If you’ve gone shopping for a bicycle recently, you must have noticed that the process isn’t as simple as it used to be. You’ve got a lot of choices, one of which is a hybrid bike.
What does the word hybrid mean when it refers to a bike? And you might be wondering, how fast can hybrid bikes go?
The short answer is that hybrid bikes are not quite as fast as road bikes, much faster than mountain bikes, and usually on par with touring bikes. Hybrid bikes are slower than standard road bikes due to a larger tire size, more upright rider position and different gear ratios. That said, hybrid bikes excel at what they are intended for – a blend of comfort, stability and efficiency.
Keep reading for the complete scoop on hybrid bikes and their speed, features, and what you can do to make them faster.
What is a Hybrid Bike?
A hybrid bike is a cross between a road bike, a touring bike, and a mountain bike. There are some big differences between these types of bikes because they’re designed for vastly different terrain. As a result, they have features that are designed to assist the rider in navigating their chosen path. Each type of bicycle will excel at either speed, sturdiness, comfort, or a blend of all three.
For obvious reasons, mountain bikes are built to be sturdier and more rugged than road bikes. People who ride bikes on rough trails want a certain amount of speed, but they mostly want control, and a bike that can stand up to the abuse that comes with riding off road.
By contrast, road bikes are traditionally built for speed. When you think of races like the Tour de France, you picture bikes speeding along, unencumbered by weight. They still need to be sturdy but they’re much lighter, sleeker, and faster than mountain bikes.
Touring bikes aren’t quite as light as road bikes and tend to be more comfortable and sturdy. They also allow riders to attach bags (panniers) to the frame. They’re designed for long days in the saddle and trips that may include overnight camping.
Hybrid bikes combine the ruggedness of mountain bikes with the comfort of touring bikes and the speed of road bikes. They accomplish this by combining the best features of all three bikes.
What Features Do Hybrid Bikes Have?
When you’re shopping for a hybrid bike, you’ll have a lot of options. You should choose a hybrid that encompasses the features that are most important to you. If you’ll be using your hybrid bike to get around town or commute to and from work or school, you may want to focus on how fast your hybrid bike can go. Even if you’re just riding for fitness, being able to cover more ground can really ramp up the fun factor.
Let’s look at some of the key features you can find in hybrid bikes and how they may affect the bike’s speed.
Most hybrid bikes have flat handlebars like mountain bikes, whereas road bikes tend to have a drop bar. You may be able to find a hybrid with a drop bar if you prefer. Mountain bikes have flat handlebars because the shape allows the rider to remain in a more comfortable, upright position than a drop bar does.
If you’re concerned about how fast hybrid bikes can go, the handlebars should be a consideration. Flat handlebars are better for maneuverability, but you’ll get a lower position and more outright speed with a drop bar. A drop bar puts you in a more aerodynamic position that can help you travel more quickly than you would with flat handlebars.
When you’re shopping for a hybrid bike, you’ll have two basic choices when it comes to brakes: rim brakes and disc brakes. Each type has advantages and disadvantages that may affect your choice.
Let’s start with rim brakes. Rim brakes consist of brake pads that sit inside the rims of the hybrid bike’s tires and grip them when the brake is applied. The primary benefit of rim brakes is that it’s easy to see wear and tear on the pads, so you can tell when they need to be replaced. They’re less expensive than disc brakes and they’re also easy to replace.
The primary disadvantage of rim brakes is that they’ll eventually wear out the rims of your tires, which will need to be replaced. They’re also not as powerful (they require more finger pressure than disc brakes) and not as effective in wet weather or mud.
Disc brakes come in two types, mechanical and hydraulic. The brake pads on disc brakes grip a dedicated brake rotor on the wheel hub. They’re easy to use and highly effective, even in less-than-ideal weather conditions.
The biggest downside of disc brakes is that it’s difficult to spot wear and tear on the pads. The pads aren’t as easy to change as the ones on rim brakes. Finally, hydraulic disc brakes can be quite expensive to maintain, especially when compared to rim brakes.
Your choice of brakes will depend on where you’ll be using your bike most of the time. If you’ll be mostly on the road, then rim brakes may be the best choice.
The tires on a hybrid bike can make a big difference in its speed. Most hybrids have the same wheel size as traditional, drop-handlebar road bikes: 700C. That means that the tire is 700 millimeters (28 inches) in diameter, but most modern tires are actually a little smaller than that.
Mountain bikes typically have 26 – 29 inch tires with a wider tread. They’re tougher than the wheels on most road bikes. Some hybrid bikes use 26-inch tires, but they’re a bit lighter and smoother than the treads on a specialized mountain bike.
You should also look at the treads on the tires. Smoother tires are generally best for riding on the road, while wide tires with a bigger tread are better for rough terrain. You might also want to consider puncture-resistant or tubeless tires if you plan to be riding in areas with a lot of debris.
Bicycle gears come in two types: derailleur and fully-enclosed hub gears. Most hybrid bikes come with derailleur gears, which are lighter than hub gears but also more vulnerable to damage.
One of the benefits of derailleur gears is that they offer more speeds (wider gear ratio) than hub gears. Many have at least 10 gears, while some have as many as 13 to allow for maximum speed on downhill stretches while still providing the power to climb uphill.
By contrast, hub gear hybrids usually have only seven or eight gears. The upside of hub gears is that they’re enclosed and require very little maintenance or adjustment.
Regardless of the type of gears on your hybrid bike, you can expect the shifters to be conveniently located on the handlebar next to the brake levers. That makes them easy to use and maximizes control of the bike when switching gears.
If you’re wondering how fast a hybrid bike can go, one major consideration is the type of frame it has. When speed is your primary consideration, it’s important to choose a bike with a lightweight frame.
Many hybrid bikes are made of aluminum, which combines strength and a low weight. However, some hybrids have steel frames, which are heavier and best suited for use in the city. If money isn’t an issue you may want to consider a high-end, ultralight bike with a carbon fiber frame. Although super-light carbon frame bikes can be less practical for many riders.
In addition to the features we’ve already covered, there are some additional features that you may want to keep in mind. Some may contribute or detract from the speed of your hybrid bike.
- Fenders or mudguards are a good investment if you’re going to be commuting to work on your hybrid bike or riding in wet or muddy conditions. They’ll help keep your clothes clean, although it’s important to keep in mind that they’ll add a small amount of weight to your bike too.
- Cargo racks are a must if you’re going to be touring on your bike, and they can be useful for a commuting bike, or a quick trip to the market.
- Lights are legally required in most places if you’ll be riding at night – and even if you’ll be off-roading after dark, it’s a good idea to have them. They’ll help you avoid obstacles in your path and allow you to be seen by other pedestrians and motorists.
What Features Affect the Speed of a Hybrid Bike?
You might be wondering whether a road bike would be substantially faster than a hybrid bike. It’s a good question to ask, but also one that’s difficult to answer. The short response is: it depends.
Not helpful, right? But let’s elaborate on that. Many of the features that we have described so far can have a direct impact on the speed of your bike. Let’s talk about what they are and how they can impact your speed.
The first thing to think about is the overall weight of your bike. As a rule, a lightweight aluminum or carbon fiber hybrid bike will be speedier than one made of steel. Carbon fiber bikes are the lightest and most expensive hybrid bikes available. Aluminum hybrid bikes are the best combination of weight, durability and value.
Next, consider the size and width of the tires. Road bikes tend to have thinner tires that are designed to glide over paved surfaces with maximum speed. Mountain bikes have wider tires with deeper treads to allow them to handle rugged terrain.
The weight of your tires makes a difference, too. The heavier your tires are, the more weight you’re carrying and turning with your effort. Choosing the lightest tires that work for the terrain you’ll be traveling will help you achieve the speed you want.
The weight of any items that you’re carrying on the bike also has an impact on your speed. If it’s just yourself, you’ll travel more quickly than you would with loaded panniers on the bike. If speed is your main concern, travel as lightly as possible to increase your velocity.
Resistance and the Speed of Your Hybrid Bike
Another thing that can impact the speed of your hybrid bike is resistance. There are several types of resistance you’ll need to consider. They are:
- Air resistance is the resistance of the air being pushed out of the way as you move forward.
- Rolling resistance is resistance due to lost energy as your tires deform as you ride.
- Gravity resistance is due to the weight of your bike combined with your weight and the weight of anything else you might be carrying in panniers or bags.
- Mechanical resistance is the friction that occurs as parts of the bike rub together.
Let’s talk about what you can to do to mitigate each kind of resistance. First, you can mitigate air resistance by making yourself and your bike as aerodynamic as possible. That may mean buying a bike with a drop bar or otherwise lowering your body position. It can also mean wearing sleek biking clothes and a helmet. You may also face air resistance from wind, and the only thing to be done about that is to ride with the wind instead of against it when possible.
Rolling resistance can be lessened by choosing narrower, smoother tires and managing the tire pressure. The firmer your tires are, the less their shape will change as you ride. Bigger, softer tires will be more affected by your weight and that can slow you down.
Gravity resistance might be the easiest resistance to alleviate because you can buy a lighter bike and carry as little as possible with you. That way, your bike won’t be weighed down with unnecessary pounds and you’ll be able to move more quickly as a result.
Finally, mechanical resistance is something you can minimize with proper maintenance of your hybrid bike. For example, ensuring that your chain is clean and properly greased will minimize mechanical friction and keep the bike parts from slowing you down.
Doing what you can to minimize all four kinds of resistance can help you get the highest possible speed out of your hybrid bike.
The Bottom Line: How Fast Are Hybrid Bikes?
Now that you understand what a hybrid bike is, what features are available, and the effect those features have on a bike’s speed, you’re ready to choose the hybrid bike that’s best suited to your needs. The key to attaining maximum speed with a hybrid bike is choosing the right bike with the right features. If you do that, you’ll have all the speed you need.