Part of the reason buying a bike is so challenging is because there are SO MANY different types of bicycles: road bikes, mountain bikes, e-bikes, cargo bikes, yikes!
While it can all be a bit confusing, the good news is that this huge variety of bicycles means that there is a bike out there perfectly suited to your needs. We just need to help you find it.
In this article, we will walk you thru 19 different types (and sub-types) of bikes and explain to you what kinds of folks they are well-suited to. We also describe many of the reasons women come to us looking for a bike for, and which types of bikes are best-designed for those purposes.
So, grab a cup of coffee, a notebook, and let’s dive right in.
As the name would suggest, a road bike is designed for riding on the road or on other paved surfaces. It is characterized by skinny tires and “drop bars”–handlebars that curve downward.
Pros: Lightweight, fast, good for long distances
Cons: Can’t go off-road, drop bars are uncomfortable for some riders, a bit twitchy
Best For: Women wanting to join club rides or who’d like to eventually ride a century or organized ride.
Mountain bikes are designed for riding on dirt trails and generally have suspension, either on just the front fork or both front and rear. They have fat, knobby tires to maintain traction off-road.
Pros: Can go virtually anywhere
Cons: Heavier than a road bike, slow on pavement
Best For: Women who want to tackle singletrack and off-road riding. If you like the idea of riding through the forest, a mountain bike is what you want.
A hybrid is a mix between a road bike and a mountain bike. It has tires that can handle a variety of terrain, both paved and dirt. It’s characterized by an upright design and flat handlebars (not dropbars like a road bike).
Pros: Upright geometry, tires than can go on pavement or gravel
Cons: Not well-suited for either true road biking or true mountain biking
Best For: Beginners who want to do shorter, casual rides and who want to be able to sit in an upright, confident position.
Cruiser bikes, also often called “beach cruisers” have upright geometry. Cruisers are ideal for short, leisurely rides on paved trails or boardwalks.They also tend to come with fun extra like fenders, kickstands, and baskets.
Pros: Fun!, come in pretty colors and cute designs, upright geometry
Cons: Heavy, not well suited for hills or long distances
Best For: Women who want to ride a cute bike to the coffee shop or to the beach.
Cargo bikes are intended for carrying large loads including groceries, children, Christmas trees, whatever. There are several different styles of cargo bikes including bucket-style cargo bikes and those with long rear racks.
Pros: Great for urban riding, can replace a car, carries lots of stuff
Best For: Women who want a bicycle to replace their car or greatly cut back on the amount of trips they want to take in a car. Also, great for women with children.
City bikes are intended for commuting quickly around town. They tend to be designed to be low-maintenance and durable. They are nothing fancy, but are usually urbane and hip.
Pros: Low-maintenance, affordable, quick-rolling
Cons: Not designed for long-distance riding
Best For: Women who want to commute to work and the grocery store.
Electric Bikes / E-Bikes
All of the types of bikes listed above come in an electric version. Also known as an e-bike, these bicycles have a small motor that can help you up hills or speed you up when riding long distances.
Pros: Makes riding easier!
Cons: Expensive, not allowed on some trails
Best For: Women who want to commute to work or around town without getting sweaty. Also, anybody who has a disability or who isn’t in great shape (yet!).
Cyclocross bikes, or ‘cross bikes, are designed for a special type of racing called–you guessed it!–cyclocross. They are a special type of hybrid bike that looks like a road bike, but has knobby tires that can handle being ridden thru mud and across grass.
Pros: Specifically designed for cyclocross racing, way faster than using your mountain bike
Cons: Not very versatile.
Best For: Women who want to race ‘cross
Whey you think of BMX you might think of 10-year-old boys, but grown women can have a lot of fun doing BMX as well. (Especially if you have a 10-year old who wants you to do it with them). There are two different kinds of BMX bikes–those made for racing on a track and those intended for doing tricks.
Pros: Lots of fun, great for skill development on the bike.
Cons: Best for BMX racing or doing tricks, you don’t want to ride it around town or long distances.
Best For: Ladies interested in BMX racing or learning tricks at the skate park.
This is a new category of bike that has exploded in popularity over the last few years. They look a lot like a cyclocross bike, but are designed for long-distance gravel road riding. They are great for anybody wanting to explore forest service roads, and maybe singletrack or road along the way as well.
Pros: Can handle mixed terrain (pavement and dirt) with ease.
Cons: Slower rolling on pavement than a road bike, can’t handle technical terrain like a mountain bike.
Best For: Anybody who wants to ride a mix of pavement and dirt or who wants to do some long gravel road rides.
These bicycles put the rider on a reclining, seated position. They are ideal for women who are uncomfortable on a traditional bike due to knee, back, or hip problems.
Pros: Good alternative to a traditional bike for women with physical discomfort.
Cons: Because the bike is low to the ground, it’s harder for traffic to see.
Best For: Women who need a more ergonomic position due to physical discomfort.
A bike for two! If you like riding with your significant other or a friend, a tandem bike can be a great way to allow riders of different speeds to stick together. They come in a ton of different sub-types: mountain bike tandems, road bike tandems, cruiser tandems, etc.
Pros: Fun, and great for couples who want to ride together at the same speed.
Cons: You always need someone to ride with you!
Best For: Couples (or friends) where one rider is faster than the other. Or, who just like to have fun and laugh!
These bikes look a lot like a road bike, but are specially designed to be ridden on a velodrome. They have a single fixed-gear and no brakes. If you have a velodrome in your area, and are interested in racing, this can be a super cool sport to get involved in.
Pros: Fast, aerodynamic, the only bike to have if you want to race on a velodrome.
Cons: Not very versatile.
Best For: Competitive women who want to try track racing.
Want to go on a bicycle tour? Maybe you’d like to ride across the United States, or just across your state….Either way, a touring bicycle is the way to do it. These bikes are designed to be comfortable for riding long distances, day after day. They also include plenty of bosses for adding racks and cages for carrying gear.
Pros: Comfortable geometry, bosses for racks and cages.
Cons: Less aerodynamic, heavier than a traditional road bike.
Best For: Long-distance, multi-day bike trips.
If you want to bike in the snow, a fat bike is the way to do it. The extra-wide tires on these bikes allow them to roll thru snow or across sand.
Best For: Anybody who doesn’t want to hang their hat, er helmet, up when the ground turns white.
Pros: Allows you to ride on snow or sand–places other bikes just can’t go.
Cons: Heavy, slow rolling on pavement.
Read: 5 Best Women’s Fat Bikes
Folding bikes do just what they sound like they do: they fold up into easy-to-transport easy-to-store dimensions. This makes them perfect for ladies who want to be able to carry their bike upstairs to an apartment or workspace, or take their bike on the subway. They also fold down to fit in checked luggage if you travel a lot.
Pros: Easily transportable and storable.
Cons: Frame geometry can be a bit awkward.
Best For: Traveling and women who have limited storage space.
Tri bikes are very similar to a traditional road bike, but have a few key differences. The geometry is more aggressive, forcing the rider into a more aero, tucked position. The handlebars have extensions further allowing for this laid-out body position. Finally, the bike might have other features like aero wheels and integrated brakes. Speed is the name of the game.
Pros: Aerodynamic and fast.
Cons: Not ideal for everyday riding, aggressive geometry may be uncomfortable.
Best For: Women who are serious about triathlon.
Just like the tricycle you had as a kid, adult trikes have three-wheels to make them ultra-stable. This is great for women who don’t feel confident on a traditional bike, or have balance issues or other disabilities.
Pros: Lots of stability, cargo space.
Best For: Anybody who could use a little extra stability.
Handbikes look like a recumbent bicycle but are designed to be “pedaled” with your arms rather than your legs. These bikes allow women with leg disabilities to hit the open road.
Pros: Comfortable riding position, good alternative to a traditional bike for folks with knee pain or leg disabilities.
Cons: Low to the ground design makes it difficult to be seen in traffic.
Best For: Ladies with knee problems or other leg disabilities.
What Kind of Riding Do You Want To Do?
Rather than choosing the type of bike you want, some times the better question is what kind of riding you want to do, and letting that direct you to a type of bike.
Here are some common reasons women come to me looking for a bicycle.
Weight Loss or Exercise
If you are looking to lose weight or simply get more exercise in your life, you probably want either a road bike or a hybrid bike. If you are already pretty athletic, go with the road bike. If you are just getting started with exercise, a hybrid is a good choice.
Commuting to Work
You can use virtually any kind of bike to commute to work though the best choices are a city bike, road bike, or cargo bike. Adding an electric-assist can also be a great option.
Getting Out In Nature
Do you want to get “out there”? If so, want a mountain bike or gravel bike. Choose a mountain bike if you want to ride primarily on trails, and a gravel bike if you are planning on cruising forest service roads and gravel rail trails.
Going For a Saturday Cruise
You just want a bike to head to the farmer’s market or to the ice cream shop. You’ll love a cruiser bike or a hybrid.
Biking With Kids
A cargo bike is usually the best option for hauling children. That said, they are expensive. If you’re on a budget, simple bikes are best. Look for a bicycle with a traditional frame (not a step-thru women’s frame), v-brakes, and quick-release axles. These features are most compatible with bike seats and trailers. Avoid choosing a bike with suspension, disc brakes, or thru-axles as these all complicate mounting child-hauling devices.
Completing a Sprint Tri
We know a lot of women who get into cycling because they decided they wanted to do a sprint triathlon. While you can buy a triathlon-specific bike, and should if you plan on being serious about the sport, for most women just getting started a regular road bike might be a better option. It’s more versatile, which means if you train for your tri and then decide road riding is more your style for the long-term, you’ll have a great bike for that. Entry-level road bikes are also more affordable for women just putting their toe in the water (no pun intended).