Cruiser or Hybrid Bike: How Do You Decide?

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So you’re ready to buy a brand new, super styling bad-ass bike, but you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. Well you’ve clicked on the right page. The following is a breakdown of the differences between classic cruiser bikes and more modern hybrid bikes. Both types of bikes have their pros and cons depending on the rider’s experience, preferences, and riding conditions. 

sixthreezero Around The Block Women's 7-Speed Beach Cruiser Bicycle, 26

Cruiser bike

Schwinn GTX Elite Comfort Adult Hybrid Bike, Dual Sport Bicycle, 18-Inch Aluminum Frame, Black/Yellow

Hybrid bike

We’ll start by discussing what each bike is used for, then compare cruisers vs. hybrid bikes in terms of features, so you can make an informed decision on which model is best for you. 

Purpose of cruiser bikes vs. hybrid bikes

Cruiser bikes 

sixthreezero Around The Block Women's 7-Speed Beach Cruiser Bicycle, 26

Cruiser bikes, or beach cruisers as they’re often known, are the perfect option for relaxed rides around the bend to take in the scenic view from your upright riding position. The bikes themselves are larger than other types but less mechanically complex. Their size makes them slower, which is why they are most commonly recommended choice for beginners, inexperienced cyclists or people looking to get back into cycling for recreational purposes. 

Cruisers are not meant for long-distance rides but people often use them for neighborhood errands. They aren’t the best for daily transportation, but better suited for casual riding. Cruiser bikes are also popular among tourists looking for low-impact exercise and a fun way to explore their travel environment.  

They’re the type of bikes that draw attention. Being seen is a big part of the point when you ride a class cruiser. These bikes boast customizable designs and an ever-growing inventory of accessories. They are the epitome of cool for showing off your style.  

Hybrid bikes

Schwinn GTX Elite Comfort Adult Hybrid Bike, Dual Sport Bicycle, 18-Inch Aluminum Frame, Black/Yellow

Hybrid bikes are a combination of speedy lightweight road bikes and heavy duty mountain bikes. Cyclists wanted an option compatible with different types of terrains. Hybrids came onto the market in the late 1980s to fill this void. They are more versatile and practical than cruisers. Hybrids can handle both paved and dirt roads, so they’re excellent bikes for city riding,  commuting and light trail riding. 

More experienced riders will appreciate their powerful hand brakes and precise steering with greater control. Hybrids are easily able to transition between city streets and gravel paths. They are great for long weekend explorations. They come with tires that will serve you just if you get caught out in the rain. While hybrids are more purpose-driven, comfort and style aren’t lost on them, either. 

Design 

Cruisers are built specifically for comfort while hybrids are multipurpose, and this is reflected in the design of their parts. 

Handlebars 

The major tell-tale difference between cruiser bikes and hybrid bikes is the handlebars. 

SENQI Bicycle Rise Cruiser Handlebar 25.4mm Silver

Cruiser bike handlebars.

Cruisers come equipped with upright handlebars that curve around towards the rider—some more dramatically than others into a full semi-circle shape. This allows for the rider to sit in a more comfortable upright position that improves posture and puts less strain on your back. There is more room to mount a front basket, but because of the curved handlebars you may need to get a basket specifically designed for your cruiser model.    

BW USA Fixie Handlebars – 31.8 Riser Bars for Fixie, Commuter Hybrid and Other Urban Style Bicycles

Hybrid bike handlebars

Hybrids have flat, compact, straight handlebars that make it easy to mount lights and phone holders. More importantly, their shorter length offers ease of control. They are much more practical when it comes to trying to navigate through traffic at higher speeds. 

Wheels 

Another clear difference between hybrid bicycles and cruisers are the wheels. 

Typical cruiser bike with big thick tires.
Big tires on a typical cruiser bike. (© Umberto Brayj | Creative Commons)

Cruisers feature big thick wheels, also referred to as balloon tires. These are meant for riding on paved bike lanes, paved roads, boardwalks and sidewalks but they have a difficult time with other types of terrain. These wheels offer a smooth comfy ride, but they are heavier and make acceleration more difficult. If slow and steady is what you’re looking for, a cruiser bicycle is the way to go.    

Hybrids usually come with wheels of medium thickness and more tire tread options. This makes them ideal for riding on the above-mentioned types of terrain, as well as on wet surfaces, dirt paths, gravel and moderately rocky spots.

Hybrid wheels don’t have the same durability as mountain bike wheels, so it’s not a good idea to ride them on steep downhill trails. 

Frame 

You may be familiar with the curvy swooped look of a cruiser frame. They are easy to spot and are popularly represented in mass media. Hybrid frames are a little harder to recognize. 

Cruiser frames are fun and stylish, often painted with bright eye-catching colors and topped with a padded seat. Their curved tubes are iconic. And if you’ve ever tried to ride, or more likely push, one uphill, its heavy weight is immediately apparent. Cruisers can weight upwards of 50 pounds, and that’s roughly 20 pounds heavier than their more straightforward hybrid counterparts.  

Hybrids, by nature, are a blend of light speedy road bike and thick performance-oriented mountain bike. Mixing and matching elements of each, some cruiser bikes will include shocks, at least on the front wheel. They are harder to tell apart because they can incorporate a little bit of everything. Some will lean more toward the road bike end of the spectrum, others more toward the mountain bike end.  

Brakes 

Being able to stop your bicycle effectively is important, especially when you’re traveling in a high-traffic area as is more common with hybrids. Cruisers and hybrids usually have different types of brakes.

Cruiser bikes—at least classic beach cruiser bikes—were traditionally built with coaster brakes. These are still common on children bikes. They are internal and you engage them by pedalling backwards. Coaster brakes are easier to maintain than rim or disc brakes, which makes them a popular choice with cyclists who don’t want to worry about their bike being ready to go when they are.

On a classic cruiser, you just backpedal to engage your coaster brakes. (© Umberto Brayj | Creative Commons)

As we’ve already mentioned, you will be traveling slower on your heavier, wider-wheeled cruiser, so having that extra split second of reaction time that hand brakes provide is less of a concern for cruiser riders. 

Hybrid bikes, commonly used for commuting, require a more attentive braking system because they tend to travel among and alongside cars. Hybrids typically employ rim brakes. These have been the most popular braking system for decades and they come in a number of different styles.

However, if you don’t want to wear down your bike’s rims or you ride in all kinds of weather conditions and efficient braking is important to you, you might want to find a hybrid bike with disc brakes. Originally developed for mountain bikes, the optimal braking power of disc brakes has been adopted by bikes across the board, including new cruisers. This upgraded braking technology works by applying pressure to a rotor instead of your bike’s rims, helping your wheels last a lot longer with proper care. 

Gears 

Your bike’s gear system and drivetrain dictate how much power you can transfer into forward motion with one pedal stroke. 

An old-school cruiser usually has a single gear. The appeal again of these single-speed bikes is easier maintenance, fewer moving parts to deal with, few distractions and an easier learning curve for new bikers. The clear drawback of single-speed bikes is that getting up steep hills is damn near impossible. Have no fear! If you have a your heart set on a cruiser bike, most new models come equipped with a few gear options—generally either three or seven.

The ride to the beach is always fun, but a few gears can make the uphill ride back home more manageable as well.

Hybrid bikes, being part road bike part mountain bike, have a lot more gear options. Most gear systems start at around eight gears and can go as to as many as 20. Again, it all depends on how and where you want to ride your bicycle. 

Price 

If the deciding factor comes down to price, cruisers are the bike for you. Hybrids offer more versatility, greater function, more options and are mechanically more complex. It’s little wonder they come with a higher price tag. But if it’s a hybrid you’re after, you can still find deals in a range comparable to cruisers. Check out our recent look at the best hybrids under $500

The difference

Cruiser bikes are built for fun, while hybrid bikes are designed to work in a number of circumstances. I think both are good options for beginners. Picking one over the other comes down to how and where you want to ride your bike. 

Personally, I prefer not to be limited by the design of my bike when deciding whether I want to go on a longer ride or challenge myself. Therefore, I chose a hybrid bike. They’re still fun, comfortable and easy to ride, but they’re also customizable and upgradeable. I like that my bike is able to grow with me as I grow as a cyclist.   

If you really can’t decide between a cruiser and hybrid, you don’t have to. Companies catering to all desires now make hybrid cruisers—for example the Kona Coco, which combines the best of both worlds into the ultimate comfort bike.

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