Mountain bikes vs. BMX bikes vs. street bikes

Cycling

When using high gears, don’t pedal for an extended period of time to avoid adding excess strain to your knees. Cadence should be between 70-90 rpm’s.

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What kind of bike is best?

Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise. It hits on all the major muscle groups and is low-impact, causing less injuries and strain compared with other forms of exercise. Cycling is also a great way to increase stamina and strength.

Additionally, as a workout, cycling is completely customizable. A low-intensity ride is a great starting point for beginners or those who are recovering from an illness or surgery. Riders can increase intensity as their fitness progresses or when looking for a more demanding workout.

There are countless bikes available for riders of all skill levels, but most bikes are designed for a specific purpose. For example, mountain bikes are off-road bikes that prioritize durability and high performance, specifically on rough terrain. BMX bikes are similar to mountain bikes in that they’re for off-road use. The main difference is that BMX bikes are specifically used for stunt riding or racing. Street bikes, also known as recreational bikes, are optimized for leisure riding. Whichever bike you choose, make sure you get the right size.

Mountain bike

Mountain bikes (or MTBs) are designed to be ridden off-road. A decent, basic mountain bike will cost roughly $400-$800, but the quality may not be great. High-quality, beginner mountain bikes are priced $2,000-$2,500, depending on the features. Expert mountain bikes go up from $5,000.

Frame

When buying a mountain bike, the frame is probably the most important feature. Mountain bike frames are either rigid with no suspension, hard-tail with suspension only in the front and full suspension in both the front and back. Rigid frames are generally cheaper, require less maintenance and are great for improving riding skills. 

Hard-tail frames are the most common on low-cost and midrange bikes. Additionally, they have tunable forks and better shock absorption, and both the compression and rebound are adjustable. Full-suspension mountain bikes are ideal for the competition. They’re great for harder and faster rides, provide ultimate control and are more comfortable. The flip side is they require more maintenance and are heavier, more complex and more expensive.

Material

Material is another feature to consider. Generally, the more competitive you get, the lighter you want your bike to be. Steel is the least expensive but heaviest. Aluminum alloy is the most common, but the makeup can vary. Carbon fiber is the lightest, but most expensive. All materials provide adequate strength, but the lighter the material, the more expensive.

Wheels and tires

Wheels for mountain bikes range from 26 to 29 inches or occasionally bigger. Each size has a specific purpose, but in general, as wheels get wider and bigger, speed increases and stability decreases. Tires are available as tubeless and tubed — the former are the most common, but the latter are slightly lighter and less likely to puncture while being more expensive and difficult to fit and requiring special rims.

Brakes and gears

Mountain bikes have two types of brakes: disc and rim. Rim brakes are the most common but are less efficient, especially when muddy or wet. Disc brakes feature small holes to disperse heat and shed water. Overall, they’re more expensive, tougher and better for off-road cycling.

Like brakes, gears are a key component of any bike. Most entry-level MTBs have 5 to 7 gears, while “fatter” bikes can include 30 or more. In general, the more gears, the more flexibility to climb hills and mountains. Gear-change mechanisms are designed in three styles. Derailleurs and shifters are dependable and systematic while twist-grip is the most customary on common bikes. Thumb-operated paddles are usually seen on high-end bikes like MTB because they don’t interfere with the grip on handlebars. 

For more information, take a look at the full mountain bike buying guide from BestReviews.

Mountain bike pros

Overall, mountain bikes build strong muscles, improve metabolism, emit an adrenaline kick, are great for those who enjoy having active lifestyles and create a fantastic and exhilarating experience. 

  • Lessens stress and improves moods. Mountain biking releases endorphins and serotonin, making you feel relaxed and improves moods.
  • Decreases stress on joints. Cycling is the one form of exercise that doesn’t have an impact on joints. Mountain biking is a low-impact sport that targets all muscle groups without injuring or straining knees and joints.
  • Lowers the risk of diseases. Cycling and exercising on a regular basis will lower the risk of disease. Cycling strengthens your immune system and pumps fresh oxygenated blood throughout the body.
  • Good heart health. Mountain biking improves cardiovascular health because it tremendously decreases the risk of heart disease.

Mountain bike cons

  • Time constraints. Mountain biking requires a big time commitment, so if you have a heavy schedule, it may be difficult to find the time on a daily basis. This can also be tricky if you prefer to ride with others.
  • Pressure of winning. Like many physical sports and activities, competition is high. Racing on a mountain bike can be stressful because there is a common desire to live up to your own and other’s expectations, especially for new mountain bikers.
  • Negative competition. Many people who mountain bike get involved with serious competition even though it wasn’t their initial intention.
  • Cost. Mountain bikes can be very expensive, which is why you should highly consider how often you’ll use it and what features are most important to you. 

Best mountain bike

Yeti Cycles SB130 Carbon C1 SLX Mountain Bike

Yeti Cycles SB130 Carbon C1 SLX Mountain Bike

Its lightweight TURQ carbon construction and Switch Infinity platform with FOX Factory suspension makes this mountain bike best for those who cycle regularly. The climbing traction allows for addressing ultimate traverse hills while the 29-inch wheels make it perfect for handling technical climbs and making sharp, smooth turns.

Sold by Backcountry

 

Schwinn High Timber Mountain Bike

Schwinn High Timber Mountain Bike

Perfect for beginners, this mountain bike has a triple front alloy crank that provides less maintenance and steady gearing. Overall, this bike is very affordable to new mountain bikers and is extremely versatile, making it perfect for riding around the neighborhood or on dirt roads.

Sold by Amazon 

BMX bike

BMX, or bicycle motocross, is a sport that focuses on stunts and racing using bikes instead of motorcycles. Bikes are designed for five different riding scenarios: street, park, dirt, racetrack and flatland. Street BMX bikes need to be sturdy and heavy to withstand difficult and hard hits. Park BMX bikes are used to do tricks. Tires are usually thinner with smaller treads and overall, the bike is lighter than street or dirt bikes. Flatland riding focuses on smoothness to achieve balance instead of air. For this reason, these BMX bikes are designed with pegs on both the front and rear, which prevents brake cables from getting tangled when turning 360 degrees. Racetrack BMX bikes are light and have a larger chainring/sprocket to increase speed. Beginner BMX bikes are priced around $500 whereas pro-level bikes can reach up to $3,000 or higher.

Brakes

Before purchasing a BMX bike, there are features to consider such as brakes, bearings and rims, tires, hubs, and size. BMX bikes are designed with cables that can get twisted, making some tricks impossible. If the brake lever defaults, it can result in a serious injury. BMX bikes only have rear brakes because of its purpose to do tricks and spins. Brake pads are placed within the back triangle at the back of the bike frame and out of contact with the rider.

Bearings and rims

BMX bearings are available in two styles: unsealed and sealed. Bearings are the small rings with metal balls located inside the spinning and rotating parts of the bike. Unsealed bearings wear out faster but are less expensive. Because sealed bearings are long-lasting, they’re typically more expensive but allow for smoother motion. BMX rims can be single, double or triple-walled. Increasing the wall strengthens the bike’s rim, making it less susceptible to impact, however, the higher up, the higher the cost. 

Tires

For any bike, tires are a necessity and the size of a tire usually depends on what surface(s) you’re riding. BMX tires are designed in three categories: slick, multi-purpose and knobby. Slick tires have little tread and work best on flatland, however, they can also be used for ramps and parks. Multi-purpose tires consist of more tread but don’t supply a lot of resistance. For this reason, these tires work best for street and park riding. Knobby tires are the thickest and have deep grooves to allow for higher traction in dirt and on road trails. 

In addition to tire type, it’s important to know what thickness and air pressure works best. BMX tire thicknesses range from 1.5-2.5 inches, with most being 20 inches in diameter. Generally, thinner tires result in faster speeds while thick tires are best for increasing balance and traction. The amount of air in a bike’s tire can aid in the overall bike’s performance. For example, the lower the tire pressure, the more give. Low tire pressure (around 40-70 psi)  is perfect for riding on hard surfaces to give softer landings. Higher tire pressure (90 psi) helps go faster and is ideal for scenarios where speed outweighs performance. 

Hubs

A bike’s hub refers to the center of the wheel. For BMX bikes, hubs fall into four groups: freewheel, cassette, freecoaster and coaster brake. Freewheel is meant for coasting when not pedaling. Like freewheel, cassette also allows you to coast, but the difference is due to the ratchet inside the hub. Cassette hubs are the most preferred because they’re easier to adjust and are lighter than freewheel hubs. Freecoaster hubs allow for the back wheel to coast forwards and backwards. Coaster brake hubs brake the bike when riding backwards. Because this hub prevents riders from performing tricks, it’s not recommended for freestylers. 

Size

Size is important when it comes to any bike because it can affect performance. BMX bikes have a smaller frame because they’re designed to perform tricks and spins. To know what BMX bike size is best for you, measure the length of the top tube that runs from the seat to handlebar and your height. For example, someone who is 5’2”-5’6” would require a BMX bike that has a top tube length of 18.5-19.5 inches Generally, the size of a BMX bike is determined by the top tube length.

For more information, take a look at the full BMX bike buying guide from BestReviews.

BMX bike pros

BMX bikes overall provide a full body workout and strengthens leg muscles. Aside from a great workout, BMX bikes can increase confidence when mastering new skills. 

  • BMX bikes are lightweight, making them easy to transport. 
  • Compared to other bikes like motorcycles or mountain bikes, BMX bikes are uaually inexpensive, even designs that are considered pro. 
  • They require less maintenance and repairs.
  • BMX bikes are specifically designed for thrilling rides and for thrashing around. 

BMX bike cons

  • BMX bikes don’t have suspension, so the body doesn’t absorb as much upon impact as mountain bikes for example. 
  • There is only one speed for BMX bikes, so riding uphill can be difficult and exhausting. 
  • BMX bikes aren’t suitable for long-distance rides or for saddle riding. 

Best BMX bike

Mongoose Legion L60

Mongoose Legion L60

This BMX bike is specifically designed for use at parks, on the street or dirt. The Hi-Ten steel frame is durable and light, making it easy to conquer tricks, spins and jumps. It also has removable brake mounts and mid BB shell. Additionally, the aluminum U-brake and brake levers allow for precise speed control.

Sold by Amazon

 

Mongoose Legion L500 Freestyle BMX Bike

Mongoose Legion L500 Freestyle BMX Bike

Available in eight colors, this BMX bike is perfect for experts and for those who are ready to upgrade. Designed to be used at the park, on the street or dirt, it will allow for you to showcase your skills. The full 4130 chromoly frame, removable brake mounts and mid BB shell is suitable for speed and provides maximum durability.

Sold by Amazon

Street bike

Compared to mountain and BMX bikes, street bikes are commonly used for leisure and are considered a cruiser or hybrid. When purchasing a street bike, the first thing to consider is bike type. Where and how you ride a bike will determine what type of bike is best. The higher the performance of a street bike or higher-grade materials, like bike frame, the higher the cost. The average cost of both cruiser and hybrid bikes is between $300-$1,000. Of course, additional features will increase the price. No matter what bike you choose, It’s important you choose the right size because it can have an overall effect on performance. 

Cruiser 

Street bikes can be split into two categories: cruiser and hybrid. Cruiser bikes are the most common and are specifically designed for recreational use. They provide maximum comfort and perform best on dry terrain, paved and flat roads. These bikes typically only have one speed drivetrain, and because of this, they can be difficult to use uphill or over rough terrain. Additionally, the frame is heavier compared to hybrid street bikes, so achieving high speeds isn’t likely. Cruiser bikes are a great choice for beginners because maintenance upkeep is easy and it isn’t built with a complex gear system compared to hybrids. Older style cruisers have only one speed drivetrain compared to newer models. 

Hybrid 

Hybrid bikes are designed for all purposes and provide a faster ride due to its light frame. Additionally, hybrid bikes have more gears than cruisers, making it versatile for different surfaces. Heavy padded saddles and upright handlebars allow for cyclists to have a more relaxed stance. It also makes it easier to pedal long distances. The number of gears on a hybrid bike is determined by the bike’s style. For example, gears can range from 8-20 or more. Overall, these bikes are similar to mountain bikes. 

Street bike pros

  • Because of their simple design, street bikes are perfect for beginners. 
  • Street bikes are generally categorized into two groups, cruiser and hybrid, making the overall purpose versatile. 
  • The upright riding position allows for comfort and easy viewability when cycling. 

Street bike cons

  • Street bikes are typically meant for leisure riding. Compared to mountain and BMX bikes, it is difficult to tackle tough surfaces and perform complex tricks and spins. 
  • Speed is generally slower because the overall bike design is heavy. Additionally, what makes for comfort can reduce speed. 
  • Upright riding position creates aerodynamic drag when going fast. 

Best street bike

Schwinn Perla Women’s Beach Cruiser Bike

Schwinn Perla Women’s Beach Cruiser Bike

Designed with 7-speed twist shifters, this cruiser bike is versatile and perfect for leisurely cycling around the neighborhood or in sand at the beach. The quilted seat and soft grips on the swept-back handlebars make riding smooth and stylish.

Sold by Amazon 

 

Nishiki Men’s Manitoba Road Bike

Nishiki Men’s Manitoba Road Bike

The three lightweight aluminum frames to choose from makes it easy to ride smoothly on rough surfaces. Pedaling and shifting is effortless with the Shimano shifting components, whether going uphill or coasting down the street.

Sold by Dick’s Sporting Goods

Should you get a mountain bike, BMX bike or street bike?

Mountain bikes, BMX bikes and street bikes all have different purposes. Mountain bikes are perfect if you’re looking for a bike that will provide a more intense workout. Because of their design, they can easily ride on rough surfaces, targeting all muscle groups. BMX bikes are designed for those who enjoy doing spins and tricks. Street bikes are great for beginners because of their easy build. Additionally, they’re a great option if you’re a first-time cyclist looking to learn how to ride a BMX or mountain bike.

 

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Tessa Schaal writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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