Not long ago, I drove by a CarMax dealership and thought, “How in the world do people decide which car to buy when there are that many choices?” We've definitely become a culture of analysis paralysis, where too many decisions can sometimes lead to no decision. Buying a bike can pose the same problem (which is probably why I have a room full of them!) The roads and trails around Austin are a virtual CarMax of bikes. Everywhere you turn, you see everything from superstar triathletes to townies tooling around town on two wheels.
I'm often asked, “Which kind of bike should I get?” Of course, my fun answer is, “All of them,” but since that's not realistic, consider the following questions:
1. What type of riding will you be doing?
2. What is your budget?
3. What feels the most comfortable to you?
4. What types of people will you ride with?
There is no shortage of different bike styles, so let's create a brief en-cycle-opedia guide of the major types that you might consider.
These are the Jeep Wranglers of bikes, or as local mountain biker Dan Pedroza proclaimed, “The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, baby!” Ready to do some off-roading and look pretty rad while you’re doing it? Then you need some beefy tires with a sturdy bike frame and a lot of suspension to get over rocks, ledges, and roots. Although they can be used as commuter bikes on sidewalks and pavement, a mountain bike’s true happy place is hopping around on “the road less traveled” with plenty of gears for steep climbs.
What Sets Them Apart: Larger wheel and tire size for rolling over objects; suspension to absorb the bumps (full-suspension bikes have both front and rear suspension, while hardtail bikes offer only front suspension); heavier frames and components; lower/easier gears for steep ascents; flat handle bars for more control; you can use flat pedals, but will want to switch to mountain bike pedals when you are more confident.
There’s definitely a learning curve with mountain bikes because, unless you know the trail you’re riding, you literally don’t know what’s right around the corner. It takes time and consistency to become confident on a mountain bike, but thanks to local groups like The Austin Ridge Riders and Ride Like a Girl, there isn’t a shortage of weekly rides for mountain bikers of all levels. Many bike shops also offer private lessons and day trips.
Where to Ride: Austin has so many well-known trails and hidden gems that entice novice to beginner mountain bikers. Slaughter Creek Trail is great for cutting your teeth as a beginner, and the Barton Creek Greenbelt features many advanced and technical areas that will challenge the best! For several other options, visit austinridgeriders.com/trail/.
Triathlon bikes (also referred to as Time Trial Bikes) are lean, mean racing machines. Every feature of a triathlon bike is designed to minimize drag and maximize speed. Whereas road bike geometry allows riders to sit farther back on the saddle for comfort, the angles and geometry of a triathlon bike place the rider in a more aggressive position for aerodynamics and power. It also helps “save the legs” for the run portion of the race.
What Sets Them Apart: Aerobars provide an aerodynamic advantage, but less stability than a road bike; steeper seat tube angle places the rider in a more forward position for racing efficiency, but can be a disadvantage on hilly courses; bike frame often has many integrated components and internal cabling, all in the name of speed; some have built-in water bottles and storage for longer distance racing; not as comfortable for casual road riding.
Where to Ride: If triathlon is your sport for the long-haul, you’ll definitely want to invest in a solid triathlon-specific bike. Ready to tri? The Texas Tri Series is a great starting point for various levels and distances. If you don’t plan on making triathlons your primary two-wheeled sport, you may be better off investing in a solid road bike for comfort and variety.
There are as many different types of commuter bikes as there are folks riding them, but the biggest factors to consider are comfort, durability, and practicality. Commuter bikes are workhorses, especially since many are transporting bags with laptops, clothing, groceries, and other essentials. Because of the extra weight, make sure you feel good on the bike you choose, especially if you plan to be on it daily. You may sacrifice some speed, but an upright bike with straight handlebars is often the most comfortable as it provides the most stability and ease of use. Since you’ll be saving money on gas, invest in a bike that you really love.
What Sets Them Apart: Wider tires that complement many different terrains and climates; heavier frame for durability; areas to add accessories like baskets and carrier racks.
Where to Ride: Hey, if you have to commute to a job location, you may as well have fun and look good doing it!
Hybrid bikes are often the best answer for beginner recreational cyclists who are also budget-conscious and intimidated by some of the high-end racing machines. These bikes are, simply put, an awesome combination of a road and mountain bike, perfect for neighborhood cycling as well as a weekend spin on Lady Bird Lake. If you’re new to riding and still don’t know if you’re more of a mountain biker or roadie, a Hybrid bike is the best choice for you. While they are heavier than most road bikes, they do provide comfort and plenty of gears for shifting during uphill climbing.
What Sets Them Apart: Relaxed cycling position; easy to learn the gearing; can use with flat pedals; great all-around bike for anyone interested in cycling.
Where to Ride: While you’ll want to stay away from gnarly trail terrain, hybrid bikes can be used practically anywhere else including gravel, pavement, and even during triathlon racing.
These just may very well be the most fun bikes on the market these days! At first glance, a “cross” (or CX) bike looks like a road bike, but further inspection will demonstrate that these babies are built more for trails and gravel than smooth pavement. Cyclocross racing pits cyclists in off-road courses that involve just about any obstacle you can think of, including sand, mud, rocks, gravel, and grass. They are fun to watch and even more fun to race, especially if you love hopping on and off your bike, running through mud, and carrying your bike on your shoulders through sand!
What Sets Them Apart: Components and geometry make it look like a “beefier” road bike; more clearance on the fork and rear stays to avoid mud clogging; knobby tires with tread designs for all types of conditions; can be heavier than most traditional road bikes; can be ridden on roads, but would recommend changing to more slick tire.
Where to Ride: Cyclocross is an up-andcom ingsport with races in and around Texas. Texas Cyclocross is a guide to races in Texas. You can also ask your favorite bike shop whether they have a team or run clinics. Many of them do!
Comfort is king with these versatile machines built for speed, agility, racing, touring, and comfort. Consider a road bike if you want a bike that is comfortable, smooth and lightweight. Road bikes are very much all-purpose bikes that can be used for casual riding, commuting, and even racing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a recreational cyclist riding the streets of Austin or competitive racer out at the Driveway, road bikes are versatile enough to please a wide range of skill levels. Now, you definitely won’t want to go off-roading with these machines (see cyclocross bikes instead), but you will enjoy the smooth, stiff ride that road bikes offer on smooth roads and pavement. If you feel the need for speed, shop for a carbon fiber frame over an aluminum build. Carbon frames are more expensive, but worth it if speed is a priority.
What Sets Them Apart: Narrow wheels and tires for greater speed, less weight, and less resistance; drop-style handlebar that allows riders to find several comfortable positions for both climbing and descending; a wide variety of gearing options for both flat and hilly roads; lightweight components and convenient shifting locations near brakes.
Where to Ride: The beauty of a road bike is that you can ride almost anywhere on smooth surfaces. Austin’s bike lane and designated bike path options are growing daily. The Southern Walnut Creek Trail and The Veloway are two safe options for beginner cyclists because both are closed off to car traffic. Bicycle shops also have plenty of options for group rides throughout the week and weekends.
Short for Bicycle Motorcross, BMX bikes are off-road sport bikes for stunt riding and racing. What started as a casual and fun way of riding has turned into a full-fledged scene and one of the biggest events at the X Games.
What Sets Them Apart: Handle well in dirt; sturdy frames for stunts and tricks; shorter wheel base; knobby tires; low saddle.
Where to Ride: Austin has several notable BMX parks and resources including the Ninth Street BMX park, Austin BMX and Skate Park, Empire BMX, and Central Texas BMX.