A Beginner’s Guide To Picking The Perfect Bicycle

Welcome to the wonderful world of cycling! Choosing the correct bicycle can make a huge difference to your riding experience.  So you’ve started Googling what kind of bike you should buy and realise there’s a lot more to it than a frame and two wheels!  

Selecting the best one will ultimately come down to how and where you plan on using the bike.  Is it for a daily commute, fitness or long weekend warrior rides with your friends?

So, if you are asking yourself “which type of bike should I buy?”, then read on. We’ll guide you through the different types of bikes on the market today to help you find the best one for your needs!

Lots of bikes hung up in a bike garage

Types Of Bikes

Confused by all of the bikes on the market for every type of rider? Let’s take a look at the main types of bikes, how they differ and which situation they’re best suited for.

What Is A Road Bike

First up is the fabled road bike. Along with the mountain bike (MTB), the road bike is one of the most common styles of bikes. These are meant for pavement and bike path use.  

Road bikes are known to be lightweight and built for speed. These bikes are great for anyone looking for a racing bike or to ride along long stretches of roads.

Road bikes are designed with aerodynamics in mind. A lightweight frame that has thin tires, drop handlebars and typically up to 24 gears.  This will allow for high speed riding and also traverse up any hills along your ride.

You will be sitting in an “aggressive” riding stance (leaning forward) that will take a bit of getting used to if you’re a beginner. Most of these don’t come with suspension as they’re meant for riding on pavements / road surfaces.

Even within the main category of road bike, you can break it down further into a road racing bike or sportive bike. 

  • Road racing bike – designed purely with speed in mind. Your lower bike will not enjoy this type of bike if you haven’t got much cycling experience!
  • Sportive bike – designed for a bit more comfort and upright riding position.

In addition to the basic road bike, I would put the following as a subclass of road bike – cyclocross bike, the gravel/adventure road bike and the touring road bike.  We’ll cover them in more detail below.

Overall, the standard road bike is great for a zippy ride around town or for competitive riders.

If you’re looking for some ideas on which bike to buy, check out our roundups:

Road BIke - Solo cyclist in blurred background

What Is A Mountain Bike

Next up is the mountain bike (MTB for short).  As you might have guessed, this type of bike is built for off-road use.  That’s not to say you can’t use it on normal roads. The extra weight of a MTB means you’ll just have to pedal a lot harder!

MTBs are built tough with a strong frame and thick tires that are designed to grip onto almost any surface.  They also come with a wide range of gears and power disc brakes.  The gearing will help you get up a steep mountain and the brakes help you stop going down a mountain! 😄

Riding along rough terrain will make for quite a bumpy ride, so MTBs are designed to absorb the shock with some suspension. Again, manufacturers haven’t made it easy for us with two types of MTBs. Hardtail MTBs only have suspension on the front fork, whilst full suspension bikes have suspension on the front and back.  

If you want more information about the type of suspension in MTBs, check out our article here that compares hardtail and full suspension MTBs.

While MTBs can be used on roads for everyday riding, they are somewhat heavy and slow.  So if you’re planning on spending most of your time on roads, check out a road or hybrid bike.

If you’re looking for some ideas on which bike to buy, check out our roundups:

Black And Red Hardtail Mountain Bike On Brown Grass

What Is A Hybrid Bike

As the name suggests, the hybrid bike is a cross between a road bike and mountain bike.  Whilst not as fast and aerodynamic as a road bike, it’s also not built for heavy duty riding like a mountain bike.  It’s meant to be the best of both worlds and great for a daily commute bike.

Hybrid bikes offer a more (lower back) friendly design for riders who are just looking to get from point A to point B without busting a sweat.  You will have more of an upright seating position and won’t need to contend with drop handlebars. Flat or extended handlebars usually come standard. 

Other defining features of a hybrid bike include wider wheels and powerful disc brakes that provide a more consistent stopping performance in wet weather and busy city roads.  You will find that most hybrid bikes also come with various mounts that will allow you to attach pannier bags for more luggage space.

If you’re a casual rider and have a short city commute, consider looking at a hybrid bike.

Stuck on which bike to look at first?  Check out our guide here on the best hybrid bikes under $500.

Black Hybrid Bike

What Is A Gravel / Adventure Bike

I personally view the gravel bike as a form of hybrid bike too.  The gravel bike is a very versatile drop handlebar bike that travels well in a variety of terrains. I can see why they have increased in popularity in the last few years.

In order for a bike to be classified as a gravel bike, it must have features like lower gear ratios, very wide tires and offer a rider sufficient versatility and durability across dirt and paved roads. As they’re a cousin of the road bike family, the frames are still quite lightweight.

Gravel bikes will accommodate racks and mudguards, so plenty of space to carry extra luggage and keep yourself a bit cleaner. Handy if you use your bike as a commuter or for light weekend touring rides.  If you plan on doing long touring rides, better to look at the next type of bike!

Still not sure which is the better off road terrain bike? Check out our comparison of the gravel bike vs mountain bike.

If you’re looking for some ideas on which bike to buy, check out our roundups:

Man In Black Clothing Riding Gravel Bike

What Is A Touring Bike

Similar to the gravel bike, a touring bike can handle your daily commute to a cross country adventure.  Key difference is that these frames are designed for comfort and stability to handle heavy loads across rough terrain.

These types of bikes are designed for those who are out for long periods of time and need sufficient gear for the journey. Think cycling across a country for days / weeks!  These bikes come with racks and fenders that will allow you to load up your pannier bags with stuff.

Again there will be a subcategory of touring bikes and will depend on how long you expect to ride for, how much luggage are you carrying and what type of terrain you’ll be riding across.

Touring Bike Loaded Up With Luggage

What Is A Cyclocross Bike

Similar to its road, gravel and touring bike cousins, the cyclocross bike is a type of drop bar bike that is designed for cyclocross racing.  

If you’re not aware of cyclocross racing, think of a closed loop course made up of dirt, grass, sand and/or obstacles.

The bike geometry makes for a more aggressive rider position than a gravel and touring bike.  It is a racing type of bike after all!  A cyclocross bike is purpose built for these courses so come with wider tires than a standard road bike. So, these won’t be a one for one transfer bike to a road racing bike.

Cyclocross Rider Running Up A Hill

There’s A Lot Of Different Types of Bikes…

Stay with me here… There’s a few other popular ones on the market today:

  • E-Bikes – These have really started to gain popularity over the last few years. Electric bikes (e-bikes) use an electric motor to assist the rider’s pedaling. A few allow you to go full electric-only and the motor does all the work! There’s a few high quality e-bikes on the market that have batteries that last for 60 miles or more.  These come in quite handy if you have a relatively long commute. If you’re looking for ideas, check out our electric bike buyers guide here.
  • Fixed gear / single speed bikes – aka the fixie. These bikes come with a single gear ratio  meaning they are light, simple and quick to ride. As there’s less moving parts, there’s very little maintenance involved with these bikes. Great for a short commute and don’t mind peddling up any hills. Find out more here – Fixed Gear Bike vs Single Speed.
  • Cruiser bikes – Casual bike for cruisin’ along the beach! These bikes have a very relaxed and upright riding position. The handlebars are at a comfortable height and the seat is usually quite large and comfortable!
  • Folding Bikes – You have probably seen people carrying these on the train. As the name suggests, these bikes fold and fit in tiny apartments / peak hour train commutes.  These usually come with a steel or aluminium frame and very small wheels. It’s all about convenience with this type of bike.

Want to add a bit of fun to your bike? Check out these Bike Wheel Lights!

By the way, this still doesn’t cover all bike types.  If you’re really keen, you might come across the recumbent bike or a tandem bike!

Green Crruiser Bike With Basket

What Is The Best Type Of Bike?

If you’ve just gone through the entire list of the various types of bikes, your head is probably spinning!  So you probably want the quick and short answer – which is the best bike?

Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer to this question. It will depend on what you use it for and where you’re at with your cycling fitness. There’s only a best bike specific for you!

  • Urban commute – you can’t go wrong with a road bike, gravel bike or touring bike. Check out our answer on whether or not road bikes good for commuting.
  • Weekend fitness warrior – cycling with your mates on the weekend for long stretches of road? Definitely have a look at getting a sportive or racing road bike
  • Hilly or mountainous terrain – depending how off road you’re going and for how long, have a further look at a MTB, gravel, touring or cyclocross bike
Woman wearing brown coat commuting On a red Bike

Make Sure You Buy A Bicycle That Fits You

My number one tip for beginners when buying their first bike? Go down to your local bike shop (LBS) and get measured up properly. However, if you’re buying one from Craigslist or online, read on!

To start, your ideal frame size is based on the type of bike you choose, your height and your inseam. Manufacturers will list the sizes of their frames on their respective websites.  By sizing the bike for your body and needs, you’ll be well on your way to a more comfortable riding experience.

Check out our bike sizing guide which goes into detail about how to pick the correct size based on your body and bike type.

Learn The Basic Anatomy Of A Bike

If you’re about to splash out your hard earned cash for a brand new bike, it will be worthwhile learning about the basics of a bike.  It will definitely help you out when you’re shopping and all this bike jargon is thrown at you. Doesn’t hurt if you know how to do minor maintenance and repairs on your bike too!

For more information, we have explained everything about bike geometry here.

The Perfect Bicycle

There you have it! Plenty to digest and choosing can be very complicated if you’re new to the world of cycling. Hopefully now armed with the basics, it should help you get started and pick a bike that’s perfect for your needs and your comfort. To the extent possible, go out for a test ride on a few bikes!

As you can see, there is a huge variety of bikes available on the market today.  They are all designed with a specific style or terrain in mind. Every type of bike has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important that you carefully consider how you use your bike before you buy!

Thanks for reading and please drop us a comment down below if you have any questions or comments!

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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