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How to Choose the Right Bicycle


Article by Kate Baxendale

Photography by Stock Images

Cycling is a great form of exercise. It's a fun way to get where you need to go, it's better for both you and the environment, and it provides an opportunity for you to explore your surroundings like never before. If you're looking to purchase a new bike, the number of choices can be intimidating. Here's a beginner's guide to finding the right bicycle for your needs.

What Type of Bike Do You Need?

Start by asking yourself how you plan to use your bike. Will you be casually riding it on paved roads around your neighborhood? Do you want to go off-roading on unpaved biking trails and rougher terrain? If you plan to do the majority of your riding on paved roads and bike paths, look into road bikes, hybrid bikes and electric bikes. Hybrid bikes and electric bikes are good for pavement and natural surfaces. If you plan to ride on a variety of surfaces, look into gravel and touring bikes. If dirt roads and trails are where you'll mostly be riding, mountain bikes and electric bikes are best.

Note: Most bicycles also come in electric models, which are equipped with a pedal-assist motor to allow you to ride faster and farther.

READ MORE: 22 Awesome E-Bikes You Can Buy Right Now

Road Bikes

Road bikes are designed to be ridden on smooth, paved roads. They're good for touring, racing, commuting and fitness riding. They have narrow tires and a drop-bar handlebar, which puts the rider in an aerodynamic position.

Road bikes come in the following categories:

Gravel bikes – Gravel bikes have drop handlebars and wider tires to give you more traction on terrain like gravel, dirt and asphalt. Hybrid bikes are also an option if you plan to ride on a variety of surfaces. Gravel bikes have disc brakes, additional clearance for wider tires, and comfortable geometry.

Endurance bikes – Also known as sportive bikes, endurance bikes are designed to make long-distance riding more comfortable. They feature relaxed geometry to ensure that you can endure a long ride.

Performance bikes – Performance bikes are ideal for riding in organized races. They are light and aerodynamic and are designed for going fast on flat stretches and allowing you to charge up on sharp inclines.

Touring bikes – Touring bikes have sturdy frames to allow you to ride with additional gear over long distances. You can attach racks, fenders, water bottles, pumps, lights and more. The long wheelbase allows for better control when you have heavy loads.

Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are sturdier machines with flat handlebars and wide, knobby tires for riding rugged dirt trails. They have shock-absorbing features that make riding bumpy terrain more comfortable—and fun! They have lower gears than road bikes so you can ride up steeper inclines.

Mountain bikes come in the following styles:

Trail bikes – Trail bikes are a great choice for beginners. They are efficient and fun and are designed for social trail riding.

All-mountain bikes – All-mountain bikes are great at handling more technical terrain. They are capable climbers and provide stability for steep inclines.

Cross-country bikes – These light and nimble bikes are great for riding fast on challenging terrain. Cross-country bikes can handle steep climbs and tight turns.

Fat bikes – Fat bikes feature 3.8-inch wide or wider tires for flotation and traction often for sand, snow or trail. Styles include mountain and cruiser.

Hybrid/Fitness Bikes

If you want a bike that performs well on paved roads as well as some rougher terrain, a hybrid bike is for you. Also known as a fitness bike, these machines appeal to people who primarily ride for exercise. They generally have a more upright riding position than road bikes, and their wider, flatter tires are designed for speed and off-road traction.

Performance + Cost

Depending on your budget for a new bike, certain features can add to the overall price tag. The following factors can cost more:

Gears, Brakes + Wheel Size

These bike features are also important factors to consider when shopping for a new bike. Bicycles come with a variety of gears: the number of gears, the range of gears and the gear ratios. Most bikes in a given category will have similar gearing, so it should be something to worry about unless you'd like to do more research.

LEARN MORE: Bike Gears: Shifting Explained for Beginners

Bicycles have either disc brakes or rim brakes. The article Disc Brake vs. Rim Brake – Which One is Better? can help you weigh your options.

Bike Size + Fit

A bike that isn't the right size for you can cause muscle aches, back pain and inefficient riding. It can deter you from riding your bike as long and as often as you would hope. Most bike manufacturers have a size chart based on your height. But there are lots of other aspects of finding the right size bike, such as standover height, reach, saddle height and more.

READ MORE: Bike Fitting Basics