Hybrid bikes combine mountain, road, and touring designs into a versatile, do-it-all bike. Choosing the right hybrid bike depends largely on how you plan to use it.
There are two main considerations when buying a hybrid bike:
- Bike features and components: Things like wheel size, suspension, gears, brakes, racks and fenders determine how you might use the bike and how it will perform.
- Bike fit: Once you’ve narrowed down your search, it’s important to make sure a bike fits you properly.
Hybrid Bike Features
The first thing to consider when selecting a hybrid bike is what kind of riding you'll be doing: commuting in the city, riding smooth paths and roads for a workout, or cruising on a mix of gravel and pavement. When you know this, you can determine if a hybrid bike is appropriate for where you plan to ride by looking at its specific features.
700c: This is the standard size wheel found on most hybrid bikes. When choosing a hybrid bike, don't worry too much about wheel size and choose a bike that fits your riding style.
26 in: Some hybrid bikes are equipped with 26 in. Smaller wheels than standard 700c wheels.
One can find bikes with gears ranging from one to 27 or more. Things can get rather complicated when you factor in the many combinations of chainrings and cogs and the number of teeth on each.
The most important things to consider are your fitness level and the terrain you'll be riding. If you plan to ride a lot of hills and you find climbing challenging, then you will want more gears.
If you are a strong cyclist or you only ride flat terrain, you won't need as many low gears to power up a hill, so you can get by with fewer gears. This will keep your bike light. Single-speed hybrid bikes have only one speed and are aptly named. A freewheel mechanism in the rear hub allows you to coast, just as you would on a bike with multiple gears.
No Suspension: Many hybrid bikes do not include any suspension at all. Suspension forks add weight and make pedaling less efficient, so most people who ride on paved bike paths and smooth streets will not use them.
Front Suspension: Some hybrid bikes (generally urban bikes) include front suspension forks that help absorb impacts on the front wheel to smooth out the ride on rough streets.
Rim Brakes: Many hybrid bikes come equipped with rim brakes. These brakes have pads that grip the wheel rims.
- Advantages compared to disc brakes: Economical; easy to observe brake pad wear; easy to replace worn pads.
- Disadvantages compared to disc brakes: Gradually wear out the wheel rim, requiring the wheel to be replaced; less stopping power; less effective in wet or muddy conditions; require more finger effort on the levers to brake aggressively.
Disc Brakes: This type of brake pad grips onto a brake rotor mounted on the wheel hub. There are two types of disc brakes:
- Hydraulic disc brakes provide more progressive braking with less finger effort, and they self-adjust when brake pads wear.
- Mechanical disc brakes require manual adjustment as the pads wear.
Disc brakes have several distinct advantages and disadvantages over rim brakes:
- Advantages compared to rim brakes:Exceptional braking in all conditions; it is much cheaper to replace a worn rotor than a whole wheel; superior performance in steep and wet terrain; less finger strain.
- Disadvantages compared to rim brakes: More difficult to inspect pad wear and replace pads; more expensive to maintain hydraulic brakes.
Bike Frame Materials
Most bikes are made of aluminum; however, steel and carbon fiber are also common. As with any material, there are pros and cons, so you need to weigh your priorities when choosing.
- Aluminum is lightweight, strong, stiff, and affordable. On rough roads, it can sometimes feel harsh, but newer construction techniques have improved shock absorption.
- Steel is heavier than aluminum, but its strength and degree of flex provide a comfortable, smooth ride.
- Carbon fiber is lighter than aluminum and stronger than steel, but it’s more expensive than both, making it a popular choice for high-end bikes. Rather than a frame made entirely of carbon fiber, some bikes feature carbon fiber forks or seat posts in order to keep the price down while retaining some of the advantages of the light, strong material.
When evaluating a bike, compare the level of the seat and handlebars. In general, the farther the seat is below the handlebars, the more comfortable the ride. This is how most hybrid bikes are set up. In contrast, a seat that is higher than the handlebars will allow you to ride in a more aerodynamic position and apply more power to the pedals. This will allow you to go faster, but it may not be as comfortable.
There are 4 basic types of handlebars on bikes:
- Drop bar: Typically found on road bikes, drop-bar handlebars are sometimes found on hybrid bikes. Because they are lightweight and aerodynamic, they are the best choice if you want to go fast. They also allow a variety of riding and hand positions. The downside is that they put you in a hunched over position, which may strain your back.
- Flat bar:On hybrid bikes, these bars are very common. Although they are heavier than drop-bar handlebars, they allow you to sit up in a more relaxed position so you can better see the road and potential hazards. Sitting upright reduces strain on your hands, wrists, and shoulders.
- Riser bar:On hybrid bikes, riser bars extend slightly upward and backward toward the rider. As a result, you can see more of the trail ahead and have better control while steering the bike.
- Moustache bar:Similar to drop bars, but with a very small drop. In addition to providing a variety of hand positions, they allow you to sit more upright than drop bars. Moustache bars are commonly found on road bikes and hybrid bikes.
Bike Cargo Racks
A hybrid bike that has a front and/or cargo rack is generally designed for urban riding, which includes trips to the grocery store and commuting. For most racks, you will need to purchase pannier bags separately to store your belongings.
Racks can be removed when not needed, but most riders keep them installed and ready to haul extra cargo.
If you commute to work or run errands in everyday clothes, fenders will prevent road grime and puddles from splashing up on you. Your friends will also appreciate your fenders on wet days, as they keep the spray coming off your wheels from splattering them.
You can eliminate the fenders for fair-weather riding and save some weight.