What Kind of Bike are You After?
Step 1 – Determine what type of riding you will be doing
Whether you’re a leisure rider or a fitness fanatic, there is a bike out there that suits you. Every bike is perfectly designed for a specific style and cyclist, so the first step in choosing the right bike for you is deciding what type of riding you want to be doing.
Step 2 – Sizing up
Size not only matters; it’s paramount. There can be no guesswork when it comes to buying the right bike size for you. At best, an incorrectly-sized bike will make for awkward or uncomfortable riding; at worst it can make for dangerous riding for you and those around you.
Determining the right size bike for you is fairly simple. Visit the manufacturer’s website to see a size chart tailored to their bikes. Make sure your bike shop also measures you up so that you can be extra confident you are getting the right bike for you. Size is only the beginning – your bike mechanic or sales assistant then needs to ‘tweak’ certain features to suit you. For example – we might both be 170cm in height, but your legs are much longer than mine. As such our bike seat post will be set at different heights.
Step 3 – Accessories/ Components
Once you’ve determined the type of bike and riding that is right for you and the size of the bike you need, it’s then time to consider components or accessories. Often a bike is sold only with certain parts, and it’s up to you to decide on what you want to put with it. For example one bike might come with basic components, but you know you need to go that level above. Or it might come with standard wheels, but you know you need race wheels.
Let’s start by looking at the different types of bikes on the market, and the sort of riding they deliver.
This table has been created to give you a quick idea of all the different types of riding out there, and the bikes that best suit them. Scroll down below the table and you will see we go into a lot more detail.
Road Bikes are made for: - Fitnes - Social - Training - Competition - Long Distance - Strictly on Road - Touring
What are road bikes made of?
Road bikes will be made from aluminium, steel or carbon. The bike’s material will dictate the sort of riding you want to do.
If budget is tight, then look for an aluminium frame as it’s stiff, light and inexpensive.
Steel however, is a good option for riding around bumpy parts of town, or for Touring, when you want a bike that will be a little kinder on your tail!
Carbon is incredibly light making it ideal for endurance or competitive riding, or those who do a lot of climbing. It used to be incredibly expensive, but as riding popularity has grown this material has become more affordable.
You will hear a lot about ‘components’ when buying a bike.
A groupset is a component that basically refers to the moving parts on your road bike (so the brakes and gears). You have essentially three choices for components:
- Shimano (ideal entry level). Options start with (entry-level) 2300, then Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra and (top-of-the-range) Dura-Ace
- SRAM. Options start with Apex, then Rival, Force and Red.
- Campagnolo. Options start with Veloce, then Centaur, Athena, Chorus, Record, and Super Record.
The higher the cost, the higher the performance ability and/ or lower the weight. Electronic shifting is becoming increasingly popular on road bikes, and both Shimano and Campagnolo’s premium groupsets offer these.
This is the part of the chain to which the pedals attach and it comes with chainrings of different sizes. If you’re just getting into riding, then a low-ration chainset (50 teeth on the big chainring; 34 on the small) will make it easier for you to get up challenging ascents.
If you’re getting into racing, then a standard or double chainset will be more your cup of tea – it’s easier to hit higher speeds faster when you’re running a larger pair of chainrings (39/53).
If you want the very lowest gears (so let’s say you’re doing some serious climbing in the hills), then compacts will be more your style. These have largely replaced triple chainsets on road bikes, but still offer the same menu of gears. They’re just easier and lighter to use.
The wheels on the bike go round, and round
There’s wheels, and there’s wheels! Your wheels will have a big impact on the speed, feel and responsiveness of your bike. Basically, lighter wheels ride faster, and lighter and faster tyres are more responsive.
When it comes to Mountain Biking, you’ve got plenty of options!
Cross Country (otherwise known as XC)
Say hello to the all-rounder. This is probably the most common type of mountain bike. It’s comfy riding on flats, it’s not super heavy when climbing, and it’s alright descending, too. It will usually have suspension in the front forks. As far as the rear forks go, it will either have no suspension or some suspension.
Downhill (otherwise known as DH)
This bike is heavy so you can rocket down hills that are steep and often technical. They’re not the kind of bike that can actually get you up the hill all that well (so normally you’d hitch a lift up) given their weight. DH bikes are fitted with plenty of suspension so you can manoeuvre down those tricky tracks.
This is the bike you’re after if you kind of want your cake and you want to eat it, too! It’s a mixture of suspension and strength, so unlike the DH this bike will probably enable you to make the climb as well as the descent.
For the trickster! This is a heavy bike with a short cockpit, meaning you naturally sit in quite an upright position. If you want to get into jumping or doing tricks on your bike, this is the one for you.
Not sure what you want? A hybrid might therefore be the answer. It’s a bit of a combination of road and mountain bike. A great option for getting around town, but not one for serious mountain biking.
This isn’t actually a category in its own right, but rather a type choice within each of the categories. Basically it means the mountain bike has no rear suspension. It’s a good choice for a MTB newbie as it tends to cost less and doesn’t require as much maintenance.
As is the case with road bikes, you essentially have three options – carbon, steel or aluminium. You’ll probably only see carbon mountain bike frames on top-end cross-country race bikes. Aluminium mountain bike frames are far more common – it makes for a durable and affordable bike. Steel in contrast is very affordable but it is also much heavier.
Super important! This is the piece of the bike that connects the wheel to the frame. It starts getting more complicated here but in a nutshell, you have two types of forks: coil/oil and air.
Coil/oil use springs and holes to manage the flow of oil throughout the chambers within the fork. Air forks in contrast use chambers of air to work much the same way as coil/oil. When the bike makes contact with a bump, the forks will compress, enabling the bike to absorb much of the shock of contact.
Rear Shock / Suspension
The rear shock has much the same job as the forks, but for the back end of the bike. Rear shocks enable the bike to absorb a lot of the shock created when the bike makes contact with the road. Bikes that have a rear shock are called full-suspension or dual-suspension. They are a lot more comfortable than hardtails, which (as the name suggests) don’t have any rear suspension.
As the name suggests, this is the term given to the components that drive the bike forward (provided you do the pedalling!). When it comes to mountain bikes, you have two main options – Shimano and Sram. As is the case with road bikes, each brand has different options of groupsets that will cover the budget – and quality – spectrum. They are:
- XTR or Saint
BMX bikes are great recreation bikes that are built for fun. They have a strong frame, light, and are designed for easy movability to accommodate for tricks and jumps. There are different styles and designs of a BMX bike to suit its three most desired uses of Jump, Race and Freestyle. The main features of a BMX bike are its good brakes, single gear and extras that assist with tricks.
- All rounders
- All ages
- All terrain
- Ideal for short distance rides
Touring bikes are the most desirable bike for distance riding as they are easy to use, reliable and have multiple storage compartments for drinks, a sleeping bag etc. Touring bikes are known for their comfort and are capable of travelling on most terrains. The main features of a touring bike are its reliability, efficiency and its ability to carry luggage.
Touring bikes are made for:
- Long distance riding
- Adventurous people
- Wide range of storage capabilities
- On & off road
Fixie bikes are great city bikes that are designed for easy mobility in tight streets and corners. They are best suited for flat roads as they have no gears and a fixed wheel, meaning that if the wheel is spinning then so are the pedals. The main features of a Fixie are its fixed wheel, no gears, reliability and efficiency.
Fixie bikes are made for:
- Short rides
- City & urban riding
- Flat terrain
- Ease of use & maintenance
Triathlon/Time Trial bikes are mostly designed for competition and not recreational purposes. They are very light and agile, and are one of the fastest road bikes available. They are built to be extremely aero dynamic therefore the seat is high and the handlebars are very low, and the rear wheel has a high profile rim or a rear disc. The main features of a Triathlon/Time Trial bike are its aero dynamics, clip in pedals, extreme riding position.
Triathlon & time-trial bikes are made for:
- Fast pace riding
- Long distance riding
- Strictly on road
Flat Bar Road bikes are a combination of both a road and a mountain bike. The main difference is that the hybrid bike more resembles a mountain bike and a flat bar road bike more resembles a road bike. The flat bar road bike features comfortable seats and handlebars, light frame and its ability to reach high speeds.
Flat bar road bikes are made for:
- Fast pace
- Strictly on road
Cruiser bikes are known for their comfort - the seat, handlebars and the entire geometry of the frame are all designed to make the rider feel as comfy as possible. These bikes are not fast or efficient, but they look great and are extremely fun to ride. The cruiser bike is best suited for on road or paved path riding and the main features are its large seats, high handlebars and stylish designs.
Cruiser bikes are made for:
- Slow pace
- Ease of use
- Strong & reliable
We hope this information gives you a handy, overall understanding of the different types of bikes – and bike riding – out there. At the end of the day, head to your local bike store and start a chat with them. They are a wealth of knowledge and will be able to point you in the right direction!