With so many types of bicycles available, it helps to do some research before shopping. Think about the type of terrain you want to ride on and how far you typically will ride, then consider these popular bike types:
Road bikes. Lightweight road bicycles are designed for speed on paved surfaces. They have narrow saddles, skinny tires, and 16 to 30 gears to fine-tune your speed. They're ideal for racing or biking long distances, assuming you are comfortable leaning forward over the low handlebars.
A touring bike is a more comfortable type of road bike with a wider saddle and tires, and handlebars that put you in a more upright position. This bike is durable, making it a good choice for daily commuting, and for carrying bags or packages.
Mountain bikes. These rugged bikes are made for riding on trails, gravel roads and cross-country, where road bikes can't go. They have wide tires with ground-grabbing tread, suspension systems to absorb bumps, and several low gears to make pedaling up hills easier.
"Mountain bikes are popular in part because they are comfortable," says Andy Clark, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. "You sit relatively upright and the wide, flat handlebars put the brakes and gear shift within easy reach of your hands."
A variation on the mountain bike is the comfort bike. Good for easy riding around town, comfort bikes have wide, cushy seats, smooth, wide tires, and raised handlebars, and are easy to mount and dismount.
Hybrids. A hybrid combines features from a road bike and a mountain bike, offering a comfortable, upright sitting position, a smooth ride and a range of gears. A hybrid is a great choice for anyone who wants to ride both a little off-road and a little on pavement, says Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Their versatility makes them popular with the average rider.
- Recumbents. A recumbent has a big seat with a back that's positioned low to the ground. Pedals are in front of the seat, so the rider sits in a partially reclined position with legs outstretched. This type of bike is good for those whose physical limitations make it difficult to ride a conventional bike, or for anyone who needs back support. Recumbents are comfortable, fast and safe, but they are bulky and expensive, often costing $1,000 or more.
Bicycles are available to fit every budget. The average price at a bike shop is $450, Clements says. Price is driven by technology and materials. For instance, a high-end bike frame made of lightweight carbon fiber is expensive. A heavier steel frame costs less.
Most shops carry several models of well-known brands, says Ernie Lehman, owner of Ernie's Bicycle Shop in Massillon, Ohio (pop. 31,325). With your cycling plans in mind, see what appeals to you in terms of pedal style, handlebars and other features within your price range.
Test ride several bikes before making a purchase. Have the shop adjust the seat for your height. Ride uphill to get a feel for how the bike handles, Lehman suggests.
The point is to find the right bike for the kind of riding you want to do, Lehman adds. If you plan to ride with other people, buying the type of bike they have enables you to enjoy outings together.