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Fitness Planner | Types of cycles and how to pick the right bike for you

Mountain bikes are the most popular and road bikes are among the sleekest. Touring cycles are for eco-travellers and hybrid bikes for everyone. Here's what to consider before you make your choice.

December 25, 2021 / 10:28 AM IST
Each bike is designed for a particular task. What you intend to use your cycle for, the terrain you are going to use it on and the kinds of distance you want to cover on it would dictate what kind of cycle you really need.

Each bike is designed for a particular task. What you intend to use your cycle for, the terrain you are going to use it on and the kinds of distance you want to cover on it would dictate what kind of cycle you really need.

It might sound like a simple task, but choosing a cycle that’s right for you is anything but. The minute you walk into a cycle store, you are likely to be overwhelmed or confused or both by the different styles and kinds of bikes surrounding you.

The differences between the bikes are subtle at times and sometimes in your face, and each bike is designed for a particular task. What you intend to use your cycle for, the terrain you are going to use it on and the kinds of distance you want to cover on it would dictate what kind of cycle you really need. For example, a cycle for daily commute to the office will be different from the one you would use for a 100km Tour de France kind of ride.

Here’s our cycle primer to help you pick the one best suited for you and your needs.

Fixie

The simplest form of the fixie or single speed cycle is the one that newspaper delivery men have used for decades now. It is called a fixie because it has one fixed gear. The fancier fixies come with better components, wheels, tyres and a more evolved frame design which is lighter despite being made from steel and is usually a lot faster than the classic cycles with angular handle bars.

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Any cycle with just one gear is called a fixie, and it usually comes with medium wide tyres with tread that improve grip. Most fixies have no shock absorbers.

Who should buy this: The best use of the fixie is as a commute vehicle for short distances. This one is usually recreational cyclists’ second cycle.

Hybrid

One of the most practical cycles for anyone who isn’t sure what they are going to use their cycle for. This bike is also ideal for anyone who is just starting out with cycling. It comes with medium-wide tyres, may or may not have shock absorbers and usually has a straight handle bar. Depending on your budget, you can get an aluminum bike (low-cost), alloy bike (slightly expensive) or a bike with an alloy frame and carbon fork (most expensive of this set), which is more performance-oriented.

Alloy bikes are lighter than aluminum ones, and hence much more efficient for long rides. Because of their slim profile and comfortable riding position, hybrid cycles can be used for daily commute as well as for long rides. Rather than paying attention to the tyres and number of gears, focus on the make of the gear and group set and try to get the bare minimum of a Shimano Claris system.

Who should buy this: Those who have just taken up cycling and are figuring out whether they want to do this regularly, as hybrid bikes aren’t too expensive and yet they are performance models. These bikes are ideal to hone your cycle-handling skills on.

Touring

Have you ever seen people covering the length and breadth of a country on a cycle with panier bags in front and back carrying all their stuff and a tent? The bike best-suited for such a journey is a touring bike. It has medium-thick tyres like the hybrid bike but they are capable of riding on gravel, ideally should have shock absorbers that can be locked out or engaged depending on terrain, and this cycle is usually made of steel because it has to lug a fair bit of luggage around over long distances. As for handle bars, you could use a straight bar or a drop-down bar depending on your comfort levels.

Who should buy this: Those who want to pedal while they travel.

Also read: Fitness planner | Long-distance cycling: from couch to 50K in 12 weeks - Month 1

Mountain bike

This is the most popular and most widely sold cycle in India. Since it comes with all the bells and whistles like shock absorbers, often both back and front, fat tyres that look cool and attract people, and even not so expensive mountain bikes come with disc brakes.

Apart from the cool looks, the reason mountain bikes are so popular is because they are among the cheapest. Given the condition of our roads mountain bikes are a good choice and the shock absorbers actually are useful. However, the thicker tyres and shock absorbers force you to work a lot harder as compared to a road or hybrid bike.

Serious mountain bikers usually get a carbon bike which comes with much better components and sticky tyres which ensure better grip on mountain trails. A carbon bike also absorbs vibrations better, thereby making your ride less jarring.

Who should buy this: Anyone who wants a cycle for city commute with occasional middle-distance trail rides within a limited budget. However, if you are really into mountain and trail biking, you will most likely have to upgrade to an alloy or carbon mountain bike.

Downhill bike

As the name suggests, this one is a bike used especially for going downhill. The wide tyres, dual shock absorbers look the same as what you would find on a regular mountain bike. The biggest difference: the horizontal bar on the frame, from the seat to the handle, is a lot lower than on a downhill bike than any other kind of cycle.

The downhill bike also has a low riding position and most downhill rides are done on trails or untarred roads. The tyre pressure on downhill bikes is usually slightly low so as to provide better grip, reduce speed, enhance control and also reduce the bouncing and bumping that is unavoidable if the tyres are fully inflated. Like mountain bikes, downhill bikes are available in aluminum, alloy and carbon.

Who should buy this: Only experienced mountain bikers who are looking at riding with gravity assist on.

cycle shop

Road bike

These are the sleekest as also among the most expensive bikes you are likely to see in a cycle store. These are characterized by slim wheels, slick tyres, drop down handle and an extremely aerodynamic design. Everything about the road bike is designed to make you go fast and cover long distances. These are the bikes that are on display at races such as Tour de France. Since the bike comes with drop down handle bars and a high seat, the riding position on a road bike is aggressive in the sense that it makes you put in a lot more power at every push of the pedal and hence go faster. The road bike is the fastest bike out there and it is designed to cover long distances at good speeds. Again, it is available in aluminum, alloy, steel and carbon with carbon being the most expensive. Better components, especially carbon wheels, can make the cycle even faster. Add speed bars and your riding position becomes even more aggressive.

Who should buy this: If you have decided you like cycling and are likely to go on rides of 50km or more regularly on decent tarred roads, the road bike is for you.

BMX

The sight of fully grown men riding cycles that only come up to their knees has probably made you scratch your head often. Chances are you have seen these men zooming, jumping and attempting stunts on these tiny cycles at a skate park. These are not kids' cycles but extremely technical BMX bikes. They have a small frame with small wheels. They only have one brake and the handle and front wheel can rotate 360 degrees unhindered. Owing to the growing popularity of BMX bikes, the sport made its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Who should buy this: BMX bikes are not meant for any kind of commuting; they are meant for one thing and one thing only: performing tricks and stunts. If that’s your jam, get yourself a BMX bike.

Also read:
Shrenik Avlani is an independent editor, writer and journalist, and co-author of 'The ShivFit Way', a book on functional fitness.
first published: Dec 25, 2021 09:08 am
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