- Cycling is generally broken into three large categories: off-road, on-road, and BMX or stunt riding. Off-road cycling is dominated by the mountain bike, which is made to handle the rigors and stresses of large obstacles and uneven terrain. Various designs can be lent to different specialties, and many off-road cycling competitions are dedicated to one aspect of mountain or dirt riding. Road riding is generally concerned with speed and distance, and ranges from commuting and fitness to multistage tour racing. Like off-road riding, road equipment is specially designed for its (often very specific) use.
BMX riding is often overlooked in cycling because of its unique equipment and focus on stunts rather than distance or speed. BMX competition, introduced to the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, is determined by points awarded for stunts performed on specially designed tracks or obstacles.
Cycling genres have also been mixed with varying success. For example, cyclecross integrates road bike geometry with heavier components to allow for speed on mixed terrain.
- Because bicycle design is so specific to use, bikes in the different genres vary considerably. Mountain bikes are heavy (4 to 5 lbs. for a frame) and designed to take abuse. With thick, wide tires and aluminum frames, these bikes can withstand hard impacts from obstacles while giving the rider good control. Hydraulic shocks in the front fork (and sometimes the rear seat stays) further strengthen a mountain bike's frame.
Road bikes are generally smaller and lighter than mountain bikes, with 2- to 3-lb. frames and thin, smooth tires. These bikes are most easily recognized for their curved handlebars, which allow riders to sit in an aerodynamic position and gain the most power from their pedal strokes.
BMX bikes are the smallest designs, but they are often heavy. With fat tires but small wheel diameters, these bikes appear too small for their riders. The small geometry and hefty materials aid in stunts and equipment survivability.
- Though the design of bicycles varies so much between types, its principles are relatively stable. In fact, it's because bike geometry is predictable that designers can create so many different styles.
Aluminum is a common frame material because of its light weight and high strength. Some bikes use steel or titanium, but these are generally considered boutique or even less desirable than more modern materials. Carbon fiber has also been developed for use in bicycle frames and has outshone aluminum as the most sought-after road frame material for its light weight, strength and road shock absorbing qualities.
Generally, bicycle frames are designed to be light and laterally stiff--that is, they do not flex easily from side to side. This ensures that power generated by the rider's legs won't be wasted by a flexing frame. Light weight simply allows the bike to be propelled by less power and is particularly important in hill climbing situations.
Other design features are very specific, such as aerodynamic frames in time trial bikes. These machines are extremely specific designs and are normally limited to only their specific event or style.
- While equipment design greatly affects the various genres of cycling, rider fitness and specialty is perhaps more important. The different cycling types require different skill sets and different training styles. Mountain biking, for example, is greatly focused on bike handling and maneuvering, while road riders are more interested in muscle efficiency and power transfer. While the road rider keeps his upper body steady over the bike to maintain control, the mountain rider moves her torso to keep her center of gravity in a stable location. BMX riders use perhaps more of a mountain riding set of skills, but theirs are more related to balance and coordination. Whatever the genre, the riders must be focused and dedicated to achieve their potential.
- For some years, road cycling has gained notoriety for its drug problems. Steroids and performance enhancing drugs have been used by top riders to gain an edge over the competition in many prestigious races. However, the behavior of these cyclists is not stereotypical of all riders. The majority of these athletes ride clean, wanting only to compete where they are in the sport. And with the increased awareness of drug usage, new and tighter regulations and drug testing have been put into effect. The riders who are found to have taken illegal medications are disqualified and, when appropriate, turned over to local authorities.