Types Of Bicycles Explained: The Ultimate Guide

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With so many options available, choosing the right type of bicycle can be a daunting task.

Cycling is more than just a mode of transportation; it’s a lifestyle, a sport, and a means of adventure.

If you’re new to the world of cycling or looking to expand your knowledge about all the diverse types of bicycles on offer, then you’ve come to the right place!

From road bikes built for speed and efficiency to rugged mountain bikes designed to conquer off-road trails, we’ll explore various types of bicycles and their unique characteristics.

So, whether you’re a complete novice or someone looking to upgrade their current bicycle, let’s dive into the world of bicycle types and equip you with the knowledge you need to get rolling.

Let’s jump into it!

Types of Bicycles Explained: Title Image

#1: Road Bikes

First on our list of bicycle types is road bikes. No bike category has seen as much diversification in the last few years as road bikes.

You can immediately spot a road bike by its skinny tires, drop handlebars, and aggressive, low-profile riding position.

Road bikes are great for going fast and far on smooth, paved roads.

Within the road bike category, there are several different bicycle types, each one suited to a particular environment. So whilst they might all look similar, when you scratch beneath the surface, there are some subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences.

There’s a lot of overlap between these different styles, but they can still largely be separated into broad categories.

Let’s take a look at the different variations of road bikes:

Performance Road Bikes

A cyclist on a purple performance road bike pushes hard while cycling in an aerodynamic position.

Also referred to sometimes as “racing bikes”, these types of bicycles are for cyclists who want to go fast.

These are the bikes that the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard use to fight for the maillot jaune in the Tour de France.

They have an aggressive geometry that puts the riders in a low position to help them cut through the air, stiff frames typically made from lightweight carbon fiber to transfer all the power from the legs to the ground, and are extremely light to help maximize the power-to-weight ratio on long climbs.

More and more road bikes feature aerodynamic features as frame technology has improved, so there is less of a weight trade-off.

Endurance Road Bikes

A cyclist climbs an asphalt road on an orange endurance road bike.

For some riders, comfort is a priority as well as speed.

Endurance road bikes are difficult to distinguish visually from performance racing bikes, but when you sit in the saddle, you will feel that the geometry is less aggressive, putting you in a slightly more upright position.

This makes the ride more comfortable, particularly when you’re in the saddle for long periods, but slightly less aerodynamic, while the handling is also likely to be a little more forgiving.

You’re unlikely to see the professionals on an endurance road bike as every marginal gain is essential, but for cyclists who still want to go fast while accepting a small compromise to improve comfort, endurance road bikes are incredibly popular.

Touring Road Bikes

A yellow touring bike rests up against a tree in a woods.

Touring bikes are a great option for epic multiday bikepacking trips.

The longer wheelbase on these types of bicycles compared to a traditional road bike provides extra stability, which is important if you are carrying lots of frame bags.

The frame and components are more robust to prevent mechanical issues far from home, and the eyelets keep things practical for lugging panniers and mudguards.

Triple chainsets are still common on touring bikes, with the extra granny gear helping to ease the load on long climbs, especially if pulling extra bags.

#2: Mountain Bikes

A cyclist rides down a rocky hill on a mountain bike.

Mountain bikes exist at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to road bikes. They are built to be tough and eat up the dirt, smooth out trails, and ride berms.

As with road bikes, there are a huge number of subcategories within mountain bikes, covering everything from bikes designed to cover gentle dirt trails to fat bikes built to devour deep sand and snow, up and down mountains.

One key distinction between mountain bike categories is the type of suspension they use, which informs a lot of how they’re designed to function. Let’s take a look below:

Rigid Mountain Bikes

The rigidness in the name refers to the fact that there is no suspension on these bikes.

The lack of suspension means rigid mountain bikes are cheaper and lighter, and are a great introductory bike for those who want to mix some light off-road riding with some riding on the tarmac.

However, they’re likely to fall short when trying to conquer more extreme terrain.

Hardtail Mountain Bikes

A cyclist rides a hardtail mountain bike at sunset.

Hardtail mountain bikes offer a balance between comfort and speed, especially on uphill sections.

The front forks take some of the sting out of technical trails, and the hardtail means that more of the power is transferred to the cranks rather than being dissipated through the suspension, making them more efficient.

Extremely technical descents might be off-limits with a hardtail, but even some of the most experienced mountain bikers love the more direct connection with every bump on the trail.

Full Suspension Mountain Bikes

Close-up of the rear suspension on a black full-suspension mountain bike.

Full-suspension mountain bikes have suspension both at the front forks and the rear wheel.

Full-suspension mountain bikes tend to be more expensive than rigid or hardtail mountain bikes.

The full suspension offers greater comfort and improved traction as the back wheel – the one that all the power flows through – tracks the rough terrain.

For really gnarly trails, a full-suspension mountain bike is going to help you conquer the terrain.

The characteristics that make them great for trails, unfortunately, make them terrible for smooth roads and tarmac.

They might look cool, but if you plan to ride them on roads, then prepare for a very long day in the saddle.

However, there is a lot more to learn about different types of mountain bikes that just the suspension system they use. Different styles of mountain biking have specialized bikes that are particularly well-adapted to them.

#3: Hybrid Bikes

A black hybrid bike leans against a wooden post.

The clue is very much in the name.

Hybrid bikes are a crossover between road bikes and mountain bikes. By combining these characteristics, hybrid bikes are a great option for riders who like to mix road and trail and are an excellent choice for commuters.

Like mountain bikes, hybrid bikes typically use a flat handlebar that puts the rider in a more upright and comfortable position whilst sacrificing some speed.

There is a wide range of styles, even among hybrid bikes, with some leaning closer to mountain bikes and others much closer to standard road bikes.

#4. Gravel Bikes

A cyclist in a burgundy jersey climbs a dirt path on a gravel bike.

To the untrained eye, a gravel bike might be hard to tell apart from a road bike.

Gravel bikes are a versatile and increasingly popular type of bicycle designed to excel on a variety of surfaces. It’s the Swiss Army knife of bikes, offering a blend of features from road bikes, mountain bikes, and touring bikes, making it perfect for exploring diverse terrains.

This might make a gravel bike sound similar to a hybrid bike, but gravel bikes are fundamentally more focused on performance than a typical hybrid bike – though there are plenty of other features that set them apart too.

A gravel bike features a lightweight frame and drop handlebars, similar to a road bike, allowing for a fast and efficient riding position.

However, what sets it apart is its ability to accommodate wider tires, typically in the range of 35 mm to 50 mm (or even larger), with a tread pattern suited for off-road conditions.

These wider tires provide better traction and stability on gravel roads, dirt trails, and rough surfaces, allowing riders to venture off the beaten path. However, gravel bikes will struggle on the kinds of extreme terrain that dedicated mountain bikes specialize in.

Gravel bikes also often include features you’d normally find on a touring bike such as additional frame mounts for racks and panniers, making them suitable for bikepacking.

It’s a versatile and adaptable option for riders who crave adventure and appreciate the ability to go wherever the path – or lack thereof – may lead.

#5. Track Bikes/Fixies

A cyclist rides a white track bike at a velodrome.

A track bike is a specialized type of bicycle designed for racing on velodromes or other closed-circuit tracks.

These bikes are purpose-built for speed and simplicity – little else matters.

One of the defining features of a track bike is its fixed-gear drivetrain, which means there is no freehub or freewheel mechanism. You cannot coast on a track bike.

If the rear wheel is spinning, so are the pedals – and vice-versa.

Most track events also do not permit brakes, so the rider slows down by “backpedaling” (applying pressure on the pedals in the opposite direction). Because of the fixed-gear drivetrain, this slows the bike.

It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually safer for track bikes not to have brakes, which is why they’re not permitted.

In the hectic environment of track racing, a rider suddenly stopping would be very likely to cause a massive pile-up. Once a crash occurs, the brakes would also pose a further hazard to riders if they came into contact with them, particularly if disc brakes were used.

The lack of brakes also aids with aerodynamics and simplicity of design.

High-end track bikes have a streamlined design with a frame typically made from carbon fiber, which is lightweight, very stiff, and easily molded into aerodynamic shapes.

A black fixie bike leans against a brick wall in an office.

The single gear ratio is chosen to suit the rider’s preference and the specific race distance. The absence of gears simplifies the bike and reduces maintenance, but requires riders to adjust their cadence to match the speed of the race.

Track bikes also feature aero handlebars and a low, aggressive riding position to minimize wind resistance and optimize aerodynamics. Disc wheels are often used, and the tires are smooth to provide maximum grip on the velodrome surface.

Track bikes are also very popular as city bikes due to their simplicity, speed, and slick aesthetic. In this guise, they’re often referred to as “fixies” (although not all fixies started life as track bikes).

However, track bikes used on the roads should always be modified to feature a front brake at the absolute minimum (and preferably a rear brake too) – in many countries riding without brakes is illegal, even if backpedaling offers a limited amount of stopping power.

#6. Time Trial Bikes

Mark Cavendish rides a black time trial bike at the Tour de France.

A time trial in cycling is simply a race against the clock.

The distance varies between 10 miles and 100 miles, but fundamentally, it is just you out on the roads with no other riders to shelter behind.

For this reason, time trial bikes are built to help riders cut through the wind. They look very different from a typical road bike – deep-section wheels (or even disc wheels), time-trial handlebars integrated into the cockpit, and aerodynamic fairings all over the frame.

As you would expect, the riding position is extremely aggressive, and there is always a balance between reducing the profile open to the wind without losing too much power due to the unnatural position.

Triathlon bikes are almost identical, but their design is not constrained by UCI regulations. This allows them to have more innovative aerodynamic features.

#7. Cyclocross Bikes

Two professionals on CX bikes compete in a cyclocross race.

Some might argue that a cyclocross bike is a form of road bike – but although they look similar, they’re not designed to be cycled on roads at all.

Instead, cyclocross takes place around circuits in muddy fields. To tame these conditions, cyclocross bikes have wider tire clearances and knobbly tires, among other adaptations from road bikes.

Traditionally, they used alternative braking systems such as cantilever brakes, which were less susceptible to being clogged by mud than the caliper rim brakes favored by road bikes.

However, disc brakes are usually the system of choice for both road and cyclocross bikes in the present day.

They have much in common with the more modern invention of gravel bikes, although there are some distinct differences too.

Cyclocross racing exploded in popularity across the Low Countries in the 20th century as a way for professional road riders to maintain form and competitiveness over the winter months – hence the similarity to road bikes.

#8: Folding Bikes

A black folding bike rests on a train station platform.

Sales of folding bikes have soared in recent years.

Brompton, the famous British company synonymous with folding bikes, recently recorded its highest-ever turnover as commuters look into different ways of moving around, especially in large cities.

The small wheels and convenient folding make them an ideal choice for commuters who use mixed modes of transport to get into and across cities.

So whilst most bikes on this list would not even be allowed on public transport, folding bikes can be carried on no different to a briefcase.

They are also a great option if you are struggling for space in your home. As someone who used to store their bike on top of the kitchen cabinets in my first flat, I can relate to this problem!

Since you can carry them with you, folding bikes are also at much less risk of theft when you are out and about.

They would not be my first choice for tackling epic climbs, but for flat, city riding, they are a unique and insanely practical option.

#9: BMX bikes

A bronze coloured bmx bike rests up against a white wall.

Whilst the heyday for BMX bikes was back in the ’70s and ’80s, there has undoubtedly been a mini-renaissance in the sport, thanks in large part to its introduction to the Olympics.

BMX bikes originated in the States in the 1970s as a way to develop motocross skills.

The small frames, robust wheels, and rear stunt pegs make them fun, whether you are taking part in races or freestyle events.

For a lot of kids, a BMX is likely the first proper bike that they own.

#10: Tandem Bikes

A young couple ride a turquoise tandem bike through a park.

It is easy to consider tandem bikes as a novelty, but they are great for allowing riders of different abilities to ride together and enjoy what we all love about cycling.

The power from each rider is put through the same transmission, balancing any differences in ability between them.

They can also help cycling be more inclusive, as they enable cyclists with particular disabilities to ride. Tandem bikes are used for blind cyclists at the Paralympics, for example, in which they are paired with a sighted pilot.

They can also be extremely fast when used by experienced riders. Because the power output is increased with a more modest increase in weight and aerodynamic profile, two cyclists riding a tandem bike will be faster than an individual cyclist on a conventional bike (if all other factors are equal).

Since the front rider is in charge of steering, gears, and brakes, riding a tandem requires a certain level of communication to keep things amicable.

This could make or break relationships, so you have been warned!

#11: Electric Bikes

An electric mountain bike sits in a grassy clearing in a forest.

I was chatting to the owner of my local bike shop the other week whilst I was getting a long overdue bottom bracket service, and he told me that as soon as they get a new electric bike in, it is sold immediately.

They can’t supply them fast enough to meet the demand.

I have lost count of the number of electric bicycle types that have passed me on climbs recently. (Or at least my ego hopes they were electric bikes – they are so well designed nowadays that you can barely tell the difference!)

Electric bikes offer the same enjoyment as non-assisted bikes with the benefit of an extra kick of power when required.

The power comes from a battery mounted on the frame. Although with most types of electric bikes, you have to keep pedaling to get the assist, the power can be adjusted from a gentle push to something stronger to help take the sting out of big climbs.

The battery range can be anywhere between 20 to 100 miles, with battery life typically having a significant effect on the overall cost of the bike.

You can now find electric versions of most of the types of bicycles listed here, from mountain bikes to road bikes and even folding bikes.

Now You Know all about different types of bicycles…

A cyclist skids on a burgundy gravel bike during fall.

We’ve embarked on a comprehensive journey through the diverse types of bicycles cycling has to offer, and we hope this ultimate guide has been an enlightening resource for you!

Whether you’re a novice cyclist or a seasoned rider seeking to broaden your knowledge, understanding the various types of bicycles is essential.

From the nimble road bikes built for speed to the rugged mountain bikes designed for off-road thrills, and the versatile gravel bikes that can handle it all, each type serves a unique purpose.

With this newfound knowledge, you’re better equipped to select the perfect ride that aligns with your cycling goals and adventures.

Remember, the world of bicycles is as vast as your imagination, offering endless possibilities for exploration, fitness, and enjoyment on two wheels.

So, pedal forth with confidence, and let your cycling journey continue to unfold with excitement and discovery. Happy riding!

Photo of author
David rediscovered his love of two wheels and Lycra on an epic yet rainy multi-day cycle across Scotland's Western Isles. The experience led him to write a book about the adventure, "The Pull of the Bike", and David hasn't looked back since. Something of an expert in balancing cycling and running with family life, David can usually be found battling the North Sea winds and rolling hills of Aberdeenshire, but sometimes gets to experience cycling without leg warmers in the mountains of Europe. David mistakenly thought that his background in aero-mechanical engineering would give him access to marginal gains. Instead it gave him an inflated and dangerous sense of being able to fix things on the bike.

4 thoughts on “Types Of Bicycles Explained: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Great article, but I’m going to add two varieties.

    11. Fat bike – large beefy 3 – 4″ wide tires used for rugged offroad, sand, or snow.

    12. Hybrid (fitness or dual sport) – basically the bike I recommend anyone buy when they aren’t sure what they want. Both have flat handlebars with a slightly sporty forward riding positions. Fitness bikes have a rigid fork while dual sports have a light front suspension fork. Pretty much do everything well, though not as well as a bike built for a purpose.

    • Thanks for your comment Fred – two very worthy additions that will definitely be making it into our next update! If you’re interested, we’ve got a separate article comparing road bikes vs hybrid bikes that you can check out here.

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

      BikeTips Editor

  2. Hi. ,
    Just a query
    Can a tall person ride a medium frame hybrid bicycle?
    I am 5’11 tall and I find the medium frame hybrid have a sportier feel though the large frame seems more stable though sort of motorbike feel
    What do u suggest?

    • Hi Edgar,

      Unfortunately what’s considered a “medium” size varies quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer, so it’s difficult to give an objective answer as to whether a medium-sized frame would be suitable for a 5’11” rider. I’d say at that height, you’d probably be at the very upper limit of what would be considered a normal range for a medium-sized frame and probably a better fit for a large frame, but ultimately the right bike size is subjective – given that you’re not going massively outside the recommended range, I would go with whichever you prefer the feel of.

      The only point I’d make is that when a rider is between two different bike sizes, the general advice is to “size up” if you’re looking for comfort, and “size down” if you’re looking for sporty performance. Given this is a hybrid bike rather than a racer, performance is likely less of a concern, so if it were me I’d probably be more tempted to go for the large frame for a more relaxed, spacious feel on the bike – but go with whichever you feel is right for you!

      I’d also suggest checking out our frame sizing guide here for more guidance (it’s actually about road bikes specifically, but most of the advice is equally applicable to hybrids too).


      BikeTips Editor


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