How to Choose a Bike in 5 Minutes or Less [INTERACTIVE GUIDE]

How to choose a bike in 5 minutes or less (interactive guide)

This is the interactive guide on how to choose a bike for beginner & advanced riders. I created it with the help of my friends who run bike shops and advise their customers daily.

It will recommend you the most suitable bike type based on where and how you want to ride. This guide takes into account more than 20 different bike types.

In this article, you will also learn what types of bikes there are, what their pros & cons are, where to buy them, what to keep in mind before you start riding a bike, and much more.

As a passionate cyclist who has been riding bikes from the age of 4, I am super excited to share all this info with you. So, let’s get started!

Table Of Contents


How to Choose a Bike in 3 Simple Steps

Before you buy a bike, you should consider 3 main things:

  1. Decide how and where you want to ride and choose a type of bike that is suitable for this type of terrain and riding style.
  2. Set a budget to make the selection of the bike easier.
  3. Choose the right size to ensure your maximum comfort and prevent injuries.

In the following sections, you will learn more details about each individual step. Don’t worry. I explain them in detail so they are easy to understand.

Step 1: Decide How and Where Do You Want to Ride

The most important thing to begin with when choosing a bike is your riding style. Based on it, you can choose the bike most suitable for you.

There are more than 20 bike types from various categories such as road, mountain, hybrid, etc. So, how to choose the category and the bike type when there are so many options?

I got you covered, simply answer a few questions in the following anonymous form and you will get the bike recommendation – no email address or payments needed!

You can also check the following table with the most popular types of bike and the recommended surfaces they are designed for.

Bike TypeRecommended Riding Surfaces
Road BikeTarmac, paved roads, bike paths
Mountain BikeTrails, dirt & forest roads
Hybrid BikeTarmac, paved roads, bike paths, light gravel
E-BikeDepending on the type of e-bike
Basic types of bikes and recommended riding surfaces

Basic Types of Bikes

The following section covers the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular bike categories and their subcategories. These include road, mountain, hybrid, e-bikes, and kids bikes.

Road Bikes

Road bikes are designed for riding on paved roads. Their characteristics include the shape of the handlebars (drop bars), low weight, and narrow tires. Road bikes are also aerodynamic, fast, and stiff (to maximize power transfer).

They are perfect for people who want to ride long distances on paved roads, maintain their stamina and fitness level, and race.

Road bikes pros

  • They are lightweight.
  • They are fast on paved surfaces.
  • They allow aerodynamic riding position.

Road bikes cons

  • They are suitable for paved surfaces only (this does not apply to cyclocross & gravel bikes).
  • The riding position may be uncomfortable for beginners.
  • They are not very stable.

Road bikes have the following subcategories.

types of road bikes
Basic types of road bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of canyon.com and trekbikes.com (Click to enlarge)

The subcategories of road bikes differ from each other mainly in geometry, weight, aerodynamics, and tire clearance width.

  • Endurance road bikes allow a more upright position compared to performance and other types of road bikes. This makes them more comfortable and suitable for beginners.
  • Performance road bikes are designed for road cycling enthusiasts and pro riders. Their riding position is more aggressive compared to endurance road bikes but not as aggressive as the position on the aero road bikes. Performance road bikes are usually lightweight and stiff. These features make them a perfect choice for climbers.
  • Aero road bikes are optimized to be aerodynamic. They allow riding in an aerodynamic position that is not as aggressive as on TT or triathlon bikes. Aero road bikes are popular among sprinters and racers, especially for criteriums and flats.
  • Touring bikes offer a more upright riding position compared to endurance road bikes. Touring bikes are more suitable for additional cargo and thus for longer rides or bike packing.
  • Time Trial (TT) bikes are designed specifically for time trials. They push the rider in an aggressive aerodynamic position. TT bikes are mostly used by professionals or amateur racers because their handling is more difficult compared to that of standard road bikes.
  • Triathlon bikes are very similar to TT bikes but their geometry is slightly different. They have a steeper seat tube that pushes the hips forward and saves the hamstrings for the run as 220triathlon explains.
  • Cyclocross bikes offer wider tire clearance compared to road bikes. This means you can use them with wider tires suitable for rough terrains. Their geometry and gears are also slightly different. This makes them more versatile than classic road bikes. They are often mixed up with gravel bikes.
  • Gravel / Adventure bikes differ from cyclocross bikes in geometry (they tend to have a longer wheelbase, lower bottom bracket, and more aggressive riding position), gearing, and wider tire clearance.

You can also check the following selections of the best gravel bikes:


Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are the exact opposite of road bikes. You can ride them on almost any type of terrain thanks to their wider tires and better durability. They are more comfortable thanks to their suspension, and their geometry is more upright compared to that of road bikes.

They are suitable for people who want to ride in rough terrains that include dirt roads, trails, forest roads, singletracks, downhills, and many more.

Mountain bikes pros

  • They are versatile and suitable for a large variety of terrains.
  • They are more comfortable on bumpy surfaces thanks to suspension(s) and wider tires.

Mountain bikes cons

  • They are heavier compared to road bikes.
  • They are not as fast on paved roads as road bikes.

Mountain bikes can be sorted into the following subcategories.

types of mountain bikes
Basic types of mountain bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of canyon.com (Click to enlarge)

The subcategories of mountain bikes differ from each other mainly in geometry, wheel size options, tire width, front fork travel, rear travel (if the bike has rear suspension), and dropper seatposts.

  • Cross-country bikes (also called XC bikes) have ‘pedal focused’ geometry. This means they are easier to pedal on compared to the downhill bikes, for example. They have a shorter wheelbase that allows easy handling. According to BikeExchange, XC bikes are fitted with 90-100mm of travel at the frame and form, with some models offering up to 120mm. Cross country bikes are ideal for racing and riding fast (especially uphill).
  • Trail bikes are designed for riding trails, singletracks, and technical descents. Their geometry still offers good pedaling efficiency. You can find dual suspension trail bikes (rear and front suspension) or hardtail bikes (only the front fork suspension) on the market. The wheelbase is wider compared to XC bikes. The travel of the suspension ranges from 120-150mm which is somewhere between the XC and enduro bikes. According to the BikeExchange, trail bikes are the type of mountain bike that will excel in most types of terrains.
  • Enduro bikes are longer and lower than XC and trail bikes, as BikeExchange explains. The wheelbase is longer, as well as the position between the front wheel relative to the headtube. This provides better stability at speed. The suspension travel ranging from 150-180mm allows hitting big hits, drops, etc.
  • Downhill bikes are designed for downhills (what a surprise!) that include jumps, big drops, and rough terrain. They are not suitable for riding uphills. Downhill riders usually have to take a hike, shuttle, or chairlift. The geometry of downhill bikes pushes the rider backward which creates a lower center of gravity that is important for steep downhills. The suspension travel is usually 180-200mm.
  • Fatbikes can be easily recognized by the very wide 4″ to 5″ (‘fat’) tires. Thanks to these tires, fatbikes can be ridden in snow, mud, sand, or even bogs.

Hybrid Bikes

Hybrid bikes combine features of road and mountain bikes. Yet, they are not as specialized for specific terrains. Hybrid bikes are a compromise between road and mountain bikes. This means you can ride them on various types of surfaces such as tarmac, light gravel, dirt roads, etc. but you won’t be as quick as on a road bike or you won’t be able to ride in rough terrain (like trails) as comfortably as on a mountain bike.

They are popular among casual cyclists for riding in cities and countrysides, for short to medium-distance commuting, and for family bike trips.

Hybrid bikes pros

  • They are more versatile than road and mountain bikes.
  • They are comfortable thanks to the more upright geometry.
  • They are compatible with a large variety of bike accessories.

Hybrid bikes cons

  • They are heavier compared to road bikes.
  • They are not as fast as road bikes.
  • They are not as durable and versatile as mountain bikes.

The subcategories of the hybrid bikes are the following.

types of hybrid bikes
Basic types of hybrid bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of canyon.com and trekbikes.com (Click to enlarge)

The subcategories of hybrid bikes differ from each other mainly in geometry, wheel size options, accessories, tire width, and gear selection.

  • Trekking bikes (sometimes also called fitness bikes) are specific for their flat handlebars and more aggressive geometry compared to other types of hybrid bikes. Depending on the type and manufacturer, the geometry may vary. There are 3 basic types of trekking bikes:
    • Trekking bikes with more relaxed, upright geometry suitable for family trips. They are usually equipped with wider tires allowing riding on rougher surfaces (light gravel, dirt roads, etc.).
    • Trekking bikes with a more aggressive geometry that allows a faster ride to maintain your fitness level. They have narrow tires that have lower rolling resistance and thus are great for paved roads. Yet, they handle light gravel too.
    • Trekking bikes that are a compromise between the above-mentioned two categories. They are very versatile and suitable for a large variety of terrains.
  • Commuter bikes are designed for commuting to & from work, grocery store, or for riding around your neighborhood. Commuter bikes are suitable for paved roads but they can handle light terrains as well. Some commuter bikes may be equipped with extra accessories like panniers, baskets, and most with lights.
  • City bikes are very similar to commuter bikes but according to Richard Ballantine, the author of Richard’s 21st Century Bicycle Book, they differ from other hybrid bikes by using 26” inches wheels and wider tires. These features allow riding on roads with pot-holes. If you live in the countryside, a city bike can be the right choice for you also thanks to the mudguards that often come with it. 
  • Cruiser / Comfort bikes are all about comfort. They have the most upright geometry of all types of hybrid bikes and allow riders to easily place both feet on the ground. Cruiser and comfort bikes are perfect for cruising around the beach and neighborhood. They often come with accessories like baskets, bells, lights, etc.

Note: Hybrid bikes include a lot of types but there is no uniform definition. Some manufacturers call their bikes as they like to so their naming may not match the descriptions above.

Interested in a hybrid bike? Make sure you check the following selections of the best hybrid bikes:


Kids Bikes

Kids bikes are a specific category of bikes. They differ from each other mainly by the wheel size. It is important to find the right size of bike for your child especially if he or she is just starting out riding a bike.

kids bike

The following table shows the recommended bike wheel sizes for children of various ages and heights.

Bike (wheel size)AgeHeight
12″ balance bike2-4 Years82 – 100 cm
2’8″ – 3’3″
14″ bike3-5 Years98 – 106 cm
3’3″ – 3’6″
16″ bike4-6 Years104 – 122 cm
3’5″ – 4’0″
20″ bike5-8 Years120 – 130 cm
3’11” – 4’3″
24″ bike7-11 Years127 – 142 cm
4’2″ – 4’8″
26″ bike10+ Years140 – 158 cm
4’7″ – 5’2″
Data source: Wiggle.co.uk

You may also be interested in these tips on How to teach a child to ride a bike.


E-Bikes

E-bikes have become incredibly popular in the last few years and it seems this trend is nowhere close to stopping. For example, in the Netherlands, the sales of electric bicycles surpassed sales of ordinary ones as early as 2019.

They are popular because they are offered in many different variants. There are electric road, mountain, hybrid, cargo, and many other types of e-bikes on the market. If you know what type of bike you want, there is a high probability that you will find it in the electric option as well.

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Canyon Roadlite:ON AL 7.0 | Product Picture Source: Canyon.com

If you hear about e-bikes for the first time, know that electric bikes have undergone a lot of innovation in recent years. Their electrical components like the motor, battery, and controller, are integrated into the design. They look almost like ordinary – leg powered – bikes.

Yet, even on an electric bike you have to pedal because the battery capacity that powers the motor is limited. Nevertheless, electric bicycles are especially suitable for casual riders, people with limited mobility, and seniors.

Other Types of Bikes

These are the other types of bikes. They are not very widespread because they are designed for very specific use cases and disciplines.

  • BMX is an abbreviation for ‘bicycle motocross’. These bikes allow the rider to perform stunts, jumps, and other tricks. This means BMX has to be optimized to withstand stresses, be easily maneuverable, and durable. BikeExchange distinguishes several BMX sub-disciplines including park, street, flatland, trails/dirt jumping, and race. To find out more about BMX bikes, I recommend BikeExchange’s how to choose a BMX bike guide.
  • Folding Bikes are designed to be foldable. They are popular in cities because they are relatively easy to transport (for example, on public transport), provide fast transport across a city with high traffic and are compact. If you have little space in your apartment, a folding bike can be the solution.
  • Track Bikes are used for track cycling, which is ridden on a velodrome. These bikes have only one gear, no brakes, and no freewheel. This means they are ridden almost exclusively by track racers.
  • Cargo Bikes are also called freight bikes. Their construction allows for transporting cargo. These bikes are used in urban areas, as well in factories, airports, warehouses, etc.
  • Tandem Bikes are bikes ridden by one or more persons. Tandem refers to the seating arrangement, not the number of riders. This type of bike is used for bike touring, or in the Paralympics, and other competitions.
  • Monocycles use only one wheel. They are often mixed up with unicycles. Monocycles are bikes where the rider sits inside a large wheel. Conversely, when riding a unicycle, the rider sits above the wheel. These bikes are very unstable and require a very good balance.
  • Tricycles are very stable compared to monocycles thanks to usually having 3 wheels ensuring stability. For these reasons, tricycles are popular with seniors, children, and the disabled (they use handcycles). Tricycles are also used for transportation of people (rickshaw), or cargo (freight trike).

Step 2: Set a Budget for Your New Bike

Your budget for a new bike should also depend on the type of bike you choose. For example, e-bikes are more expensive than regular bikes.

At the same time, if you are serious about cycling and you don’t want to sacrifice the quality of components, you will need to invest more money. I realized that cycling is not a cheap sport after a few years.

On the other hand, cheaper alternatives can also be found – you don’t always have to buy a new bike. If you’re just starting out, you can buy a second-hand one. There is no need to invest all your savings into cycling.

Bike TypePrice range
Road Bikes$500 – $1500 (road bikes for beginners)
$1500 – $3000 (road bikes for advanced riders)
$3000+ (road bikes for pros and enthusiasts)
Mountain Bikes$500 – $1500 (mountain bikes for beginners)
$1500 – $3000 (mountain bikes for advanced riders)
$3000+ (mountain bikes for pros and enthusiasts)
Hybrid Bikes$300 – $1500
E-BikesDepending on the type of e-bike, the price ranges from $700 to $10,000.
Most of the ‘standard e-bikes’ cost between $1000 to $4000.
Indicative prices of different types of bicycles

Where to Buy Your New Bike?

When buying your next bike, you have 2 basic options:

  1. Buy your new bike online, or
  2. Buy it in person in a local store.

If you decide to buy a bike online (on the manufacturer’s or retailer’s website, eBay, Craigslist, and similar websites), you should keep in mind that you won’t be able to do a test ride in advance and if you need to return the bike, you have to pack it which may be a hassle.

On the other hand, the prices of bikes online are often more cost-effective, shopping online is convenient, and you have access to a wider selection of bikes.

Local bike shops are better at providing you advice and guidance on how to choose a bike. They can do discounted bike maintenance and it is also easier to return a bike to them.

However, their selection of bikes is limited, and the prices may be higher compared to online stores.

I bought my road bike online and I am satisfied with it. It was securely packaged and assembled. The only thing I had to do was to attach the wheels and tighten the handlebars.

To wrap this up, it depends on you which option you prefer. I am a lazy person for some things so I prefer an online store.


Step 3: Choose a Bike Size to Ensure a Proper Fit

Choosing the right bike size can be difficult, especially if you are on the edge of 2 sizes. At the same time, different types of bikes use different sizing.

Manufacturers can also have their own sizing. So the question is…

How to choose a bike size?

The size of the bike is usually determined by the length of your inseam or your height. There are plenty of methods out there you can use. Feel free to read more about them in my article on How to Choose a Bike Size. It also contains a bike size calculator that will calculate the bike size based on the bike type and your inseam length.

Disclaimer: You will find a lot of different sizing charts on the internet. Remember to always double-check the sizing chart for the selected bike because it may differ from a universal sizing chart.

Once you choose the correct bike size, you should also set the saddle height and saddle position (eventually, the cleats and handlebar position, stem length, etc.). I recommend watching the following video, where Neill Stanbury, an Australian-based bike fitter, explains how to do a simple bike fit at home.

Easy to understand video on how to do a bike fit

Why should you take your time to choose the right bike size?

There are 3 main reasons for it:

  1. Preventing injuries – with the wrong bike size, you can strain some parts of your body more than necessary. This can lead to injuries and further health problems.
  2. Comfort – if you’ve ever ridden a bike that was too small or too big, you know it wasn’t a very comfortable ride. With the right bike size, you increase your chances for a comfortable ride.
  3. Performance – the optimal bike size will allow you to perform better. Your muscle involvement will be balanced. This means you will ride more efficiently and your overall performance will improve.
Tour De France Cycling GIF by Weather Underground - Find & Share on GIPHY

Things to Keep in Mind Before You Start Riding

I would like to share a few tips on how to keep yourself safe on your bike and how to stay motivated so you don’t lock your bike in your garage or basement after a first ride.

Always Wear a Helmet

Did you know that 61% of bicyclists killed in the USA in 2018 were not wearing helmets? Helmet use was unknown for 24%

To increase your safety on the roads, make sure you always wear a helmet. I remember my first serious crash on a road bike. My doctor told me that without a helmet, I would have risked a concussion and maybe even brain damage.

Female mountain biker with proper helmet fit
Increase your safety with a bike helmet

I wear a helmet every time I sit on my bike and, I recommend you to do the same. With a helmet, your head will be better than without it. A bike helmet is a must. If you don’t have one yet, feel free to check the selection of the:

Don’t Push It – Enjoy It!

You won’t enjoy any activity in the long run if you force yourself into it. You have to find some motivation. Personally, I enjoy cycling for several reasons.

Cycling helps clear my mind. I forget about everyday problems and relax mentally. You may know a similar effect when you do sports like running, yoga, etc.

A bunch of friends riding road bikes
Cycling is fun if you don’t push it too hard

Thanks to cycling, I met a lot of great people and visited places I would otherwise never have visited. That huge load of experiences and fun was worth the sweat.

And last, but not least, cycling keeps me fit. I am more physically and mentally resilient. I don’t have to catch my breath when walking up the stairs. I have better self-discipline that allows me to finish things, etc.

If you struggle with a lack of motivation for cycling, make sure you read the article about the benefits of cycling. It includes more than 10 benefits of cycling you will take advantage of every day.


Conclusion

This article explains the most popular categories of bikes – road, mountain, hybrid, e-bikes, and kids bikes.

Before you choose a new bike type, make sure you try the interactive guide. I created it together with bike owners and bike dealers. It will help you make your decision especially if you are a complete beginner and don’t know what type of bike to choose.

In the 2nd step, I shared more info about the price ranges of the various bike types, the places where to buy them, as well as their pros and cons. I prefer buying things online because it is more convenient for me.

The last, 3rd step of choosing a bike is dedicated to explaining one of the most common questions – how to choose a bike size? Feel free to use the manufacturer’s sizing chart or ask the seller to recommend you the correct bike size based on your height or inseam length.

Once you start riding, make sure you always wear a helmet. It will increase your safety. To keep yourself motivated to ride a bike, do it for fun and don’t push it too hard to prevent burnout.


Now you know how to choose a bike. If you are still unsure about the right bike type for you, feel free to contact me.


How to Choose a Bike FAQ

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