A Complete Guide To The Different Types Of Cycling

Whether you’re new to the world of cycling or an experienced rider looking for a change of pace, it’s important to understand the differences between the major categories of cycling. Knowing the difference will guide you in making an informed decision about the type of bike and safety equipment you’ll need, not to mention the time and training dedicated to becoming a happy and successful rider in that category.

We’re here to break down four major types of cycling, reasons why you’d need, for example, a road bike vs. gravel bike, a race bike vs. endurance bike, or even hardtail mtbs vs. gravel bikes, and more tips on how to choose the right bike for you. Explore the details of road cycling, gravel cycling, cross country (xc) mountain biking, and competitive cycling, in our comprehensive guide below.

A Complete Guide to Four Major Types of Cycling

Road Cycling

We’ll start with the most recognized form of biking, which may evoke some of your favorite childhood memories: road cycling. Road cycling is just what it sounds like — riding on the open, paved road, whether on flat ground or up in the hills. You probably had a standard road bike as a child to ride around for fun, and now you’re probably thinking of using road cycling as a great way to stay in shape and explore new places.

The main features of road bikes include:

  • A lightweight frame (normally made from carbon fiber or aluminum with a carbon fiber fork)

  • Straight or round handlebars

  • Narrow, lightweight wheels and tires, normally size 700c

  • Two chainrings

  • Smaller, less-padded bike seat

  • Manual or fixed gears for speed and resistance

When considering buying a new bicycle, keep in mind that there are many different road bike models from which you can choose. For instance, there are endurance bikes for long days or multiple days riding. There are also race bikes that give a more aggressive riding position; these are better for racing or riding fast during situations where speed counts. Above all, it’s important that you feel comfortable and understand how to safely operate a road bike and its components. Standard road bikes are a great way to ease into or reignite your passion for cycling. We also recommend joining your local cycling club to meet new people and explore new routes; it’s the best way to gain motivation and confidence. Let's move on to gravel cycling, which takes cycling to a different level.

Gravel Cycling

If you’re ready for more adventure, gravel cycling is a must. Often, the lines are blurred between road and gravel cycling, especially since most road bikes now come with tire clearance to take them off road. Gravel cycling mostly has origins from cyclocross, as well as sharing a lot of traits from mountain biking too. You’re probably wondering whether you could technically use a road bike for gravel cycling. The short answer is, you could, but it might not be as safe or comfortable.

To help you choose a side in the battle between road bikes vs. gravel bikes, check out the main features of gravel bikes:

  • A longer wheelbase and slacker angles for stabler handling

  • A more upright position for better balance

  • Normally a wheel size of 700c or 650b. The smaller 650b wheels mean you can fit chunkier tires that provide you with more grip.

  • Most gravel bikes will be equipped with a disc braking system for effective slowing and stopping

  • Chainsets with wide ratios to be able to tackle varied terrains and climbs

  • Flare-drop handlebars for better stability and handling

When you break down the differences between road bikes vs. gravel bikes, it’s easy to see why gravel bikes would be the best choice for riding on rough terrain. Did you know that gravel bikes often get confused with mountain bikes? We’ll break down the features of those, next.

Cross Country (XC) Mountain Biking

It’s understandable that you might think gravel cycling and mountain cycling are one-in-the-same since they both nod to challenging and versatile riding surfaces, but they’re actually very different types of cycling. Cross country (xc) mountain biking focuses much more on distance and endurance than technical maneuverability. XC bikes are ridden on smooth and rough ground and flat and steep paths. A common type of bike in this category is the hardtail mountain bike and can be similar to a gravel bike. So, how do you know which is right for your next ride?

Let’s observe the contrast between hardtail mtbs vs. gravel bikes. These common mountain bikes feature:

  • Flat or riser handlebars to give a more upright and dynamic position

  • 29” or 27.5” wheels and chunkier tires for grip on multiple different terrains

  • A front suspension fork but no rear suspension

  • A frame built for more versatile riding purposes

XC bikes are built to withstand riding over any terrain, but focus mainly on distance and endurance. The next type of cycling we’ll explore is race cycling, which focuses on endurance, and also speed.

Competitive Cycling

Competitive cycling is for the pros and for those that want to ride at high speeds. It typically takes place on paved surfaces, just like road cycling, but the major difference between the two is the style of bike used. Geometry and aerodynamics also play a huge role in race bikes; they allow the bike to give you an aggressive position and produce more power, so your riding can be more efficient and enable you to put out top speeds.

Significant features of race bikes include:

  • Extremely lightweight components and frame (usually made from carbon fiber)

  • Narrower, less comfortable saddle

  • Round handlebars

  • Very lightweight wheels that often have deep rims for aerodynamic advantages and thin tires

You may also hear the term “endurance bike” in relation to race bikes, but there is a difference. In choosing between a race bike vs. endurance bike, you mainly need to understand that an endurance bike is a bit heavier and therefore slower than a race bike. Endurance bikes are just what they sound like — bikes built to last long days in the saddle.

Are you ready to start riding? No matter the type of cycling you choose, remember that safety plays an important role. At KAV, we’ve designed a helmet that is custom-fitted and made specifically for each rider. The Portola Helmet withstands the roughest of rides while reducing brain damage. Learn more about our mission to keep riders safe and order this state-of-the-art helmet before your next biking adventure.