trek hybrid bike with slick tires

Hybrid bikes aren’t quite as fast as road bikes on smooth pavement. They are usually set up for comfort rather than speed. But that doesn’t mean they have to be slow!

Here are some ways you can make your hybrid bike faster:

How to Make Your Hybrid Bike Faster

With a little bit of effort and some upgrades, you could get a boost of speed, or even transform your hybrid into a bike that’s downright fast.

Get new tires designed for speed

Most hybrids come with cheap, heavy tires. Top priorities for hybrid bike tires are usually durability, flat prevention, and low cost, with the ability to find traction on a variety of surfaces.

These tires are probably on the wider side, perhaps 35 or 37 mm, maybe even 40 mm wide. And they probably have some sort of knobs. (Knobby tires are great for mountain bikes, but on the road, they just slow you down.)

You can swap out these tires with something that is lighter and faster. A skinnier, smoother tread tire is going to have less rolling resistance. A more expensive tire will also be lighter, and those weight savings translate directly into increased speed.

Tires are by far the #1 way to go faster on your hybrid. Here are some good choices available in the 700c x 28mm size:

  • Panaracer GravelKing Slick are lightweight, fast tires with good grip on various road surfaces. (Check price on Amazon.)
  • Continental Gatorskin are tough, durable tires that resist punctures and roll fast. (Check price on Amazon.)
  • Vittoria Rubino Pro are very fast tires that are great for high speeds on paved roads. (Check price on Amazon.)

These low rolling resistance tires are sure to make a huge difference compared to knobby, wider tires.

Remove your suspension

Most hybrid bikes come equipped with a front suspension fork, but this is mainly for looks. The idea is that the front suspension will create a smoother ride, but in reality, the cheap suspension forks are probably worse than if the bike had a rigid steel fork!

But they’re not just ineffective. They really weigh down the bike, too. If you’re willing to replace your fork (generally a job for a bike shop), a rigid steel fork will be lighter and faster.

A cheaper option is to adjust your fork to be as stiff as possible. If your fork offers a lockout functionality, use it!

Your bike may also have a suspension seatpost. Again, these are heavy and detract from your speed. Replace it with a carbon fiber seatpost.

Obviously, a lighter bike is going to be faster. But the bigger impact comes from eliminating the wasted energy from your suspension bobbing up and down.

Create a more aerodynamic position

Hybrids put you in a more upright riding position, which is more comfortable, but it is not even close to being aerodynamic. The wind resistance is going to make you very slow.

You may be able to achieve a more aerodynamic riding position with a longer stem and/or lower handlebar. Just be cognizant of your bike fit.

You may even be able to attach clip-on aero bars to your current handlebar. This lets you ride in a very aerodynamic position! But remember, this makes the bike harder to handle.

Get a bike computer

Adding a bike computer with a speedometer is very inexpensive. Now that GPS units are the norm, simple bike computers are cheap. You might even know a cyclist who has an extra and would give it to you for free.

A reputable brand CATEYE still makes these. (Here’s one on Amazon if you can’t find one locally.)

The computer itself won’t make you faster, but it will let you know if a certain change is making you faster or slower.

For instance, if you install aerobars, you can compare your average speed riding on the flat handlebar vs riding on the aerobars.

Clean and lube your chain

If your chain is dirty, it’s going to slow you down. You’ll be wasting effort on every single pedal stroke.

Clean your chain and put some fresh lube on there! (May I suggest Dumonde Tech Lite lube.)

Try clipless pedals

Your hybrid probably came with flat pedals made of slippery plastic. It’s hard to get a good grip on these, which means it’s harder to apply power to your pedal stroke.

If you’re up for it, try clipless pedals and shoes. The shoes lock into the pedals securely, allowing you to pedal powerfully.

(You could also try adding toe straps, which is cheaper, but not quite as effective.)

Change your gearing

If you find yourself regularly spinning out your high gears, it may be worth considering a new cassette and/or chainrings. Higher gears mean higher speeds and increased maximum speed.

These higher gears could help you keep pedaling on downhills and maintain speed as you go into the next uphill.

Changing your bike’s gearing is not super difficult, but it can be tricky. You need to be aware of the maximum capacities your derailleurs can handle. It’s probably not worth it on its own, but if your cassette is worn out and needs replaced, that could be an opportunity to make a change.

Remove accessories

Your bike might have quite a few accessories attached: racks, bags, fenders, etc. If you don’t use them, remove them!

Removing this dead weight is like getting free speed. It’s not going to make a huge difference, but it counts.

Lose weight

What might be even better than lowering your bike weight is lowering your own body weight. It’s easier said than done, but consider losing weight.

If you have to ride lots of hills, extra weight makes it much tougher, whether that weight is on your bike or on your body.

Changes That Are NOT Worth It

Hybrid bikes are popular because sometimes it’s hard to choose between a road or mountain bike. Hybrid bikes offer a compromise.

Unfortunately, they’re not great at either option. Which can lead you into so many upgrades that it would be more cost-effective to buy a new bike!

Here are some things you might be considering, but probably aren’t worth it:

  • Buying lightweight parts. Lightweight parts are very, very expensive, and they won’t make a substantial improvement to your bike’s speed.
  • Switching to drop bars. If your hybrid has a flat handlebar, changing to drop bars (typical road bike style handlebars) would allow you to get more aero, but it’s a major project.
  • New trends like disc brakes and tubeless tires. While these technologies can help you be faster in mountain bike racing, their utility for road biking is questionable. They certainly won’t translate into any speed difference on your hybrid.

Can I Go Faster With Skinny Tires on My Hybrid?

This article was inspired by a reader’s question about putting skinnier road tires on a hybrid bicycle in order to go faster and keep up with the road bikers…

Hi Coach Levi, Not too long ago I wrote to you about whether I should trade in my bike (Scott Sportster P6) for a road bike. I was told by my brother to stick with this bike and he may upgrade in the future and he’ll give me the road bike he has now (Orbea.) let’s suffice it to say that convinced me to stay with it. I was told by some people on a forum to replace the 37c tires that it came with to something smaller like 28c/30c, will this make it faster in the long run?

I know mine is no match to his speedwise but just to add a little more speed what size do you think I should upgrade to?

Thanks,
Hybrid Henry

Hi Henry,

I bet you could feel a noticeable difference if you put some new rubber on there. I haven’t seen the bike’s tires in person, but I saw them labeled as “700x37c semi slick.” So not only are they wider than necessary, there is probably excess rubber to add weight, and an excessive tread pattern to add rolling resistance. That’s not necessary when road riding.

I would upgrade to a 700x28c tire that’s as slick as possible. Not many actual racing tires come in that size, but there should be a few decent options.

It might also be possible to go to a 700x25c tire. That reduces the tire width by about 12mm (half an inch), or 50%. And you get more options, as many racing tires come in 700×20-25c sizes.

The main question is, would it fit the rim? You would need to make sure the rim is narrow enough. I think the rim should be ~ 15mm wide (measurements are for inside rim width) to run the 700x25c tire. (You can do further reading here.)

Or you can measure the outside rim width with a caliper and make sure it’s narrower than the tire you want. If the rim is wider than the tire, that’s not good!

To be safe, though, it’s probably best to stick with a 700x28c tire or larger.

All that said, you might not notice much difference in speed. It’s still a hybrid, after all. Since I haven’t done this exact swap I can’t say for sure.

The situation is similar to another question I had about getting a cyclocross bike and putting skinny tires on it, rather than buying a true road bike. It’s just not the same, and after the time and money spent trying to make it into something it’s not, you’ll probably be left disappointed.

Worst case scenario, you put up with the slow hybrid, then you notice a gigantic speed increase when you switch to the road bike later!

This article was originally published on June 20, 2011. It was updated and re-published on August 9, 2023.

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