Looking for the best bike is like trying to find the ultimate pair of shoes… But even more fun. There are plenty of reasons why more and more people are turning towards the bicycle as a reliable mode of transport. The spiralling cost of public transport, increasing congestion, social distancing, and a general need to save our stricken planet are just a few.
But let’s not forget that riding a bike also results in improved fitness and very little can rival that “wheeeeee, look at me!” feeling derived from coasting down a massive hill. In this article, we’ll help you choose which type of bike is the best bike for you, from relaxed urban cruisers to trail-shredding mountain bikes, lithe road bikes to maintenance-free commuters, electric bicycles and beyond. And as well listing our pick of the best bike in each category, we’ve included links to our more bike buying guides should you want to delve deeper.
• T3’s guide to cycle to work: how does it work, how much you can spend and what can you buy?
Our list of best bikes has prices from a mere £399, up to a limit of £2,000 (which we have ignored on only one occasion). That means there is a bike to suit all budgets, tastes and demands. We’ve gone for the most affordable bike possible without significantly scrimping on quality here, which gets you off to a good start. Beyond that the key is to look for sale pricing, and above all, consider settling for last year’s model if you can find it. Last year’s version of most bikes will be all but identical to this year’s yet can cost hundreds less.
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Which type of bicycle is best for you?
Below we’ve detailed the different types of bike you’ll come across as well as our top pick for the best bike in each category.
Hybrid bike: great all-rounders
A hybrid bike offers the best bits of road bikes and mountain bikes in one hybrid package, hence the name. What that means is that you get a comfortable, upright seating position; plush tyres that won’t rattle your bones; straight handlebars, which are ideal for commuting, urban and light off-road riding; with a light frame and road-orientated tyres.
T3’s best hybrid bike pick
Hybrid bikes are now seen as a bit quaint by some – ‘fitness bikes’ fill the same niche in many ways, but I’d still recommend a hybrid to most cycling newcomers, or anyone who wants a bike that’s great for commuting in cities but doesn’t become a complete liability out of town. The best examples offer a comfortable riding position, a decent spec for not much money, and enough comfort and speed for many people’s needs.
Our current favourite, Ribble Hybrid AL combines slick city looks with a smart spec and practical touches to make this the ideal hybrid bike for commuting to work, riding to the pub or heading out for a few miles in the lanes, of a Sunday morning.
Available in a choice of black, green or – for a price – custom paint job of your choice, the Ribble Hybrid AL includes a wealth of options, from a stripped down, sportier Leisure edition, or there’s the Fully Loaded Commuter model (£799), which should indeed handle just about any commute, with mudguards, rear pannier and lights thrown in.
The flat handlebar provides a comfortable position for riding, with the brakes and gears both easily accessible. Speaking of which, the Mach 3’s 2×16 Shimano Claris groupset keeps gear changes simple while still offering a range of gears that’s easily wide enough for all UK cities and much of its countryside. When it’s time to come to a halt, the hydraulic disc brakes provide reliable, all-weather stopping power.
For as little as £699, you’re getting a lot of bicycle for your money here. Even the Fully Loaded Leisure version of the bike – as pictured above – with better wheels and upgraded SRAM gearing is under £1,000. Ribble offers 3-year, interest-free credit – putting the price as low as £24 a month for 3 years; compare that to your travel pass cost. There’s also the option of getting it for even less via Cycle to Work.
Road bike: best for speed on good roads
If it’s pure speed and power efficiency you’re after, you can’t beat a good road bike. They’re light, with fast-rolling wheels and tyres, gear ratios suited for going fast on the flat and conquering steep hills and the dropped handlebars put you in an aerodynamic, racy position. However, that that racy position can get a little uncomfortable (as will that skinny saddle if you don’t have proper cycling shorts) and the skinny tyres will be unforgiving on poor road surfaces.
T3’s road bike pick
• Read our full Specialized Roubaix review
The star of the show here is Specialized’s cleverly integrated Future Shock 1.5 cartridge, which gives 20mm of vertical stem and bar movement. As a result, the bike feels fast – well, it is fast – but bumps are flattened out, for the benefit of your butt. What’s really clever is that this very handy damping doesn’t noticeably affect power transfer.
Tried-and-tested DT R470 wheels and disk brakes mean the Roubaix is a zippy ride that can be brought to a rapid halt if necessary. The stiff, pointy Fact10r frame means power is applied with rigorous efficiency. Shimano 105 gearing and brakes may be a bit stingy for a bike of this price, but the brilliance of the frame makes up for that.
- Best road bike under £500 – if you’re on a tighter budget
Electric bike: for when you need a little help
Electric bikes feature a battery and a motor to give you a bit of help up hills and along the flat. This makes them an excellent choice for commuters and those who aren’t at peak fitness. That’s not to say that you won’t get fit riding an e-bike – you still have to peddle them as the motor just gives you some assistance (it’s not a moped, in other words).
The downside? The added battery and motor adds some extra weight making e-bikes heavier than their non-electric counterparts and due to UK law, the motor can only provide assistance up to 15mph, at which point it cuts out and you’re left pedalling a heavier bike than if it didn’t have a now idle motor and battery strapped to it. As you’d expect, they are also more expensive than non-electric bikes and they need regular charging.
T3’s electric bike pick
• Read our
The S3 is a sturdily built e-bike that rides extremely well, especially in town. You can get up to 20mph assisted on the flat with minimal effort, and the power means all but the most demanding hills are no problem at all.
Add hydraulic disk brakes, four gears and electric assistance that you can tailor to suit your riding style and you have a tech-packed marvel of an e-bike. A raft of security features – alarm, integrated lock, GPS tracing – render it all but thief proof. VanMoof is so confident of this, it even offers to go and retrieve your S3 if someone is determined/foolhardy enough to steal it.
Our only quibble is with the auto-shifting gears. Surely even the most inept rider is able to manage manual shifting between four gears? They are also much more likely to break down than boring old manual shifters, so it seems an unnecessary extravagance. However, it does make an already near-effortless ride even more easy to manage…
- Best electric mountain bike – get more MTB circuits done before you tire out
Fitness bike: like a hybrid bike with added speed (and less comfort)
A fitness bike is basically a road bike with flat handlebars. So you benefit from the lightweight frame, fast wheels and tyres and road-orientated gear ratios without having to lean down over dropped handlebars.
So what’s the difference between a fitness bike and a hybrid bike? Good question. Fitness bikes tend to have higher specced components and be a little more speed orientated while hybrid bikes are more focused on comfort, but you’ll often see the same bike in both fitness and hybrid bike categories on retailers’ websites, suggesting there’s no clear definition. To make it more confusing, some bike makers call a fitness bike a city bike, and some people simply refer to them as flat-bar road bikes. In general, though, the industry does seem to be settling on ‘fitness bikes’ as the category name, making it easier to shop around.
T3’s best fitness bike pick
Direct sales giant Canyon has a reputation for offering brilliant bikes that deliver plenty of bang for your buck and the Pathlite SL 7.0 is no different. The Pathlite is Canyon’s fitness bike, designed to whip you into shape and put a smile on your face in the process.
Unlike a drop-handlebar road bike, the Pathlite has a flat handlebar, so you don’t need the flexibility of a Yoga teacher to pedal in comfort. Nor do you need the lung capacity of a Tour de France rider, with the Pathlite SL 7.0 coming with a broad range of gears to haul you up the steepest of climbs.
The frame itself is made from aluminium and is paired with a Suntour NRX-E fork with 75mm of travel. Combine that with the grippy, 40mm-wide Maxxis Rambler tyres and the Pathlite is ideally-suited to exploring your local bridleways and forest tracks. Tidy features include the internal cable routing and handlebar grips, while the Pathlite SL 7.0 is dripping in quality components, including a Shimano XT drivetrain and Shimano SLX hydraulic disc brakes.
City bike: for cruising around town in style
Here’s another slightly poorly defined category: as noted above, some firms – such as Canyon – also refer to their fitness bikes as city bikes. But in general, a city bike will have an upright riding position, slightly wider tyres than a road bike for added comfort, and mudguards to keep the rain off your back.
City bike designs vary from what are basically road bikes with the sort of flat handlebars you’d see on a mountain bike, to more ‘cruisy’ styles with swept handlebars for a much more casual riding position. Some will also opt for step-through frames rather than a frame with a crossbar, and may feature a basket on the front and a luggage rack on the back (think of the sort of bikes you see all over Holland and that’s your original city bike).
T3’s city bike selection
The Genesis Brixton is one of those rare beasts – a bike that offers style and practicality in abundance. This is a machine for sophisticated city riders, with the frame’s classic looks complemented by a subtly swept riser handlebar that wouldn’t look out of place on the bike lanes of Amsterdam.
That handlebar is also designed to put the rider in a relaxed, comfortable position for city cruising. Other practical features include the front rack – no need to lug your belongings around in a backpack – and full-length mudguards, to protect your backside in bad weather.
The steel frame and fork adds plenty of heft – this isn’t one for all-out speedsters – and the Genesis isn’t as hot on value as some of the direct-sales machines we’ve featured here. We’d like to see hydraulic disc brakes, rather than cable-actuated ones, at this price. Even so, this stylish, practical city bike is a compelling machine.
Gravel bike: road bikes you can take off road
Gravel bikes are a relatively new category of bike which is designed to be ridden both on road and off. What you get is a bike that looks like a road bike but generally it will have wider tyres for greater comfort on rough road surfaces,a slightly more relaxed seating position, and fittings for mudguards and panniers. That makes them excellent for commuting, light off-roading such as canal paths, and longer bikepacking trips.
If fitness bikes are a bit like road bikes with the straight handlebars you’d see on a mountain bike (as opposed to the drop bars you see on road bikes) then gravel bikes are more like road bikes with drop bars but with the sort of wide, comfy tyres you’d see on a mountain bike (as opposed to the faster, skinnier, less comfy tyres you’d see on a road bike).
So if you’re torn between a fitness bike or a gravel bike, it really comes down to whether you want flat or dropped handlebars.
T3’s gravel bike pick
Go for an aluminium frame rather than carbon and Canyon will sell you this fantastic gravel bike from as little as £1,199. For that you get a bike that’s durable and a lot of fun to ride. Gravel bikes are often bought for commuting and mudguard mounts make it a useful there, too. The quality of frame and components is impossible to argue with at this price.
- Read our full Best gravel bike guide for more choices
Mountain bike: best for proper off-road riding
If you want to ride off road on the sort of terrain that would eat lesser bikes for breakfast, then you have to have a mountain bike.
They feature chunky, strong frames, suspension to eat up bumps and potholes and fat, knobbly tyres for added comfort and excellent grip in slippery conditions. When buying the mountain bike you’ll need to choose whether you want front suspension only (also known as a hard tail model) or full suspension, and that will really depend on the sort of riding you’re planning to do.
The wider tyres, heavier frames and the suspension all add to the bike’s comfort and strength but at a cost of energy efficiency meaning that mountain bikes are not great for long or fast road commutes (unless, perhaps, it’s an electric mountain bike).
T3’s mountain bike pick
Able to go at speed on less murderous trails, but also to take on steep descents, this hardtail is excellent value for money and an almost indecent amount of fun. Frame geometry is long, low, slack and well-dialled, while the wide WTB ST 135 wheels with a combo of front Maxxis High Roller II 2.8 and rear Maxxis Recon 2.8 give a great mix of grip and speed. Thankfully, the SRAM brakes are also excellent.
- Best electric mountain bike – making the uphill part easy
Fixie/single speed bike: best for simplicity
A single speed bike has no complicated gearing mechanisms so maintenance is a doddle, but that lack of the 20-plus gears you’ll find on a normal road bike means you’re going to need to be fit to ride a single speed.
A fixie (or ‘fixed wheel’) bike has no freewheel functionality, meaning that when the bike is rolling, you have to keep pedaling. Stop pedaling and the rear wheel will lock up and you’ll regret it.
So what you have in single-speed fixie is a bike that’s really simple and therefore super easy to maintain, which makes it a favourite with city couriers. What you don’t have is an easy bike to ride up steep hills.
T3’s pick of fixie/single speed bikes
State Bicycles has been a regular fixture on many a T3 best bicycle list and that’s because they offer some seriously sexy steeds for an amazing price. Its latest Core Line drives the cost down further, without scrimping on those head-turning good looks. The Pigeon is among our faves, with its flashy flat grey frame, contrast red hubs and 40mm Deep-V style wheels making it look like a velodrome-ready racer for a fraction of the cost.
All State Bikes come with a Flip-Flop hub, meaning you can ride it as a true fixie, or flip the rear wheel for some sweet coasting action. The Pigeon comes with both front and rear brakes, as well as sweet Vans grips, although we have noticed that some of the components are prone to rusting if you leave it out in the rain.
But seriously, this is one of the best value fixie packages we’ve laid eyes on in a long time and certainly one of the most handsome.
Cargo bike: best for lugging round lots of stuff
If you need to lug round massive amounts of stuff (including your kids) and you don’t want to use a car to do it, then a cargo bike is your best choice. As you can imagine, they’re big, heavy and slow so more suited to terrains like Holland and Copenhagen than Boulder or Bath so if you don’t live somewhere reasonably flat, you might want to opt for an electric cargo bike, as we’ve listed below.
T3’s cargo bike pick
Well, we have smashed through our self-imposed £2,000 limit here – if you want a cargo bike this beefy and this good, it will cost you. It’s worth it, since the Tern GSD may well be the most practical bike money can buy.
The GSD is an electric cargo bike with a powerful Bosch Performance Line CX motor, fed by a Bosch battery with a range of up to 200km (if you also buy a second battery to make full use of the dual system).
That power and range, combined with the heavy-duty aluminium frame, means you can carry a serious amount of gear on this bike. This S00 model comes with two huge pannier bags, while you can also add a flatbed and porteur rack to the front and rear respectively. Want to ride with your kids on the back? No problem. The GSD is capable of taking two child seats – or you can plonk an adult on the rear using the SideKick seat pad.
The long-tail design isn’t much bigger than a regular bike, plus you can collapse the seatpost and fold down the handlebar (both fully adjustable so multiple riders can easily use the bike) to save space when not in use. There’s also a kickstand, while the rear rack has four feet on the end so you can stand the bike on its tail to save more space in storage.
For the top-end GSD S00, you’re being asked to part with a big chunk of change – as much as you’ll pay for a second-hand car. But then this is also a bike that could genuinely replace your car.
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