Your Many Bicycle Choices

In my previous post I wrote that the first equipment question you should ask is not “What bike should I ride?” but “Why do I want to ride?” Today I’ll review the many bicycle choices available to you.

A picture of a bicycle shop
Photo by bradleygee

When I started commuting to work, my bicycle choice was a cheap chain-store mountain bike. I hit the road and soon learned that knobby tires and poor construction provided me with a good workout (which was my goal) but were not fun to ride. After nine months of commuting that bike literally fell apart and, using the knowledge I had gained, I bought a much nicer mountain bike with narrower, smoother tires and slightly different geometry and rode it for four years (it is now my backup bike). A few years ago, my office moved from the top of a hill down to the city center and I had learned enough to recognize an opportunity to change bikes. I now ride a purpose-built commuter of solid steel with road tires and road gearing. It is a joy to ride.

As you contemplate what you want out of your commute and what to ride in order to get it, you will face a lot of choices. Here is a brief description of the types of bikes available to you, and an even briefer description is contained in the graphic at the right.

A list of the bikes you can choose to rideBMX: I’ll say it flat out—This is not a commuter bike. It will tire you out, it will make your knees sore, you may not be able to put fenders or cargo racks on it, and its size makes it harder to see in traffic.

Cruiser: They are fun and they look great; they are also comfortable, smooth riding, and usually have fenders. However, cruisers are wide, they don’t handle well, they don’t climb hills well and they will wear you out. Some newer cruisers come with gears, but the components are usually cheap.

Cyclocross: These bikes are purpose built for cross country racing. They are light (because they need to be carried a lot), they are rugged, and can be ridden on both dirt and pavement. They can be pricey and may be overbuilt for your needs.

Electric. Bikes with small electric motors make hill climbing and headwinds into non-issues. Anecdotal evidence says they also get used more than regular bikes, they are pricey, though.

Folder: The most common folding bikes have small wheels and fold down small enough to put under a chair. They are great for multi-modal commuting and can be easily kept in your office.

Hybrid: Basically a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike; it’s not particularly good for going off road or for racing, but it can be a fine commuting bike.

Mountain Bike: These are common and rugged, but they tend to be heavy and mountain bike tires are far less efficient than road tires.

Recumbent: The word means “lying down,” and these are often used by people with back problems. These bikes have a low center of gravity and are arguably safer, but they are hard to see in traffic and are not as maneuverable. They also tend to be expensive.

Road Bikes: These are light and are intended to be ridden fast. They can be very expensive and require a fair amount of maintenance when used as a commuter.

Single Speed/Fixed Gear: Single speed bikes don’t have the option of changing gears. Fixies don’t allow coasting (when the wheel is turning, the pedals are moving). These designs are simple and allow ease of maintenance, but make it hard to climb hills or ride into headwinds.

Touring: These bikes are purpose built for going long distances and carrying lots of stuff. They can be great commuting bikes but can be pricey.

You have many great bicycle choices and your local bike shop is a great resource for matching your needs to your equipment.

Question: What kind of bike interests you and why?

3 thoughts on “Your Many Bicycle Choices

  1. 1987 Cannondale ST500. A great touring bike I outfitted with a rack and panniers and some beefier road wheels and tires.

    1. I’m amazed at how many 70s and 80s vintage bikes I’m seeing around town. I wonder where they have been (my 1980 Schwinn touring bike was stolen decades ago).

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