By Fit Werx, Rider First Bike Fitting. Rider Matched Bikes.
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We often hear from people who are struggling to figure out what type of bike makes the most sense for them. While a bike fitting with a qualified fitter/product consultant is the best way to truly determine what type of bike makes the most sense for you, an overview of the five most common types of bikes that a rider would want to consider for a charity/event ride is below to help you better understand the range of options.
Hybrid/Fitness – The majority of hybrid/fitness bikes are basically light-duty mountain bikes set-up to work as well as possible on the road. Most hybrid bikes offer a tire width and gearing that is in-between a mountain bike and a road bike – which provides adequate range for moderate speed rides. While a hybrid/fitness bike can be set-up in a more performance oriented position, hybrid bikes in general are designed to be ridden in a more up-right position than the average road bike. Hybrids may not be the fastest way to complete a long-ride, but with their wider tires and relaxed position they can make a confident platform for a newer rider; someone who has concerns with low speed stability; or someone getting used to the braking and shifting systems found on a drop handlebar equipped road bike.
Narrow Tire Road Bike – While there are many sub-categories of road bikes (including “Gravel Grinders” and even “flat bar”), narrow tire bikes with drop handlebars are what most people think of when they hear the term “road bike”. Light and responsive, road bikes are designed to make travel on paved roads as efficient and inspiring as possible. While many people envision a “road bike” as an aggressively positioned and stiff “race bike”, like those raced in the Tour de France, road bikes are actually available in a wide array of frame geometry options and handling characteristics to suit everyone from the experienced racer to the recreational novice rider. Most dedicated road bike will be based on a riding position designed to allow you to take advantage of a wider array of major pedaling muscle groups than a hybrid/fitness bike. The drop bars and integrated shift systems found on a road bike are well suited to all types of terrain and group ride situations, including being the best type of bike to use in pacelines and offering the best advantage for climbing. A well fit, selected and set-up road bike can be comfortable, fast, stable and the most efficient bike in a group ride.
Gravel Capable Endurance Road Bikes (a.k.a. “Gravel Grinders”) – A relatively new category of road bicycles, “Gravel Grinders” are really just a road bike fit and geometry with the added versatility of being able to accommodate significantly wider tires than the 25-28mm maximum of most narrow tire road bikes. The concept of a “Gravel Grinder” was born when the bicycle industry realized that the majority of wider tire cyclocross bikes that were being purchased were not actually being raced in cyclocross; many people buying cross bikes were just looking for a bike that rode well on dirt and paved roads. So, what makes a “Gravel Grinder” different than a cyclocross bike? Cyclocross bikes are designed for cyclocross racing, an off-road race which requires a quick handling bike with tall ground clearance for clearing barriers, while a “Gravel Grinder” uses an endurance road specific geometry that is designed around consistent handling and stability on dirt and paved roads.
Most “Gravel Grinder” bikes use disc brakes, which can open up tire width options, while also providing the strongest braking option on the market. Reinforced wheels and disc brakes can make a “Gravel Grinder” heavier than a standard caliper brake equipped traditional road bike. However, “Gravel Grinder” bikes have the ability to use lightweight wheels and tires, just like a narrow tire road bike, and thus offer great versatility for many riders with very few drawbacks for all but the most competitive of pavement riders.
Cyclocross Bike – Like the “Gravel Grinders” that they were inspired by, cyclocross bikes are versatile platforms that can take a wide range of tire widths and styles (ranging from narrow slicks to wider off-road capable knobby tires. While a “Gravel Grinder” bike with a stable endurance road riding geometry will suit the majority of riders who will be riding on dirt and paved roads (not using their bike for cyclocross racing) best, there are a wide array of cross bikes available that can do a nice job of offering a single bike that can be raced in cross and still serve as a road capable bike. Starting in the $1000 range, cyclocross bikes sometime offer a broader range of price points than “Gravel Grinders”.
Triathlon Bike – Triathlon bikes are designed to maximize speed and efficiency in solo races against the clock and thus they can make very effective bikes for most any distance bike event – race or not. This being said, aerobars are what defines a triathlon specific bike and aerobars and tightly knit group rides (pacelines) are not usually a good combination. If you are going to be in a small and open group, a triathlon bike can be a very brisk tool for your ride, but if you want to participate in pacelines look at a standard road bike.
As mentioned, when properly set-up, triathlon bikes are designed to maximize the rider’s comfort and speed when riding in aerobars. For this reason, the riding position is more forward and lower than most road bikes. By coming forward, the rider’s hip angle is kept more open to allow for efficient pedaling as the rider’s torso is lowered into the aerobars. This lower position can cut through the wind quite effectively when well set-up, but tri bikes have more weight on the front of the bike and thus handle best at moderate to higher speeds and can feel more nervous than a road bike or hybrid at lower speeds. Tri bikes are also not as adept at climbing as the muscle recruitment patterns and overall position are designed more around aerodynamics than maximizing sustainable power. This is not to say that you can’t climb a hill on a tri bike, just that hill climbing is not the focus of a tri bike. Otherwise, the gearing, tires and wheels found on a tri bike share many similarities with a standard drop bar road bike.
Regardless of the type of bike that sounds most like you, the key to selecting the right bike is to make sure that you work with a shop that makes recommendations based on how well a bike fits you and serves your needs and not just what they may have in-stock at a moment. Working with someone who takes a “Rider First” approach, where your riding position is built to accommodate your body independent of any particular bike, before selecting your bike is the most reliable way to make sure you get the right type of bike and the right type of riding position for your needs. There are a lot of well-made bikes on the market, but there can be great variability in how each brand and model fits.
Note: Qualified charity riders participating in one are eligible for $25 off bike fittings at any Fit Werx location (Lexington and Peabody, MA, NYC/Ridgefield Park, NJ or Waitsfield, VT), just mention this article. All bike, equipment and service purchases at Fit Werx qualify for the Fit Werx Gives Back program which will donate up to $100 a year in your name to your ride.
Fit Werx is a bike shop and bike fitting studio started in 2001 with locations in Waitsfield, VT, Peabody & Lexington , MA and Ridgefield Park, NJ (near NYC ). Fit Werx is changing the way people buy bikes through their Rider First Bike Fittings and Rider Matched Bike Sales approach. Fit Werx offers production and custom bikes, cycling products, service and bicycle fitting services for new and existing bikes. We invite you to reach out and ask questions and to make sure that you have a bike fit in advance of buying a new bike. Using the information from a Fit Werx fitting will guarantee that you select a bike that fits your individual needs as well as possible.