Bicycles have come a long way from their modest roots in 1817, and now they’re truly innovative and impressive machines. But did you know there are different types of bikes, all with specific purposes? Below, I’ll open the door to the far-reaching world of bicycles, including some of the most unusual types you’ll ever see.
To begin with, I will cover mainstream bikes that most people are familiar with. Then I’ll move on to some of the coolest specialized bikes. By the end of this article, you’ll be well-versed in the world of bicycles and what makes them so enticing for riders.
Nearly everyone knows what a bicycle is, but most people don’t realize how complex and intricate their designs are. Mainstream bikes are popular due to their performance, multitude of purposes, and ease of use. They’re also usually more affordable than the special and unusual styles, therefore we see them much more often.
One note before we jump into the list: While I will be mentioning specific parts that go along with each style, it’s important to note that all bikes can be modified to fit your particular needs and aesthetics. Doing so, however, will affect the bike’s performance, so do so with caution.
The main types of bikes are:
Mountain bikes are sometimes called “all terrain bikes” because they can go over just about any surface. They were designed for off-road exploration and rough terrain. They have sturdy frames and wheels with rugged suspension systems to keep riders safe and stable.
Their handlebars are usually flat or upright to keep your in the correct position for rough terrain. Mountain bikes also feature an extremely low gear range for uphill and difficult terrain pedaling.
This category of bike is broken down into three more categories. If there is only a front suspension, it’s called a hardtail. If the bikes have both front and back suspension, they’re called duallies or full-suspension bikes. For bikes with no suspension, they’re referred to as rigid.
Road bikes and racing bikes are designed for smooth, fast rides over paved roads. They are sleek, light, and maneuverable. They have narrow tires, multiple gears, and use disc or rim brakes. Handlebars for road bikes are typically “drop” style.
Built mainly for speed and smooth rides, these bikes don’t do well off-road or over rough terrain. The level of rider comfort can be increased by changing some parts, but you run the risk of adding weight to the bicycle and reducing potential speed.
BMX bikes are typically used for stunts and tricks or racing on dirt tracks. In fact, their name is short for “Bicycle Motor Cross”.
They have smaller frames and wider wheels which makes them popular with kids. However, an experienced adult BMX rider can pull off some of the most impressive stunts. With a single speed, these sturdy bikes can handle a lot of impacts and sudden stops.
Touring bicycles are a type of road bike meant for long distance riding. They are comfortable to use for longer periods and can carry light baggage.
Intended for pavement travel, they may do okay on less rugged terrain and smooth trails. They are durable, stable, and excellent at evenly distributing the weight of their riders and baggage.
Touring bikes generally come equipped with mounting bolts to install cargo racks, fenders, and drop handlebars. Riders are naturally seated in a more upright position for comfort during long rides.
With a lower gear range, touring bikes can carry light to medium loads. Hills are no match for these tough, capable bikes. They are popular for commuters as well as explorers.
The BXR bike is a sub-category of the touring bike. It has a sturdy, BMX-like frame and can handle more off-road situations. They are simpler than traditional touring bikes as far as mechanics go, and many riders prefer that while on the road, which makes sense to me. Who has time to stop and find a specialist for repairs while touring?
Racing bikes are made with speed in mind. They are used for competitive road racing. Their lightweight frames and parts are aerodynamic and sleek. Accessories aren’t really a thing with racing bikes; all the attention went into making these bicycles lightning fast.
The tires are narrow and high-pressure, and these bikes come with a narrow gear range. They’re not built for comfort or long rides, but there are many modification options available to fine-tune your performance.
Within the racing bike category, you will find sub-types such as the time trial bikes. These have a more aggressive frame style that forces the rider into a more aerodynamic position. They’re not very maneuverable, but that’s not necessary when speed is your main goal.
You can also find triathlon bicycles in the racing bike category. Upright seatposts keep riders in an efficient position that activates the hamstrings and gluteus muscles. And finally, track bicycles are simple bikes used on indoor or outdoor cycle tracks.
Flat-bar Road Bikes
Flat bar road bikes are between hybrid bikes and road bikes. They have mountain bike-style shifters and a flat handlebar. Sometimes called a fitness bike, it’s optimized for use on flat, paved roads.
Cyclo-cross bicycles are sometimes called “cross bikes” and their frames resemble the touring style. They feature wider rims and tires and are popular commuter bikes.
This is one style that jumped the tracks of intended use. They were originally made for racing, but became popular as an everyday bike. Light frames and ease of use helped catapult cyclo-cross bikes into the mainstream.
Hybrid bikes bring the best of both worlds between road bikes and mountain bikes. Tough and rugged, they also perform well on smooth, paved roads. They generally have lighter frames and medium wheels.
Within the hybrid bike category, you can find a wide range of specialized types. These include:
- Trekking bikes used for touring and carrying light loads.
- City bikes for urban commuting.
- Comfort bikes with modified mountain bike frames and front suspensions.
- Commuter bikes with light tires, carrying racks, and an enclosed chainguards.
Utility bikes are the unassuming, hardworking, “every rider” bike. Used for shopping, running errands, and commuting, their frames can be heavy but sometimes more in the mid-range. They feature internal hub gearing. Many have front and rear fenders as well as chain guards.
Utility bikes are all about practicality and everyday use. You won’t get a ton of speed or be able to pull off sick tricks with a utility bike, but you’ll get around town with efficiency and stability. They’re designed with normal, average people in mind, so long skirts and pants won’t get snagged in the chain and mud flaps keep riders clean.
Freight bikes are used for transporting heavy items. They have sturdy frames and wheels and often have a large basket or flat area to hold heavy loads.
These are your typical hardworking bicycle often seen in cities or industrial areas where passenger vehicles would have difficulty traversing. Bike messengers often use this type of bicycle to get around.
- Longtail bikes
- Butcher’s bikes
- Porteur bikes
Special and Unusual Bicycles
Not all bikes are created equal, and these special bikes prove that. Made for specific tasks and situations, the bicycles on this list have specialized parts and designs to help riders get the most out of their purchase.
Like the mainstream bikes on this list, these unusual bikes can be modified. However, the changes you make will often drastically reduce the effectiveness of their intended purposes. Use extreme caution when modifying any of the special bikes on this list.
As always, do your homework and be sure you understand the effects of modifying your bike!
Fixie bikes, or fixed-gear bikes, won’t appeal to most riders. They are single-geared and have no brakes, which scares some riders. To slow down or stop, you must stand on the pedals.
However, many bike enthusiasts prefer the fixie style due to the extreme simplicity. They can be highly modified, usually without detriment, and they provide a great workout, too. Since fixie bikes can’t coast, riders must keep pedaling to keep the bike moving.
Trikes or Tricycle Bikes
Trikes aren’t just for kids! In fact, these hearty bicycles are a favorite among city-dwellers and rural riders alike. With three wheels, tricycles are the most stable of all the bikes listed here. As far as comfort, trikes can’t be beat. You can stay on the seat when you stop with no fear of tipping over.
Tricycles bring the joy of riding to a wider variety of people, too. Differently abled and older riders can use these with confidence, no matter their restrictions. For example, older or nervous riders don’t have to worry about balance, and riders with only one arm or one hand have a much easier time.
Trikes are usually better than 2-wheeled bikes for hauling large loads with a trailer. Many trikes even have a cargo box built in.
Pedicab or Cycle Rickshaws
Pedicabs are basically human-powered taxis, but there’s nothing saying you can’t use them to transport goods or personal belongings, too. There are only a handful of manufacturers and they tend to be quite expensive.
These are technically a trike, but the addition of the passenger area moves them to a category all their own. Pedicabs are used all over the world, especially in high-density areas where motorized vehicles have trouble navigating.
Pedicabs are known by many other names, including:
- Boda-Boda (or Poda-Poda)
Quadracycle, Bike-cars, and Four-wheeled Bikes
Bike cars are four-wheeled bikes for 1-6 riders. Though they’re not much faster than mainstream bikes dude to the extra weight, they can be a lot of fun. They’re also an efficient means of transporting multiple people.
Though they have been around since 1853, they’re finally being recognized as ideal for riders with special needs, those who have difficulty balancing, or those who are especially fearful of falling off a two-wheeled bike.
You may also see a quadracycle being used as a pedicab or for rent in tourist areas. There are also many new models intended for personal ownership for touring purposes.
Recumbents or Recliner Bikes
A recumbent is a reclining bike where you sit in a bucket-type seat with back support, and your legs are out in front of you. Recumbent bikes are incredibly comfortable; it’s like riding a La-Z-boy recliner.
Before you think this is a lazy person’s bike, consider the ergonomics of this special design. With the rider leaning back, their weight is more evenly distributed across the entire frame. This prevents injuries and overworking any one muscle group.
The leaning back position also enables more users to enjoy riding bikes. Those with spine and neck issues, for example, may benefit from this altered position. These bikes are less stressful for hands, feet, and the sitting bones, too.
The semi-recumbent bike is a hybrid between the fully recumbent and an upright bike. They are also sometimes called a crank forward bike. These bikes are all about comfort and ease of use, which sacrifices speed and aerodynamics.
Velomobiles are fully-enclosed recumbent trikes. They’re awesome for touring because the fully-faired enclosure reduces wind resistance, allowing them to go very fast, even when hauling extra gear for touring.
The downside is that they’re expensive, and so far as I know, manufactured only in Europe. That means shipping to another country adds significant cost.
Electric Bikes (E-Bikes)
Electric-assist bikes (or E-bikes) have a small motor to help you get up hills or go a little faster. They don’t do all the work for you, though. You will still need to pedal; it’s just easier to pedal when you have the motor assist. There is a wide variety of electric bikes. MTB electric bikes, road electric bikes, pedal assisted electric bikes, electric bikes for commuting, electric bikes for kids, electric bikes for short people, electric bikes for tall people, etc. You get the point!
The motor is typically powered by a small battery which you can recharge by plugging it into the wall. There is usually an easy-reach switch on the handlebars to turn it on and off as needed. You can either buy a complete bike along with the motor, or you can just get the motor and attach it to your existing bike.
I don’t know of any company making an off-the-shelf product, but this blogger details how he made his own. His site is excellent and contains lots of data and specific information.
Mark my words: When the oil crunch hits, the biggest change won’t be hybrid cars or more bikes. It’ll be electric scooters. While electric scooters are beyond the scope of this article, this store sells electric scooters online and provides some good information for curious browsers.
Have you heard the song “A Bicycle Built for Two“? Tandems are made for two or more people who all pedal simultaneously or take turns. They come in a wide variety of styles, so these bikes are great for just about anyone looking for an adventure buddy.
Yeah, you read that right. There is a seven-person bike, and it actually works pretty well! They are sometimes called the “conference bike” due to the seating arrangement, but you can use this unusual bike just for kicks, too.
If you need to travel using other transportation, but want to bring your bike with you, try out a folding bike. They are compact, lightweight, easy to carry, and super convenient. These are popular for city-dwellers and folks who travel a lot for work.
Folding bikes are gaining in popularity for people living in small apartments, studios, or renting rooms.
They tend to have smaller wheels, which means they’re not as efficient as larger bikes. But the portability makes up for the lack of speed.
Chainless, Shaft-Driven, and Belt-Drive Bikes
These bikes are unique because they lack the traditional chain of mainstream bikes. Instead, they use any number of mechanisms to move the wheels, as opposed to the clunky, noisy chain you find on most other bikes.
Some claim these bikes are more efficient. I think that’s really up to the rider and the terrain. Why not give it a shot and report back?
Rowing bicycles let you pedal with arms and legs. This gives a full body workout as well as more options should your legs get tired.
Water Bikes and Hydrocycles
So, you like water sports and cycling? Why not combine them? There are a variety of water bike options available today, though the original design dates back to the 1870s.
When you can’t get enough cycling in your life, why not attach a cycle to your everyday appliances? Maya Pedal makes pedal-powered blenders, water pumps, coffee depulpers, metal sharpeners, washing machines, wood saws, electricity generators, and more. Wow!
TreeHugger has an article about a trike that helps harvest crops.
Bikes for Special Needs
I think these bicycles are incredible, so they get their own section. While some of the bikes I’ve already mentioned can be used for special needs individuals, these bikes are specifically designed with those riders in mind.
Innovative designs, safety, and fun are all packed into these awesome designs. Check them out!
The Duet—Wheelchair Bike
Bicycle enthusiasts understand the freedom and thrill of riding a bike, but that feeling was sorely lacking for wheelchair users. . . until now. The Duet combines the security of a wheelchair with the freedom and thrill of a bike, all in one.
With the comfortable wheelchair in the front, your passenger gets a literal front row seat on this adventure. The cycler sits in the back and guides the passenger through a unique journey. Once you reach your destination, the wheelchair portion detaches, making transitions seamless and quick.
Handcycles or Arm-Pedal Bikes
Handcycles are designed for cyclists who can’t pedal with their legs or those who want an upper-body workout. These come in a wide variety of styles and sizes to fit all kinds of riders.
Other Unusual Bikes—Just for Fun!
Still here? That’s awesome! Since I still have your attention, how about checking out some of the strangest and most inventive bikes out there?
Someone actually made a dog-powered scooter.
Some folks in San Francisco make chopper bikes.
Here are some wacky, wacky unicycles.
Thirsty? How about this bike that powers a blender?
Did you know you can generate electricity with a bicycle? These guys did.
I think it’s pretty clear by now that bikes truly do come in all shapes and sizes. With so many options on the market, bicyclists of every type should be able to find something that fits their needs.
And innovations just keep coming. As more people turn toward sustainable living and environmentally-friendly lifestyles, bicycles will continue to grow in popularity. What was once the only method of reliable transportation has now become the preferred method for many people.
Hopefully, you’ve found some new information on bikes and learned something cool today. Maybe I’ve even piqued your interest in a new type of bike. Thanks for stopping by!