It’s easy to think that a bike for fitness doesn’t really matter; after all, calories burned are calories burned.
But that’s far from the truth. The biggest question is what bike encourages you to ride more and longer.
Both road and hybrid bikes are among the ideal bike categories for fitness and cardiovascular endurance. Road bikes, however, are practical for speed and long-distance fitness rides. Conversely, hybrids have greater riding versatility but are ideal for working out your muscles.
But there’re also some other key details on each bike category that may make one class better suited for your fitness needs than the other.
And in the road bike vs. hybrid for fitness guide below, I’ll share everything you need to know to help you choose the right bike.
Cycling for Fitness
How did you start your fitness journey?
Personally, along with a gym membership and dieting, I also took up biking to cut weight.
Of course, running would have been far more efficient at burning calories, but my joints wouldn’t allow it. Plus, it’s not as much fun as cycling.
Most people use bikes for recreational purposes, but they can also double up as fitness tools. Cycling also has a couple of health benefits.
Specifically, WebMD lists cycling as among the effective cardio workouts for fitness. Regular cycling works the entire body but focuses on the lower body and abdominal muscles.
Cycling for an hour burns 400 calories, so it’s an incredible belly-fat-removing exercise and ideal for weight loss.
Riding a bike is also an aerobic activity, which works out your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. It allows deep breathing and perspiration and raises your overall body temperature, which improves your overall health.
Of course, cycling isn’t the ultimate fitness activity, and if your primary goal is health benefits, there’re a couple of other efficient workouts.
For example, it’s challenging to bike your way to building muscles. The other limitation of cycling is that it only targets specific muscles.
But here’s the thing, few of these exercises are as fun as riding a bike. Plus, most of us grew up riding bikes, so it’s relatable and a great way to kill time and socialize while working on our fitness.
Personally, I choose to cycle to fitness because it’s a low-impact activity when done right. It’s a great workout that is gentle on my joints, back, and back.
But as with traditional fitness, cyclists also have different fitness goals, which inspires their choice of fitness bicycles.
Some cyclists are looking to gain muscles, while others want to cut weight.
And this brings us to the next section, which looks at the fitness gains of the two popular bike options.
Are Road Bikes Good for Fitness
A road bike is primarily built for speed and maneuverability. They’re not as versatile as the hybrid bikes and are usually limited to flat and paved surfaces.
These bikes may appeal to the adrenaline junkies wanting to get fit and lose weight.
Here’re some fitness elements to consider with the road bikes:
Typical road bikes are ultralight and use an aluminum frame. On average, they weigh between 15 to 30 pounds.
Generally, the weight of a bike cuts both ways.
A heavy bike will make you work harder and strain to get going, resulting in a better workout and more calorie burn.
But on the other hand, if you’re not strong-willed, the extra weight and effort may dissuade you from riding your bike, which is self-defeating.
But if you plan to use your bike to commute, comfortable ride, or generally ride in your neighborhood, a lightweight road bike may come in handy.
It’ll allow you to rack up more miles, get you less sweaty and less tired, and want you to ride even more. Ultimately, enjoying your ride more will translate to health benefits.
Long Distance Riding
Road bikes are the kings of long-distance rides. They’re comfortable and reliable at racking up miles and at higher speeds.
Therefore, a road bike is a great solution for cyclists looking to boost their cardiovascular endurance and work on your overall fitness.
The endurance pace will build on your aerobic energy system. Here, expect the growth in your slow-twitch muscles, an increase in capillary density for better oxygen absorption, increased heart rate, and improved temperature regulation.
There’re several benefits to riding your road bike for extended periods, and I would even compare the long-distance benefits of a road group ride to long-distance running.
A bike’s frame geometry can also affect the comfort and ease of cycling, which ultimately determines the overall fitness gains.
Hybrids typically have a comfortable upright riding position but have the drawback of not being fast, which is fine for users not looking for speed.
However, when I cycle with my friends with a hybrid, they struggle to keep up with me, especially during headwinds.
My road bike, with drop handlebars, allows me to get into an aerodynamic posture for effortless riding over long distances.
On the other hand, my friend with a hybrid has no other bars to go to, essentially becoming a windsock. Ultimately, he gets into an uncomfortable position, such as bending elbows to get more aero, and has to work harder.
While working harder is a good thing for fitness, it beats him pretty bad, makes him more tired, and removes the desire to want to ride again.
Of course, there’re also flat bar road bikes, which are more forgiving.
Are Hybrid Bikes Good for Fitness
Hybrid bikes are exactly like their name suggests; they blend different bike categories. They mix the individual elements of different classes of bikes.
For example, a hybrid bike may incorporate a cruiser/cross bikes frame, tires from touring bikes, a road bike handlebar, and a mountain bike gear system.
But usually, the typical hybrid bike refers to a blend of a mountain and road bike.
Hybrids are probably the most versatile class of bikes in the market and can take on a variety of terrains, including light gravel, rail trails, and cobbles.
The hybrid bikes will also suit a range of different users and are perfect for cyclists who don’t want to be limited on certain terrain or riding styles.
Hybrids are also great picks for keeping fit and healthy as with road bikes. And in the guide below, I’ll share the details that make a hybrid a great fitness bike.
Hybrids have greater versatility than road bikes and can take on different terrains.
While they won’t get your heart pumping from bike speed, they can still get it working hard, especially when taking on difficult terrains.
Personally, I love taking on the hills with my hybrid bikes because they provide a heck of a workout going the hills.
In fact, my body works out more going up a short ride up the hill than I would on a long flat ride on a road bike.
Standing up is a trick that I love using when going uphill with a hybrid bike. It’s quite strenuous and taxing as it mostly involves sheer muscle power more than endurance.
Along with the hills, going on the more difficult off-road and rugged terrains with a hybrid bike provides some good core and upper body workouts.
Pushing your limits on rugged terrain with a hybrid bike makes your muscles work more and fine-tunes your explosive power.
Tires and Wheel Size
The other element affecting fitness levels on a hybrid bike is the tires and wheels.
See, hybrid bikes have generally wider tires than those on road bikes.
Road bikes are built for speed, so they’ve narrower wheels with less friction for cutting through the air. The narrower surface also has less contact with the ground surface, so there’s less friction between road and rubber.
Conversely, hybrid bikes have fat, knobby tires, mostly running at lower tire pressure, for off-road traction on loose and rocky ground.
The narrower wheels & tires make your ride efficient and faster, while the wider tires will make you work more and harder to go.
Added friction between the ground and the tires engages your muscles even more and leads to more calorie burns.
Of course, this is an oversimplification, but the subtle details eventually make bikes better for fitness than the others.
Hybrids, on average, are considerably heavier than road bikes. Most of them weigh between 25 to 40 pounds.
Now, does this make a difference in fitness capability?
Yes, and for me, the extra weight makes the hybrid appealing. It’s ironic, but if you don’t have time to bike and need to maximize on the limited time, I’d recommend a bike with higher rolling resistance and more weight.
See, heavier hybrid bikes will require you to work harder, develop more muscles and whip the calories.
The heavier hybrid bikes are a great option on flat terrains with no hills.
But as I mentioned earlier, be sure that the extra weight won’t dissuade you from wanting to get on your bike.
Comfort determines the time you’ll actively spend on a bike. The more comfortable your ride is, the more you’d want to ride, and the greater the number of calories you burn.
There’re different elements affecting the overall comfort, but the most noticeable one is the bike geometry.
Hybrids have a more upright geometry, which is good, especially if you’ve a medical issue and don’t want to arch back.
Of course, most cyclists start to prefer the aerodynamic design of road bikes over long distances.
See, an upright position feels comfortable, but only for short distances, typically less than five miles.
But for longer distances, the “comfort” features may start becoming a bother.
Therefore, a hybrid is a better option for short leisure rides. It maximizes the fitness gains while keeping you comfortable.
Along with the geometry, there’re a couple of other elements affecting bike comfort.
While the seats are replaceable and customizable, the hybrid wins the comfort battle. Hybrid seats are more luxurious and comfortable than road bike’s seats.
The same goes for the handlebars. Hybrids have flat bars, which make turning quite a breeze. Conversely, road bikes have drop bars, which may prove challenging for beginners.
Simply put, hybrids are comfortable to ride with, much more than road bikes. So, it’s likely you’ll spend more time on the hybrids, which translates to more fitness gains.
Two Main Types of Hybrid Fitness Bikes
The two main types of hybrid bikes are:
1) Fitness bikes: They’re built for speed, efficiency, and lightness. The fitness bicycles may also incorporate a flat or upright handlebar. It’s closer to a road bike than a mountain bike.
2) Dual-sport hybrid bikes: The dual-sport bikes have a closer resemblance to the mountain bikes. Of course, it’s not as practical as a mountain bike but will take on the off-roading terrains.
What’s the Best Bike for Fitness?
A road bike and a hybrid bike can be an awesome pick for staying in it.
But the big question is what option is better than the other.
You need to understand that each bike has a unique feature and may shine in one department more than the other.
The key is to understand what bike fulfills your needs most.
The first thing is to ask yourself what exercises you need to do and your location.
For example, a hybrid would be a better option if you need to tear up some steep hills and tackle some rugged terrains.
Conversely, if you live in a relatively flat area and need to rack up some miles, a road bike is the way.
Personally, I’m a big fan of “opportunistic exercises,” so a hybrid is my go-to choice. I use the bike to attend to my errands in my neighborhood, which keeps me healthier in the long run.
The other critical element to look into is your bike’s exact detail and design.
You need to critically look at a road and hybrid bike and determine what bike has the best features for your fitness needs.
Road Bike vs. Hybrid for Fitness
Road bikes are generally built for paved roads and to ride faster.
A road’s bike terrain is less demanding than hybrid or mountain bikes, so they’ve a less pronounced suspension system.
However, they’ve a firmer ride, mainly because of the narrower wheels & tires. The smaller wheels also have less contact with the ground, therefore lesser friction, and more speed.
Road bikes also provide an aerodynamic posture, keeping the rider in an aggressive position. While the posture might not be ideal for cyclists with back issues, it’s suitable for long-distance riding.
Drop handlebars also contribute to the aggressive posture on a road bike. The handlebars provide some variety where the riders can place their hands during the long rides.
Overall, road bikes are tailored for speed and performance. Comfort takes a back seat with these bikes, and I wouldn’t recommend them for urban leisure riding.
Plus, they rarely accommodate fenders or racks, so they’re not a great option for errands or carry heavy loads.
On the other hand, the hybrids are the kings of casual riding.
These bikes blend different categories of bikes, so they’re really all over the map.
However, one of their distinct strengths lies in riding versatility. Hybrids will make you feel at home both on the paved neighborhoods streets, smooth pavements, bike paths, and patchy and rugged terrains.
Of course, they won’t give anything close to what dedicated mountain bikes or road bikes would offer, but they strike a middle ground between the different bike categories.
Typical hybrid bikes come with flat bars, which allow for upright and comfortable riding positions. Unfortunately, the design only allows a single hand position, resulting in hand fatigue over time.
The geometry on a hybrid bike is also more appealing to seniors, casual riders, and cyclists with back problems.
It’s not as aggressive as a road bike but will instead keep you feeling relaxed and with less strain on your joints.
Unfortunately, hybrids tend to be heavier. But as we mentioned, a heavier bike will make your ride more demanding, which works your muscles even more.
Overall, when it comes down to the basics, the choice is not on the category of a bike but rather how you use it.
For example, the weight of a hybrid bike is of no use if you can’t ride the bike in the first place.
Here’s a breakdown of the pros of each bike:
Pros of a Road Bike
- Aerodynamic; better for longer rides and smooth pavement riding
- Different hand and riding positions to prevent sore and fatigue
- Drop bars for power riding, different hand positions, and long-distance comfort
- Narrower tires and lighter frame for speed and efficiency
Pros of a Hybrid Bike
- Multi-purpose: can take on different mixed-surface roads and surfaces
- Ideal for casual use; can accommodate fenders and racks for extra weight and luggage
- An upright sitting position; gives a better view of the road ahead and allows easy control
- The flat handlebar and comfortable saddle
- Cost; road bikes tend to be more expensive than hybrids
Road Bike Vs. Hybrid Bike for Fitness Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Are hybrids faster than road bikes?
A: No, hybrids aren’t faster than road bikes.
Road bicycles attain their speed from the narrower tires and aerodynamic geometry.
On the other hand, hybrids have wider tires limiting speed because of friction and upright position.
Q: Can I use a hybrid bike for long-distance riding?
A: I wouldn’t recommend hybrids for long-distance riding.
Their “comfort” features, such as upright riding, start to get uncomfortable with each passing mile.
Plus, their flat handlebars limit your hand position to one posture and result in cyclists taking on awkward body positions.
Choosing to get fit through cycling is fun but requires hard work.
If you’re starting, then your legs will certainly hurt at some point.
But look at it this way; nothing comes easy, and you’re choosing a healthy lifestyle.
If you choose the cycling journey, expect great things ahead!