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 things simple or nerd out with all the (actual) bells and whistles, this guide covers all your bike questions—so you and your family will be hitting those trails in no time!
Just want to start shopping? Check out our 7 best bikes for the whole family.
Questions to ask when picking a bike
- How do you know what type of bike you need?
- 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 and when will my family want to ride?”
Here are some of the most popular choices:
|Road bike||For commuting to work (and other long rides on pavement)|
|Mountain bike||For biking on multiple terrains, including trails|
|Cruiser||For leisurely after-dinner outings with the fam|
|Electric bike||For long distances and hills without too much effort|
|Kids’ bike||For getting your child in on the action|
Let’s explore the many 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.
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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 Bear mountain bike, offer it on both the front and back ends.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
2What's the difference between men's bikes and women's bikes?
If a bike fits your frame and you like how it rides, it doesn’t matter how it’s classified. That said, a bike that’s labelled as a “women’s bike” will typically have a few specific features.
- Frame size: It will often have a shorter distance from the bottom of the frame to the bicycle seat, and from the seat to the handles.
- Frame style: 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.
- Handlebars: It might have a narrower set of handlebars, which could be an important consideration if you have small shoulders.
3How 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.
- For occasional rides: 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.
- For daily rides: 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.
- For your child: Good-quality kids’ bikes 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.
4What 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.
5How 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.
6Should 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.
7What bicycle accessories do you need?
Before you get rolling, there are few extras that shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Bike helmet: Yes, it’s hard on the hairdo, but a 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). The airflow on this Bell Sports adult helmet is great for keeping you cool. There are also stylish bike helmets for kids, like this Bell Sports Ollie one.
- Bike lock: If you live in a city, a high-quality bike lock is a crucial investment.
- Bike pump: 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.
- Lubricant: Add a bottle of chain lubricant and you’re all set.
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There are other add-ons for your bike that are like sprinkles on your ice cream—they make a great thing even better.
- Bike bell: 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: Add on fenders to keep the rain and mud off your clothes.
- Bicycle lights: If you’ll be riding after dark, invest in bike lights—this Lumina 900 set includes both front and back lights.
- Bike basket: 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 cage and cycling glasses are also great extras if you plan on doing longer rides.
- Child carriers and trailers: 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.
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8What 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.
9How 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.
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- CTV News. Bike helmet laws across Canada.