Bikes Buyer's Guide

Bikes are a great form of transport. Not only is riding fun, but it also keeps you fit and healthy, and helps to cut your travel emissions and expenses.

If you’re taking the first step towards getting in the saddle and are considering buying a bike, it can be daunting to try and find the right one for you. So, in this guide we’ll describe the different disciplines, and which might work best for you.

Whether you’re buying a bike for the first time or upgrading to a newer model, you’ll find a huge selection of bikes for sale at Halfords. We’ve been keeping cyclists safe and happy for over a century, so there’s no one better to help you on your journey.

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, in part thanks to its versatility. You’ll find road riders racing up and down the country, mountain bikers 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
  • Mountain Bikes (hardtail and full suspension)
  • Hybrid Bikes
  • Adventure Bikes
  • Folding Bikes
  • Electric 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. Riders of any age can get out on the roads, either on your own or with a group.

Riding a road bike for the first time can be nerve-wracking, but you’ll soon get used to the precise handling and fast pace. Here are some of the typical features of a road bike:

  • Lightweight frame and components - Road bikes are designed to be as light as possible to make it easier to cycle quickly, including up hills. 
  • Aerodynamic riding position - On a road bike you’ll find yourself leaning 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 allow you to fit through gaps in traffic.
  • Clipless pedals - Many road bike riders prefer clipless pedals to improve pedalling efficiency. The name’s deceiving though – these pedals attach to clipless cycling shoes, which have cleats recessed into the soles to lock your foot onto the pedal. They can take some getting used to but allow you to convert as much effort into power as possible.

Why buy a road bike?

Road bikes are lightweight, fast, and fun, making them perfect for riding on the road or on cycle paths. They’re ideal for those who want to cycle quickly or cover long distances.

A road bike can be ideal for commuting 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. Whether you’re taking on a tough trail or exploring some country paths, a mountain bike is likely a good fit. 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, while 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 suspension - Two shock-absorbing posts that contain springs, fluid or gas, which 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 deep, thick tread that’s ideal for providing grip on muddy hillsides or over loose gravel, roots and rocks. Mountain bikes feature wider forks 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 not be as agile.

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 tackle the fast-changing terrain.

Dropper seat post - Some mountain bikes come with a dropper seat post, which enables you to raise and lower the height of your saddle while you’re riding. On flats and climbs you can keep it high, then when you’re jumping or tackling technical stuff, you can lower it with your body weight, and it’ll stay in place. When you want to raise it again, just 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 hair-raising technical trails and dipping between the trees.

Mountain bikes are OK on the road too, so you'll be able to cycle to and from home on your adventures. However, you won't be able to maintain the higher speeds you can reach 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, with 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, and can also feel more comfortable than the lower 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 give you a little bit of everything. 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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Folding Bikes

A folding bike is the ideal commuter-friendly option. They can be folded up in seconds making them easy to carry and transport on a bus, train or in your boot. Then 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. Their convenience also makes them a great choice for holidays.

Compact folding frame and small wheels - The selling point of any folding bike is how compact it can be, 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 adjustable handlebars - With a small frame and 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 fold away or collapse to keep the folded size nice and compact. The 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.

Why buy a folding bike?

Folding bikes are great 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

E-bikes are only getting more popular, and for good reason. Powered by a battery, they give you extra pedal assistance to make rides less tiring.

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 hybrid bikes, electric mountain bikes, and even electric folding bikes 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. This battery provides power to the motor, which is transferred into pedal assistance. Like any battery, they'll need to be recharged so you’re not left without power, and well looked after to extend their life and keep you safe. Check out our e-bike battery safety FAQs for some tips.

The motor - E-bike motors attach to either the front wheel, back wheel, or the mid-drive itself, providing a boost to keep pedalling light, even when climbing 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 lets you choose how much assistance you want from the battery and motor. If you're feeling fresh and want to conserve battery power, you can turn off the assistance and cycle normally at the touch of a button. Or, if you're flagging or approaching a big incline then you can select full assistance for an extra boost.

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.

Common features that put off potential e-bike riders are the price, which will be more than a standard bike, and the motor, which will also require maintenance after prolonged usage.

Thankfully, Halfords has plenty of finance options if an e-bike sounds right for you, and over time you’ll soon get your money’s worth, while you'll get plenty of life out of your e-bike before you need to start worrying about motor 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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Choosing the right bike for you

Now that you've learned about the different kinds of bikes we sell, it's time to pick the best style for you. 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 find the right fit.

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

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