Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Buying a bike - but which bike?
Glossary of bike types and how to choose one that's right for you
Your first bike
You want to give riding a go, but you're bewildered by the array of choice out there. Which bike is right for you? Think about what sort of riding you are likely to be doing - a leisurely weekend spin on the local bike path, riding to work, off road riding in the bush, racing on the road, or taking part in a multi-day organised event?
Below is a list of some of the bikes you might consider trying out, depending on your needs.
Caveat emptor: try before you buy
Take the time to talk with your friendly bike shop. They will be happy to let you try out a few different models to find the bike that suits you. Beware of cheap supermarket bikes. You'll get no service, no advice and you won't be able to try before you buy.
The women's cycling forum on this website is another great resource. Take advantage of the informal network of women riders who use the forum and are only too happy to share their experience and knowledge.
For more tips about what to look for when you're in the market, browse through our handy Choosing bikes and accessories section.
Common styles of bike
Road bikes are built for speed, with drop handlebars, thin tyres, a light frame and no extras bits (like mudguards) to weigh them down. The stretched-out, aerodynamic riding position on a road bike may not be the most comfortable, but it helps you to go fast. An entry-level road bike will set you back $1000, but if you want to get fancy, the sky is the limit.
Mountain bikes are built to withstand off-road adventures in the dirt, but they are also very adaptable for the city. They look chunkier, with smaller knobbly wheels for traction and (optional) front, rear and seat suspension. They also have more low gears for steep climbs. These bikes have a much more upright riding position than roadies. An entry-level mountain bike might cost you $500 to $1000.
Hybrid bikes are a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. They have the comfortable upright riding position and suspension of mountain bikes, but the frame is not as chunky. You can choose knobbly tyres for extra traction on gravel trails, or use slick tyres for less traction and more speed in city traffic. They also have more low gear options like a mountain bike. A good quality hybrid might set you back around $600 or more.
Cruiser bikes are built for leisurely riding in the city. With elegant design, floaty suspension and wide, squishy seats, they're big on style and may make you feel like you're on the bicycle equivalent of the QE2. They usually have few gears and a heavy frame, and are best suited for leisurely, short trips on sealed roads.
City bikes are made for urban transport. They come with mudguards, pannier rack, and lights. They may have internal gears, which allow you to change gear at a standstill - this is a real bonus for stop/start city riding. The seating position is upright which gives a good vantage point in traffic and relieves pressure on neck, shoulders and hands. A sensible choice if you want to get around town at a cruisy pace and carry shopping on your bike.
Recumbents look like an easy chair on three wheels. Recumbents give you back support and use different sets of muscles to conventional bikes - in fact, they're unbeatable for building core strength. They have more gears, less wind resistance and are completely stable, making them popular with serious cycle tourists.
Touring bikes are built to withstand the rigours of long-distance travel with the capacity to carry luggage, mudguards and multiple water bottles.The riding position is higher, with more weight placed on the rear of the bike. Expect to pay at least $1000.
Flatbar road bikes are a relatively recent evolution which are gaining popularity with more experienced city cyclists. Somewhere between a hybrid and a road bike, they have the light frame and aggressive riding position of a road bike, without the drop handlebars. They have as many gears as a mountain bike, but their skinny tyres do not make them suitable for riding on loose surfaces. At around $1000, they cost more than hybrids, but not as much as road bikes.
Folding bikes have smaller wheels and are small and light when folded up. Their gearing makes them as easy to ride as a conventional bike. They are easy to carry when you want to combine cycling with other forms of transport such as car, bus or plane, and they are easy to store if your space is limited, or if parking security is an issue.
Power-assisted bikes are very useful for less-able cyclists who need to make it up hills, or for those who don't want to work up too much of a sweat on their way to the office or shops. An electric bike travels very quietly at about the same speed as an ordinary bike and these are a growing market niche. They cost around $1500. For the latest information on electric bikes, click here.
Single speed bikes have only one gear. BMX bikes are single speed and increasingly we are seeing road, commuter and mountain bikes with only one speed. These bikes lack gear mechanisms, which has advantages (fewer parts make the bike lighter and reduces maintenance) and disadvantages (fewer gears make a bike less versatile).
Fixed gear bikes are a subset of single speed bikes, and are actually the oldest and simplest kind of bike. It's a one-speed bike which requires you to keep the pedals moving all the time in order to go forward. That means you can't coast on the bike - ever! This makes it quite a different kind of riding experience, and may take a bit of adapting to if you're used to a geared bike.
Remember, as you get into riding, you will be able to better decide what style of bike is best for you and upgrade (or add to your fleet) as necessary.