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What Bikes are Best for Different Terrain Types

If you have been bike shopping lately, you’ll see the number of bikes types available continues to grow. There are many things to consider when picking the right bike for your lifestyle, but terrain certainly tops the list.

Buying a bike that fits the terrain you expect to ride is the difference between having the bike work for you or against you. If you buy the wrong style of bike, then you might get frustrated and stop riding it. Take a few minutes to consider what bike works best on what terrain.

What is Terrain?

Put simply; terrain refers to the land where you will ride the bike. City commuters, for example, mostly ride on asphalt and cement or any hard surface. If you are a weekend rider, you might see both asphalt and gravel.

Anyone who takes mountain biking seriously will tell that riding off-road is a very different experience. When you go off-road, you experience very rough and sometimes rocky terrain. You tend to ride on dirt trails or even off the trail, so on the ground covered with rocks and holes.

Why Terrain Matters When Choosing a Bike?

Today bike manufacturers often create designs to support a specific terrain type. The most obvious example is the mountain bike. You could call the mountain bike one of the original styles. Back in the dawn of cycling, few roads were paved. Most areas consisted of just dirt roads and trails.

The original bike sports utilized designs that were for rough terrains. Riders whose bikes didn’t do well in rough areas customized them to be more comfortable and efficient on these hard-to-ride terrains.

In August 1896, a regiment of bike riders customized bikes to take them from Missoula, Montana, to St. Louis, Missouri. They made their bike upgrades specifically because they knew the terrain's effect on how the bike handles.

What Is Different In Bike Styles?

There is likely a bike design for every possible terrain, but what is the difference between them. The question is more complicated than you might think. The primary differences are:

  • Weight
  • Wheel size
  • Tire width
  • Tire construction
  • Rider's position
  • Frame design and structure
  • Handlebar design and construction
  • Suspension systems

The differences are even more subtle when you look at bike designs in the same category. For instance, a hardtail mountain bike has front suspension, but a full-suspension mountain bike has shock absorption in both wheels.

Finding The Right Bike for the Right Terrain

There is a bike out there for everyone, regardless of how you plan to use it. Look for a style right for the environment you will most likely ride.

Road Bikes

The drop or turned-down handlebars and narrow tires distinguish road bikes. Downward-curving handlebars are often incredibly lightweight and aid in putting you in an aerodynamic stance. Because of the lightweight frame, this sort of bicycle is ideal for a variety of pavement applications, including racing, touring, fitness riding, long-distance rides, and every day commuting.

The huge, thin tires allow you to glide the bike through a variety of terrains with little to no effort. A road bike is the greatest option if you are most concerned with speed, a variety of hand and riding positions, and an effective transfer of energy into moving the bike.

There are different styles of road bikes, too:

  • Cyclocross – Cyclocross bikes are racing road bikes for a mixed surface track (combination of pavement, unpaved trails, gravel, grass). They feature a drop handlebar like ordinary road bikes, but the tires are wider for better off-road grip, and they have a unique form of brake that helps minimize mud accumulation in the frame. Cyclocross bicycles are sometimes known as 'cross bikes,' or cx bikes for short.
  • Touring – Touring bicycles are yet another form of a road bike. They are for riding on pavement, although they are more durable for self-supported long-distance riding.
  • Adventure – Adventure road bikes are more versatile when it comes to terrain. They are also known as gravel or all-road bikes.
  • Fitness – These work well for the rider who wants high-performance but doesn’t care for the curved drop handles bars that you see on road bikes. Instead, they come with a flat bar that allows you to sit up as you ride.

If you know that you will mostly ride on paved roads, then choose a road bike. If you want to specialize your choice even further, look at one of the subcategories of road bikes.

Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes have unique features that handle a steeper terrain, which is why they often have lower gears than most other road cycles.

They tend to feature 26-inch or 29-inch broad knobby tires that let them maneuver effortlessly over obstacles and in loose mud. They also have tough components and frames, flat handlebars, and suspensions to help bikers navigate steep mountain climbs.

They come with brakes that have car- or motorcycle-style discs in the center of the wheels, and more costly models will include suspension at both ends for greater control over uneven terrain. The gearing is intended to bring you up and down hilly terrain, and it has a broad range to accommodate the varied grades.

Not everyone who chooses a mountain bike plans to ride on rough terrain, though. Some people prefer the more relaxed riding position. Since they come with flat handlebars, you can sit upright, instead of bent over at the waist. Road bikes have drop handlebars that make you bend down to reach the grips.

Looking Beyond the Road or Mountain Bike

If neither the road or mountain bike appeals to you, there are cross-category bikes, too, that have features of both or that have their own unique components.


Hybrid bicycles combine the benefits of both road and mountain bikes. They offer big, cushioned seats and flat handlebars for a more comfortable riding position and work well for short-distance commuting in town.

You can ride hybrid bikes on paved roads, although heavier and less efficient than road bikes. They are also suitable for dirt bike paths but not for rugged off-road mountain bike trails.

The tires are typically medium-width with a semi-smooth tread to give a more comfortable ride on the asphalt while providing enough traction and comfort on uneven terrain. Most hybrid bikes typically include front suspension to smooth the ride, but they are available without it, too.


Dual-Sport Bicycles are hybrid for riders who want the adaptability of a hybrid bike but prefer a more aggressive riding stance and style. They feature a flat or upright handlebar, but not as upright as standard hybrids, and a smaller, more performance-oriented seat. The majority have front suspension. Dual-sport bikes are ideal for commuting as well as traveling on rough routes.


Cruiser bikes, like hybrid bikes, are for leisure riding and have a highly comfortable, upright riding position and a spacious, comfy seat. Compared to hybrid bikes, cruisers often feature wider "balloon" tires and handlebars that are more upright and swept back in some cases.

Most cruiser bikes are single-speed or three-speed, with the traditional coaster brake that you pedal backward to stop. As long as your route is somewhat level, they work for short-distance commuting and errands. Some cruiser bike manufacturers provide a broad range of colored models to satisfy the fashion interests of every bike enthusiast.


Their long, low shape and full-size seat distinguish recumbent Bicycles with a backrest. Recumbents come in two-wheel and three-wheel configurations.

Many recumbent cyclists believe that they are the most comfortable alternative for riding. They are, however, more difficult to pedal up hills, and they can be challenging to transport from one location to another in a motor vehicle.


Folding Bicycles are great for individuals who need to travel with their bike, wish to keep a cycle on their boat or RV, or live in small apartments with little storage room. They're also helpful for commuters who need to ride their bike on a bus or train for part of their trip or don't have a secure spot to put their bike at work.

Most folding bikes have smaller wheels, making them less efficient and more difficult to control than regular cycles, but some believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Electric Bikes

Electric bikes (e-bike) have motors. Most of the other features match what you find on traditional cycles. For this reason, e-bikes have the same categories, such as mountain and road. There are also specializations for e-bikes like a hybrid cruiser, and folding cycles.

When shopping for e-bikes, you would also consider the terrain and other things you want on any bike. There are additional choices to make, starting with when and how the motor works.

With pedal-assisted e-bikes, the motor kicks in as you pedal. These bikes help by giving you an extra push when facing challenges like wind, hills, or fatigue. Some electric bikes allow you to ride without pedaling, too.

You also need to choose a battery and motor size. A more powerful engine provides greater speed to keep up with traffic and more torque to climb hills and transport freight. A more powerful engine depletes the battery more quickly, lowering your riding range.

The measure for batteries is watt-hours (Wh). A 500 Wh battery can power a large motor, 500-watt, for a shorter time than it could a 250-watt engine. If you are riding long distances, the smaller motor with the larger battery would make the most sense. Otherwise, you would need to carry a spare battery or stop and charge during the ride. It takes most bike batteries around three to five hours to fully charge.

Batteries can be external or integrated, too. Integrated batteries provide more cargo space but mean you have to bring the whole bike to the charge. External batteries take up more room, but you can remove them to charge.

What Else to Consider When Choosing a Bike?

Choosing the bike right for your needs requires you to consider many factors. You would always start with terrain, though. Once you decide on what type of terrain you will experience the most, then you need to consider:

  • Size – The size of the bike can have a significant impact on how you feel when riding and after. Having the wrong size bike can lead to back pain, stress injuries, and neck problems. If you are not comfortable on the bike, it will end up gathering dust in your garage or shed.
  • Brake system – Riders with slow-working brakes are more likely to be involved in an accident and sustain injuries. To prevent such hazards, your brakes must be precise and effective at all times. Disc brakes, for example, are suitable for all weather conditions. Some braking systems are easier to maintain than others, as well.
  • Gearing system – Bikes can have anything from one gear to 30 or more. More gears mean added chainrings, cogs, and cranks.
  • Wheel size – Knowing what wheel size you can work with will be a significant determining factor in narrowing down your perfect bike. It goes without saying that bikes come in a variety of wheel sizes depending on the sort of riding you do.

If you are still confused about what bike is the best choice for you, let the experts help. The team at Sixthreezero customizes bikes, so you get the one that will best fit your lifestyle.


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