Bicycles provide a great opportunity for exercise and recreation, no matter your skill level. Whether you consider yourself a biker, a cyclist, a racer, or a commuter, there’s a bicycle for you. Let’s take a look at your options to help find the best ride for you.
When I moved across the country to start graduate school, my bike was the first item I packed. Not because I needed it for my commute, but because I needed it for my sanity.
The rigors of academia could not overwhelm me as long as I could still escape to freedom on the open road with my trusty two wheels.
An avid road cyclist, I would often ride 30 miles a day. It only made sense then, with riding being such a prominent part of my life, that my new landlord found it appropriate to inform my new roommates, whom I had yet to meet, of my love for the road.
Unfortunately, not understanding the semantic nuances of the sport, she informed the roommates that a “biker” was moving in.
Expecting me, a biker, to roar up to the driveway clad in leather and sporting a Harley, they were quite surprised when I, a cyclist, rode up outfitted in Lycra and pedaling a Trek.
But whether you consider yourself a biker, a cyclist, a racer, or a commuter, there’s a bicycle for you.
Bicycles provide a great opportunity for exercise and recreation, no matter your skill level. Let’s take a look at your options to help find the best ride for you.
Related: Parts of a Bicycle – Illustrated Guide
Known also as racing bicycles, road bikes are one of the most popular styles of bicycle. If you’ve ever watched riders power up the Pyrenees in the Tour de France or sprint to victory on a flat, urban section of the race, you’ve seen the incredible performance versatility that a road bike can offer.
Fortunately for the rest of us, road bikes aren’t just for professional cyclists; they’re perfect for recreational cyclists looking to get in a good workout or even compete in an amateur road race.
Road bikes are my personal ride of choice. I don’t ride to commute: I ride to push my body to its physical limits. I’m an endurance rider, not a racer or commuter.
For me, it’s about the workout and the physical challenge. I want to go fast on flats and power up hills, all while leaving my heart pumping and my lungs gasping.
A road bike offers me the versatility to do just that.
Road bikes are designed for use on the road, not the trail. They perform best on pavement.
Road bikes tend to be lighter in weight than other more casual types of bicycles, and the lighter, the better, when it comes to the competitive, performance-based road cyclist. Some may be made entirely of carbon fiber or have certain components made of carbon.
Carbon is a very light material, which is helpful, particularly when climbing hills or mountains, as any additional weight from your bike (or your body) can slow you down and make the climb all the more challenging.
My road bike uses an aluminum frame, but a carbon fork. It’s pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to road bike performance, but it works for me, as I ride recreationally for exercise and a personal challenge, but I do not compete.
Road bikes also use thin tires, which help to provide a smooth, fast ride. Some tires may have light treads, helping to provide traction on rainy or dirty roads, while others are completely smooth racing tires – like mine.
Although I don’t race, I do appreciate the smooth, fast ride the thin tires provide.
Lighter tires can also improve your performance, just as the weight of your bike’s frame can have an impact.
Road bikes also have a rams’ horn-style design for their handlebars, also known as drops. These provide some options for your ride.
When you’re on a long climb, you may find it more comfortable to rest your hands lightly on the tops of the handlebar.
If you’re riding a long flat that requires endurance, then placing your hands in the drops, or the bottom part of the handlebar, may be more efficient and comfortable.
Other times, if you need to jump out of your saddle to gain some speed you may place your hands on the brake hoods to give yourself a strong, powerful grip. This is actually where I usually end up keeping my hands most of the time, but it’s not the most comfortable position for everyone.
Road bikes also offer a number of gear options. Versatility in gears can provide you with options when it comes to climbs, sprints, or endurance sections of your ride.
A lighter, easier gear may work well on long climbs, while a heavier gear may be most appropriate on flat sections where you want to reach a certain speed, but maintain your pace for a long effort.
As a child, I remember wanting to graduate from my pink, frilly girls’ bike to a more serious 10-speed. Now, I ride a triple chain ring road bike that offers 27 gears!
But honestly, I probably don’t need all of those gears, as I don’t do a lot of heavy climbing where I live. A double crankset, which offers 20 gears, would be quite sufficient.
Many performance road bikes these days offer a triple chain ring, so if you’re serious about racing or looking to ride for endurance, look for a road bike with a triple chain ring.
If you’re just planning to use a road bike for commutes, then it probably doesn’t matter either way, assuming your commute does not involve scaling alpine mountain passes.
While I like to take my ride to the road, others prefer the trails. A mountain bike can take you places a road bike can’t – into the woods. If you’re looking for a different challenge – and a different view – then perhaps a mountain bike is for you.
Whether you enjoy narrow single-track trails or a wider off-road option, there is a mountain bike to meet your needs.
Mountain bikes are more rugged than road bikes. Their frames are wider and offer different suspension options than road bikes to help absorb some of the shock to your body as you bounce along those rough, rocky trails.
The type of suspension you elect to use will likely be determined by the type of trail you ride. Suspension does more than just absorb shock; it also helps to provide traction, which is vital for the uneven and unpredictable surface found along the trail, and if can offer you greater control.
Mountain bikes also have flat handlebars that point straight out from the side of the frame, and they have fewer gearing options, as they are designed specifically to aid you as you climb those steep, rough trails.
There are three primary types of mountain bikes:
- Hard Tails – This style of mountain bike offers front suspension only. If the trails you will be riding on are not too rocky or rugged, this option may suffice.
- Full-Suspension – Offering both front and rear suspension, this is a performance mountain bike that provides versatility for a range of terrains and riding styles. Even within this classification, you will find endurance, cross-country, and trail options.
- Rigid – No suspension.
Regardless of which suspension configuration you elect to use, it’s important to make sure you perform regular maintenance to your mountain bike’s suspension to ensure it maintains its desired performance and keeps you safe and comfortable out on the trail.
Triathlon is a sport growing in popularity across the globe, and we’re of course a bit partial to the bike part of the event.
If you’re looking to get into the sport of triathlon, a good road bike will likely suffice to get your started. But if you’re planning to compete more frequently or if you plan to get into longer endurance events, such as the Ironman distance, then it may be a good idea to invest in a good triathlon bicycle.
Time trial bikes are similar to road bikes, but their design is optimized for aerodynamics.
They offer lightweight tires and frames, but their handlebar structure is different.
They have two handlebar options.
They have forward-pointing handlebars that allow you to literally tuck your body down as much as possible, while your hands and arms face forward in front of your body.
They also have an additional handlebar option that is out to the side, allowing for assistance in steering or momentum generation when needed.
Triathlon bikes do not offer as much control as a road bike and, as a result, are designed for use when riding isolated on the road, rather than in tightly packed groups, such as a road race.
Triathlon bikes can also be used for time trialing in road racing. They offer great aerodynamics and are perfect for getting your bike into that streamlined position to maximize your speed and efficiency for the shorter efforts demanded in a time trial event.
Fixed Gear Bicycle
If you’re looking to get into track cycling at your local velodrome, then a fixed gear bicycle may be the option for you.
Similar to the concept of track running, track cycling involves riding and competing around an oval track.
In the case of track cycling, that oval – a velodrome — is wooden and sloped. It takes a certain level of training and skill to ride in a velodrome.
The type of bike that is used for track cycling is known as a fixed gear, and it’s exactly that: fixed to the use of only one gear.
Fixed gear bicycles only offer one gear option and they must be pedaled at all times, or they’ll stop, taking away the ability to coast, which is afforded by most other bicycle options, such as road or mountain bikes.
Sometimes, a fixed gear bike will not even include brakes as the design allows the bike to stop once pedaling stops.
Fixed gear bikes are best left for use on the track and should not be used on the road or the trail.
Electronic bicycles are growing in popularity among recreational and competitive cyclists, alike.
Most of the bikes featured in this article can be converted to an e-bike through attaching a small motor to the bike.
This aids in pedaling and reduces some of the effort required to pedal. It does not, however, eliminate the need for pedaling; an e-bike is not a motor bike.
Some commuters find e-bikes provide a quicker, more efficient way to get to work each day, while still allowing for a moderate amount of exercise.
If tricks are your trade, then a BMX style bike may be right for you. These bikes are small-framed bikes with outward-facing handlebars, designed for spinning, flipping, twisting, and jumping.
They use wider, treaded tires than a traditional road bike, which allows for traction on the dirt or for your stunts.
You can race them on dirt tracks or just compete with tricks.
These bikes can prove a good option for children looking to get started riding or adults who prefer to perform tricks with their bikes, rather than going for long endurance rides.
Performance Hybrid Bicycle
If you’re serious about your exercise and recreation, but you’re not looking to go as fast or as long as a road cyclist or as hard or as rough as a mountain biker, then a hybrid bike may be a good design for you.
These bikes have outward-facing handlebars like a mountain bike, but they offer many of the endurance ride benefits of a road bike.
They are designed to keep you upright, rather than hunched over, as a road bike would. This allows you to ride for as long or as short a time as you would like, while remaining comfortable.
They offer moderate suspension, but they are not suitable for use on mountain bike trails. You can use them on paved trails comfortably and safely.
They are not as light as a road bike, so they are not great for achieving fast speeds or going for as long of rides. That said, however, they can be used on the road and you can get a few hours of riding in while still remaining comfortable.
They have wider tires than road bikes with moderate traction – more than a road bike, but not as much as a mountain bike.
They also tend to have wider seats than road bikes, as they are designed for comfort and upright use.
If you’re looking to ride on your local greenway trail or around your local neighborhood, getting some good exercise without trying to break any speed records, then a hybrid bicycle may be the choice for you.
If you’re looking to use a hybrid bike on an unpaved trail that does not offer too many rocks or dips, or if you’d like to use your hybrid bike on a longer ride, such as a tour, then a dual-sport bike may be a good hybrid bike style for you.
Long a pastime in European countries like Belgium, where ‘Cross has an almost cult-like following, Cyclo-Cross is a sport that is growing in popularity in North America.
Combining the best of both road cycling and mountain biking, Cyclo Cross is a unique sport for those looking for a spike to their adventure meter.
Cyclo Cross involves off-road riding, typically through undulating fields full of dirt and mud. If you enjoy getting dirty, this sport is for you.
But what type of bike do you use for Cyclo Cross?
If you’re looking to ride ‘Cross, as its affectionately called by enthusiasts, you will probably want to get a bike specifically designed for use in this sport.
A Cyclo Cross bike is designed in the same style as a road bike, but it offers some other features of a mountain bike, such as suspension and wider tires.
You will want traction when riding ‘Cross, and as a result, wider, more durable tires with traction in their design will prove important. My skinny, smooth little road tires won’t cut it on a Cyclo Cross course.
These bikes also have a different brake style than road or mountain bikes, which is specifically designed to withstand the muddy demands of Cyclo Cross.
Without proper care, mud can cake into your brakes, rendering them useless. A Cyclo Cross bike is designed to help protect against this.
You’ll probably also want some additional suspension than is provided by your road bike. Although cyclo cross does not typically involve rocks or boulders, it does present some rougher terrain than you’ll find on the road and this can take a toll on your body if your bike is not configured properly.
If you’re looking to get into Cyclo Cross but buying a brand new bike is not in your budget, then you can consult your local bicycle shop to discuss configuring your road bike during the ‘Cross season, as this may be an option.
If you enjoy both road cycling and mountain biking, then the odds are good that Cyclo Cross will prove just as addictive for you.
Adventure Road Bicycle
Just as Cyclo Cross has grown in popularity, so also has the sport of gravel riding. Made even more popular by epic endurance events like Dirty Kanza, the sport of gravel cycling has drawn an entirely new crowd of cycling enthusiasts.
Riding mostly on gravel, country roads, adventure road cycling combines much of the appeal of road cycling and Cyclo Cross, without as much of the mud.
If you’re looking to ride the gravel, you can purchase an adventure road bike specifically designed for use on this surface or you may be able to configure your road bike appropriately.
Unlike the shorter courses designed for Cyclo Cross, gravel races tend to be longer endurance courses. As a result, the design of the bike should be longer and optimized for use on endurance rides.
But you’ll need more traction and durability than the lightweight, smooth road tires will offer. Tires should be wider, have a better tread design, and be able to withstand heavier blows than your traditional road bike.
Even with great tire design, you’re still bound to face your share of punctures on a gravel ride, so be sure you take a tire repair kit (or two!) with you for each ride.
You can ride an adventure road bike on the road, as well. Just be aware that the tires may make your road bike a bit heavier and the ride will not be as smooth, so you’ll want to leave this bike home when it comes to road races.
Although their name might sound like you’ll just be going out for a Sunday afternoon stroll, touring bikes are made for anything but. While not appropriate for racing, they’re not exactly wimps, either.
Touring bicycles are a style of road bike that is designed for long distance bicycle rides, or tours.
Typically, these bikes will be used when someone is riding for weeks at a time and exceeding distances of 100 miles per day, sustained over days or weeks, with little to no outside support.
If you’re looking to ride your bike across the U.S., for example, then a touring bike may prove a more comfortable, appropriate fit than your standard road bike.
Touring bikes are similar in style and design to traditional road bikes, with a few key tweaks.
They tend to be more upright than a road bike. Although road bikes are designed for endurance rides, they’re not designed for riding all day every day for weeks at a time.
For that, a touring bike design places you more upright.
They also make room for attaching bags and racks, which allow you to easily carry all the gear you’ll need for your tour – food, tent, sleeping pad – on your bike with you.
When it comes to gearing, you won’t need all those light gears for speeding up hills. Instead, a lower gear will prove more effective as you haul yourself and your gear up the mountains or hills dotting your tour route.
A road bike can be configured to allow for more attachments, but if you’re looking to go on a long tour, then it may be wise to invest in a bike specifically designed for such a ride.
If you have back or neck issues, but you still want to be able to ride a bike, then a recumbent may be the style for you.
With the seat positioned low and set back behind the handlebars, these backs allow you to ride in a seated position with your arms and lets out forward in front of your, rather than down below you, as most traditional bike models support.
This can help to place the rider in a more comfortable, less taxing position for some than a traditional road or hybrid bike would offer.
These bikes are good for recreational riding on flat, paved paths, but are not appropriate for use off-road or on hilly routes.
These bikes sit lower to the ground, and as a result, they may be more difficult for drivers in vehicles to see when used on a road open to automobile traffic. Proper care should be taken to maximize visibility when riding a recumbent bicycle on the open road, such as use of high visibility clothing and lighting on the bicycle.
As fashionable as they are fun, cruiser bicycles are an option for those looking for the benefits of a hybrid bicycle, but at a little slower pace.
These bicycles offer an upright seating position with outward-facing handlebars, allowing your body to sit comfortably in an upright and open position.
The seat is positioned lower than the handlebars than on a traditional performance hybrid bike.
These bikes tend to use fenders in their design, as well.
A flat-foot comfort bike is a specific style of cruiser bike that positions your foot closer to the ground, making stopping and controlling the bike easier for some.
Unlike hybrids, these bicycles are best used for shorter commutes and flat routes. They’re often as much of a fashion statement as they are a method of transportation or exercise.
If you’re a daily commuter to the office, a frequent traveler, or even just a city-dweller, then a folding bicycle may be an option for you. These bikes fold up easily to allow for more convenient storage at home or at the office.
They do make a good option for community, but with some limitations. They are not going to offer the performance benefits that a hybrid might, but they’ll get you from point A to point B just fine, while allowing you to get a good dose of daily exercise.
They generally have a longer seat post and longer handlebar post than other bicycle designs, such as a hybrid or cruiser.
The wheels on these designs may be smaller than hybrid or road bikes, which can impact both speed and control, but for the daily commuter, it’s likely to meet your needs just fine.
If you and a friend or partner are looking for a fun, creative way to enjoy a bike ride together, then a tandem may make your best choice.
These bikes are two bikes in one – one bicycle with two seats, two sets of handlebars, and two sets of pedals – that allow you to pedal through life, or at least your daily ride, together.
You can find them in a hybrid style or a cruiser style, depending on your desired speed and activity level.
Whatever your skill level or desired activity expenditure, bicycling offers you a great chance to get out and enjoy some fresh air and exercise, whether your ride is for recreational or utilitarian purposes.