Riding a bike is a great way to exercise and have fun at the same time, but like any sporting endeavour, it’s important to have the right equipment. When you walk into your local bike shop you could easily get overwhelmed by all the different bikes – and end up buying the pretty one, instead of the most functional. Here’s a quick no-nonsense guide to the different bike types, so you can decide which is right for you.
I had to start with my personal favourite! The road bike is a fast and light machine and as the name suggests it is best ridden on roads, or at least on bitumen or paved surfaces. A lot of women take one look at a road bike and feel intimidated by its race-like appearance, but don’t let that put you off.
Road bikes are simply a pleasure to ride once you get the hang of it. They are the swift and light which means they go up hills better than any other type of bike. They are also nice and light if you have to lift them up to put them on a bike rack or carry up stairs.
There are many bike manufacturers like Specialized, Trek and Giant that make women’s specific road bikes which are designed to meet the needs of women. These include a different frame geometry, saddle, handlebar width, gear/brake reach and compact gearing.
Flat Bar Road Bike
These are the lesser relatives of the ‘real’ road bike and are so called because they have flat handlebars, rather than the drop variety. They’re still relatively light and swift but not as much as the road bike. You ride in a more upright position so you are less aerodynamic.
They are great fitness bikes, great for commuting and great for mums who want to ride around behind their kids – who get increasingly faster as time moves on.
Mountain bikes are designed to be ridden off-road. Lots of people buy them as a general bike to get around the suburbs but I believe they are off-roaders. All have front suspension and some also have rear suspension. When ridden on the road, they have a bouncy sort of feeling.
You can put slick tyres on a mountain bike and make it easier to ride on paved surfaces, but it’s still a mountain bike.
If you do nearly all your bike riding off-road, then a mountain bike is perfect for you.
There a number of styles of hybrid bikes and although most could be considered a merging of road bikes and mountain bikes, they are always a compromise.
You can get hybrids that have front suspension and look similar to mountain bikes with thinner tyres. You can also get hybrid bikes that have no front suspension and are a bit like a chunkier version of a flat bar road bike.
Hybrids are ideal if you want to do some off-road riding and some on. But realise that it’s a compromise between the two main styles of bike.
There are also plenty of bikes I’d put in the category of urban bikes. This includes those pretty retro bikes with baskets on the front, cruisers and single speed fixies. These types of bikes are focused more on the look and less on the function. They are best for short, fairly flat trips and could involve a pretty dress. But don’t be seduced by the cool window display of cheap ‘urban’ bikes because you definitely get what you pay for. A cheap bike will ride poorly and won’t encourage you to include cycling in your exercise program.
My recommendation is to head to your local bike shop and talk to the sales staff about the different options available. I’d also recommend that you test ride a few bikes. This might make you a bit nervous but it will help you decide on the best bike for you.
Nicola Rutzou writes a blog called Women Who Cycle and is a keen advocate of women’s cycling in all its forms. She works in the cycling industry in her home town of Sydney and is an enthusiastic road bike rider and occasional racer.