In this report
August 2010 Ratings

Best budget bikes

Last reviewed: August 2010

Our latest tests of bicycles turned up six recommended models aimed at casual and fitness riders, including a CR Best Buy. A higher price generally gets you better components and lighter materials, but you can also get a nice ride for less.

Lightweight frames, narrow tires, and a range of gears make fitness bikes a good choice for moderate speed and distance riding. The curved handlebars of a road bike are replaced with flat to low-rise ones, allowing a more upright riding position. The relatively lightweight A1 Fuji was a top performer overall and the most affordable recommended fitness bike, at $480.

For low-impact recreational riding, consider a comfort bike. Most have suspension seat posts and wide, padded seats to absorb the bumps in the road. But the fully upright position and heavier weight on some models can make climbing hills more difficult, and those bikes aren't the best for extended trips. For casual riders who occasionally venture off the beaten path, a hybrid bike can be a nice alternative. Those bikes usually have road-bike-sized wheels but wider tires and mid- to high-rise handlebars. The B1 Cannondale was a top performer and, with very good handling, was quite sporty for a comfort bike. The B2 Schwinn, a CR Best Buy, and the B3 Novara offer a good compromise between comfort and performance.

We asked more than 3,300 of our online readers to rate their bikes. Reliability was the top factor when it came to satisfaction. Those who ride hybrid bikes or comfort bikes found seat comfort and handling to be very important. Those with road bikes or fitness bikes were more interested in a bike's shifting and climbing ability.

Brake problems on a Huffy

Our testers experienced difficulty braking while going downhill on the 26-inch Huffy Commuter bicycles we tested. After two high-speed stops with each bike, the brake pads were worn down past the point where they could be adjusted. After the maker provided new brake pads, we were able to stop safely, although we did notice a burning-rubber smell and brake-pad wear. The bike has been discontinued, but if you already own it, be sure to check its brake pads regularly.