First things first. Why would you even choose a hybrid bike? For me the real question, is why would you not? Unless you’re thinking about entering the tour de France or going down Mountain bike trails, then the answer is obvious. But before buying a bike, you must consider what you goals are and decide exactly what it you want from your bike, and exactly what you want the bike to do.
By doing this you’ll have a much better idea of knowing what you need when you walk into the bike shop, and you are less likely to be sold a ‘pup’ by the sales guy (meaning that the sales guy see you coming from a mile away and realise he can sell you any type of bike and get away with it).
Bikes are by their nature fairly versatile little beasts but some are designed for a specific purpose. Some are even designed to go across snow. That said, one of the most normal bike purchases is for commuting, getting about on, getting a bit fitter, and just having fun.
But what is a hybrid bike?
If you’re not quite up to speed with what’s going on in the biking world then you may think that hybrid bikes are supposed to be all things to all people and consequently not very good at anything, a bit like a flying car, but this is just not the case with hybrid bikes.
Don’t think of hybrids as being less than the sum of their parts. Hybrids are a versatile, adaptable, and hard wearing bike, perfect either on the road, or on the gravel trail. In some respects, buying a hybrid is more complicated than buying either a dedicated road or mountain bike in that to get the exact type you’re after, you have to make some very conscious decisions about what you’re buying.
There are many reasons for choosing a hybrid bike:
- Hybrid bikes are simply an effective combination of both a road and a mountain bike. The tires are designed in such a way to have a rough thread on the outside, and a smooth parallel tread on the inside to deal with average everyday road combinations. They tend to have large fast rolling wheels which makes cycling along roads easier than on the wider rougher tread on a mountain bike. Mountain bike wheels are designed to grip on rock and stony trails, which is good if you’re in the middle of a forest or a mountain pass, but makes for a harder ride on anything in between, and thus requires more effort on the road. This is due to the effects of friction and power to tire ratio. Conversely, hybrid bike tires also allow for more grip than a dedicated road bike by being that bit wider, and also more durable. Dedicated racing bike tires are designed for going fast and in straight lines and can lose grip on the smallest patch of gravel in a turn.
- Hybrids also tend to be among the most comfortable bikes to ride. The handlebars are normally long and flat which allow for a much more relaxed cycling position, unlike dedicated road bikes whose handlebars are curved and mostly force the body into a more rounded position for improved aerodynamics and sheer power on your ride. This helps if you don’t want all the common aches and pains commonly associated with road bikes such as neck, shoulder, and backache from what can seem like unnatural contortioning of the body.
- Hybrid bikes are normally lighter than mountain bikes, but heavier than road bikes. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a cheap mountain bike will be just as effective as a hybrid. I did once. Trust me it’s just not the same. Proper mountain bikes are just complete overkill for road cycling and take much more effort to go the same distance as opposed to just buying even amid range quality hybrid. This is doubly true if you are considering commuting, or adding paniers etc. You can add paniers to a mountain bike, but that will just make them even heavier.And again, if you want to ride a mountain bike on the road, you would also need to consider replacing your tires with decent slicks as well, which might involve replacing the entire wheel. Take this on experience, it’s just a hassle, and cumbersome, and annoying.
- Hybrids can also go off road. You wouldn’t want to take one down a dedicated mountain bike trail, but you can if pushed, as I was one weekend.I wont lie to you: I was a lot younger and still in that ‘I’m invincible and going to live forever’ stage of my youth. That said, even at 22 years of age, I found it did get a bit hairy at times.But I was surprised how well my trusty old hybrid actually handled overall. I was young, but I was not an adrenaline junkie. There were several berms and jumps I found myself dismounting and carrying past. Again; young, not stupid.
- Hybrids gear setting as standard, are setup up for cycling along roads. But they are similar to mountain bikes. The difference is that mountain bike gears are generally set for hill and trail climbing, so tend to be lower down the gear ratios and closer spaced.So you might struggle to set a decent pace on a mountain bike on a road because they are not set up for quick horizontal travel. Whereas a hybrids gears are! I’ve gone on long rides with my buddies on my hybrid while they’ve been on racers and they’ve only had to hold back their pace slightly for me to keep up and I’ve not had to kill myself trying to keep up with them.This was the same day however when I took the turn at the bottom of a long hill that I hit a patch of gravel on the tarmac and sailed right through it but all 3 of my buddies hit the gravel on their super thin racing tires and ended up wiping out onto the grass verge. I wish I had it on camera.
- Brakes on hybrids also tend to be in the ‘right place.’ They are at the ends of the flat handle bars and are comfortable and easy to use and you never seem to have to over-reach like you might on a road bike.
- Finally: Most hybrids manufacturers know their bikes are going to be used for general purposes come equipped with rack mountings and also mudguards which help make it an easy choice for commuters.
So that’s the advantage of owning a hybrid bike. Now, how do you go about choosing one? Because not all hybrids are created equal. Here’s a quick guide to knowing what to look for when you go searching
- Set your budget, and buy the best you can for your money. A decent hybrid bike will set you back a minimum of $400+.
- Unless you really, really, really, really, really know what you’re doing, then a bike should be preassembled for you and you should be able to ride it out of the shop. Most people have the knowledge and ability to do simple maintenance on their bike, but actually putting one together from scratch, is a much more difficult affair, and downright dangerous if you don’t get it right! Also a cheap bike may work great to begin with, but it probably won’t stay that way.
- Choose a dedicated bike shop to buy from, and use that’s staffed with people that speak plainly in the native language of that country. Don’t expect to find someone speaking perfect English in Rio de Janeiro, and don’t buy one from a shop that doesn’t speak English in Milwaukee. You need to understand what they are talking about.
Where do you plan on riding and what type of riding do you see yourself doing? It’s the most important question you can ask yourself. Do you see yourself zipping through traffic while you commute, keeping up with the kids on gravel trails, or just casually pedaling down to the local shop once a day looking to just feel the sun on your face as you enjoy life?
There’s lot of different types of models to choose from.
Cruiser and comfort bikes won’t be all that fast and have a tendency to be relatively heavier than some other hybrids, but they also will more likely than not have a really cool vintage look and feel to them.
If you are looking to commute, say across London, or Amsterdam, then something like a full-bred city or dedicated commuter bike is more likely to be your oyster of choice.
Fully fledged commuter hybrid bikes will more likely than not come fully loaded with some whistles and bells already fitted. Except there won’t be any whistles, just a bell you can ring ineffectively at people.
Why you would ever use a bell instead of just say, speaking or shouting is beyond me. And let’s face it, it’s not like anyone ever takes any notice of the guy ringing his bell anyway. Could you imagine the response you’d get in New York trying that? And yet having a bell is mandatory there; go figure.
But while there are no whistles, it will probably come with a pannier and some mud flaps on it already, so your pants will at least look the same as when you left your home, and not some pastiche brown lined pastiche homage to the 1970s when you show up to the office.
Assuming you’ve decided on a hybrid bike, which you should have done by now by the way, because everyone should own one regardless of where they want to cycle, the next thing to be considered are tires.
Take a trip from experienced riders the world over, the tires on your bike are almost as important as life itself when it comes to the riding of any sort. Put simply, tires make a simple but massive difference to your bike.
Most hybrids, regardless of the rim size of the bike, will come with a 700cc wheel base and tire. Essentially 700cc tires are designed to roll across pavements, and small bumps and cracks in the road without you noticing, and make for easier acceleration and uphill traveling. Beware the sales guy trying to push a hybrid bike on you that has the big nobly mountain bike tires on it.
Frames: Frames are the skeleton around which the rest of your bike is built. In the old days most frames apart from elite racing bikes were made from steel. Steel was durable and tough as a component for bikes (check out any old BMX from the 80’s) but it was heavy.
These days almost all frames are made either from aluminum or carbon. While a carbon frame bike is considerably lighter than aluminum, it is considerably more expensive to buy. On a hybrid bike, I would say go with the aluminum frame unless you’re after the very top-of-the-range bike. Both materials are strong, rust-resistant and offer smooth riding
Make sure you get the right size for your body. In the same way that wearing heels or shoes that are either too big or to small, after a while it will at best, be uncomfortable, and at worst just straight up f***** dangerous.
Also if your bike isn’t comfortable, you’ll find reasons not to use it, defeating the entire purpose of buying one in the first place. Bikes that are too big will be ungainly and wobbly whereas a small bike will be uncomfortable.
Fortunately picking the right size bike is easy: Make sure you can stand over the middle of the frame with your feet flat on either side, and also ensure the saddle is raised or lowered to exactly where you want it so feet hit the pedals comfortably.
Seats: Most seats on hybrids and city bikes come with padded seats as opposed to the thin foam covered things on racing and mountain bikes. Some come with suspension seat posts. These stop the ass shock we sometime get when we bang up a slam vertical and don’t have time to get up in the pedals, you know the ones that travel up your spine and into your mouth.
Warning: If you have to raise the seat over the maximum stripe on the post, your bike is too small and dangerous to use. Just don’t do it.
Whatever you do, make sure you take a test ride and get a feel for the bike before you buy. Sure the bike may look great but you can never tell until you get up and ride it around.
You don’t want to find it doesn’t work for you once you’re halfway to the office. Don’t buy blind. And don’t get pressured into buying one, either. Walk away if you must and try elsewhere, but $400 and up is a lot of dough to be making a mistake with.
Comfort and suspension: How much does comfort matter to you. It’s a personal preference, but for me, I actually prefer bikes with no added suspension whatsoever, but others do.
One of the most common elements to aid in a comfortable ride and comes with the front suspension forks. These work by compressing to take the shock and absorb the effects of bumping up and down sidewalks or mashing into potholes. They also help keep your hands on the handlebars when you do bash against something.
They ensure that it’s the bike that takes the hit and not your arms and give you a smoother, overall ride. But if you have a limited budget and aren’t thinking about spending $700 and up, then get yourself a bike without suspension. You will get a better bike overall.
Not all gears are created equal, and selecting the gearing on your bike is important.
For instance, if you live in San Fran and will be spending your days going up and down hills, then you’re going to be looking for more gears than say if you were rolling along with Manhattan, where possibly even one gear would do you. Regardless of the number of gears, modern bikes will shift with just the slightest finger press up and down the gears like a blind mouse on a piano.
Most modern bikes come with a lot of gears, from 16 all the way up to 30. The number of gears you have on a hybrid isn’t all that important if you’re just commuting.
If you want it for touring or going long distances, then it’s something you might really want to look at the detail in. What’s most important is that the gears are high quality and built for the purpose.
Bikes like this are perfect for urban maneuvers where all you have to do is pedal. I bought one myself the other month, and it’s perfect for heading out with the kids on a Saturday morning. But whatever you choose, make sure the bike shop guy shows you how the gears work.
It doesn’t matter how fast you go if you can’t stop quickly and safely. Like everything else with a hybrid, it depends exactly what you’re doing.
Most off the peg hybrid bikes come with the linear braking system we all know and love (the ones that fit against the wheel, just below the tire).
These are fine for almost all situational riding, but should you be able too, do get disc brakes. These fit right at the center of the wheel and give more control of your bike when braking, but they also remain more effective in wet and muddy conditions. The important thing to note here is that your bike has brakes and they work.
Hybrid bikes really are the way to go if you’re new to cycling and want to go reasonably fast over a variety of terrains and remain comfortable while doing so. They really are the perfect all round bike.
But make sure you do your homework before you buy, use the guide above, buy from a reputable dealer, and buy a known brand.