Whether you're hoping to escape your traffic-filled commute or simply want to spend more time outside now that the weather is warming up, biking is a great way to do it.
During the pandemic, bike sales soared as people took up cycling as a way to avoid public transportation, get some exercise and spend time with family. And now, as gas prices hit record-high levels, the idea of being able to hop on a bike and cycle to your destination seems even more appealing.
But finding the right bike for your needs is a little more complicated than simply walking into your local shop and buying the first one that catches your eye. So, to help you make your purchase, we consulted with four biking experts to learn more about what to look for in a bike and how to choose the right one for different activities.
What to consider when buying a bike
When it comes to choosing your bike, one of the most important things to consider is what type of riding you'll be doing, said Neile Weissman, public relations director at the New York Cycle Club. If you're just taking your bike to the office and back, the features that you'll need will likely be different than those that you'd want if you're planning on taking it for 50-mile rides every weekend.
Storage is another aspect to consider, he added. If you live on the fifth floor of a walk-up apartment building, you won't want to have to lug a heavy bike up the stairs every day, so a lightweight option could be a good choice. Or, if you don't have room to keep your bike inside, you might want to stick to a simple model that doesn't come with a ton of additional, expensive features that potentially can get stolen off the bike.
Comfort is another key factor. "When you're shopping for a bike, the first and foremost thing is to find a bike that's going to be comfortable for you," said Alison Dewey, director of education at the League of American Bicyclists. "Because if you don't find a bike that's comfortable for you, you're not going to want to ride it." She suggests taking the model you're interested in for a test ride, if possible, before purchasing to get a feel for it.
Most of the experts we spoke to agreed that your local shop is one of the best places to make your bike purchase. There, you can get a feel for different bikes and speak with experts who can help you determine the best model for your needs. "We recommend our folks take the time to look for the bike that feels right for them," said Angela Azzolino, executive director of Get Women Cycling. "I would say shop around, don't be in a rush and reach out to the professionals in the space. Local bike shops are great, but they also can only sell what they have in stock, so you may want to shop around."
If you don't have a bike shop in your area, Azzolino said that there are also bike coalitions and organizations, like Get Women Cycling, that you can contact to get more information and guidance.
But in case you can't make it to the store or are hoping to buy something online, we asked the experts to guide us through some key qualities that you should look for in different types of bikes and the best options for every activity. But first, we're sharing some reviewer-loved bikes that you can grab for less than $500.
- Best affordable bikes, according to reviewers
- Best commuter bikes, according to experts
- Best fitness bikes, according to experts
- Best cruiser, according to an expert
Best affordable bikes, according to reviewers
This popular cruiser has more than 3,400 five-star ratings, and reviewers say that it's easy to assemble and a "great bike for riding around the neighborhood." It comes in 10 colors and multiple sizes and speed levels to match every rider's needs.
Meet the beach cruiser you've been dreaming of. This colorful single-speed bike features a coaster brake, so you just have to pedal backward to stop or slow down. It features the Huffy's upright Perfect Fit Frame, which the brand says makes it "the most comfortable bike you'll ever ride."
Another popular pick from Sixthreezero, this bike has an average 4.6-star rating from more than 3,200 reviews. With a step-through frame, three-speed hub and a comfortable upright design, it has practically everything that you could want from a cruiser. Plus, it comes in four super stylish colors.
According to the brand, this bestselling commuter bike "mixes form and function." It has a step-through frame, rear rack, ErgoComfort saddle and Shimano Revoshift Shifters, which allow you to easily switch between the seven gears. Plus, it comes in six fun colors, including yellow Sunflower and light blue Cool Mint.
Cruise around town or along the beachfront in style with this bike from Schwinn. It has an average 4.3-star rating from more than 1,200 reviews, and one reviewer said that it's a "good quality bike for the money." The single-speed bike seems like it would be great for rides around town, but there are also three- and seven-speed options for those who live in hilly neighborhoods.
This hybrid bike has more than 1,000 five-star reviews from shoppers who say that it is "lightweight," "comfortable" and is a "great value." It comes in multiple sizes in both the Discovery and Discovery 2 models to suit a variety of heights, and you can add expert assembly at checkout. You can also contact your local bike shop to see if they can put it together for you there — some shops will offer that service for a price.
What to look for in a commuter bike
"A commuter [bike] most of the time is a little bit heartier of a bike," said Garret Seacat, a cycling coach and owner of Absolute Endurance in Manhattan, Kansas. "Usually with a commuter bike, you're often going to get something that is a steel frame and is somewhat overbuilt in a lot of areas, so maybe it has a little sturdier wheel, so it can account for you carrying bags on the bike."
Typically, you want to look for something with upright handlebars, multiple gears and a step-through frame, "that's important, particularly for women who might be traveling in dresses or skirts," Azzolino said. You also want to be aware of the environment that you'll be riding in, she added. Certain bikes have features, like disc brakes or sealed components, that make them more suitable for riding in the rain and rough conditions.
Azzolino said that you might also want to consider looking for something that has a built-in basket or rack or that features mounts that will allow you to add one. That way you can transport all your bags to the office, without having to worry about holding onto them as you ride.
Best commuter bikes, according to experts
Weissman said that this Lekker option falls into the European hybrid category, which includes bicycles that have key elements that are helpful for commuters — especially those who often ride in the rain. "[They] have a sealed hub, so if you ride in bad weather, all the components are sealed and they have disc brakes, which are very effective in wet weather."
This bike allows you to switch between eight speeds and, according to the brand, requires little maintenance. Another thing to keep in mind about this style of bike: "They're not light," Weissman said. "I wouldn't want to carry them up four flights of stairs."
For a fully customized experience, look no further than the Surly Steamroller. You can buy the frameset on its own and then add additional features, like your preferred handlebars, breaks and wheels. Weissman also said that this single-speed, fixed-gear bike has clearance to allow for wide tires.
Electric bikes make it easier to get where you're going quickly. And Seacat said they're a great option for commuters — though they can get pretty pricey. He likes this one from Trek. According to the brand, it has a powerful Bosch drive system that assists up to 25 miles per hour and a sleek controller that can monitor your speed, distance and battery power.
What to look for in a fitness bike
Within the fitness bike category, your needs may vary, depending on your location and how far you plan to ride. But generally, when looking for a bike to use for exercise, Azzolino recommends something with a drop handlebar, which will allow you to use different hand positions and switch the muscles that you're working, so you don't fatigue as quickly. Instead of a step-through frame, opt for a traditional top tube bike, which has a higher, flatter frame. "That [top tube] bike is going to be more responsive," she said.
Another thing to consider is the type of tire that the bike uses. Commuter bikes typically have wide tires, which make it easier to go over bumps and cracks in the ground; but with a fitness bike, Azzolino said you can opt for a thinner tire, which will give you less rolling resistance and allow you to go faster.
Best fitness bikes, according to experts
Seacat said that the Trek FX 1 is his favorite fitness bike. "The reason I love that one is it comes with what they call IsoSpeed," he said. "And that's in the rear end of the bike where your seat post actually flexes a little bit, so it takes the edge off of all the little bumps." It also features a lightweight frame, 21 speeds and even has mounts, so you can customize it with a rack or lights.
Specialized's Sirrus 1.0 bike has many of the same features as the Trek FX 1 bike, Seacat said. But instead of having the comfort aspect on the back end of the bike, this one has shock absorption features in the front, which help to take the pressure off your hands when riding.
Weissman says this bike is useful for city, off-road and recreational riding, calling it a "one bike solution." It's expensive, so he said that it's not one that you'd want to leave locked up outside, but it has a range of features that will come in handy for longer rides, like drop handlebars, disc brakes and multiple gears.
Best cruiser, according to an expert
Cruisers are a relatively affordable option for anyone who is simply looking for a quick way to get around the neighborhood. Dewey said that "they look very fashionable and fun," and are a good option if you're looking to ride just a few miles at a time. One thing to keep in mind: They have very wide handlebars and are pretty heavy, so they can be hard to transport, she said. Their weight can also make them harder to power up hills, so they may be better suited for flat areas.
"With a leisure bike, the first thing you want to look for is the height of your handlebars to the height of the seat," Seacat said. "So, you want your handlebars to be plenty well above that seat, because what that will indicate to you is that the bike is really sat up and very comfortable."
Whether you're heading out to run errands or biking around town with the kids, the Electra Townie is a great choice. "It's just an all-around fun bike to cruise around on," Seacat said. It features Flat Foot Technology, which the brand says puts you in a comfortable, upright position that allows you to easily put your feet down when you come to a stop.
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