Road Bikes

Road bike

Best for: Pavement.

Description: Generally lighter in weight than the typical mountain or comfort bike, road bikes are good for multiple pavement uses including fitness riding, commuting, long-distance/event rides, touring and racing. They are suitable for riders ranging from novices to seasoned enthusiasts. Proper fit for most road bikes is particularly important, as a poor fit can be uncomfortable or even painful. In addition, a poorly fitting road bike can also reduce the efficiency of your pedaling. Some models are built for speed with a more aerodynamic riding positioning, while others provide a more upright riding position. Road bikes may include racks, lighting systems or fenders for commuting or touring use. Prices range from $500 to $2,000+.

Road bikes are distinguished by 2 basic handlebar styles:

  • Drop-bar handlebars are lightweight and aerodynamic and are a better choice if you want to go faster or are more concerned with efficiently transferring your energy into making the bike move forward. They also allow for a greater number of riding and hand positions than flat-bars. Their more aerodynamic riding position (bent over at the waist) may put more strain on your back if you are less flexible.
  • Flat-bar handlebars combine the efficiency of drop-bar road bikes with a slightly more upright riding position. This allows you to sit up in a higher and more relaxed position so you can better see the road and potential hazards. An upright position also reduces strain on your hands, wrists and shoulders. This increased versatility comes with the tradeoff of being slightly less efficient (from an aerodynamic standpoint) than the typical drop-bar road bike.

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Mountain Bikes

Mountain bike

Best for: Dirt or rocky trails and gravel roads; OK for pavement too (with tire change).

Description: Designed to be strong, with shock-absorbing features and better braking systems, mountain bikes can handle dirt trails and the rocks, roots, bumps and ruts that come with them. In addition, they feature lower gears than most road bikes in order to better handle steeper terrain. Some higher priced models can also manage to be relatively lightweight as well. Mountain bikes can be a good choice for commuting because they can withstand potholes and other city obstacles while still providing comfort. However, be aware that the smaller diameter wheel (26 inch) of the typical mountain bike will be less efficient on pavement than the larger diameter wheel (700 millimeter/27 inch) of a road bike. When commuting, you might consider switching out the "knobby" tires in favor of faster tires with smooth treads. Some mountain bikes are now designed for 29-inch wheels. These larger diameter wheels and tires provide decreased rolling resistance and more easily roll over obstacles. They can also offer a better fit for taller riders. However, they are usually not as agile nor able to turn as quickly in tight, twisty terrain. Prices range from $400 to $2,000+.

Mountain bikes come in 2 basic varieties:

  • Hardtail bikes feature a front suspension fork and a rigid back with no rear suspension shocks. This type of mountain bike is much less expensive and lighter in weight than a typical full-suspension mountain bike. A hardtail is the more versatile choice if you plan to use it for both paved and unpaved surfaces. The tradeoffs from a full-suspension mountain bike? A hardtail is less able to safely handle more technical singletrack trails, provides less overall shock absorption and, in some situations, delivers less rear wheel traction.
  • Full-suspension bikes have both front and rear suspension shocks making them ideal for backcountry trails or technical (steep, bumpy, twisty) singletrack. They also stand up to more aggressive riding including jumps or drops of up to 5 feet. As mentioned above, full-suspension bikes are more expensive and generally heavier than hardtail bikes.

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Recreational Bikes

Recreational bike

Best for: Pavement or gravel/dirt roads.

Description: These bikes emphasize comfort and ease of handling. They are ideal for riding around flat neighborhoods, parks and bike paths. Some styles offer bigger wheels for an extra-smooth and efficient ride and many feature front suspension forks as well. These bikes are good for general riding, casual family outings or those who haven't ridden in a while. Most have large tires so you can ride them on gravel or dirt as well as pavement. Some models include rear racks and/or fenders. Prices range from $350 to $800.

There are 2 common varieties of recreational bikes:

  • Comfort bikes are aptly named. They feature slightly wider 26-inch tires than other pavement bikes, a comfortable seat and a very relaxed sitting position. Many styles also offer a suspension seatpost that compresses when you sit on it, providing extra comfort and shock absorption. Some comfort bikes even have internally geared rear hubs for easy maintenance.
  • Hybrid bikes aim to offer the best of the road- and comfort-bike worlds. While they have a comfortable seat, upright sitting position and (often) suspension forks and/or seatposts, they also offer the more efficient pedaling of 700-millimeter (700c) wheels versus the comfort bikes with 26-inch wheels. These are a good choice if you want to commute to work and enjoy leisurely rides through the park.

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Urban and Commuting Bikes

Urban bike

Best for: Pavement or some gravel roads.

Description: Designed with city streets in mind, urban bikes are rugged and sturdy with tough frames and strong wheels. They feature an upright riding position that allows you to better see, and be seen by, motorists. Many commuter-friendly models include racks, lighting systems or fenders. Prices range from $450 to $1,200.

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Women's Bikes

Women's bike

Best for: Those who have the more typical woman's body proportions of longer leg length relative to torso length.

Description: These bikes—which can be road, mountain, comfort or hybrid bikes—feature frame geometries, handlebars and wider saddles that are tailored to better fit the typical female body proportion. For instance, the top tube frame lengths on women's bikes are generally about 1 to 3 centimeters shorter than men's bikes, so the reach (saddle to handlebar) is shorter and fits most women better. These bikes also feature shorter-reach shifters that better fit women's hands.

Other Bike Categories

Cyclocross bikes: Cyclocross is a form of bike racing. It involves taking laps around courses that feature a variety of terrain including pavement, dirt trails and grass. The courses also have obstacles that require riders to dismount and carry their bikes around them. Similar to road racing bikes in some ways, cyclocross bikes are lightweight yet tough enough to deal with extreme conditions. Most have knobby tires in order to handle all types of terrain.

Folding bikes: These bikes can be folded up and placed in a carrying bag, which makes them handy for commuters with limited storage space at home or the office. They are lightweight yet strong and can be folded up quickly and easily. Folding bikes are also a good choice for those who want to travel with their bike.

Electric-assist bikes: These ingenious bikes feature a battery-powered motor that can help you climb hills easily or make your commute less strenuous. Built-in sensors monitor how much pressure you're putting on the pedals and then apply battery power accordingly.

Fixed-gear bikes: Often called fixies, these are bikes without a freewheel mechanism and (usually) only one gear. Long associated with track cycling, fixed-gear bikes have become popular with urban riding enthusiasts for their simplicity, low maintenance and low weight.

Get the Right Bike Fit for You

No matter what type of bike you choose, make sure it fits you. Bikes are sold in a variety of frame sizes, so this is a good starting point. To find the frame that best fits your leg length, try this simple stand-over exercise: throw your leg over the bike's top tube and straddle it. Generally you want about 1" of clearance for a road bike and about 2" or more for a mountain bike. Recreation and comfort bikes generally offer plenty of stand-over room already. Wear shoes to get an accurate reading.

Stand-over height




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