Why are there so many different types of bikes?
Updated: Mar 23, 2022
A phrase you might hear when chatting with many cyclists is ‘N+1’. This term represents the correct number of bikes a cyclist should have, where N is the current number of bikes they own! But why have so many bikes, surely a bike is just a bike? Of course not and this can lead to confusion with people new to cycling. So we decided to create a series of articles for cycling beginners to explain the different types of bikes and what they are best suited to.
We will start with a brief guide to some of the more common bikes you will see such as road bikes, mountain bikes etc. In later posts we will share further guides outlining the different sub-categories within each type of bike.
In the past decade, the range of bikes has expanded from a few basic styles (e.g. road, mountain, city) to now include all manner of niches and categories-within-categories as bike manufacturers diversify their offerings to appeal to the many ways that people enjoy riding. It may seem like marketing bull to try and get people to buy more bikes but there are some significant differences between different types of bikes. With so many types to choose from, it can be difficult for the cycling newbie to make a sensible decision. So here is our brief guide…..
Everyone is probably familiar with a road bike, or a racer as some people may call them. The older ones amongst us may still call them a ‘ten speed’; although my first racer was just a 5 speed, but that was progression from my 3 speed Chopper. Road bikes are lightweight with drop handlebars, thin tyres and painful looking seats. There are numerous variations on a theme including aero, climbing, endurance, touring and all road. In the future, we will create a brief guide to the different types of road bikes.
The next type that everyone will probably be familiar with is mountain bikes or MTB. These are rugged machines with flat handlebars and wide knobbly tires for riding off-road. Most MTBs also have front suspension and more expensive models also have rear suspension, also known as ‘Full Sus’. They are a great option for riders that want to be able to go anywhere on their bike.
So let’s cross a road bike with a MTB, what do we get? Yes, that’s the Hybrid Bike. Everything is slightly bigger than a road bike and they have flat handlebars, wider tyres and suspension of a MTB. Built for everyday riding across all types of terrain, depending on the tyres of course. A bit of a jack of all trades. Lots of people start with a hybrid as it gives you the option to ride in so many different places. When it comes to buying your first bike, a hybrid is a great option.
Gravel / Adventure Bike
Gravel bikes seem to be the current ‘in’ bike to have, so what are they ? Like hybrid bikes, you could also argue that Gravel Bikes are a bit of a cross between a MTB and a road bike. They have more of an emphasis on the road element, something like a 80% road and 20% MTB (Hybrids could be regarded as 40% road and 60% MTB). There are many similarities between current gravel bikes and the original mountain bikes of the 1970s. If you want to ride anywhere but also clock up the miles, a gravel bike is the go to option. They are also great if you want to get into bike packing.
Track Bikes, Single Speed / Fixies
We have lumped all these together as they are all variations on a theme. Essentially they are like road bikes but with only one gear. The main difference between a true track bike and a single speed / fixie is the track bike has no brakes! To legally ride a single speed on the road it must have brakes of some description. Most road single speed bikes have what they call a ‘flip flop’ rear hub with a fixed sprocket on one side and a free wheel sprocket on the other. This means you can either ride it as a fixie or a free wheeling bike. Single speed / fixies are great basic bikes for just riding about on, and they are hip.
Fat bikes look like a mountain bike with tyres that have been on steroids (probably not a good analogy for the cycling world). These can be great for cruising or just making off-roading a bit more comfortable. They are a fun option to mess about on, especially on the beach or other sandy areas.
E-bikes are one of the new kids on the block and can be a bit Marmite, but our view is that if they get more people out on two wheels then what’s wrong with that? E-bikes come in all shapes and sizes and can be road, mountain or hybrid. If you are struggling to get out due to injury or fitness they really can help and make cycling accessible.
There are some great options to get your kids into the action, starting from balance bikes all the way up to smaller versions of adult bikes. Taking your kids out on a family ride is great fun.
We hope this guide has helped explain some of the main types of bike you might see. Please let us know if we have missed any of your favourite bike types, we will do our best to include them in future posts. If there are specific questions you would like answered just drop us a message and we will try and help. Also cyclists love to see other cyclists bikes so feel free to post your pictures on our Facebook page.
All the best
Keith, Open Sky Cycles