There are few better ways to get in shape or maintain your fitness than by riding a bicycle. But you don’t need a high-end road-racing model to do it. Fitness bikes (also known as hybrids) offer a balance of lightweight speed and a confidence-inspiring upright position that can make cycling more comfortable and fun. They’re also ideal as daily commuter bikes, due to their wide tires for smoothing out choppy pavement and gravel, simple and sometimes maintenance-free drivetrains, and disc brakes for more control, especially on slick surfaces.
Check out quick info below on the five top-performing fitness bikes, then scroll deeper for more buying advice and longer reviews of these and other quality rides.
Flat Bar vs. Drop Bar
A fitness bike starts with a traditional road bike platform: fast-rolling 700c wheels and a lightweight, efficient frame. But while a road bike typically comes outfitted with a drop bar, a fitness bike’s signature feature is a flat handlebar. This provides a wide hand stance for better control, easy brake-lever access, and a more upright position that’s comfortable and conducive to looking over a shoulder in traffic. These are just a few of the reasons why new cyclists and commuters are often drawn to this type of bike.
But a proper fitness bike is more than just a road bike with a flat bar: It’s a bike that’s been specifically designed to be ridden with one. Chad Price, core research and development director at Specialized, says that a fitness bike typically has a longer reach than a road bike, resulting in better handling from a flat bar and shorter stem.
One of the best technologies to come to fitness bikes is disc brakes. Although they cost a little more than rim-style brakes, discs offer more control and precision, particularly in wet conditions. They also don’t require as much hand strength to operate, making them a reliable choice for rides with long, winding descents.
Some lower-cost bikes may come with cable-actuated disc brakes, a cheaper alternative that’s not quite as powerful or as low maintenance as a fully hydraulic disc-brake system but that delivers similar all-weather performance and reliability.
The Right Gearing
Most fitness bikes come with two chainrings in the front and between nine and 11 cogs in the rear. Having more gears in the back allows you to fine-tune your shifting so you can keep a steady cadence, no matter the terrain. Bikes with three front chainrings typically cost less, but the third ring can make shifting less precise. A single-ring option simplifies shifting and cuts down on maintenance but may not have the range you need for climbing.
Belt Drives and Internally Geared Hubs
A belt drive (which takes the place of a chain) with an internally geared hub (where all the gearing is packaged inside the rear hub’s shell and sealed from the elements) requires less maintenance than a traditional chain-and-derailleur drivetrain. It’s incredibly reliable and very clean, says Andrew Lumpkin, CEO of Spot Bikes. A belt drive is also easy to use (one shifter controls everything) and, perhaps best of all, lets you change gears while sitting still at a stop light. It’s a great, low-maintenance option if you can afford it, though it adds a small amount of weight.
How We Evaluated
As a former bike messenger, bike tour leader, and writer for bike publications, I’ve been asked to recommend a lot of bikes over the years. Anticipating these queries, I’ve made a big effort to test as many hybrids and city bikes as I can—not only because they’re great for commuting, fitness, and fun, but also because these are the kinds of bikes that my non-bike-geeky friends and family are most interested in buying. I used my own experiences to inform this list, as well as the work of Bicycling’s team of expert bike testers, who spent weeks on many of these models—commuting on them, taking them out on long bike path cruises, and using them to join fun group rides—to suss out the best (and least desirable) qualities. Because some of our top picks are no longer in stock, we also included a few that we didn’t test but still recommend based on our experience with similar bikes in the same range. Most of the bikes on our list are in stock right now, so don’t waste time ordering.
Priority Continuum Onyx
Frame: Aluminum | Fork: Aluminum | Weight: Not listed | Components: Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, Gates belt drive |Gearing: 50t Gates CDN, 24t Gates CDX progressive shifting | Other Features: Dynamo-powered lights, internal gear routing, kickstand
Priority is known for making high-quality city bikes that are a cinch to maintain for year-round riding. In keeping with that reputation, this sleek, efficient model has a Gates Carbon belt drive that won’t stretch or rust, flat-resistant 700x32mm WTB tires with reflective sidewalls, and front and rear dynamo-powered lights, so you never have to worry about charging yours before your early morning commute. The Tektro hydraulic disc brakes make it easy to stop quickly in all weather conditions, and the Enviolo CVT twist shifters provide smooth, progressive shifting from one resistance level to the next. At $1,299, the Continuum Onyx isn’t the cheapest commuter rig out there, but it’s a high-quality machine for the price, largely due to the brand’s direct-to-consumer model. Ultimately, all those thoughtfully planned extras add up to a serious bargain for a bike that’s equally practical and a joy to ride.
Marin Fairfax 2
Frame: Aluminum | Fork: Aluminum | Weight: Not listed | Components: Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, Shimano/Microshift drivetrain | Gearing:48/38/28, Shimano Acera 3x8 speed drivetrain | Other Features: Fender and rack mounts, internal cable routing, kickstand mount
Marin’s Fairfax line has long been an in-house favorite for its smooth-riding comfort and use of reliable parts at a cost far below similarly spec’d bikes. Like all of our favorite hybrids, the Fairfax 2—the mid-level option—is also versatile as heck. It handles well at paces above 16mph so you can keep up with the group ride, but it has everything you need to tackle an uneven urban commute, like a flat bar, burly 35mm tires, and a 3x8-speed Shimano Acera triple chainset ready to race to the top of San Francisco-sized hills—plus Tektro hydraulic disc brakes for stopping on a dime on the way down. Fender, rack, and kickstand mounts make it easy to customize the bike to your commuting needs. We also recommend the more entry-level Fairfax 1, but this model has a lighter aluminum fork and hydraulic disc brakes, among other upgrades.
Cannondale Quick Disc 3
Frame: Alloy | Fork: Carbon | Weight: 25 lb., 6.4 oz. | Components: Shimano Acera (front), Altus (rear), Tektro hydro disc brakes | Gearing: 2x9-speed, 11-34, 48/32 | Other Features: 700c x 35mm Schwalbe Spicer tires
If you’re still holding onto the belief that hybrids are by definition sluggish and heavy, the Quick will disabuse you of that idea quickly. The bike is a favorite for its light weight, fast feel, and smooth ride, plus a comfortable upright riding position that makes it an easy choice for recommending to new riders. The 2x9-speed drivetrain comes courtesy of Shimano, with a decent range for tackling the hills on your commute. Tektro hydraulic disc brakes give you confident stopping power, while the 35mm Schwalbe tires barrel over urban debris. The Quick Disc 4, with a steel fork, microSHIFT Advent groupset, and 1x9 gearing (as opposed to the 3’s carbon fork, Shimano Altus and Acera group, and 2x9) rides similarly well and costs a bit less, but the Quick Disc 3 is my first choice among the line.
―BEST VALUE STEP-THROUGH―
Co-op Cycles CTY 1.1 Step-Through
Frame: Aluminum | Fork: Aluminum | Weight: 26.8 lb. | Components: Mixed Shimano, Tektro mechanical disc brakes | Gearing: Shimano ty-301 8-speed, 48/38/28, 11-32 | Other Features: 700x40c tires, fender and rack mounts
The CTY 1.1 Step-Through has a low standover, making it easy to mount and dismount as well as stand over the bike with both feet flat on the ground. The Shimano Altus 3x8-speed drivetrain offers riders 24 gear combos from which to choose, the smallest of which is 28x32. Most riders will find the CTY suitable for climbing hills around town. Mechanical disc brakes provide reliable and predictable braking in all weather conditions, although they aren’t as powerful (or expensive) as the hydraulic brakes found on pricier bikes. The flat bar and high stack puts riders in a comfortable and upright riding position, and although the bike has no suspension, the 40mm-wide Kenda K-1024 tires should do a great job of smoothing out potholes and bumps on rough urban streets. But just because the word CTY appears in the name doesn’t mean this bike isn’t also well-suited to trips on cinder bike paths and rail trails. One thing to note: REI’s Co-op bikes are member-exclusives, meaning you have to shell out $20 for a one-year membership—a small price to pay for all the bonuses it has to offer, not to mention in-stock bikes at a time when bikes are hard to find.
Frame: 6061-T6 Aluminum | Fork: SR Suntour Mobie A32, 75mm travel, thru-axle, with lockout | Weight: 61 lb. | Components: 750W (peak)/500W (sustained), brushless rear hub motor, 28mph max speed; 672Wh battery | Gearing: Shimano Acera, 8-speed, 46 chainring, 12-32 | Other Features: E-assist
If you’re looking for a pedal-assisted boost to make long commutes go faster and let you leave your car at home most days, the Level is the ultimate practical choice. The bike checks all of a commuter’s boxes: It has upright geometry, full fenders, a rear cargo rack, a kickstand, and an understated, monochrome aesthetic. But don’t let the bike’s practicality fool you—it’s also packing some serious power in a rear hub motor, which provides 500 watts of sustained power and 750 watts at peak power, fed by a 672Wh lithium-ion rechargeable battery in the down tube. An 8-speed Shimano Acera drivetrain ensures you’ll find the right gear, and the SR Suntour fork capably smooths out rougher terrain. Just be warned that the bike is a bit heavy, so you won’t want to get caught with a dead battery on a big climb.
Batch The Lifestyle
Frame: 6061 Aluminum | Fork: Steel | Weight:Not listed | Components: Shimano Tourney, Sunrace | Gearing: Sunrace 14-28, 7-speed | Other Features: Rack and fender mounts
Batch Bicycles first wowed us in 2018 with its sub-$500 commuter bike—an effort to bridge the gap between cheap big-box store rigs and the considerably higher asking prices at local bike shops. Now Batch has introduced an even more affordable model to its line, with fewer bells and whistles but everything you need to ride to work or get in a good workout on two wheels. The Lifestyle is a very basic bike: It has a 6061 aluminum frame and steel fork, a Shimano Tourney 1x7-speed drivetrain, a flat bar, rim brakes, and grippy but smooth-rolling 700 x 38mm tires—plus rack and fender mounts for convenient commuting. But the bike is revolutionary in filling a market need: It provides a safe, reliable, and fun commuter option, with recognizably branded parts, for those who want to spend less than $400. If you want to upgrade to a slightly racier bike with more gearing, Batch’s similarly inexpensive Fitness bike costs $70 more.
Norco Indie 4
Frame: Aluminum | Fork: Steel | Weight: Not listed | Components: Shimano Tourney, Shimano Altus | Gearing: Shimano 7-speed, 11-34 | Other Features: Rack and fender mounts, a kickstand
Norco is a Canadian brand that’s been making high-quality bikes—particularly BMXes—since the ’60s. The Indie is the brand’s daily commuter, built for barreling down city streets and cruising along rail trails. Well-spec’d for its purpose, the bike has a Shimano 7-speed drivetrain that gives you plenty of options for navigating rolling terrain, WTB Fast Rolling 27.5 x 2.0-inch tires to take the edge off choppy pavement, and rack and fender mounts so you can convert it into the ultimate commuter. The mechanical disc brakes aren’t ideal—hydraulic discs would be more powerful—but they give you good stopping power in wet weather and keep the price of the bike within reach. One of our favorite features is also one of the bike’s seemingly most trivial: The backswept riser bar makes for a comfortable, upright riding position.
Liv Alight 3 DD Disc
Frame: Aluminum | Fork: Steel | Weight: Not listed | Drivetrain: Mixed Shimano Tourney | Gearing: Shimano TZ50, 7-speed, 28/38/48, 14x34 | Other Features: Fender and rack mounts
With its upright geometry, the Alight is a comfortable commuter and casual rider. The lightweight aluminum frame is decked out with mounts for racks and fenders if you choose to add those, or leave it bare and simple, ready for longer rides for exercise. Disc brakes offer excellent stopping power, and puncture-resistant tires mean you’ll spend more time riding and less time fussing with flats. A wide-range cassette and triple chainring offer a great number of gears, including many easy ones for hilly rides.
—FLOATS OVER POTHOLES—
Diamondback Division 1
Frame: 6061 Aluminum | Fork: Aluminum | Weight: Not listed | Components: Shimano, Tektro mechanical disc brakes | Gearing: Shimano 8-speed, 12-32 cassette | Other Features: Vee Tire Co. Zilent, 27.5 x 47c tubeless tires, rack and fender mounts
Yes, commuter bikes are supposed to be sensible and practical, but sometimes they’re also just a blast to ride—letting us rip around corners and race over pothole landmines like the city is a flow trail. Such is the case with the Division 1, Diamondback’s relatively new commuter bike, which is designed to be lightweight and easy to schlep into an apartment but brawny enough to float over all manner of gnarly terrain and obstacles. For the price, the Division 1 has a great blend of parts—a 1x8 Shimano Acera drivetrain, Tektro mechanical disc brakes, and tubeless 27.5-inch x 47mm tires that feel smooth and capable on pavement or light trails. All this adds up to a ride experience that’s lively, responsive, and much zippier than you’d expect from your standard hybrid.
―GREAT PRICE FOR THE PARTS―
Canyon Roadlite 7.0
Frame: Aluminum | Fork: Carbon | Weight: 10kg | Components: Shimano 105 | Gearing: 11-speed, 50/34, 11-34 | Other Features: Rack and fender mounts
For those who can’t decide between a lightweight, zippy road machine and a comfortable, less expensive hybrid, there’s one bike that represents the perfect handshake of the two: the Canyon Roadlite 7.0. The 7.0 has commuter-friendly features like a flat handlebar that gives you a more upright positioning, and mounts for a rear rack and front fenders. But it also has a lightweight aluminum frame with the aggressive geometry and carbon fork you might expect from a high-performance road bike. Add to that a Shimano 105 drivetrain with a compact 50/34 chainring and 11-34 11-speed cassette, plus hydraulic disc brakes. It’s rare to find all that on a bike under $1,000, but Canyon delivers—if you can wait on pandemic-era shipping delays.