Simple Ways to Choose a BikeFebruary 20, 2019
In the market for a new bike? There are three main decision points:
Types of bikes: The right type of bike for you largely depends on where you plan to ride.
Bike features and components: Things like suspension, gears and brakes determine how a bike performs.
Bike fit: Once you’ve narrowed down your search, it’s important to make sure a bike fits you properly.
Types of Bikes
To figure out what type of bike is right for you, your first consideration is to know where you’ll be riding: on pavement, dirt trails or both. Some bicycles are made specifically for a particular kind of riding surface, while others are versatile enough that, perhaps with a quick tire change, they can be ridden in more than one category.
|Bike Type:||Best For:|
|Road Bikes (including racing, endurance, cyclocross, and touring bikes)||Pavement|
|Mountain Bikes (including trail, cross-country, and all-mountain bikes)||Rugged trails and gravel roads|
|Hybrid Bikes||Pavement or moderate gravel/dirt roads|
|Specialty Bikes (including cruiser, cargo, electric, and folding bikes)||Pavement|
Road bikes are good for multiple pavement uses including fitness riding, commuting, long-distance/event rides, touring and racing. They usually have lightweight drop-bar handlebars that curve downward, putting you in an aerodynamic position, making them a good choice if you want to go fast or are most concerned with efficiently transferring your energy into making the bike move forward. They also allow for a greater number of riding and hand positions than bikes with flat bars. Their more aerodynamic riding position (bent over at the waist) may put more strain on your back if you are less flexible.
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Road bikes have some specialized categories:
Racing bikes: These light and aerodynamic bikes are built for going fast on the flats and charging up hills on race day or during a group ride with friends. Their frames are usually made from carbon fiber or aluminum and they have a slimmed-down design that’s intended to be as light as possible. Racing bikes generally have an aggressive geometry with steep angles that make them turn quickly.
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Endurance bikes: Endurance bikes have many of the performance features of racing bikes, but with a frame geometry that puts you in a more comfortable riding position. They generally have taller head tubes, slacker (lower) angles and sloping top tubes intended to reduce stress on your back and neck. They also often feature clearance for larger width tires for versatility and a softer, more comfortable ride. Some endurance bikes have flat handlebars, for those who prefer a more heads-up riding style.
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Cyclocross bikes: Cyclocross bikes are lightweight, yet tough enough to deal with the extreme conditions of cyclocross racing (which involves riders taking laps around courses that may feature pavement, dirt trails and grass). Most cyclocross bikes have semi-knobby tires to handle the terrain challenges.
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Touring Bikes: Touring bikes have a few tweaks on the traditional road bike design that make them ideal for long-distance bike tours. They are designed with sturdy frames capable of carrying heavy loads on front and rear racks and feature multiple attachment points so you can attach racks, fenders, water bottles, pumps, lights and more. Many touring bikes have a longer wheelbase (the distance between the two wheel hubs) than other road bikes and they tend to have a lower center of gravity, which makes them easier to control. Many touring bikes also have disc brakes for improved stopping power while hauling heavy loads on non-paved surfaces.
Within touring bikes you’ll find road touring bikes and adventure touring bikes, which are made to handle gravel roads with wide or semi-knobby tires.
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Want to learn more? Read Road Bikes: How to Choose.
Designed with shock-absorbing features and better braking systems, mountain bikes can handle dirt trails and the rocks, roots, bumps and ruts that come with them. They usually feature lower gears than most road bikes to better handle steeper terrain.
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There are several categories of mountain bikes:
Trail Bikes: This is arguably the most common mountain biking style because the category isn’t grounded in any specific type of racing. If you’re interested in meeting up with friends at the local trailhead and riding a mixture of climbs and descents, then this is the style for you. Bikes in this category place equal emphasis on fun, efficiency and sensible overall weight.
Typical specs: 120–140mm of suspension travel; 67–69° head-tube angle
(Suspension travel is the amount of movement offered by the bike’s front and rear suspension. Head-tube angle is the angle that the head tube forms with the ground. A steeper head-tube angle generally indicates that a bike will turn faster and climb better. A slacker (lower) angle generally indicates that a bike will provide better stability at high speeds but won’t climb as well.)
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Cross-Country Bikes: This style of riding typically implies riding fast, with an emphasis on climbing prowess. Distances vary from just a few miles to 25-plus, and bikes tend to focus on efficiency and low weight. These bikes can be great if you’re considering getting competitive or would like a racier ride for your local trails.
Typical specs: 80–100mm of suspension travel; 70–71° head-tube angle
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Fat Bikes: Oversize tires, from 3.7 in. to 5+ in. wide, give these bikes excellent traction, and are optimal for riding in sand or snow. The wide tires are reassuringly forgiving as you ride over rough terrain.
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All-Mountain Bikes: Think of all-mountain riding as trail riding on steroids, with bigger leg-burning climbs, longer, scarier descents and more technical features—both man-made and natural. Bikes for all-mountain riding are designed to perform well on steep descents while also being light and nimble enough to pedal uphill.
Typical specs: 140–170mm of suspension travel; 65–68° head-tube angle
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Downhill/Park Mountain Bikes: Mostly ridden at lift-serviced bike parks, these bikes aren’t sold by REI. Downhill bikes are big and tough, and riders wear full-face helmets and body armor as they encounter jumps, berms, rock gardens and wooden ladders.
Typical specs: 170–200+mm of suspension travel; 63–65° head-tube angle.
Learn more about mountain bikes in our article, Mountain Bikes: How to Choose.
A mix of mountain, road, and touring designs, hybrid bikes mash up specific features to create do-it-all bikes with a wide range of uses. Generally, you’ll get the skinny, speedy wheels of road bikes mixed in with the quick-turning prowess of mountain bikes, plus a dash of comfort with a plush saddle or even a shock-absorbent fork. They usually combine a flat bar and a heads-up ride for comfort and a better view when riding in traffic. Some hybrid bikes are equipped with disc brakes for responsive braking while bike commuting in any weather. Many commuter-friendly models include racks, lighting systems or fenders.
No two hybrid bikes are exactly the same, so look for a bike equipped with features that make it suited to the type of riding you plan to do.
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