It’s never been a better time to buy a new ride. But how do you choose the right bike? A growing interest in two wheeled transport, sparked by the COVID-19 lockdowns, prompted cities and towns to dedicate more road space to bike lanes, encouraged bored mountain bikers to build more trails, and got Canadians to rediscover their communities from behind handle bars. Meanwhile, cycling design has spun out into a dozen niches. The easiest way to simplify the decision-making is to ask yourself where you want to ride. And then, the question on every cyclists mind these days, do you want a little electric assistance?
If you’ll ride mostly on pavement
Ideal for: commuting, road riding, city paths, bike touring
What are they? Road bikes use thin, smooth tires that roll efficiently on asphalt and concrete, but are slippery and flat-prone on gravel. Road focused bikes come in two main designs: with curved handlebars, like Tour de France racers use, and straight handlebars, which trade aerodynamics for a more comfortable riding position.
Bottom line: Unless you plan on doing some racing or training on your bike, opt for the comfort of straight handlebars.
If you’ll ride mostly on dirt
Ideal for: gravel backroads, dirt paths, mountain biking
What are they? Mountain bikes. Wider, knobby tires provide traction on loose surfaces and an upright riding stance makes these bikes easy to maneuver on narrow trails. There’s a variety to choose from, from heavy rigs with lots of suspension for mostly riding downhill trails to super-light and stiff cross country race bikes. If trails aren’t your focus, look for a rigid or front suspension only mountain bike, or consider the next category, hybrid bikes.
Bottom line: Because you can ride a mountain bike anywhere, they’re often the best choice for a do it all tool.
If you’ll do a bit of both
Ideal for: gravel paths, country roads, commuting
What are they? These hybrid bikes have thin tires, like road bikes, but with knobs on them, like mountain bikes. More efficient than a mountain bike but more versatile than a road bike, they are a great commuter bike. And they’re usually nimble enough to handle easy mountain bike trails, though you’ll feel the bumps more. Most have a straight handle bar and upright riding position, but a new category in this niche, gravel grinders, mixes in the curved bars of road racing bikes to add efficiency for long distance riding.
Bottom line: If you like exploring dirt roads, but have no interest in the gnar of mountain biking, take one of these for a spin.
To E or not to E
Regardless of what style of bike you want, now is the moment to ask the most pressing question of our time: do you want electric assist? No category of bikes is growing faster than e-bikes, which use a portable battery to add power to the pedals. It’s not a free ride, but there’s enough assistance to turn a sweaty hill climb into a breeze. It adds cost, but also extends what you can accomplish, the distances you can go, and how much you can carry.