13 Types of Bikes Explained: How to Choose the Perfect Bike for You

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With so many types of bikes to choose from, finding the best one for your situation can be confusing, even frustrating at times. 

If this sounds familiar, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, we discuss the 13 types of bikes, what each type is designed for, what makes them different, and the pros and cons of each type.

But before we begin, it’s important to be clear on why you want to buy a bike and how you plan to use it. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What type of riding will you be doing?
  • Is comfort or performance more important?
  • Do you want multiple bikes or one that can do it all?
  • What’s your budget?

The answers to these questions will provide the necessary clarity to put you on the path to finding the perfect bike.

So if you’re ready, let’s dive in!

1. Road Bikes

Road bikes are the type of bike used in competitive cycling events such as the Tour de France. juananbarros/Adobe Stock

Road bikes are designed to be ridden on smooth paved surfaces at high speeds. 

Their more aggressive frame geometry places the rider’s legs over the pedals and stretches the upper body into a more aerodynamic riding position.

Their most recognizable feature is the drop handlebars. They provide three hand positions for riding: the hoods, drops, and tops. The hoods are the most common due to the location of the brake levers and gear shifters.

Road bikes also feature a lightweight frame, smooth narrow tires, and a wide gear range that allows riders to tackle steep climbs and attack downhill descents.

Although rim braking setups used to be the standard, more and more are transitioning to higher-performing disc braking systems.

Road bikes are great for riders who ride solely on roads and bike paths and are focused on covering distance quickly and efficiently.

Pros: Fast; efficient; great for tackling hills and steep inclines

Cons: Not designed for off-road riding; lightweight wheels and narrow tires are more susceptible to damage; aggressive riding posture can be uncomfortable to the casual rider

2. Mountain Bikes

Although mountain bikes can be ridden on paved surfaces, they are best suited for off-road riding. kegfire/Adobe Stock

Mountain bikes are designed for off-road riding, such as trails, fields, forests, and rugged mountainous terrain. 

Their frame geometry, flat handlebars, and suspension systems (shock-absorbing) are designed to help cushion blows and improve balance and handling over rough, uneven surfaces. They come in three different suspension system setups:

  • Full-suspension: both front and rear suspension
  • Hardtails: front suspension only
  • Rigid: no suspension

Mountain bikes also feature large wide tires with thick tread patterns and puncture-protected sidewalls, powerful disc brakes for increased stopping power and performance at higher downhill speeds, and a low gear ratio for better acceleration and maneuvering at slow speeds.

They’re great for riders who aren’t concerned with speed but are focused on riding and climbing more difficult, uneven terrain (large bumps, rocks, roots, ruts, etc.).

Pros: Tough; excellent handling and performance on rough terrain; comfortable upright riding position

Cons: Heavy; slower and less efficient on smooth surfaces; not designed for riding long distances

3. Gravel Bikes

Gravel riding has become one of the most popular forms of cycling in the U.S. franckreporter/iStock

Gravel bikes are designed for both on and off-road riding.

While their drop handlebars make them fast on flat surfaces, their longer, more relaxed frame geometry delivers comfort and better handling on rougher terrain.

Gravel bikes also feature wider treaded tires designed to be more puncture-resistant and off-road capable, disc brakes for more stopping power and improved performance, and a lower gear ratio similar to a mountain bike.

Additionally, they come with multiple mounting points for carrying bags and other equipment, making them a good option for commuting, light touring, and bikepacking.

Gravel bikes are great for riders who want a bike that is quick on paved surfaces but capable of handling moderately rough terrain such as dirt, gravel, trails, singletrack, etc.

Pros: Quick; extremely versatile; comfortable when riding long distances on paved surfaces or loose, rocky terrain

Cons: Can be difficult to find due to high demand; more expensive compared to other types of bikes

4. Hybrid Bikes

A hybrid bike is a good option for individuals who prioritize comfort and versatility. goodluz/Adobe Stock

Often thought of as the midpoint between road and mountain bikes, hybrid bikes are designed for comfort and versatility.

Similar to mountain bikes, their flat handlebars and frame geometry deliver a more comfortable upright riding position.

Like road bikes, they sport large narrow tires but include enough frame clearance to accept wider tires for off-road traction.

Additionally, most hybrid bikes use a disc braking system, have a similar gearing setup as road bikes, and provide mounting points for cargo racks, baskets, panniers, and fenders.

They’re great for individual that are new to cycling as well as recreational riders and commuters who want something that performs well on smooth surfaces but can also handle rough pavement and light off-road terrain.

Pros: Affordable; comfortable; an excellent general-purpose bike

Cons: Typically heavier and slower than a road bike; not designed for high performance for either on or off-road riding

5. Electric Bikes

Although some electric bikes come with a self-propelling motor, most require you to pedal in order to receive any assistance. Mr. Music/Adobe Stock

Also known as “e-bikes,” electric bikes are designed to provide assistance when riding.

They utilize a silent electric motor powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to provide pedal assistance. Certain types of e-bikes can even reach speeds up to 28 mph (45 km per hour).

Additionally, electric bikes give you the ability to ride faster than the pedal-assisted caps, but only under your own power. Above the speed cap, the motor is no longer allowed to help.

Electric bikes are available for almost every type of bike and cycling discipline. You can even convert a non-assisted bike to an electric bike with the help of a conversion kit.

They’re great for riders who enjoy riding but don’t necessarily enjoy the physical exertion that comes with it or for those who want to ride farther, longer, and faster.

Pros: Allow you to ride faster and tackle hills with less effort; are a good solution for older individuals or those struggling with injuries; a great alternative to cars in urban areas

Cons: Requires regular recharging; heavier than its non-electric counterpart; significantly more expensive than other types of bikes; maintenance can require more specialized expertise

6. Touring Bikes

In addition to multi-day rides, touring bikes can be a good option for commuting as well. jfjacobsz/Adobe Stock

Touring bikes are designed for long-distance or multi-day rides while carrying large amounts of gear.

Their most notable feature is the mounting bolts around the frame and fork for attaching bags, panniers, racks, fenders, and other equipment.

Although heavy and not aerodynamic, their frame is built to provide strength, comfort, and stability while carrying heavy loads over long distances. They use wider tires that allow for riding on different types of terrain as well as support for the extra weight.

Drop handlebars are the norm, although it’s not uncommon to see flat or butterfly setups as well.

Touring bikes also utilize disc brakes for better performance on steep descents and in different weather conditions and have a wider gear range for carrying heavy loads up hills.

Pros: Strong frame capable of carrying lots of cargo; durable components designed to last; provides a comfortable, upright, and stable riding position

Cons: Heavy; although capable of riding on loose terrain, they aren’t best suited for off-road riding; generally not ideal for other types of riding

7. Cyclocross Bikes

Cyclocross bikes are required to meet specific UCI rules and regulations related to their design. Sébastien Delaunay/Adobe Stock

While similar to gravel bikes, cyclocross bikes are designed specifically for the racing discipline of cyclocross.

They’re built with lightweight frames that are easy to dismount and carry and sport an aggressive racing geometry designed to make them agile through tight corners.

Cyclocross bikes also feature drop handlebars, a smaller gear range due to less varied terrain during races, and wider, softer tires with an aggressive tread pattern for more traction when tackling dirt, grass, and muddy conditions.

Pros: Lightweight; designed for speed and agility when riding off-road; a dedicated solution for a specific type of racing

Cons: Expensive; not as versatile or comfortable over long distances as a gravel bike; not designed for extreme off-road environments

8. Time Trial/Triathlon Bikes

Although similar to a road bike, time trial and triathlon bikes are heavier and more aerodynamic. pavel1964/Adobe Stock

Time trial and triathlon bikes are designed to be as fast and aerodynamic as possible.

They feature a steep seat tube angle and aerobars that move the rider into a more aerodynamic position by placing their arms together and out in front of them.

To further improve aerodynamics, they incorporate smooth skinny tires with rims that have added carbon sections and brakes integrated into the fork at the front and hidden under the bottom bracket at the back.

Whereas time trial bikes are focused solely on speed, triathlon bikes are designed to put riders in a position that places less pressure on their hips to minimize the fatigue on their hamstrings, making it easier to run off the bike.

Triathlon bikes also provide mounts for food and liquid storage.

These types of bikes are great for riders participating in the sports of triathlon or time trialing.

Pros: Fast; extremely aerodynamic; a dedicated solution for certain types of racing

Cons: Heavy; uncomfortable; not as stable as other types of bikes; expensive to buy and maintain

9. Fixed-Gear Bikes

Fixed-gear bikes are a simple, low-maintenance option. David/Adobe Stock

Often referred to as “fixies,” fixed-gear bikes are designed to be as minimalistic as possible. 

Their defining feature is a single gear without a freewheel mechanism, which means you can’t coast. If the bike is moving, the pedals continue to rotate.

Although some don’t have brakes (which is illegal in most cities), most incorporate only the front brake. You’ll also find fixed-gear bikes in drop and flat handlebar setups.

Additionally, their lack of complex components makes them incredibly reliable.

Fixed-gear bikes are great for commuters, bike messengers, and riders who live in large urban areas where you rarely need to worry about speed or climbing steep hills. They’re also the required type of bike for racing in a velodrome.

Pros: Affordable; lightweight; easy to maintain; improved leg strength because you’re unable to coast or drop into a lower gear

Cons: Requires some skill and getting used to due to the lack of a freewheel; challenging to climb hills; aren’t suitable for off-road riding

10. Cruiser Bikes

As their name implies, cruiser bikes are a fun and relaxed way to cruise around town. progressman/Adobe Stock

Cruiser bikes are designed for relaxed and leisurely riding on flat paved surfaces.

They have curved frames, a relaxed, laid-back frame geometry, wide flared handlebars, and a large padded saddle that provide a comfortable upright seating posture.

Cruiser bikes also use fat “balloon” tires that are puncture-resistant and help increase overall comfort.

Most versions feature single-speed drivetrains and coaster brakes, which require you to pedal backward to stop.

They’re great for riders who enjoy low-stress rides, sightseeing, cruising around town, or riding along the oceanfront.

Pros: Affordable; comfortable; low maintenance; great for older individuals

Cons: Heavy; not designed for speed or performance; not good on hills or bumpy terrain; not meant for off-road riding, even on soft dirt trails

11. Recumbent Bikes

Recumbent bikes are a great option for older individuals. Benedikt/Adobe Stock

Recumbent bikes are designed for comfort and support.

Their low, long design and full-size seat with backrest put riders in a comfortable reclined riding position. This setup makes them the most ergonomic type of bike when it comes to comfort and power output.

Additionally, they’re more aerodynamic because of the recumbent position and have a shorter braking distance due to their low center of gravity.

Recumbent bikes also come in different configurations, including long and short wheelbases, two, three, and four-wheel varieties, and under and above-seat steering setups.

They’re great for riders dealing with back, neck, knee, or other joint issues or just looking for a different type of cycling experience.

Pros: Extremely comfortable; faster than conventional bikes; put less strain on the rider’s body compared to traditional bikes

Cons: Expensive; can be challenging to pedal up hills; difficult to transport; harder for the rider to see and be seen by oncoming traffic

12. Folding Bikes

Folding bikes are extremely popular for commuting in urban areas. rnophoto/Adobe Stock

As their name implies, folding bikes are designed to fold into a compact form for easy transportation and storage.

Their frame geometry and flat handlebars provide a comfortable upright riding position. 

Most folding bikes have a single gear and use a 16 or 20-inch wheel.

On average, they weigh between 20 and 30 lbs, with the more expensive folding bikes on the lower end of this range.

They fold quickly and smoothly, allowing them to comfortably fit in smaller spaces, packed inside a bag, taken on a plane, or carried onto a subway, bus, or train.

Folding bikes are an excellent option for commuters, travelers, and individuals with limited storage space.

Pros: Easy to store; can be taken on public transport; less likely to be stolen

Cons: Not as fast as traditional bikes; challenging to climb hills; not designed for long rides or off-roading

13. BMX Bikes

BMX bikes are best known for their freestyling and tricking riding capabilities. Vasyl/Adobe Stock

Named after the cycling discipline of bicycle motocross, BMX bikes are designed for three sub-disciplines: racing, freestyling (trick and stunt riding), and jumping.

They feature a small rigid frame with high-rise handlebars, 20-inch wheels, and a single-speed cassette, allowing you to pedal forward and backward. Freestyle models often have rear and front stunt pegs as well.

Although BMX bikes typically don’t have brakes, some may include a front brake to help with performing tricks.

Pros: Affordable; low maintenance due to the lack of complex components; designed for thrills and fun

Cons: Not versatile; not designed for riding long distances or at high speeds

Next Steps

Now that you understand the different types of bikes, what each type is designed for, what makes them different, and their pros and cons, hopefully you’re ready to dive a little deeper. If so, check out our buying guides for bikes, and we’ll help you get one step closer to finding the perfect bike!

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best type of bike for a beginner?

This ultimately depends on the type of riding an individual plans on doing. However, in general, a good option for someone just getting into cycling is a hybrid bike.

Since hybrid bikes combine some of the best features of road and mountain bikes, they’re extremely versatile. They give riders the ability to tackle different types of terrain, provide a comfortable upright riding position, and are lightweight and easy to ride. They’re also affordable, offering a price point that’s accessible for new riders on a budget.

What types of bikes are good for older individuals?

This will depend on each individual’s specific needs and physical condition. For older individuals, comfort, stability, and ease of use are generally the primary considerations. Types of bikes that may be appropriate in these cases:

Cruiser Bikes: Since they’re designed with wider tires, they provide more stability and balance. They also deliver a more comfortable riding position.
Recumbent Bikes: Their reclined position distributes a rider’s weight more evenly, reducing pressure on the back and joints. This makes them an ideal choice for someone with lower back issues or limited flexibility.
Electric Bikes: The pedal assist feature makes riding easier. Because of this, they’re a great solution for people who have limited physical ability or just want a little extra help from time to time.

Is it OK to ride a mountain bike on the road?

Mountain bikes can absolutely be ridden on the road. Not only does their upright riding position provide a more comfortable ride than a road bike, but they’re also better able to deal with bumps, potholes, and other imperfections found when riding on paved surfaces.

However, there are drawbacks. Mountain bikes are heavier, less aerodynamic, and feature larger tires than road bikes. All of which results in them being much slower and harder to pedal on pavement. You’ll also find that maintaining your speed on a mountain bike is more difficult and requires more effort.

What’s the difference between a road bike and a hybrid bike?

Road bikes and hybrid bikes are designed for different purposes and offer distinct features. Road bikes are built specifically for speed and efficiency on paved roads. Whereas hybrid bikes typically feature a more upright, relaxed riding position and wider tires with better traction for various types of terrain. Hybrid bikes are a great option for recreational riders or commuters who want versatility and comfort, while road bikes are geared toward riders focused on performance and speed.

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Hey there! I'm Michael, founder and chief editor of Bicycle Review Guru. I've been an endurance sports junkie the majority of my adult life and fell in love with the sport of cycling when training for my first Half Ironman triathlon over 10 years ago. My passion is sharing my knowledge and expertise to help you get the most out of your cycling journey.

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