We all know what a hybrid is right? It’s a bike with road bike-sized wheels — 700c — often with a mountain bike-inspired frame and it must absolutely, positively, definitely have flat handlebars.
But what happens if that mountain bike-inspired frame is swapped for something a little more speed orientated, and those medium-width tyres are exchanged for something skinny and slicky? Then we have a flat bar road bike, and it has a lot in its favour, as Matt Lamy explains.
Not so long ago, I used to test bikes for national cycling magazines. In fact, on my laptop I even have a little diary of what bikes I tested, when I tested them, how far I cycled with them, and what my general thoughts were. It’s lucky I have that memory jogger because, quite frankly, there are a fair few bikes that I simply can’t remember swinging a leg over.
One bicycle — the BMC Alpenchallenge flat bar road bike — was a different story, though.
I was writing a head-to-head bike test between two hybrids: one with a suspension fork and off-road influence, and one with more of a road bike feel. The Alpenchallenge was the road bike-style test subject. I took both machines on the same test route, with the first section being on a rough trail through a park. While the first hybrid handled it just fine, I remember being almost thrown off the Alpenchallenge’s the saddle with every tree root and lump. ‘What kind of hybrid is this?’ I thought, struggling to maintain both my teeth and overall bike control.
But as we emerged out from the shadows of trees and exited the park gates onto the road, both the sun and a bright light of understanding shone over me. When the people at BMC categorised the Alpenchallenge as a flat bar road bike, it wasn’t just a marketing gimmick. This incredible machine really was as responsive as a go-kart, as efficient as any drop bar bike, as fast as a whippet, and had all this ability with the unexpected addition of flat handlebars, giving it an added element of slightly subversive fun.
At the time, I likened it to a ‘street sleeper’, which is an outwardly nondescript custom car that, under the bonnet, has enough power to make supercars look stupid. With the Alpenchallenge, you really did feel that you could cruise up to the lights next to some Lycra-clad roadie and not just keep up but outpace them when it was time to go.
Flat bar form
Admittedly, the Alpenchallenge with its purpose-built flat bar road bike frame, funky angles and carefully chosen spec is one of the more specialist examples of the flat bar road bike phenomenon, but it’s certainly not the only option out there. We’ve put together a selection of some of our favourite flat bar road bikes below, but before we look at them individually, let’s look at the characteristics, qualities and benefits that they all share.
Of course, first is that focus on speed. Many hybrids do tend to have a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ element to them — indeed, that is part of their charm — but it does mean that compromises are made in certain areas to cater for other potential needs. By consciously making a flat bar road bike, manufacturers can confidently put together all of the ingredients needed for a dedicated speed machine (albeit in a package without drop bars). And with speed tends to come fun and cycling satisfaction.
That satisfaction also comes from a sense of efficiency: so much of your pedalling effort really is being transferred to propel you forwards. Flat bar road bike manufacturers can use performance-designed frames and high-quality road bike componentry to give you fantastic gear shifting, braking and even road handling and control. Such ingredients also have the effect of producing lightweight bikes, which are great to ride but also excellent if you need to carry them upstairs anytime — perfect for city dwellers.
Aside from the practicalities of outright performance, flat bar road bikes even have benefits when it comes to style and comfort. Let’s face it, most drop bar road bike riders probably spend 90% of their time riding with their hands on the brake hoods. Yes, having the option of a few different hand hold positions does allow you to stay comfortable, but flat bar road bikes, to my mind at least, don’t feel like all-day sportive machines that require such provisions. In any case, many people simply don’t want to ride hunched over drop bars for comfort reasons, and many cyclists don’t even want to look like a road bike rider. With a flat bar hybrid, you can hop aboard wearing normal clothes without anything looking out of place.
Hopefully at least some of this has sold the idea of a flat bar road bike to you — they really are a lot of fun. Let’s see some of the best options out there.
Great flat bar road bikes
Pinnacle Neon 1
Can you find a better and faster bike for such a competitive price than Pinnacle’s Neon 1? We don’t think so. The lithe aluminium frame has all the control and speed of a drop bar road bike, with just a little bit of added comfort; the 8-speed single chainring drivetrain is efficient and reliable; and the quick rolling 28c Kenda K-West tyres will have you scything through the traffic.
Specialized Sirrus Disc
Specialized’s Sirrus range of hybrids has always leaned more towards speedy road riding with a frame shape that echoes the curving top tube found on many of the brand’s previous generation of endurance road bikes. This particular model, the Sirrus Disc, is a fantastic and affordable option with an aluminium frame, Shimano gears and Promax hydraulic disc brakes. But if you want something a little more exotic, Specialized even does a super-speedy carbon-framed version.
Cannondale Quick Disc 3
The clue is rather in the name of Cannondale’s Quick Disc range. As with the Specialized Sirrus, there are a number of different specification versions available but this 3 model is a fine mid-range option with internal cable routing, a carbon fork, Tektro hydraulic disc brakes and even a Shimano Sora road bike drive train.
HOY’s Shizuoka line-up starts with the .000 model and progresses to the .005 range topper, but we’ve picked this .004 version because, with its silver-colour aluminium frame, it’s very possible the prettiest flat bar road bike around. HOY says the Shizuoka is “part cyclo-cross bike, part hybrid”, but the specification of carbon fork, SRAM Rival gears and Tektro Orion hydraulic discs suggests it is as built for speed as any road bike.
Built from the ground up as the ultimate dedicated flat bar road bike, BMC’s Alpenchallenge looks unlike any ‘hybrid’ you’ve seen before. The full Alpenchallenge catalogue goes right up to the Alpenchallenge 01 One but this 02 Three model starts the 2018 range off and features fine Shimano Sora gears, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, and even hidden quick-mount mudguard eyelets.
Did we just say the BMC Alpenchallenge was the ultimate flat bar road bike? Well, we might have made a slight mistake because BMC themselves have gone one better. The Roadmachine 02 Flatbar really is an uncompromised road machine, with beautifully integrated carbon frame, Shimano 105 gears, Shimano RS600 road bike hydraulic disc brakes and even Mavic Aksium wheels. It just also comes with flat handlebars.