How to Choose the Best Bike for Fitness

Warmer weather means more time outside and what better way to get in some cardio than by bike? Whether you’re in the mountains or the city, with friends or riding solo, biking is a great way to get exercise and some fresh air.

In fact, even on a leisurely ride you can burn around 200 calories an hour, and around 450 to 600 if you’re biking at a steady clip. Of course, steep hills can add to the calorie burning as well. Biking is also easy on the body; it’s an effective aerobic exercise that’s easy on the joints. However, not all bikes are created equal. We’ve put together the need-to-know information and tips to find the best bike for your fitness goals and lifestyle.

The Best Bike for Fitness

The Right Type of Bike

If you’re looking for a quality bike, prepare your wallet. Good bikes can be expensive, ranging between several hundred to several thousand dollars, but it’s sometimes worth spending the extra money on a quality bike at a local store. Oftentimes the people working at local shops are more knowledgeable than at somewhere like Walmart, which means that they’ll be more helpful in matching you with the perfect bike. Not to mention, cheap bikes tend to have to be replaced more frequently whereas more expensive, higher quality bikes should last you for years if you take care of them properly. This means you’ll likely end up saving money in the long run if you opt for the more expensive bike up front.

When looking for a fitness bike, it’s important to know where you’ll ride it. This will help inform what kind of bike would be right for you. There are a few types of bikes you can use for fitness including:

  • Mountain bikes. Mountain bikes work best on dirt roads and trails, although you can ride them on pavement as well. However, they tend to not ride as fast because their wheels are smaller.
  • Road bikes. Road bikes have wheels that are slimmer than mountain bike wheels and are ideal for pavement. They’re the best choice if you plan on biking long distances on streets or if you plan to tour with it.
  • Hybrid Bikes. A hybrid bike is – you guessed it – a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. This means that hybrid bikes are good for both paved roads and dirt trails. A hybrid is a good starting bike for people who are looking to get into biking.
  • Racing bikes. Racing bikes are designed for speed and are consequently the lightest in weight. They’re made out of high-tech materials to make them light, but it comes with cost. Generally, racing bikes are the most expensive.

Hybrid bikes are among the most popular fitness bikes and for good reason. Hybrid bikes offer a balance of lightweight speed and a comfortable upright riding position. Wider tires offer more comfort on pavement, without eliminating the possibility of riding on gravel or dirt. While road bikes often have a drop handlebar, hybrid bikes have a flat handlebar, which provides riders with better control and a more upright position that is more comfortable. This position also makes it easy for the rider to make shoulder checks.

With more gears in the back (11 cogs versus 2 chainrings in the front), hybrid bikes allow you to fine-tune your gear shifting to keep a steady rhythm regardless of the terrain. Bikes that have belt-drives and internally geared hubs (where all gearing is inside the rear hub’s shell) require far less maintenance than chain and derailleur drivetrains. These kinds of bikes are also very reliable, clean, and tend to be easier to use as one shifter controls all. The best part? With an internally geared hub, you can change gears while sitting at a stop light!

Finding the Right Fit

Riding a bike that doesn’t fit you properly can lead to muscle pain, discomfort, and more falls – all of which can discourage you from riding. Although most bikes have room for adjustment, you can only adjust it to a point.

Bike sizes are determined by measuring the distance between the crank (where the pedals are attached) and the start of the seat post. One of the easiest ways to determine the right size is by using a bike height chart, like the one below.

Your Height

Bike Size

4’11” – 5’3″

13 – 15 inches

5’3″ – 5’7″

15 – 16 inches

5’7″ – 5’11”

16 – 17 inches

6’0″ – 6’2″

17 – 19 inches

6’2″ – 6’4″

19 – 21 inches

6’4″ and taller

21+ inches

Tips for finding the right bike size:

  1. When the pedal is at its lowest point, your leg should still have a slight bend. This bend can be changed by adjusting your seat.
  2. To determine whether you’re the right distance from the handlebars, your arms should have a slight bend in the elbow.
  3. For men, when standing straddling the bike, you’ll want to make sure there’s one inch of clearance between the bar and your nether regions (more like 2 inches if you’re purchasing a mountain bike).
  4. Your feet should safely touch the ground when standing straddling the bike.

Outfitting Your Bike

Without question, a helmet is an essential part of cycling that can protect you from serious and life-altering head injuries. No matter the purpose of your ride – be it for fun or for exercise – you should always wear a helmet. That said, a poorly fitted helmet can be largely ineffective. To make sure your helmet fits properly, try bumping it from side to side and back to front. If it slides around your head, it’s too loose. The helmet should rest roughly an inch above your eyebrow and should fit comfortably snug.

When picking out a seat, there really is no right or wrong. Some people prefer softer seats while others prefer hard. If you don’t love the seat that comes with the bike, you can buy a seat to your liking and switch it out. Padded gloves help make your ride a little bit more comfortable and protect your hands in the event of a fall.

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