What’s in a Name?

How would you classify this bike?

I took a highly informal, unscientific survey of the largest U.S.-focused bicycle manufacturers’ websites to see how they classify their bicycles. What I found may say something about the current state-of-mind of the mainstream bicycle industry in America. Here’s what I discovered:

  • The top two categories are Road and Mountain.
  • Most of the bikes filed under the Road category are carbon and aluminum racing bikes, with the occasional smattering of transpo/utility bikes in the mix. In many cases, the category could easily have been called Racing.
  • Mountain is frequently broken down into sub-categories such as Hardtail and Full-suspension. Depending upon their target market, some manufacturers list Mountain before Road in their menus.
  • At one time, Hybrid was a catch-all phrase for any bike that didn’t fall into the Road or Mountain categories. A few companies are still using the Hybrid moniker, though it appears to be on the way out (the term is conspicuously missing from the Trek website).
  • Urban is a relatively new category that’s gaining steam. In looking at the bikes listed under Urban there doesn’t appear to be consensus on what qualifies a bike for the category.
  • Most manufacturers break out their bikes into gender and age categories. Typically there’s a main category targeted at men (though it may not be listed as such) and smaller Women and Youth sub-categories.
  • I didn’t find a single major company that lists Touring as a product category. In years past, the two main bike categories were Racing and Touring. The advent of Lance Armstrong, combined with the rise of the mountain bike, virtually eliminated Touring from the lexicon of the U.S. bike market.
  • Beyond that, you get into a variety of names unique to each manufacturer. A few examples include Multi-street, Lifestyle, X-road, Bike Path, Recreation, etc., etc.

I was surprised to find Commuting and Utility mostly absent as categories. We’re definitely seeing more bikes designed to be used for these practical applications, but it appears the major manufacturers are still primarily marketing their bikes as recreational equipment. Perhaps the mainstream U.S. market is ready for the bikes, but not quite ready for the idea of bicycles as tools for transportation.

36 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  • RJ says:

    Have you seen the Trek Soho?

    Belt drive! Drum brakes! Internal shifting!
    even a rubber ‘bumper’ on the top tube for banging on bike racks!

    Even comes with the coffee mug. And it’s even a nice, subdued color.

    I love showing this to folks in the bike shop. I’m also just excited for a big company like Trek to go in that direction. And I really want one. :D

  • Sharper says:

    It’s a well-used and well-loved bike — the best category of bicycle.

  • michael says:

    I don’t necessarily think that people are still shying away from the concept of commuting/transport bicycles, but I think it might be a legitimate lag time in the marketing. I know that it seems like trends are zipping by to those of us immersed in the cycling blogosphere, but marketing, R&D and production for any even moderately large company is planned well in advance (any 2010 model releases coming out now were mostly likely conceived over a year ago, if my experience in other retail fields is any indication). I would imagine that with each marketing season coming up we will be seeing more and more specific labelling from the larger companies.

  • William says:

    Country Bike!

  • thermador says:

    Sorry math nerd here. I’m curious as to a few things. How many companies did you survey, and do you have a list of which companies?

    I’m not surprised about the Urban bike thing – apparently they’re all the rage and, unsurprisingly, are fueling bike sales

  • Alan says:

    I too am excited about the increasing number of commuting and utility bikes being produced by the majors. My point though, is that the bikes are there but the terminology used to classify the bikes is lagging behind. For example, the Specialized Globe line-up is classified under “Multi-Street”. What is “Multi-Street”? It would be less confusing to call the bikes what they are – commuting and utility bikes (I’m not picking on Specialized here, all the majors are using confusing categories such as these). My assumption is that the marketers are so accustomed to selling bikes as recreational equipment that they avoid names such as “commute” and “utility” because they sound too, well… utilitarian.

    Someone is bound to chime in here real soon and say it’s all just marketing and what we call a bike is irrelevant, but I happen to believe words and names matter. If we want to promote bicycle commuting and the utilitarian use of bicycles, we need to call those bikes by name so that new riders understand what they’re looking at and inexperienced bike shop employees understand what they’re selling – the market is confusing enough as it is.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    My feeling, is that the focus of mainstream manufacturers is simply a function of where the money is. Even as the idea of “commuting” and “city bikes” grows more popular, people are willing to spend larger sums of money on racing bikes and high performance mountain bikes.

    Cycling for sport is viewed in the US as a “high end” leisure activity, and those who can afford it often find it perfectly reasonable to spend money on not one, but several bicycles with price tags over $2K, replacing those bicycles every several years as faster and lighter ones become available. This is a dream target market, from a money-making perspective.

    On the other hand, the commuter/city bike crowd are a “pain in the butt” target market: They want the bicycle to last forever, to be equipped with all kinds of tchotchkes that will require either expensive importing from the EU or start-up costs for the big-name manufacturers to produce, that and they want the bikes to be affordable. Furthermore, they want to cycle in their regular clothing, so there is less opportunity to sell them expensive athletic gear. Is it worth it to cater to the customer with such inconvenient demands who expects to purchase one bicycle per lifetime and spend under $1K on it compared to the sports/leisure customer?…

    I think that the commuter/ city cycling momentum will have to get pretty darn big before we see major changes in customer preference trends among the major manufacturers.

  • Julie says:

    I agree with you, Alan. I just bought my daughter a Specialized Globe. Fortunately, I knew what I wanted, but if I hadn’t, I would have had no idea where to start, at least based on the bike catalogs/websites. However, knowledgeable bike shop employees were very helpful in my search, as well as my own experience with a Specialized Crossroads Sport which I loved.

  • Bob says:

    “Commuting” and “utility” don’t communicate the same sense of (marketable) identity that “road,” “mountain,” or “urban” do. Bikes are marketed according to how the prospective rider wants to imagine him- or herself rather than the surfaces over which the bike will be ridden or the purposes to which the bike will be put. (Obviously there are exceptions, but I’m speaking in general terms here; and obviously part of marketing is to create the impression of need/want where either there was none or there was very little.)

    Heavily-loadable, all-weather-capable, comfortable commuting/utility bikes are decidedly unsexy AND expensive. I can’t imagine marketing departments saying, “Let’s go for that mid-40s, riding through ten inches of snow and road salt with geek straps on both pant legs and two panniers full of books and files kind of rider image.”

  • Alan says:


    You nailed it, Bob. What the marketers may find though, is that as gas prices inevitably increase and more people become concerned about the negative effects of the internal combustion engine, the “mid-40s geek” is going to turn into a big fat cash cow (I believe this is already starting to happen).

  • Juan says:

    Kona’s categories are funny. They have both ‘Road’ and ‘Asphalt’. Huh?? The former includes their racing type bikes as well as a touring and a few steel frame bikes. The latter is their urban/hybrid stuff, including their Ute cargo bike. Their mountain bikes have like 4 or 5 different categories. Oh, and they list Cyclocross as a category unto itself.

  • Ron at Bike World News says:

    I’d call that a touring bike, though the moniker “Country Gentleman” comes to mind as well.

    I find it odd that the touring bike classification has all but left the taxonomy of bikes. It’s not as if people still aren’t doing bicycle touring.

  • Larey says:

    “Gentleman’s bike” was the first thing that sprang to mind, but that’s more a description of the classical style than purpose. “Trusty Steed” also rings true, but I doubt it would do for marketing purposes.

    I’d like to suggest we start our own category so that along with “Road” and “Mountain” we now add “Useful” as a main type of bike.

  • Alan says:


    “I’d like to suggest we start our own category so that along with “Road” and “Mountain” we now add “Useful” as a main type of bike.”

    That made me chuckle out loud – thanks for making my morning… :-)

  • Jonathan says:

    “Country bike”, as discussed here previously, gets my vote.

    “Light touring bike” might have more mass appeal.

  • Joel van Allen says:

    I’d suggest that once the bike’s in motion, so is the categorization. Why essentialize once the bike’s off the display rack? I’d call your bike Alanized.

  • Jim says:

    I resist categories at my shop because I don’t want my customers thinking in boxes. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s always good for business. People walk in off the street looking for one of the categories of bicycle (usually “road”), and I either don’t have anything that can be defined so narrowly, or they insist on assigning our bikes into some “other” category (like hybrid) because our bikes don’t have STI levers or 23 mm tires or carbon forks.

    The name “touring” is a deal-killer to most people who don’t envision themselves trekking a loaded bike across the continent. That said, I sell a lot of touring bikes without ever using the word touring.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    My son helped a buddy pick out a bike for his two-mile commute this week. The guy doesn’t have a car (nor does he want one) and his price point was around $400.

    He ended up with an Electra Townie 7D.

    When he gets a few bucks ahead, he’ll add fenders and a rack.

    I’m happy with my Surly Long Haul Trucker, but he wasn’t prepared to spend that much money. I’m wagering that he’ll be ready for an upgrade at some point (I put 5,200 miles on a Trek Navigator 300 comfort bike before I felt I had outgrown everything it could do), but this is a good entry point.

  • Mohjho says:

    I like “country bike”. I do most of my riding out in the country, I need a bike that is:
    Comfortable…nice seat, relaxed geometry, fairly light.
    Flexible..bags to carry extra clothes, food, and tools and have room for fenders.
    Safe..something that will not break 20 miles from the nearest house and has touring tires.
    Fun..should be reasonably fast in the city or long country roads, paved or not.
    I guess randonneer bike would fit this category, but most people don’t understand this French.

  • Stephen says:

    I’m surprised that no one seems to have made the point that such market differentiation is mostly done simply to sell more stuff. Think of the original Model T–Ford sold millions of them, and they were funky simple and simply black. Sure, you could buy all kinds of accessories (that market developed alongside the increase of T’s), but compare that to the auto market now, where there are 275 flavors in several dozen categories. Same thing with bicycles. A $7K completely articulated MTB made of a kaleidoscope of alloys? Check. A $10K knockoff of Lance’s unobtanium TdF winning steed? Right over here, sir. It’s functionality gone amuck, and the moniker “useful” is the logical response and very appropriate to the bike above. I have four bikes, and I’d be happy to chip that down to two–an old-school MTB appropriate to sand and rocky trails, and a gentleman’s road/club/country/city/whatever bicycle set up for riding almost anywhere else. And if I had to winnow my herd to one, it would be the latter, and I sure as hell wouldn’t look in a Trek catalog for it.

  • jeff says:

    “I’m happy with my Surly Long Haul Trucker”
    @ ksteinhoff
    I think the Long Haul Trucker is in a category all its own, the Darn Near Perfect Category!

  • Zen says:

    My local Trek store is a perfect example as to why the transition to terms like “utility” and “commuting” will be slow. Most people in the business are ex racers. Very few have any experience with commuting and many don’t commute themselves. My local Trek store is all ex-racers and they want to appeal to the local racing community. They have the new Trek urban bikes but they really want the racers because they can make more money. Think about it, how many of us are going to plop down $3000+ for a bike? How many racers will? My wife is in a local bike club and most of them have $3000 bikes and many have bikes that cost over $5000.

  • heather says:

    I’m hearing the term “city bike” more and more these days, although I think it falls in the same category as “commuter” for being a catch-all for bikes manufacturers don’t know how to otherwise classify. I ended up with my Surly LHT almost by accident because it was one of the only “touring” bikes I could find on the market last winter. And thank god I did.

  • ToddBS says:

    When I think of “urban” I typically see fixed-gear bikes with anodized rims and chains. Not my thing.

    And I guess I’d classify the Sam as a “country bike” as well, though I think technically Riv gave that moniker to the AHH.

  • DeltaTrike says:

    Sharper said it all! “It’s a well-used and well-loved bike — the best category of bicycle”

    I have 3 that fit that category: one tricked out trike – Greenspeed Anura with an Angletech Aero trunk, ZZipper Fairing, and a Recumbent Ragtop; one hybrid/mountain thang with urban modifications – Schwinn Mesa with a street treads, high rise bars, and a Basil rear rack basket; and one Electra Deluxe Classic cruiser with extra large Basil panniers at the rear and a Wald basket at front – all with cool noise makers and tons of blinky lights – they are certainly well loved – the problem is I can only ride one at a time!

  • Seth Vidal says:

    I think ‘allrounder’ should be a category unto itself.


    and I think the Sam could fit into that category.

  • Bryan says:

    In 1994, when Bridgestone was on the way out, Grant Peterson (now mastermind of Rivendell) ran into the same conundrum of reinventing the “hybrid” category into something more descriptive.

    In fact, he actually held a mail-in contest to see if anyone could come up with a better term. The prize (which was no joke) was any bike in the Bridgestone line-up.

    You can see it for yourself in the 1994 Bridgestone catalog:

    — Bryan

  • Jim Ball says:

    It’s called a “ROADSTER”! since the fifties. Also check out the Jamis line. they have a steel touring bike , “the Aurora” and a alloy Commuter with fenders that looks a lot like the old roadsters.

  • Brad Eschler says:

    I like the term “Roadster” as well for bikes like Alan’s AHH. “Urban” does seem to suggest the multi-colored anodized rim fixie, which seems to be more of a fashion accessory than a practical bike sometimes.

    I try to ride all winter in Michigan including a daily commute. Not always possible with the weather, but still necessary to slog through a lot of salt-soaked slop. I just bought a Gates-equipped Soho and will pick up the bike today. I am looking forward to a reliable mount in lousy weather. “Commuter” may apply to bikes like the Soho, which have features like hub gears, drum brakes, hub generators, fenders and racks that facilitate commuting.

  • Bob says:

    “Useful” and “Country” are my favorites among the suggestions, and I’d add to the various equipment and capabilities the following: room for 2-inch/50mm tires (and a front one studs in winter) with fenders, option for a low-ish trail fork for those who favor front loading, and chain stays at 44cm or longer.

    I *would* plunk down a premium price for such a if it were well-equipped. I imagine the marketing pitch would need to be blend of the current health/sustainability angle and whatever worked to sell Volvos and Subarus to the same market share.

    Are any manufacturers lurking? If you throw, say, the new 26-inch-wheeled LHT and the Rohloff-equipped Civia Hyland in a blender and market the result, I will buy the Useful Bike ™ as soon as it’s available. I promise. I like blue, gray, or a subtle green, thank you.

  • Sharper says:

    @Brad and Todd: “Urban” to me is my Specialized Hard Rock with rear rack, removable grocery panniers, cable and U-lock mounts, and the occasional milk crate lashed on the back. It handles potholes as well loaded as unloaded, nimbly dodges cars, accelerates easily to make long yellow lights, can be comfortably ridden for about as long as my local Critical Mass, and even made a great platform for a PVC-framed SUV costume at a Halloween ride a few years back.

    Contrast that with the mid-80s Raleigh Competition that’s recently taken over my commuting duties, which is nothing but trouble on city streets or on errand trips. That one can be more clearly defined, but any taxonomy is going to have difficulty with bikes that actually see frequent use.

    I think Jim’s got the right idea — I’ve had my happiest customers at the Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen when I’ve sold bikes under his “declassified” method.

  • Larey says:

    Here is a whole gaggle of bikes that defy categorization:


    from the Oregon Manifest’s Constructor’s Design Challenge.


    and one that caught my eye, I think that wider rear rack would be very handy.


  • Julian Smith says:

    We can only hope that bicycle manufacturers don’t follow the practice of car manufacturers, where they create an infinite number of classes so that every model can be “the best in its class”. As far as I am concerned, manufacturers (bicycle or otherwise) are hurting themselves when they create confusion

  • Ralph says:

    Nice looking ride! Because of the way it is equipped – from my perspective, would classify the Rivendell Sam Hillborne as commuter/light tourer.

    We all ride for various reasons but have one major passion in common – the bicycle.
    A lot of bicycles (rather old or new) can be transformed into your type ride.

    Classifications are probably difficult for the manufacturers. Urban, commuting, transportation, leisure, etc. For example, Racing and mountain are easily understood.

    However, someone new (or, getting back in) to cycling could be confused if they were looking for a bicycle for commuting as well as touring. That’s were they would have to depend on a bicycle dealer, friends and reading to guide them.

    So, whatever your perspective – enjoy the day and your ride!

  • doug says:

    In my mind, the “Light Touring Bike” becomes the “Camping Bike,” because I use it to ride a few dozen miles out and go camping. My Jamis Aurora is, frustratingly, a Camping Bike and not a Touring Bike.

    All bikes are merely “Useful” or “not Useful.” Not Useful bikes are pretty awesome too, you just need a Useful or two to cover all your bases. Camping and Touring bikes are, of course, very Useful.

    One personal quirk of mine is that I hesitate to call the big cargo bikes (Big Dummy, Bakfiets, etc.) “Very Useful” for a few reasons. Mainly, they really only fit into one kind of lifestyle, the well-off single family house dweller. They are too expensive and giant for someone who lives in an apartment at the top of a narrow staircase (someone like me, for instance). Much more Useful is a bike with plenty of rack space and a modular cargo unit, otherwise known as a Trailer.

    The big cargos are the carbon racing bikes of the Useful bike world: Expensive and single-mindedly specialized to their task. I still want one.

  • Carl says:

    The near disappearance of touring bicycles from manufaturers’ line-ups is very disappointing. Fuji still makes the “Touring” model, but you have to be willing to dig in their website to find it. Also, Fuji dealers rarely stock it. Having bought one last year, I can vouch that it’s worth the wait as a special order. It’s an excellent value.

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