So you’ve decided to take advantage of the many benefits of riding a bike. Well played, sir, well played. There’s only one tiny problem: You don’t own a bicycle.
Well we can help you figure what you should look for now that you’re in the market. It depends mainly on the type of rider you are, but broadly speaking, it breaks down like this:
Utility Bikes / Fixed Gear
The priority is simply getting from A to B, rather than racing or heading off-road. Utility bicycles feature an upright riding position with curved handlebars positioned higher than the saddle.
Benefits: These are the most comfortable, easy-going rides on this list. Not flashy, just effective.
Drawbacks: Because they usually feature only a few gears — and often have none at all — utility bikes aren’t ideal for hilly rides.
Buying tip: With mountain bikes and road bikes being so popular in Canada, these straightforward machines can often be found second hand on the cheap.
Originally designed for off-road riding, these durable, knobby-tired bikes typically include at least a dozen gears for climbing and often feature suspension systems on the frame and/or fork. Because the handlebar is straighter and lower than that of utility bikes, the riding position is more bent over.
Benefits: These bikes can handle a wide variety of terrain and provide extra comfort on rough roads. Potholes, curbs and paths are not an issue on a mountain bike.
Drawbacks: Unless you intend to take them off road, the extra weight and more aggressive riding position of mountain bikes may seem like overkill.
Buying tip: Mountain bikes are perhaps the most widely available and popular type of bike in Canada, with prices ranging from less than $200 (new) to more than $2,000.
Designed for smooth, paved roads, road bikes are the ones you see in big races like the Tour De France: Seats are high, curved handlebars are low, and tires are skinny.
Benefits: If speed is your top priority, a road bike is what you need.
Drawbacks: The aggressive riding position means road bikes are not especially comfortable or easy on the body. Also, potholes and bad pavement will most definitely chew a road bike up.
Buying tip: Before the rise of mountain bikes, steel framed road bikes were the most popular type of recreational ride. For that reason, you can find surprisingly high quality road bikes at yard sales or online.
This relatively new type of bike combines select attributes of all three of the aforementioned styles: The more upright position of the utility bike; the generous gearing of a mountain bike; and the narrower tires of a road bike (although a range of tire widths are available).
Benefits: Fans of hybrid bikes will say they combine the best features of every bike type in something fast yet comfortable.
Drawbacks: Because they are relative newcomers to the biking scene, it can be hard to find inexpensive second hand hybrids.
Buying tip: It’s fairly easy to turn a mountain bike or road bike into a hybrid by swapping out the tires, changing the handlebars, and so on.
Adam Bisby is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and father of two. His award-winning stories have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post newspapers, in magazines like Explore, Reader’s Digest, International Traveller and Canadian Family, and on websites including MSN, MSN Canada, and DontChangeMuch.ca. Visit Adam’s website for more details on his award winning work.