As the name suggests, road bikes are designed to ride on the road. Can’t all bikes ride on the road, you wonder? They absolutely can. But road bikes are optimised to make road cycling as efficient as possible, and because of that they’d perform terribly on a mountain dirt track.
Instead, road bikes are designed to help cyclists get the most out of the road, including the frame shape of the bike, the width of the tyres, and the weight of the components.
Defining characteristics: A lightweight frame, skinny tyres, drop handlebars (those are handlebars which curve back down underneath themselves) and a high gear ratio (i.e. The gears are set up to favour the ones that help you go really fast, if your legs and lungs are up to it.)
Get a road bike if: You want fast, efficient cycling on tarmac roads
Don’t get a road bike if: You want to take it off the road. Skinny tyres means you won’t really be able to use a road bike on anything other than tarmac. Icy roads can also be a problem for road bikes.
Mountain bikes are designed to go on on off-road trails, which means they’re chunkier, have knobbly tyres on them, and a frame which makes them better suited for seriously uneven terrain.
Defining characteristics: Wide, knobbly tyres for traction, and a wide range of gears to help you get up and over mountains or across fields. Some bikes have front suspension but are rigid at the back (‘hardtail’), and some have front and rear suspension for cushioning jumps and drops (‘full suspension’ or ‘full sus’). Others have neither.
Get a mountain bike if: You want to go mountain biking or mainly off road.
Don’t get a mountain bike if: You want to go fast on tarmac roads, cycle long distances, or mostly knock about town.
Hybrid bikes, or commuter bikes as they’re also known, are essentially a mixture between road bikes and mountain bikes. They give you the versatility to do a bit of everything. What you sacrifice in terms of speciality, you gain by being able to do what you want, when you want.
Defining characteristics: Unlike gravel/cyclocross bikes (below), hybrid bikes have flat handlebars instead of drop handlebars. Some models have front suspension to cushion bumps in the road or on the track, and others don’t. They’re designed with versatility and comfort in mind, so they have the comfortable geometry of mountain bikes but with slicker, narrower tyres.
Get a hybrid/commuter bike if: Your main use for the bike will be commuting and/or knocking about town, as well as occasionally using off road tracks.
Don’t get a hybrid/commuter bike if: You want to go full lycra and ride as fast as possible on roads, or tear down mountain bike trails.
Folding bikes are designed to fold up into a compact size so that you can store them away when you’re not using them, or cycle to the train or bus station and fold them up once you get there. They also fit neatly into a car or hall cupboard.
Defining characteristics: A folding frame and small wheels.
Get a folding bike if: You want to involve cycling on your commute but it’s a bit far, or you want to own a bike but have zero storage space.
Don’t get a folding bike if: You want to go off road or go really fast.
Electric bikes are, as the name suggests, part electric. They have a battery and a silent motor, and because of this they’re heavier than other bikes, but you’ll never curse a hill again in your life.
When you start pedalling, the motor ‘kicks in’ and gives you a push as if you had a fierce tailwind at your back, meaning you can essentially go anywhere at a steady pace without breaking a sweat.
Under UK legislation, the motor has to stop helping you once you hit 15.5mph, so you won’t get the chance to rocket uphill at 60mph.
Defining characteristics: A hybrid, mountain or road bike with a battery and a motor.
Get an electric bike if: You want to go twice the distance for half the effort.
Don’t get an electric bike if: You want to ‘feel the burn’ and develop thighs of steel.
Gravel & Cyclocross Bikes
These are bikes which follow the tradition of road cyclists in the olden days, who would swap their slick road tyres for knobblier tyres and continue to train during the winter months.
Defining characteristics: The easiest to spot is the drop handlebars like a road bike, instead of the flat handlebars of a hybrid. Like a hybrid, there’s also enough clearance (space around the wheel) for knobblier tyres and mudguards. It has more of a road bike feel than a hybrid does.
Women’s bikes are designed for women, insofar as they come in smaller frame sizes and a different frame geometry to that of a ‘men’s’ bike. Sometimes they have a step-through frame, which were originally designed for their advantage to riders wearing dresses or skirts.
Riders of any gender should ride what feels comfortable and fits well. Women can choose to ride a men’s bike, and men can choose to ride a woman’s bike if it suits them.
Defining characteristics: Smaller and lighter frames with a shorter top tube (crossbar), a wider and shorter saddle, and often narrower handlebars with grips that are narrower in diameter.