Cycling is a fast evolving sport. So much so that some bikes that are quite common nowadays were not even heard of just a few years ago. Fitness bike is a new category of bicycles that have emerged recently.
Fitness bikes are similar to road bikes; they can reach fasts speeds on pavement because of their geometry and components but they lack the drop handle bar of road bikes, which is why they are also known as flat bar road bikes. They have a slightly more comfortable riding position and are often equiped with mouting points and disc brakes.
Characteristics of fitness bikes
Fitness bikes share a lot of characteristics with road bikes. They have a similar geometry, which puts the rider in a favorable position to reach fast speeds, although they are slightly more relaxed than regular road bikes. This is good news for those who would like to explore paved roads, but they feel like they need to sit in a more comfortable riding position.
Another important characteristic of fitness bikes is the stiff front fork. This allows for a more efficient power transfer to the pedals, and it also saves some weight over hybrid bikes that come with a front suspension. Entry level suspension forks often can’t be adjusted and add extra unnecessary bulk to the bike.
A stiff fork also means no shock absorption when riding on bumpy roads, and therefore less riding comfort compared to trekking bikes. Still, fitness bikes are not as spartan as road bikes. There are two ways in which they make the riding less harsh on bumpy roads: first, most ftness bikes come with carbon forks, which have good shock absorbing qualities compared to the aluminum frame most of them are made of, second, these bikes often come with 32 mm or wider tires. Wider tires mean more air volume and better shock absorption.
Fitness bikes come with a wide range of gear ratios and have 11-27 gear combinations depending on the model. They are suitable to ride fast, but they are very capable of climbing hills. Some of them have go as high as 53/39 chainrings, and are better suited for fitter sports people and for riding fast speeds, although they are the exception. Most of them, however borrow their gearing from mountain bikes (48-38-28), and offer plenty of low gears to tackle the steepest of climbs, but also with a decent selection of medium-high gears.
The inclusion of disc brakes is quite common in fitness bikes. These are often hydraulic disc brakes, although some – like the Trek FX 1, for example – use V-brakes. They both work fine, but hydraulic disc brakes offer great modulation and work amazingly even in damp, rainy and cold conditions.
All fitness bikes have mouting points for fenders and racks. This sets them apart from road bikes, where these eyelets are not always present. Fenders make riding in the rain very practical and protect your trousers and clothes. You can also put a rear rack on a fitness bike so you can carry your pannier on it. These eyelets make flat bar road bikes very versatile machines and a great option for commuting.
Usually the chainstay of fitness bikes isn’t very long, so carrying large panniers may cause heel clearance issues.
Another characteristic of fitness bikes is that they come with flat handlebars. This means that they are slightly more upright than road bikes, where your arms need to reach a few inches further out, but the downside is that there is only a single hand position. This can get a little uncomfortable after a while. If you spend 20 minutes or more, you might start suffering from numb hands. Before you discard the idea of a fitness bike though on these grounds, one way to enhance hand comfort is by adding a bar end grip, which can give you an extra hand position on top of a more ergonomic grip when holding the handlebar.
After having tested the best bar end grips on my bike, I recommend the Ergon GP4 or GP 5 grips as they provide the most comfortable additional gripping positions. In fact, the GP5 gives not only one, but two additional handpositions.
Are fitness bikes good for commuting
Fitness bikes are excellent commuters for all distances. Their commuter friendly features include mouting points for fenders and racks for panniers, a wide gear ratio and great riding comfort. They can be used on urban roads, hills, city roads and even on light gravel roads. No matter what you throw at them, they are very capable.
Fitness bikes start to excel among other bikes for commuting on medium-long distances, where their light weight and efficient gearing system sets them apart from heavy, slow bikes.
Hydraulic disc brakes are also great addition for commuter bikes as they require very little maintenance and work efficiently without constant adjustment.
If you buy a fitness bike for commuting, you only need to make sure that the tire pressure is in the correct range and that you keep the chain relatively cleand and lubed.
Fitness bikes vs hybrid bikes
The main difference between fitness bikes and hybrid bikes is the geometry, the type of tire used and front suspension fork. Although technically speaking fitness bikes are a type of hybrid, since they aren’t pure road bikes, but rather the crossover of a road bike with a few elements of a montain bike, hybrid bikes often show more resemblance to mountain bikes.
Here’s a little table summarizing the differences.
|Fitness bikes||Hybrid bikes|
|Gear ratios||Speed oriented||Climbing oriented|
|Geometry||More agressive||More relaxed|
|Tires||28 – 38 mm||35 – 50 mm|
|Best sutied for||Commuting, long fast rides||Weekend rides, single track|
Fitness bikes are better suited for longer rides and fast speeds. They are a joy to ride on paved roads. Their tires offer sufficient shock absorption for normal roads, and they allow you to tackle some single track without problems. They are quite similar to gravel bikes in this sense.
When it comes to challenging terrains, such as gravel or rough urban roads with cobblestones, hybrids offer a superior riding experience because of their front suspension forks. The travel of the front suspension is quit short, often less than 60 mm, but this is sufficient to make a big difference in comfort. If you want to go full off-road, you should consider moutain bikes instead, which have a much longer suspension travel and are available with full suspension too.
What are the best fitness bikes
All the reputable manufacturers offer fitness bikes in their selection of bicycles: Trek, Giant, Cannondale, Specialized, just to name a few.
Trek’s FX lineup has a wide selection, and the entry level models can be had for just 500 dollars. You will get entry level components and only a V-brake, but the FX 1 is a capable bicycle for beginners.
For an additional 100 dollars you can upgrade to mechanical disc brakes and better gears.
I wrote a comparison of the FX 1, 2 and 3 bicycles, which you can check out here.
If your budget allows it, I recommend getting the FX 3 Disc. It is a very capable, fun bike.
FX 3 Disc is a versatile hybrid bike that's primed for performance, comfort, and utility. It has features like a lightweight aluminum frame, a carbon fork, and powerful disc brakes that stop in any weather. It's a commuting pro if you want it to be, or the perfect fitness companion on pavement and rail trails.