How to choose a bike

If you’ve ever decided that you want to buy a bike, you will have quickly realised that it isn’t as straightforward as knowing that you want two wheels.  We’ve broken down the task to help you sort your gravel from your full susser in this article; how to choose a bike.

Before you start looking at bikes, try and think about what sort of cycling you want to do. What kind of rider are you?

How to choose a bike style

Mountain bikes

how to choose a bike

Very few of these bikes go anywhere near a mountain! These bikes are designed to tackle terrain that is considered unsuitable for other bicycles.  Great for adventure and leisure riding using mainly routes with limited vehicle access.

  • They have wide tyres for rugged terrain.  Mountain bike tyre sizes are 26″, 27.5″ and 29″. The most common is 29″ as it is a good all-purpose size.
  • Compared to other common bike types they have lower gears to help with climbing on uneven terrain.
  • They have a short, upright handlebar stem. This makes the bike more manoeuvrable on technical terrain. 
  • The handlebars are called “flat bars”.  Although they sometimes come slightly bent, they are called this because they are not curly like the handlebars on road bikes or racing bikes.
  • They have front suspension and sometimes rear suspension to make technical riding easier. This makes them heavier.
  • They will normally have hydraulic discs because they are the most powerful brakes on the market.
  • If you hate climbing hills but love going down the other side then maybe an electric version is for you.
  • If you want to use a mountain bike for getting away from it all and camping out in the boonies, you don’t even need to fit a rack. There are plenty of bike packing options available

Road bikes

how to choose a bike

The narrow tyres, an aerodynamic position and low weight mean that these bikes can travel fast on tarmac. Great for speed and distance. 

  • The width of road bike tyres is narrow compared to other bikes.  A narrow tyre takes more pressure than a wider one and less of the rubber makes contact with the riding surface. This makes less rolling resistance so the bike travels faster (providing the rider puts the effort in!) 
  • The gears are higher than mountain bikes because a road bike doesn’t have to tackle technical terrain and the higher gears aids speed if you’ve got the strength.
  • Most road bikes have a longer handlebar stem than mountain bikes or hybrids. This puts the rider in a more aerodynamic position so that even greater speed can be achieved. 
  • The bars on a road bike are called drop bars and offer the rider different hand positions to make the ride more efficient.
  • Because the wheels fit more closely to the frame, the brake callipers are smaller and lighter than those found on bikes with wider tyres.  They are notorious for not working as well as mountain bike brakes, so more and more road bikes are being fitted with much more powerful hydraulic disc brakes.
  • Some road bikes don’t have the space to fit accessories such as mudguards or racks. They are designed for day riding with as much speed and as little weight as possible.

Hybrid bikes

how to choose a bike

They can also be called, town bikes, trekking bikes, city bikes, utility bikes or urban bikes. These were developed after mountain bikes and are a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. Taking elements of both creates a more utility cycle that suits a larger range of riders. They are great for everyday commuting.

  • Because they suit so many cyclists, there aren’t any standards in wheel size or tyre width. Often they are the same diameter as a road bike to offer speed, but wider so that fatter tyres can be fitted for the rider to tackle rough tracks and paths.
  • They are often used for commuting and long distance trekking so many of them can be fitted with mudguards, racks and lights.
  • They tend to have a wider range of gears than a road bike and not as low as a mountain bike. The gears are higher than a mountain bike because the terrain is less rough than a mountain bike would traverse and lower than a road bike as speed isn’t the main factor.
  • Often fitted with an adjustable handlebar stem, hybrids are perfect for someone buying a bike for the first time and not sure how they want the position of their handlebars. Adjustable handlebar stems are too heavy for a road bike and not suitable for a mountain bike because the very rugged riding can put too much pressure on them and cause them to fail.
  • Hybrids use mountain bike type handlebars.  The road bike drop bars put the rider in a more aerodynamic position, but aren’t as comfortable for many people and are generally seen as more difficult to use in traffic.
  • As with most features on a hybrid there will be a range of different brakes. The flat bars mean that the same type of brake levers can be fitted as on a mountain bike. More hybrids are now coming with disc brakes.
  • Many come with front suspension.  They don’t have as much travel as mountain bike suspension forks as they are designed for comfort rather than performance.

How to choose a niche bike

Electric bikes or E-bikes

These are the new kids on the block. They have a motor and a rechargeable battery. The assist engages when the rider starts to pedal. They are a popular choice for people who cycle longer distances or who live in or travel to hilly areas. 

Gravel bikes/ cyclocross

These look like road bikes, but are more robust. Because of the wider tyres they can be used on a mixture of terrain. They will often have clearance for mudguards and racks and are sometimes seen as a modern touring bike.

Folding bikes

As well as being a convenient size to fit into a car or on public transport, they are also useful for flat dwellers.  If you are considering buying one, it is well worth getting specialist advice.

Cargo bikes

These are robust bikes with the ability to carry heavy loads. They are useful for both businesses and families as they can carry cargo and children. Nowadays they are electric assist. If you are considering buying one you will need quite a large space to store it.

Touring bikes

These bikes are light enough to make cycling all day a pleasure, but strong enough to carry equipment to allow the rider to be self-sufficient for as long as they want to be on the road. They generally come with drop bars to offer different hand positions and are already fitted with mudguards and a rear rack and sometimes a front rack.

How to choose a bike based on cost

When you have decided on what style of bike you like, you can look in your wallet!

  • Budget bikes – These bikes have a steel frame and mainly steel components. They are fitted with basic brakes and gears. Get this type of bike if budget rather than weight is a priority.
how to choose a bike
  • Entry level bikes – Thanks to the aluminium frame, they are lighter than the budget bikes. The gears are the next step up offering better shifting. They are fitted with good quality rim brakes or disc brakes.  These bikes will suit casual riders

  • Mid-range – The frame and finishing kit are made out of lightweight aluminium or lower grade carbon. They are equipped with quality gears and hydraulic disc brakes. These bikes are designed for fitness and sport riders. 
  • High-end – The frame is made using higher grade carbon.  These bikes are fitted with the best components and lightest finishing kit. They are equipped with super light rim brakes or powerful hydraulic disc brakes. Top of the range transmission gives the most accurate and efficient shifting. These bikes are for competitive riders.

It is worth noting that:

  • The price of the bike doesn’t necessarily reflect the durability of the components. If anything they will wear out more quickly than bikes with cheaper components because they are built for performance and lightness. Also those less durable parts cost more to replace, so remember if you want to get a bike at the top end of your budget, repairs in the future will cost more. 
  • Spending more on a bike will probably make it more sustainable.  Keeping on top of servicing and repairing parts as they wear will mean that you will be more likely to let that bike give you years of service rather than consigning it to landfill because it is cheaper to buy a new one.

How to choose a bike brand

Every bike brand has its protagonists…and its antagonists. If you have a brand that you really like for any reason, then buy one of their bikes. If you can’t get what you want, then don’t give up. Broaden your range of brand choice. There are many bike brands that will tick all your boxes. 

Not sure which brand to choose? It doesn’t have to matter. From an objective standpoint, there isn’t one brand that stands out from all the rest.

How to choose a bike size

Most models of bike come in a range of sizes.  We have a great blog that explains sizing and how to find the correct fit:  ‘how to size a bike’.

There are loads of bikes out there. We hope that you enjoy choosing the right one for you and that our article on how to choose a bike has helped make the process easier. 

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