The first question you must ask yourself is, “how do I plan to use this bike?” Modern bikes are designed to excel at one particular riding style so it’s important to choose a bike that complements your needs. Road bikes can be classified into five general riding styles.
If you want to go as fast as possible on the road, climb hills easily and maybe even race, perhaps you’re looking for a road racing bike. These incredible machines are designed to take every bit of power from your legs and turn it into forward movement. Combine their nimble handling with featherlight weight and you have a bike built to challenge every road.
If you still want to go fast, but prefer a bit more comfort, take a look at endurance road bikes. These can be nearly bit as quick as a road racing bike, but tend to have more relaxed fit, handling and steering for a comfortable and stable ride. These bikes are built to be ridden all day and leave you feeling fresh afterwards.
If your ideal ride includes a little road with some dirt mixed in for good measure, a gravel bike is for you. Gravel bikes are built to go everywhere and do everything. Their relaxed handling and bigger tires allow them to ride well on both dirt and pavement, making them excellent all-around rigs for those who want one bike that “does it all”. CX bikes are racier variants that are designed for tight, confident handling in cyclocross racing scenarios.
Commuter and urban bikes are built for long-distance riding while carrying a load. The frame is built strong and optimized to handle properly with the extra weight of racks and bags packed with belongings. Touring bikes are the perfect choice for someone who wants to ride across the country and back - but they also make great commuting bikes to get you to school or work while packing your essentials.
A Gravity or Downhill bike is designed to handle the steepest slopes, largest jumps and most technical trails. A Downhill bike is not designed for pedaling up hill. Most rides on a Downhill bike involve a shuttle truck, converted ski lift or simply pushing the bike to the top of the trail. The main goal for riders in this category is to refine descending skill and navigate technical trail with speed and grace.
Downhill bikes have the slackest head tube angles (63 – 66 degrees) to aid in safety and stability on steep trail. The suspension travel for a DH bike is 180 to 200mm. DH bikes are the heaviest of the four categories, built to withstand abuse. The weight ranges 35-41lbs.
We can’t stress it enough; choosing a road bike in the correct size for your body is the single most important thing to focus on when buying a new bike. Every rider has different proportions and flexibility, so choosing a bike that fits you properly will ensure that riding your bike is a fun experience, not a painful one. A good fit will help you be comfortable and efficient, and will help prevent repetitive-use injuries. The rider’s position on a road bike is more static than that of a mountain bike, so choosing a bike on which you can be comfortable for long periods of time is key.
Almost all bikes are designed to be adjustable within a given size range by moving a few parts or by swapping components for a different size. This adjustment range is limited, and it is best to start with a properly fitted frame. If a bike is much too large, the handlebars will be too far away and too high. The bike will also be difficult to stand over. If the bike is way too small, your handlebars may be too close to you and too low to reach comfortably. Either extreme also will adversely affect the weight balance and handling of the bike, so make sure you buy the right size. Size charts and calculators (like ours found here) are your best friend when choosing the best size. Once you have the correct size frame, you can adjust the saddle and handlebar position to adjust your fit.
Road bikes are usually available in at least 4 sizes, with some brands offering more than 7 sizes for a given model. This close spacing of sizes allows you to dial in your perfect fit. Frame sizes are named differently by manufacturer: some bike makers use sizes like “Small”, “Medium” or “Large”, and some manufacturers name the frames by their seat tube or top tube length, such as 56cm, 54cm or 52cm.
Since every manufacturer “names” their sizes a little differently, the real measurements that matter are in the geometry chart below the bike’s description: don’t let the dozens of numbers confuse you: there’s one measurement that matters the most. Most experts suggest choosing a frame based off its effective top tube length, which is the horizontal distance from the top of the center of the head tube to the center of the seat post.
To help yout understand your bike sizing and fit, check out the handy guide and bike fit calculator we developed.
All bikes have parts attached to the frame that allow the bike to function, like handlebars, tires and wheels, referred to as “components.” The components that transfer your pedaling force to drive the rear wheel are collectively referred to as the “drivetrain”. The parts that support your body, like saddles, seat posts, stems and handlebars are usually called the “cockpit.”
Many components on bikes are interchangeable, so you can upgrade the bike as you see fit. For example, if you don’t like the handlebars or the saddle that came on the bike, They are easy to change and there are a multitude of options available.
The component quality is a primary factor in the cost of the bike. Component manufacturers offer their parts in a variety of levels that correspond with different price points. As with most things, as quality goes up, price also goes up. Higher-end parts use higher-quality materials and more precise manufacturing. This means they shift and brake more smoothly. They also weigh less, look better and last longer as well. The highest-end components will also cost the most. Generally, the more expensive a bike is, the lighter and more functionally precise it becomes, so choose your desired components wisely.
Hopefully this short guide into mountain biking's categories has given you insight into a riding style that is right for you. To learn more about other considerations when purchasing a mountain bike, take a look at our articles about the basics of Mountain Bike Suspension, Frame Materials, Wheel Size and Mountain Bike Drivetrain.