What are the types of bicycles?

You’re in for a shock if it has been years since you’ve shopped for a bicycle. It’s no longer just five- or 10-speed men’s and women’s bikes. Today you have many choices depending on your interest and goals. In the text below, I’ve described seven different types of bicycles to choose from:traditional (Cruiser), hybrid, racing, touring, mountain, folding, and adult trike. I’ve also included a glossary of terms to help you through the myriad of stuff that makes up biking.

Traditional or cruiser bikes

These are the Cadillacs of bikes. The types and styles these bikes come in are as varied as the numerous models of luxury vehicles available. They are built with one thing in mind…comfort. But comfort comes at a cost; these bikes are heavy, weighing as much as 35-50 pounds. Adding to the weight are the optional front-suspension forks (like a shock absorber on a car), anywhere from one to 21 gears, wide tires (there has been a recent resurgence of the old-style balloon tire because of its “retro” good looks and reliability), spring-suspension seats (seat-post suspension on some), step-through design which means large and heavy tubular frame design for stability, fenders, front and rear lights, air pumps, and racks or baskets to carry your stuff. The handlebars are high so that you sit upright; the advantage to this geometry is that it reduces strain on your neck and back and makes it easier to see where you are going and easier to be seen, but the disadvantage is that you go slower because you are less aerodynamic when you sit up. But traditional bikes aren’t built for speed! These bikes are perfect for leisurely riding around town and for commuting. This is a very stable bike and good for beginners.

Hybrid bike

Hybrid bikes are a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. They first appeared in the late 1980s and have gained popularity in the past five to 10 years. Hybrids are probably the best all-around bike since they combine the best features of mountain and road bikes. They are fast, sturdy, and handle well on tarmac (they can take a small pothole) as well as on light trails. You can ride them leisurely around town, comfortably on longer rides, and off road when the need arises (but not on extreme trails). Frames are typically made of carbon fiber or aluminum alloy to keep them lightweight and fast but durable, and they typically have 21-27 gears (making long-distance riding and hills more manageable). The saddle is wider than a racing saddle but narrower than a big, cushy, spring-loaded one (you ride faster on a narrow saddle). Some hybrids come with an adjustable handlebar stem so that you can raise or lower the handlebars for slow, casual riding (sitting upright), or fast riding while leaning forward. Front forks on hybrids may be wide enough to accommodate avariety of tire sizes; wide, knobby, mountain-bike tires for more shock absorbtion and stability in rain, snow, or rough roads; or thinner road tires when you want to ride fast on smooth streets. Hybrids can be fixed up with fenders for commuting (to keep water from splashing on your slacks), a chain guard (to keep the chain oil off your clothes), kickstands, and lights. All of theses accessories add weight to the bike but make it safer and cleaner for riding around town. The hybrid is the one to choose if you’re looking for an all-around bike that you can use in the city, around town, for longer rides in the country, and even for light, off-road paths. It’s an excellent choice for beginners.

Racing or road bike

This is not the bike for a beginner or for those getting back into biking after a multi-decade hiatus. These bikes are made of ultra-light composite fibers and are built for speed (this is the type Lance Armstrong and the others bikers ride in the Tour de France). They feature very thin tires (at very high pressure, which make them fast but bumpy), drop handlebars (you ride very hunched over to cut down on wind resistance), narrow saddle, and many gears (gears on racing bikes are very close together, which allows the rider to match the gear precisely for the conditions). There are no frills, no reflectors, no kickstand, no fenders. They are designed to be as lightweight and aerodynamic as possible.

Touring bike

Touring bikes are designed for long-distance, multi-day, or weeklong adventures. They are built for reliability, strength, and comfort. They are lighter than a hybrid or mountain bike but heavier than a racing bike. The handlebars can be adjusted to drop down for speed or be upright for more comfort and taking in the scenery. They are fitted with front and rear panniers to carry all your stuff and at least 21 gears to get you up the steepest hills even with all the excess baggage. Although this bike is built for the demands of long-distance riding, you could use it around town as a commuting bike as well.

Mountain bike

Mountain bikes are perfect for riding in the rain, snow, and of course, over rocks, tree roots, or pretty much whatever else the trail throws at you. The frames are made from composite materials to keep the weight down but the durability high (you don’t want the frame to fail while you’re riding over rocks and roots). Mountain bikes have suspension in the front which increases traction and comfort (some do not, which means the rider should be very skilled to negotiate the terrain safely), and sometimes there is suspension in the rear as well (full-suspension). Suspension adds weight to the bike, and so there is a trade-off between comfort, safety, and weight. Mountain bikes typically have 21-27 gears, although there is a recent trend for minimalist, single-gear mountain bikes. Brake design has shifted from rim brakes to disc brakes because of the superior stopping and the ability to stay dry and clean, which means better performance in the rain and the dirt. Wheels come in different widths and diameter depending on the terrain and style of riding (trails, jumping, etc.). The tires are knobby to increase traction and use tubed or tubeless designs. Tubeless tires resist the type of flat called a pinch flat, where the inner tube gets caught (pinched) between the rim and the tire. A pinch flat differs from a puncture flat, where an object (nail or glass) punctures the tire and the tube. The riding position is upright so you can see where you’re going.

Mountain-bike riding has various degrees of technicality depending on how tough the trail is, and so you ought to find someone with mountain-biking experience to show you the ropes or find a class to get you started. Your local bike shop probably has information on mountain-bike instruction (where to go, who will teach you, difficulty of the trails, etc.).


I have a particular fondness for folding bikes (I own two of them). They’re great for riding around town (the upright posture allows you to be seen by cars and pedestrians and allows you to see everything, too), they accelerate and maneuver through traffic better than larger bikes, they’re great for commuting to work (fold it up and bring it inside), and you can fold one up and put it in the trunk of your car or pack it in a backpack (the bike manufacturers’ custom design), duffel bag, or suitcase and take it with you on a bus, train, or plane.

Folding bikes are nothing new. They are very popular in Europe and Asia and have been around since World War II, when soldiers used them for transportation.

Folding bikes use smaller wheels than standard size bikes, typically 16 or 20 inches compared with 26 inches. Folding is made possible through the use of hinges and clamps. Most manufacturers use hinges in the middle of the frame and clamps so you can lower or remove the seat post and steering stem. The end result is a bike folded in half, not much longer than the diameter of the wheels and not much wider than two and a half to three times the width of the bike unfolded. Foldable pedals are available to keep the width tight. The entire folding process can take less than one minute when you get good at it.

Folding bikes are heavier than you might think. Some can weigh as much as 25 pounds or even more. The reason is that the frames must be thick because of the long seat post and handlebar stem, which make the bike somewhat unstable compared to traditional sized diamond-frame bikes. But this is not really a downside because the bike is not built for racing (although there are folding bike races these days); rather, it is built for getting it out of the way in small spaces, getting where you need to go, commuting, and packing it up to travel if you need to. They’re a great investment if you have any of these needs.

Adult trikes

Bike riding is a terrific activity for individuals of all ages. It’s easy on the joints, gets the heart rate elevated, and is good for flexibility and strength in the legs. But balance is an issue for some people, and the fear and risk of falling is legitimate. The solution is simple…adult tricycles or trikes. They’re grown-up three-wheelers, and they’re awesome and stylish. They’re heavy duty (some can support up to 300 pounds), they have baskets for carrying packages so you can do your errands, and they provide almost everyone an opportunity for exercise and freedom of movement for those individuals who might not be able to get around. With adult trikes, there’s really no excuse for not getting out there.