As a cyclist I'm often asked for advice on how to get started in cycling. The question usually goes something like "What kind of bike should I buy?" or "So, how much does a new bike cost?" I would get this question a lot back when I was riding regularly, but I still hear it occasionally. So I decided to update some blog posts I wrote a while back for "newbie" riders. In the series I want to address the issues of 1. Choosing a bike; 2. Bike fit; 3. Clothing; 4. Equipment; 5. Essential skills. In this piece, I address the issue of what kind of bike to buy.
If you know you're going to do trail riding, then you want a mountain bike. Mountain bikes are built for tough terrain. Tires are wider, the tread is made for dirt and are more "grippy." Most mountain bikes have shock absorbers in the front fork. The more expensive bikes have shock absorbers for both wheels. However, the thing that has made mountain bikes popular is that they allow riders to sit much more upright, which affords a more comfortable ride. Another advantage of these bikes is that they have three chainrings (the big gears attached to the pedals) that allows for more gears which makes going up hills a lot easier. According to a salesman at a local bike shop, this is the reason why the vast majority of mountain bikes they sell never see dirt. Today, there is a huge variety of bikes, with traditional 26 in wheels and with the newer 29 in wheels. The larger wheels allow for smoother riding in rough terrain.
A third alternative is the hybrid bike. A hybrid, as the name implies, is a cross between a road and mountain bike. It offers the more comfortable upright position of a mountain bike, but it has the narrower tires and a lighter frame than the typical mountain bike. While these bikes are heavier than road bikes, they handle the pavement very well and do well on dirt and gravel roads. They probably don't do well on mountain trails however. These are bikes that beginners can enjoy as a beginning step into cycling. My first "real" bike was a hybrid, a Specialized Crossroads. Hybrids are great for cruising, but have more gears than say a beach cruiser, they are good on the road, but are more comfortable than a road bike, and while they aren't the best on mountain trails, they hold their own on rough pavement or trails.