Bikes Buyers Guide

Mountain Bike Buying Guide

Congratulations, you've decided it's time to give two wheels a try! Mountain Bikes are a great way of getting around, keeping riders fit and also helping to cut down on carbon emissions (plus they're pretty cheap compared to cars or public transport). But which bike should you get?

Here's a breakdown to the different kinds of bikes stocked by Halfords, as well as few reasons why they might be perfect for you. If you're stuck on the bike size you need our simple guide can help you get the right size bike.

Why are there so many kinds of bike?

The main reason for the vast range of bikes out there is that bikes are ridden on different surfaces and in varying conditions. Certain bikes are designed to be able to go up and down hills faster, fold away into the storage space in a train carriage, or deal with extremely muddy trails or rocky paths. It wouldn't be practical to have a single bike design that would try to handle all of that!

What are the most popular types of bike?

The most common varieties of bike stocked by Halfords are:

  • Road bikes
  • Full Suspension Road bikes
  • Mountain bikes
  • Hybrid bikes
  • BMX bikes
  • Folding bikes
  • Electric bikes
  • Kids bikes

We'll take you through each type and tell you which features may suit you best.

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Road bikes

The clue is in the name with these ones! Road bikes are designed exactly for that - cycling on paved surfaces, with speed and efficiency some of the most important features. Road bikes are the bikes you'll see being ridden in the Tour de France or by groups of people in Lycra on country roads every Sunday morning. The key features include:

  • Lightweight frame and components - This make cycling up hills and gaining high speed possible
  • A higher saddle and dropped handlebars - This allows the rider into a head-down position, allowing for improved pedalling efficiency and aerodynamics
  • Clip-in pedals - Many road bikes have clip-on pedals that attach to special cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom. This allows riders to gain maximum pedalling efficiency and prevents feet from slipping off the pedals on steep climbs
  • Thinner tyres and narrow profile - Road bikes tend to have large wheels and thin tyres that are designed for speed, with narrow handlebars helping riders to tuck their elbows in, reducing win resistance even further

As you can see, road bikes are all about cycling quickly and efficiently. Road bikes are perfect for those long rides on public roads of cycle paths and the lightweight builds will mean you can go further without getting tired. However, they're really impractical if you're planning on cycling off road as you won't have much grip and the ride to work may be uncomfortable when you're having to unclip from your pedals or slide off you high seat when the traffic stops.

Great for: Long rides, training on roads, speed and efficiency

Not so great for: Off-road cycling, hassle-free cycling in busy places

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Mountain bikes

Mountain bikes are all about performance away from paved roads and cycle paths. If the idea of attacking tough trails or even just winding your way along a country path sounds appealing, then a mountain bike is bike for the job!

Robust frame and suspension

Thanks to the conditions and kinds of places where mountain bikes are likely to be ridden, the bike frame needs to be a lot tougher than that of a road bike, potentially using thicker frame tubes and stronger welding. You'll be more likely to find a suspension system(s) on the bike too, to help deal with shocks that come from hitting rocks and tree stumps or landing back on the ground after riding too quickly over uneven surfaces!

Suspension types:

  • Front - two shock absorbing posts that contain springs, fluid or gas that compress when the front wheel bounces or jars.
  • Full suspension - A similar system that absorbs shocks from the rear wheel too, along with a front suspension system.

Dropped saddle

If you're riding on a tough trail and doing most of the balancing by standing on your pedals, then a saddle that can be dropped out of the way comes in really handy. You'll be very appreciative when the bike jolts upwards and there's no hard saddle colliding with your backside! Saddles that drop at the push of a button are becoming very popular and the bike frame's top tube may even slope down to get the saddle even lower.

Thicker tyres

Tyres are extremely important on a mountain bike as they'll provide the grip needed to get you down muddy hillsides or over loose gravel and rocks. You'll notice that the treads are deeper and the wheels are wider to provide more balance, so you've got more chance of staying on the bike even if the tyre skids or hits a tree root.

Versatile gears

It's likely that you'll spend some time climbing hills on your mountain bike and you'll definitely be changing gears a lot even on the less challenging rides. Mountain bike gear sets provide a bigger range of gears than you'll find on pretty much any other bike, so you can maintain momentum on steep climbs before bring your bike under control when going back down.

Mountain bikes are perfect for heading off road for a quiet ride in the country or thrashing around between the trees. The best bit is that they're actually pretty good on the road too, so you'll be able to cycle from your home to the fun muddy part. However, you won't be able to maintain the higher speeds you'd be able to on a road bike and the heavy frame and clunky components can make them a bit of a pain to store in a bike locker or carry up a set of stairs in a city centre.

Great for: all kinds of off-road cycling

Not so great for: High speeds or practical commuting

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Hybrid bikes

The term 'hybrid' refers to the fact that these bikes have features borrowed from both road and mountain bikes. They are the middle ground between slender-framed racing road bikes and robust, thick-tyre mountain bikes, meaning they can do a bit of both.

Hybrid bikes vary considerably from model to model. For example, one hybrid bike may look exactly like a road bike, with dropped handlebars and a horizontal top tube, but may have slightly wider handlebars to provide more control over uneven paths, thicker tyres to handle mud and a wider range of gears for getting up steep, slippery inclines. A different model may be more like a mountain bike, but with a lighter frame and thinner tyres to help it perform better on the road.

The most common feature that makes hybrid bikes so popular is an upright seating position. Mountain bikes can be more comfortable to ride than road bikes thanks to higher handlebars that push the rider's weight onto the saddle, making them popular to ride on commutes that involve a little bit of off-road riding. If you like the sound of having the best of both worlds, then a hybrid may be the best choice. The only drawback however is that a hybrid may struggle to specialise - you'll be able to go off-road, but you won't be able to fly down a slaloming hillside as quickly as you could on a performance mountain bike. In the same vein, you won't be able to cycle as quickly or efficiently on the road as you would with a road bike.

Great for: getting the best features from both road and mountain bikes, easy cycling in a comfortable position

Not so great for: being a dedicated road or mountain bike - you'll eventually find performance limitations when it comes to both out-and-out road cycling and tougher mountain biking.

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BMX bikes

BMX (short for Bicycle Motocross) bikes are off-road bikes designed for a wide range of high-intensity cycling disciplines, including off-road racing, tricks and jumps on ramps and verts and street riding that includes grinding off rails and using the environment to pull of cool tricks. The most noticeable differences are:

Compact frame

BMX bikes need to be lightweight and easy to control, so the whole bike is a lot smaller than a road or mountain bike. The wheels are closer together and the frame is a lot lower, meaning nothing gets in the way of the rider and the centre of gravity moves to the pedals, making balancing a lot easier. It's also much easier to flip a BMX bike around in the air if it's half the size of a normal bike!

Smaller wheels

Manoeuvrability and light weights are key for BMX bikes, so the wheels are also much smaller. This also makes it easier to ride up ramps or over jumps. The tyres will often have a deeper tread too, to provide grip on concrete or when cycling on ramps or angled surfaces.

Dropped (or no) saddle

It soon becomes obvious why a saddle needs to be tucked as far away as possible (imagine a hard landing with a high saddle clashing into your backside!), but it also makes it easier for the rider to get off the bike. Some tricks involve leaving the normal riding position, i.e. a freestyle rider may not sit down once on their entire ride, but may swing their legs around the bike in a variety of ways, making a saddle a hindrance rather than a benefit.

Basic gears and brakes (or none at all!)

As they're designed for short bursts of speed, some performance BMX bikes will have a smaller range of gears, a fixed or freewheel gear or no gears at all and maybe only a single brake for emergency stops. To keep weight down and avoid cables getting in the way, certain performance BMX bikes may have no brakes at all, but this makes them illegal to ride on public roads, limiting use to the skate park or for competitions on close roads and pathways. If you buy a BMX from Halfords, it'll have road-legal brakes fitted as standard, so you won't need to worry about

BMX bikes are highly specialised for performing tricks or racing off-road, so their use is fairly limited. You may see some riders whizzing around the streets on a BMX bike, but in reality the lack of versatile gears, small frame and relatively uncomfortable riding position mean they aren't the most efficient way of getting around on a daily basis.

Great for: tricks, stunts and off-road racing.

Not so great for: Day to day cycling. You'll end up with a bad back from riding in a crouched position and you'll be very out of breath going up a steep hill with few or no gears!

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Folding bikes

If you're planning on riding a bike to work, then a folding bike is the ideal commuter-friendly machine. Designed to fold up to a much more compact shape, these lightweight bikes can be carried onto public transport, will fit into the car boot and can even be stashed under a desk or in a work locker!

Compact folding frame and small wheels

The selling point of any folding bike is how small it is when folded, and how quickly it can folded ⁄ unfolded. Some bikes will feature a simple click and fold mechanism that means it can be put away ⁄ built in a few seconds, plus the smaller frame and wheel size makes the whole bike very light, ideal for carrying onto the bus or train.

High seat and handlebar posts

With a small frame and small wheels, the riding position could become uncomfortable, so this is compensated for with an adjustable seat post and handlebars that can be lifted to suit the rider's height. Naturally, these posts fold away or collapse to keep the folded size nice and compact

Rear luggage rack or pannier / bag hook

If you take a laptop or bag to work, then some folding bikes have handy storage spaces and racks so you can store a coat or rucksack out of the way.

Folding bikes are great bits of kit if you want the benefits of cycling to work but need to factor in a train or car journey if the trip is too far, but aside from short trips on relatively flat, paved surfaces, you'll struggle to find a folding bike that will be able to do the stuff a basic road or mountain bike will be capable of.

Great for: Short commutes, public transport, spaces with limited storage

Not so great for: off-road riding, long bike rides, going up steep hills.

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Electric bikes

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are the futuristic battery-powered bikes that are certainly turning heads in the cycling world. The biggest mistake that people make when looking at e-bikes is expecting them to propel you along a bit like a powered bike or motorbike. In reality, the battery and motor system simply assists pedalling, so when you cycle up a steep hill, you'll need to put in less effort to maintain speed. E-bikes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and you'll be able to find electric road bikes, electric mountain bikes and even folding bikes with small batteries and motors. The key differences between e-bikes and normal bikes are:

The battery

Made using the same processes as laptop and electric car batteries, these power sources are what drive the motor, giving riders that boost when they start putting more effort into the pedals. Like any battery, they'll need to be recharged and looked after and you could potentially run out of juice if you get carried away and cycle too far (which you definitely will!)

The motor

Attaching to either front wheel, back wheel, or the sprocket itself, the motor kicks provides the boost to keep pedalling light, even when climbing monster hills. Converting the electricity from the battery into kinetic energy, e-bike motors allow riders to reach speeds of up to 15mph with minimal effort - perfect if you're riding to work and don't fancy working up a sweat in your suit!

The control unit

This is the panel or screen where you can configure how much assistance you want from the battery and motor. If you're feeling fresh and want to conserve battery power, then you can turn off assisted cycling convert your e-bike into a normal bike at the touch of a button, or if you're flagging or approaching a big incline then you can ask for full assistance and pedal lightly while the motor does all the work!

E-bikes are a brilliant solution for riders who want to cycle longer without getting tired and can be a real lifesaver on big hills. The only real drawbacks are the battery, which will require frequent recharging and will degrade over time, and the motor, which will also require maintenance after prolonged usage. These won't start underperforming too quickly however, so you'll get plenty of life out of your e-bike before you need to start worrying about repairs and replacements.

Great for: effort-free cycling at consistent speeds.

Not so great for: cyclists who won't want to worry about recharging a battery. The battery and motor can also make e-bikes slightly heavier.

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Now that you've learned about the different kinds of bikes we sell, it's time to start shopping! You can check out our entire bike range online, or head to your nearest Halfords store where we'll be more than happy to talk you through the different bikes available and help you to find something that's suitable for the types of ride you'll be doing most regularly. Just remember - you can always buy two bikes if you can't find one that does everything!