What Is a Hybrid Bike?

Chances are you’ve met the very person who invented the hybrid bike. You know, back in ’91 – they’ll tell you – when they had to cycle from wherever to somewhere. They bolted these handlebars to that frame, got some tyres off their mate. Grabbed their backpack (in that heat!) and off they went. Really, they started the whole thing. Those were the days…

In actuality, your friendly cycling comrade might have a point. The ability to build your own bike, has always meant that the crafty cyclist is ahead of the curve. Hybrids were no exception. However, if you find yourself nodding and smiling along, unsure. Then no worries, we’ve got you covered. No naming and shaming.


What Exactly is a Hybrid Bike?

In the simplest terms possible: a hybrid bike contains features and characteristics from both road and mountain bikes. Although there is a wide variety within the definition of a hybrid bike, there is a ‘classic’ hybrid arrangement. This is the light frame and smoother wheels of a road bike with the flat handlebars and comfortable riding position of a mountain bike.

Cube Reaction Hybrid Bike 500 SL

The idea is that this mixture produces a great all rounder. Quicker and more nimble than a mountain bike on the road, but sturdier and more capable off road than a road bike. Meaning that the same bike can be used for the commute, leisure rides, cycle paths, canal towpaths and even some (less strenuous) trails.


Are There Different Types of Hybrid Bikes?

Of course there are different types of hybrid bikes. Nothing could be that simple. Any hybrid will fall within a scale, with ‘classic’ hybrids at one end and ‘sports’ hybrids at the other. Classics are built for the commuter or leisure cyclist. With an upright riding position they prioritize comfort over efficiency. Most will come with mudguards and racks as standard, for practicality and are designed for the modern urban road.

woman riding a Trek hybrid bike

Sports hybrids are normally recognizable through the addition of suspension forks more commonly seen on mountain bikes. They are for the more performance orientated cyclist, who wishes to take their bike both on and off road.

One commonality between, nearly, all hybrids is the frame. The frame will have the sleek and slight look of a road bike but will be reinforced to enable it to deal with the greater strain of off road riding.

Aluminium frames are by far the most common. Although recent years have seen the launch of both steel and, if you are in the higher end of the price range, carbon fibre frames.


What to Look For in a Hybrid Bike?

Just like looking for the right mountain or road bike there are any number of important aspects to look out for when considering hybrid bikes. We have already touched on the available frames, but here are some things that you should also consider.

Wheels and tires

Most hybrids will be rocking 700C wheels, the same as those found on the majority of road bikes. Tires, however, offer much more of a choice. These will generally range from 28c through to 50c. The lower the number the thinner the tire.

Kenda Tire for Hybrid Bikes

A nice rule of thumb is the lower the number the faster the tire; what you are sacrificing, however, is comfort.

Forks

Suspension forks will add weight to your bike, and if you ride mainly on the road then a rigid fork will be sufficient. You should only really consider suspension forks if you are planning on spending time on some truly off piste tracks.

Brakes

Unlike the wheels, hybrids draw their braking systems from mountain bikes. For all you road bikers out there, it means a choice between V-brakes or disc brakes. V-brakes are normally the cheaper option but do not work as well as the discs in the wet.

Gears

All hybrids come with easily operated gears on the handlebars. These are normally derailleur or fully-enclosed hub gear systems. Again there are a variety of options available. You will find seven to eight gears as standard but up to eleven, or even down to one, is possible.

Handlebars

These days even most sports hybrids will be fitted with a flat handlebar arrangement for an upright riding position and comfort. If you want the extra speed from a curved style then these can always be swapped out.

Mudguards and Racks

If you know you will be requiring these then it is worth either opting for a bike which already includes them or making sure the required fittings are in place.

Full-Length Mudguard on Hybrid Bike Wheel

There are some hybrid models in which the racks, in particular, can be difficult to retrofit. Not ideal if you are commuting.    


Is a Hybrid Bike Worth it?

An excellent question, even if I say so myself. Let me answer it, however, with another question – What will you be using the bike for?

Once you have answered this then the complexities of shopping for a new bike fade away. You should be able to see for yourself whether or not a hybrid is ‘worth it’ for your specific needs. Here is a really simple guide:

  • Off road – Technical trails – For this, you are best sticking with your reliable old mountain bike.
  • Off road – Cycle paths and gravel – Consider a hybrid closer to the ‘sporty’ end of the scale. With wider tyres and suspension forks.
  • On and Off road – Mixture – Depending on the difficulty of the terrain then either a classic or sports hybrid would be the way to go.
  • On road – Urban – For the commute, a classic hybrid would be ideal. You will have a safer riding position with better visibility than a standard road bike. That pothole at the end of the road is not such an issue as well.
  • On road – Rural – If speed and efficiency are your things, then a classic road bike all the way. If you prefer comfort or leisure riding then a custom built hybrid is perfect.
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What Is a Hybrid Bike?: A Short Guide — Bike Hacks