Whether you are commuting, exercising, or joyriding, rail trails provide cyclists with amazing riding opportunities, but which bikes are best for rail trails?
With cycling being more popular than ever, rail trails continue to expand across the country - with upwards of 15,000 miles of track for riders to take full advantage of. Although rail trails are accessible for riders of all experience levels, you want to make sure that you pick a bike that is going to be comfortable and suitable for your riding style and trail terrain.
The best bikes for rail trails are:
- Specialized Allez
- CANNONDALE CAAD13 Disc 105
- Trek Domane AL 2
- Specialized Sirrus 2.0
- Trek FX 3 Disc
- Batch The Fitness
If you are craving a long and peaceful bike ride, hitting a rail trail is a perfect place to cycle. These trails are scattered throughout the country, and there seem to be more and more of them popping up. With that said, if you have your eyes set on your local rail trail, you need to buy the right bike before you can start riding. There are a lot of options for bikes on the market that are great for rail trail riding, and you will find that some are considerably better than others. To help you understand this further, we are going to take a closer look at the best bikes for rail trails.
After extensively researching cycling forums, I have been able to gather enough information to determine the best bikes for riding rail trails. My research has indicated that you should always select a bike that is suitable for your riding style and trail terrain.
Specialized Allez (Best All-around Road Bike)
Specialized is one of the biggest names in the cycling industry, and their road bikes stand out amongst the competition. Rail trail riders who want a versatile and dynamic bike can’t go wrong with buying the Specialized Allez.
The Allez is not the most advanced bike from Specialized, but it ticks a lot of boxes for any rider that wants to hit their local rail trail. This road bike has well-rounded specs and is suitable for a variety of different riding conditions, which is why a lot of entry-level cyclists tend to lean towards the Allez when starting out.
With that said, the Specialized Allez can be purchased in a few different models. Depending on whether you want a bike equipped with the highest grade parts and components or something that is more basic, you can choose to opt for one of the following variations of the bike:
- Allez Sprint LTD
- Allez Sprint
- Allez Sport
- Allez Elite
The style and design of each Allez model are quite similar, but you will see upgraded parts with the Sprint series in particular. Regardless of which model you choose, the performance that you get out of your bike will be suitable for just about any rail trail that you hit. The nice thing about the Allez is that it is very easy to customize later on, so you can always upgrade components to improve performance down the line.
Each Allez is built with Shimano parts which can be found in the derailleur, levers, crankset, and bottom bracket. The fork is full carbon, but the frame is actually made out of Specialized's custom E5 Premium Aluminum. Depending on your riding style and the terrain of your rail trail, this could be a benefit or a drawback.
For smooth and paved terrain, a carbon fiber frame would increase the speed and performance of the bike. However, if your rail trail has any kind of adverse terrain, the aluminum frame is going to increase the durability of the bike considerably.
All in all, this is one of the most versatile and adaptable rail trail bikes on the market. Specialized has designed the Allez with a variety of different models so that riders can select an option based on their budget, as well as the performance that they want to achieve on the trail.
With the most affordable option of the Allez starting at just $1,000, this road bike is within reach of most budget shoppers. On the other hand, if you want an Alez with top-notch capabilities, you are much better off going for the Sprint series, which costs upwards of $6,800.
Cannondale CAAD13 (Best Performance Road Bike)
Cannondale's CAAD series is legendary in the cycling industry. The manufacturer has continuously pumped out amazing bikes, and the CAAD13 is an upgrade from the CAAD12.
The aim of this project was to make the CAAD13 not only faster than its predecessor but also more comfortable, which is why this is one of the best performance bikes for rail trail riders. The stellar design of the CAAD13 has resulted in a top-notch bike that is suitable for just about any rail trail.
Many riders regard this machine as the fastest and best-performing road bike in the world, which is not far off. One of the main reasons behind the success of the CAAD13 is the exceptional design and also superior frame. Cannondale’s custom Ultralight SmartForm C1 Premium Alloy Frame is one of the lightest aluminum frames ever built, which has been a key feature behind a lot of the manufacturer’s best bikes.
The aluminum frames that Cannondale builds are superior to the majority of what the competition has in their bikes, and it makes the CAAD13 incredibly lightweight and durable. When you add a full carbon fork to this equation, you get a top-of-the-line road bike that is built for agility, handling, and - of course, speed!
The Cannondale CAAD13 also features a Shimano 105 hydro disc group and a Cannondale 1 crank. You will also find that the majority of the components used in the design of the bike are either Shimano or Cannodale’s custom parts.
Cannondale’s CAAD13 is not a bike that a casual rail trail rider should buy. The CAAD13 is built for peak performance and it may be too much bike for someone interested in leisure riding. On the other hand, the CAAD13 is perfect for rail trail riders who want a high-end machine that is suitable for racing and insanely fast commuting.
Depending on the specs that you want your CAAD13 to have, you can find this road bike in a few different model variations. The most basic option starts at just $1,800, which is a remarkable price point for a bike of this caliber. Whereas the high-end models of the Cannondale CAAD13 can be as high as $6,000. If you are looking for a rail trail road bike that will deliver you the best performance imaginable, look no further - the CAAD13 will not let you down.
Trek Domane AL 2 (Best Budget Road Bike)
If you are just starting out as a cyclist and want an intro-level road bike that can still deliver on performance, the Trek Domane AL 2 is a great option for beginners. Trek designed this bike to be easy and fun to ride - with speed and durability being key characteristics of this machine.
The 100 Series Alpha Aluminum is super lightweight and tough compared to carbon fiber. If you are not aiming to set a land speed record, this will be a great fit for any rail trail rider. This Trek road bike also features Shimano parts in the crankset, cassette, derailleurs, and chain.
Unlike a lot of road bikes that are solely focused on speed, Trek designed the Domane AL 2 to offer balanced performance, which is complemented by increased comfort. Beginner cyclists who want to get a feel for road biking will find that the Domane AL 2 is a great starting point, as you get solid performance at a very reasonable price.
The great thing about the Domane AL 2 is that Trek made it very easy to customize. This implies that if you want to make adjustments or changes to your machine down the line it will not be an issue.
Buying a top-notch road bike is never cheap, and they are often $3,000 - $4,000+. However, Trek built this bike with the intention of keeping costs low so that it is within reach of the budget shopper, which is why you can buy yourself a Domane AL 2 for just $1,129.
Specialized Sirrus 2.0 (Best Overall Hybrid Bike)
Specialized hybrid bikes are a force to be reckoned with. You should not expect to hit speeds as you would on a road bike, but you will have much more versatility on a rail trail - especially if the terrain is not paved.
The Sirrus 2.0 is one of the best hybrid bikes on the market, and it is perfect for rail trail riding. Specialized designed this bike to deliver the perfect balance between speed and durability. If your rail trail’s pavement is rugged or if the terrain is gravel or dirt trail altogether, the Sirrus 2.0 is going to be much better suited for your trail than a standard road bike.
One of the main focuses behind the Sirrus 2.0 was to make it a great fitness bike, which is why it is particularly popular among riders who want to use their rail trail for exercise. With that said, the excellent performance capabilities and versatility of this hybrid bike also make it a great choice for any who wants to commute to work.
The Sirrus 2.0 features a Specialized A1 Premium Aluminum frame that is lightweight and incredibly durable. The steel fork does add quite a bit of weight but this is actually ideal for a hybrid bike that was designed for trail riding. Specialized did not hold back on using premium Shimano parts when building the Sirrius 2.0, which can be found in the cassette, shift levers, and, derailleur. In addition, this hybrid bike also has high-quality Promax F1 hydraulic disc breaks with excellent stopping power.
One of the best characteristics of the Specialized Sirrus 2.0 is that you can ride this bike anywhere. If you want to ride through the city, you can hop onto a gravel trail without worrying about your bike taking a beating. This is often a selling point for a lot of rail trail riders that want a versatile bike that they can ride in a variety of different terrains and conditions.
Despite the top-notch specs, the Sirrius 2.0 is actually very reasonably priced at just $775. This bike is perfect for any intro rider, and it is also a great addition for experienced riders who need a change-up from their go-to road or mountain bike.
Trek FX 3 Disc (Best Performance Hybrid Bike)
The Trek FX 3 Disc is the ultimate rail trail bike for any commuter that wants to be able to ride in every type of weather condition. This hybrid bike is built for speed, durability, and adaptability.
If your rail trail has adverse terrain with changing seasonal conditions, the Trek FX 3 Disc is a bike that you can rely on through thick and thin. This hybrid bike features a lightweight yet incredibly durable Alpha Gold Aluminium frame, which is complemented by a full carbon fork.
One of the key characteristics that make the Trek FX 3 Disc such a reliable bike for adverse weather conditions is the superb hydraulic disc breaks. The stopping power is precise and you can ride in both wet and dry conditions with total confidence.
While a lot of hybrid bikes on the market will often weigh upwards of 29lbs, the Trek FX 3 Disc is a bit lighter at 25lbs - making it a speedier option for riders that want to get from point A to point B efficiently. This is attributed to the carbon fork and high-quality aluminum that Trek used when building this bike.
With that said, Trek also designed this bike to be comfortable, which is perfect for long rides on rail trails. The geometry and seating position will enable you to ride for hours on end without feeling any kind of stiffness. If comfort, performance, and dynamic riding capabilities are qualities that you desire out of your rail trail bike, the Trek FX 3 Disc is the way to go.
Trek also lets you customize and personalize your FX 3 Disc so that you can add features that are necessary for your riding style. Commuters particularly like to give their bike more utility by adding fenders, racks, and a bottle cage, as this makes the FX 3 Disc so much more practical for riding to work and running errands. However, if you want to keep things simple, you can leave the bike as is for a minimalistic aesthetic.
Whether you want to optimize your commute or find a new fitness companion, this hybrid bike is perfect for both. Although this is not necessarily a budget bike, Trek has listed this at a starting price of $1,050, which is solid for the specs and performance that you get.
Batch The Fitness (Best Budget Hybrid Bike)
There are a lot of casual intro-level riders out there who just want to hit their local rail trail without breaking the bank. If that sounds like you, then you probably want to find yourself a budget-friendly bike - with hybrids being particularly good for beginners.
Luckily, affordable does not mean that you have to opt for a low-end bike with poor performance capabilities. A popular and dependable budget hybrid bike on the market is Batch The Fitness. This hybrid bike ticks a lot of boxes for intro riders who are just starting out and you get a lot for what you pay for.
This is a relatively lightweight bike that features a 6061 aluminum frame, which will enable you to get up to speed, but it can also take a beating. The manufacturer used quality Shimano parts throughout the machine and installed a 21-speed shifting system - enabling you to take on different grades with ease.
Much like the name implies, this bike is intended to primarily be used as a fitness bike. If getting some exercise is one of your priorities while cycling, this is going to be a great option for you. With that said, although fitness is the focus behind this bike, its features and characteristics also make it great for commuting.
Rail trail riders that want to get to work, run errands, or burn some calories on a budget are going to find that this is one of the best-value hybrid bikes on the market. You can pick up a Batch The Fitness hybrid bike for just $500, which is an absolute steal for a bike with these specs and characteristics.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Rail Trail Bike
As we have just covered, you have a lot of different options to consider when buying a bike for rail trails. Every rail trail is a bit different, but even more importantly - so is every rider.
Given that most rail trails are usually quite flat and smooth, you can select any number of bike types for this kind of terrain and surface. The most important thing that you need to evaluate when picking out a rail trail bike is what your riding style is and how you want to use your bike.
To help you find the right bike, we are going to break down some key factors that you should keep in mind when picking out a bike for rail trail riding.
The primary trail terrain that you will be riding on is the best starting point for picking out an ideal rail trail bike. Although rail trails are commonly characterized as flat and smooth, that is by no means always the case.
There are a lot of rail trails that have either gravel, dirt, or asphalt terrain - or a combination of each. If you know the type of terrain that your local rail trail has, you can pick out a bike accordingly. However, if your rail trail has a variety of different types of terrain, you may be better off getting a dynamic bike such as a hybrid.
Rail trails are usually quite long - with most being well over 20 miles and some as much as 200+ miles. With that said, you should expect to cover a lot of ground when hopping on a rail trail.
Some rail trail bikes are much better suited for long-distance riding - especially if you are commuting. If achieving long distances on your rail trail rides is a critical part of your riding style, then you should opt for a road bike or hybrid bike.
Whereas short distances and casual rides do not require such a specific type of bike, which implies that you can prioritize comfort first. In this case, and comfort bike is going to be the way to go.
Grade & Gears
When you are long-distance cycling, even the slightest change in grade can be an obstacle on your rides. While most rail trails are flat, you will find that the grade can change at times, which can make your cycling less efficient.
When rail trail riding, make sure that you always have a bike with at least 12 gears so that you can adapt to changes in grade. This is not only going to be important for optimizing your bike to changes in grade but also to improve your performance.
After hours on the trail, we all get fatigued, which is when gear transitions play an important role in how efficiently we can continue cycling. If your rail trail has a lot of grade changes, you may want to buy a bike that has more gears - with 20 to 27 being preferable.
The types of tires that your bike has can be a critical component of how adaptable you are when on the trail. Rail trails that have consistent terrain throughout are easy to predict and prepare for.
Naturally, if your rail trail has smooth surfaces that are paved, a road bike with thin tires is going to deliver optimal performance. However, if the terrain is rugged and unpaved, wider tires are going to be considerably more comfortable and reliable.
The great thing about buying a bike for riding on rail trails is that you can always change the tires later on. Whether you want to adapt to seasonal changes or to a different rail trail altogether, you can always swap out tires when needed to match the terrain.
Frame & Fork Material
The material that your bike's frame and fork are made out of will massively influence your riding performance. Bikes are made out of several different types of materials such as aluminum, carbon fiber, and titanium.
Each material offers different qualities, but for rail trail riding, you really want to keep your bike lightweight. Carbon fiber is one of the most dependable types of materials that money can buy. It is lightweight and relatively durable - making it perfect for rail trails.
Aluminum on the other hand, is even more durable, but it is heavier, which is going to be an issue for long-distance rides and commutes. Titanium bikes, on the other hand, are durable and lightweight, but they can get quite pricey.
Parts & Components
You should always carefully weigh out your bike’s parts and components when shopping. Each bike is going to have different specs, and this will ultimately affect your ride performance.
There are some big-name brands, such as SRAM and Shimano, that have built a solid reputation within the industry and are regarded for their reliability. However, some bike manufacturers make all of their parts and components from scratch.
Custom parts can be a sign of quality, but you want to make sure that you are buying a bike from a recognized and respected brand if that is the case.
One of the most important factors that you want to keep in mind when shopping for the perfect rail trail bike is versatility. Rail trails can vary across the board, and if you are planning on riding on more than one type of trail and terrain, you should buy a versatile bike.
Naturally, if you know exactly which kind of rail trail you are going to be riding on consistently, selecting a bike is not going to be difficult. For smooth and paved surfaces, road bikes are going to be ideal. Whereas for rough and rugged terrain, mountain bikes are much better suited.
With that said, if you do not know which kind of terrain you will be riding on, you are better off buying an adaptable bike. Hybrid bikes are great options for riders that want to hit rail trails with changing terrain, as they are the most versatile bikes that we mentioned.
About THE AUTHOR
Mountain biking is more than just a hobby for me - it's a way of life. I love the challenge and excitement that comes with it, and I'm always pushing myself to go faster and ride harder. Some people might think that mountain biking is dangerous, but I see it as the only way to live.Read More About Danny Lawson