5th December 2016. For combining fun and fitness, few activities offer as many rewards as cycling does. When you ride a bike, the world becomes your oyster. Rather than being stuck inside a gym on a spin machine watching TV, you're able to enjoy the great outdoors. From taking in Mother Nature's beautiful displays to exploring what your city has to offer, there's plenty to see while you improve your cardiovascular fitness.

If your only experience with riding bikes is from your youth, though, the cycling world of today can be a bit intimidating at first glance. There are all kinds of different bikes to choose from now. Unfortunately, there's also no easy way to tell just from looking which is the best fit for you. The three most common types of bikes are road bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrid bicycles. You may also see some cycles marketed as "lifestyle" or "cruiser" bikes. These are meant primarily for very slow speed transport; therefore, they aren't suitable for daily exercise. We'll want to focus on the three main kinds. Which one of these is the right kind of bicycle for your fitness? Let's dig into the differences between each bike and discuss the unique benefits to each. Then we'll consider how you might best use the cycle you decide upon in the end. Let's start off by looking at one of the most popular options for fitness purposes, the road bike.

What are road bikes and when should you use them?

For a quick and direct path towards better fitness on a bicycle, the road bike is a good choice. If you're just beginning, though, it might not be the best option. Have you ever seen others out around town, cycling fast down the road as they lean down into the wind? Those people are probably riding road bikes. One of the most defining features are the drop handlebars, which are entirely different from what you learned to ride with as a child.

Road bikes are so named for one obvious reason: they are best for riding on paved streets and paths. The design of these cycles focuses mostly on speed, and therefore they're often lightweight with thinner tyres than other bikes. Thinner tyres and less mass makes them much less suited to off-road use, but ideal for those living in urban areas like dense cities. The seat complements the positioning of the handlebars, encouraging the forward leaning position so familiar to race cyclists. There are some road bikes which eschew these handlebars in favour of upright riding, so that is certainly an option if you're interested.

For those with a bit of cycling experience, the road bike can offer a comfortable, fun, and fast ride that's excellent for fitness. Because of their design, you'll spend more time pedalling, especially as you come up to speed. That's the perfect recipe for boosting your heart rate and getting into the exercise zone. If you don't have such reliable access to paved biking areas, though ? or if you want more of a challenge ? then take a look at the second option.

The ins and outs of mountain bikes

These tough and rugged machines aren't just for extreme sports and steep paths. Mountain bikes are certainly slower than road bikes owing to their heavier construction and thicker tires. However, they're still an interesting choice worthy of your full consideration. If you have more opportunities to ride off the beaten path rather than on it, a mountain bike is the better choice. Not only are they built to withstand punishment, but they're better suited to it as well. The frames will allow you to hop, skid, and pedal very hard. A lighter road bike frame would likely break under all that activity!

Aside from providing an open door to riding on different kinds of terrain, mountain biking itself is good for you, too. You can enjoy the same cardiovascular benefits while riding a mountain bike as you can a road bike. If speed isn't your concern, perhaps you'll have more fun challenging yourself off-road. They also offer opportunities for extreme upper body workouts, which isn't something we can say for road biking.

Mountain bikes may be more expensive than some lower-end road bikes. What you get in exchange for the higher price, of course, is the added durability. If you intend to take mountain biking up as a hobby, it can be a worthwhile investment. It's important to note though that cycling on the street is nearly out of the question with a mountain bike. The resistance the tyres create will force you to go slowly, which may not be your idea of a fun ride.

What are "hybrid" bikes?

We've looked at road bikes and mountain bikes, and the differences between them are quite clear: they're built for very different styles of riding. What are "hybrid" bikes, though? As the name might imply, they're a blend of both bicycle types. The advantage hybrid bikes present is their ability to handle different types of terrain better than either mountain or road bikes. Hybrids don't often feature the drop handlebars of road cycles, and they're closer to a normal upright position. However, they still encourage a comfortable, forward position for better movement.

It's not uncommon to see these cycles used on daily commutes. Hybrid cycles represent an attractive compromise in design and function. It's ideal for those who would like to ride in a variety of settings. Perhaps you'll spend the week riding in the city before taking your bike out to a wooded path over the weekend. Mixing up the types of terrain over which you ride can have a positive effect on your fitness. Varying the muscles groups you use while riding is much easier when you can choose how you want to ride any given day. However, it's also important to remember that a hybrid bike won't do any one thing particularly well. A hybrid can be fantastic for daily riders and weekend warriors, but they won't last on a mountain trail. Nor will you be able to develop as much speed or endurance as you might be able to on a road bike. Even so, they represent a solid choice for the middle ground.

Making the right decision about a bike

Now you know a little bit about each type of bike, along with some of their advantages and disadvantages. How do you go about making the final decision? Step one is to consider your goals with cycling. Ask questions like "Where do I want to ride this bike?" and "How will I get the most out of it where I live?" Obviously, someone living miles away from the countryside won't want a mountain bike. At the same time, someone in a rural area may find hybrid bikes don't offer enough traction off-road.

It's important to evaluate the pros and cons of each bike given your area and personal goals. Think about how you want to work on your fitness as well. Road bikes could be better for someone with more time to devote to long rides. Mountain biking is best for short, more intense rides. For the experienced rider, this choice boils down to which you enjoy more. Hybrids are certainly best for beginners to cycling, though, as they'll allow you to acclimate to the challenges and boost your endurance. As you get more attuned to riding on a hybrid, you can begin to consider specialising with a road or mountain bike. There's certainly no rule that says you can only keep one bike! Eventually, you could decide that you enjoy all three in their own ways.

The best way to find the right bike? Try it out

All that's left is for you to make a decision. Consider asking friends who have different bikes if you can take one for a spin. The versatility of mountain bikes certainly has its appeal, though so does the speed of a road bike. Perhaps you'll end up splitting the difference with a hybrid while you figure out how you want to cycle in the long term. No matter which bike you end up deciding on, remember to focus on having fun while riding! That's one of the big advantages of cycling, after all. Just make sure you get out there each day and pedal yourself towards better health soon!