Choosing a bike can be a daunting experience. Bikes vary significantly by price and have become very specialized to their use. Here’s how to choose the best bike for your lifestyle. It is a simple two step process. Establish a budget based on how frequent you ride or intend to ride, then choose a bike style based on where or what type of biking you intend to do.
Step 1: Decide where you fall on the Budget Frequency Relationship
The more you ride, the more you should spend on your bike. If you ride frequently, upping your budget can make sense. A frequent rider will appreciate the features, quality and feel of a up-market bike whereas the occasional rider may not find value in the difference between a high or middle budget bike.
Up-market Bikes ($750+)
As a frequent rider, you’ll need a bike that is durable and holds up to years of use. Spending a lot of time on the saddle also means you’ll appreciate high-quality lightweight components and the feel of your bike. Typically, the more you spend the more these factors are delivered. However, the law of diminishing returns applies here. At a certain point every additional $100 or $200 you spend begin to create less value. For example, there is a significant difference between a $500 and $1,000 bike but much less of a difference between a $1,000 and $2,000 bike. Bikes in this range often come with high-end components that are designed around weight savings and performance. Crisp shifting, stopping power, durability and overall performance is what this segment delivers to frequent riders.
Middle Market Bikes ($200 to $750)
Bikes in this price point are designed more for the occasional or beginner rider. This segment offers great options for casual use or bikers just starting out. Bikes in this range still deliver good value, great features and all the conveniences of a modern bike. The only potential sacrifice you’re making here is the quality of the frame and components. Bikes in this range still have name brand components but will likely be lower-end among their offerings. The frame is likely constructed with slightly lower quality aluminum or steel and assembled with less focus on craftsmanship or weight savings. Despite these drawbacks, an occasional rider will find the most value for their money in this price range. A $500 bike that is well cared for will provide years of pleasurable riding.
Bikes below $200
Generally, we do not suggest budgeting less than $200 for a bike unless it is for a child and will only be used for a few short years. Bikes below this price point make significant sacrifices with quality and offer little long-term durability. Most importantly, they make riding less enjoyable. The components will often be built by an unknown brand and focus primarily on cost savings rather than a pleasurable riding experience. Bikes like this are typically found at big retailers and sometimes have gimmick features like disc brakes on only the front wheel or poorly constructed shock absorbers that give the illusion of a higher-end bike.
Step 2: Deciding what style of bike
Now that you’ve established a budget it’s time to decide on what style of bike you should shop for. Bikes have become very specialized over the years.
If you plan to do any riding on trails, a mountain bike is somewhat a requirement. While some road bikes can be equipped to perform on a trail, a Mountain bike is designed for the demands of the trail riding. You must be able to navigate rocks, roots, climb and descend hills. Mountain bikes are a great choice since they offer great flexibility. Since they are designed for the harshest riding conditions, they are very capable in everyday riding in the city or on pavement. If you end up spending a lot of time on pavement with your mountain bike you can even install smoother tires to reduce the rolling resistance and noise that mountain bike tires can create on pavement.
Within mountain bikes, you have one main decision to make. Do you get a hardtail or full suspension bike? This decision should be made based on where you live or plan to ride. If you ride in the midwest, northeast or southeast of the US, a hardtail bike is perfect for 99% of trails. Trails in these regions have limited drops and excessive rough terrain. Hardtails offer the best climbing ability since your energy gets transferred efficiently to the rear wheels and the simple design reduces weight and complexity. Full suspension bikes offer better ability, compliance, and comfort on rough terrain with drops or extended downhill runs. This ability comes at a cost of weight, complexity and some climbing performance. Trails in the southwest, west, and northwest of the US have more demanding trails where a full suspension bike would be better suited.
If you plan to spend all of your time on extended trips on pavement for exercise or just for fun, a road bike may be the best style bike for you. Road bikes are designed to go long distances and maintain a relatively high speed due to their gearing and focus on performance. Road bikes are not the best style of bike for casual use or city riding. Their focus on performance and speed makes them less compliant on rough surfaces found in the city or sidewalks. Many road riders seek smooth riding surfaces when planning their routes and often ride on the street, right of the white line to find the smoothest surface. It is also recommended to be clipped into your pedals with cycling shoes when road biking. While this maximizes your pedaling efficiency, it makes dismounting and frequent stops more inconvenient.
If you plan to use your bike for commuting or navigating streets, sidewalks and intersections, a city bike may be best for you. City bikes come in a variety of styles and configurations. The most common feature of city bikes is beefy smooth tires, that while heavier than performance road tires, can do a fair amount of absorption when riding on rough city streets or hopping over a curb. Many city bike designs also take a minimalist approach, often having a single speed drivetrain or minimal components in general. Many city bike designs also offer cargo capabilities where the bike can be outfitted with baskets and racks for carrying items, going shopping etc.
Now that you’ve decided your bike budget and style, read our guide on where to buy your bike.