In the olden days, there were two types of bikes; mountain bikes and road bikes. It was a simpler time. A road bike was a bike with dropped handlebars and skinny tyres that were pumped up hard and a mountain bike was a bike with a flat bar and wide tyres also pumped up hard.
Nowadays, however, cyclists have a lot more choices in the type of bike that they can buy. A question that I get asked a lot is should I buy a road bike or should I buy a hybrid bike? So, in this article, I’m going to show you all the differences between both a road bike and a hybrid bike and help demonstrate which is right for you.
Beyond stating the obvious that a hybrid bike has a flat bar and a road bike has a drop bar. There are some geometry differences between the two types of bikes that will have a noticeable impact on your ride.
In general, a hybrid bike will have a higher stack and a shorter reach. Stack is a vertical measurement from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube and this is often an indication of how upright a bike will feel when riding. Meanwhile reach is the same measurement but horizontal so from the head tube to inline was where the bottom bracket would be on a vertical axis. This is often an indication of how dragged out you would feel on a bike.
The taller the stack the more upright your riding position will be which can take the strain off your back, shoulders and neck. A shorter reach means you won’t be pulled forward as much and the flat handlebar allows you to ride more comfortably.
On a hybrid bike, this upright position will mean the rider will have a great line of sight when riding in traffic. A road bike meanwhile is likely to have a lower stack and a longer reach which is an altogether more aggressive position to be riding in.
Now this manifests itself in a couple of different ways. A road bike is built into its frame so the top tube will be longer and the head tube smaller. But it’s also in the bike’s handlebars and you can see that the hoods mean you have a different position to ride on compared to a flat bar and they can leave you feeling much more dragged out over the top of the bike.
Control and Agility
Now, these differences in geometry and the two different handlebar types do have a tangible effect on the ride quality of the bikes. A road bike is going to be faster. It pulls you into a longer and lower position which is more aerodynamic. Meanwhile, the lower stack makes it more aggressive when descending which means it holds its line better and you can go around corners more comfortably and more quickly.
Speed and Distance
Whilst a road bike is all about speed and agility and riding quickly, a hybrid bike is much more about feeling stable and in control particularly when riding at slightly slower speeds. There are a couple of things on a flat bar bike that will make it feel more stable. The first is that flat bar, which makes you feel more in control of the ride it’s less twitchy than a drop bar would be. The second is the bike’s wider tyres which offer a much bigger platform between you and the road allowing you to feel more stable.
If you want to bring a performance aspect to your cycling, a road bike might be a better option. That’s not to say that you can’t get fit on a hybrid bike but a road bike is going to let you cover much more distance much more quickly. This is because of their greater rolling speed and the fact that they are that bit more aerodynamic.
Another reason why road bikes are more efficient and much faster than hybrid bikes is because of their lower weights. This makes it much easier to pedal uphill as well. A road bike’s lower weight is usually because of its frame. Road bikes will use materials such as sophisticated aluminium all the way through to high-end carbon fibre which can save a lot of weight from the bike. Meanwhile, hybrid bikes are always going to be made from aluminium or steel which does weigh much more.
A hybrid bike might also weigh more because it has a greater number of gears or a less sophisticated group set than a road bike. It also has wider tyres which will add weight compared to the skinnier tyres a road bike. The two bikes will also have very different types of wheels and a hybrid bike is much more likely to have a heavier set than its counterpart for the road.
Knowing what you actually want to do on the bike will make it much easier to choose between these two different types. For example, if you want to take in light off-road sections then going for a hybrid bike that can typically accommodate wider tires would be a better choice.
Another key difference between hybrid bikes and road bikes is their ability to carry luggage. Hybrid bikes come with a variety of mounts letting you fit your racks to carry your luggage and mudguards to keep you dry. However, the more expensive a road bike gets the less likely it is to come with these points to attach things to it.
However, if you want to do all of the things that both of these bikes offer so ride off-road but also ride on the road but also cycle to work in a way that can accommodate racks and mounts, then you might want to consider getting a gravel bike. Gravel bikes have the dropped handlebars that road bikes have but they often have more comfortable geometry and they’re able to accommodate wider tyres like a hybrid bike. They also have plenty of mounts and rack holdings to put on them if you want to cycle to work. However, their entry-level price point does tend to be more expensive than both road bikes and hybrid bikes.
So there you go. That’s some of the key differences between a road bike and a hybrid bike and the effect that those differences have on the ride quality of the two different machines.