike once they’re more familiar with how they ride and what they want in a bike.
Local shops are also great because they often have beginner’s groups or classes (often for free) for their customers. These can be excellent ways to learn about bike maintenance and local trails and routes as well as make new friends.
If you can’t find these classes at your local bike shop, check Facebook or local websites for meetups. If possible, go on a ride with an experienced friend or family member who is willing to show you the ropes. This will help to ensure that you have a great time right out of the gate!
Tips for Saving Money on Your Bike
Yes, you can shop online to compare prices to find the best buy, but as we’ve already mentioned, this isn’t necessarily a strategy that will save you money in the long run. Instead, make friends with your local bike shop owner and look for last year’s models. These are often discounted when the new models arrive.
Your bike shop might also have a used bike section. These are great because they’ve been overhauled by the shop and the shop will help fit you to them. You can also check your local marketplaces, like Craigslist and Facebook, for bikes. If you’re patient, you can often get a great deal, though it’s probably a good idea to take a friend along to look at the bike who knows what to look for since you’ll want to avoid things like bent frames.
If you’re especially savvy, you can get a high-quality, inexpensive bike, and upgrade the parts as you’re able. You can usually upgrade the pedals and forks, for example, to carbon parts that are light and strong but don’t cost as much as upgrading the entire bike.
Where Do I Ride?
You’ve got your bike, your gear, and you’re all set. Now you need to figure out where you’ll ride! Your options have a lot to do with where you live and the type of biking you’ll be doing. If you are going to be mountain biking, cyclocross riding, or gravel riding, you can use apps and the internet to find great routes.
Most of these allow other rides to rate trails, and you can learn a lot of valuable information, like which trails ride best when it’s wet and which are closed after rains, as well as which intermediate trails are more geared towards beginners and which are practically advanced.
You can also, as we’ve already mentioned, follow along with a group, though we recommend trying out a few laps at a local trail first just to get the hang of your bike before you go all in!
It works pretty much the same for road riding, though you’ll want to avoid roads that don’t have shoulders, sidewalks, or bike trails. This means you might need to plan. If you’re commuting, you might also want to plan to avoid large hills. Remember--if you go down a fun hill on your way to work, you’ll have to ride up that hill on your way home!
If you’re trying to figure out, “what type of bike is best for me?” you probably know by now that it’s a complicated question that depends on your personal preferences. Do you want an easy going commuter bike? Do you want a bike to take on long weekend gravel rides? Are you a serious athlete who wants to get into bike racing? These are all important questions to ask yourself; how you answer will determine what kind of bike you should buy.
Whatever your final choice--whether it’s a mountain bike, a gravel bike, a comfort bike, or something else entirely--you can be certain that you’re starting a love affair with biking. Welcome to the most fun you’ll ever have on two wheels!