Practical Advice for Transportation Cycling

Sometimes, all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible. You don't need a fast bike, you don't need a pretty bike, and most of all you don't need an expensive bike, you just need one that works.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Choosing a Bike: Sport Comfort and Hybrid

A basic hybrid bike from Jamis
In the early days of bicycling the choice of riding surfaces pretty much ranged from "dirt roads" to "dirt roads" with the occasional exotic choices like "cobblestone."  While there were different styles of bikes, they were pretty much designed with the same kinds of conditions in mind.

By the late 20th Century, bicycle evolution had diverged into different, specialized, species. Some bikes were meant only for riding on the road, some bikes were meant for only riding off the road. Then someone had the idea of taking some of the speedy features of Road Bikes and some of the ruggedness of Mountain Bikes and creating an in-between bike that was... well, a lot like the bikes people have been riding for transportation all over the world for around a hundred years. 

Hybrid bikes usually have
  •  Wheels the same diameter as a Road Bike but with a fatter, lower-pressure tire or wheels the same diameter as a Mountain Bike but with a smoother tread design. 
  • A relatively upright riding position
  • Straight or slightly swept-back handlebars,
  •  Cushy seats, often with a shock-absorbing seatpost. 
  •  lower gearing than a racing-oriented bike. 
The variant with the Mountain Bike-sized wheels are sometimes referred to as "Comfort" or "Sport Comfort" bikes. There are other variations, including
  •  Trekking Bikes - that are set up for cycle-touring and long day trips
  • "Flat-Bar Road" or "Fitness" Bikes - faster riding, with a lighter weight and a more aggressive riding position
  • Dual-Sport Bikes - that are made for moderately serious off-road riding but still roll faster than a Mountain Bike on pavement
Whatever configuration a Hybrid comes in, they have a lot to offer as utilitarian transport. First of all, they are often very affordable, starting in the same $3-400 price range as basic mountain bikes. They also use the same shifters and brake systems as Mountain Bikes, making parts and repairs easy to manage. They usually have a full-complement of attachment points for racks, fenders and water bottles, making it easy to modify them with whatever accessories you need. 

The main disadvantage of a Hybrid Bike is the same as their main advantage: in making a bike that handles well in the widest range of conditions possible, manufacturers often make bikes that don't really excel at anything. They're clunky and slow compared to a real Road Bike, but not as tough or agile as a Mountain Bike. Some cyclists also find that the seating position on a typical Hybrid is too upright, making them work harder to maintain speed and putting too much weight straight down on the base of the spine.

 Also, weight is not the first priority in Hybrid design (it's not the second, or probably even the fifth, it's somewhere down below "nice color scheme"), so, while not as bad as a stereotypical Dutch city bike, they can still be a lot to carry up and down a couple flights of stairs. 

In spite of these drawbacks, Hybrids are worth looking into if you need an affordable, no-frills way to get from Point A to Point B. They're best for moderate distance commutes (under 15 miles) and can be modified to be comfortable for all-day riding. They're usually quite capable of accepting racks, bags and baskets to haul cargo, pets or kids. 

Some entry-level Hybrid bikes:

Basic Hybrid: Jamis Citizen 

Flat-Bar/Fitness: Specialized Sirrus

Sport-Comfort: Raleigh Venture 

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