With so many bikes to choose from picking the right one for you when you’re just starting out can be tricky. Look around and you’ll see almost as many different styles of bike as there are cyclists. How do you choose between them?
Some bikes are great for beginners, but some are an absolute disaster when you’re a newbie. Road bikes, for example. These are the kind of bikes that you see skinny folks in tight spandex outfits riding super-fast along the streets on. These bikes are light and fast, which is great, but you have to ride them in a hunched-over position, which can be challenging when you’re new to the sport. Or, what about Fat Bikes? These are rugged looking bikes with really wide and knobbly tires. If you plan on doing all your cycling along the beach, going up and down sand dunes, or over deep snow in the mountains, then these are great! But for any other kind of riding these bikes can be challenging to ride as they’re so heavy and you’ll quickly get tired out.
And, it’s not only the different styles of bike that you need to pick your way through, it’s also the huge ranges in pricing that you’ll see. Looking just at those speedy road bikes, you can pay anything between $200 and $12000+ for an off-the-peg model. Where do you need to place yourself on that scale when you’re a beginner? Do you need to pay $12k for a bike (Spoiler: the answer’s NO!) or will this ship with a specification that you’ll never feel the benefit of? Should you pay a couple of hundred bucks for the cheapest model you can find? Probably not a good idea either as this will likely fall apart quickly and you’ll end up paying out again for a better quality bike.
If you’re reading all this and starting to tense up at making a decision, then don’t worry, I’m here to help. I’ve got a few things for you to that will make your decision super-easy. I’ve got a rundown of the bike types that I’d recommend for you when you’re getting going with cycling. We’ll look at what type of cycling they’re good for (like low-step bikes are great when you’re not as flexible as you once were) and why they’re so good for it.
We’ll then look at the types of bike that I’d suggest leaving in the store for now. Until you’re a few years into your new leisure activity and decide that you’d like one of those $12k road bikes!
First up, I’ve got an example of each of the bike types that I recommend for beginners, so you can see what I’m talking about:
Bikes that are great for beginners
Here are the bike types that I’d recommend for beginner cyclists. I’ll give you some brief details on each bike style and who they’re ideal for.
Perfect for – cycling on smooth pavements and roads
Top of the list when it comes to beginner bike recommendations are urban bikes. These are also know as commuter bikes or fitness bikes. They’re a bike type that has all the basics covered but without the fancy bits that you don’t need. That does a couple of things that are really useful for a beginner cyclist: it keeps the cost down and keeps the bike light, so it’s easy to pedal.
Urban bikes are ideal when you’re cycling is all going to be on roads or smooth pavement. They tend to have narrower and smoother tires and they’re perfect for going quickly along with minimal effort. Taking them off-road would be a disaster, but that’s not where urban bikes excel (we’ll get onto bikes that are happiest on muddy trails in a moment). Heading through the city streets to the office? Urban bikes are perfect. Going a few blocks away to the grocery store? Check. Heading along the boardwalk to the beach? Ideal.
For smooth cycling the urban bike is the one for you. And they’re comfy to ride on too because they’ve got an easy upright riding position. You’re not hunched over the handlebars like you would be on a skinny road bike, instead your back is closer to being vertical. Also, the handlebars are generally set higher than the saddle, which means that you’re not leaning heavily on your wrists as you cycle.
Perfect for – pavements with a side helping of bike trails
Hybrids are a great option for all-round go-anywhere do-anything cycling. They’re built in a similar style to an urban bike but with a little extra beef. That beef typically comes in the form of a more rugged frame to take a bit of rough stuff on bike trails. They’ll also normally have more gears than an urban bike so you can easily get up steeper hills.
The most striking difference you’ll see though is with the front forks (the part of the frame that holds the front wheel on the bike). These will generally have suspension fitted on them – it’s similar to what you have on a car and does the same job in terms of smoothing out the lumps and bumps in the trail surface.
Like the urban bike, hybrids have an upright riding position where you’re not leaning heavily on the handlebars.
I have to say that hybrids are my favorite style of bike because they’re just so versatile. They’re great for heading around town or down to the office on a weekday. Then, come the weekend, they step it up and allow you to head out on family cycles around the local park, or further afield onto some of the less-demanding bike trails.
Front suspension mountain bikes
Perfect for – rough bike trails and mountain bike parks
If you like the look of the hybrids but feel that you’ll be spending all your time on the trails and want to progress to the some of the more challenging tracks on the mountain bike parks, then it’s well worth taking a close look at front suspension mountain bikes.
What are they? Well, they look similar to the hybrids but will have the ruggedness factor dialled up a few notches. The frame will be tougher. Wheels will be stronger. Front suspension will be bouncier. Gears will be more plentiful. And the tires will be wider and with chunkier grips.
There’s been a trend recently towards mountain bikes that have both front and rear suspension (they’re called full-suspension mountain bikes). My advice is to steer clear of these when you’re a beginner. Reason being that suspension adds to bike weight and so a full-suspension bike will have quite a lot of extra weight that you have to push along. Mountain bikes at the top end of the price range will have trimmed off some of this extra weight but, when you’re just getting going, you just don’t need it. Most of my off-road cycling is on a front-suspension mountain bike and I’d class myself as an Intermediate rider. It’s perfect for all the trail riding I do and here’s a secret – if you need to get some ‘suspension’ on the rear all you need to do is lift your butt up off the seat as you cycle and let your knees soak up the bumps. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone I told you.
Perfect for – anyone looking for a little extra ‘Oomph’ as they pedal
eBikes are bikes that have an electric motor and battery fitted. These will give you assistance as you pedal along making it easier to go further and faster than you might otherwise be able to. They come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes – any bike type that you can think of will have a version or two that has an electric motor fitted.
They don’t go as fast as motorbikes and generally require you to pedal in order for the motor to engage and assist i.e. most of them don’t have a throttle where you can just sit back and let the motor do the work.
Who are they for? Anyone! They’re great for older riders looking to get into (or back into) the sport. They’re great if you have to lug groceries, or kids, or anything else on a regular basis. They’re great for people who aren’t quite as fit as they want to be (but still want to get out there and do some cycling). And they might well be perfect for you.
Perfect for – heading down to the beach
Take a stroll down to the beach and this is the bike type you’ll most likely see. Probably the only sort of bike that goes perfectly with swimsuits and sandals, these are great for going to the ocean in style.
If the riding style of a hybrid is upright, then the riding style of a cruiser is positively laidback (so you can watch the world go by as you pedal). They have big squishy tires. They come in funky vibrant colors. Plus, with the right after-market attachments, you can load them up with coolers and surfboards.
What other bike can do that?!
Low-step or step-thru bikes
Perfect for – folk who aren’t quite as stretchy as they used to be
Low-step bikes have a distinctive type of bike frame. The central crossbar (the bit that goes from the handlebars to the seat post) is either steeply slanted or completely removed. This makes for a bike that is much easier to get onto – they’re often called ‘easy boarding bikes’ and it’s easy to see why. All you need to do is literally step through the bike, rather than lift your leg up and over the saddle.
That makes these bikes a great choice if you’re less flexible than you maybe used to be (or never were in my case!) They were originally designed for ladies who were wearing long skirts or dresses, but these days, manufacturers are making models for women and men, whether you’re wearing a skirt or not.
Bikes to avoid for beginners
So, we’ve seen which bike types are great for beginners. We’ve also hinted at a couple of bike types that are less than perfect for cycling newbies. Let’s take a look at those in some more detail.
The hunched-over riding position of a road racing bike can be quite challenging for new riders and takes some getting used to. These bikes are light and go fast on their skinny tires, but can feel uncomfortable. I’d suggest that you ease yourself into cycling with an urban bike first as these have smooth, fast rolling tires and a light frame but with a more comfortable riding position.
Unless you plan to hit the jumps and half pipes down at the local park with the kids… then I’d leave these for the kids. They’re not designed for riding any sort of distance. Plus, you’ll get ten-year olds asking you if you can do any tricks. Embarrassing. Steer clear.
Full-suspension mountain bikes
If you want to get into trail riding then you might be tempted by a full-suspension mountain bike. My advice though is to spend your money on a front suspension mountain bike instead. You’ll get more bike for your dollars that way and with less weight to lug up the mountains.
Full-suspension bikes are great for when you’ve reached the experience level where you can tackle gnarly black runs in full body armor and a full face bike helmet. Until you’re ready for that go with a front-suspension bike.
There’s been a bit of a trend in recent years for fat bikes. These are bikes that look like a mountain bike – they’re very rugged – but with tires that are very wide – 4 inches or more in some cases.
Tires this size make these bikes ideal for helping you to ‘float’ over the top of soft surfaces, like sand and snow, where any other bike would just sink in. And that’s fine, but if you’re not planning on doing that kind of cycling then don’t get a fat bike. Why? Because wide tires like that (combined with a beefier frame) make for a bike that is super heavy and tiring to pedal along.