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The Different Bike Types and Which is the Right One for You

Introduction

In North America most people are buying a bicycle as a toy for their kid or as a leisure and sport equipment, for example a mountain bike or high-tech road bike. Fewer are buying a bike to be used for daily commuting or transportation. As a result many people using their bike to commute end up riding a bike ill-suited to their needs because they just use the bike they already have, or because they got bad advice from vendors who don`t know much about city bikes and they just follow the current trend. This was not always the case. In the 50`s and 60`s most bikes sold were comfortable city cruisers with fenders and chainguard. As the suburbs developed, more people owned a car and the commuting distances became too long to use a bike. Cycling became an outdoor leisure activity more than a mean of transportation. In the 70's racing style road bikes, known back then as "10 speed", were sold by the millions. Road bikes are great for speed, performance and touring, but they are fragile and not very comfortable at low speed city cruising. In the mid-80`s the road bike trend was replaced by the mountain bikes, which are great for low speed off road use, if you are in great shape, but because mountain bikes are too heavy and inefficient on paved roads, and most people don't live near mountain bike trails, they stayed parked most of their life. The good news is that the current top selling bike category is the hybrid type and those are good all purpose bikes, for commuting and bike touring on paved roads.

What do you need a bike for ?

Read the whole list before deciding !

  • I need a bike to go to work or school everyday, ride around town or suburb, go shopping -> city bikes or hybrid with fenders or road bikes with fenders or folding bikes
  • I need a light bike I can carry up the stairs and park in my apartment. I will use it mainly to ride around town ->light weight road bikes or modern folding bikes
  • For leisure and to stay fit, I want to ride on bike paths on sunny days during the summer -> road bikes or hybrids or city bikes
  • I want to be the fastest guy/girl on the block. Don't care too much about comfort, I want the fastest bike I can get for my money -> road bikes
  • I am a sporty person wanting to seriously get in shape or stay fit. I want a bike for training, racing, bike touring ->road bikes
  • I want to travel by bike, go for long rides on bike paths and roads, explore the Route Verte -> road bikes or hybrids or city with 15 speed or more
  • I am on a tight budget, any bike will do as long as it's cheap and it works ->low cost mountain bikes
  • I need a very sturdy bike that can take abuse because I am heavy and/or I will drive it hard, jump off sidewalks, I don't want to worry about potholes. Not a wimpy bike that needs to be taken care of -> mountain bikes with suspension
  • I need a bike to ride off road, at low speed, on gravel trails and mud (not stone dust bike paths) -> mountain bikes
  • I need a bike to ride during the winter -> mountain bike or city bikes single speed with coaster brake
  • I need a toy for my kid, to learn how to ride a bike in the neighbourhood -> kid's bikes and trikes or BMX's
  • I want a bike to do tricks, jumps, aerobatics, to use at a local park ->BMX's
  • I am an older person needing a bike easy to step in and out, and very stable because I'm afraid to fall -> folding bikes or adult tricycles
  • I need a bike I can carry in the trunk of my car, on a boat, RV, bus or plane -> folding bikes
  • I want a bike I can carry many grocery bags with, a case of 24, and whatever else needs to be carried in real life. I live in the suburb and want to make a real difference by taking my car less often to do the grocery, whatever other people think -> adult tricycles
  • I need a bike for my grocery store or other business to do deliveries -> delivery bike
  • I need a stationary bike to exercise indoors -> Exercise bike

City Bikes - modern and vintage


Modern city bike sold full equipped. Based on an hybrid bike frame with 700x38c tires.

Stylish vintage Raleigh Sports ladies city bike with basket
Stylish vintage Raleigh Sports ladies city bike with basket

Vintage city bikes on Montreal streets. Vintage city bikes on Montreal streets.
Vintage city bikes on Montreal streets.

Up until the late 70's almost every bike sold was what we now call a city bike, also known as a utility bike on Wikipedia.

Intended use of city bikes

  • Perfect for cruising in an urban environment, go to work or school everyday, go shopping and more.
  • Good for cruising on bike paths during the weekend, for leisure, picnics, ..
  • The most comfortable bike you can get (see characteristics below)
  • They are rather efficient, certainly faster than mountain bikes, but rather heavy because they must be sturdy, reliable, and equipped with many accessories like fenders, rear rack or basket, etc..
  • If the bike has 10 speeds or more it can also be used for long distance rides, but most city bikes have 6 speeds or less so they don't venture more than 10 kilometres (7 miles) from home.
  • Because of the limited number of gear ratios, city bikes with less than 10 speed avoid steep hills. But if you don't mind pushing your bike up steep hills, you can go around the world on a city bike with 5 or 6 speeds.
  • Vintage bikes with single speed and coaster brakes (back pedal to brake) are good for the winter because nothing gets jammed by ice and snow. Those are very reliable because of their simplicity. More on that below.

Main characteristics of city bikes

  • Many accessories installed at the factory or added by the owner like a front basket, rear rack, bell, lights nd more. I offer some of those extra accessories and install them for free. Just ask what you need before delivery.
  • Comfortable spring mounted and padded saddle
  • Raised handlebar, curved toward the rider, leading to comfortable upright driving position and better visibility. Your not leaning forward and there is little weight on your arms and hands. You can see all around you and above cars.
  • Flat rubber pedals (beach pedals) so you can ride with any shoe wear, even barefoot if you like.
  • Mudguards to protect your clothes from the rain, dust, mud and other debris propelled by the tires.
  • Chain guard to keep your pants clean and prevent your pants from being stuck in and torn by the chain.
  • On vintage city bikes, mudguards and chain guards are either chrome plated or painted the same colour as the rest of bike. Most other components are also chrome finished, so vintage bikes are stylish and stand out.

Few speeds, simple to use

  • Before the mid 50's all bikes were only 1 speed and those are still available new today (more on 1 speed bikes below). See for example the CCM Rambler.
  • Starting in the mid 50's the 3 speed city bike was introduced. Those are very easy use, the shift levers are marked 1-2-3 and it makes clic-clic-clic when shifting, just like a modern indexed system with fixed lever position. 3 speeds are enough for urban commuting if you don't have to go uphill. You have a lower gear to get up to speed from a dead stop or going up hill. You can go faster with the top speed when going downhill. The Montreal self-serve Bixi's have 3 speeds and they are very popular. See for example the CCM (CYCO) 1956 and the Universal 1977.
  • From the 70's onward most city bikes are 5 speeds, later ones 6 speeds. Still today many city bikes produced have 6 speeds or 7 speeds. It's better to have 5 or 6 speeds because you can gradually build speed without forcing too much. If you have an headwind or going up a moderate hill you can cruise on a lower ratio without loosing the rhythm. See for example the Raleigh Lenton and the Velo Sport Express 5.
  • Although they are not as common, you can find 10, 12, 15 speed city bikes. For example the vintage Raleigh Sprite 10 and the CCM Esprit. Those bikes are more versatile, you can go up steep hills, travel longer distances while carrying goods.

1 speed with coaster brakes

  • Older vintage city bikes are 1 speed with coaster brakes (back pedal to brake). See for example the CCM Rambler. Recently new bikes reproducing old styles were introduced, also with 1 speed and coaster brakes. You see a lot of those heavy "beach cruiser bikes" in sea resorts like Wildwood and Cape May N.J.
  • Those bikes have the advantage of simplicity and reliability. Without brake levers, cables, speed shifters and other parts eventually needing maintenance and replacement, 1 speed bikes are good almost forever.
  • They are perfect for traveling short distances in a mostly flat neighbourhood. If you can walk to your destination in under 30 minutes, it will take less than 6 minutes by bike to get there. So it's perfect to go to the metro station which seems too far to walk to, but it's annoying to wait for the bus because it's not that far.

    If you are an inexperienced rider thinking that a 1 speed bike is better you might be wrong:

  • Of course a 1 speed is easier to operate, you just sit on it and pedal, but because it's only 1 speed it's hard to get up to cruising speed, you can't go up any hill, once you have a swing you pedal like crazy and can't go faster, everybody is faster than you.
  • Braking is tricky because you must pedal in reverse and step on the pedal hard with all your weight. Braking distance is long, not ideal for quick stops in city traffic.
  • So 1 speed bikes with coaster brakes are ok in town if you do have some cycling experience. Otherwise 1 speed bikes are better for cruising on flat rural roads and long bike paths with not much stop and go. You can take your time to get up to cruising speed, and you keep your swing until destination.
  • For inexperienced urban cyclist my recommendation is to look for a bike with 3 to 6 speeds instead. 3 speeds are very easy to operate.
  • Bikes with single speed and coaster brakes (back pedal to brake) are good for the winter because nothing gets jammed by ice and snow. They don't loose braking power when wet and frozen up.

Performance

  • City bikes have narrow tires with light thread, because they roll on asphalt all the time. Typically older city bikes have 26x 1 3/8 tires and 55 PSI maximum pressure. Those tires are a bit wider than those of a performance road bike. From the 80's, tires of 27 x 1 1/4 or 27x1 3/8 were seen on city bikes, with a max pressure of 85 PSI, the same tires used on performance road bikes of the period. Today city bikes will typically have 26x1.5 tires or based on an hybrid bike frame with 700x38c tires.
  • City bikes are rather efficient and you can easily cruise at 20 km/h on a flat road. They are much lighter and faster than an heavy mountain bike with wide and deep threaded tires.
  • Most city bikes are not high tech and have few light weight alloy components. They are sturdy, but given the all steel parts and accessories like fenders, they are also heavy. The older the bike, the heavier it is.

There are few city bikes available on the market today. Bike stores will instead sell you an hybrid bike and install fenders and chain guard as extra accessories. Pseudo vintage repro bikes are also available, but those bikes are very heavy and have wide 26" tires. They are repro's of bikes from the 40's, built with mountain bike parts, not great for commuting. See for example the Schwinn Point Beach

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Road Bikes

hot babe bike touring on Quebec's Route Verte network_hot looking dude on high tech road bike, training on Ile Notre-Dame's Formula 1 racing circuit in Montreal
Left: hot babe bike touring on Quebec's Route Verte network. Right: hot dude on modern high tech road bike, training on Ile Notre-Dame's Formula 1 racing circuit in Montreal, accessible to everyone.

Nishiki men's road bike CCM Corsa 10 ladies' road bike with slanted frame
Left: vintage Nishiki men's road bike. Right: Giant Squadron with easy to step through slanted frame. Nowadays very few road bikes are produced with this frame style.

Road bikes are also known as racing bikes, speed bikes, older folks call them "10 speeds" even though most of them have more than 10 speeds. This category includes many sub-categories: road racing, time trial, triathlon, cyclocross, touring, fix gear and others.

Today's road bikes are high tech machines and can be very costly. Carbon fibre, titanium, aluminium have replaced traditional materials on almost every part on the bicycle. There are almost no new road bikes selling under $1000 and prices can go as high as your budget allows.The good news is that I rebuild many fine road bikes from the 80's, 90's and newer for sale as low as $175, ready to go with a warranty.

Road bikes were first used only by racers but they became accessible and very popular in the 70's and early 80's. Millions were sold in that period and everybody was buying a road bike just because it was trendy. The road bike market plunged in the 80's with the mountain bike trend, but it never completely faded away because cycling as a sport will always be present, and road bikes are the most efficient bikes to go from one point to another over medium to long distances. Touring bikes equipped with fenders, racks and panniers have always been the bike of choice for long haul bike travels.

Intended use of road bikes:

  • You want to be the fastest guy/girl on the block and you are ready to trade some comfort for speed.
  • For sports person wanting to seriously get or stay in shape, for training and racing. No need to go to the gym anymore.
  • Bike touring, go for long rides on bike paths and roads, explore the Route Verte.

Main characteristics of road bikes

Drop handlebar and aerodynamic position

  • The main characteristic of a road bike is the drop handlebar and aerodynamic position. It gives the rider a lower leaned forward driving position for better aerodynamic i.e. lower wind resistance. Another advantage of the handlebar is that you can grab it in many different places so you can change your riding position. By grabbing the top tube your raise yourself a bit.
  • To cut aerodynamic resistance even more, racers like to ride in peleton, following very closely.

Light Weight

  • Light weight, the lightest as possible so accelerations are faster, it's easier to climb hills (remember Newton's law F=M*A). The reason why space age materials are used to build modern road bikes is only to save weight, and the price of the bike is directly related to it's weight.
  • When shopping for a road bike, the first thing to do is to weight it and ask for it's official specified weight.
  • Older road bikes from the 70's and lower quality from the 80`s have mostly steel parts with chrome finish. In the 70's most road bikes, even from top makes, were still using steel parts but the frame was made of lighter steel alloy.
  • Brake levers and brake callipers were among the first components to be made of lighter alloy metal. In the 80's companies gradually started using alloy handlebars, stems, pedals, rims, seat posts, cranks and slowly almost every part of the bike was built out of alloy. Nowadays the same process is going on, metal alloys being gradually replaced by carbon fibre and titanium for just about every components, so it drives the prices up all the time.
  • Because of their light weight frame and parts, road bikes are fragile and won't tolerate abuse like a mountain bike would. Thin wheels and tires don't like Montreal potholes (more below). But other than having to carefully watch the road ahead, if you are reasonable and use the road bike as it should, on paved roads and bike paths, not jumping off sidewalks for example, a road bike frame is actually good forever.

No Frills

  • True racers, to save weight, will cut accessories to the minimum, however a bottle and holder to hydrate the thirsty cyclist and a trip computer to know the cruising speed are almost essential.
  • It's also a good safety precaution to bring a spare inner tube and bike pump because any loss of tire pressure might be catastrophic.
  • Typical sporty types riding road bikes for training will invest money on sexy lycra wears, helmet, sunglasses, and more.

Thin Wheels and Tires

  • Razor thin wheels is the other important feature of a road bike. Skinnier tires are better because less contact surface with the ground equals lower rolling resistance. So another way to judge the quality and price of a road bike is to look at the tire size.
  • But as the wheel and tire width shrinks, the pressure most be increased to raise the bike off the ground. Pressures of 90 PSI and over are typical, so tires are hard like rock.
  • The tires have little threads, almost slick, but it doesn't matter even under rain. Thread on bike tires are useless anyway, they just slow you down.
  • Road bikes from the 70's and 80's have 27 x 1 1/4" tires and they are ok for commuting on paved roads and packed stone dust bike paths. True racers of that period used thinner 27 x 1 1/8" or even 27 x 1" tires. More recent road bikes use 700c wheels with 700c x 28c tires or thinner. A 28c tires is not bad for commuting and bike touring. For racing and training narrower 700x23c is the norm.

Anti-slip Pedals, Toe Clips, clip-on pedals

  • All road bikes have pedals designed to grab to shoe sole for more efficient pedaling and to prevent slippage. On older bikes the pedals are regular looking but have small teeth in the metal. You can use any pair of shoes, but it's preferable to ride with hard sole shoes otherwise you feel the pedal and it might hurt on long runs. Riding barefoot is very uncomfortable.
  • In the 70's and 80's toe clips with adjustable leather straps were available to hold the shoe on the pedal and prevent slippage. They take sometime to get used to, not ideal for city commuting with many stops and go, so city people took them of and put them back only for long rides out of town. See for example the Nishiki Odyssey.
  • Since the 90's pedals on road bikes are special devices similar to ski bindings. Special shoes with a bracket bolted under the sole to clamp on the pedals. The binding releases when twisted sideways, the release tension is adjustable. So nowadays pedals are sold separately (no joke, new road bikes are sold without pedals!) and you must spend extra cash buying a combination pedals/shoes of your choice. All road bikes I sell have regular pedals on them but they can be fitted with modern "clip" pedals.

Minimal Comfort, but easy to improve if required

  • Comfort is minimal on a new road bike because they are fitted with light weight saddles that are hard like crazy. The skinny tires are also hard like rock and the frame very stiff so bumps are transferred directly to the rider. There is a lot of weight on your hands and arms, you must raise your head up to see up front.
  • Note that you get used to it pretty fast and you can minimize the discomfort by installing a padded saddle, wearing gloves or installing foam handlebar grips, replacing standard seat post with a suspension type, etc... My own road bike I use to travel is quite comfortable after a few modifications.

Commuting and Touring

  • Since most road bikes users are not actually racing them but are using them for commuting and long distance road trips, accessories like comfortable saddles, fenders, rear and front racks, panniers, lights and many others can easily be fitted to the bike to make them comfortable and useful bikes in all conditions. Holes are pre-drilled in the frame to fit most common accessories.
  • I have been bike touring all my life and I wrote the web site PistesCyclables.ca a complete Guide to Quebec's Bike Paths. Visit the web site (in French only) to review my exploration of almost every bike path in the province of Quebec, including the Route Verte network and Transcanada Trail. It's the right place to go if you need a map of Montreal's bike paths network.


Bike touring on the Route Verte network.

Because of the lean forward position, it's very important to get the right size for your height, more than with other bike types. To determine the frame size you need check the Bike sizing charts .

Fix Gear Bikes

The fix gear bike trend emerged within inner city neighbourhoods. A fix gear bike is a road bike with only 1 speed. The single rear gear is fixed to the rear wheel hub, it can't rotate freely from the rear wheel, thus you must pedal all the time because the rear gear and front crank/chain ring are linked by the chain. You slow down by pushing with all your weight on the rising pedal. This created new and strange braking techniques which don't look efficient and certainly are not elegant. On some fix gear bikes this is the only braking mechanism provided, but most have at least one regular brake on the front or rear wheel. A variation is the single speed bike with a freewheel from a BMX and conventional brakes. Yet another variation is the single speed with coaster brakes, i.e. back-pedal to brake, just like the old city bikes. Fix gear bikes originated from close circuit oval track racing, circus shows and bike polo. These bikes are still used in all velodrome races including olympic events. For those applications on a flat surface with other racers, you don't need gears and brakes anyway because race rules are such that you build speed gradually. Once the race is over you have plenty of time and room to slow down to a stop. Their main advantages are very light weight, simple, aerodynamic. Part of the fun of owning a fix gear is to build your own custom bike.

I don't have a very positive opinion on fix gear bikes. The problem is that some people are now trying to commute with them, in an environment with traffic lights, stop signs, uneven roads with uphill climbs and other road users, all situations requiring good brakes and different gear ratios. Fix gear bikes are confined to inner city because you can't go anywhere with them! Just like a BMX and other 1 speed toy bikes, either it is geared too high so you can't climb any hills and you are overtaken by grandmothers riding BIXI's, or it's geared too low and you spin like crazy but not going any faster. For that reason you never see fix-gear bikes outside downtown.

I expect the fix gear fad will quickly fade out once the young dudes figure out why gears were invented. There are many reasons why bikes and virtually all other transportation devices have transmissions with many gear ratios. The main reason is that you can slowly but surely build speed while keeping the effort constant (force applied to the pedal) even with a small force applied. This allows you to go fast even with a small engine (your legs in the case of a bicycle). So your not burning your energy for nothing, by having to apply a very high force at any given time. But there is another reason why a transmission is a good idea. You might not care about your own muscles and play cool by forcing like crazy to show off your strength, but all this stress is also applied to the bike's mechanical components. Transmissions were invented to reduce the stress on bearings, chains, sprockets, pedals, bottom bracket and more. So contrarily to what you might think, fix gear bikes are not more reliable than conventional bikes because too much torque is applied to too few parts. Just ask your fix gear friend how many times he replaced the bottom bracket bearings, how many chains he broke, how many times he had to work on the rear wheel axle ?

Many fix gear bikes are built starting from an older road bikes with 12 speeds or more, a useful and safe bike you can go around the world with. Instead of taking the time to learn how to fix a bike, how to adjust the derailleurs and use the gears, hipsters will strip the transmission components and spending a ridiculous amount of money on fancy looking wheels, leather seat and other colourful but low quality parts. They end up with a dangerous and useless poseur bike. If I have 10 fingers on my hands, it doesn't make sense and it isn't cool to cut off 9 of them to keep only 1. The other curious aspect to this trend is the brand new fix gear bikes with cheap metal frames, low quality paint and low quality parts, but selling for more $ than a good quality hybrid bike with 24 speed and aluminium frame. I'm sorry dudes but if you pay more to get less your not smart !

The best advice I can give to would-be fix gear buyers it to try first a real road bike with 12 speeds or more, or try a 1 speed vintage cruiser with coaster brakes if you want a simple, reliable and useful bike. The fix gear trend is certainly loosing steam judging from the many owners wanting to trade-in their fix gear for a real road bike with gears and brakes. Unfortunately I don't take fix-gear bikes in exchange. On this site you can find for $350 or less a fully rebuilt high quality road bike (example Miele or Fiori), light weight, with 12 speed, both brakes, with original paint in excellent condition.

View road bikes currently available for sale

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Hybrid Bikes

Peugeot Panorama Men's hybrid bike Minelli Ladies' hybrid bike
An hybrid bike is similar to a road bike, but with wider tires and mountain bike style handlebar for a more upright position

Hybrid bikes are designed as a comprise between performance (weight), sturdiness, comfort and versatility. They are lighter and faster than mountain bikes on paved roads, more comfortable and sturdier than road bikes which are more performance oriented. Hybrids are the latest trend and top selling bikes today. They were first introduced in the 80's as lighter ladies' mountain bikes, but hybrids really picked momentum in the early 2000`s. Used hybrids bikes are harder too find because not too many come up for sale. They are well suited for both commuting and longer leisure rides, so people keep them a long time.

An hybrid is like a road bike but with slightly wider tires and mountain bike style handlebar for a more upright riding position. After mountain bikes became very popular in the late 80's people got used to the straight handlebar with all the weight in the palm of the hands, and wide tires you can roll over anything with. But slowly people riding on paved roads realized that there is no need for wide and deep threaded tires, no need for suspension, and overall frame weight was overkill for road use. However many found the riding position of the mountain bike more comfortable than the aggressive low position of the road bike drop handlebar. So the term hybrid comes from the crossing of light weight road bike components and mountain bike style driving position.

Hybrid bikes use 700c tires and the width varies. The narrowest tires are 700x28c also found on road bikes. Most hybrids have tires of 700x38c which are good for daily commuting.

Many older road bikes with drop handlebars are being converted with a mountain/hybrid handlebar. This conversion requires to change also the brake levers, brake cables and the grips. Performance hybrid bikes are now produced by manufacturers. They are the same as road bikes both instead of the usual drop handlebar they have a straight handlebar .

Fiori Modena road bike converted to hybrid style with a straight handlebar and slightly large tires.
Fiori Modena road bike converted to hybrid style with a straight handlebar and slightly larger tires.

Intended usage of hybrid bikes

  • Hybrid bikes are good for transportation, short and long distances.
  • Once equipped with accessories like mudguards, rear rack or basket, and lights they become good city bikes for commuting.
  • For cruising on bikes paths during the weekend, for leisure, picnics, ..
  • They are efficient, certainly more efficient than mountain bikes, not as efficient as a road bike.
  • If the bike has 10 speeds or more (most of them do), it can also be used for long distance rides. Most modern hybrids have 18 or more speeds so they are used more and more for bike touring instead of road bikes. Equipped with more accessories like rear and front racks, panniers, water bottle and more, they can carry you around the world.

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Mountain Bikes

for true off-road usage mountain bikes need front and rear suspensionladies' mountain bikes with slanted frames
Left: for true off-road use mountain bikes need front and rear suspension. Right: ladies' mountain bikes with slanted frames.

Mountain Bikes for Sale
Typical low cost modern mountain bike sold in retail chains.

Mountain bikes are much like an adult BMX and are intended mainly for off-road use. Because they are built sturdy and used only as an outdoor leisure activity, used mountain bikes can be found in very good condition. Many were almost never used, people finding them too hard to move forward. Mountain bikes were big sellers up until recently but the trend is slowing down. They were sold by the millions and you can find cheap new ones on the market. So I have no choice but to sell used ones even cheaper. If you are on a tight budget, any bike will do as long as it works well and looks good, I have low cost mountain bikes for you!

  • Mountain bikes are good winter bikes because their threaded tires have traction in snow.
  • Mountain bikes can take abuse and be driven hard, you can jump off sidewalks, don't have to worry about potholes. Not a wimpy bike that needs to be taken car of.
  • Mountain bikes are perfect for dirt trails with soft surface, mud, loose gravel, water holes and other obstacles.
  • The many low gear ratios and deep threaded tires allows you to go up steep hills.
  • The straight and wide handlebar is better to absorb shocks and more stable at low speed.
  • Mountain bikes are heavy and require a lot of strength to get moving. Top speed is low even if you are in great shape.
  • Real mountain bikes have at least a front suspension, with rear suspension even better. A mountain bike without front suspension is useless off-road.
  • Networks of mountain biking trails are found in the province of Quebec. In the summer ski resorts like Bromont and Mont Saint-Anne will take you and your bike up the mountain and you go down a network of marked trails.
  • For commuting a mountain bike is inefficient because it's very heavy and the threaded tires induce an high rolling resistance. Mountain biking is for those in good shape! If you need to ride on paved road with a mountain bike, it's a good idea to mount narrower high pressure slick tires, for example 26x1.75 in place of 26x1.95 This reduces the rolling resistance greatly and effort required. Maybe you should be looking for an hybrid or city bike instead.
  • The mountain bike trend is slowing down as people realize it's not an efficient bike for riding on paved roads. More and more hybrid bikes are sold to people who want a bike that rides like a mountain bike but with a light frame and narrow tires.

Bike sizing chart to know the size of mountain bike you need.

View mountain bikes currently available for sale

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Folding Bikes

folding bikes are perfect for low speed city cruising, window shopping, crowded market streets, discovering new neighbourhoods
Left: folding bikes are perfect for low speed city cruising, window shopping, crowded market streets, discovering new neighbourhoods..

Vintage Maino folding bike attracts many "they don't make them like that anyore" comments from strangers. vintage folding bikes were always sold fully loaded
Vintage Maino folding bike attracts many "they don't make them like that anymore" comments from strangers. Folding bikes are usually sold fully loaded with fenders, rear rack, spring saddle, chainguard, beach pedals, bell and more.
Dahon Gateway V folding bike can be carried in a suit case_Dahon Gateway V folding bike can be carried in a suit case
Left: Dahon Gateway V folding bike can be carried in a suit case. Right: Schwinn Tango folding bike.

The fact that folding bikes can be folded for transport and storage is just one of their many advantages. Many folding bike users actually never fold them ! A more accurate name would be "small-wheeled adult bike" and indeed some companies manufacture bikes with the same characteristics but without the hinge to fold them.

Folding bikes are the unknown underdogs among city bikes and much more people should use them, urban dwellers in big cities like Montreal in particular. In other parts of the world like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, folding bikes are very popular because it's so crowded that parking spaces for bikes are scarce and people bring them up in their apartment.

  • Folding bikes are cleverly designed for use as a practical and efficient transportation device, it's not a toy. They are like city bikes but with smaller wheels and lower frame easy to step in and out.
  • Folding bikes are usually sold fully loaded with fenders, chain guard, rear rack, comfortable spring saddle, raised handlebar for upright riding position, rubber block pedals. Some have a tool bag, a bell and more. So they can be used to commute comfortably on a daily basis.
  • It can be said that folding bikes are the ancestor of the self serve Bixi's in Montreal. If you like Bixi's you will like a vintage folding bike.
  • Folding bikes are sold in one size fits all, but they are equipped with extra long seat posts and handlebar stems so the saddle and handlebar can be quickly adjusted with quick release attachments. Most older folding bikes can be ridden by people up to 5ft 9in. Modern folding bikes can accommodate taller cyclists but not comfortable for people over 6ft tall.
  • Because it can be adjusted quickly, the same folding bike can be shared by every member of a family or group.
  • Because of the small size wheel, typically 20x1.75, they are easier to carry up stairs and take up less space when parked inside, folded or not.
  • Folding bikes have no horizontal bar between the seat post and handlebar stem, the low frame is very easy to step in and out. Many have an extra low U shaped frame. Thus folding bikes are good for older folks with reduced stretching abilities.
  • The smaller wheels and lower centre of gravity make the bike more stable and agile at low speeds. They are perfect for low speed city cruising, window shopping, crowded market streets, discovering the neighbourhood. around your hotel or marina while on a trip.
  • Wheel base (distance between the axis of the wheels) of some folding bikes is almost the same as a full size mountain bike or road bike. But the wheels being smaller it's more stable and agile at low speeds.
  • Folding bikes are not very efficient, the main issue is the top speed limited to 15km/h or less. So they are not ideal for long rides.
  • The typical tire size is 20x1.75 with small threads. Those tires, combined with the 3 speed or more, make the bike versatile, it can be ridden on paved roads but also off road, in campgrounds gravel trails for example.
  • Their smaller size makes them cute little bikes. The proportions are not the same as regular bike and older folding bikes have tons of chrome. They are stylish and attract positive comments from stranger.
  • When folded you can carry it on a bus, subway, in the trunk of a car, on a boat or RV. Transport bags with handles are available.

Folding bikes are not a magic solution

  • If you live on the 3rd floor and think you could use a folding bike to take up and down the stairs everyday, or if you plan to carry a folding bike on the train everyday, you should think about it before purchasing. I sold many folding bikes to people with similar plans and I must say that the rate of unsatisfied customers was quite high. Read the following paragraphs to learn why.
  • A folding bike is about the same weight as a regular bike, around 12 kg or 26 pounds. The fact that it folds make it easier to grab and less cumbersome, but it is still as heavy as any other bike. When tired, some people can hardly walk up 3 flight of stairs, carrying an extra 26lb makes it even harder.
  • The process of folding and unfolding the bike takes time and its not easy. There are many hinged parts and locking devices with extra safety features. People with low mechanical skills find it complicated and are scared of not doing it right. Also it's hard to align the steering or raise the seat post to your regular height each time. You start pedaling and must stop a few blocks later to raise or lower the seat.
  • A folding bike doesn't fold down to a shoe box size. When carrying on a city bus or a commuter train it still takes up quite a lot of room and other passengers will look at you with an angry face if you block the way or take up an extra sitting place. You must be careful not to hurt someone with parts sticking out like brake levers. Drivers might refuse to let you in.
  • The bike chain is oily and dirty, you must take care to not stain your clothes and other people's.
  • A folding bike will never be as efficient as a regular bike, so if you want top go far and fast you will need a second bike. Actually a lot of folding bike owners also have a regular bike and use the folding bike for special purposes like go camping, carry in the trunk of the car when traveling to another city, as a spare bike for family and friends, etc...

I own a collection of vintage folding bikes. Learn much more about them and view more pictures by visiting The Folding Bike Collection (in French)

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Kid's Bikes and Tricycles

Boy's bike with 12in wheels and training wheelsGirl's bike with 14in wheels
Because you can find low-cost kids bikes at retail stores like Canadian Tire, it's often not worth recycling beaten up kids bikes.

  • Kid's bike come in a wide variety of style and size. See the Kid's bike sizing chart to know what size bike you need.
  • It's hard to find a used bike with the training wheels still on it. As soon as the kid is able to control it's balance the training wheels are taken off and tossed away. But universal training wheels can be purchased separately from any bike store, including Canadian Tire.
  • A 24in bike can also be used by adults measuring less than 5ft 2in.
  • Having kids myself I know they grow out of their bikes quickly and you are shopping for bikes almost every year if you have more than 1 kid. A brand new one is not too costly, you can find kid's bike between $49 and $249 from chain stores like Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart, and others. So many busy parents don't want to loose time finding a good used bike and they just drive to the nearest retail outlet.
  • All kid's bikes share common characteristic, whatever the price paid: very low quality, barely functional, quickly assembled without any adjustment of gears and brakes. They put 21 speed transmissions but it's just a selling gimmick, they know that kids don't know how to use them and if they complain to their parents that it is not working they will be told that the bike is new so it should work fine, and they should feel guilty of complaining about their brand new bikes. So retail chain will keep on selling dangerous and inefficient bikes because parents don't care, "it's just a toy" after all. The result is that many kids will see cycling as requiring great effort to get moving, certainly not something they would use to go to school, and bicycles are complicated and unreliable machine you can't trust, "I wish to own a scooter and a car as soon as possible when I am older".
  • Used kid's bikes can be quite beaten up, particularly boy's bike. They are passed on to the younger one, to relatives and neighbours. They are very poor quality to start with, left out in the elements, and neglected.
  • The other extreme is also true, some used kid bikes are mint because the kid was never allowed to get out of the house and ride alone on the street "it is too dangerous" so they spent their childhood in front of the TV watching other kid's life's. If you buy a bike for your kid you must let him go places and discover the world by its own, go to friend`s place, go to school, etc...
  • A beaten up kid's bike often needs as much work, if not more, than an high end adult bike we can resell for much more. Unfortunately it's not worth our trouble fixing and delivering kid's bike. If you are looking for one, I recommend you pay max $25 and that you find it in your neighbourhood.. Also don't buy a bike needing repairs you can't do yourself, otherwise you will end up paying as much as a the cost of new bike.
  • See the Kid's bike sizing chart to know what size bike you need.

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BMX Bikes

GT Dyno BMX
GT Dyno BMX

The term BMX is an abbreviation of Bicycle Motocross and was initially introduced as an un-motorized motocross for kids, to be used on closed circuit dirt tracks with natural and/or artificial obstacles, including jumps, just like a motocross circuit but on a smaller scale. With time kids living in suburbs and cities didn't have access to a dirt track, so they started using the urban furniture to do tricks, jumps, and basically monkey around the neighbourhood... to show off. BMX's were modified for acrobatics with foot pegs sticking out of wheel axles, and special braking system allowing the steering wheel to rotate 360 degrees without brake cable interference. Nowadays BMX dirt circuits and urban parks are found in some cities, many BMX riders use skateboard parks to do their tricks.

  • BMX's have 20 inch wheels with 20x1.75 or wider tires.
  • BMX's are 1 speed, but without coaster brakes (back pedal to brake) like other 1 speed kid's bike. The brakes are the standard lever/calliper system on both front and rear wheels. High end BMX's have a special rotary plate on the steering column so you can turn the steering wheel 360 degrees, or more, without brake cable interference, and you can still brake while doing it.
  • BMX's are built very strong, every part of the bike is heavy duty.
  • The raised handlebar is reinforced with an horizontal bar linking both handles.
  • The stem holding the handlebar to the frame is strong with 4 bolts
  • Wheels have more spokes than a regular 20in wheel for strength, the rim is double wall
  • The frame is designed with extra cross members and strong steel, so they are heavy.
  • The saddle gets beaten a lot, so its got minimal padding and it's narrow to avoid rubbing. The preferred riding position is such that the saddle is set very low.
  • Foot pegs are installed on front and rear hubs replacing the usual wheel nuts.
  • Foam pads are added to the top horizontal tube and handlebar to avoid injury
  • Riders should wear helmet, gloves and other protective gears for knees and mouth for example
  • The gear ratio is set quite high for a kid's bike. The chain ring, freewheel and crank length can be modified for more or less top speed and torque.
  • BMX's are always abused so it's hard to find good used ones. They often need major repairs, were modified by amateurs, were repainted and more. For these reasons I sell very few of them, it must be in very good condition otherwise I don't touch it.
  • See also kid's bikes and mountain bikes
  • See Bike sizing chart to know what size you need.

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Adult Tricycles

Typical adult tricycle, the Free Spirit 3 speed
Typical adult tricycle, the Free Spirit 3 speed, with large basket and comfortable oversize saddle. The design haven't changed much over the years.

Joy Rider Trail Mate, 1 speed with chopper style handle and small front wheelSears Shop Mate tricycle for adult
Left: Joy Rider Trail Mate, 1 speed with chopper style handle and small front wheel. It's a factory bike, not a custom. Right: Sears Shop Mate small wheeled tricycle for adult. It's hinged so the front part with seat and handlebar tilts in curves, while the 2 rear wheels stay on the ground.

Adult tricycles are the most useful bike to carry big loads, because they always have a large basket in the back. When I got my first tricycle I wondered what I would do with a bike mainly used by retired but active people "who can't use a real bike anymore". The next day I had to go to the grocery store to purchase more than just a pack of cigarettes, so I took the tricycle. That first trip made me realize that a tricycle is the only bike that can really replace a car. You put your grocery bags in the back, a case of 24, your empty bottles for refund, and whatever else needs to be carried in real life. I'm now completely converted and I recommend an adult tricycle to anyone who wants to make a real difference by taking their car less often, whatever other people think. In many countries of the world modified tricycles are used to carry just about everything, including taxiing people. Others use tricycles for long haul bike touring and apparently this is a popular trend in England.

Important warning: if you can't ride a bicycle for any reason, you most probably won't be able to ride a tricycle either. Based on my own experience, I see many people shopping for an adult tricycle because they can't ride a bicycle. They think a tricycle will be easier because you don't have to keep you balance on top of it. Unfortunately this isn't true ! Sure when the bike is at a complete stop, and on a completely flat surface, you can just sit on it like on a chair. But as soon as the bike is moving you must force to stay on. The bike doesn't tilt in curves and uneven pavement, you must compensate centrifugal force and uneven saddle. A tricycle is very heavy and requires great force to get moving, it's almost impossible to go up any grade, unless you are in very good shape. It might be hard to understand, but I saw young healthy 17 year olds riding bicycles but they just couldn't handle a tricycle and went in the ditch on my street !

  • Adult tricycles are not for an overweight person, anyone with poor health or muscle weakness. I see kids and spouses shopping for a tricycle for their mother or wife in the hope she will go out and do some exercise. This is not a good idea, the tricycle will stay parked
  • A tricycle is good for someone who owned and used a bicycle not too long ago, but for some reason can't use it anymore. Typically older active folks, wanting to stay active, but having reduced balance ability and are scared to fall.
  • Adult tricycles are designed such that it's easy to step on and off the bike. There is no top horizontal bar, the frame is built as low as possible.
  • They are loaded with mudguards, chain guard, large rear basket, raised handlebar for an upright riding position. They are much like city bikes but with 3 wheels.
  • Tricycles don't go fast because they are heavy and have few gear ratios. You don't need to go fast because you have plenty of free time and you are afraid of speed anyway.
  • Older ones are only 1 speed and you should avoid them. I strongly recommend at least 3 speeds because you need a low speed to get going from a dead stop. With a 1 speed any inclination is hard to get over, forget about hills. With 3 speeds or more you can go longer distance, faster, and climb moderate hills.
  • Adult tricycle usually have an oversized and very comfortable saddle.
  • An important aspect of tricycles is the braking capacity. Because the bike itself is heavy, plus the load you carry, you need strong brakes. Curiously it seems like the designers of some tricycle have forgotten this aspect and some have poor braking systems. One problem is that on a 3 wheel bike the braking system on the rear wheels must be designed differently than on a 2 wheeler. So some tricycle only have a brake on the front wheel and it's not enough.
  • Another important aspect of a tricycle is that the bike rolls away by itself when you park it on an uneven surface. The good thing is that it doesn't need a bike stand, but it needs a parking brake instead! Curiously older tricycles don't have a parking brake so you must be careful where you park it to make sure it won't roll across the street while you're inside the grocery store.
  • Tricycles need a big parking space, preferably inside your garage, make sure you know where you'll park it before purchase.
  • Tricycle are much wider than a 2-wheeled bike, they take up half a lane in traffic, so they are not welcomed on busy streets during rush hour! They are good for cruising on low traffic streets in the suburbs, country roads, small town and villages, and on bike paths. Many are used inside campgrounds and other enclosed properties, for example inside large factories to deliver mail and parts.
  • Turning with a tricycle always feels odd, you can't tilt the bike in the curve and always sit straight, so you slide off the seat and feel the centrifugal force when taking a sharp turn. At high speed one of the rear wheels might lift off the ground, and the bike might even roll over.
  • Some tricycle are designed with an hinged frame, the front part with seat and handlebar tilts in curves, while the 2 rear wheels stay on the ground. See the Sears Shop Mate 1976 for example. This also acts as a rear suspension because one of the rear wheels can hit a bump without affecting the rider's balance. It's just like driving a bicycle, but those tricycles are much harder to find.
  • Tricycles use the same parts as bicycles except the rear axle and the rear wheel hubs. When buying a used tricycle check that the rear wheels are good. You can always align them and replace the tires, but if the rear wheel is seriously bent and needs replacing it will be hard, if not impossible, to find a spare rear wheel.
  • An important issue with big tricycles is they are hard to carry. You need a pickup truck or van without the rear seat to bring it from and to the bike store for repair. Some bike stores will deliver.
  • See also folding bikes (stable and easy to step in/out), city bikes, recumbent bikes and low rider trikes, delivery and other work bikes

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Exercise Bikes

Supercycle 0109 stationary bike

For exercising indoors get your own exercise bike and save on gym membership! The trick is not to put the exercise bike in the basement or a separate room in your house, it will sit idle. Stationary bikes should be in the living room, kitchen, or anywhere it can be used while doing something else, for example listening to TV or radio, talking with the other members of the family, etc... I find it very boring to simply pedal looking at a wall, and I'm a bike fanatic. I noticed that when you put a exercise bike in the same room as the TV, when the commercials come on the whole family is fighting over it to spin until the commercials are over. Kid's like them because they have something to "chew on" while they wait for dinner for example.

Because exercise bikes stay inside and many were rarely used, they are always in excellent condition, often like new. Buying a low cost, but perfectly running, used exercise bike won't ruin you, it doesn't take too much space, and you can pedal while doing something else. I don't understand why anyone would go and buy a new one, there are so many perfect used ones for sale in the classifieds. The same goes for all training machines. People put thousands of dollars buying fancy machines thinking they will loose weight effortlessly and quickly and by staying at home! New Year's resolution obliges, it's in early January that stores cash in. A few months or years later the big machine is taking a lot of space, wasn't used more than 10 times, and the buyer actually didn't loose any weight but gained more. So it's time to sale before it looses all it's value. You see many exercise machines in yard sales and very few interested buyers, so the desperate seller must let it go for peanuts.

  • When looking at used exercise bikes, the main thing to watch for is the speedometer/odometer. Make sure they both work, i.e. when you pedal it shows a speed and the distance increases slowly but surely. On older models the speedo is all mechanical and usually it works fine. But later models have electronic computer that are not as reliable and un-repairable. Stay away from any fancy electronic computers needing batteries or plug in, unless they work perfectly.
  • The other thing to watch for is the system that changes the effort needed to pedal. There are many different kinds of devices to adjust the resistance of the spinning wheel. Make sure you can adjust it in fully freewheel mode (no resistance at all) and gradually increase, without sharp steps.
  • Some tensioning device will bend the wheel, or make a notch on it, if the tension stayed on while the bike was parked for a while. Make sure the wheel spins straight and balanced.
  • A timer is also commonly found so you can spin for a set amount of time, then a bell rings. If the timer doesn't work it's not a big deal, just use your watch.
  • Make sure the seat can be adjusted easily for your height. Some models have a quick release attachment so the seat can be adjust quickly for different heights. Exercise bikes are sold in 1 size fits all, so very tall or short persons must be careful to buy a bike they can use comfortably.
  • A comfortable seat is also a must, but you can change it for any regular bike seat
  • An alternative to exercise bikes, if you already own a bike, is to purchase rollers and use your regular bike instead. You find rollers in bike stores.

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Tandem Bikes

Tandem bike

Tandems are rare but have been around for many years. I bought and sold just a few so I can't say I know a lot about them. A tandem is so not for inexperienced riders. Starting is the hardest part, both riders must coordinate, the rear rider is scared because the bike swings left and right until the front driver balances the bike. When stopping you must also coordinate and decide on which side to step off. Tandems are much like a conventional bike but with an elongated and reinforced frame, longer chain and rear cables. The wheels and tires are made stronger than on a regular bike. The wheels have more spokes.

Tandems take a lot of storage space in a garage, they are hard to carry around, you need a long van or pickup truck. Many end up being left outside for a while because of lack of space.

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Delivery Bikes

Grocery delivery trike in Montreal Ice cream vending trike in Montreal

Taxi trike seen in Old Quebec

Delivery bikes are built for commercial use so they are very sturdy. Sold in one size fits all. Because they are put to service for many years before being replaced, the vast majority of used delivery bikes are worn and damaged to the point of no return and barely good for parts. When I do have a delivery bike in good condition for sale, it quickly finds a buyer. Many convenience store and other small business are still making home deliveries or want to use them to decorate the outside of their business. Delivery bikes often have only 1 speed with a very low ratio. You can go up small hills but you can`t go any faster than 10km/h.

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Recumbent Bikes and Low Rider Trikes

Recumbent bike_Low rider adult trike
Left: a recumbent bike of rather conventional design. The steering apparatus on some models is under the seat. Right: modern high quality Trike.

Recumbent bikes are rare and people who ride them seem to be attached because I see few used ones up for sale. When they first came on the market, in the early 90's, a short period of popularity followed because of the novelty. You could buy them in department stores like Canadian Tire. Nowadays few manufacturers still offer recumbent models. Contrarily to conventional bikes, recumbent bikes come in many different designs, the steering and seating position being the main distinctive feature. Most have small wheels and tires, typically 20" front and 24" rear, same as on kid's bikes.

The main appeal is the riding position being lower and more aerodynamic, wind drag is reduced. Also you can push harder on the pedals because your back is supported. Some riders with disabilities preventing them from using a conventional bike might be able to ride a recumbent bike.

I own a recumbent bike and I love it ! What I like a lot is the fact you can stay seated and put both foot down to take a break, snap a picture on the bike path, etc ... However recumbent bikes have drawbacks explaining their low popularity. The difficulty of climbing steep hills is one problem. Low speed balance is an issue, you can't stand up on the pedals to push and pull on the steering handle, so when hitting a steep hill you might have to step off and push it up to the top. Low speed balance is harder on recumbent's with strange steering design. On some models the steering handles are located under the seat and close to the body. It takes time to get used to it. Lately 3 wheel models, named "trikes", began to be manufactured in larger numbers. Trikes are heavier but solve the low speed balance problem.

The main problem with low riding bikes is, since the rider is almost sitting on the road, they are hard to see in traffic. Usage of a long pole with an orange flag is an highly recommended safety precaution. Vehicles exhaust is right in your face and you can't see anything in front, other than the bumper of the car you are following. Because of those serious safety and health issues, recumbent bikes are seldom seen on city streets. They are fine on bike paths where most of then are spotted. Also note they can't easily be carried on most car bike racks, not convenient when you want to try out a different bike path.

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