Hybrid vs. Cyclocross bikes?
December 29, 2013 11:45 PM   Subscribe

Back in the day, there were two styles of bikes that I was aware of – road bikes and mountain bikes. Now there are road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and cyclocross bikes. This is very exciting – as more options – but also subtly confusing.

I previously would buy mountain bikes (for the durability) and then outfit them with a solid front fork (or shocks w/ lockout) and skinny road tires. Reason being was a mountain bike can go on the road, much better than a road bike can go off-road.

Now looking at hybrids and cyclocross bikes, cyclocross look like heavy-duty road bikes. Whilst hybrids look like light-duty mountain bikes.

I'm only keen on having one bike at a time, so need something that 1) is decent around town for commuting (50%), 2) good for long rides in the countryside – mix of paved roads and dirt roads (30%), 3) won't restrict from light off-road use – e.g. singletracks, not hardcore bombing downhills (20%).

Cyclocross and hybrid riders, what do you recommend?
posted by nickrussell to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A cyclocross bike fits the bill. Most come with fender brackets and can easily take a rack, lights, etc. I have a cx bike that I race on (only once this season though, ahem), but I also use it for gravel riding. In fact, I've been trying to find more dirt/gravel options so I can justify riding it more.

I have a dedicated commuter - an almost 40 year old 10-speed - but if I was buying one do-it-all bike, I'd go for a cross bike.

By hybrid, do you mean what they now call city bikes? These are great for in town but might be heavier than a cyclocross bike.

If you're good with the drop handlebars, I say go for a cross bike. And then don't be surprised if you find yourself looking for a cross race to enter next fall. They are so much fun!
posted by bluedaisy at 11:53 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to do what you're talking about fast, you want cyclocross. If you want to do it at a relaxed pace, you want some sort of hybrid.

Differences are generally that a CX bike has a tight gear range somewhere between road and mountain bikes, while a hybrid will have a wide range usually spanning most of both. Hybrid will have flat (mtn-style bars) and CX will have drops and usually road-style integrated shifters. Both could have either disc brakes or cantilever brakes; hybrid may also have (usually not very good) "V" brakes, also sometimes found on cheap mountain bikes. Hybrid might have a cheap front suspension fork. CX geometry will be more aggressive. Hybrid will generally be cheaper. CX might not have rack and fender mounts.

Both will probably do what you want, especially if you're willing to have more than one set of tires. Mostly depends how fast you want to go, how comfortable you want to be, and how much you want to spend. I'd go CX myself.
posted by supercres at 12:03 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

For the uses you describe, the Surly Cross Check would be ideal.
posted by embrangled at 1:36 AM on December 30, 2013

Nthing cyclocross, your description really fits it. Sounds like it would be perfect for your long rides in the countryside.

Also seconding that if you want to ride fast (20-35kmh), cyclocross. And if you're more relaxed (10-20kmh), hybrid.

FWIW: I have a mountain bike (full suspension) and a road bike. I'm a fast road rider, as in I can do 20kmh without much effort and average 35kmh on flat stretches. I tried my commute on my mountain bike once, and it irked me that I couldn't get above 25kmh. If you're like that, love the feel of speed, definitely go for a 'cross, it will give you room to grow. They're tough road bikes, essentially, and as such they share are lot of the upgradeability of them. People I see happy with hybrids are those who average around 15-20kmh and enjoy that. Plus, yes, hybrids are cheaper. No need to buy too much bike if you're not going to use it.
posted by fraula at 4:48 AM on December 30, 2013

You might find the answers to my recent bike buying question helpful.

I ended up with a light touring bike, and the touring bike answers might be off track for you, but folks did explain a lot about buying an "all around", light yet sturdy bike.
posted by latkes at 6:31 AM on December 30, 2013

Also, and I am not a Bike Person, but my impression from my recent bike-buying process is that "hybrid" came to mean, over the years, "cheap" and the better, newer bikes out there are not marketed (or, I suppose, built) this way these days.

Someone more informed should feel free to correct me.
posted by latkes at 6:33 AM on December 30, 2013

"Hybrid=cheap" is not a bad observation but technically a hybrid is a bike that has mostly mountain-bike parts and geometry, with road-size wheels (700c vs 26").

Cyclocross is a form of bike racing that has existed for way longer than mountain biking. A CX bike really is a road bike with slightly different geometry and brakes. Unless you're looking at something really exotic, a road bike is plenty sturdy—you get no benefit from a mountain bike in that department.

If you like the road-bike position, get a CX bike. Or just get a road bike that you can put medium-fat tires on. Or a touring bike. If you want flat bars, there are "speed bikes" that are basically road bikes with flat bars—essentially high-end hybrids.
posted by adamrice at 6:53 AM on December 30, 2013

I've got a old (so old it has a steel frame and solid front fork) Gary Fisher Tiburon (hybrid) that I love. I really prefer an upright position - I'm not racing and like looking around at the scenery, even on a commute - and have had no problem running single tracks offroad.
posted by 445supermag at 7:02 AM on December 30, 2013

I went the CX route for do-it-all riding and haven't looked too far back (I sorta miss my single speed Felt Brougham.)

Gives you lots of options for the buck, and you can usually modify them easily enough.
posted by Thistledown at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2013

Cyclocross has been around for a while, but its market has expanded recently. I think a cyclocross bike would fit the bill if you like drop handlebars. You can get interrupter brake levers to put on the tops if you want to be able to brake both from the drops/hoods and the tops.

I have a 650B bike (Boulder All Road) which fits 42 mm tires, and it's perfectly fine for use on dirt and gravel roads and even fire roads. I had a blast on it riding D2R2 last August. I saw plenty of people using narrow-tired road bikes on that ride too, though my unscientific survey of riders fixing flats suggests that most of those who flatted were using narrow tires. Right now I have Grand Bois Hetre tires on it, which have minimal tread; if I wanted to ride singletrack, I'd put something knobbier on.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:46 AM on December 30, 2013

More and more I favor my touring bike with the clearance for big (but not knobby because I ride mostly on pavement) tires. It's just so much more comfortable and stable to ride. I've been commuting and also do a mild amount of dirt road/trail riding with 32 panaracer pasela treads (they do slip on steep dirt trails though). It is by no means a speedy bike, but I can still keep up on a group ride full of road bikes.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:08 AM on December 30, 2013

I would also go with a cross bike. As long as you don't have much hankering for very technical terrain that warrants a mountain bike you will find that a cross bike works great. Some people even use them on moderate mountain bike trails.
posted by dgran at 9:00 AM on December 30, 2013

Best answer: I beg to differ on the hybrid=mountain bike. My hybrid is a road bike with an upright riding position. Decent hybrid parts are road bike parts, esp shifters, solid front fork, road tires, suitability for touring.

On the hybrid: Shifters are above handlebars not below like the mountain bike shifters (on anything but entry level bike). The gearing is road bike gearing, not mountain bike gearing (I think there are 30 teeth on smallest chainring and high 50s on largest, as opposed to 22-mid 40's on mountain bike). The fixed fork is narrow for high pressure road tires. and I could not fit a solid tire suitable for dirt roads and light off roads. There are mount points for rack, etc to fit panniers, which is not an appropriate usage for mountain bike. I had to upgrade the hybrid to decent disk brakes for use in wet condition, however you would never get hydraulic brakes on a hybrid as you would for a mountain bike.

I own two bikes, the hybrid and a hard tail mountain bike. If I had to pick a single bike for your scenario, I would take the mountain bike hands down. I have hill climbs so the lower gearing of the mountain bike works in my favour. Also, the bike is quick enough for me on the flats with the lock out fork. Sucks on downhills but I would be commuting, also the sweaty backpack would suck for commuting as well.

I do not recommend a hybrid bike for off road usage. I don't even like riding my hybrid on gravel, and it certainly is not geared low enough to hill climb off road. You definitely want something designed for offroad, either cyclocross or hard tail mountain bike.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:23 AM on December 30, 2013

I will add that in Canada there are some great sales on, now is a great time to buy. Ride a bunch of bikes and see what you like.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2013

My husband was commuting on a mix of pavement and gravel with my (2009) Kona Dew Deluxe, marketed as a "hybrid" bike, and went for the 2014 Specialized Tricross Sport Disc when he decided to finally get his own to ride. He had been spoiled with disc brakes from my bike, but through lots of staring at videos and forums on the internet decided that a cyclocross-style bike with drop handlebars and disc brakes would make him feel more confident and safe on the gravel parts of his commute.

I'm waiting to see if he'll eventually decide to try out a cross race or not.
posted by that girl at 11:51 AM on December 30, 2013

@crazycanuck: your bike sounds like a flat-bar road bike, like the Jamis Allegro series or the Specialized Sirrus or the higher-end Vitas.

A traditional hybrid is more like the Jamis Coda series. My 1997 Trek Multitrack 730 has a 22/32/42 triple crank with an 11-28 7-speed cassettes. It was equipped with 38 mm inverted-tread tires on 700C wheels, which were fine for dirt and gravel as well as pavement. That's the kind of bike most of us have in mind when we see "hybrid."

Many hybrids are sold with twist shifters.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:26 PM on December 30, 2013

Best answer: Maybe look at the gravel grinder category. True cyclocross bikes are thoroughbreds designed for a specific kind of racing - they have higher bottom brackets and steeper head angles that help the racer take advantage of tight, twisty corners on a cyclocross course. These attributes make cyclocross bikes a bit less stable for training and long rides (lots of people use cyclocross bikes anyway, it isn't a black and white thing by any means.)

For the riding you describe, you may appreciate the stability and long-ride comfort of the gravel grinder genre. Lucky for you, this bike type is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, and there are a lot of good options out there.

Salsa Warbird
Niner RLT 9
posted by chuke at 11:20 AM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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