The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired many to hop on a bike instead of taking public transportation or even commuting by car. Cycling statistics show that sales of consumer and fitness bikes increased 66 percent in March 2020, according to the market research company NPD Group. And leisure bikes are up 121 percent.
Being a beginner cyclist as an adult can have a steep learning curve, for sure, but getting comfortable in the saddle is just a matter of time.
One of the trickiest parts is figuring out the right bicycle for you. Whether you're looking for a road bike, one for cruising around town or a sturdy pair of wheels to hit up rockier terrain, choosing the perfect bike comes down to the activity you're doing.
"If you find a bike you're really interested in, it's definitely worth the wait. It might be a couple weeks or a couple of months even before you get it, but it's something you're going to keep for years," says Anna Wolf, who owns two bike shops in Brooklyn, New York: King Kog and Sun and Air.
Finding your Goldilocks bicycle can feel overwhelming, especially because there are so many options. Here, experts weigh in on exactly what you need to know about purchasing a bike, including the different types, the average costs and the importance of good maintenance. Then, shop some of the top bikes in each category.
The Best Bikes to Buy
Shop these top picks for the best bikes in every category, or scroll down for more options.
Where Should You Buy Your Bike?
Before addressing the factors that go into purchasing your bike, the biggest piece of advice most retailers and bike specialists offer is to buy your bike in-store.
Don't underestimate the value of speaking with the team at a local bike shop, Wolf says. "They are going to get you to the right equipment, connect you to the Facebook group that knows the trails in your area and shepherd you on the journey as it winds — making sure that you have the right equipment and the best tools to unlock this activity."
When you buy at the shop, you get an experience that can't be replicated via an online vendor, like getting a proper bike fit, the opportunity to try out your bicycle before purchasing and extended warranties.
"Bike shops with major bike brands, their warranties are amazing," Wolf says. "Some of them are even for life. The last thing you want is to buy something cheap online that will end up shortly in a landfill."
If you're someone who's sold on purchasing online, make sure you — at the very least — go in-person to try out the bike before clicking purchase, recommends Eddie Meek, customer experience manager at Priority Bicycles.
"This is something you're going to own for quite some time, maybe even decades. It's important to make sure that you get something that really fits your body and makes you feel comfortable."
How to Choose the Right Bike for You
There are plenty of factors that go into choosing the right bike for you. Some of the questions that Wolf suggests asking yourself upfront are:
- Where are you going to ride?
- Do you want the bike to be multi-purpose?
- How much money are you willing to spend?
"If you have the opportunity to go into a shop or call a local one, be as descriptive as you can about your interests and lifestyle to the person helping you select a bicycle," Wolf says. "You want to let them know the little things, like if you're into camping with it or if you want to use it to ride your kids to school. Talk about your life and your interests."
The bike expert helping you is going to take that feedback, distill it and recommend the right option for you.
How Much Does a Bike Typically Cost?
Expect the price tag to increase based on the kind of technology and features a bike has. The range could literally be anywhere from $400 to $4,000 or more, with road and competition or triathlon bikes being some of the most expensive. Wolf suggests looking at your bike purchase like an investment opportunity.
"A bike should last you a really long time," she says. "Much like fashion or furniture that can be seen as temporary or disposable, there are some bikes like that. If you're spending on the lower end, under $500 or so, you may be able to find something — but it won't be high quality and will likely cost you more headaches and money to maintain it in the long run."
While second-hand bikes are also an option, there has been a steady increase in pricing due to high demand during the pandemic. Meek suggests holding off to buy new until you feel confident about where you're buying the bike and what you're actually getting. "For $1,000, you can have something really, really solid," he says.
The Best Bikes for Every Rider
Here's a breakdown of the most popular types of bikes for adults: road, fitness, mountain, city and e-bike.
A road bike is meant for just that — the road. This pick is for someone who wants to move fast and is looking for an option that will challenge them when they're on the move.
Not typically intended for casual riding, road bikes are set up to have drop-style handlebars, which typically puts the rider in a more aggressive riding position, making them great for speed and efficiency, Meek says.
He also adds that they have a variety of gears, which help amp up your efficiency and tackle everything from long straightaways to steep climbs. "The extra control can help you match the energy output to the right terrain and gradient you're riding," he says.
The Best Road Bikes
Fitness bikes are likely to be multi-purpose. If you're hunting for a fitness bike, you're someone who wants something to ride around town with but also wouldn't mind working a little bit hard to burn some calories come the weekend. Fitness bikes likely have less gears than a typical road bike.
These bikes will have more upright handlebars than a standard road bike; this designed makes them less efficient but help you stay more alert when it comes to positioning, Meek says. However, you could easily upgrade to a drop style if that's the aesthetic you're looking for.
The Best Fitness Bikes
With more complicated terrain in mind, mountain bikes are designed with a bumper and include a wider tire with more tread compared to road bikes, Meek says. These bikes come with the most gears available, as well as disc breaks, which help riders tackle adverse conditions, like mud or dirt on rocky trails.
"This tread digs into dirt, rocks and looser terrain to make the ride as smooth as possible despite the obstacles in your path," he says. Meek adds that more and more companies are creating e-mountain bikes, which can give riders an added boost on tough inclines.
The Best Mountain Bikes
Dedicated to getting from point A to point B, city bikes are great for both commuting and Sunday morning errands.
Depending on what you'll really be using it for (bringing things to work or lugging groceries versus simply riding down to the local coffee shop), you'll find picks with added bells and whistles — like fenders, aka mudguards, and integrated lights.
Some city options may also be single-speed, meaning there's only one gear ratio, making things uncomplicated. This also means that there aren't any additional chains, cables or levers required.
The Best City Bikes
Most e-bikes — or electric bikes — cater to commuters and anyone looking for pedal assistance on the road. "They really make it easier for someone to get somewhere without showing up completely drenched," Meek says.
These days, there are more e-bike options than ever. There are now some e-bikes with all different kinds of gearing systems, built for various activities, Meek says. "Bikes made for city [use] will have fewer gears, as efficiency isn't super important," he says. "But mountain e-bikes will have a wider range."
Something important to take into account when adding extra oomph to your pedal power: how much battery life the bike has. Often, this hinges on whether you're using a bike in "pedal assist" or full-on boost mode.
If you are providing most of the energy, you could have a battery that lasts between 60 and 80 miles, Meek says. "If you're on the other end of the spectrum, you'll see a much shorter range, like 25 or 35 miles total." Before you leave home with an e-bike, make sure you know how much juice you've got for your ride.