Choosing your first, or your next, bike is a big decision, and there is a lot of choice out there which can be both confusing and frustrating. The bike you select, after all, could be your friend for several years, and could perhaps be your primary mode of transport – so it’s suitability for the job is paramount.
Here’s a look at some of the styles of bike that are available, and what they’re best for – and, of course – at the end you’ll find we’ve picked out the one which we think ticks the most boxes, in case you’re really struggling to choose:
Mountain bikes are for getting dirty. Taken off-road, they can crash over uneven surfaces and in the right hands, leap over obstacles and speed down singletrack. Having a mountain bike is great fun when used for leisure – though your new hobby could involve a drive to a local trail park, and it will certainly involve a fair amount of cleaning afterwards.
Mountain bikes aren’t really designed for commuting. A lot of people use them to get from A to B, and the pull is understandable – a comfortable upright position, front suspension for bumpy roads, and sturdy tyres that will withstand road grit and feel safe in wet conditions. The drawback is that a mountain bike is heavy – the suspension, disc brakes and beefy frame will mean you’re lugging around more than you need to. If you don’t mind the extra weight, or perhaps you want to use the bike for leisure, too – you could use a mountain bike as a commuter, but it’s not purpose made.
If you’re buying the bike for off-roading, there are a few choices to make that will affect your ride. If you’re likely to attack technical terrain and want something that dampens the bumps, go full suspension. To save weight if you don’t need full sus, try a hardtail. You’ve also got the choice of 26” wheels (traditional), 29” wheels (fast rolling) and 650b’s (somewhere in between).
A traditional road bike will come with drop handlebars, and a more aggressive riding position, though you can adjust the saddle height and handlebar position if you need to be kinder to your back. Road bikes are designed to travel over smooth surfaces, quickly. If you’re a confident rider and want to get around on the road as quickly as possible, a road bike is probably for you.
Road bikes don’t really like mixed terrain, so if you think you are likely to want to nip through a field or take a muddy footpath, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.
If you’re going for a road bike, you can choose a bike with “sportive geometry” for a relaxed ride, or “racey geometry” for an aggressive, more aerodynamic feel. Other options include touring bikes, which will often come with a wider gear ratio to help you out on the hills, mudguards, and pannier racks either fitted or compatible. If you’re whizzing around town and don’t expect to go up or down any big hills, a single speed option does away with cassette and gears, making it a lighter and lower maintenance option.
A comfortable balance between a road and mountain bike, hybrids pull out the elements best for commuting from each genre. From the mountain bike, you get the upright position, flat handlebars, disc brakes (though these are creeping onto road bikes now), and wider tyres. The road bike lends it’s lighter weight through lack of suspension and more slender tubing – these elements come together to create a bike that will handle uneven surfaces and feel safe and secure in wet conditions, without being overly heavy.
Hybrids are usually designed with the commuter in mind, so you’ll likely get mudguard and pannier rack mounts, but it is worth checking if that’s important to you. This bike is great for the city commuter, who is considering a little leisure riding, but is most focused on using the bike for travel.
People do complete sportives on hybrids, and some use them for non-technical trail and toe-path riding, but it’s likely if you wanted to consider stepping either sport up a level, you’d be in the market for a second bike.
The folding bike is the friend of the 50/50 commuter. On many train lines, full sized bikes are only allowed onboard during off-peak periods, which is a problem if you want to ride to the station, then ride from your stop to your destination – hence the popularity of folders.
Brompton are by far the market leader, and their bikes come in a range of colours, with accessories to go alongside them. However, if you’re after a deal, Evans Cycles stock bikes from Tern, who produce similar bikes with a smaller price tag.
A folding bike is perfect if you plan to use public transport as part of your journey, and another benefit is that assuming your work place allow you to, you can sit your bike beneath your desk during the day. The folding systems usually take just a few easy steps, as demonstrated in this video from Brompton:
Folding bikes aren’t really ideal for sport or leisure riding, though as proved at the London Nocturne folding bike race – it is possible to ride one hard and fast.
The winner: Cyclocross bike
We’ve saved this one until last, because it’s our favourite. Cyclocross is a sport which began, so the story goes, when road racers wanted to maintain fitness over winter. The race was simple – ride from one town to another, the fastest way possible – regardless if that involved whizzing over fields, through woods, or indeed, over tarmac. Modern day races take place over short laps which can include mud, trails, and road.
A bike required for such a purpose needs wide tyres, room for mud clearance, sharp brakes, but it must also be lightweight, and it needs to go fast. The result? Durable tyres, often disc brakes, a road style frame, with slightly more relaxed geometry (lower saddle, higher handlebars), and drop handlebars.
Over recent years, cyclocorss bikes have become a popular choice for commuters, too – because they tick many of the boxes needed for riding in the city, they’re practical and durable, but fast enough for a weekend road ride, and strong enough for some trail and singletrack riding if required.
Many dedicated cyclists will, over the years, accumulate a busy shed full of a variety of bikes for differing riding styles – but the cyclocross bike is a jack of all trades, that could be your friend across the two wheeled genres.
We’ve missed a couple of styles, such as BMX and time trial bikes, but we have stuck to the models that would be fit for commuting. Of course you are welcome to ride to work on a BMX, if you wish.