Fitness Articles

Tips for Buying the Right Bicycle

An Introduction to Styles, Frames and Sizes

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Whether you want to help the environment, cut down on your gasoline expenses, or simply exercise in the great outdoors, cycling is a great way to get fit and have fun at the same time. And it’s one of the fastest growing leisure activities in the United States, where 1.3 million adult bicycles were sold in 2004 alone.

But buying the right bike isn’t as simple as visiting your local "big box" retail store. First, you must think about exactly where you will be riding and how often. Is comfort your biggest concern or do you care more about how the bike looks? Will you be taking leisurely rides around the countryside or are competitive races more your speed? Whatever you decide, there is a bike that fits. Here are the six most popular types of bicycles for adults, along with details that will help you pick the best one for your needs.

Mountain bikes ($400+) are rugged. They're built with stronger components and frames than other bikes because they're intended for off-road riding on hills and over rocks and logs. The knobby tires and suspension systems on these bikes give them better traction and shock absorption on this varied terrain, but you can ride a mountain bike on-road too. With most mountain bikes you can expect: 26-inch wheels, 21-27 gears, a forward-leaning position when seated (which can be uncomfortable, especially if you have lower back problems), and lower gears for easier hill climbing.

Trail bikes and light-duty mountain bikes ($200+) are similar to mountain bikes, but a little heavier, less rugged, and less expensive. Meant for trail and road riding, these bikes can't handle the rough terrain that true mountain bikes can. These bikes are ideal for a casual riders such as college students, commuters, and recreational riders. Most trail bikes will have: 26-inch wheels and 21-24 gears.

Comfort bikes ($200+) are similar to both mountain and trail bikes, but are designed to be more comfortable. With a shorter distance between the seat and the handlebars, you'll sit in a more upright position on a comfort bike (which is good for people who have lower back problems). Expect a smooth ride on a comfort bike, as most will have: 26-inch wheels, 7-24 gears, and other comfort-enhancing features like wide, soft saddles (seats), wide pedals, and shock-absorbing seat posts, handlebar stems, and front forks.

Touring bikes and road bikes ($400+) are aerodynamic, lightweight and fast—very different from the bikes described so far. They are built for pavement (on-road) riding, so they have smooth and narrow tires, skinny saddles, and "turned-down" handlebars. These bikes are ideal for long-distance riders who want more speed and intense workouts. Both touring and road bikes tend to have 27-inch (700C) wheels and 14-27 gears. You can expect most touring models to have a longer wheelbase, greater shock-absorbency, and a variety of ways to attach carrying racks and bags. In contrast, road bikes usually have a slightly shorter wheelbase (for faster response) and weigh less.
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

  • I too found this article poorly written.Yes recumbents were not mentioned BUT neither were any traditional touring bikes. Not everyone wants (or NEEDS) a 27 speed monstrosity.. Not to mention I have never seen a STEEL framed bike rust. They have paint for a reason and if you don't want to use some common sense (like occasionally cleaning your bike and NOT leaving it out in the rain or all winter) then ,yes, of course its going to succumb to the elements just like anything else. - 6/27/2015 1:48:46 PM
  • I've been looking to get back into biking. I have never been so confused by the tons of styles and the range of prices it makes my head spin. Gone are the days of going to Local Bike S hop and picking out a Schwinn in a color you like and riding it home (unfortunately).

    I think it is very important to go to a qualified bike shop and discuss what you want the bike for and how much do you want to spend. Most bike manufacturers make styles that only are for the BBS not independent bike shops. These bikes are less expensive, you have to assemble and there is really not much support once purchased.

    I've been to about four LBS and finally tried out a bike, it's been years and of course I fell when I tried to stop with the very sensitive hand brakes of today's bikes. I now have to wait until hand heals before I can continue my quest. Make sure that the LBS will go out with you when trying bikes if you haven't been on one in years to make sure you know how to use the brakes unless you are getting a Cruiser which have the good old fashion back pedal brakes. You should be fit to the bike you get - bikes are usually an investment so they should fit your body, get a lock and helmet.

    I can't wait to get back to the shop and complete my trial run on a bike. - 6/10/2015 9:15:03 AM
  • I have several health problems, I can only bike and swim for exercise. I bought a wonderful bike that's Electric! It gets me out there people, on the trails and into the woods and on the beach and every where! I love it, and it's so nice to have this bike because my knee's or my ankle can give out on me at any time. With this bike I don't worry about how I am going to make it back to the car or home. I love riding so much my husband had made a carrier for our dog (Westie) and we take him with us and he loves it! Happy biking - 1/19/2015 9:11:11 PM
  • A good bike is more than you think. If you really want to cycle, the old adage of 'buy cheap buy twice' holds very true. I have a Cyclocross bike for winter riding. It looks like a road bike but has wider wheels and knobbly tyres. It's great for trails, good for the road and it's a tough all rounder. I have a road bike, with skinny wheels for munching those miles in the nicer weather. I spent a lot of money on them but am a serious cyclist.
    When we come across new cyclists, here in the UK, we recommend that they spend not less than 300 on a bike. The cheap ones really are cheap and nasty and do not give a good ride experience, which is why so many people start and very quickly stop cycling.
    Cheap bikes are heavy and clunky. Really nasty and off putting. A slightly better quality bike will be fun to ride and last for ages. - 12/31/2014 12:19:07 PM
  • There are more options than just these. Currently the comeback are the City bike and the cruiser. There are also ridiculous bikes as well. Look into local bike clubs and find the one that works for you. Also remember that for daily commutes a bike with fenders and a chainguard will allow you to ride in your work clothes, or modified work clothes. I love biking in heels and a skirt. - 9/22/2014 1:00:06 PM
  • I have been riding a retro men's cruiser for years. One thing I tell anyone that is thinking about getting into biking, if you do not love the bike moment you see it, or the moment you sit in the saddle, you are likely not going to ride it. My bike is a huge beast, 40lbs! But the second I plop into the saddle a smile comes on my face and nothing can be wrong while I ride it! So loving the bike is a key factor to making it part of your life. - 9/22/2014 12:46:54 PM
  • I'm still trying to give my bile a "type" title!! Its a TREK and I paid abov $400 for it!! Will have to dig around for the specs. I have the manual but misplaced thewarranty etc etc.
    Thanks for the good article. - 8/23/2014 11:53:44 AM
  • I'm old school and am more interested in a coaster bike. I don't want to fool with gears and never liked brakes on the handle bars. - 4/6/2014 11:04:10 PM
  • Adjustable handlebars are a must for those of us with chronic neck and shoulder pain. - 12/20/2013 12:12:35 AM
  • You left out one very important style of bike - the recumbent. They come in 2 and 3 wheelers. I have a two wheeler and love mine. I ride so much more than I did on my road bike. - 7/13/2012 1:49:01 PM
    I agree with many of the preceding comments that much more thought should have gone into this article. Failure to mention recumbents was the thing that stood out to me. However, there were a number of other issues that could have been mentioned that were not, many already noted. I think SAFETY should have been stressed much more. Having a properly fitting helmet and wearing it are essential. I had two accidents this summer that would have been severe if I had not been wearing a helmet. But there are many other issues in terms of proper clothing, obeying traffic rules, and proper riding techniques that should be addressed or referred to another article for further info. - 11/9/2011 1:26:08 PM
  • @ Beatletot - for a triathlon you would want a time trial bike OR a very aero road bike. Cervelo ( makes the fastest time trial and road bikes on the market today.
    As an avid cyclist (3,000 - 4,000 miles per year), I was hugely disappointed in this article. It was not well written nor researched. I'd like to know when the authors threw a leg over a bike last. The biggest tips for buying a bicycle is to go to a Local Bike Shop (LBS) not Wal-Mart or Target, Be prepared to spend money and get a proper bike fit from a certified bike fit professional - and make sure part of that fit includes a saddle fitting too. There are bikes for every budget, but when you pay more you get more, just like with a car. The lighter the bike, the more comfotable it will be and you'll see an equally higher price too.

    Oh and learn to wear a helmet properly. They DO NOT sit, tipped back onto the rear of one's head. Anyway that is my .02. - 11/9/2011 12:34:26 PM
  • Not only are recumbents a niche bike they tend to be extremely expensive. Usually this is sought by someone who for various health and comfort reasons just cannot make any of the other types of bikes "work" for themselves.

    It is OH-SO-IMPORTANT to work with your local bike shop in choosing a bike as they may help you explore issues and angles you may not have thought of in selecting your bike.

    For instance I thought I would want a hybrid bike because I thought I would be too uncomfortable with a road / touring bike with drop-down handlebars. However after discussing with the LBS and other experienced cyclists my desire to cycle longer distances (50+ miles) I received much encouragement to consider a road bike with drop-down handlebars. Taking the plunge I can now say in hindsight that this was SUCH a smart move! My hands used to go numb on my old mountain bike. With the various hand positions offered on my drop-down handlebars I no longer have this problem. PLUS the improvement in SPEED! Woo hoo!

    We each have our own personal goals, preferences and motivations which draw us to cycling. Your LBS will tremendously help you begin to hone in on this and make a bike choice that best suits your needs.

    Don - 11/9/2011 8:32:41 AM
  • Same as several other people who have commented, I feel it was a huge let-down that recumbent bikes were completely ignored. The two-wheeled recumbents seem a little scary (how do you balance when laying back?), but you learn how to do it. The trikes are incredible - so comfortable and easy to ride.

    What better way to ride over 2,000 miles in 2 months than on recumbent bikes? Several of my family members just did that! They put in some long, hard days and it was really cold to ride bikes over mountaintops, but they made it through everything. - 8/11/2011 7:27:06 PM
  • Hey..I looked at this article hoping I could find some type of home stationary bike to help burn calories and to replace the bike I have at home..which loosing it's just...but quick..thanks a lot for this useless article..I guess I have to spend time.."Googleing it..ooops...spell check...and this artical...check!! - 1/15/2011 12:32:48 PM

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