There is a lot of jargon flying about the ranks of the cognoscenti, and even more among the would-be cognoscenti. Broadly, though, there are three categories of bikes, and that’s all you need to know to kick- start your cycling experience: MTBs, road bikes, and hybrids.
MTBs: (Mountain Terrain Bikes)
MTBs are the SUV of the cycling world. The analogy is apt: they have big frames, fat tyres, and are heavy. They usually have long-travel suspension, either just at the front (hardtail) or front and rear (full suspension). They have low gearing and an upright stance, and as a result of all this, are best suited to the trail. Despite all this, just like the SUV, they are more popular on tarmac than the trail. Why? Heck, all that steel and rubber just adds up to a lot of oomph, especially if you’re new to cycling.
A good choice if you’re riding bad roads / trails, and even just to ride for fun, so long as you want comfort rather than speed.
Quick tip: a good hardtail is way better than a mediocre full-suspension bike.
The sports car of the cycling world. Small, light, fast. The frames are thinner, the tyres skinnier, the gearing taller. They do need some endurance and flexibility to ride, because of the drop bars. You sit bent over, and all the road buzz is transferred to you through those skinny tyres and frame tubes.
They are fast, though. The aerodynamics, combined with a stiff frame, tall gearing and skinny tyres, make for a ride that transfers power super efficiently to the wheels.
The choice if you want to do long fast rides on relatively quiet roads.
Road bikes are also more expensive than MTBs, because of the technology that goes into making thin, light frames strong and able to hold up to rough use. In the immortal words of Keith Bontrager, bike designer: Strong. Light. Cheap. Pick two.
Quick tip: good Aluminium road bike is better than a mediocre carbon fibre frame. And cheaper.
Hybrids combine the upright stance of the MTB with a relatively lightweight frame, and the taller, 700c wheels you would see on a road bike. The tyres are wide enough for comfort on urban roads, and they often have a basic suspension setup at the front. They are probably the best choice for a fast commute with a backpack containing a change of clothes and lunch, or a nice Sunday morning ride to build up an appetite for breakfast.
The bike of choice for the urban commuter.
Quick tip: If you don’t have a shower at work, carry deo and a change of clothes. Ride in shorts and a dri-fit shirt.
NB: Credit goes to Vandit Kalia, aka The Guadzilla, for the description of MTBs and road bikes as SUVs and sports cars, respectively.