If you are considering buying a bike, you should consider what you want to use it for. Are you going to be using it for transportation? Will you be using it for fitness? Will you be riding competitively? Or will you simply be using it for recreation? And where will you be riding it? On the street? On dirt paths? Down the side of a mountain?
There are several categories of bikes, each with their own unique characteristics, and intended uses.
Lets discuss the different types of bikes.
Road bikes are often denoted by their narrow tires, and dropped handlebars (you know, the ones that look like ram’s horns). Theses bikes are intended for use on paved surfaces only. They are designed to be fast and efficient.
Hybrid bikes are closely related to road bikes. They have a narrow tire and flat handle bar. These bikes are intended for road use only. They provide much of the speed and efficiency of a road bike, but keep the rider in a more comfortable upright position.
Mountain bikes are the road race bikes of the off road scene. There are many subcategories of mountain bikes (hardtail, cross country, all mountain, downhill, freeride), but for the sake of this explanation we will make some generalizations. Mountain bikes have a wide tire (generally with a knobby surface), and a flat or riser handle bar. They are intended for use on dirt trails, and rough terrain. These bikes are not as efficient as road and hybrid bikes, but what they lack in efficiency they make up for in traction, maneuverability, and durability.
tread, and a riser handle bar. They are intended for road use, and light dirt path use. They keep the rider in an upright position. As the name suggests they are designed for a comfortable ride. Suspension forks, wide seats, and suspension seat posts are all characteristic of comfort bikes.
Cyclo-Cross bikes are denoted by a narrow tire, with a knobby surface, and dropped handlebars, like a road bike. These are basically road bikes built for off road use. They maintain most of the efficiency of a road bike while offering the durability of a mountain bike. However these bikes have more in common with road bikes than with mountain bikes. Cyclo-cross bikes handle like road bikes, and are only intended for light off road use such as packed dirt paths or gravel. For more rigorous off road riding consider a mountain bike.
So which on is right for me?
I am commuting in the city.
We recommend a road, hybrid, or cyclo-cross bike for this type of commuting.
I am riding for athletic training.
We recommend a road bike for this type of riding. A mountain bike will offer you more of a full body workout (although still biased toward the legs), but for purely cardio training a road bike is the best option. Many mountain bike racers, train on road bikes to improve their cardio, and stamina.
I want to carry a lot of cargo with me.
The type of bike that you choose for this application will be dependant on the type of terrain that you will be riding on. For long distances on the road consider a road touring bike. For short trips to the store in the city consider a hybrid bike. For off road riding consider a mountain or cyclo-cross bike. Which ever you choose you can outfit the bike with racks and panniers to add cargo space. There are many cycling specific backpacks, and messenger bags available as well. You can mix and match your cargo accessories to meet your personal needs. Just remember that loaded a bike with cargo makes it handle differently. Try to keep the weight low on the bike and evenly distributed side to side, and front to back.
I just need to get across campus and I want the cheapest solution.
Entry level mountain bikes and comfort bikes tend to be cheaper than road hybrid or cyclo-cross bikes. But also consider buying a used bike. Just make sure that you are buying the right size bike.
I want to go out in the woods to places inaccessible by car.
We recommend a mountain bike for this type of riding.