Buying a Comfort or Hybrid Bike
Hybrid or Comfort bikes are popular for many reasons. They are a comfortable, approachable, eco-friendly means of getting out with family and friends, running errands, exercising or commuting to work. They don’t pretend to be ultra-fast racers and they aren’t overbuilt tanks for the off-road trails. They are the middle—an excellent combination of comfort, efficiency and fun.
Hybrids and Comfort bikes, though technically different, cater to essentially the same market and may be called any number of different names. Don’t worry about it. Read through this buyer’s guide to see what features make hybrids so popular and then come in to ride one yourself. We highly encourage test-rides!
As you look at bikes, you will see the names Hybrid, Comfort and Cruiser (among several others) used. Here is a quick look at what each generally mean, though some bikes may share qualities of all categories. Don’t worry! You need to find a bike that YOU like, not one that fits any particular definition.
Hybrid bikes—Also commonly referred to as “Cross”, these bikes are the combination (or cross, or hybrid) of a road bike’s large diameter wheels and a mountain bike’s comfortable, upright position, flat handlebars and low gearing. It is the larger diameter wheels that make the hybrid the quicker, more efficient choice for riding on the pavement. Within this category, you can find models with wider or skinnier tires, rigid or suspension forks, more or less upright positions and lightweight frames.
Comfort bikes—In most cases they are nearly identical to a hybrid bike, though they use a mountain bike’s smaller diameter, sturdier wheels with generally wider tires. One could also look at them as a mountain bike with smoother, more pavement-oriented tires. The durability of the stronger wheels draws people who have rougher commutes, like to ride on trails or are heavier riders.
Cruiser bikes—Beach bikes, beach cruisers and boardwalk cruisers are all other terms for simple, comfortable bikes designed for casual riding along easy, flat pathways. Most use time-proven coaster brakes and count baskets or a rear rack as their main “feature”.
Don’t get bogged down in worry about what your hybrid’s frame is made of--Doing so misses the whole point of buying a comfortable, easy-to-ride bike. You will see frames made from steel, aluminum and possibly carbon fiber, depending on the price range you are looking at. As price rises, so does the quality and lightness of the frame on your bike, but these types of bike are so feature-rich, there are far more cool things to look at than frame material.
Most Hybrid and Comfort bikes come with some form of suspension in the front and rear of the bike. This suspension is what makes the ride so comfy, though it comes in many mechanical forms. Here is a quick primer on Hybrid suspension.
Suspension Forks—Just like mountain bikes or motorcycles, Hybrid/Comfort bikes typically come with a telescopic shock unit on the front wheel. Not as burly and heavy as what you would find on a mountain bike, these suspension forks are designed to smooth out the smaller bumps in the road and keep your upper body comfortable.
Cushy Seats—Wider, thicker seats are commonly found on Hybrid bikes and often include some form of spring assembly underneath the shell. These look like “real” seats and make you think “I could sit on that and be comfortable for a loooong time!”
Suspension Seatposts—Just under the nice saddle, you are likely to find a telescopic shock unit where the rigid seatpost used to be. Working the same as half of the front fork, the suspension post smoothes out the smaller bumps and prevents the jarring force from being transmitted to your butt. Combined with a cushy seat, it provides a very plush feel.
Rear Suspension—Just as a full-suspension mountain bike has a sprung linkage within the frame design, some Comfort bikes may, too. They are not built as heavy or heavy duty as a downhill racer, but designed for the task at hand—to take out smaller bumps effectively.
Carbon fiber—If you are looking at the speedier, nicer end of the Hybrid market, you may find bikes that have carbon fiber forks, frames, handlebars or seatposts. This lightweight material has a good degree of shock damping built into it, even though it has no pivot points, springs or sliding assemblies. The shock “absorbing” effect will be minimal, though still noticeable compared to a racing road bike.
Different people want different amounts of suspension. Where and how you ride will also dictate how much you need. On your test rides, just be aware of the options available and try different combinations to find one that suits your needs.
One of the greatest advances in bicycles in the past few years has been the wide range of gearing available. Many riders returning to the sport recall “It was so hard to get up the hills!” or “I always had trouble moving the lever to the right spot and the bike would forever make this clacking or grinding noise.” Here are the two things you need to know about gearing on a modern bicycle.
First, the gear range on most any Hybrid or Comfort bike is huge! Regardless of how many specific gears a bike has, the lowest will allow you to ascend hills with ease and allow you to cruise as fast as you want going down. You can tackle any terrain while staying seated, pedal at the rate that is right for you and not feel limited at all.
Second, while 21 (or more!!!) gears may sound daunting, moving through the selection is easier than ever before. Shifters for front and rear are numbered and will “index”, pop or lock into gear without any grinding or alarming noises. Whether a shifter requires a twist of the wrist or a push with your thumb, shifting gear to gear is a click-click-click process much more like shifting a modern car—you put the lever in the right spot and the drivetrain does the rest.
Drivetrain parts come in a wide range of models from several manufacturers. As you spend more, you will get more durable, lighter components with more possible gear combinations. For casual riding, you won’t need to have 27+ gears, though an enthusiast may prefer to have those options. Remember, they will ALL have a low gear to get you up the steep hills, so don’t worry!
Brakes are another area that has seen great improvement in recent years. If it has been a while since you’ve ridden, you may not even recognize some of them! Modern brakes can be divided into two categories—Rim Brakes and Disc Brakes.
Rim brakes, most commonly a “v-brake” on today’s hybrids, are what you may be most familiar with. Though the caliper itself may look different, the brake operates by squeezing a rubber block against the rim, just like brakes always have. They are simple, light and amazingly powerful compared to previous designs.
Disc brakes borrow technology from the motorcycle/automobile world and combine it with bicycle simplicity. There is a steel rotor mounted near the center of each wheel and a brake caliper bolted to the fork or rear frame. As with car brakes, they work very consistently even when wet and the brake pads last a very long time. Disc brakes are a great choice for riders who commute, live in hilly areas or ride in lots of wet weather.
Though we touched on these in the Suspension section already, seats are an important topic and perhaps the main reason a person may not like to ride. The selection of seats available is huge and finding the right one may seem like the search for the Holy Grail. Know this—whether you want a seat that is skinny or wide, thin or thick, light weight or sprung like a couch, it is out there. Each person has different needs and wants here, so the best thing to do is talk about it with one of our staff. Chances are that the seat that comes on your Comfort bike will be the best you’ve ever ridden. On the off chance it is not, however, we can find one that fits you like a glove.
Bikes come in a variety of sizes. When you come in to test ride something, one of the first things we do is get a bike fit to you. In addition to frames coming in different sizes, seats and handlebars can move up, down, forward and back and getting them in the right spot is key to your comfortable ride. Do not hesitate to tell the staff member helping you if you need a change made. We can’t feel what you are feeling, so your communication is essential to us getting it “right”.
In the same way that buying a tennis racquet does not fully prepare you to hit the court, there are many bicycle accessories that can complete or enhance your experience. There are safety, comfort, maintenance and entertainment options aplenty.
The most fundamental accessory is a modern cycling helmet. New helmets are lightweight, ventilated and the cheapest insurance you will ever buy. Buy a good one in a style that you will wear. You won’t regret it.
Our most popular accessories are padded cycling shorts, locks, chain lubricant, gloves, tire pumps and spare tubes. Whether you commute, ride to the coffee shop or get some fresh air with friends, we’ve got what you need to enjoy the ride.