Choosing a bike

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There are many different types of bicycle on the market. To choose the type that is right for you, you first need to think about what sort of cycling you intend to do – will you be doing long-distance or short distance rides? Will you be going off-road or staying mainly on roads, paths and tracks? Do you need to carry shopping or other items regularly? Will you want to take your bicycle on trains, buses or in the car?

Secondly, you need to think about your personal requirements. What are your physical capabilities – can you step over a cross bar or pedal a bike uphill easily? Do you prefer an upright riding position, where you can see comfortably ahead, or a “head down” position which allows you to go faster? Will you need to be able to lift your bike regularly (e.g. for storage) and could you have any problems with this?

You then need to consider your priorities. What are the most important factors for you – Speed? Comfort? Price?

Types of Bike

The list below outlines the most popular types of bicycle and their features. The list is not exhaustive as there are many more sub-categories of bicycles and more specialist types such as tandems, recumbent bikes, tricycles and triathlon bikes which are beyond the scope of this basic guide.

Road Bikes

These are designed for speed; they are lightweight and aerodynamic, perfect for journeys on sealed surfaces (e.g. tarmac). They have drop handlebars, large wheels and thin "slick" tyres for speed and smoothness, but if used on uneven surfaces they are prone to punctures and don't handle well.

Touring Bikes

These are similar to road bikes, a more upright riding position, stronger frames, pannier racks and mudguards - ideal for longer journeys where you want to be able to look at the scenery and carry or tow heavy loads.

Mountain Bikes

These are primarily designed for off-road journeys. They have a strong frame, smaller wheels with fat, knobbly tyres and may come with front and/or rear suspension. For journeys on rough terrain they are ideal. However, for journeys on mainly flat surfaces the smaller wheels and knobbly tyres take more effort to pedal.

Hybrid Bikes

These are designed for everyday use. They combine the speed of a road bike with smooth "slick" tyres and the frame and gearing of a mountain bike for strength. They tend to have a more upright riding position, which can be more comfortable in urban conditions and on longer leisure rides.

Cross Bikes

A bicycle that shares road and mountain bike features. Traditionally used in Cyclocross racing. It typically has a frame similar to a road bike, drop handlebar and skinny but knobby tires with lots of clearance (for mud) between frame and wheels. Similar in a lot of ways to the Hybrid bike, manufacturers often provide mudguard and rack mounts making these a great commute / light touring / winter / allround bike choice (if you like drop bars!).  In the past they were always fitted with canti-lever brakes, disc braked versions are however becoming more and more common.

Folding Bikes

These are designed for people who want to transport their bikes on public transport or in cars as part of their journey. Folding bikes are designed to be compact and can fold down to be carried easily on trains, buses, the Underground and cars, or stored in small spaces. Their smaller wheels and fewer gears mean they can be slower and less comfortable to ride over long distances than full-size bikes and they tend to be fairly expensive.

Electrically Assisted Bikes

These bikes have a rechargeable battery and a small motor which you can switch on to help you when you need extra power e.g. up hill. They can be ideal if you find pedalling a bike too strenuous in some circumstances. They do not require any license, MOT or insurance to run but are generally rather heavy and more expensive to buy than a conventional bike.


Small-wheeled, small-framed bike designed for ramp skills, riding on/over road obstacles and short course track racing. Not really suited to road riding or longer distances due to the small wheels, lack of gears and cramped position.

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Last updated: 7 February 2012

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