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What Types of Bikes are Out There?

Are you deciding what type of bike to get? Cycling expert Isaac C. overviews the different categories of bikes on the market.

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In this article, we are going to delve into the different bike types out there on the market. Understanding the difference between the many categories of bikes will allow you to focus your search on a single category. While the different types of bikes apply to everyone, most brands also offer women's bikes with geometry and contact points (seat and handlebars) that are women's specific.

How does pricing work?

First, what’s the deal with bike pricing? New bikes can range from sub $500 to in excess of $15,000. What do these expensive bikes gain you?

Weight

First of all, higher cost often means lighter weight. Manufacturers will go to the ends of the Earth to reduce the weight of their high end models, using more exotic materials, such as carbon fiber or even titanium. Weight can impact your ride, allowing you to ride faster, further and more efficiently, but consider the law of diminishing returns when looking at the weight of each bike. It’s great to be able to brag about how light your bike is, but it’s unlikely that you’ll notice small changes in weight.

Components

Second, the higher price will go towards putting higher quality components on the bike. This means that the components are often built to perform better, use more premium-feeling materials and last longer. Again, there’s a sweet spot of components that won’t break the bank, but will perform flawlessly and be plenty durable. The selection of components, such as drivetrain, is worthy of its own article, so if you’re not sure of what range of components fit your riding, an expert is a great resource. These days, bikes and the technology have gotten so good that there are awesome bikes that perform beyond your wildest expectations, but don’t hurt the wallet too bad. A Curated expert can help you find you a good choice that rides like a dream without blowing your budget.

What do all these words mean?

Now, before we get started, here is some lingo that will be used in this article to describe certain attributes of bikes:

  • Drop bar - handlebars that curve under. You’ll find these handlebars on road bikes.
  • Flat bar - handlebars that are exactly as the name describes. They are flat all across.
  • Geometry - the angles and lengths of certain tubes define the geometry of a bike. Geometry is often described as either aggressive or relaxed/upright. An aggressive geometry will be tailored to riding fast and higher performance, while a relaxed geometry puts comfort first and performance second.
  • Rigid - a rigid bike lacks any type of suspension.
  • Singletrack - a trail that is used for hiking and mountain biking that is only wide enough for one user at a time.

City Bikes/Cruiser Bikes

A woman riding a city bike on a paved, tree-lined path.

City and cruiser bikes, also known as hybrid bikes, commuter bikes, or comfort bikes, are going to be your top option for riding around on paved surfaces, cruising at lower speeds, and commuting shorter distances. There is a wide range of cruiser bikes to choose from. These are for people that don’t need the high-end performance of a road bike. These bikes have more relaxed seating that leaves the rider in an upright position and inspires confidence in the rider. The frames are designed for comfort first, and performance second. If you are worried about ease of mounting or dismounting, be sure to look for step-through bikes.

The tires on cruiser bikes are often wider and therefore more forgiving and confidence-inspiring, but still smooth for low rolling resistance on pavement. These tires are more comfortable than the tires of a road or gravel bike. These bikes are available in a variety of styles with many handlebar choices, though flat bar is most common. Cruiser bikes are the best choice for riding around town, cruising the beach, biking to get in shape, or other leisure riding.

Road Bikes

A group of road cyclists racing together in a peloton.

Road bikes, or road racing bikes, are built for riding fast and rolling long distances on smooth road surfaces, and are a great option for riding on open roads. Road bikes are going to be less comfortable to sit on than a cruiser bike, since they have a more aggressive geometry, but will be much faster and more efficient.

Road bikes are also optimized for being lightweight and can be great race bikes, with plenty of manufacturers producing high-end bikes with featherweight frames. Road bikes have narrow tires, often called skinny tires, which contribute to their speed and efficiency, but reduce comfort over uneven terrain. These bikes often lack rack and fender mounts to maintain peak performance.

For riding pavement, nothing is going to be faster or more exhilarating than a road bike. Choose a road bike for fast, long rides and races on paved surfaces.

Triathlon Bikes

A man riding a triathlon bike on a street.

Triathlon bikes are road bikes that are optimized for low weight and high aerodynamics. Triathlon bikes are very specialized for racing triathlons and are not recommended for somebody looking to only own one bike. A triathlon bike is a great choice if you’re searching for a specialized tool to perform in triathlon races.

Cyclocross Bikes

A cyclocross rider sloshing his bike through wet mud.

Cyclocross bikes are a small category wedged between road and gravel bikes. Cyclocross bikes are built specifically for racing cyclocross, a discipline of biking involving racing laps on a course consisting of grass, sand, mud, and man-made obstacles that require rapidly dismounting and remounting the bike. Cyclocross bikes have an aggressive seating position similar to a road bike but have clearance for wider off-road tires. Choose a cyclocross bike for cyclocross racing or if you want a bike that fits between a road and gravel bike.

Gravel/Adventure Bikes

A gravel bike standing in the sand.

Gravel bikes are a new segment to the bike market. These drop bar bikes refine the cyclocross bike to be more comfortable and more capable for riding dirt roads long distance. Gravel bikes have a more relaxed and comfortable geometry than cyclocross bikes while allowing for wider tires and more aggressive off-road tires. Gravel bikes are equipped with disc brakes which help when stopping on uneven and loose surfaces. Gravel bikes are perfect for long and fast riding on uneven dirt roads or other loose surfaces.

Adventure bikes, sometimes called super gravel bikes or off-road touring bikes, are gravel bikes that have even more tire clearance and mounting points for racks and bags. These adventure bikes often allow for a more aggressive, wide, knobby tire like a mountain bike tire to aid in traction and comfort. These bikes are built for long-distance, multi-day adventures by bike. Choose a gravel bike for riding longer distances on dirt roads and an adventure bike for riding many long days in a row or taking on a bike-based camping expedition.

Mountain Bikes

A mountain bike rider flying off a jump on a trail in a dark forest.

There are many types of mountain bikes, with enough options and lingo to deserve their own article. Generally, mountain bikes are flat bar bikes with front suspension forks used for riding singletrack trails that can range from smooth dirt paths to rough terrain with features, such as drops, jumps, and rocks. Mountain bikes can be broken into two main categories: hardtail and full suspension, with each category having many sub-categories based on the discipline of mountain biking desired.

Hardtail mountain bikes have no rear suspension which will provide better climbing efficiency and greater simplicity, but will sacrifice comfort and some capability. Hardtail mountain bikes are a great option for a first mountain bike, because the lack of rear suspension will teach many valuable skills on how to ride trails that a full suspension bike cannot teach. Full suspension mountain bikes have both a front suspension fork and a rear suspension. This rear suspension enhances comfort, traction, and capability, but these bikes are often more expensive and more complicated. All mountain bikes should come with hydraulic disc brakes, which are more powerful brakes than cable-actuated brakes, and will allow you to stop in short distances. Choose a mountain bike for anything from smooth trails to downhill bike park.

Fat Bikes

Two fat bikes standing in the snow.

Fat bikes feature tires that are 4 inches in width. These bikes provide great traction and flotation for sand and snow, but can also be comfortable and fun on trails for mountain bikes. Fat bikes are often used as beach cruisers or riding on snow in the winter. They are most often found in mountain bike or cruiser bike styles.

Dirt Jump and BMX

Imagine laying on the ground in a skate park and looking up - from this unique angle there is a BMX rider with his bike flying in the air above.

Dirt jump and BMX bikes are specifically designed for riding in man-made parks. The term BMX means bicycle moto cross. These bikes are small bikes with fully rigid frames that excel at BMX racing and riding in skate parks. Dirt jump bikes are bikes with mountain bike tires, but smaller wheels and a suspension fork. Dirt jumpers live up to their name and excel at riding off man-made jumps and on pump tracks.

Kids Bikes

A young girl riding her bike across cracked desert earth.

Kids these days can be very easily spoiled. There are many types of kids bikes. The most common is the standard cruiser style kids bike with various miniature wheel sizes. However, there are now options for specific kid-sized road bikes and even full-suspension mountain bikes. The more you pay for these bikes, the nicer the materials and components that the manufacturer will fit to the bike. Just be careful, kids grow faster than you expect!

E-Bikes

A woman with an e-bike on a sandy beach.

Electric bikes are another new technology on the market. E-bikes are a bike that uses an electric motor to assist your pedaling. These bikes are slowly being adapted to many types of riding, and can be a great option to help keep up with faster riders, or for a boost in speed. E-bikes can be found in nearly any bike style listed above. If choosing a mountain e-bike, be careful to check trail regulations as many trails do not allow for any motorized transport, and this includes e-bikes.

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Written By
I was fortunate to spend my whole life around bikes. I grew up travelling around the country with my dad racing road bikes. As I grew up, I got more and more into riding downhill fast. My dad is now retired and now I'm the racer, racing enduro through the summer. My best claim to fame is the one tim...

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