road bikes vs hybrid

Road Bikes vs Hybrid

by Joseph Wells - Last Updated: May 30, 2020

There are many debates within the cycling industry. There are discussions about best riders, components, or even chamois cream.  When considering road bikes vs hybrid, it has been debated on what is the best, ever since the hybrid was introduced.

Let’s cut to the chase, ultimately the difference between the two bike types is your body position.  Body position is important for a number of reasons such as comfort, aerodynamics, and control.  So this brings a question to yourself what type of riding do you see yourself doing? While the two bike types are fairly interchangeable, there are realities involved. On a bike like the Savadeck Phantom, aerodynamics and body position are critical to achieve greater speeds.

Key Differences

Handlebars

The funny thing is that hybrids came about from converting aggressive road bikes to a flat bar with different brakes and shifters.  Many riders had road bikes in their garages that weren’t as comfortable as they grew older.  Instead of giving the bike away, many owners opted to convert their bikes, and breathe new life into an old friend.

I have seen riders competing in Ironman distance triathlons on a hybrid. While riding over 100 miles on a flat bar style bike is not my thing, it is possible.  Vice versa, short rides can be comfortable on a drop-bar road bike as well.  So as you may have guessed, the main visual characteristic between the two styles is a flat handlebar versus a drop bar as seen on this Raleigh Hybrid.

Both handlebar styles have been around for over 100 years in various forms.  Both have a logic to them, the flat bar is obvious, the drop bar seems obvious.  The drop-bar used to be called a 9 position bar and was designed so that the rider had many hand positions for control, and to alleviate pressure on long rides.

Main Components

Beyond handlebars, there are many key differences between road bikes vs hybrid.  One of them is geometry. Geometry refers to the measurements, angles, and overall design of a given bike frame.  Essentially, a hybrid is a more relaxed upright position from a road bike.

The drivetrain of a hybrid has far easier gearing than a road bike.  A road bike is optimized for gobbling up the miles quickly.  The hybrid is the next best thing for a rider that is on mostly improved paths and roads, but large distances are not their goal.

Many hybrids will have a suspension fork with limited travel.  Road bikes largely do not have suspension. Largely, road bikes are ridden on pavement, and the weight of a suspension fork is too great to add to a lightweight sub-20-pound bike. Some hybrids will also have a suspension seat post to help cushion the rider a bit. A great example of suspension on a hybrid is this Schwinn Discover.

Aerodynamics is one big key.  Hybrids are a slower bike, because they place the rider in a very upright position, turning them into a wind block.  Road bikes feature frames and bar setups to lower the shoulders of the rider, helping them cheat the wind.

Brakes and controls are a bit different.  Hybrids borrow their brakes and shifters from mountain bikes since they are compatible with a flat type handlebar.  Road components are hard-pressed to work appropriately on a flat bar.  The brake calipers differ as well.  Hybrids use a V-brake, or a disc brake as they normally employ a wider tire which is hard to build a road bike type rim brake to clear and have good braking power.

Key Similarities

Largely, hybrids use frames that are essentially road bike oriented.  The size and proportions differ little.  After all, hybrids started as adapted road bikes. Normally, you will see 5 or more frame sizes available in a good quality road bike.  Hybrids will do the same and perhaps add smaller or larger sizes.

Most hybrids use the 700c rim size.  They will use a wider tire on a similar road bike rim though.  Normally hybrid tires are 10-20mm wider than a traditional road bike tire.  Road bike tires are ridden at a higher pressure and are narrower for many reasons.  Narrow helps with aerodynamics and rolling resistance.  Studies are now showing a slightly wider tire can be faster, but not a gigantic tire. Since hybrids might be ridden on hard-packed dirt roads, a wider tire makes sense for them as shown on this Giordano Hybrid.

Biomechanics of the rider on the bike are fairly similar.  The position of the hips and saddle height should be nearly the same.  After all, a hybrid is a relaxed road bike, made to ride more miles than an MTB, but less than a road bike.

Frame Geometries

The key difference between the road bikes vs hybrid is that a hybrid geometry is normally set up to accommodate a suspension fork.  Road bike frames are designed for performance and preciseness.  With that, your fit on a road bike is drilled down to less than 10mm, where a hybrid is a bit freer with the overall fit and dimensions.

For long-distance riding, it is difficult to change the seat tube angle too much.  The longer the distance you ride, the more the seat tube angle will approach 73-74 degrees.  That is because on average, the human femur bone has a proportion that when on a bike allows the knee to be directly over the pedal at a 3 o’clock position.  Any further laid back puts increased ligament pressure on the knee, further forward reduces the power the legs can put into the drivetrain.

This Tommaso Imola has a traditional frame geometry:

Hybrid

The hybrid head tube angle will be more laid back and slower reacting.  Mainly because a suspension fork is variable in the length, so the frame has to accommodate that length.  The head tube will also be 20-50mm longer than a road bike, which raises the rider’s shoulders up.

The wheelbase is fairly similar, with a hybrid being slightly longer.  That is normally because the larger tires need a bit more frame clearance, so the frame is stretched slightly to make that happen.  The suspension fork also lengthens the wheelbase slightly as well.

As you can see, the geometry of a hybrid is slower and a bit more comfortable for shorter rides at speed.  But as we want to cover more distance, we have to adapt, so both the speed and comfort over time is improved.  On a road bike, the rider position is designed to absorb shocks. If you find yourself with locked out elbows on a road bike, the fit is off.

What to Look for

If we are comparing aluminum-framed road bikes vs hybrid, there are a few key features you are going to focus on, but they all have a common theme which is quality.  Drivetrain, brakes, and wheels.  The first two deal with the actual functionality of the bike.  The wheels are a performance factor.

Let’s talk wheels first.  While the drivetrain does rotate, your main energy is used in making the wheels rotate and accelerating your mass to a given speed.  When the wheels are lighter in weight, it is far easier to accelerate them. Beyond weight, good wheels that stay round and true improve ride quality significantly.

Stopping power and articulation equal control of the bike.  So working with excellent brakes creates that safe feeling that you are in control.  Cheap brakes feel excessively mushy, and hard to control the force applied. When it comes to disc brakes, hydraulic is the way to go.  V-Brakes are a reasonable 2nd place, as is a race or similar quality caliper rim brake.

The drivetrain requires special attention and maintenance.  If you are seeing an all-black, unplated chain, there might be a corner being cut.  Generally, with better quality bikes you can look at the drivetrain parts and see the quality immediately.  Plated chains normally have a nickel type look to them.  Better quality rear gears will be chrome or similar plated for better wear.  If it is black steel, it is either painted to hide or just low quality.  Look at the teeth cut, and if there are pins in the chainrings to help with shifting.  Both on the front and the rear there are different tooth profiles to help make secure and quick shifts.

Derailleurs

The derailleurs are important, with the rear more than the front.  Far more shifts are performed with the rear.  Low-quality derailleurs are imprecise because the pivots are loose and sloppy.  You will see these on cheaper bikes with 7 gears.  As you gain gears, the spacing is less and the shifting has to be far more precise.

Conclusion

When you are shopping for an appropriate bike, one of the first steps is to realize how you intend to use the bike. When comparing road bikes vs hybrid, that later are quite popular due to the flexibility of use.  Most bikes are used close to home, so the upright nature of a hybrid makes sense for those short distances in comfort.

However, if your goal is to cover some miles, and do so with higher average speeds, road bikes are the way to go.  In general, they are the fastest design of bikes available. Biomechanically they place the rider in a powerful aerodynamic position.  A great example of an aerodynamic road bike is the Savadeck Phantom. The Knight wheels are race-worthy and quite aero. The drivetrain is excellent and won’t let you down.

Raleigh has been making hybrids since its inception.  Take the Raleigh Route, it is an excellent example of what to expect on a reasonably priced quality bike.  With front suspension, a good drivetrain and brakes, and a comfortable fit, it is easy to see why hybrids are quite popular.

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