Performance vs. Comfort
Finding the right bike for you involves identifying the combination of comfort and performance that fits your needs. Think of it as a scale that ranges in every shade from white to black. There are ‘pure’ comfort bikes, and ‘pure’ performance bikes, and in-between lie numerous shades of grey.
A ‘performance’ bike features a more aggressive posture, leaning forward toward the handlebars. This gives the rider a more streamlined profile, and also allows more efficient use of the gluteal muscles. The bottom bracket (where the pedals meet the frame) is only slightly forward of the seat, which allows for optimal leg extension and power transfer. A properly-fitted performance bicycle does not allow the rider to comfortably rest the feet on the ground (see our fitting page). They also have rigid frames and forks (i.e. – no suspension), which helps transfer leg power to the asphalt.
Performance-oriented bicycles have lightweight, very skinny wheels and tires. These wheels are fragile, and provide poor traction in loose or slippery terrain. They are kept at very high pressure (120 PSI or more), reducing the amount of tire surface touching the pavement. The reduction in ‘rolling resistance’ improves speed, but also causes them to be much less comfortable, and increases the chance of getting a punctured tire.
Hybrids, whether for commuting, or for fitness, as well as road bikes (including road, cyclocross, triathalon and time-trial), usually fit quite neatly into the ‘performance’ category of cycling.
‘Comfort‘ bikes, on the other end of the spectrum, place the rider in
an upright position, relieving the arms and the core muscles from supporting the weight of the torso. The decreased pressure on the hands and wrists greatly diminishes the effect of any vibration coming up through the handlebars. In addition, those with lower-back pain will likely find this posture a relief.
Comfort bikes often have a ‘crank forward’ design, which places the pedals forward in relation to the seat. This allows the rider to stay seated when stopped, with feet on the ground and feel reasonably comfortable and stable. Even with this, the feet shouldn’t be quite flat, but will also not be on tippy-toes.
‘Shocks’, or suspension, offer the rider added comfort, smoothing out the bumps and vibrations, and also provide better handling when the trail gets a little rough. The vast majority of comfort bikes have suspension in the seatpost. Because the rider is sitting upright, there is extra weight bearing down on the seat. Without suspension, changing the posture of the rider would merely move the discomfort from the hands, wrists and back to the seat. Most comfort bikes also have front shocks, significantly reducing the amount of jarring and vibration that makes its way up to the hands and wrists.
In addition, comfort bikes usually include a wider, more comfortable seat with a flexible base, and flanged handlebar grips (to spread out the pressure on the rider’s palms).
A comfort hybrid takes some of the features from both the performance and the comfort classes of bicycle. A comfort hybrid will offer a posture somewhere between what would be found on a traditional mountain bike, and what would be found on a comfort bike. The rider is neither in the full upright position, nor in an aggressive, back-tweaking stance. This allows the rider to be fairly comfortable, while still seeing some of the performance benefits of an aggressive position.
Comfort hybrids tend not to come with the wide seats found on comfort bikes, but usually have both seatpost and front suspension. Many models provide ‘lock-out’ forks, that allow the rider to lock the suspension forks in a near-rigid position. This lets the rider enjoy the higher performance while the path ahead is smooth, and to turn on the comfort when it’s not. The wheels and tires are also a compromise. Wider and heavier than those on performance bikes, they’re thinner and lighter than those on comfort bikes. This gives you some of the speed and ease of the skinny wheels, while still providing a smoother ride.
Many of our customers who commute, or are returning to cycling after a long period away, find a comfort hybrid suits their needs admirably.