You’ll hear this kind of hybrid called different names depending on the manufacturer. Some call them fitness bikes, others sports bikes, urban bikes, or simply hybrids. We’ve used ‘flat-bar road’ because that describes it best. It’s not a jack-of-all-trades bike like the do-it-all hybrid; it’s designed to be ridden on tarmac, for commuting, fun, or fitness.
Like a road bike, you can expect a lightweight aluminium frame, with a carbon fibre fork replacing steel as prices climb above about £600. However, there are differences apart from the handlebar. Flat-bar road bike frames are usually longer than drop-bar road bike frames: longer between the seat tube and head tube and, as a result, longer in the wheelbase. You’re not any more stretched out than you would be on a drop bar bike because with a flat bar you only reach as far as the end of the stem; on a drop-bar bike you reach past the end of the stem to rest your hands on the brake hoods or the hooks of the drops.
As the flat-bar frame is longer, you’re less likely to find your toe catching on the tyre or mudguard during slow-speed, tight turns. This problem, called toe overlap, is common on drop-bar road bikes, especially in smaller frame sizes. If you’re riding briskly, it’s seldom an issue but for stop-start commuting, it’s something to avoid.
Almost all flat-bar road bikes have the frame eyelets you need to fit full-length mudguards, and most will take a pannier rack too. Brakes may be different from a drop-bar road bike. Those that use sidepull brakes tend to use deep-drop ones, which have more room to fit a mudguard and/or a slightly fatter tyre underneath. Some use V-brakes or disc brakes, like a cyclo-cross bike more than a road bike.
Gears will either be the flat-bar version of road bike gears, such as Shimano Sora or Tiagra, or trekking bike gears from mountain bike ranges, such as Shimano Acera or Deore. Both are fine but road bike gears don’t go as low. If you’re coming back to cycling after a long layoff or plan to ride in hilly areas, look for a triple chainset and/or a cassette with a big bottom sprocket (32-teeth or more)
Wheels and tyres tend to be hybrid-like at the bottom end and road-bike-like at the top end. Expect anything from 700x32C down to 700x25C. Thinner tyres pumped up harder are more efficient on smooth roads, while fatter ones offer more comfort on poor roads.
The combination of a flat handlebar and a narrow, high-pressure tyre can put a lot of ‘road buzz’ through the handlebars and into your hands. So it’s worth looking for, or fitting yourself, ergonomic flared grips and/or bar ends to provide extra hand positions.
Here's just a snapshot of the flat-bar road bikes available.
Claud Butler Chinook
Claud Butler call this a 'road/touring' bike rather than a hybrid, but it's a typical flat-bar road bike. The aluminium frame and steel fork have been designed around 57mm deep-drop brakes, which means there's ample room for mudguards if you stick with the 25mm tyres supplied. You can fit a rear rack but you'll seatstay P-clips. Gearing is what you would expect at this price: Shimano's entry-level 2300 road groupset, with a 30-42-52 triple chainset and a 12-26 8-speed cassette. The wheels are better than some bikes at this price; Shimano hubs are reliable. There's no women's version.
Specialized Vita Elite
The Vita range is designed for women, with shorter frames than the men's Sirrus equivalent. Only the basic Vita is available with a step-through frame, in the event you want that; the rest are like this. The Elite has a carbon fork and aluminium frame, with the cables neatly running through it. The 27-speed gearing is 'trekking' rather than 'road', so goes usefully lower. V-brakes provide ample power and clearance for mudguards or fatter tyres, although these 28mm Specialized Nimbus ones are a good compromise between efficiency, comfort and puncture resistance. Ergonomic grips and a women's anatomic saddle provide contact-point comfort.
Giant Rapid 2
As you might guess from its name, Giant’s Rapid 2 is very much the flat-bar road bike: it’s fitted with 27-speed Tiagra/R440 road-triple gearing, deep-drop sidepull brakes, and narrow 25mm tyres. Its bar ends give a useful extra hand position, particularly up hills or into headwinds. The compact aluminium frame has fittings for a pannier rack and mudguards, and you get a carbon fibre seatpost as well as a fork, saving some weight and possibly reducing road buzz. Like the Claud Butler, bottom gear isn’t quite as low at 30/26 – it’s a bike for riding athletically. The women’s equivalent is the Giant Dash.
Trek 7.6 FX WSD
Trek’s FX hybrids get sportier the further you go up the price range, though all of them retain frame fittings for commuting essentials. The 7.6 – available like the rest as a gent’s version or a Women’s Specific Design – has an aluminium frame and carbon fork with unusual features. The seatstays have a synthetic ‘IsoFlow’ insert designed to reduce road buzz coming through the 25mm tyres, while the fork accepts an integral computer sensor. The gearing is 20-speed but has an excellent range, as Trek shrewdly combine a wide-range 11-36 mountain bike rear end with a 50-34 road bike chainset.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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