The bikes we've tested have cost from about $300 to nearly $2,000.. We found that more money buys a lightweight frame made of carbon fiber, aluminum (or a combination of both materials), or high-strength steel and other high-quality components. But you can still buy a good bike for just a few hundred dollars.
That will narrow your choice to one of the four basic types. If you're an avid cyclist, you may prefer a conventional road bike. Looking for a leisurely ride on flat, paved roads? A comfort bike may be more your speed. If rugged trails are in your sights, than a mountain bike might be best.
You'll pay more, but we think you're more likely to be satisfied. Bikes from big-box stores might not be properly assembled or well matched to your body. If you don't like the pedals or seat on a particular model, some bike shops will swap components at little or no cost.
Before you buy any bike, ride it far enough to make sure that the brakes and shifters are easy to use, the fit is comfortable, the gears can go low enough for climbing hills, and the frame and suspension adequately smooth the bumps.
Inexpensive bikes--those selling for less than about $200, often in big-box stores-- may seem like good deals, but we advise spending $300 or more, if your budget allows. Why? Because you'll get a lot more bike for your buck.
Mass-market bikes have cheaper construction than higher-priced bikes and can weigh seven or eight pounds more. They come in only one size, so you're not likely to get a great fit. And mass merchants can't match bike shops for quality of assembly, expert advice, and service.
Adults should consider inexpensive bikes from a department store only for the most casual use, and stick with a front-suspension model, which is likely to be better than an inexpensive full-suspension bike. You might want a mass-market bike for kids who will outgrow a bike quickly or handle it roughly.
A good bike helmet is essential. Special cycling shoes and cleats can ease your pedaling. Gloves will absorb vibrations and help to protect your hands in a spill. Polycarbonate glasses can shield your eyes from bugs and errant pebbles. A water bottle is handy to have on long, hot-weather rides.
While there are now many varieties of bicycles, including several hybrids, most fall under the four basic categories described below.
These are for leisurely, recreational riding on pavement and smooth dirt paths. They include high handlebars, shock absorbers in the seat or fork, and a soft, wide seat.Pros:
Creature comforts include an upright riding position and a cushiony ride. Low gears allow easier uphill pedaling. As a group, comfort bikes cost less than other types.Cons:
Comfort bikes might make for hard pedaling on hilly terrain. And for off-road use, they can't compete with a mountain bike's rigid construction and wide, knobby tires.
These are designed to stand up to rugged trails. You'll get a shock-absorbing front suspension fork and possibly rear suspension, which provide the best control and comfort on the roughest terrain. They have wide, knobby tires, a narrow or moderately width saddle, and flat or riser handlebars.Pros:
More durable than other types. Absorb shock well. Excellent off-road handling.Cons:
Heavier than road and fitness bikes. Not as well-suited for road riding.
These bikes are for riders who want to log fast or serious mileage, including multi-day touring. Conventional road bikes feature a lightweight frame, skinny tires, a narrow seat, and drop handlebars that make you bend low. Performance road bikes are similar except for their shorter top tube (the horizontal one) and longer head tube (the vertical one under the handlebars), which allow a slightly more upright riding position. Cross bikes, another subcategory, are essentially beefy road bikes with wide, knobby tires for off-road traction.Pros:
Avid cyclists may prefer the aerodynamic bent-over position that the drop handlebars of a conventional road bike provide.Cons:
Some riders may not feel comfortable bending that low, even with the somewhat higher handlebars of a performance road bike.
These bikes blend the slim tires, narrow seat, and lightweight frame of a road bike with the horizontal handlebars and more upright riding position of a mountain bike. Fitness bikes might be a good choice for those who simply want to burn calories or improve cardiovascular fitness, or for daily short-haul commuting.Pros:
Fitness bikes are more comfortable than road bikes. They weigh only a couple of pounds more than road bikes and tend to cost much less. They might be good for commuting to work.Cons:
Less aerodynamic than a road bike.
While buying a bike is not on the same level of commitment as, say, getting married, it is still a decision that warrants some thought. And, especially if you are considering buying a bike for the first time, it can seem as if your options are nearly endless.
Your first decision comes in determining what type of bike you are after. There are basically four main styles of bikes to choose from, and your selection should really depend on what you anticipate your main type of riding to be.