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.
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.
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.
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".
Other considerations with Hybrid & Comfort bikes
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. 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 is what you need to know about gearing on a modern bicycle. 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.
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.
Lastly, 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.