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I have a Specialized hybrid bike, and when I'm out biking with friends who are on road bikes, I'm always lagging behind. Besides just plain getting better at biking, which of the following would make the biggest difference in increasing my speed?

  • Switch to clipless pedals. Right now I'm just on platform pedals with sneakers.
  • Switch to thinner tires. Right now I have 700x28c.
  • Switch to a dropbar... I think this is more of a comfort thing though.
  • Switch to a road bike! Obviously I'm wondering how close I can come without switching out the bike frame :-)

Thanks!

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28 tires should be narrow enough to give you pretty good performance -- just make sure they're inflated to sidewall pressure (if not a little over). But the smoother the tire (and the less rubber thickness) the better, so a change of tire style may be in order. Drop bars give you more leverage and cut wind resistance, both major factors. Clipless pedals help a bit, but probably more in terms of endurance. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 22 '12 at 21:32
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Ask a road biking friend to switch with you for a few miles.Then you'll know if is your level of fitness or your bike. –  mikes Mar 23 '12 at 0:28
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^^^ a friend of similar height or inseam, presumably. –  memnoch_proxy Mar 24 '12 at 4:49
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You simply need to pedal faster. –  Daniel R Hicks May 19 at 23:41

5 Answers 5

It really depends on how you're lagging. If it's because of feeling tired keeping up with them then reducing friction might be an option. I'd suggest that the most likely reason for lagging behind is that there is a fundamental speed difference though. See whether you're having to pedal faster than them to keep up.

Your top speed is governed by your cogs. Take a look the number of teeth on the front and back. If you have a 13 tooth smallest cog on the back you could get that cassette replaced with one that starts at 11 teeth. Up front you're probably running a 46 tooth chainset whereas your road bike friends are probably running 50 teeth. Again, you can replace that if you fancy it. Just be careful if you do make it faster that you don't lose the low end you want for getting up hills. You should be able to get quite a decent range with the right set of cogs.

Reduced drag from narrower tires may reduce the friction allowing you to accelerate more easily and maintain speed better but won't affect your top speed appreciably.

Clipless pedals may allow you to improve your efficiency with pedalling. I would only look at these when I was happy with a bike though, rather than as a solution to a problem like that.

Update: Based on zenbike's comment I'd say the switching to a road bike warrants more consideration. Assuming it is the gears he's right that a hybrid may well be difficult to alter to run the gear ratio you want to keep up with your friends. When thinking of getting a new bike take a look at how similar it is to the ones your friends ride. Simply getting a cheap heavy one if they have light racers may well leave you with a similar problem.

If 2 bikes have the same gear ratio but one is heavier it will be able to go as fast, but it'll be more effort to get it up to speed, and a little more effort to cruise at the same speed. It's less of a problem than not having the right ratio, but you'll probably find your self lagging a little at first.

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I agree that these are likely the issues, but be careful of compatibility when changing out your gears, especially on the front. Most hybrids run on MTB shifters and derailleurs. There is a maximum tooth count for each derailleur design, and there needs to be enough clearance on the frame to allow a larger crank to fit. –  zenbike Mar 23 '12 at 6:48
    
Good point, I've updated my answer to try to address that. –  Colin Newell Mar 23 '12 at 8:02
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Don't underestimate the difference in aerodynamics between road-bike riding position and hybrid riding position. Even if the gear change is possible, the difference in drag is significant, and would make it somewhat difficult (assuming fitness wasn't a factor) in keeping up with a road bike. –  alesplin Mar 23 '12 at 16:48
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You are correct, if you're not already in your fastest gear when you're struggling, the gears aren't the problem. Have you considered asking your friends if you can swap bikes for a little bit to see the difference so that you can figure out how much difference the bike makes versus the difference in rider? –  Colin Newell Mar 23 '12 at 21:11
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You're not going to find any silver bullet for this, every suggestion here is going to make you slightly faster and cumulatively this will add up to a significant difference. Aside from checking that you don't have brakes rubbing etc, you get the best bang from you buck by decreasing your resistance to the wind. Either hang behind one of your buddies or try to get your body a little lower. Other than that, keep at it, you'll get fitter! –  Jon McAuliffe Mar 29 '12 at 8:32

I'd consider a few things:
1) The weight of the bike. Road bikes tend to weigh less than a hybrid. There is a reason roadies are sometimes overly concerned with the weight of the bike
2) The type of tire. Are you running slicks or heavily treaded tires? Slicks will roll easier on roads. Again, the weight of the tire matters, and wider tires are typically heavier than skinnier tires. However, 28's don't seem overly huge. You could try switching down to some slick 700x25c tires next time you're due for a replacement set of tires
3) The gearing of the bike. Road bikes tend to have a narrower range of gears, leaning towards smaller cogs in the rear than hybrids. They may also have more speeds on the rear cassette, which allow for more steps within the range of gears. Often, hybrids may have 7-8 speeds vs 9-10 on new road bikes. You could possibly swap out your existing cassette with a road bike cassette with same number of speeds (like an 8-speed 11-28 cassette instead of say an 8-speed 12-34 cassette).
4) Foot retention matters. Clipless may increase your pedaling performance, but a cheaper route could be to start off with a set of cages and straps or get some FRS straps like hold fasts or burro straps. I found this to be a big help when powering up hills and feeling more connected to my bike.

If you're really considering changing the gearing, you may just want to try out a new road bike due to the weight, geometry, and drive-train differences. It might be that you're just outgrowing this bike and moving towards a more specialized road bike, more suited to your primary riding style.

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The weight of the bike really makes very little difference, except on a significant climb. The reason roadies like light bikes is more for bragging rights than actual function. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 23 '12 at 20:41
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How important weight is to you is also a factor of geography. I'm in Pittsburgh, where significant climbs are going to happen if you want to go pretty much anywhere. I also thinks it makes a difference with respect to your riding style. If you're a city commuter type, then a lighter bike is easier to handle with frequent starts and stops. –  Benzo Mar 26 '12 at 14:30

If you want to stick with your roadie mates, ultimately you'll need to switch to a road bike. All of the issues you raised affect your ability to stick with them, and getting sorted with a good road bike will address each of them.

Basically, road bikes use the wattage you're outputting more efficiently, they allow you to be more aerodynamic, and they're lighter. The faster you go, the more important each of these are.

You can get marginal gains from modifying your commuter, but I recommend planning for a road bike. Keep your hybrid for commuting and your road bike the real riding. You'll enjoy your time on the bike far more.

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I own a hybrid in which I made some modification. I changed my crank to a fifty tooth and thus I had to change the bottom bracket. This not only made my bike a little faster but the weight was reduced as well. My tires were 32s and I put on 25s. I also reversed my handlebar stem which brought my handlebars lower. On top of that I changed the position of the handlebars. I don't have cages on my peddles not clips. The conclusion to all my efforts: the bike is lighter, faster and my position on it more aerodynamic. In can keep up with my friends and their super bikes without a problem.

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  1. Raise your saddle height(but not beyond the optimum for you leg length. There's an optimum height to deliver your best power for longer) and if adjustable lower your bars. The following will probably be condemned and is at your own risk but you can rest your elbows on the extreme of the handles slightly rearward and place your hands at the centre of the steering column. This gets you in, as near as damn it, as good an aero position as a racing bike.
  2. Inflate your tyres to maximum design pressure. This has the effect of turning fat tyres into thinner tyres more approaching a racing bike.

Won't get you to a road bike speed but will bridge the gap somewhat at no cost.

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