Guide to Bike Types

Guide to Bike Types

This BUYERS GUIDE is offered to you by Bikesoup to help you choose the right type of bike. It is brief in content & should be supplemented by visiting your local cycle shop to discuss your needs in person. Alternatively you could talk to a private seller about an individual bike that they are selling & it’s potential use. Of course, the internet offers as much impartial advice as you will ever need to read. Have fun!

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MTB – DownhillMTB – Full suspensionMTB – HardtailROAD / RACINGTT / TRIATHLON

General Buying Advice

Before you even begin to start to search for your new bikes in the Bikesoup adverts, you will need to allocate a ballpark budget to your new bike & have some sort of understanding about how you will use the bike & on what type of surface it will be ridden on – this will allow you identify what type of bike is RIGHT FOR YOU.

The bike market is being continually expanded with new niche products being released all the time to meet new customer needs. All of these new products mean that buying a bike today can be a very confusing affair with numerous potential solutions on offer. With a little patience, you will very quickly begin to understand the market better & identify the right bike for you & your needs.

At the heart of every bike is the frame & this is where you should aim to invest the lion’s share of your budget. Relevant, as it is, to new bike purchases, investing in your bicycle’s frame is an even more compelling argument with a used bike as the bike’s components will need replacing relatively sooner. Identifying a better quality frame is particularly relevant when considering a bike made by one of the larger manufacturers eg. Specialized, Giant & Trek, as they have many model ranges covering all budgets from a few hundred £’s to several thousand £’s.

Winding back 30 or so years, most bikes had a top-tube that ran parallel with the ground (apart from ladies bicycles that omitted the top tube to facilitate more dignified mounting) but this changed with the advent of the BMX bike and several years later, the mountain bike, both of which were made for off-road riding. BMX & mountain bikes were designed with a sloping top tube that made the central and rear triangles stronger due to shorter &, hence, stiffer tubes. By the late-80’s the suspension fork was invented & in the early-90’s the first full suspension bikes were made available to an acceptant public. At about the same time the first hydraulic rim brakes were being fitted to bikes but were soon superceded by hydraulic disc brakes.

It is these changes to cycle geometry and component innovation that have given rise to a myriad of bicycle variants – the veritable minefield of choice of hybrids & purpose specific bikes that are available today

The Right Bike to Suit Your Needs

Here is a brief summary of the 18 cycle variants from which you can choose on the BikeSoup search page. We’re assuming that trailers, unicycles & tricycles need little in the way of introduction. Virtually all childrens bikes are now made in the more robust BMX & mountain bike styles but are not built for the continual punishment of off-road riding, being better suited to the park, pavement & road.

Racing bikes

Built for speed, racing bikes are light & allow an aerodynamic riding position. But lightness comes at a cost as racing bikes are relatively fragile so not suited to potholed streets, or less than perfect canal paths & bike routes. Gearing is set close so many small increments of tune are possible on all but the steepest inclines.

Touring bikes

Designed for comfortable mile munching ability & load carrying, touring bikes are stronger than racing bikes with bosses on the frame & forks for fitting panniers & luggage racks. The riding position is more upright than a racing bike so better prevention against back fatigue. Brakes need to be strong to provide stopping power for a heavy object (rider + luggage + bike) travelling at speed downhill. Saddles are built for comfort rather than speed & weight saving. Potentially a good city bike if you need to carry luggage between home & work.

Hybrid & City bikes

The perfect solution for commuting to work & general riding about town on a diverse range of possible riding surfaces. Frames follow more of a mountain bike geometry with sloping top tubes, so are strong enough to absorb bumps & the occasional pothole. Light & manoeuvrable (flat handlebars are the norm) with good brake stopping power in case of urban emergencies (eg cars pulling out in front of you!). Usually fitted with pannier bosses so that work or shopping bags can be stowed onboard.

Mountain – Full Suspension bikes

Full suspension – front & rear – soaks up all off-road bumps & prevents impact shocks from crashing through your body like a jack hammer. These bikes make great all-round mountain & cross country bikes. You might need to consider a front fork lock-out system if you are doing a lot of hill / mountain climbing. Good quality brakes are essential.

Mountain – Hardtail bikes

The perennial all-rounder that can be used on the streets, on towpaths & cross country trails. Surpassed for comfort by full suspension bikes when the route gets very rough with rocks, free roots or holes etc.. Make a great city bike, especially when fitted with road tyres, due to good brakes & strong build quality.

Mountain – Downhill bikes

For adrenalin junkies who propel themselves off a steep hill or mountain with gay abandon. Suspension travel (> 5-inches or 13cms) is greater than a normal full suspension bike & designed to soak up big bumps at great speed. Riders are usually clothed in full protective gear & full face helmets. Frames are also beefed up & hence, downhill bikes are too heavy for general trail riding & cross country. Brakes are very effective with multi-pot calipers & large discs the norm.

Triathlon / Time Trial (TT) bikes

The ultimate speed machines built for short & usually flat time trial & triathlon races where every second counts! Equipped with aero handlebars that allow a very low streamlined riding position. Also fitted with aero seatposts & wheels to keep drag down. Usually built from composite materials for lightness & stiffness

Singlespeed & Fixed Gear bikes

Loved by image sensitive creative types for their simplicity of design, singlespeed & fixed gear bikes epitomise urban riding cool. The look is simplified further on fixed gear ‘fixie’ bikes which omit the freewheel & rear brake – the rear wheel braking is achieved by resisting the rotating cranks with your legs.

Cyclocross bikes

Specialist off-road racing bike that is light enough to be carried over fences & strong enough to be ridden over rutted tracks. Fitted with treaded offroad tyres & cantilever brakes that offer good resistance to mud clogging. Frames are stronger than racing bikes. Ground clearance is raised to prevent excessive bottoming out on rough terrain. Can make a great solution for a fast commuter bike especially over imperfect roads when fitted with road tyres.

Trial bikes

These little tricksters are used for technical urban manoeuvres on street furniture & any other potential platform – rocks, concrete pipes, roofs, vehicles etc… . Usually sold with no seat, trials bikes are very strong & nimble with good brakes to hold firm during a stunt or getting set up for one. Very specialised & not suitable for any other purpose.

BMX bikes

The original offroader which became an overnight phenomenon after being used in the film E.T. in 1982. Still very popular nearly 30 years later as a fun urban trickable bike that is strong, simple & versatile. Bikes are built around a small frame & wheels with foot pegs that allow the rider to take up many riding & trick positions. Front brakes are designed to allow the handlebars to spin during tricks and wheelies. Great fun but not for longer than a couple of miles at a time….

Jump bikes

Sitting somewhere between a BMX bike & a hardtail mountain bike, jump bikes are specialist tools that are strong enough to withstand a hard impact & are fitted with front suspension forks to cushion the blow. Seats sit very low to minimise body contact on landing. Often singlespeed only to minimise weight & maximise acceleration prior to jump. Good brakes fitted to enable rider to control bike following a successful airing.

Folding bikes

The commuter solution. Folding bikes are highly portable & comply with regulations about cycle usage on trains & busses during the morning rush hour. Folding bikes are getting more & more diverse in look & application all the time and there are now bikes that look more like a mountain bike or racing bike than they do the archetypal small wheeled variant. This sector is seeing significant growth, for obvious reasons, & your local bike shop is an essential resource to fully understand the options currently available.

Electric bikes / E-Bikes

Touted by all cycling industry experts to be the ‘next big thing’, electric bikes aim to take the strain out of cycling. All of the big manufacturers are launching new bikes into this sector, aiming to steal a march on their rivals. Many diverse geometries now available & your local E-Bike specialist needs to be visited. Motors & batteries add considerable weight so carrying the bike up stairs could present a problem. On the plus side you can arrive at your destination unflustered & perspiration free.

Tandem bikes

A bicycle made for 2! Tandem bikes are designed to carry two riders & usually for long distance cycle touring. Most designs are either a road version or a mountain bike type which allow riders to venture off the beaten track. Brakes are heavy duty to provide adequate stopping power when going downhill. Front forks & the rear frame are fitted with rack mounts to facilitate luggage carrying duties. Bikes are often custom made or offered in a choice of front end & back end sizes to facilitate all rider heights.

Dutch / Classic bikes

Traditional looking bikes whose design has hardly changed for the last 60 years. Current Dutch & classic bikes were modelled on early 20th Century English designs but have been considerably improved to provide a very enjoyable riding experience for the 21st Century. Very upright riding style which looks very elegant & is better for back problems than other cycle types. Most new Dutch & classic style bikes now sport dynamo lighting systems, covered chains, front baskets & twist gears. The bikes can be quite heavy though, so if carrying is a necessity you may need to look elsewhere.


Born out of the marriage between a bicycle & a deckchair, recumbent bikes offer a laid back reclined riding position which are chosen for, mainly, ergonomic reasons. The rider’s back & buttocks are well supported giving rise to a very comfortable riding position. With a smaller frontal profile &, hence, lower wind resistance, most recumbent bikes offer an aerodynamic advantage over conventional bike types. Available in a wide range of configurations, recumbent bikes can be long to short wheelbase, with mixed sized wheels, rear wheel or front wheels drive & offer different steering methods too – overseat, underseat or no-hands. I think that it is fair to say that recumbent bikes have a very loyal & bordering on cult following.


Designed purely for relaxed laid back riding & looking cool. Many designs reminiscent of 1950’s America. Big fat tyres provide smooth transitions between roads and bike paths. Compromised for all other biking disciplines – heavy, cumbersome, reduced component performance – but cruising bikes do exactly what they were built for.

Work / Delivery bikes

Work & delivery bikes are made for purpose. Often fitted with a large front mounted basket, or carrier, these bikes were very popular in urban areas for all sorts of delivery people – post, butcher, baker, fruit & vegetables, etc. Frames usually have an advertising board between the wheels. Twin sided stand fitted to front wheels. Gaining in popularity again as delivery companies look for ‘green’ transport solutions.

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