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Road Bike or Hybrid for a Cycling Holiday?
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By Ian Smitton
Riders on our cycling holidays often ask for advice on which kind of bike would be best for them. Ultimately, it boils down to personal preference whether you prefer to ride a road bike or a hybrid. However, if you are unsure, there are several advantages and disadvantages with both types.
Here we look at some of the factors that may influence your decision on the kind of bike you should choose. From the terrain and distance that you will be covering, to how stylish you want to look - we give you the lowdown on bike choice.
TerrainPerhaps the primary concern when choosing the type of bicycle is the ground that you will be riding on. A road bike can only be used on the road; it is not a good idea to cycle on even a lightly gravelled track with a road bike, as you will run a high risk of punctures and damage to the wheels. It is also uncomfortable to ride a road bike on anything other than a tarmac surface.
Hybrid bikes, as the name suggests, are suitable for both on and off road cycling. You wouldn't want to descend a rocky mountain trail on a hybrid, but the strongly built wheels and robust frame makes them fine for riding on compacted earth or gravel.
If your cycling holiday involves any off road riding for longer distances than you would be prepared to walk, a road bike is not an option - you will have to choose a hybrid.
Loaded or Not-Loaded?If you are touring loaded with multiple panniers and with substantial weight, then a road bike is out of the question. The frame and wheels are not strong enough to reliably support such a distribution of additional weight and you are likely to run into mechanical problems.
If you are just taking a change of clothes and a few personal documents / wallet etc. then there are a variety of handlebar and seatpost bags that can be attached to a roadbike. As long as you are carrying less than around 6kg, then both a road bike and hybrids are viable options.
DistanceDistance is not as big an issue as you might initially think. Of course it is easier to cycle long distances on road bikes; however, for a cyclist of reasonable fitness, 80km is a fairly comfortable daily distance on a good hybrid.
If you are going for more than 80km, the speed and efficiency of a road bike makes it the stand out choice. However, for shorter distances, although the ride will take longer on a hybrid, both types of bike are more than capable.
Riding PositionCycle touring is very different from road racing. The aim of touring is not to get from A to B as quickly as possible, it is to enjoy the scenery and take your time to discover interesting places that you pass through on your ride. With this in mind, the more upright riding position of a hybrid bike may be the better choice.
The relatived crouched position on a road bike makes it more difficult to look around you and admire the beautiful countryside that you are passing through.
MountainsCyclists who go on our mountainous tours to Mallorca or Tenerife generally choose road bikes. This may be because such cyclists are normally more advanced in their cycling and so habitually ride road bikes; however, there are some clear benefits of road bikes in the mountains.
Firstly, the daily distances on mountain tours tend to be greater than on flatter routes. This is because it takes time to cycle to the mountains, and there is generally a lower density of accommodation options around mountainous areas. Secondly, the sharper steering on road bikes is better for cornering, particularly on technical descents. Finally, road bikes are often substantially lighter than hybrids; this is not really an issue on the flat, but is a significant advantage when climbing.
That is not to say, however, that hybrid bikes are unsuitable for the mountains. Indeed, if you are not used to climbing hills or if you are concerned that you may struggle physically, the extra gears on a hybrid bike can make the ride much more enjoyable. Being able to comfortably spin up a mountain makes it a lot easier to admire the fantastic scenery than if you are grinding up in a gear that is too high for you.
StyleRoad bikes are generally perceived as being more stylish and aesthetically pleasing than hybrids. They are what professionals ride and they allow you to take a graceful, streamlined position on the bike.
Hybrids, by contrast, lack both the sleekness of a road bike and the aggressive look of a mountain bike. They are functional and, as this article shows, serve a great purpose for many cycle tourists; however, they will not gain the admiring looks of a full carbon racer.
There is no reason why this should be important to you, but, for a sport built on endurance and determination, it is always a little surprising to see how conscientious many cyclists are of what they look like on the road.
Which to Choose?To summarise, if you are riding entirely on roads, there are benefits and drawbacks to both types of bikes commonly used for cycle touring. If you like to take your time, admiring the scenery and doing fairly short distances, then hybrids are probably the better option. However, if you like to cover long distances, with a lot of climbing, and you like to draw admiring glances while sitting in a stylish lunchtime cafe - a road bike is probably the choice for you.
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