Why Are Road Bikes Faster Than Hybrids? (5 Key Differences)

If you’ve yet to find your own riding style and figure out how you like to use your bike best then hybrid bikes are for you. But if you like speed and prefer to hit the roads and challenge yourself and others competitively, then road bikes are the best choice. But why are they so much faster than hybrids?

Road bikes are faster than hybrids because they are designed to reach high speeds whereas hybrid bikes are designed to be comfortable and perform well on a variety of surfaces. Everything about road bikes is about speed: weight, riding position, tires, gearing, which all result in a faster bike overall.

Fitness of the rider

With that said don’t forget that a bike can go only as fast as the rider pedals, meaning an experienced rider with a good fitness level can reach higher speeds on a hybrid than a beginner rider with a low fitness level on a road bike. 

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1. Thinner Tires

You’ll probably see road bikes and hybrids with similar diameter tires (for example, 700c tires), but the major difference between them will always be in the thickness of the tires that actually meet the ground. 

You see, hybrid bikes need thicker tires (around 40mm wide) to help maintain a grip on different surfaces, as you can use hybrid bikes both on-road and off-road, so you might need additional grip. Road bikes instead opt for much thinner 25 to 28mm wide tires.

Road bikes are designed for being on the road. That means the asphalt beneath the tire does much of the gripping for you. Thicker tires here won’t actually help but instead slow you down because of the increased drag thicker tires have when making contact with the asphalt. 

By opting for thinner tires, there’s much less rolling resistance as the tire goes around, making road bike tires much faster than hybrids’.

2. Riding Position

The way they design both types of bikes requires different riding positions, and a road bike’s riding position is much more effective for speed.

Road bikes having the saddle higher than the handlebars, however, force their riders to adopt a forward-leaning position, keeping much lower to the bike than hybrid riders do.

This position actually reduces the aerodynamic drag of the rider, making them significantly faster on the road. 

It basically works by reducing the amount of drag because the rider’s torso and head are much lower in this position, meaning any wind resistance is less powerful against the rider because it doesn’t hit them square in the chest as it does for a hybrid rider.

3. Drop Bars VS Flat Bars

Part of the reason for the difference in rider position is the different handlebars on the bikes. 

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Hybrids opt for standard flat bars (sometimes riser bars), the sort we’re used to most often, but road bikes use drop bars, so named because of how it forces the rider to drop their position in order to grip them properly, enhancing the rider’s aerodynamic sitting position.

Not only that, but drop bars are much narrower than flat or riser bars. Hybrid riders need to adopt a much wider position to hold the handlebars in the way they’re supposed to be held. 

They have to have much wider shoulders and arms to hold the bars. That makes them much more in control of the bike, but sacrifices on aerodynamics.

Road bikes use drop bars, which force the rider to tuck themselves in to use them effectively, bringing their shoulders and arms in to be much closer to the rest of their body

They still have excellent control at higher speeds, and the position of their shoulders and arms reduces drag again, making them quicker.

4. Weight

Another major reason for a road bike’s speed advantage over hybrid bikes is the weight difference. 

Carbon fiber frames are lighter than aluminum/steel ones used more often for by hybrid bikes, but there’s more to the weight difference than just the frame. In fact, in almost every conceivable way, road bikes are lighter.

Everything from the seat posts, wheels, handlebars, and stems is much lighter on road bikes because manufacturers know the importance of weight’s influence on how fast a bike can go. 

That means road bike designers are always opting for lighter materials to make them quicker. For the same reason, they also come barebones, without any accessories such as rack and fenders, etc.

Hybrid bikes don’t necessarily need the increased speed though, and they often favor durability and sturdiness at the expense of speed to produce a bike that’s more capable of handling being knocked around somewhat when off-road.

5. Carbon Fiber Frame VS Aluminum/Steel

The fastest road bikes are made of carbon fiber that not only reduces weight but also further increases stiffness. Whilst yes, carbon fiber frames are estimated to be around 40% lighter than aluminum frames, this isn’t the only reason for the increase in speed.

Actually, it’s to do with the stiffness of the carbon fiber, which is far stiffer than aluminum and steel options. 

Why does this help? Well, the stiffer the material of a bike’s frame, the more of the rider’s output applies to actually move the bike forwards

Basically, the stiffer the metal, the less energy is lost to other factors such as the movement of the metal frame, making carbon fiber frames the obvious choice, not just because they’re so light, but also because they make use of more of the energy you as the rider spend moving the bike. In short, you get more bang for your buck with a carbon fiber frame.

Final Thought

If we were to boil down this whole post into a quick round-up sentence or two, then we’d probably just say that road bikes are faster than hybrids because they’re designed to be. Everything about them is designed for speed – from the materials used to the design of the bike, and even to the way in which they force a rider to position themselves. 

So, if speed is what you’re looking for, you won’t get faster than a road bike! 

Sam Benkoczy

Hi, I'm Sam. I own and maintain 6 e-bikes, 15 regular bikes (road bikes, folding bikes, hybrid bikes, city bikes among others). I learned about bikes from my local bike mechanic as well as from bike maintenance courses. I love being out there in the saddle, and using my bike as a practical means of transportation. You can also find me on my YouTube channel at youtube.com/bikecommuterhero Say hi to me at sam@bikecommuterhero.com.

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