This is a question that has come up time and again. I used to wonder why people don’t do sufficient research before asking. And then it struck me that as a newbie, even I had no idea of which cycle to purchase. After riding now for nearly a decade, I feel that a simpler comparison would help people decide what they can purchase based on what they need.
Here is a simili of what each cycle is like
MTB (Mountain Bike) : The advantages are like an SUV. this cycle has fatter wheels, a thicker frame and can take a beating. You can ride an MTB with disdain. No need to be overly worried about potholes on the road or bumps. Pavement hopping and staircase descents are possible with this. Manoeuvring is easy in traffic due to the straight handlebars. The disadvantages of an MTB are the higher tyre to road friction leading to an increase in effort required to keep moving. The inherent advantage in this is also that one can burn higher calories by riding shorter distances due to the higher effort required. An MTB is for those wanting to feel the rush of adrenaline as they rush through trails or the rain or jump over bumps. Like an SUV, it can be ridden on the tarmac too but the full capabilities are not being used.
Hybrid Bikes: These cycles are the newest design keeping in mind the need for people who need to ride longer for just the sake of riding. Like a family sedan car, they are capable of doing a little bit of everything. They offer easy riding at less effort, better manoeuvrability in traffic and can soak up potholes and bumps fairly well. They cannot be used for heavy stunts or constant beating on pavements. While many people do stunts on hybrids due to their light weight, the manufacturers do not recommend it. Hybrids are difficult to use on trails like MTBs and are difficult to attain high speeds like a road bike. They are perfect for the city rider who spends most time on tarmac with the occasional bad patches. This is a perfect buy for people wanting to use it for only commuting to work and the nice leisure weekend rides.
Road Bikes: The final word in speed. Like a sports car, they are built with strong thin frames and thin wheels for the least effort and the highest speeds possible. The riding position is crouched and the riding dynamics are all made for speed. Manoeuvring in traffic is a little difficult and its ability to withstand hard shocks is a bit low. As the rims are very thin, they could get bent easily especially if the wheel hits hard at high speeds.
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Folding Bike: The folding bike is a very unique bike which serves a specific use. It is mostly used for urban riding. Do not let the small wheel size fool you. These cycles can go quite fast on the road due to a clever combination of oversized cog gears. Talk about great engineering. These cycles are perfect for those who need to use multiple modes of transport everyday. The cycle can be folder and unfolded in less than a minute. One can cycle to the train station, fold the bike and take it on board, alight from the train, unfold it and ride to work. Folding bikes are are very useful for being transported to places with ease. Manufacturers who make folding bikes are BTwin, Dahon, Tern etc.
The decision to purchase has to be done only after trying the various manufacturers’ offerings. Each brand of frame is built ever so slightly different. One should take a demo and see which one fits best to the body type and structure.
What to look for:
Frame: Aluminium frames are light, strong and most importantly, rustproof. Most good manufacturers offer long guarantees on the frame for manufacturing defects. Companies like Trek have long offered and still offer a lifetime guarantee on the frame for the lifespan of the first owner.
Carbon frames are very light and very strong. They are also rustproof but care needs to be taken while assembly and repair as they can withstand pressures to a large extent before they crack. Unlike Aluminium, they do not bend and are not malleable. They are brittle but need a large amount of force to break them. Carbon frames are preferred on road bikes as their light weight helps the rider achieve higher speeds
Steel frames are the traditionally available in VFM cycles. They are strong,heavy and can withstand huge forces. But they do rust if not taken care of properly and their extra weight means higher effort to cycle.
The right mix for pricing vs performance is still aluminium today. There are other exotic frames available in Titanium but these are more expensive.
Bottom brackets: The most basic models do not offer sealed bottom brackets. In the rain or mud, the crank gets stuffed with water or mud leading to a constant cleaning required. Sealed bottom brackets allow the rider to ride in the rain and do not need constant servicing after every downpour.
Geared or Fixie: Geared bikes allow for easier riding as accelerating from constant stopping is easier. Higher speeds are also possible. Most importantly, gears are very essential for inclines and climbs. If you live in a place where there is heavy traffic or inclines or both, it is wiser to pick up a geared bike especially one with the “granny” gear in the front for steep climbs. Fixies are the gearless bikes which offer lesser maintenance but can get tiring if you need to constantly accelerate and brake.
Pedals: The choices available are plastic or alloy pedals. Ideally, alloy pedals last longer and do not break even with heavyset riders. They can also withstands being struck by pavement sides or road bumps. Plastic pedals although strong ultimately may bend out of shape or break.
There are numerous other components but for first time riders, the above points are to ensure a hassle free ride.