Illustration by Robert Higdon
By Ben Van Loon
People have ridden their bikes everywhere: from the Great Wall of China to the Great Plains of Iowa and into the great darkness of the Arctic Circle, and also simply around town. This versatility has been made possible by the wide range of bike “families” currently available on the market.
While riders from the early 1900s and into the 1970s had two or three primary bike options, cyclists today choose from a huge array of classic and customized bike types.
Knowing these different types will help you determine what will work best for you.
1 City Also known as upright bikes, a city bike is ideal for riding around the city. It can be made out of aluminum or steel, has gears and can be heavy or light. City bikes are best when they come with fenders, internally-geared hubs, dynamo lights, a rack and a basket. They should always have a bell and a kickstand.
2 Commuter Also known as flat-bar road bikes or hybrid bikes, a commuter bike is literally a cross between a road and a mountain bike. Most have cantilever, mountain-style brakes, flat handlebars and 700c road-diameter wheels. Commuter bikes are best when they come with fenders and a rack. Ask your bike shop for a kickstand, lights and a good lock.
3 Cargo This is an umbrella category that envelops scores of unique, customized styles that have endured waves of popularity over the years. The average commuter can attach a rack to a bike, but cargo bikes are built with heavy-duty haulage in mind.
4 Touring Sometimes also called randonneur bikes, touring bikes are road bikes with a longer wheelbase and a relaxed geometry for stability. These bikes are often outfitted with extra braze-ons to allow for added features.
5 Cruiser The slow rider, the typical cruiser has one speed, a coaster brake, balloon tires, swept-back handlebars and a relaxed, Americana appeal. They’re not always practical, though they’re always relevant.
6 Mountain Mountain biking was born in the 1970s and is now an officially sanctioned Olympic sport. Mountain bikes can come with or without suspension (front or dual), and have wheel diameters of either 26 or 29 inches. Though they can be cumbersome on the open roads, they’re indispensable off-road.
7 Road Road bikes are the oldest and the most popular type of bike. Most have integrated or down tube shifters, caliper brakes, 700c (and sometimes 650c) wheels, “skinny” tires and the signature drop handlebar design, which allows for multiple riding positions and high speeds.
In addition to these categories, there are dozens of subcategories, but remember, all you need is one bike to get started.