Our buyer’s guide to which bicycle type you should buy in 2021.
Road bike vs. mountain bike. What types of bikes are there and the pros and cons of each
This competition is now closed Picking the best bike to suit your needs can be a tricky task. Whether you want to commute, get fit or just explore the countryside, the bicycle is the perfect tool to do that. But there are a confusingly huge and growing number of different types of bike to choose from.
So, if you are asking yourself “which type of bike should I buy?”, then read on, as we guide you through the styles of bike on offer today to help you find the best one for your needs.
To get us started, here’s a list of our specific buying advice for a number of common types of bike:
Best mountain bike: the ultimate buyer’s guide Best hybrid bike: find the perfect flat-bar bike Best gravel bike: top-rated gravel and adventure bikes
If none of that made sense to you, read on for more in-depth advice.
It’s important to have a think about what you want to do with your bike and where you’ll be going because the best bike for you totally depends on this. Your choice of bike will depend on your own tastes too, and the kind of distance and terrain you want to ride. There are many different types of cycling and a multitude of bikes that will let you achieve them.
Whether you’re an urban commuter, a lightning-quick road racer, a trail centre hero, downhiller, fixed-wheel fanatic, gravel path explorer or something else, there’s a suitable bike out there for you.
Road bikes: best for riding fast on tarmac
As the name suggests, road bikes are all about riding on surfaced roads, often as fast as possible. They’ve got lightweight frames and skinny tyres designed to help you achieve maximum speed for minimum effort.
They have dropped handlebars (i.e. ones that loop down and backwards) that allow you to get into an efficient and aerodynamic riding position and have gearing that’s all about maximum speed.
Under the guise of slightly more relaxed ‘endurance’ bikes, they’ll let you embark on big-mile rides with friends, but also lend themselves very well to commuting thanks to their ability to cover ground quickly.
However, the speed-focussed riding position can be uncomfortable for some riders and the lightweight wheels and tyres are susceptible to damage from kerbs and potholes.
Many dedicated road bikes, especially ones at the racier end of the spectrum, will also lack the ability to carry luggage so, if you need to lug a hefty load, a pure-bred road bike might not be ideal.
Quick, efficient and fun Cons:
Easier to damage, less comfortable for casual riders
Mountain bikes: best for rough terrain
Made to take on the most rugged off-road terrain that nature can offer, mountain bikes are built tough with aggressive knobbly tyres designed to find grip on almost any surface.
They also have powerful brakes that use motorcycle-style discs, and more expensive machines will have suspension at both ends for better control over rough ground. The gearing is designed to get you up and down steep terrain, with a wide range to take on the varying gradients.
Even if you don’t plan to tackle mountain ranges, mountain bikes can be a good choice for general leisure riding thanks to their more relaxed riding position.
While suspension is great for pure off-road riding, it means extra weight, costs more and can be inefficient, so it’s best avoided if you plan to spend most of your time on-road.
If you fancy heading into the back of beyond, pushing your limits and exploring the path less travelled, then check out our buyer’s guide to the best mountain bikes Pros:
Great brakes, upright position, tough, versatile Cons:
Heavy, slow on tarmac
Hybrid bike: best for casual riders and short commutes
Best thought of as the halfway point between a road bike and a mountain bike, a hybrid takes the comfy riding position of a mountain bike and pairs it with a lighter frame and fast-rolling wheels like those seen on a road bike.
They’re great if you need to cover on-road distance but don’t want to contort yourself into an uncomfortable riding position. Sitting in a more upright position may be less aerodynamically efficient but it also allows you to look further ahead, which is a huge boon in heavy urban traffic.
If you want to go quickly on good roads but you prefer a more upright position or don’t get on with drop handlebars, this is the way to go. The only major downside, as mentioned above, with a flat-bar bike is that you’re not as aerodynamic as you are on a race bike and therefore you’re not quite as quick.
Hybrid bikes often use more powerful disc brakes that give more consistent performance in wet weather, though at a slight weight penalty. They’re also equipped with plenty of mounts that allow you to carry more luggage, such as specialist pannier bags.
If you need to bridge the gap between urban performance and confident handling, then our guide to the best hybrid bikes will give you all the information you need to know.
Fairly quick, versatile, upright Cons:
Typically heavier than road bikes, and not as fast Best hybrid bikes for 2020: tried and tested flat-bar bikes
Touring bike: best for carrying luggage and travelling far
While a hybrid bike is best suited to the city, a touring bike is designed to take on everything from a commute to a continent-crossing adventure.
They tend to have the same fast-rolling 700c wheels as road and hybrid bikes, but with fatter tyres that allow you to take on a mixture of terrain in comfort. ‘Hardcore’ touring bikes designed for super-heavy loads will sometimes opt for 26in wheels because spares availability is often better when in far-flung regions.
The more relaxed riding position and more stable geometry of a touring bike mean that you can take on almost anything, whether it be a mountain pass when fully loaded with supplies or a quick spin to work.
If you need a highly versatile all-rounder then you should take a look at our guide to the best touring bikes, whether you’re going to familiar places or off the beaten track.
Tough, lots of load-carrying capacity, still fairly quick Cons:
Not quite race-bike quick Best touring bike: how to choose the right one for you
Gravel/ adventure / all-road / bikepacking bikes: best if you’re in a hurry on bad roads
Overlapping with the touring category, gravel bikes also known as adventure bikes, all-road bikes or bikepacking bikes are becoming very popular and fashionable, and it’s easy to see why.
Gravel bikes combine road bike looks and speed with loads of frame clearance for fitting fat, knobbly tyres of 35mm-wide or more that can get you across almost any terrain, including terrible tarmac, gloopy mud, bridleways, gravel paths and more.
You can find adventure bikes made from steel, aluminium, carbon and titanium, and at a range of prices from the affordable to the aspirational. Many will include eyelets for fitting mudguards and pannier racks, disc brakes (hydraulic if you’re lucky) for better braking, and more relaxed geometry than a road bike to deliver better handling on a range of surfaces.
They’re also a great bet for road riding in winter, just fit some puncture-resistant tyres and you’re good to go.
Adventure bikes that take luggage (typically frame bags, saddle bags and bar bags) are used for bikepacking, which is essentially touring, but with better fashion sense and hashtags.
Fast, comfortable, practical Cons:
Sometimes on the heavier side, attractive to thieves Best gravel bikes 2020: find the perfect adventure bikes
Cyclocross bikes are similar in concept to the bikes listed above, but they were designed for the racing discipline of cyclocross This means that although they’re going to have fat tyres, drop handlebars and in many cases disc brakes, they may not have fittings for mudguards or panniers. Their geometry is typically more aggressive than that of gravel and adventure bikes, making them a less attractive proposition for longer days in the saddle Pros:
Fast, dedicated solution for racers Lows:
Usually not as versatile as gravel/adventure bikes The best cyclocross bikes of 2020 | Top-rated CX bikes
Fixed gear / singlespeed bike: best if you want a simple bike
Popular in the city, and the only option if you’re riding on a velodrome, the fixie (or ‘fixed wheel’, if you’re being traditional) is the ultimate in simplicity.
A true fixie has no freewheel, so you always have to pedal if you’re moving. That brings a particular degree of connection and control once you get used to it, but fixies aren’t the most beginner-friendly.
They’re lightning-fast in the hands of an accomplished rider and the lack of complexity means they require minimal maintenance. They’re great for confident commuters that don’t mind suffering if they live in a hilly location and want total control at all times, but it’s a high level of commitment for the casual cyclist.
Once you’ve got the hang of riding a fixie, they’re among the best bikes for commuting. This is what makes them popular with cycle couriers, who also like their reliability a legal-minimum fixie with just a front brake has almost nothing on it to go wrong.
Light, simple, quick Cons:
Some skill required, hard when it’s hilly
City bike: best for hassle-free riding
A Dutch-style city or town bike (or a ‘sit-up-and-beg’) does a sterling job of providing short-range transportation in flat towns. What’s appealing about this style of bike is its simplicity, practicality and robustness.
There’s very little to go wrong if you’ve just got one gear, and hub gear versions with up to 11 gears are still pretty tough.
Typical town bikes have chainguards and flat pedals, so you can hop aboard in your regular clothes. Self powered dynamo lighting and a lock are often built in, so you won’t need many extras.
They shrug off potholed streets, while an upright riding position gives you a commanding view of traffic. The main downside is that they tend to be quite heavy, and while the riding position is comfortable, it’s not particularly efficient and you won’t want to take on any big hills.
Great looks, relaxed riding position, practical, ideal for wearing normal clothes, normally very durable Cons:
Heavy and slow
Electric bike: best if you want a hand up the hills
With assistance from a powerful motor, electric bikes or e-bikes are great if you’re a commuter who needs to arrive at work in a less sweaty state, or if you’re less confident about your fitness.
Laws vary from country to country and, in the US, can vary from state to state. However, in the UK (apart from Northern Ireland) electric bikes limited to 25km/h / 15.5mph can be used on the road without a helmet or licence they are bikes as far as the law is concerned because you still need to pedal to activate the electric assistance (hence the term ‘pedelec’).
More powerful e-bikes (some with motorcycle-style throttles) are also available, but in some countries, including the UK, these are classed as mopeds or motorbikes and therefore need to conform to the same rules (insurance, helmets and so forth).
Most e-bikes are designed to be comfortable and easy to live with thanks to flat bars, mudguards and luggage capacity. There’s a significant price and weight premium over an equivalent regular bike for the battery, motor and control electronics. However, as the technology develops, both prices and weights are coming down.
The world of electric mountain bikes also known as e-MTBs is also a rapidly expanding one, allowing riders who might have needed to swear off their dirt riding activities to keep enjoying the countryside for longer than they might have imagined There are also a handful of drop-bar e-road bikes on the market, such as the Giant Road-E+ , but this remains a fairly small niche.
Easy to ride, comfortable, fun Cons:
Regular recharging, heavier and significantly more expensive than an equivalent standard bike
Folding bikes: best if you’re short on space / best for public transport
If you need to combine a bit of riding with urban portability, then there’s nothing better than a folding bike. They’re best suited to short rides – especially where storage space at either end is scarce – and their portability means they’re ideal when you might have to hop onto a train or a bus to get where you’re going.
That means that folding bikes are phenomenally popular among big-city commuters. The most compact ones will fit under your desk and they’re easy to carry as well.
A folder won’t ride like a conventional bike because of the necessary compromises, but the best modern folders are surprisingly capable.
Massively convenient to store, can be taken onto public transport, small wheels are quick to accelerate Cons:
Heavier and slower than a big-wheeled bike and not as stable or pothole-proof Best folding bike 2020: our favourite folders
Best Bicycle for kids!
The first thing to keep in mind is that children’s needs vary wildly depending on their age and ability. Balance bikes are where it’s at for the pre-school crowd, then by the time they progress to 16-inch wheels, they’ll (hopefully) be pedalling away without stabilisers before very long.
Move up a notch to 20-inch wheels and gears start to make an appearance, then by the time they’re nine and riding 24-inch wheels they’ll basically be riding smaller versions of adult bikes – disc brakes, suspension and all.
Best kids’ bike: a buyer’s guide