Hybrid bikes are great for short casual rides (perhaps 10-20 miles) however they're not the best choice when you're going longer distances. That's when a road bike would be better. The most important difference between hybrids and road bikes is your riding position - how you're seated on the bike and how you generate power when pedaling.
So what exactly is the difference between the riding
positions on a hybrid bike vs. a road bike, and why does it matter? This can best be explained by performing a simulation
which you can do at home.
To simulate the riding position on a hybrid bike, have a
seat at your dining room table. Keep
your back straight, put your arms out straight ahead, make a fist with both
hands and rest your arms on the table.
Now press down against the floor with each foot; alternating left and
right. Here’s what you should
notice. Your legs are doing all of the
work; you’re not able to generate a lot of pressure against the floor; and all
of your body weight is on your bottom.
On a hybrid bike the majority of your body weight is concentrated on the seat and your hands are mostly steering. Your legs are pedaling however they’re not receiving any assistance from the rest of your upper body.
Now let’s perform a simulation that more closely resembles road bike riding position. What you’ll
do is get into a runner’s stance - just as if you’re about to run a 100 yard
dash. Get down on the floor and put two
hands on the ground, one knee up to your chest, and the other leg extended
behind you. Now press your extended leg
against the floor, and alternate leg positions between extended and knee to the
chest, left/right. You should notice how
your entire upper-body is providing force all the way down to your foot and you’re
able to press much harder than in the seated hybrid position at the table.
On any bike there are three "contact points” between you and
the bike –
- Your feet on the pedals
- Your hands on the handlebars
- Your bottom on the seat
On a properly fitted road bike your body weight should be
evenly distributed between the three contact points – feet, hands and
bottom. Therefore excess pressure is relieved from any one of the three contact points, as you'll experience with the seat on a hybrid. There are lots of other benefits to this
riding position. Leaning forward puts
you in more of a "runner’s stance” and you’ll be able to generate more pressure
on the pedals from your entire body. As you’re riding, you can shift your body
weight from seat (leaning back), to handlebars (leaning forward) to pedals (standing) if you become sore or
Another important point to consider is the handlebar
position on hybrids vs. road bikes. Most
inexperienced cyclists seem to think that the handlebar position on a hybrid
bike is more natural and relaxed as compared to the "rams horn” design of road
bikes. Actually, it’s just the
opposite. Your hands and arms will
become fatigued much sooner on a hybrid.
Stand up straight with your arms at your side and relax all
muscles. Your thumbs should be facing forward
and your palms will be against your body.
Now raise your arms 90 degrees, as if you’re holding ski poles. You’ll notice that your thumbs are on top and
your pinkie is closest to the floor. This
is your body’s natural position when your arms are extended out in front of
you. Next, turn your wrists 90 degrees,
so that they’re in the position of hybrid handlebars (thumbs facing each
other). When you just turned your thumbs
together to mimic the position of hybrid handlebars you should notice
something. The ski pole position was
much more relaxed and natural, and the hybrid position requires extra effort to
simulate. Try holding each position for
10 minutes and you’ll begin to feel strain on your wrists from the hybrid
position. There’s no strain when holding
the ski pole position of a road bike.
There’s another bonus to the road bike rams horn handlebar
design. There are three different
positions which you can hold the handlebars.
Most often you’ll see riders holding the top of the brake hoods and
their hands will be in the ski pole position demonstrated above. This is the most relaxed and natural position
for your hands. You can also hold the
handlebars horizontally, the same as a hybrid bike, to vary your riding
position. The third option is to lean
forward and grab the handlebars on the curved portion (the drop) to generate
additional power from a lower riding position.
There’s one more thing to consider when evaluating the
riding position on a road bike. Manufacturers
make bike frames with different geometry, which will ultimately determine your
riding position. An aggressive or racing
frame will require that you stretch farther forward. The more forward that you’re leaning, the
more power you can generate. This is
great for an experienced cyclist looking to go as fast as possible. For recreational cyclists (most of us) you’ll
probably want to consider an "endurance" frame that puts you in more of a relaxed or upright
riding position. Endurance frames are generally the better
choice for most cyclists, as they're sort of a "compromise" between hybrids and racing road bikes.
When you compare the photo of the hybrid bike above, to the road bike below, you'll notice something else. The handlebars on the hybrid are several inches higher than the seat; whereas on the road bike, the handlebars and seat are very close to the same height from the ground. The relationship of your seat height to handlebar height is what will determine whether you're riding an aggressive (racing) or relaxed (endurance) frame. Seat height above handlebars = aggressive; seat height below handlebars = relaxed.
want to head to your local bike shop to test different frame setups, to see what
works best for you and your style of riding.