Bikes Buyer's Guide

Congratulations, you've decided it's time to buy a bike. It’s going to be the best decision you’ve ever made.

Bikes are a great form of transport, helping you to keep fit and stay healthy. Swap your car for a cycle on the commute and you’ll save time travelling and cut carbon emissions, too. Riding a bike is much cheaper than driving, so you’ll save money while saving the planet.

Whether you’re buying a bike for the first time, or upgrading to a newer model, you’ll a huge selection of bikes for sale at Halfords. We’ve been matching bike buyers with their perfect machines for over a century. In this guide, we describe the different types of bikes for sale, and why they might work for you.

Before buying a bike, you’ll need to know your size. Check out our bike size guide to help you find the right frame size.

Why are there so many kinds of bike?

Cycling is one of the UK’s most popular pastimes. You’ll find road riders racing up and down the country, mountain bike riders enjoying our terrific trails, and tourers racking up mile after mile.

Enter any city or town and you’ll see commuters getting to and from work, people running errands and those who simply love the fun and freedom of two wheels.

Wherever you want to ride, there’s a bike for you!

What are the most popular types of bike?

When shopping for a new bike, you’ll see they’re broken down into categories. The most common varieties of bike stocked by Halfords are:

  • Road Bikes
  • Hardtail Mountain Bikes
  • Full Suspension Mountain Bikes
  • Hybrid Bikes
  • Adventure Bikes
  • BMX Bikes
  • Folding Bikes
  • Electric Bikes
  • Kids and Junior Bikes

Let’s look at each of these bike types in detail. 

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Road Bikes

Road bikes are designed for riding on paved surfaces. The frame creates a riding position that’s designed for speed and efficiency.

Road cycling is one of the UK’s fastest-growing sports because it’s cheap, fun, and exciting. Anyone of any age can jump on a road bike and feel the thrill of going fast. On any weekend up and down the country, you’ll see groups of cyclists heading out together for fast and friendly road rides. You don’t even need to wear Lycra (but trust us, it helps!).

Riding a road bike for the first time can be nerve-wracking, but you’ll soon get used to the precise handling, precision braking and enjoy the extra speed. If you’ve never tried a road bike before, now is the time.

  • Lightweight frame and components - Road bikes are designed to be as light as possible, which makes it easier to cycle quickly, including up hills. 
  • Aerodynamic riding position - On a road bike you’ll find yourself stretching forward to hold the handlebars (either resting on the top or gripping the drop bars). This position minimises wind resistance and maximises speed.
  • Thinner tyres - Road bikes have large wheels and thinner tyres that are designed for low rolling-resistance and high speeds.
  • Precise handling - Road bikes feature narrow handlebars that provide precise handling, and enable you to fit through gaps in traffic.
  • Clipless pedals - Many road bike riders prefer clipless pedals to improve pedalling efficiency. The pedals attach to special cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom, enabling you to transfer every effort from the pedal into power. They can take some getting used to but are simple to clip in and clip out when you need to. NB – road bikes are not sold with these as standard and you’ll find they come with flat ‘platform’ pedals.

Why buy a road bike?

Road bikes are perfect for riding on the road or on cycle paths. They’re ideal for those who want to cycle quickly, travel long distances (or both!). Road bikes are lightweight, fast and fun.

A road bike can be a great commuter bike too. If your frame has the correct fittings, you can add mudguards, a panier rack and lights to create a comfortable long-range commuter bike.

Great for: Long rides, training, speed and efficiency
Not so great for: Off-road cycling

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Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are all about rugged off-road riding. If the idea of attacking tough trails or even just winding your way along a country path sounds appealing, then a mountain bike will do the job for you! key features include:

Robust frame and suspension

Mountain bike frames need to be stronger than road bike frames to cope with the tougher conditions. You’ll find frames with thick tubes and strong welds, which means they’re hardwearing.

Almost all mountain bikes come with suspension. A bike with a suspension front fork is known as a hardtail. Those with front and rear shocks are called full suspension bikes.

Like the shocks in your car, suspension can help absorb the shocks from uneven surfaces, rocks, tree stumps and jumps.

Suspension types:

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

Thick, knobbly tyres - Mountain bike tyres feature a thick and deep tread that’s ideal for providing grip on muddy hillsides or over loose gravel, roots and rocks. Mountain bikes feature wider wheels to accommodate larger tyres.

Choice of wheel size - You’ll find mountain bikes with 27.5” and 29” wheels. Larger wheels allow you to reach higher speeds and improve traction on the trails but may be a bit hard to handle for smaller riders.

Versatile gears - Mountain bikes come with a large range of gears to make climbing easy and descending quick. When riding through trails you’ll find yourself quickly switching through the gears as you change from climbing to balancing through berms and attacking the downhills.

Dropper seatpost - Some mountain bikes come with a dropper seatpost. Dropper seatposts enable you to raise and lower the height of your saddle while riding. On climbs and on flats, you can keep it high. When you’re tackling technical stuff or jumping, you can lower it using your bodyweight and it’ll stay in place. When you want to raise it, push a button and it’ll pop back up. If you’re serious about off-road riding they’re an ideal upgrade.

Why buy a mountain bike?

Mountain bikes are perfect for quiet rides in the country or thrashing around technical trails and dipping between the trees.

Mountain bikes are also OK 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 as the heavier frame and wider tyres can make urban riding hard work.

Great for: All kinds of off-road cycling
Not so great for: High speeds on the road or practical commuting

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Hybrid Bikes

Hybrid bikes feature the best bits of road bikes 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.

Urban hybrids - They often feature wider, flat handlebars and a lightweight frame to make you more agile in traffic. Thicker tyres than road bikes to give even more traction and with a wide choice of brakes and gearsets to suit all pockets. You’ll often see urban hybrids with fixtures for mudguards and a pannier rack.

Leisure hybrids - Leisure hybrids are built less for speed, and more for comfort. Leisure hybrids are similar to mountain bikes in that they feature front suspension to absorb bumps but come with lighter frames and thinner tyres to help them perform better on the road.

Upright riding position - Hybrid bikes feature an upright riding position that increases your visibility, enabling you to see more of the road ahead. This can be critical if you’re commuting. An upright riding position can also feel more comfortable than the stretched-out position you’d find on a road bike. Hybrids are built for comfort, and that can mean a compromise. You won’t go as fast as you would on a road bike, or ride flat out off-road like you would on a mountain bike.

Why buy a hybrid bike?

Hybrid bikes are the Swiss army knives of two-wheeled transport. You can ride them on the roads, and off them all while staying upright, confident and comfortable. If you're searching for one bike that will do it all, a hybrid should be high on your list.

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 off-road racing, street riding, tricks and jumps on ramps and verts. Here are some essential BMX bike features.

Compact frame - BMX bikes have a compact frame that makes them lightweight and easy to control. A smaller frame means the wheels are closer together and the frame is a lot lower to the ground than on bikes with bigger wheels. This means the centre of gravity is lower, making it easier to control and perform tricks.

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 - Setting the saddle as low as it can go means there’s less chance of it hitting you when you’re riding. Some BMX tricks involve leaving the normal riding position, swinging your legs around the bike as it moves. A lower saddle, or even removing it altogether, makes crucial tricks a little easier.

Basic gears and brakes (or none at all!) - BMX bikes are designed for short bursts of speed, not long days in the saddle. While some performance BMX bikes will have a smaller range of gears, most have a single speed. Competition BMX bikes may not even have brakes, but you’ll be pleased to know that every BMX from Halfords has front and rear brakes as standard, meaning you’ll be able to start and stop, all without breaking the law.

Why buy a BMX?

BMX bikes are designed to perform 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, the lack of versatile gears, small frame and relatively uncomfortable riding position means 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

A folding bike is the ideal commuter-friendly machine. They can be folded up in seconds making them easy to carry and transport. You can carry it on a bus, train or car boot. When you’re not riding, you can stash it in a cupboard or slide it under a desk for easy storage. Folding bikes are designed for convenience, but they are comfortable and competent bikes that will make commuting fun. Also much loved by staycationers as they are ideal for when you get to the holiday cottage or campsite.

Compact folding frame and small wheels - he selling point of any folding bike is how small it is when folded, and how quickly it can be folded and unfolded. Some bikes will feature a simple click and fold mechanism which means they can be assembled in a few seconds. Small frames and wheels deliver precise handling too.

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. Handlebars are narrow, which makes it easy to manoeuvre your folding bike in and out of traffic, essential in busy city streets.

Rear luggage rack or pannier/bag hook - Some folding bikes feature handy storage spaces and racks so you can secure a pannier or safely transport a bag or shopping.

Why buy a folding bike?

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, or if you want the simplest way to store your bike. They’re ideal for short trips on relatively flat, paved surfaces, but you'll struggle to find a folding bike that can 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 battery-powered bikes that are certainly turning heads in the cycling world. Inside every e-bike is a powerful motor that provides pedal assistance up to the legal limit of 15.5mph.

Don’t get e-bikes confused with motorbikes. The battery and motor system simply assists (but doesn’t replace) your 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. At Halfords, you can find electric road bikes, electric mountain bikes and even folding bikes with batteries and motors. Think you can’t afford an e-bike? Think again! At Halfords, we’ve got electric bikes for every budget, and offer a range of finance options that make buying an e-bike easier than ever.

The key differences between e-bikes and normal bikes are:

The battery - E-bikes use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the same as those used in laptops and mobile phones. The battery provides power to the motor, which is transferred into pedal assistance. Like any battery, they'll need to be recharged and looked after. The size of the battery limits the distance you can travel. Go too far (or fail to recharge it) and you could potentially run out of juice. Don’t worry, you can still pedal your e-bike home if you need to.

The motor - E-bike motors attach to either the 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 15.5mph with minimal effort. They’re perfect if you're riding to work and don't fancy working up a sweat in your suit!

The control unit - The electric bike’s panel or screen enables you to 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 select full assistance and pedal lightly while the motor does all the work!

Why buy an e-bike?

E-bikes are an ideal solution for riders who want to cycle without getting tired or expensing too much effort. The battery and motor provide power for you to ride longer 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. And when you do, Halfords is here to help.

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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It’s time to start shopping…!

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 you.

Don't forget to chat to us about our range of bike maintenance packages to keep your new ride in tip-top condition.

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