Bike Buying Guide

Whatever your preferred type of cycling, we have a wide range of styles and models in an extensive range of sizes and colours. In addition, we have different levels of specification to suit just about every taste, budget and level of experience. Our Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide will help you navigate the various terms and jargon when buying a bike. It should make sense of the really important issues you need to consider before you buy.

Road Bikes

A road bike is a generic description that covers a wide range of bike types. However, pretty much all road bikes share common characteristics. They have drop handlebars and tyres with a diameter of 700 mm (measured to the outside of the tyre, not the rim). The tyres themselves tend to have a narrower cross-section. The principal objective of this is to reduce rolling contact (therefore friction) and help you go faster. For further details of the variations in tyres, check out our Tyre Buying Guide.

For some people, it’s about speed, for some it’s about distance. For some it’s about climbing and for some, it’s about all three! There is no doubt that road cycling has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years. This has been undoubtedly helped by the success of Team GB as well as the high profile wins of Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy. Most of us will never be able to emulate their levels of skill. However, for just a modest amount of money, you can buy a good quality bike and get riding. Spend more and the alloy turns to carbon, the frame gets lighter, stiffer and more compliant. Not only that but the gears, brakes and other components all improve. But really, it’s about getting out on the open road and enjoying yourself either alone or with friends.

Road bike sizing

Road bikes are sized in frames measured in centimetres. Check out our Bike Sizing Guide to see what bike and frame size is likely to suit you. At Criterium Cycles, we sell a wide range of road bikes from some of the world’s greatest brands. They range from entry level through to professional, off the shelf machines through to full customisation. We also offer a full range of other services to make sure you are fitted to the perfect bike such as Precision Bike Fit.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Bianchi Oltre XR.2

Road Race bike – Bianchi Oltre XR.2

Race Bikes

Designed for speed and performance, Race bikes tend to have a more aggressive geometry to aid aerodynamic performance and set up to enable higher speeds. They require the rider to have more flexibility and general fitness to get the most out of the bike. We’re not saying you can’t ride a race bike if you can’t touch your toes without bending your legs. However, the chances are you’ll find it a little uncomfortable especially if you are planning to ride in excess of 3- 4 hours at a time on a regular basis.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek Silque Womens Specific Design

Endurance Road Bike – Trek Silque

Endurance Bikes

Endurance Bikes are also known as Sportive bikes. They are designed to achieve a really good balance between speed and performance on the one hand, and comfort and reliability on the other. Whilst Endurance bikes will almost certainly have a more forgiving geometry it does not mean they are slow. Some of the carbon endurance bikes in the Trek and Bianchi ranges such as the Trek Domane SLR and the Bianchi Infinito CV are extremely quick bikes. Endurance bikes usually employ clever vibration cancelling technology making them more comfortable over longer rides. The great thing about Endurance bikes is that through a wide variety of material and specification levels there is something for every budget and every level of experience. Endurance bikes also have practical features included. These include the ability to fit mudguards or possibility even a pannier rack making them very versatile indeed.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek Boone Cyclocross bike

Cyclocross Bike – Trek Boone

Cyclocross & Gravel Bikes


A cyclocross race takes place on a closed off road circuit and will often include obstacles. Many of these obstacles require the rider to dismount and carry their bike over or around the obstacle before remounting to continue the race. The off road nature of cyclocross circuits meant mud became a regular feature of the racing. As a result, the bikes have been designed accordingly. A cyclocross bike will usually be fitted with wide tyres, usually between 33mm and 35mm for extra grip. Tread patterns are designed to be suited to the more challenging conditions as well. Since 2013, brakes have tended to be disc although cantilever brakes are also seen.


A typical cyclocross race lasts 45 minutes to an hour. The geometry of a cyclocross bike is focused more on stability and handling than comfort. So in recent years, customer demand has grown from people wanting to take their road bikes on an all day adventure. These comprise different surfaces such as canal towpaths, converted railway lines and forest paths. The challenge has been to do this without compromising too much road style performance. The result – the gravel bike.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek Speed Concept

TT / Time Trial Bike – Trek Speed Concept (in perfect habitat – a flat, straight road!)

TT (Time Trial)/ Triathlon Bikes

The principal difference between a TT (Time Trial) bike and a more traditional road bike is in the frame geometry. TT bikes will tend to have a steeper seat tube angle. The seat tube is the one that rises from the bottom bracket (where the pedals are) and terminates, hopefully, at your saddle. This steeper angle pushes the body forward and creates a more aerodynamic position. It also has the benefit of putting less strain on your quads. This is great if you are a triathlete because as soon as you hop off the bike, you are expected to then go on a run. Yep, we think it’s fairly crazy too.

However, if you are going to be riding your bike on roads that involve more undulating terrain and / or with a lot of change of direction, chances are, a more traditional road bike geometry is going to be preferable for you even in a Triathlon. As a great example, Criterium Cycles sponsor Natalie Milne, Team GB and Team Scotland Triathlete. Natalie is also the reigning 2016 Scottish Tri Sprint Champion. Natalie won that title on a Trek Emonda SL8 because the terrain and constant change of direction meant the Emonda was by far the more suitable bike.

Carbon or Alloy

Carbon and Aluminium are the two main materials for bikes these days,. Steel and titanium are also used for more specialist applications or by enthusiasts looking for something a little different. Remember though that frame design and build quality is more important than the material in isolation. As a result, an aluminium frame from a premium manufacturer may be better than another manufacturer’s carbon frame. It is always worth checking out Criterium Cycles’ reviews.

An alloy frame tends to be fitted to be most entry level bikes. This is principally as a result of the fact that the manufacturing process is less labour intensive making it a lower cost to produce. Alloy bikes are also used where more durability and weight carrying capability is required. For example, a commuter or touring bike loaded with panniers, mudguards and provisions for an adventure needs to be able to take more weight than a carbon frame.

A carbon frame offers a better weight to strength ratio. Carbon fibre is very strong and durable yet it is lighter thanks to the material used. In addition, carbon fibre has a natural vibration reducing quality making the frames feel more responsive yet less fatiguing.

Mountain Bikes

A Mountain Bike is a fairly generic term for a bike primarily designed to be used off road. Given that the mountains have been around for a while, it’s remarkable that the sport of mountain biking is still relatively young. However, it’s been remarkably fast paced. In just 30 years, we have seen the development of front suspension, rear suspension, active suspension and highly sophisticated damping systems. Thats not to mention a multiplicity of wheel sizes and the list of innovations keep on coming. The trails themselves have become more sophisticated as well but mountain biking remains what it always has been. It is thrilling, muddy, adrenaline stimulating, fun, healthy and just absolutely brilliant. Whatever your specialism (and we’ve explained the various types below) we have the bike for you. In fact, you may not have a specialism which is fine. You just want to try riding a bike off road on a trail. In which case, we have a full range of bikes to suit your needs too.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek Marlin Cross Country mountain bike

Cross Country Mountain Bike – Trek Marlin

Cross Country

Cross Country (or XC) mountain bikes are the most common type of mountain bikes for the general rider. Cross Country cycling tends to be defined by the terrain on which it is carried out. That is a mixture usually of forest paths, singletrack / open moorland and smooth fireroads. Typically, Cross Country bikes have 80 – 120mm of travel and can be either Hard Tail or Full Suspension to suit personal preference. Wheel size is not that critical. However, for an explanation of the various wheel sizes and their pros and cons, check out our quick Guide to Mountain Bike Wheel sizing below.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek Fuel EX Trail & Enduro Mountain Bike

Trail & Enduro – Trek Fuel EX

Trail / Enduro

We have deliberately grouped Trail and Enduro together (or “All Mountain” as they used to be better known). This is a recognition of the fact that there are variants even within these two groups. For the most part, Trail / Enduro bikes are for those riders looking for steeper terrain and more technical riding routes. If Cross Country riders gravitate towards green and blue routes, a Trail / Enduro rider will be looking to Red and Black. The colour coding is similar to skiing. It is graded green, blue, red and black with black the toughest. Often, the Trail / Enduro rider will want to try out off piste routes. Trail / Enduro bikes can be Hard Tail but most are Full Suspension with usually 130mm – 180mm travel.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek Session Downhill Mountain Bike

Downhill Mountain Bike – Trek Session (in mid flight!)


Downhill bikes are specifically those where the rider has had a lift to the top of the downhill run. Riding uphill on a Downhill bike is not really recommended! Full Suspension with travel of 200mm front and rear is the order of the day.

Wheel Sizing

Which wheel size to go for is probably one of the more hotly debated topics in the world of mountain biking. We agree that it can be pretty confusing at times. So here’s the Criterium Cycles guide to choosing the right mountain bike wheel size.


Ten Years ago, the optimal choice of wheel size was 26” because that was pretty much all there was available. However, manufactures have largely moved to 27.5” (650b), 29” (or variants of the two) with the result that 26” is becoming increasingly rare.

650b / 27.5″

It is fair to say that 650b / 27.5” is currently the standard size in mountain bike wheels. It is argued that 650b / 27.5” have most of the rolling benefits of the 29er wheel with most of the agility of a 26” wheel. However, things are moving pretty fast at the moment. In 650b / 27.5″ (and indeed 29″ / 29er) a new breed of Plus size tyres have been launched. These are NOT Fat Bikes. Plus Bikes will usually have a wheel rim width of around 40mm (traditional rim width around 25mm) and a tyre width of 2.8″ (traditional tyre width of 2.3″). These bikes offer higher grip levels and can offer greater confidence and stability over technical terrain without too much difference in rolling resistance.

29″ / 29er

The benefits of a larger wheel size are obvious – they provide greater clearance off the ground and given that they roll faster, they do a great job of smoothing out particularly rough terrain. If you are a rider looking for a bike to offer greater stability and be confidence boosting then the 29er wheel size may be the perfect choice for you. 29ers are really fun to ride and have a slightly less twitchy character compared to a 650b / 27.5″.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek FX Hybrid Bike

Hybrid Bike – Trek FX

Hybrid Bikes

In its most simple form, a hybrid bike is a road bike with flat handlebars. The flat handlebars enable a more upright posture. The road bike frame, especially with its 700cm wheels, means hybrids are often the perfect choice for commuters. They are not limited to commuting however. Often designed for larger tyre clearances and with drivetrains that have more gear options, hybrids can be used in many different types of riding. They can be used on road and off road, although their off road use tends to be primarily lighter off road use. Canal towpaths or rural tracks often see many hybrids. If you are looking for one bike to provide genuine multi-use options from commuting, to weekend riding with the family along canal towpaths and even some light off road use, a hybrid bike could provide you with all of that and more.

Criterium Cycles Bike Buying Guide - Trek Kids Dual Sport (DS)

Kids Bikes – Trek Kids Dual Sport

Kids’ Bikes

Many people believe that because a kids’ bike is a small bike for someone just learning to ride, it doesn’t need to be as technically considered. Neither does it need to be as well designed or as robustly manufactured. At Criterium Cycles, we tend to believe the precise opposite. We select our kids’ bikes from those that benefit from the best design, the best material selection and the best manufacturing processes. They are designed and manufactured by people who care about bikes and their riders. A strong, light and smooth riding frame will be far better able to stand up to what your kids are likely to do to it. Every kids’ bike we sell is equipped with smaller-diameter handlebar grips to fit younger hands. Each bike has the appropriate bar width for the correct fit. Crank length is matched to bike size, for best fit and performance. All kids’ frames are set up with the proper length, standover height and body potion to give young riders confidence, stability and control.


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