Created with The League of American Bicyclists | Illustrations by Colin Hayes
Bicycles for adults come in a multitude of sizes and styles to serve a variety of riders. There are bicycles for commuting, for running errands, for fitness, for adventure and simply for leisure and fun.
Here's an illustrated guide — presented in alphabetical order — of 15 general bike types along with a bit about whom each works well for and in what kind of settings.
Note: The words “bike,” “bicycle,” “biking,” “cycle” and “cycling” are used here as inclusive terms regardless of whether someone is cycling on two-wheels, three-wheels, more or even one!
Tricycles are simply bikes with three wheels. Due to their stability (especially as compared to two-wheelers) they work well for children and adults of all sizes and ages.
Balance bikes are bikes that don't have pedals. They're used to teach riders how to balance on two-wheels and control a bicycle before using pedals to move a bicycle. While often thought of as being only for toddlers, balance bikes come in youth and adult sizes as well.
Cargo bikes (also referred to as box bikes or, in Dutch, bakfiets) are designed to carry larger than average loads. They are longer in the front and have storage or extra seating capacity around the front wheel. Originally created to carry and move goods, cargo bikes are often used by parents and caregivers for transporting young children.
Longtail-style cargo bikes are longer in the back, typically with storage and/or extra seating above and around the rear wheel.
Characterized by their use (leisure riding) and style (larger seats and an upright rather than bent rider profile), these versatile bicycles are popular with vacation bike rentals. Comfort cruiser-style bikes can be fixed-gear, which means they have a single setting or speed, or multi-geared. The brakes are controlled by either backpedaling or squeezing a handlebar lever.
These sturdy bicycles can handle a variety of on- and off-road riding conditions and withstand everyday use. Commuter bikes generally come with many places to attach accessories — such as racks to carry bike bags (often called panniers) and fenders to prevent debris or puddle water from hitting the rider.
Equipped with an electric battery assist, an e-bike's boost is triggered by either a handlebar throttle or from pedaling. The bikes are very useful for, among others, riders who want or need a less physically demanding ride, especially in hilly locations. Learn more about e-bikes and rider safety at E-Bike Smart, a web-based educational program created by PeopleForBikes, the League of American Bicyclists and Bicycle Colorado.
Folding bikes are exactly that. As a bike that can fold at various points on the frame, they are compact and easy to transport. To facilitate the folding, the bikes typically have small, narrow tires and an adjustable handlebar.
Hands rather than feet are used to pedal and move what is usually a tricycle-style bike. The one shown here is a "low-seat" recumbent-style (see below) version. A handcycle bike with a higher seat is referred to as an "upright."
A mountain bike can handle rugged terrain while also being comfortable for the rider. Mountain bike characteristics include increased suspension, wider tires with more traction, and gears suitable for varied riding conditions.
A quadricycle is any bike with four wheels. This one is a low to the ground recumbent-style version. (See the next image.)
With a recumbent bike, the rider sits in a laid-back or reclined position. The style has ergonomic benefits, such as greater back support and a more comfortable sitting position than on an upright bike. (A recumbent bike with three wheels is a "recumbent tricycle.")
Often seen in vacation destinations (such as beach towns) and places with tourist attractions, surrey bikes are quadricycles with seating for two to six people — all of whom are able to pedal but only one gets to steer.
The front-back tandem bike is the original bicycle built for two — but it's not the only kind. (See the next image.)
In a side-by-side tandem, the riders' seats are next to each other. Side-by-side tandems have three or four wheels, a shared or separate handlebar, and both riders can pedal. This style of tandem bike is easier than the front-back version for people to get onto and off of and to balance.
There are many other types of bikes not illustrated here. For instance, adventure or touring bikes, gravel bikes, BMX bikes and cyclocross bikes are used for various sport and leisure activities.
Most bikes can be modified and customized to fit the needs of a rider by making changes to the handlebars, seat, gears, tires and/or pedals. The best way for an aspiring rider to select the most suitable bicycle style and size is to visit a local retailer that specializes in bicycle sales, maintenance and repairs.
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The AARP Bike Audit Tool Kit is a companion guide to the AARP Walk Audit Tool Kit. Learn more at AARP.org/WalkAudit »
Page published October 2023
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