Your Comprehensive Bike Guide

Start riding with the right cycling essentials and most useful bike accessories for your next on- or off-road excursion.

If you want to get out on a bike, don’t get overwhelmed. Think first about what you want out of your rides. Then select the right products and practices to help make those rides the best they can be. Start with the biggest piece first: What type of bike you need.

Pick Your Bike

Once you define your ideal ride, dial in your desires: Are you adding extra laps to your exercise routine, but also wanting a bike to bring on your next camping trip? Maybe you dream of joining that group ride that leaves the coffee shop on Thursday mornings, but you’d rather sit a little more upright. The right bike can do everything you need, and can grow with you when you’re ready for more.

Mountain bikes

You know an MTB when you see one: knobby tires, fancy suspension, climbing-ready gears, an upright riding position, wide handlebars and wide tires for stability. Take note, however, of several diverse subcategories that have developed over its half-century history.

Hardtail mountain bikes (with only front suspension) are the workhorse of the cycling world. Durable and relatively inexpensive, they’re a great option for kids, teenagers, or anyone likely to put a bike through heavy use, whether or not they’ll ever get off the pavement. But thanks to that front suspension and knobby tires, they’re also great for riding narrow dirt trails. You know. Mountain biking.

Full-suspension mountain bikes offer better traction, comfort and control than hardtails. For that reason, they tend to be more attractive to first-time riders, but more expensive. To pick the right option for you, determine how much suspension (aka travel) you need. Short-travel bikes, from 100 to 120 millimeters, are meant for smoother terrain and riders who want their pedal strokes to be rewarded, not absorbed. Long-travel bikes, from 150 to 170mm, are for rougher terrain and adrenaline-seeking riders. Mid-travel bikes are, well, somewhere in the middle.

Road bikes

Think road bikes are only for racing? Not anymore! Yes, they are light and fast, thanks to their narrow, smooth tires and simple, sleek design. But like mountain bikes, they have evolved in recent years. You don’t have to be hunched over like a Tour de France racer to enjoy riding a road bike. And those curved, “drop” handlebars aren’t just for tucking underneath the wind. They offer multiple hand positions to keep you comfortable on long rides.

Comfort or endurance road bikes put riders more upright, offering more relaxed handling characteristics and are geared better for hills and slower speeds. Think Cadillac, not BMW. Most entry-level road bikes are in this category, but there are plenty of high-performance options as well.

Race or aero road bikes are far more serious. If you’re fit, flexible, and ready to hammer, these are the road bikes for you. The buy-in is a little higher, but they are all performance, all the time.


Landing somewhere between a road bike and a mountain bike, hybrids offer less traction and stability in loose dirt, but thanks to their slightly narrower, smoother tires, they’re lighter than a mountain bike and take less effort to get them rolling—and keep them rolling. Ideal for riders considering a mountain bike, but who don’t plan on riding rough, narrow trails (aka singletrack), hybrids are a good choice if you’re riding on pavement the majority of the time, but leaving the option open for gravel paths or dirt roads. Their speed and versatility makes them well suited for commutes to school or work, or short trips to the store.

Fitness hybrids offer a more performance-focused configuration (versus the more casual comfort hybrid) that’s a great alternative to a drop-bar road bike, because they offer a slightly more relaxed riding position, and are usually less expensive. If you like the idea of a hybrid, but want more performance, consider a gravel bike.

Gravel bikes

This is what all the cool kids are talking about. Gravel bikes are essentially endurance road bikes with slightly wider, knobbier tires, and usually feature disc brakes, easier, climbing-friendly gears, and mounting capability for racks and fenders. They have more stable ride characteristics than road bikes thanks to longer wheelbases and wider handlebars, but heavily favor efficiency over capability when compared to a mountain bike.

The drop bars make gravel bikes ideal for longer rides and more aggressive pedaling. If you’re intrigued by the performance advantages of a road bike, but want to avoid cars, a gravel bike is a great way to go exploring in the safety of the backcountry. They are limited in rough terrain because of the narrow tires and lower, narrower handlebars. But if you prefer wider, taller bars and like the idea of gravel biking, fitness hybrids are actually quite similar in capability, and are usually less expensive.

Electric bikes

If you’re on the fence about buying an electric bike, just try one. E-bikes aren’t about rocketing you to excessive speeds. Most top out at 20 miles per hour, which you’d easily reach with a traditional bike on a gentile downslope. Instead, they take the effort out of accelerating and climbing. And most don’t feature a throttle function, so they require that you do some pedaling, but offer various settings that control how hard that pedaling needs to be. That means you still can get a workout, you’ll just go a lot farther. Exactly how much farther depends on several factors, but most e-bikes have a range of 30 to 60 miles on a charge.

Every one of the above categories is available in a motorized version, so no matter what you want to do with your new bike, you can do it more easily if you want to. Keep in mind that most e-bikes weigh between 45 and 60 pounds, so you may need a special rack if you want to transport one on your vehicle. And some bike paths and off-road trails put restrictions on e-bike use, but none sold at Public Lands (e-bike classes 1, 2, and 3) require any type of special licensing to operate.

Gear Necessities

These are the next most critical gear pieces you’ll need to ride safe and make the most of your bike investment.

  • A good helmet: No shortcuts here. If you live near a Public Lands store, come in to get properly fitted. A good fit makes your helmet safer and more comfortable, whether it’s a sleek road helmet, a robust mountain helmet or a chique urban helmet.
  • Cycling-specific apparel: You don’t need a fancy skin-tight outfit, but breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics help a lot, plus feature gear pockets, sunglass wipes, and reflective panels. And padded shorts are a must. Most can be worn on their own or under thin, baggy shorts to boost comfort and reduce chafing. 
  • Floor pump and basic tools: Bike tires need to be inflated more regularly than car tires. So, it’s important to keep a floor pump with a pressure gauge handy. And a set of metric Allen wrenches, size 2mm to 6mm, will fit most of the bolts on your bike. You may already have these in your toolbox, but it’s good to have a compact set you can take on a ride. 
  • Cleaners and lubricants: Your chain will be lubricated from the factory, but you should have a bottle of bike-specific chain lube for when that wears out in a month or two. And though you can use soap and water to clean the bike itself, there are specialty degreasers to clean gunky drivetrain components.
  • Hydration: Most bikes offer mounts for a cage that can carry a 20- to 24-ounce bottle. But if you're going on longer rides or live in hotter climates, a hydration backpack can carry up to 100 ounces of water, plus other essentials. Hip packs also offer moderate amounts of storage, and take the weight off your back and shoulders.
  • Bike storage: If you don’t have ample floor space, there are plenty of alternatives. It’s OK to hang your bike upside down or by one wheel, so simple rubberized hooks will work given a sturdy enough ceiling, though wall mounts, weatherproof covers, or even pulley systems can lighten the load.
A man and woman bike on a gravel trail

Gear Extras

There are plenty of other goodies that can turn a good ride into a great ride, and can prevent a bad ride from ever happening. Consider the following recommended luxuries to spoil yourself with.

  • Shoes: The active footwear you may already have, like running shoes, are not ideal for bike pedals. Flatter, more durable bike-specific shoes are also more stable and comfortable.
  • Clip-in shoes and pedals: Clip-in (aka “clipless”) shoes connect to your pedals for better efficiency. They’re easier to safely step off of than you might think, and most are designed with recessed hardware to walk just like your normal shoes.
  • Eyewear: It’s not just for sunshine. You need eye protection, whether it’s sunglasses or goggles, to guard against flying dirt, bugs, and rocks. Use clear lenses in low light situations.
  • Gloves: Cycling gloves will prevent chafing, rubbing, and blisters on your hands—especially on long rides. In addition, they can help you grip the handlebars better, add a bit of padding, and save your palms from getting scraped if you fall off your bike.
  • Spare tube or flat kit: You’ll need to replace your punctured tube with a new one or repair it so it holds air again. Make sure that if you purchase a spare tube, it matches your wheel and tire size. Plastic tire levers also remove your tire from your rim without damaging the rim.
  • Hand pump or CO2 cartridges: Consider a portable pump to refill your tube after fixing your flat. Some riders opt for CO2 cartridges and an inflator instead—they’re lighter and more portable than a pump. Just remember that a cartridge only works once.
  • Unexpected repairs: On longer or more remote rides, bring repair essentials: a chain tool and compatible master link, assorted spare bolts, a spare derailleur hanger, zip-ties, a small roll of duct tape, and of course, a first-aid kit.
  • Lights: Most cities require you have a front light, rear light, or both if you’re riding after sunset. Even if you're not planning on riding in the dark, a set of lights is a good thing to have in case a late-day ride runs long.
  • Lock: Keep this investment of time and money safe with a sturdy bike lock. Steel U-locks tend to be the most secure, but there are plenty to choose from depending on your needs.
  • Car racks: There are easier ways to carry your bike than stuffing it in your trunk. Many will strap easily on your bumper without damaging it, while some will clamp to your roof or bolt into a tow hitch.
  • Bags and racks: You’d be surprised how much utility you can add to your bike with some cargo capacity, especially if you plan to use it for errands or commuting to work. There are plenty of options to fit your bike that are simple to install and often easy to remove.
  • GPS devices: You can always mount your smartphone to your handlebar for navigation or other ride information, but there are also more compact, more durable, less precious devices that can perform most of the same tasks.

Extend Your Season

If you want to reap the rewards of this investment and ride all year, here are a few ways to turn an off season on.

  • Layers: Dressing in layers is the most versatile and cost-effective way to be ready for any unpredictable weather. A thin rain shell will keep you dry from the outside, a base layer will keep you dry from the inside, a fleece liner will keep you warm, and all can be removed and packed to keep you cool—though you might need more storage in a bigger pack for added layers.
  • Pants: Look for active rain and wind pants with subtle stretch and tapered legs. Pair them with waterproof shoes and a waterproof jacket to stay completely dry. 
  • Waterproof shoes: Usually meant for cold weather, waterproof cycling shoes are crucial for the off-season. There are both clip-in and flat-pedal options.
  • Head protection: Many cycling-specific jackets have hoods designed to fit over your helmet, keeping you warm and dry. Also, skull caps and balaclavas can fit under your helmet.
  • Wet-weather tires: Putting tires with extra tread on your road, hybrid or commuting bike will add traction and safety in the wet. On mountain bikes, a tire with sparse, deep knobs does the same.
  • Lights: Bike lights keep you riding as the days get darker. And if you’re mountain biking, you get the added thrill of night riding. Just keep them charged!
  • Indoor cycling: If you don’t have room for a stationary bike, a “trainer” is a device that attaches to and supports your bike while adding some resistance. They’re also less expensive than a stationary bike, and can fold up for easy storage. Most require you to swap to a smooth rear tire.
  • For hot weather: If excessive heat makes summer your off season, utilize light-colored long-sleeve UV protected jerseys, high-sodium electrolyte drinks and supplements, plus high-capacity hydration packs.
  • More bikes: If the roads get too wet and unsafe, and the wind gets too cold, many road riders will switch to gravel or mountain biking where the speeds are lower and the car traffic is zero. During the summer, mountain bikers may want to catch a breeze by switching to higher-speed road bikes. What problem can’t be solved by more bikes?

Find Your Route

You’re ready to get out there, but need to figure out where. Hopefully, your new bike inspires you to find new places to ride. Here’s how to expand beyond roads and trails you already know. 

  • Google Maps: Check out its “bicycle” setting, especially if you’re using your bike for transportation, not just exercise or adventure. It avoids hills and aims for lower-traffic streets and even bike paths whenever possible.
  • Smartphone apps: Most offer search filters to find your exact, preferred length and type of ride. Check out Strava to find bike routes and connect with riders; it’s part social network, part self-timed race tracker, part bike-route database. Trailforks, while primarily MTB-focused, is one of cycling’s most complete databases of off-road trails, opening a spider web of trails in your backyard, color-coded by difficulty and tagged with useful info. Komoot is a route-sharing app that offers intuitive off-grid directions if you want to go big but also go home. Navigate on your phone or send the info to a dedicated GPS device.
  • Ask: Public Lands store Guides can make recommendations based on your riding interests, or can suggest local resources to help you on your way.

Stick With It

Carry the momentum of your initial interest forward with the following habits of lifelong cyclists that can help you become one yourself.

  • Find (or build) a community: Even if you don’t know any bike nerds, you do know people with bikes. Encourage friends and family to go for a ride. Even if they don’t catch the bug, all will be better for the experience. To meet dedicated cyclists outside your social circle, you’ll find the cycling community is refreshingly welcoming. Look up online for local events or clubs and show up. 
  • Set modest goals: You’d be surprised what a half-hour of riding every other day will do for your fitness and comfort on a bike. Getting into an easy habit of regular rides will naturally make it easier to go on more rides, and you’ll eventually start noticing small improvements turning into big improvements.
  • Keep your bike in good shape: Some mechanical issues will creep up on you slowly. Pay attention to your bike. If it starts to make noise, fight you when you’re shifting or hesitate when you’re braking, it becomes less fun. And if you start to ride so much and so hard that your passion outgrows your equipment, congratulations! That means any upgrade will be worth it.
  • Keep an open mind: If you ever notice your interest starting to plateau, try something different. Go somewhere new. Ride at dawn before work. Get some lights and ride at night. Most cyclists don’t do just one thing, but they do have a favorite thing. It may take time to find yours.
  • Have fun: If you’re buying a bike for fitness or commuting, find ways to keep it from being a chore. Add an ice cream stop once in a while. Get comfortable leaning into turns a little harder. Pop a wheelie. Riding a bike should be a part of your day that you always look forward to.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.