So if you decide you want to start cycling, how do you know what bike to buy? For beginners, there can be a bewilderingly wide range of different types of bike. And this can be a very confusing and a bit intimidating.
One of the most helpful ways to navigate through this endless choice, is to think about where you might like to ride your bike and how you might want to use it. Do you want to use it to commute to work in the week? Or would you prefer to use it for leisure at the weekends? What appeals to you most, the smooth, fast tarmac of the road, or the rough, unpredictably of the mountain?
The thing is, you might not know the answers to these questions until you give them all a go! But maybe you’ll get a rough idea if you give it some consideration. Even if you don’t, even if you get it wrong and make a choice you later regret, don’t worry you can easily sell your bike later on (usually without loosing too much money) and then try out the another option. Whichever choice you make I’m sure it will be a positive experience!
But just to help you out I have summarized the main types of bike below, with some explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Mountain bikes, (as the name suggests!) were originally designed for riding in the mountains. Or the hills. Or at least on rough terrain. Not tarmacked roads anyway!
They have slightly smaller wheels to improve agility. And thick, knobbly tires that improve grip on loose, uneven trails. They usually have wide handlebars, again to help agility and stability. And most of them have at least some form of suspension.
The ones with suspension over the front wheel and at the back of the bike are called “full suspension” bikes. These are best for technical and hardcore riding. They are usually more expensive and heavier. They’re great up in the mountains but less versatile if you want to use them regularly elsewhere.
The bikes that only have suspension over the front wheel are called “hard tails”. They are usually cheaper and lighter than full suspension bikes. You don’t get all the technical advantages of a full suspension bike, so they wont perform as well in more extreme conditions. But as well as being cheaper and lighter, you can also use them on the road or tracks more easily.
You can use a mountain bike on the road for commuting or just for fun. But be aware that they’re not primarily designed for this. The smaller wheels with thick knobbly tires mean you have to put much more effort in to your pedaling and you’ll never be able to go as fast as you would on a bike designed for the road.
Built for speed, these are the lightest of all bikes. They generally have very thin, smooth tires to reduce friction with the road. And they come with either “drop handlebars” which are the ones that curve down at the end. or more regular “flat bar” handlebars.
Drop handlebars give a wider variety of riding positions, depending on where you grip them. These are the choice of more serious riders who are seeking maximum speed and efficiency. If you grip the bottom of the bars you are immediately in a more forward, streamlined riding position. However this can also be uncomfortable and can put a strain on your back.
Flat bar handlebars encourage a more comfortable, upright riding position. It’s a less efficient position and you won’t be able to reach the same speeds as you would with drop handlebars, but your less likely to strain yourself and you’ll enjoy a more relaxed ride.
Road bikes are fantastically efficient and exhilarating on well kept tarmac roads but they’re horrible to use anywhere else! Uneven roads with potholes are very uncomfortable. And can be dangerous in wet or windy weather. And dirt tracks and canal tow paths are impossible.
Sitting roughly between mountain and road bikes are the aptly named hybrid bikes. These bikes don’t have suspension or drop handlebars. Instead, they have strong, light frames and flat handlebars that encourage a comfortable, upright riding position.
The tires are thicker than road bike tires but are much smoother and thinner that a mountain bike tires. And the wheels are usually the same size as racing bike. All this makes the bike more efficient and easier to pedal while still being stable and comfy.
You can get lots of enjoyment out of a hybrid on the road. But you can also use them on rough tracks and canal tow paths. They’re very versatile. And that’s the whole idea! You can use them for commuting every day, for country roads and tracks on the weekends or just for shooting round town.
These are are the sort of bikes you see a lot in Europe. Built for comfort, they have a very upright “sit up and beg” riding position. And big, wide, comfy seats. Some of the seats even have suspension!
They’re often designed to protect the clothes of the rider and reduce the maintenance of the bike. This means big mudguards, covered chains and internal hub gears.
Town bikes are not built for speed or for hills. They’re often very heavy, with fat tires. But they are very relaxing to ride to the shops or the park and back. If you’re just after a bike to get around town (and your town doesn’t have too many hills) they could be the perfect choice.
These are four types of bikes you may come across when you’re looking for your first bicycle. There are of course many, many more and I hope I can talk about them all in future posts!
I started off with a cheap hard tail mountain bike, thinking I would use it out in the forest on the weekends. But then I started commuting to work on it. And I was always too tired to get to the forest on the weekends!
When that bike was stolen I bought a more expensive hard tail, because I was still thinking I would eventually start going to the forest. But this time I changed the knobbly tires for smoother, “slick” tires. This made the commute so much easier!
When I eventually realized I was never going to make it to the forest on the weekends, I sold the hard tail and bought a hybrid. And this was the best decision I ever made. It made such a difference. I was sooo much faster. And on Friday I was sooo less tired. And it was so much more fun commuting on a bike designed for an urban environment.
So you see, it’s OK to make a few mistakes when you’re starting out. The most important thing is starting out!