For a fun way to stay fit, bike riding can't be beat.

New To Cycling? How to Choose the Best Bike

Picture yourself on your next bike ride – where are you going? Are you pedaling leisurely along the Marina, covering 40 miles of coastline, commuting to work, or careening down a rocky trail? Knowing the type of riding you plan to do will guide your decision about the best bike for your needs. Bicycles come in several general groups: road, mountain, and hybrid, and commuter. Here’s what makes them different.

Road Bikes: Designed for Performance and Pavement

Also called touring or racing bikes, road bikes are generally lighter weight and have slightly larger, narrow wheels to give you speed and agility. Road bikes come with two types of handlebars, drop-bar handlebars designed for aerodynamics, and flat-bar handlebars, which allow you to be slightly more upright. (But only slightly; if you wish to ride in a more upright position, read on.)

Mountain Bikes: Ready for Rough Terrain

Wider 26″ tires, a heavier, sturdier frame, and shock-absorbing features help mountain bikes withstand the impact of uneven, rocky ground. Mountain bikes also feature stronger braking systems and lower gears, make it easier to climb steep slopes and stop quickly when needed. Mountain bikes come in two distinct styles:

  1. Hardtail bikes. The most common – and most affordable – type of mountain bike, hardtail bikes feature a front suspension shock to absorb impact but are rigid in the back. The combination makes hardtails the more versatile style, suitable for riding on roads as well as trails.
  2. Full suspension bikes. Designed with both front and rear shocks, full suspension bikes are designed for backcountry adventures, ready to take on bumpy trails and twisty singletracks.They’re heavier than hardtails and typically more expensive.

Comfort Bikes: Around Town In Style

Like mountain bikes, comfort bikes have the smaller and wider 26″ wheels, giving you more balance and a smoother ride when tooling around town. They also high higher handlebars for a more upright riding style, and some are “step-through” to make it easier to dismount. Some comfort bikes are outfitted with a shock-absorbing compression seatpost similar to the suspension shocks on mountain bikes. Many comfort bikes have wider, more supportive seats and fenders to protect your clothes. They’re often outfitted with racks or baskets for carrying groceries and gear. A newer feature of some comfort bikes is an internal gear hub that protects gears for easy maintenance. Cruisers are a subset of comfort bikes that usually have just one speed and may be designed for a more reclining posture.

Hybrid Bikes: A Versatile Solution

As the name suggests, hybrid bikes combine features from road, mountain, and comfort bikes. The handlebars of hybrid bikes are designed to allow either a more upright or lower aerodynamic position, and they have the 700c wheel size of a road bike. The term hybrid covers a wide variety of styles and features, with options including lighter weight frames, suspension forks and seatposts, cushioning seats, and more or fewer gears.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.