There’s nothing like the rush of riding a bicycle—it’s pure freedom on two wheels. Not only is it a ton of fun, but biking also improves your fitness, clears your mind after a stressful day and can bring you closer to your family when you hit the trails together.
But with so many cool and different types of bikes available, it can be hard to know which one is the best for you.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you! Whether you want to keep your biking simple or nerd out with all the (actual) bells and whistles, this guide covers all your questions— so you and your family will be hitting those trails in no time!
Questions to ask when picking a bike
- How do you know what type of bike you need?
- Should you consider an electric bike?
- What’s the difference between men’s bikes and women’s bikes?
- How much does a bike cost?
- What size bike should you buy?
- How many gears do you need on your bike?
- Should you test-ride before you buy?
- What bicycle accessories do you need?
- What are the main parts of a bike?
- How can you research the best bikes?
1How do you know what type of bike you need?
The quickest way to fast-track your search for the right bike is to ask yourself, “Where will my family want to ride?”
For a leisurely after-dinner outing with the fam, for example, consider a cruiser.
If you enjoy riding on mountain bike trails but also want to be able to zip down to the corner store on your bike, a hybrid bike might be your best choice.
Or maybe you’ve had it with getting elbowed in the ribs and are ready to trade public transit for toned calves. A city bike could be your ticket to freedom.
And if your little one is ready to roll (even if you’re not so sure), it’s time to consider getting them a kid’s bike.
Let’s explore the different types of bikes in more detail:
Road bikes are built to give you a smooth, speedy ride, which is why they’re also sometimes called racing bikes. They’re light, sleek and best for riders who want to go fast or ride long distances.
They have narrow tires, a small seat and usually feature a drop bar handlebar (the kind that looks like a backward “C”). You ride these bikes in a bent-over position, which can take some getting used to.
Mountain bikes have deep-grooved tires that give you lots of grabbing power on dirt trails and gravel. They’re durable, with wide, flat handlebars that make it easier to steer on narrow trails.
Mountain bikes also come with suspension, so you feel less of a jolt when you’re riding over bumps. Some offer front suspension, while others, like this Hyper Bicycles Bear Mountain bike, offer it on both the front and back ends.
Hybrid bikes are like that one friend who always seems happy—they can deal with whatever (riding surface) gets thrown at them. They’re on the lighter side and have mid-sized tires that can handle both pavement and natural surfaces. They come with a flat handlebar so you’re sitting in an upright position, to help you keep an eye on traffic.
City bikes have flat or gently curved handlebars to keep you sitting up tall, and a comfortable, medium-sized seat. They often come with the extras you need to safely navigate the streets, such as a bell for reminding cars to share the road, and fenders so you don’t arrive at work with mud splashed up your back.
Fixed Gear Bikes
Fixed gear bikes, a.k.a. fixies, are the ride of choice for anyone who wants a low-maintenance ride. They only have one “fixed” gear, so you don’t have to fuss around with switching gears—but that also means you don’t get much help on the hills. These bikes are lightweight (good for carrying up a set of stairs if you need to) and have a look that’s similar to racing bikes.
Cruiser bikes are the cycling equivalent of the old recliner your dad watches sports in—built for comfort and made to last. They have larger tires, a big, cushiony seat and wide, curved handlebars to keep you upright.
They often have low frames that are easy to step over, and very simple coaster brakes (the kind you push backward on). Much like that recliner, these bikes can be on the heavier side.
Adult tricycles have a lot in common with cruiser bikes, other than that third wheel (very welcome is this case!), which limits the risk of falling for those who are relearning to ride or need balance support.
They typically come with a large, heavy-duty basket between the back wheels, making them great grocery-getters.
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are any type of bike that has the addition of a small electric motor to help make it easier to pedal. They make riding accessible for many people, no matter their fitness level, and could be a good choice if your commute includes a lot of hills.
The battery on an electric bike needs charging, which makes this Hyper Electric a good choice, since it can travel up to 32 km on one charge.
Folding bikes can be folded up and put into a carrying bag, so you can tuck it away on a commuter train and then cycle from the station to the office, for example.
They can also be a good option if you have limited storage and don’t want to leave your bike locked up outside.
2Should you consider an electric bike?
Need a little extra power getting up those hills, or want a sweat-free commute? You might want to consider an electric bike. The best electric bikes look a lot like regular road bikes, but with extra features that will make your ride easier.
Controller: Perched on your handlebars, this piece controls the motor’s start, stop and speed.
Motor: There are two main types of electric bike motors: A hub drive is a motor that sits at the front or back of the bike, while a mid-drive sits near the peddles.
- Hub-drive motors provide more power, so you can cruise without peddling.
- Mid-drive motors are centred in the middle of a bike, offering easier balance and a smoother ride.
Battery: Most bikes come with a rechargeable battery pack to boost your ride when you need it. Batteries can usually be removed and charged with a regular household outlet. How long do batteries last? It really depends on how long your trip is and how often you use the motor. Some electronic bikes allow you to turn off the motor and ride it like a regular bike, so you can save your battery power for when you need it.
Where can you ride your electronic bike? Well, it depends. While riding on roads is allowed across Canada, each city has its own rules and bylaws for bike paths, lanes and trails. In some provinces, like Ontario, you must be at least 16 years old to ride an e-bike, so it’s good to check your local laws before you hit the road.
Our Favourite Electric Bikes
3What's the difference between men's bikes and women's bikes?
Typically, a bike that’s labelled a women’s bike will be designed with shorter distances from the bottom of the frame to the bicycle seat, and from the seat to the handles. It might have a narrower set of handlebars, too, which could be an important consideration if you have small shoulders. Some “women’s bikes” will also have a step-through frame, which means that the top bar is angled downwards rather than straight across. (This design originated when women riders often wore long skirts so that they could easily cross their legs over the bar when mounting or dismounting.) Ultimately, if the bike fits your frame and you like how it rides, it doesn’t matter how it’s classified.
4How much does a bike cost?
Knowing where you want to ride, how often, and what bike features are important to you will make it easier to decide how much you want to spend. As with most purchases, consider your budget and buy the bike that best suits your needs.
If you’re going to be riding only very occasionally, you can probably find an adult bike that meets your needs for around $200 or less. At this price range, it’s a good idea to find a bicycle shop to assemble the bike (if necessary) and set it up, so you get the best fit and most comfortable ride possible. A knowledgeable bike mechanic can also give you the confidence of knowing that everything is working as it should be.
If you’ll be riding the bike nearly every day, you should be able to find a bike that lasts for between $300 to $1,000. Be sure to do your research and spend time making sure the bike fits both your needs and your body. Bikes at higher price ranges will offer better-quality suspension, high-tech brakes (e.g., disc brakes) or a considerably lighter frame.
With kids’ bikes, good-quality ones are around $150 but can go as low as $100. Kids outgrow their wheels rather quickly, so it’s a good idea to set your “good enough” price and set that as your budget.
5What size bike should you buy?
When you straddle the bike, there should be a gap of at least a few centimetres between you and the frame. If you’re sitting on the seat, you might have to tilt the bike to the side slightly to plant your foot on the ground, but you shouldn’t be so high up that you feel like you’ll fall over. When your feet are on the pedals, your leg should have a slight bend at the knee when your foot is at the lowest point in the circle.
6How many gears do you need on your bike?
The number of gears is an important consideration when buying a bike. Once upon a time, a 10-speed bike was a kid’s wildest dream. Now plenty of bikes come with 27 or more speeds—a.k.a. gears—to shift through. Do you really need all those gears?
The more gears a bike has, the more flexibility you’ll have when riding. You can shift to a lower gear to make a hill climb easier, or shift up to pick up speed on a flat road or downhill. Having tons of gears won’t automatically make you faster, just more efficient.
7Should you test-ride before you buy?
If possible, try to test-ride at least a couple of bikes, even if you’re just trying out your friend’s sweet new ride.
Once you find something you like, take it out for a 10 to 15-minute ride. Find a hill. Ride over bumps and uneven surfaces. Shift through all the gears. How do your shoulders feel? What about your backside? Do you like the handlebars and the position your body is in? Can you easily work the brakes and gear shifters?
At the very least, a test ride should help you find a starting point for frame size and the kind of seat and handlebar you prefer.
8What bicycle accessories do you need?
Before you get rolling, there are few extras that shouldn’t be overlooked. Yes, it’s hard on the hairdo, but a bicycle helmet is a no-brainer for, well, your brain. It’s also required by law for children under 18 in many provinces, and in some, the law extends to all ages. Keep in mind that there are adult helmets (that tend to prioritize airflow and comfort) and kids’ helmets (that emphasize safety, with a wider protection area).
If you live in a city, a high-quality bike lock is a crucial investment. And for bikes with tires (um, all of them!), you’ll want a bicycle pump—ideally one with a pressure gauge, like this Air Attack 650 pump. Add a bottle of chain lubricant and you’re all set.
There are other add-ons for your bike that are like sprinkles on your ice cream—they make a great thing even better. A bike bell that you can ring while still holding onto the handlebars is key on city streets, and the law in some municipalities. Fenders keep the rain and mud off your clothes.
If you’ll be riding after dark, invest in bicycle lights—this Lumina 750 set includes both front and back lights. Bike baskets and carriers can prevent unsightly backpack sweats; some are even designed to keep your phone right under your nose, like this Top Tube bike bag. Biking gloves, a water bottle and cycling glasses are also great extras if you plan on doing longer rides.
Young families might also want a child carrier or child’s bike seat, so even the littlest ones can join in on the fun. This Bell Sports trailer can hold two kids with a weight capacity of up to 45 kilograms.
9What are the main parts of a bike?
You can leave the finer details to the fanatics, but it’s helpful to know a few key parts of your bike so you can describe a problem at the repair shop.
- Frame: The frame of the bike is what everything else attaches to. It’s usually made of metal, often aluminum, or carbon fibre on more expensive bikes.
- Wheel: The parts of a bicycle wheel include the rubber tire, the hard rim on which the tire sits and the spokes that fan out from the centre hub to the rim.
- Suspension: The suspension is the shocks of the bike, which cushion you from bumps or jolts.
- Seat: The bicycle seat (or the saddle, if you’re fancy) is where your backside goes.
- Drivetrain: The drivetrain is the mechanism that allows you to change gears and translate your pedal power into movement.
- Shifters: Shifters are attached to your handlebars and allow you to change gears.
- Brakes: The most common types of brakes are coaster (when you push backward on the pedals) and rim (brake pads activated by hand levers apply pressure to the wheels’ rims).
- Pedals: Pedals can be simple and flat, but some include toe clips that secure your shoes to the pedal—not for the faint of heart.
10How can you research the best bikes?
A great starting point for your research is asking friends and family about their favourite styles or brands of bikes—a quick post on social media can give you all kinds of helpful ideas. You can also ask questions on bike forums—three of our favourites include BikeForums.net, CycleChat.net and Mountain Bike Reviews. Another place to get advice is local bike groups on Facebook, such as Cycle Toronto or Ottawa Mountain Biking.
Online reviews can give you additional insights (but remember to use your own judgment). Visit a few bike shops if you can and ask a lot of questions. Again, get recommendations for good shops in your area. If you visit a store and don’t feel welcome, don’t stay. You should never feel like you’re trying to join a secret society. Riding a bike is for everyone.
Finding the right bike can take time, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re spinning your wheels. Once you’ve found your perfect ride, check its return policy before you buy. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to give your bike a proper tryout and to make sure that everything is working properly.
You’re now ready to hit the ground rolling on your search for the perfect bike, paving the way for a healthier, happier you.