Fortunately, the expression about riding a bike again is true; no matter how long it's been, you can climb back on and get going again after a few minutes of acclimatization. And with cycling experiencing a renaissance and people of all ages realizing that bikes are cheaper, healthier and better for the air we all breathe, people who haven't ridden a bike in years are giving it a shot.
But what seems to stop (or at least slow down) many riders is the pure plethora of bikes out there. How do you know what you need? Here's a breakdown of the most popular basic bikes and what they're good for. This list doesn't include any bikes that are powered by anything other than human energy, but if you are interested in powered bikes, check out Shea Gunther's reviews here and here.
Mountain bikes are more stable (due to thicker tires and thicker frames) than road bikes, but they tend to be slower and clunkier. If you live on a dirt road, or in a rural area, mountain bikes are great. You can attach carriers to them, and take them on trails and not have to worry about bouncing too hard over roots (most good mountain bikes come with at least front shock absorbers these days). Mountain biking is a lot of fun, and you'll need a tough bike (and some practice) to deal with rocks, uneven trails and mud. If you are going to be riding primarily on roads or bike paths, a mountain bike is overkill, harder to pedal, and much heavier than you need.
Hybrid bikes are not battery-powered, but their design is hybrid in that it is halfway between a road bike and a mountain bike. With tires to match, these bikes are thinner and lighter than mountain bikes, but sturdier and able to carry more, more comfortably than a road bike. These are great bikes for taking on vacation to places like Cape Cod or somewhere you will be doing a lot of path biking, but may find yourself taking a trail or two into the woods to a lakeside or down to the beach. These bikes are also great for teenagers who may like to get off-road.
Road bikes are great for long-distance bike travel, as they are extremely lightweight and going up even large hills is easiest on your legs with this kind of cycle. However, they are generally a lot less stable and built for speed rather than hauling, so if you want to attach a kid-carrier, a basket or other devices for hauling groceries, small dogs or art supplies around town, this is not your ideal bike.
Fixed gear bikes have only one gear, and to brake, you have to pedal backward. They are best for small children and for bike riding in places that are pretty flat (like urban areas, city parks or Nebraska). They can be great for adults who are new to riding and might be overwhelmed by gear shifting, and especially elderly adults. They are also incredibly popular among hipsters in urban areas, and tend to have more comfortable, banana-style seats and cute vintage styling (or actually be vintage bikes that have been fixed up).
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