Whether you want a bike for exercise, an easy-ride model for weekend pursuits, or one that will enable you to explore some of Brisbane’s best bike tracks, a bike can be a substantial investment. There are a myriad of variables involved, and choosing the right bike is vital to your enjoyment when riding.
So what should you consider before buying one? And what different types of bikes are available? In this guide, we cover every single common type of bike, so that you can make an informed decision on your bike purchase.
Table of contents
- Road bikes
- Mountain bikes
- BMX bikes
- Hybrid bikes
- Cruiser bikes
- Electric bikes
- Folding bikes
- Tandem bikes
- Children’s bikes
- Exercise bikes
- Time/triathlon bikes
- Dirt bikes
- Electric scooters
What to consider before buying
The type of riding you’ll do
Before you commit to buying a bike, consider what type of riding you’ll be doing. Are you planning on long or short commutes? Will you be mainly riding on sealed roads or racing through rugged terrain? Are you looking to compete in events like triathlons or road racing? Or are you just after a bike that will help you lead a healthier, more active life?
The size you’ll need
Knowing your bike size is essential as the wrong size bicycle will make riding uncomfortable, and can also lead to injury. If buying a road or mountain bike from a retail shop, they should measure your height and inseam length and take into account the frame, handlebars, and saddle position. Other types of bikes will have different considerations so consult the sales professionals before you buy!
What you can afford
Choosing how much to spend on a new bike is a personal choice, however, it’s important you get the most out of your investment. Things to consider include not under-spending. With bikes, you get what you pay for, and less expensive models typically have cheap components that will wear down quickly. You should also budget in the cost of accessories, and depending on the type of bike you’re after, can include mudguards, lights, a helmet, shoes, cleats and a bike repair kit.
The different types of bikes
Road bikes are generally lighter than other types of bikes and are built for speed. The handlebars are designed to bring the rider in a position of minimum aerodynamic drag and maximum power output. Frames are stiffer and skinnier tyres are designed to reduce rolling resistance.
Typically, there are two types of road bikes: endurance and competition. The differences between the two are the type of brakes, the tyre clearance (the distance between the frame and the tyre), and the frame geometry. Competition road bikes tend to have lower handlebars and higher seat posts relative to the handlebars so the rider is leaning forward. Endurance bikes tend to be more comfortable to ride because the rider is in a more upright position.
Light-weight materials such as titanium and carbon fibre are often favoured over the classic steel and aluminium in components like handlebars, seat posts and wheels to make road bikes even faster.
In terms of brakes, there are rules around those that are mandated for professional cycling. But if you’re not looking to ride a road bike competitively, choose a model with superior disk brakes, as they will be more powerful and predictable, especially in wet conditions.
A mountain bike (MTB) is an all-purpose bike that typically comes with shock absorption (single or dual) and sturdy brakes that can handle dirt trails and the obstacles involved like mud, rocks, roots, branches, and rough surfaces. They generally have lower gears (although not a lower number of gears), so they can handle very steep terrain. They are also suitable for riding on paved or flat terrain, but aren’t as fast as bikes built for road racing.
There are several types of mountain bikes. Downhill bikes are heavy, sturdy and suitable for fast downhill riding. These require riders to wear protective gear like body armour and full-face helmets in case of a high-speed fall.
Trail bikes are a versatile style of MTB, which suit the needs of most recreational mountain bike riders. They aren’t built for one type of racing, but rather for all-round trail riding with a mixture of terrain, descents and climbs.
Cross-country bikes allow for a faster trail ride, as they are typically a little lighter and ideal for competitive riding.
Dirt jump bikes typically have a lower standover height and more robust frames and wheels to allow tricks and jumps without getting the bike saddle in the way.
Fat bikes are the newest kid on the block and are great fun to ride. Their oversized “fat” tyres create a feeling of riding a motorbike, and the exceptional traction makes them easy to ride in terrain that is normally out of limits, like on heavy sand.
BMX bikes were the must-have bike for teens in the early 1980s, and BMX racing is a popular Australian sport and also part of the Olympic Games! BMX is an abbreviation for “Bicycle Motocross”, and these bikes are designed for jumping, free-styling, and motocross track racing.
Their lack of gearing, compact frames, smaller wheels (typically 20 inches) means they are built for short-distance riding and sprints in skateparks and on dirt tracks. However, BMX bikes generally aren’t suited for long-distance riding like road riding or commuting.
Hybrid bikes are generally a mix of several bicycle types. Typically, they have disk brakes, flat handlebars, and slightly wider tyres compared to road bikes. They also have a comfortable saddle and allow a more upright riding position, so they are well suited for people of all ages who enjoy recreational riding and cycling in urban traffic rather than competitive racing on trails or roads or in triathlons.
Because of their sturdy frames and parts, panniers, baskets and bike racks are easy to attach. Other similar categories include commuter bikes, urban bikes and flat bar road bikes, which have some differences to hybrids but all fall into the category of “all-round” commuter bikes.
Often referred to as “retro” bikes, cruisers have an upright riding position, making for a comfortable, relaxed and enjoyable ride. They are easy to maintain because of their sturdy frames and basic gearing, and are ideal if you’re looking for hassle-free transport within shorter distances like to the beach or your local shops.
Rear racks and baskets are easily fitted to cruiser bikes, which make them ideal for transporting small items like bags, groceries and even your furry friend! There are also a myriad of stylish “retro” models to choose from. These are bikes with super-big personalities.
Electric or power-assisted bikes are a fantastic way for cyclists to enjoy longer and easier rides with the help of an electrical motor. The motor makes it easier to ride uphill, and if you’re tired, you can relax your legs and let the motor move you forward. Options include buying a purpose-built E-bike or attaching an electric bike kit to your standard bike.
However, it’s worth noting that Australian road rules stipulate that motors can only provide a maximum power output of 250 watts. Road-legal motors only allow cyclists to reach a speed of 25 kilometres an hour — after that, they will shut off. Electric bikes are also heavier than most bikes due to the motor, frame size and battery (which needs to be charged regularly).
Ideal for city riding, folding bikes are super-compact because as their name suggests, their design enables them to be folded up for easy transportability and storage. Their compact characteristics allow you to take them in the car or on public transport to a friend’s place, your local restaurant or to the office, and then you simply unfold them when you’re ready to go home. By taking your folding bike with you, you can also reduce the risk of it being stolen.
Folding bikes typically have a comfortable riding position and small wheels that allow for faster acceleration and great manoeuvrability in slow-moving traffic and on roads with potholes. Quality models will have durable steel frames, puncture-resistant tyres, a long seat post and a suspension block that will guarantee years of daily use throughout the city and beyond.
There’s nothing better than enjoying a bike ride in the fresh air, and being able to take a friend along with you (on the same bike) doubles the joy! Tandem bikes allow for a closer, friendlier approach to bike riding than any other bicycle on the market. They are essentially two bikes in one and are designed for two riders — one in the front and one in the back.
They are known for being faster and great for long-distance trips, as their second set of pedals (and typically a second set of handlebars) means the wheels have twice the amount of input they usually do … and that means more power than a typical solo bike. Tandem bikes can also enhance the riding experience because both riders — the pilot rider in front and the stoker rider in back — need to work together to reach their destination. It’s teamwork at its best!
One of the best types of bikes for beginners, “trikes” are ideal for shopping, recreation and exercise purposes. They are ideal for children and seniors because of their stability compared to traditional bikes. They are safe and comfortable and are an excellent option for first-time bike riders who are struggling to learn how to ride.
The tri-wheel design of a tricycle helps to support stability whilst cycling, and their larger frame enables you to attach extra-large bike baskets to the back that will carry bigger-than-usual loads.
Ask any adult, and they will no doubt remember their first biking experience as a child. Bikes provide children with freedom, build their confidence, and hone their muscle development and fine motor skills. But there is more to choosing a children’s bike than just considering their age. Their height, weight and ability also come into play.
It’s also essential not to choose a bike that your child can “grow into” because as the size of the bike increases, so does its weight, which makes it more challenging to manoeuvre. A higher bike raises the centre of gravity, which can make it harder for them to balance. So if you choose a bike that’s too big, they may have difficulty riding it and won’t enjoy the experience.
The best way to determine if a bike is the right size, is to see if your child can comfortably stand over it with both feet flat on the ground, and they can comfortably reach both the pedals from the seat and the handlebars when sitting.
It’s also important to note that, unlike adult bikes that are measured via the frame, children’s bikes are measured by wheel size. This means that the size is not necessarily indicative of the seat height or the frame size of the bike.
There are four main types of exercise bikes that vary from design and the experience they offer to how you sit on them and their degrees of adjustability. Air bikes (also known as fan bikes) provide a whole-body workout because to power the bike, you must also use your arms. You gain the cardio benefits of running without the impact and they are the ultimate High-Intensity Interval Training Machine — you can burn up to 500 calories in only 30 minutes!
Stationary recumbent bikes are the best bikes for low-impact cardiovascular activity, as you remain seated while pedalling. They are one of the most comfortable exercise bikes and provide a lot of support for the rider’s back (great for those with back problems). Many versions also come with sophisticated virtual platforms to help you tailor your workout.
Spin bikes operate and feel like you are riding a road bike. They focus on lower leg muscles and enable you to get out of the saddle for a high-intensity workout. You can lose up to 600 calories in a 45-minute session, and many come with sophisticated virtual platforms that offer “live” virtual spin classes.
Upright exercise bikes are similar to spin bikes, however, the main difference is the rider’s position on the bike. You are in an upright position, your back is straight (as opposed to hunched over), and your arms are outstretched in front of you. Rather than replicating an outdoor riding experience like spin bikes, upright bikes focus more on fitness and weight loss. You can vary your workouts, and many come with sophisticated virtual platforms that offer a wide range of cycling programs.
Time trial/triathlon bikes
Image from Trizone
These bikes are designed for efficiency and speed rather than comfort, and your aerodynamic position on the bike gives you more speed for the same output. These bikes are only really suited for competition racing in triathlons or other racing events, not leisure riding. Their narrow and low handlebars make these bikes less comfortable for riding over longer distances. The rider’s position also compromises their handling, so they are best suited for solo racing or racing in small groups on straight roads where braking or sudden movements aren’t required.
All full-size dirt bikes are essentially the same size in terms of height so choosing the right engine capacity comes down to your personal preference and your ability as a rider. In terms of the types of dirt bikes and their power, two-strokes are affordable to maintain and offer a decent power delivery. However, most motocross and off-road riding racers will choose dirt bikes with four-stroke motors as they can be tuned easily, and have quality suspension and chassis construction.
In terms of capacity, if you are after moderate power, opt for a 125cc two-stroke or a 250cc four-stroke. If you are confident on a bike, consider a 250cc two-stroke or 450cc four-stroke option. In terms of younger riders, many will switch between bikes depending on their size. Some individuals have a greater ability or grow quicker than others and will move up to larger capacities more quickly regardless of their age.
Electric scooters have two wheels, handlebars for steering and a platform called a deck. They differ from the “kick” scooters of the 90s due to the addition of an electric motor, a battery, and larger tyres. Before you invest in an electric scooter, ensure it is designed specifically for Australia and its conditions. It should be able to handle uneven and inconsistent terrain because even in urban areas, riding electric scooters can be difficult due to road layouts and surfaces.
Three important factors affecting the ride quality on an electric scooter are its wheel size, tire construction, suspension system and breaking mechanism. Air-filled tires offer a much smoother riding experience compared to solid tires, and “puncture-proof” tires will minimise damage. Investing in an intelligently designed suspension system will help cushion uneven surfaces and big blows. And an ABS braking system will allow you to stop in a timely and safe manner.
Laws stipulate that electric scooters must be used in bicycle lanes, so your scooter should be able to reach the speed of a bike (a minimum of 24 kilometres an hour is recommended). This means you’ll not only avoid being in a commuter’s way but also have enough speed to accelerate out of situations that require a quick response.
Most electric scooters are ridden while standing on the deck, although some scooters can be converted into seated electric scooters with optional accessories. If you want a scooter with a seat, consider an electric bicycle, which is typically faster, easier to ride and more comfortable for longer distances.
Children’s electric scooters are typically lighter, smaller and less expensive. However, they often have weak motors and are constructed of less durable materials like plastic, so shouldn’t be ridden by adults or by children on public roads.
- Jonas Christensen, 2017, How the choose the right bike (the ultimate guide), Bike Chaser
- 2021, The best folding bike, Brompton Junction
- 2021, The Tandem Bike: Everything You Need to Know, Bike Munk
- 2021, Trikes, 99 Bikes
- 2019, The Ultimate Kids Bike Buyer’s Guide, Bike Exchange
- 2021, Best Electric Scooters in Australia (2021 Guide), Raine
- 2020, How to decide what dirt bike to buy, MX Store
- 2021, How to buy the best exercise bike to workout at home, Choice
- 2021, Ultimate guide to electric scooters, Electric Scooter Guide
- 2020, Best indoor exercise bikes for home workouts in Australia, Southern Cross Fitness