What type of bike should I buy?

Not sure whether to get a road bike, hybrid or mountain bike? Read our guide

Beginner cyclist? Confused by all the different types of bike available? Can't decide between a mountain bike or road bike? Fret not: here we run through all the varieties of bicycle (including hybrid, fixie, tourer etc) out there so you can choose the best ride for you.

Your choice of bike will depend on your own tastes, and the kind of distance and terrain you want to ride; there are many different types of cycling. So whether you’re an urban commuter, a lightning quick road racer, an off-road trail blaster, downhill nutter, fixed-wheel fanatic, towpath explorer or regal roadster, there are plenty of bikes out there for you.

Hybrid bike

The ‘hybrid’ tag covers a variety of flat-bar bikes that are versatile and reasonably fast

Hybrids are flat-bar bikes. They often combine the speed of narrower 700C wheels with the upright riding position of a mountain bike, but the details vary a lot. You’ll find road bike-style calliper brakes and mountain bike-style disc brakes in this category, plus bikes with racks and guards, and stripped-down machines that are essentially racers but for the bar. If you want to go quickly on good roads but you prefer a more upright position or don’t get on with drop handlebars, this is the way to go. The only major downside with a flat-bar bike is that you’re not as aerodynamic as you are on a race bike and therefore not quite as quick.

  • PROS: Fairly quick, versatile, upright
  • CONS: Can be almost as fragile as race bikes

Road bike

Speedy, light and seriously fun, race bikes are perfect for covering long distances quickly

Light, fast and fashionable, road racing bikes have become the street transport of choice for a generation of riders. A road bike will cover long distances at a cracking pace although the skinny tyres and light wheels that help make them fast can also make them vulnerable to damage from kerbs and potholes. Thieves love them too, so budget for a big chunky lock. For commuting, you’ll need a light, stable backpack as few road bikes have carrying capacity, and you’re probably going to get wet when it rains – Crud Products Roadracer mudguards solve that problem for most road bikes.

  • PROS: Quick, efficient and fun
  • CONS: Can be fragile, light tyres puncture easily and the weather and and thieves are against you

Mountain bike

Mountain bikes are built to roll over truly bumpy terrain but can be heavy and slow

Their upright riding positions, bombproof frames and the option to take them off-road have long made mountain bikes a popular choice for leisure cyclists. Many riders also find the power of typical MTB disc brakes reassuring. But the knobbly tyres that make them great for rough terrain make them slow on tarmac, often negating the advantage of the light frame materials and wheels that many boast. For riding on the road, the solution is to fit slick tyres. Steer clear of full-suspension if your ambitions don’t involve proper off-road riding, otherwise you’ll be paying for technology you never use. Invest in a good lock too. Best for off-road cycling and mountain biking, of course.

  • PROS: Great brakes, upright position, bombproof, versatile
  • CONS: Heavy, slow on tarmac, eye-catching to thieves

Touring bike

Excellent multifunctional choice that will work for commuting and leisure riding

Possibly the most practical bike for simply getting from A to B, tourers come with mudguards, racks for panniers (allow for a good set – fully waterproof, roll-top designs are best – and you can easily carry a few days’ groceries) and tougher, fatter tyres than pure road bikes. The category covers a range of bikes including ‘fast road’ or audax bikes – essentially road bikes with room for fatter tyres and mudguards – and cyclo-cross bikes, which usually have mudguard eyes unless they’re high-end models. The riding position is usually less bum-up than on a road bike so vision is better, and tourers are great for weekends away or longer trips if you get a taste for adventure.

  • PROS: Tough, lots of load-carrying capacity, still fairly quick
  • CONS: Not quite race-bike quick

Fixed wheel/gear bike

Achingly hip, fixies are fast and simple to maintain but you’ll need some riding skill

Ultra-minimal and ultra-hip, fixies are derived from track bikes. A true fixie has no freewheel, so you have to pedal if you’re moving. That brings an unprecedented degree of connection and control once you get used to it. Until then, you have to remind yourself not to try to coast or the bike will spit you down the road. Fixies are definitely not for beginners, but are lightning-fast in the hands of an accomplished rider. They're possibly the best bikes for commuting. This is what makes them popular with cycle couriers, who also like their reliability – a legal minimum fixie with just a front brake has almost nothing on it to go wrong.

  • PROS: Light, simple, quick
  • CONS: Some skill required

Roadster bike

A classic bike that will get you and your shopping from A to B – but it may take a while...

The roadster bike still does a sterling job of providing short-range transportation in flat towns. What’s appealing about this style of bike is its simplicity. There’s very little to go wrong if you’ve just got one gear, and hub gear versions with up to 11 gears are still largely bombproof. Typical roadsters have chainguards and flat pedals, so you can hop aboard in your regular clothes. Dynamo lighting and a lock are often built in, so a roadster is a one-stop purchase. They shrug off potholed streets too, while an upright riding position gives you a commanding view of traffic. The downsides? They aren’t light or fast.

  • PROS: Practical, elegant, indestructible
  • CONS: Heavy and slow

Electric bike

Vroom! Hilly or long rides are a doddle when you have a motor backing you up

With the boost of a 250W motor, electric bikes are great for commuters who need to arrive at work in a less sweaty state or if you’re not confident about your fitness. Electric bikes limited to 15mph can be used on the road without a helmet or licence – they’re bikes as far as the law is concerned. And most of them are designed to be comfortable and easy to live with thanks to flat bars, mudguards and luggage capacity. There’s a price and weight premium over an equivalent regular bike for the battery, motor and control electronics. However, as the technology develops, both prices and weights are coming down.

  • PROS: Easy to ride, comfortable
  • CONS: Recharging, heavier and pricier than a regular bike

Folding bike

Folding bikes are ideal for short rides and can be carried and stored anywhere

Best suited to short rides – especially where storage space at either end is scarce – and mixed-mode travel, folding bikes are phenomenally popular among big-city commuters. The most compact ones will fit under your desk and they can be carried onto a train or bus even in rush hour. A folder won’t ride like a conventional bike because of the necessary compromises but the best modern folders are surprisingly nippy.

  • PROS: Convenient to store and carry
  • CONS: Slower than a big-wheeled bike

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