Our grandparents remember a time when there was only two options for cyclists: road bikes and cruisers with balloon tires.

Today, we are surrounded by Mountain bikes, Comfort bikes, Fitness bikes, Gravel bikes, Fire road bikes, Cyclocross bikes… and the list could go on. There are plenty of variations to get confused with.

Road Bikes

For over half a century, these bikes have been characterized by curved “ram’s horn” handlebars. These handlebars allow the rider to duck out of the wind and find a more aerodynamic position.

Aside from this classic design, the skinny tires and lightweight frame are essential for speed. And no bike does speed better than a road machine.

These cycles are designed for street use. The tiny tires perform poorly on gravel, and the thin frame and tires don’t handle aggressive terrain very well.

They also emphasize speed over comfort. While dedicated cyclists find these machines to be comfortable, they usually go through a significant fitting process and use padded shorts to work around the discomfort of a narrow saddle.

But, when you want to travel long distances at top speed, this bicycle is ideal. Even casual riders regularly ride 30 miles on these machines and the 100-mile century ride is a yearly event for many cyclists.

The road cycle is also one of the more expensive models on the market. Entry-level versions sell for around $700, requiring shoppers to be fairly convinced as to how engaged they plan to be with this hobby.

Cruisers

This style tends to emphasize nostalgia over everything else. So you have a big, swooping frame design that hits all of the right retro buttons.

Oversized balloon tires are central to this design. The large tires add to the comfortable ride of these bikes, and they often feature whitewalls to help accent the 1960’s look.

These bicycles sit you in an upright position and support you with wide, cushioned saddles that emphasizes comfort. This upright style would be copied by hybrid bicycles that would come some thirty years later.

The downside of these bicycles is that they are very heavy. The weight causes them to perform poorly on hills, and they are difficult to load on bike racks or in the back of your car.

Most people who start by shopping for cruisers are easily converted once they test-drive a comfort bike — the modern version of the old cruiser — to the lighter, faster design of these newer models.

Additionally, we are seeing more “hipster” brands remaking the old classics with lighter aluminum. This preserves the retro look while updating the ride into a faster, more user-friendly ride.

These two bike types represent two extremes in the industry. Today, there is a large swatch of “middle of the road” options. For example, the modern comfort bike has front shock springs, springs in the seat tube, and narrower tires for faster, easier pedaling.

So don’t feel constrained by these two options. A visit to your local bike shop will let you test drive the different types of bicycles and get a feel for what suits you bst.