What kind of bike are you after?
Follow these five steps to help you zone in on your perfect bike.
Step 1 – Determine what type of riding you will be doing
Whether you’re a leisure rider or a fitness fanatic, without a doubt there is a bike out there to suit you. Every bike is perfectly designed for a specific style of cycling, so the first step in choosing the right bike is to decide what type of riding you want to be doing.
Do you want to ride on the road in a group? Perhaps you're seeking a bike to get you to work? Want to tackle the trails at your local mountain bike park? Looking to get healthy and spin laps in the park? Simply want to pop down to the local cafe in style? Or are you just seeking a bike to ride with the kids? Assessing what you want to do will quickly set you in the right direction.
Step 2 – Where to buy from
Knowing what type of cycling you're looking to do will be a big decider on narrowing down your purchase points. If you're looking to do regular cycling then a specialist bike store is likely the best option. There are also some online retailers who specialise in quality bicycles, but you'll need some basic knowledge to ensure you get the right size and have it set up correctly.
If your budget is a little more restricted, then there are plenty of options out there for a cheap bicycle. You may find a good deal at general sporting goods shops and buying used is also an option. BikeExchange also has quality used bikes advertised.
Step 3 - Price point
It's important to work out how much you want to spend on your bike. Specialist mountain and road bikes typically start at over £1,000, with many costing far more. More budget options may start from as little as £200, but it's crucial to consider that you do get what you pay for. Using BikeExchange will give a clear idea on what type of bike is within your price point. Don't forget to budget for additional parts and accessories that you may need.
Step 4 – Sizing up
Finding the correct bike size is paramount to comfortable and confident cycling. With many bike types available in five or more sizes, there should be no guesswork. An incorrectly-sized bike can make for awkward or uncomfortable riding, and could be unsafe too.
Based on a number of factors including height, inseam length, riding experience and flexibility, determining the right size bike is something that often requires experience. If buying from your local bike store, this is something they will help you with. Once a correct bike size is chosen, ensure it's correctly fitted and adjusted to you. The most common adjustment is saddle height, however, handlebar height and reach to the handlebars may need to be fine tuned too.
Step 5 – Parts and Accessories
Once you’ve determined the right bike for you, it’s then time to consider parts and/or accessories. Often a bike is sold only with parts required to ride it and nothing more. It’s up to you to decide on what you want to add to the bike. Some common additions include cages (holders) for water bottles, lights, pump, lock, cycle computer and a different saddle or pedals.
In Ireland a helmet is not required by law, but it can improve your safety while other accessories such as gloves or padded bike shorts can greatly enhance your cycling experience.
What are bike frames made of?
Bikes will be made from aluminium, carbon fibre, steel or titanium. The bike’s material is often dictated by your budget, but also the type of riding you want to do. Be warned that not all materials are created equally and it's really up to the engineering, manufacturer quality and price point to dictate just how good each frame is - not the claimed material used.
*Carbon Fibre has become the benchmark for modern performance and high-end bicycles. Every single bike you'll see in the Tour de France is using this material. While not all carbon bikes are created equal, the woven material allows engineers to create ultra light weight, stiff, comfortable and/or strong frames. Sometimes some of these characteristics are specifically chosen at the cost of another.
Those seeking lightweight on a budget should look toward a bicycle with an aluminium frame. These frames are strong, stiff, reasonably light and well priced.
Considered a classic material, Steel remains a good option for those looking to carry things on the bike or who prefer the original aesthetic. Quality steel remains the perfect option for touring-style bikes. Steel is also the term used in the cheapest of bicycles, but be careful of these as they're typically extremely heavy. Price will always be a reliable gauge here.
Titanium is similar to a quality steel frame but with a unique ride feel and noticeably lower weight. Titanium is extremely difficult to work with and so is one of the most expensive materials to make a bike frame from. Still, if you want something a little different, that will last a lifetime and not compromise on performance - titanium may be worth a look.
Types of bikes
Let’s start by looking at the different types of bikes on the market, and the sort of cycling they deliver.
Designed for use on sealed roads, road bikes are built as one of the most efficient bicycles. Road bikes can be spotted by the skinny tyres and 'drop' handlebar that curls back toward the rider at the bottom. There are multiple types of road bikes, but they will typically fit into one of two categories: competition or endurance.
Competition bikes are built with speed in mind. They typically feature harder gears, stiffer frames and a more aggressive position to keep you out of the wind.
Endurance bikes can come in many forms, but typically feature slightly more upright riding positions, easier gearing and a smoother ride. They're best picked for more social and fitness-based road cycling. Most brands will sell more endurance road bikes than competition.
Adding a little more confusion, a third category is starting to emerge - adventure. These take endurance bikes a step further and add wider tyres, even lower gearing and a focus on riding beyond the sealed road. If you have your eyes set on pedalling wherever the road takes you, including back country gravel roads, then this category of bike may be for you.
Triathlon/Time Trial bikes are designed for competition and not recreational purposes. They are focused on aerodynamics which makes them the fastest road bike in a straight line and against the clock. Such speed comes at the expense of handling and long-distance comfort. Designed for good quality sealed roads only, this type of bike is best ridden/raced alone or in small groups due to the pointed and narrow handlebar position that doesn't lend itself to agility or fast braking.
Many who own this type of bike will also own a road bike for training and social purposes.
Flat Bar Road bikes combine the flat handlebar position of a mountain bike with the speed of a road bike. Due to the more upright riding position, flat bar road bikes are not as fast as traditional road bikes, but offer a more upright riding position and greater visibility in traffic. This type of bike is a popular choice for commuting to work and general fitness cycling. They're best kept to sealed roads, although some flat bar road bikes offer wider tyres that can handle light gravel use too.
Arguably no category of bicycle offers you more choice of bike than mountain biking. While choice is a good thing, it can also be overwhelming. If you're set on wanting to ride off-road, be sure to do your research and talk to your local bike shop.
Choosing a mountain bike will come down to the type of terrain you want to ride, whether you're looking to compete and your current ability. Suspension is a common theme on mountain bikes, with more suspension provided as terrain becomes more difficult.
The suspension commonly dictates the name of the mountain bike too. Mountain bikes with no suspension are referred to as 'rigid'. Mountain bikes with front suspension are called 'hardtails' as the rear is rigid. And bikes with suspension at both the front and rear wheels are called either full suspension or dual suspension bikes.
Cyclocross bikes are built for the sport of cyclocross. This sport originated in Europe as a way for road cycling racers to stay fit in the winter, however, has since grown to be a loved form a cycling racing around the world. Cyclocross bikes look much like road bikes but instead feature treaded tyres and lower gearing. Both the frame and brakes are designed to allow room for deep mud.
Given their designated usage, cyclocross bikes sit in the middle between a road bike and mountain bike. This makes them an excellent choice for not just cyclocross racing, but also adventure cycling and commuting.
The urban category is a tough one describe and covers all types of bikes designed around transport in an urban environment. These bikes are typically designed for efficient transport over short to medium length distances.
Many urban bikes offer greater strength compared to lighter flat bar road bikes in order to handle the rigours of jumping off curbs and riding poor surfaces. Some urban bikes are designed with security in mind, offering theft-proof wheels, easy lock carrying and stealthy paint work.
Others go in an opposite direction, grabbing influence from Dutch bicycles with classic styling and timeless colours. These are also known as 'Classic' or 'Vintage' bikes, read more on these below.
Also commonly known as a 'comfort' or 'fitness' bike, hybrids typically offer one of the most upright riding positions available. Hybrids originally got their name for being somewhere between a road and mountain bike, but modern-day hybrids are perhaps best classified as recreational fitness bikes. If you want to leisurely and comfortably ride on sealed surfaces without any speed or performance pursuits, then a hybrid may be right for you.
While many hybrids don't offer suspension, some will offer suspension at both the front wheel and below the saddle. These types of bikes are perfect for those looking to take up cycling who suffer from chronic neck or back pain.
Perfect for those limited on storage space or wanting to use a bike in addition to bus and train travel. As the name suggests, a folding bike can be collapsed for compact storage and portability.
Most folding bikes feature limited gearing and smaller wheels, which means they are best used for shorter town trips on smooth surfaces. The smaller wheels and the smaller bike in general will typically be less stable at speed.
Standing for 'Bicycle Motor Cross', BMX bikes are typically built for fun. There are three major types of BMX bikes, each designed to suit a particular category - Jump, Race and Freestyle. BMX bikes typically feature smaller 20in wheels, compact frames and a single gear. BMX bikes are designed for minimal pedalling and short distance rides.
BMX Racing is an Olympic sport held on a purpose built track. These bikes feature one gear, just a rear brake and are designed to be extremely stiff and lightweight.
Jump and Freestyle BMX's are both built with strength as a priority. Jump bikes are typically bare bones in design with as few parts as possible the break or cause injury to the rider. Freestyle bikes are typically designed for use within skateparks and can feature components designed specifically for performing stunts such as grinds and handlebar spins.
Touring bikes are the most desirable bike for multiple-day adventures as they are easy to use, reliable and strong enough to handle carrying large luggage loads. Touring bikes are known for their comfort and are capable of travelling on most terrains. Such strength typically comes at a weight penalty which makes the bike sluggish to ride, so best keep these for those true escapes.
Fixie and Single Speed bikes are great city bikes designed for cheap and reliable mobility. They are best suited to flatter urban roads as they have no gears and road tyres. A fixie is short for 'fixed wheel', meaning the rear cog is directly connected to the rear wheel and doesn't allow for coasting. A single speed bike features a rear cog with a 'freewheel' that allows for coasting.
Due to the lack of gears, these bikes are typically cheaper in price and offer high style points.
Built for racing around a velodrome, Track bikes are required for 'track cycle racing'. Track bikes features no brakes and a fixed rear wheel which makes them illegal to use on the road. A 'Fixie' is actually just a track bike that is taken on the road.
Cruiser bikes are known for their comfort - the seat, handlebars and the the frame are all designed to make the rider feel as comfortable as possible for short distance rides. These bikes are not fast or efficient, but they look great and are extremely fun to ride. The cruiser bike is best suited for use on road or paved path riding and the main features are its large seats and high handlebars. Perfect for riding a long the beach in style.
A nod to the olden days, Classic and Vintage bikes are popular due to their classy styling and general ease of use. Many of these bikes are inspired by those ridden around the flat streets of Amsterdam and so either feature a few or no gears at all. The riding position is similar to that of a hybrid and is generally very comfortable for shorter rides.
Most of these bikes can be quite heavy and are constructed with steel frames, more expensive versions will be made of aluminium. Many Classic or Vintage bikes will include accessories to complete the look and utility of the bike, these can include pannier racks, front baskets and a kickstand.
Perhaps the fastest growing category of bicycle, E-bikes feature an electric motor for pedal assistance. E-Bikes can fall under multiple other bike categories including road and mountain, but the most popular category for E-bikes are for around town and commuting use. A proper E-bike works by providing motor assistance while the bike is pedalled, therefore providing help on the hills and flats.
In the United Kingdom, E-bikes are legally restricted to a 250W output with a top-speed of 25km/ph before the electric motor stops providing assistance. After that, you're on your own to go faster.
We hope this information gives you a handy, overall understanding of the different types of bikes – and bike riding – out there. We always recommend heading to your local bike store and starting a chat with them. They are a wealth of knowledge and will be able to point you in the right direction!