Buying a Bike today can be difficult because of all the different choices. There exist probably 5 main categories of bikes; road, mountain, hybrid, comfort and recumbents. Not only are there 5 main types but within each type there are subcategories, further complicating matters.
Road Bikes Road bikes are overall the lightest and fastest of bikes. They are designed with large gears, aerodynamic position and low rolling resistance. Road bikes are for people who want to go fast on the pavement and/or want the most efficiency from a bike they can get. In the last few years we have seen the emergence of what's called the comfort road bike. These have been very popular on the Palouse. Comfort road bikes have more upright handlebars, slightly shorter top tubes, offer a smoother ride. Many people have bad memories of riding an old ten speed that was not at all comfortable and completely turned them off to the idea of road bikes. Comfort road bikes don't have the problems of the old ten speeds. These newer style bikes have an increased capability of accepting racks and fenders. The Trek Pilots and the main comfort road bike that we sell. Another type of road bike is the touring bike. This kind of bike is designed to accept a minimum of 40 pounds in cargo weight. Frames are stouter and wheels are stronger to accomodate heavy loads.
Mountain Bikes Mountain bikes, sometimes called all terrain bikes are designed to be ridden off road. They can be ridden on roads, as the all terrain label implies but these are far less efficient and heavier than road bikes. Mountain bikes have heavier duty frames than road bikes usually have some type of suspension system, and use wider knobbier tires than road bikes. There are now several types of mountain bikes including cross country hardtails, cross country full suspension, big hit hardtails, all mountain full suspension and downhill/freeride full suspension.
The cross country hardtail is a bike that has front suspension and not rear (thus the hard tail). These bikes are designed to be relatively lightweight in comparison to the other types of mountain bikes and designed to be ridden relatively long distances. Cross country bike generally tend to have 3-4 inches of travel in the suspension. (Travel refers to how far the shock moves until it bottoms out on itself.)
Big Hit Hardtails have longer travel forks. They use more robust frames and wheels. They are often used as "urban assault" bikes (bikes that can be ridden down stairs do 3 foot plus drop offs. Many describe them as an adult BMX bike. In our store we have the Fisher Bigg'ns and the Trek Bruisers and Jacks as examples.
The cross country full suspension bike is very similar to cross country hardtail but with suspension on the rear. These are lighter weight compared to other types of full suspension. They are designed for the rider who wants light weight but wants the comfort and control that full suspension offers.
Another type of full suspension are the downhill/freeride bikes. These bikes are extremely heavy duty, usually weight 35+ pounds, have 6+ inches of travel and are designed for extremely fast downhill riding and/or big drops of 4 feet or more. Most of these bikes don't go uphill well as they are so heavy. In B&L Bicycles we have a Trek Session.
A good compromise between cross country full suspension and the downhill/freeride bikes are the all-mountain bikes. These bikes have 5-6 inches of travel and are moderately heavy duty. The idea behind them is that they are light enough that they can be ridden uphill reasonably easily but still have enough travel and stoutness in the frame that they can hold up to heavy duty downhill riding. We carry the Gary Fisher Cake and the Trek Liquid Bikes.
Hybrid bikes are a cross between road bikes and mountain bikes and have become extremely popular on the Palouse. They don't use the super narrow tire of a road bike nor do they use the wide width of a mountain bike but a tire that is between the two. The idea is the tire will still roll fast as compared to a mountain bike on pavement but still have enough rubber to offer sufficient traction on dirt and light gravel roads. hybrids use a mountain bike style handlebar to offer a more upright position and use heavy duty frames. Hybrids are equipped to accept fenders, cargo racks and most any bike accessory. They work very well for people who commute to and from school/work and for those who want a jack of all trades bike. There are two basic types of hybrids, comfort and performance. The comfort hybrids usually come with some type of suspension in the fork and also the seatpost and have very adjustable handlebars.
The performance hybrids usually lack a front suspension system, have lighter frames and don't have the adjust-ability of the handlebars. They are generally a little lighter. These are more popular with people who want a fast bike but don't want the drop bars of a road bike. The Trek performance hybrids are usually noted by an FX after the model number to signify that they are performance oriented.
Gary Fisher has a line of hybrids called Dual Sports. These are different from any other hybrid on the market. They are capable of accepting a full size mountain bike tire. No other hybrid does that. They can also run a very narrow road tire, making it a very fast pavement bike. They have a little different fit as the top tubes are longer, so people who have longer torsos may find that the Fisher Dual Sports will fit better than the Trek Hybrids.
Comfort Bikes Comfort bikes are somewhat similar to the comfort hybrids except for the fact that they are less performance oriented. They come with a wider tire that increases rolling resistance. The wider tire can also be used with a lower tire pressure causing the ride to be smoother than that of a hybrid.
Recumbent Bicycles Recumbent bikes are bikes one sees where people are sitting down have have their feet in front of them as the pedal. These work for those people who have major neck, back, or wrist problems, and whom cannot get comfortable on a regular bicycle seat. The position on a recumbent keeps the back and neck in a straight line causing them no stress and no weight is put on the wrists. These bikes also come in comfort and performance orientations.