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The Different Bike Types and Which is the Right One for You

The Different Bike Types and Which is the Right One for You - StephaneLapointe.com

Introduction

In North America most people are buying a bicycle as a toy for their kid or as a leisure and sport equipment, for example a mountain bike or high-tech road bike. Fewer are buying a bike to be used for daily commuting or transportation. As a result many people using their bike to commute end up riding a bike ill-suited to their needs because they just use the bike they already have, or because they got bad advice from vendors who don`t know much about city bikes and they just follow the current trend. This was not always the case. In the 50`s and 60`s most bikes sold were comfortable city cruisers with fenders and chainguard. As the suburbs developed, more people owned a car and the commuting distances became too long to use a bike. Cycling became an outdoor leisure activity more than a mean of transportation. In the 70's racing style road bikes, known back then as "10 speed", were sold by the millions. Road bikes are great for speed, performance and touring, but they are fragile and not very comfortable at low speed city cruising. In the mid-80`s the road bike trend was replaced by the mountain bikes, which are great for low speed off road use, if you are in great shape, but because mountain bikes are too heavy and inefficient on paved roads, and most people don't live near mountain bike trails, they stayed parked most of their life. The good news is that the current top selling bike category is the hybrid type and those are good all purpose bikes, for commuting and bike touring on paved roads.

What do you need a bike for ?

Read the whole list before deciding !

City Bikes - Modern and Vintage


Modern city bike sold full equipped. Based on an hybrid bike frame with 700x38c tires.

Stylish vintage Raleigh Sports ladies city bike with basket
Stylish vintage Raleigh Sports ladies city bike with basket

Vintage city bikes on Montreal streets. Vintage city bikes on Montreal streets.
Vintage city bikes on Montreal streets.

Up until the late 70's almost every bike sold was what we now call a city bike, also known as a utility bike on Wikipedia.

Intended use of city bikes

Main characteristics of city bikes

Few speeds, simple to use

1 speed with coaster brakes

Performance

There are few city bikes available on the market today. Bike stores will instead sell you an hybrid bike and install fenders and chain guard as extra accessories. Pseudo vintage repro bikes are also available, but those bikes are very heavy and have wide 26" tires. They are repro's of bikes from the 40's, built with mountain bike parts, not great for commuting. See for example the Schwinn Point Beach

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Road Bikes

hot babe bike touring on Quebec's Route Verte network_hot looking dude on high tech road bike, training on Ile Notre-Dame's Formula 1 racing circuit in Montreal
Left: hot babe bike touring on Quebec's Route Verte network. Right: hot dude on modern high tech road bike, training on Ile Notre-Dame's Formula 1 racing circuit in Montreal, accessible to everyone.

Nishiki men's road bike CCM Corsa 10 ladies' road bike with slanted frame
Left: vintage Nishiki men's road bike. Right: Giant Squadron with easy to step through slanted frame. Nowadays very few road bikes are produced with this frame style.

Road bikes are also known as racing bikes, speed bikes, older folks call them "10 speeds" even though most of them have more than 10 speeds. This category includes many sub-categories: road racing, time trial, triathlon, cyclocross, touring, fix gear and others.

Today's road bikes are high tech machines and can be very costly. Carbon fibre, titanium, aluminium have replaced traditional materials on almost every part on the bicycle. There are almost no new road bikes selling under $1000 and prices can go as high as your budget allows.The good news is that I rebuild many fine road bikes from the 80's, 90's and newer for sale as low as $175, ready to go with a warranty.

Road bikes were first used only by racers but they became accessible and very popular in the 70's and early 80's. Millions were sold in that period and everybody was buying a road bike just because it was trendy. The road bike market plunged in the 80's with the mountain bike trend, but it never completely faded away because cycling as a sport will always be present, and road bikes are the most efficient bikes to go from one point to another over medium to long distances. Touring bikes equipped with fenders, racks and panniers have always been the bike of choice for long haul bike travels.

Intended use of road bikes:

Main characteristics of road bikes

Drop handlebar and aerodynamic position

Light Weight

No Frills

Thin Wheels and Tires

Anti-slip Pedals, Toe Clips, clip-on pedals

Minimal Comfort, but easy to improve if required

Commuting and Touring


Bike touring on the Route Verte network.

Because of the lean forward position, it's very important to get the right size for your height, more than with other bike types. To determine the frame size you need check the Bike sizing charts .

Fix Gear Bikes

The fix gear bike trend emerged within inner city neighbourhoods. A fix gear bike is a road bike with only 1 speed. The single rear gear is fixed to the rear wheel hub, it can't rotate freely from the rear wheel, thus you must pedal all the time because the rear gear and front crank/chain ring are linked by the chain. You slow down by pushing with all your weight on the rising pedal. This created new and strange braking techniques which don't look efficient and certainly are not elegant. On some fix gear bikes this is the only braking mechanism provided, but most have at least one regular brake on the front or rear wheel. A variation is the single speed bike with a freewheel from a BMX and conventional brakes. Yet another variation is the single speed with coaster brakes, i.e. back-pedal to brake, just like the old city bikes. Fix gear bikes originated from close circuit oval track racing, circus shows and bike polo. These bikes are still used in all velodrome races including olympic events. For those applications on a flat surface with other racers, you don't need gears and brakes anyway because race rules are such that you build speed gradually. Once the race is over you have plenty of time and room to slow down to a stop. Their main advantages are very light weight, simple, aerodynamic. Part of the fun of owning a fix gear is to build your own custom bike.

I don't have a very positive opinion on fix gear bikes. The problem is that some people are now trying to commute with them, in an environment with traffic lights, stop signs, uneven roads with uphill climbs and other road users, all situations requiring good brakes and different gear ratios. Fix gear bikes are confined to inner city because you can't go anywhere with them! Just like a BMX and other 1 speed toy bikes, either it is geared too high so you can't climb any hills and you are overtaken by grandmothers riding BIXI's, or it's geared too low and you spin like crazy but not going any faster. For that reason you never see fix-gear bikes outside downtown.

I expect the fix gear fad will quickly fade out once the young dudes figure out why gears were invented. There are many reasons why bikes and virtually all other transportation devices have transmissions with many gear ratios. The main reason is that you can slowly but surely build speed while keeping the effort constant (force applied to the pedal) even with a small force applied. This allows you to go fast even with a small engine (your legs in the case of a bicycle). So your not burning your energy for nothing, by having to apply a very high force at any given time. But there is another reason why a transmission is a good idea. You might not care about your own muscles and play cool by forcing like crazy to show off your strength, but all this stress is also applied to the bike's mechanical components. Transmissions were invented to reduce the stress on bearings, chains, sprockets, pedals, bottom bracket and more. So contrarily to what you might think, fix gear bikes are not more reliable than conventional bikes because too much torque is applied to too few parts. Just ask your fix gear friend how many times he replaced the bottom bracket bearings, how many chains he broke, how many times he had to work on the rear wheel axle ?

Many fix gear bikes are built starting from an older road bikes with 12 speeds or more, a useful and safe bike you can go around the world with. Instead of taking the time to learn how to fix a bike, how to adjust the derailleurs and use the gears, hipsters will strip the transmission components and spending a ridiculous amount of money on fancy looking wheels, leather seat and other colourful but low quality parts. They end up with a dangerous and useless poseur bike. If I have 10 fingers on my hands, it doesn't make sense and it isn't cool to cut off 9 of them to keep only 1. The other curious aspect to this trend is the brand new fix gear bikes with cheap metal frames, low quality paint and low quality parts, but selling for more $ than a good quality hybrid bike with 24 speed and aluminium frame. I'm sorry dudes but if you pay more to get less your not smart !

The best advice I can give to would-be fix gear buyers it to try first a real road bike with 12 speeds or more, or try a 1 speed vintage cruiser with coaster brakes if you want a simple, reliable and useful bike. The fix gear trend is certainly loosing steam judging from the many owners wanting to trade-in their fix gear for a real road bike with gears and brakes. Unfortunately I don't take fix-gear bikes in exchange. On this site you can find for $350 or less a fully rebuilt high quality road bike (example Miele or Fiori), light weight, with 12 speed, both brakes, with original paint in excellent condition.

View road bikes currently available for sale

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Hybrid Bikes

Peugeot Panorama Men's hybrid bike Minelli Ladies' hybrid bike
An hybrid bike is similar to a road bike, but with wider tires and mountain bike style handlebar for a more upright position

Hybrid bikes are designed as a comprise between performance (weight), sturdiness, comfort and versatility. They are lighter and faster than mountain bikes on paved roads, more comfortable and sturdier than road bikes which are more performance oriented. Hybrids are the latest trend and top selling bikes today. They were first introduced in the 80's as lighter ladies' mountain bikes, but hybrids really picked momentum in the early 2000`s. Used hybrids bikes are harder too find because not too many come up for sale. They are well suited for both commuting and longer leisure rides, so people keep them a long time.

An hybrid is like a road bike but with slightly wider tires and mountain bike style handlebar for a more upright riding position. After mountain bikes became very popular in the late 80's people got used to the straight handlebar with all the weight in the palm of the hands, and wide tires you can roll over anything with. But slowly people riding on paved roads realized that there is no need for wide and deep threaded tires, no need for suspension, and overall frame weight was overkill for road use. However many found the riding position of the mountain bike more comfortable than the aggressive low position of the road bike drop handlebar. So the term hybrid comes from the crossing of light weight road bike components and mountain bike style driving position.

Hybrid bikes use 700c tires and the width varies. The narrowest tires are 700x28c also found on road bikes. Most hybrids have tires of 700x38c which are good for daily commuting.

Many older road bikes with drop handlebars are being converted with a mountain/hybrid handlebar. This conversion requires to change also the brake levers, brake cables and the grips. Performance hybrid bikes are now produced by manufacturers. They are the same as road bikes both instead of the usual drop handlebar they have a straight handlebar .

Fiori Modena road bike converted to hybrid style with a straight handlebar and slightly large tires.
Fiori Modena road bike converted to hybrid style with a straight handlebar and slightly larger tires.

Intended usage of hybrid bikes

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Mountain Bikes

for true off-road usage mountain bikes need front and rear suspensionladies' mountain bikes with slanted frames
Left: for true off-road use mountain bikes need front and rear suspension. Right: ladies' mountain bikes with slanted frames.

Mountain Bikes for Sale
Typical low cost modern mountain bike sold in retail chains.

Mountain bikes are much like an adult BMX and are intended mainly for off-road use. Because they are built sturdy and used only as an outdoor leisure activity, used mountain bikes can be found in very good condition. Many were almost never used, people finding them too hard to move forward. Mountain bikes were big sellers up until recently but the trend is slowing down. They were sold by the millions and you can find cheap new ones on the market. So I have no choice but to sell used ones even cheaper. If you are on a tight budget, any bike will do as long as it works well and looks good, I have low cost mountain bikes for you!

Bike sizing chart to know the size of mountain bike you need.

View mountain bikes currently available for sale

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Folding Bikes

folding bikes are perfect for low speed city cruising, window shopping, crowded market streets, discovering new neighbourhoods
Left: folding bikes are perfect for low speed city cruising, window shopping, crowded market streets, discovering new neighbourhoods..

Vintage Maino folding bike attracts many "they don't make them like that anyore" comments from strangers. vintage folding bikes were always sold fully loaded
Vintage Maino folding bike attracts many "they don't make them like that anymore" comments from strangers. Folding bikes are usually sold fully loaded with fenders, rear rack, spring saddle, chainguard, beach pedals, bell and more.
Dahon Gateway V folding bike can be carried in a suit case_Dahon Gateway V folding bike can be carried in a suit case
Left: Dahon Gateway V folding bike can be carried in a suit case. Right: Schwinn Tango folding bike.

The fact that folding bikes can be folded for transport and storage is just one of their many advantages. Many folding bike users actually never fold them ! A more accurate name would be "small-wheeled adult bike" and indeed some companies manufacture bikes with the same characteristics but without the hinge to fold them.

Folding bikes are the unknown underdogs among city bikes and much more people should use them, urban dwellers in big cities like Montreal in particular. In other parts of the world like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, folding bikes are very popular because it's so crowded that parking spaces for bikes are scarce and people bring them up in their apartment.

Folding bikes are not a magic solution

I own a collection of vintage folding bikes. Learn much more about them and view more pictures by visiting The Folding Bike Collection (in French)

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Kid's Bikes and Tricycles

Boy's bike with 12in wheels and training wheelsGirl's bike with 14in wheels
Because you can find low-cost kids bikes at retail stores like Canadian Tire, it's often not worth recycling beaten up kids bikes.

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BMX Bikes

GT Dyno BMX
GT Dyno BMX

The term BMX is an abbreviation of Bicycle Motocross and was initially introduced as an un-motorized motocross for kids, to be used on closed circuit dirt tracks with natural and/or artificial obstacles, including jumps, just like a motocross circuit but on a smaller scale. With time kids living in suburbs and cities didn't have access to a dirt track, so they started using the urban furniture to do tricks, jumps, and basically monkey around the neighbourhood... to show off. BMX's were modified for acrobatics with foot pegs sticking out of wheel axles, and special braking system allowing the steering wheel to rotate 360 degrees without brake cable interference. Nowadays BMX dirt circuits and urban parks are found in some cities, many BMX riders use skateboard parks to do their tricks.

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Adult Tricycles

Typical adult tricycle, the Free Spirit 3 speed
Typical adult tricycle, the Free Spirit 3 speed, with large basket and comfortable oversize saddle. The design haven't changed much over the years.

Joy Rider Trail Mate, 1 speed with chopper style handle and small front wheelSears Shop Mate tricycle for adult
Left: Joy Rider Trail Mate, 1 speed with chopper style handle and small front wheel. It's a factory bike, not a custom. Right: Sears Shop Mate small wheeled tricycle for adult. It's hinged so the front part with seat and handlebar tilts in curves, while the 2 rear wheels stay on the ground.

Adult tricycles are the most useful bike to carry big loads, because they always have a large basket in the back. When I got my first tricycle I wondered what I would do with a bike mainly used by retired but active people "who can't use a real bike anymore". The next day I had to go to the grocery store to purchase more than just a pack of cigarettes, so I took the tricycle. That first trip made me realize that a tricycle is the only bike that can really replace a car. You put your grocery bags in the back, a case of 24, your empty bottles for refund, and whatever else needs to be carried in real life. I'm now completely converted and I recommend an adult tricycle to anyone who wants to make a real difference by taking their car less often, whatever other people think. In many countries of the world modified tricycles are used to carry just about everything, including taxiing people. Others use tricycles for long haul bike touring and apparently this is a popular trend in England.

Important warning: if you can't ride a bicycle for any reason, you most probably won't be able to ride a tricycle either. Based on my own experience, I see many people shopping for an adult tricycle because they can't ride a bicycle. They think a tricycle will be easier because you don't have to keep you balance on top of it. Unfortunately this isn't true ! Sure when the bike is at a complete stop, and on a completely flat surface, you can just sit on it like on a chair. But as soon as the bike is moving you must force to stay on. The bike doesn't tilt in curves and uneven pavement, you must compensate centrifugal force and uneven saddle. A tricycle is very heavy and requires great force to get moving, it's almost impossible to go up any grade, unless you are in very good shape. It might be hard to understand, but I saw young healthy 17 year olds riding bicycles but they just couldn't handle a tricycle and went in the ditch on my street !

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Exercise Bikes

Supercycle 0109 stationary bike

For exercising indoors get your own exercise bike and save on gym membership! The trick is not to put the exercise bike in the basement or a separate room in your house, it will sit idle. Stationary bikes should be in the living room, kitchen, or anywhere it can be used while doing something else, for example listening to TV or radio, talking with the other members of the family, etc... I find it very boring to simply pedal looking at a wall, and I'm a bike fanatic. I noticed that when you put a exercise bike in the same room as the TV, when the commercials come on the whole family is fighting over it to spin until the commercials are over. Kid's like them because they have something to "chew on" while they wait for dinner for example.

Because exercise bikes stay inside and many were rarely used, they are always in excellent condition, often like new. Buying a low cost, but perfectly running, used exercise bike won't ruin you, it doesn't take too much space, and you can pedal while doing something else. I don't understand why anyone would go and buy a new one, there are so many perfect used ones for sale in the classifieds. The same goes for all training machines. People put thousands of dollars buying fancy machines thinking they will loose weight effortlessly and quickly and by staying at home! New Year's resolution obliges, it's in early January that stores cash in. A few months or years later the big machine is taking a lot of space, wasn't used more than 10 times, and the buyer actually didn't loose any weight but gained more. So it's time to sale before it looses all it's value. You see many exercise machines in yard sales and very few interested buyers, so the desperate seller must let it go for peanuts.

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Tandem Bikes

Tandem bike

Tandems are rare but have been around for many years. I bought and sold just a few so I can't say I know a lot about them. A tandem is so not for inexperienced riders. Starting is the hardest part, both riders must coordinate, the rear rider is scared because the bike swings left and right until the front driver balances the bike. When stopping you must also coordinate and decide on which side to step off. Tandems are much like a conventional bike but with an elongated and reinforced frame, longer chain and rear cables. The wheels and tires are made stronger than on a regular bike. The wheels have more spokes.

Tandems take a lot of storage space in a garage, they are hard to carry around, you need a long van or pickup truck. Many end up being left outside for a while because of lack of space.

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Delivery Bikes

Grocery delivery trike in Montreal Ice cream vending trike in Montreal

Taxi trike seen in Old Quebec

Delivery bikes are built for commercial use so they are very sturdy. Sold in one size fits all. Because they are put to service for many years before being replaced, the vast majority of used delivery bikes are worn and damaged to the point of no return and barely good for parts. When I do have a delivery bike in good condition for sale, it quickly finds a buyer. Many convenience store and other small business are still making home deliveries or want to use them to decorate the outside of their business. Delivery bikes often have only 1 speed with a very low ratio. You can go up small hills but you can`t go any faster than 10km/h.

View delivery and other work bikes currently available for sale

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Recumbent Bikes and Low Rider Trikes

Recumbent bike_Low rider adult trike
Left: a recumbent bike of rather conventional design. The steering apparatus on some models is under the seat. Right: modern high quality Trike.

Recumbent bikes are rare and people who ride them seem to be attached because I see few used ones up for sale. When they first came on the market, in the early 90's, a short period of popularity followed because of the novelty. You could buy them in department stores like Canadian Tire. Nowadays few manufacturers still offer recumbent models. Contrarily to conventional bikes, recumbent bikes come in many different designs, the steering and seating position being the main distinctive feature. Most have small wheels and tires, typically 20" front and 24" rear, same as on kid's bikes.

The main appeal is the riding position being lower and more aerodynamic, wind drag is reduced. Also you can push harder on the pedals because your back is supported. Some riders with disabilities preventing them from using a conventional bike might be able to ride a recumbent bike.

I own a recumbent bike and I love it ! What I like a lot is the fact you can stay seated and put both foot down to take a break, snap a picture on the bike path, etc ... However recumbent bikes have drawbacks explaining their low popularity. The difficulty of climbing steep hills is one problem. Low speed balance is an issue, you can't stand up on the pedals to push and pull on the steering handle, so when hitting a steep hill you might have to step off and push it up to the top. Low speed balance is harder on recumbent's with strange steering design. On some models the steering handles are located under the seat and close to the body. It takes time to get used to it. Lately 3 wheel models, named "trikes", began to be manufactured in larger numbers. Trikes are heavier but solve the low speed balance problem.

The main problem with low riding bikes is, since the rider is almost sitting on the road, they are hard to see in traffic. Usage of a long pole with an orange flag is an highly recommended safety precaution. Vehicles exhaust is right in your face and you can't see anything in front, other than the bumper of the car you are following. Because of those serious safety and health issues, recumbent bikes are seldom seen on city streets. They are fine on bike paths where most of then are spotted. Also note they can't easily be carried on most car bike racks, not convenient when you want to try out a different bike path.

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