Even the best hybrid bikes have one thing in common with the least expensive – they are all compromises.
The way you balance those compromises is the key to selecting the machine that will be best for you.
A hybrid bike is just that – a hybrid, a mixture between a road bike, a mountain
Typical hybrid – Raleigh Cadent 3
bike and what might loosely be called a town or city bike, using components and design elements from all three categories.
The result is an all-purpose bike that is good on many types of terrain, without being great on any of them.
The best hybrids bikes will be heavier (and much tougher) than the average road bike, but lighter and more agile than the typical mountain bike. Consequently they will be better suited to casual, convenient riding as well as carrying some sort of additional load in panniers.
They are practical rather than flashy, need very little maintenance, and will transport you through a wide range of terrain efficiently and safely.
There is a wide range of options available. Some bikes have more road in their DNA, others owe more to mountain bikes, and still others pay more attention to items such as lights, mudguards and carriers.
Here’s a helpful video from Tredz, explaining the basics of hybrid bikes.
All of them do focus more on relaxed, casual riding than pure performance, and they are certainly a lot more concerned with comfort.
The frame geometry will be more relaxed, meaning you will sit more upright (very necessary in traffic) and there will be less strain on your arms and back.
The handlebars will be flat rather than dropped, a feature that will make it easier to use the gears and also help you sit more upright .
Wider tires will help you cope with a wider range of terrain, and will be more comfortable. They will handle bumps better and give you better control and traction because there is more rubber in contact with the ground.
Why Buy a Hybrid Bike?
Is a hybrid bike right for you?
It’s a great option if most of your cycling involves a commute to work, and perhaps some recreational riding over the weekend.
It’s a good option for anyone just getting involved in cycling, who wants a taste of the sport without the expense of buying specialist bikes for the different disciplines – mountain, road racing, trail riding and touring – and inexpensive transport at the same time.
In general. a hybrid bike would have most of the following characteristics:
- A frame design that would allow you to sit more upright;
- Flat handlebars;
- Wider tires than you would find on a road bike, but narrower than those on a mountain bike;
- A wide range of gearing;
- Either rim or disc brakes – with disc becoming much more common;
- Front suspension fork;
- Attachment points for mudguards and panniers.
You can narrow down your short list of candidate hybrid bikes by deciding what is more important for you – remembering all the time that hybrids mean compromises.
Is speed important?
Then go for a bike that leans more heavily towards road racing.
It will probably look much like a normal road racing bike, but with flat handlebars and moderate width slick tires to help you keep your speed up.
Keep an eye on the gearing – remember that you will probably be carrying some extra weight in carry-bags/on the rack, so make sure the ratios will allow you to cope with any climbs.
Prefer the mountains?
Then choose a hybrid more at home in the hills.
It will almost certainly have a suspension fork and wider tires with more pronounced tread.
It won’t be as fast as a more road-oriented machine, but you’ll be happier with the gearing as the road gets steeper.
Spend more time in urban areas?
Then go for the bikes fitted out for life in the city – look for mudguards, a rear rack, kickstand, easy pannier attachment points and perhaps dynamo lighting.
Frame and Geometry
One of the most obvious things about a hybrid frame is that has what is called a “relaxed geometry” that is designed to position the rider in a more upright riding posture. It does this by making the head post a little longer than normal, and the top post a little shorter.
Naturally, this upright riding position is excellent in city traffic. It allows more
control, puts much less strain on the arms and back, and helps you keep a sharp eye on what is happening in the traffic around you.
Most hybrid bike frames will be made of aluminium, and to a lesser extent, steel or carbon fiber.
Steel and Carbon Fiber
Steel is probably the most uncommon, except of the least expensive models. While steel-framed bikes ride well and look very good, they do tend to produce heavier bikes that won’t be much fun on the hills.
At the other end of the scale, carbon fiber is starting to appear on some hybrids. They are obviously lighter and faster, and generally more efficient as they do a better job of transferring power from the pedals to the wheel – but they are expensive.
Neatly in the middle, then, is aluminium. It is light, tough, lasts for years and is easily worked to produce good-looking machines, and for this reason is undoubtedly the most common material used for hybrid frames.
Quite often the frame top tube slopes down from the front of the bike to the saddle (rather than horizontally) in order to make mounting a dismounting a little easier.
Although not strictly part of the frame, the better hybrid bikes have flat handlebars (as in mountain bikes) and not the dropped bars you will find on road bikes.
These flat bars do two things:
- Help you ride in a more upright position; and
- Make it easier to use the gear shifts and brakes.
Sizing options depend very much on the manufacturer, but many offer multiple sizes. Usually the seats can be adjusted to accommodate most riders, but very tall or very short riders might need to look closely at sizing charts.
Those hybrids that lean a little more towards off-road riding normally have a suspension fork. Although not usually offering the degree of travel found on dedicated mountain bikes, such forks do offer a marked increase in comfort on rougher terrain.
Quite often these forks are made of carbon fiber, which is better at absorbing shocks when you go off-road.
There’s quite a wide variation in drivetrain options and, as always, money talks.
The more you pay the more likely you are to get a quality groupset, and that quality in turn means that you need less effort to shift gears, and the gear-change itself goes more smoothly.
If hills are an issue where you live, then the actual gear ratios available may be
Tommaso La Forma crank
more important than the quality of the gear change. Two and three rings on the front are common, with 21-speed gears probably being the most usual option. Two rings are generally considered to be a little easier to use and maintain, and less liable to miss a change.
If you don’t fancy a derailleur at the rear, you can also find hub gears and machines with single speeds (which of course will normally be cheaper).
While not universal, the most common wheels are the 700c, but there is substantial variation in the tire width. Almost without exception they will be wider than those of a normal road bike, starting about about 28mm and going up to 42mm. In other words, they will be wider than a road bike (to handle rougher terrain) but narrower than the usual mountain bike (for better speed).
Wider tires not only allow the bike to handle a wider variety of terrain, they also provide a more comfortable ride. The wider tires will also give more grip on wet or muddy roads and tracks.
In addition, tread depth also varies substantially so you should select a pattern that is most suitable for the area you ride most frequently.
Overall, it is probably true to say that hybrids are most at home on roads and trails with well-manicured surfaces. Anyone wanting to venture into rougher territory should choose wider tires and more substantial treads.
In the stopping department, there is no clear preference for rim or disc brakes, and you are as likely to find one as the other.
Rim brakes, which as their name implies grip the rim of the wheel, are cheaper and easier to maintain. Normally all that is necessary is a change of brake pads every few months.
Disc brakes, which apply the braking force to a rotor on the center of the wheel, have migrated from mountain bikes to hybrids. They are heavier and more
Rim brakes on Raleigh Detour 2
expensive, so are more often found on the more expensive machines. But they provide better braking and work better than rim brakes in wet or muddy conditions.
Tommaso La Forma Rack
You may well find that for machines that are supposedly as much at home in an urban setting as in the countryside, surprisingly few hybrids come already fitted with mudguards, racks, kickstands and lights.
If you need to carry any sort of load, it might be better to fit a pannier rack rather than opt for a rucksack.
You need to check that your chosen machine can accept a rack, and also that there is space for you to fit mudguards.
Most machines will have attachment points for these items and for things like bike computers and GPS units, but be prepared to buy your own extras – or suffer the indignity of a wet or muddy spray in your face and up your back.
Not something to look forward to when you’re on your way to work!
Hybrids for Women
The majority of brands do have models that are aimed specifically at the women’s market.
They may feature a shorter top tube and a slightly longer head tube, to keep women in an upright position while allowing for their shorter reach.
Frames will be available in smaller sizes, handlebars may be narrower to accommodate women’s narrower shoulders, and saddles will be designed specifically for women.
Pros and Cons
Hybrid Bike Pros
- A hybrid bike is an all-purpose machine that can cope with varying types of terrain.
- It is designed for casual, convenient riding, even when carrying some sort of additional load in panniers.
- You will sit more upright (very necessary in traffic) and there will be less strain on your arms and back.
- Its wider tires make for a more comfortable ride and offer greater control.
- Practical, low maintenance, reliable machines.
- It is an all-purpose bike that is good on many types of terrain, without being great on any of them.
Hybrid Bike Cons
- Not as tough as a mountain bike or as fast as a road bike.
- You may have to add additional items such as pannier racks, mudguards, kickstands and lights.
- It is an all-purpose bike that is good on many types of terrain, without being great on any of them.
Check out this review of some of the best hybrid bikes.