The bicycle is one of the most versatile forms of transportation the world has ever known.
A bike can take you where you want to go on the road, in the dirt, through the hills, or up and down mountains.
Getting places in a hurry, especially when there is a large amount of traffic, is easy when you grab a bike.
When you get to where you're going, there's no fighting for a parking space, either!
To say it beats walking (and driving, in many cases) is an understatement.
You get to skip the traffic, improve your health and save money on fuel (not to mention the environment).
Avoiding traffic jams during the commute back and forth to work is one of the biggest reasons so many bikes are being sold today. Burning a few calories and lessening their impact on the environment are a few of the benefits driving the recent surge in bike sales.
But what type of bike is best for a commuter? What features are necessary? What size bike is required for your body type and size? What is your budget for buying a bike? What should you avoid when looking for bicycles?
In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at hybrid bikes, in particular.
Hybrid bicycles are currently some of the most popular types of bike for commuters and that’s owed to a number of benefits. Right now, there are quite a few different types and styles of hybrid bikes, each with their own set of features, which can make buying the right one (and saving the most money) hard to do.
These are not cheap investments but they can improve your lifestyle in some very big ways!
Read on to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you consider spending any money on a new hybrid bike.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What exactly is a hybrid bike? How is it different from other types of bikes?
This is a differentiation that most people are already familiar with but, just to clarify, a mountain bike is a bike with high number of gears and relatively wide tires that you can use to navigate off road trails. On the other hand, racing bikes are primarily used for riding on paved surfaces, like the road, sidewalks, and sometimes asphalt.
Because of this, most racing bikes have horizontal riding positions and very narrow tires. Some racing bikes will lock your shoes into place on the pedals so you can pull and push as you're pedaling, instead of simply pushing like you would on a mountain bike.
Knowing this, the question comes up... "why would you want to endure this less comfortable riding position and the risk of being locked onto your bike?"
The simple answer is that a racing bike makes it much easier to travel quickly on the road. Thin tires create considerably less resistance and will allow you to move very easily and very quickly – as long as you don’t leave the pavement.
On the downside, a racing bike typically has fewer gears, making it more difficult to use on steep hills and off-road terrain.
There are other types of bike, of course – like the BMX – but a hybrid bike is designed to offer a comfortable ‘middle of the road’ between these two main types -- mountain and road / racing.
A hybrid bike is the ideal solution then for anyone looking at racing bikes and mountain bikes and struggling to decide which might be right for them.
So if a mountain bike is for riding off road and family days out, while a racing bike is for getting to work quickly… what is a hybrid bike for? In what scenario can you benefit from a "best of both worlds" type of bike?
The answer is that hybrid bikes are particularly well suited to commuting. If you live in a city or town and often have to make trips to work or to other urban locations, then a hybrid bike is going to be a perfect fit for you.
But just because you want to ride easily on a sidewalk, you may not necessarily want to be lying down on your bike, travelling at incredibly high speeds with your feet tied to the pedals!
You may also want to occasionally take your bike off the beaten track to maybe go for a ride on the beach or through a park.
Maybe you’d like to be able to spend the weekends going on family trips and otherwise making more use of your bike as a recreation tool.
In these scenarios, a hybrid bike could be perfect for you.
First, let’s consider the anatomy of your ‘typical’ hybrid bike.
We’ve said that a hybrid bike is a compromise between a mountain bike and a racing bike. But, what does a hybrid look like? What features and styles make it a hybrid?
The first thing you'll notice is that the tires are thin like a racing bike, usually around 700c.
In that regard it feels like a racing bike but the position of the rider is likely to be a little more upright. That means the seat will be lower in relation to the handlebars when compared to your typical mountain bike.
Another feature of a hybrid is that the handlebars will often be flat, like a mountain bike, instead of having a dip in the middle.
Even with these basic features being similar, hybrid bikes can be incredibly different from each other, depending on which type you decide is right for you…
Classic hybrids are bikes that are similar to traditional bicycles with an upright and comfortable position.
They look somewhat old-fashioned, and certainly don’t have the appearance of being built for speed. Instead, the rider can move at a more leisure pace, which tends to be ideal for a commute to work, or a
ride around town.
Some classic hybrid bikes come with a basket or rack on the back which makes them useful for grabbing groceries, running errands, or carrying a backpack or briefcase. What they’re not quite so useful for, though, is riding fast or attempting to ride off-road.
This is more for someone who enjoys riding as a relaxed hobby or a convenient way to get around. Cruisers or touring bikes are a subcategory of the classic hybrid bike.
This is a bike that is not only upright, but also has the pedals angled forward, meaning that you’ll be leaning back as you ride. They tend to look like touring bikes and are best for chilled and relaxing rides down the promenade, watching the sunset, cruising across the beach, or taking a quick trip to the local deli.
Note that comfort and cruiser bikes will often have thicker tires, putting them more inline with mountain bikes. These tend to be 26-inches while some go even further and give you 29-inch tires. 29-inch tires start to provide enough surface area to be taken out on sand and other soft surfaces.
A hybrid sports bike is somewhat more performance oriented and is designed to be fast and powerful on a variety of terrains.
Often, these bikes will look a lot more like racing bikes or mountain bikes and tend to be faster on pavement.
There are quite a few variations within this category too.
Some hybrid sports bikes will have wider tires and a suspension fork. These will be better suited to taking on rougher terrain and steep hills, or on terrain that tends to get bumpy and loose.
While you can divide hybrid bikes into a number of categories, it is probably more useful to think of them in terms of a spectrum. There are lots of different hybrid bikes and all of them straddle the line between racing bike and mountain bike.
To find the right bike, you'll need to figure out which side of the spectrum you want to be on:
And of course the answer to that question should depend on your intended use. Are you going to be using it predominantly for commuting but occasionally doing something out in the open with friends and family? Or will the bike be used strictly on pavement, where speed is a necessity?
Likewise, you need to ask yourself what kind of riding experience you prefer and how good you are as a rider. If you want something that is very fast and powerful, then know that it is going to be a little tougher to ride and it is going to be less comfortable as well.
On the other hand though, if you choose something that is all about comfort and enjoying your time on the bike, then it’s not going to be possible to really go fast – it will take more effort when you're going uphill.
Another way to think about a hybrid bike is to consider it in terms of the different features you're looking for. Regardless of the category, a hybrid bike’s performance can be impacted greatly by a number of different optional features.
You need to think about the shape of the bike and how it balances performance and power, then consider that in combination with the features that it offers vs the features you need.
The gears on a bike operate like a manual transmission in a car. They give you control over the amount of resistance that is required to move the bike forward.
By increasing the total number of gears, you’ll end up with a bike that requires a lot less force to turn the pedals so you can easily climb hills, then switch to a lower gear that delivers more speed so you can ride quickly on asphalt.
The lower gears will allow you to turn the rear wheel quicker and with less resistance, but with less speed, as well. In other words, it will take considerably more revolutions of the pedal to travel the same distance.
Being able to switch between gears on the fly is useful as it will let you find the perfect level of resistance for your requirements at the time. With more gears, you can make sure that the ride stays effortless, and adapt the bike to suit your level of energy and the type of terrain you’re crossing.
The more gears you have, the easier time you'll have when you go off road. You're able to handle whatever situation the journey throws at you.
It is worth noting, though, that more gears means more can go wrong. Gears can get stuck, and sometimes the chain can come lose, meaning that you then have to carefully replace it while trying not to get your fingers caught in the gears.
If you’re going to be riding primarily on flat surfaces, you don’t really need a high number of gears -- it might actually make more sense to get something more basic (lower number of gears) with less parts that can malfunction.
Just to make things even more confusing, it’s also worth noting that gears, themselves, come in a range of styles.
Fixed gears and single speed gears mean that you have only one setting and won’t be able to change the level of resistance.
Hub gears are gears that are enclosed in a rear hub, meaning that you can’t see them. These come in 3-speed and 8-speed varieties.
There is another type of gear called a CVT, which is a ‘Continuously Variable Transmission’.
This is a very interesting type of gear that allows you to switch gears anywhere within a spectrum, meaning that you can fluidly alter the resistance rather than moving from one set level to another. Only one company (NuVinci) currently manufactures these, which makes them fairly rare.
But the most common of all types of gears is the ‘derailleur’.
The derailleur uses a combination of chain rings and sprockets, and allows you to move (derail) the chain from one sprocket to the next. By switching the gear using the controls on your handlebars, you can move the chain from one chain ring to the next or one sprocket to the next.
This then means that you can create any combination of chain rings and sprockets to give you a lot of different resistance options. Gear changes are handled by two separate controls by your left and right hand, for your front and rear derailleur respectively.
You can get chain rings that have either 2 or 3 different sizes and you can get sprockets (on the back wheel) in 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 different sizes.
In this example, a ’21-speed’ bike would likely be a bike with three chain rings at the front and 7 sprockets on the back wheel.
This would give you a ton of different options and let you find the perfect setting for your bike.
A lot of bikes – hybrid bikes included
– use this system in order to offer the widest variety of different speed settings.
But the thing to keep in mind is that these are the type of chain that are most likely to get jammed or broken. Because the chain is literally being lifted off of the chain rings and sprockets, it can become dislodged.
As well as the number of gears, another thing to think about is the mechanism that you use in order to switch gears. These come in a variety of names and can include ‘grip shift’, thumb switches, rapid fire, triggers, and more.
When you ride with triggers, you will have two triggers at the front of the handles that you can wrap your fingers around. By squeezing these, you can switch the front and back gears. Thumb switches allow you to flick with your thumbs in order to switch the gears.
Perhaps the most inventive and interesting options, though, are the grip shifts, which let you twist a rotating middle section of your bike handles in order to change up and down through the gears.
Each option has its advantages.
Grip shifts mean you don’t need to move your hands off of the handlebars but, on the downside, mean you can change gears by accident. They also can irritate the skin on the hands, depending on the rubber used in their construction.
Another thing to think about is the material that is used to build the frame.
The frame materials will impact on the weight of your bike, while also giving it more or less resilience in case it should fall over or otherwise become damaged in an accident. The two most common options for frame materials are aluminum and carbon-fiber (or carbon aluminum combined).
Aluminum, on its own, is highly affordable, resistant to rust and corrosion and feels sturdy to ride. On the other hand, it is also heavier than carbon which means that it’s going to require a bit more effort to move around and to ride up hills.
Carbon fiber is light and still rust and corrosion resistant. It is also the strongest and the least likely to get damaged. The big downside of a carbon fiber bike, though, is the price. Carbon fiber bikes tend to be a lot more expensive.
The amount of material used can vary depending on the width and shape of the frame which means that the bike might be stronger or lighter than its material would suggest.
Suspension on bikes works similarly to suspension for cars. The idea is that a spring is built into the wheels in order to allow them to move independently of the rest of the bike.
This is very useful if you happen to ride over the top of a large stone or if you go through a ditch or pothole, as it makes the experience a little less painful, while at the same time reducing the likelihood that the bike or the tires will be damaged from the terrain.
As you might imagine, suspension becomes more important when you are riding off-road. For something that will be able to handle a rougher ride, look for 29-inch bikes with a suspension fork.
If comfort is your main concern, then you might also want to look for suspension seatposts. This is suspension that is built into the seat post itself, so that some of the shock is absorbed right before it reaches your rear end!
Speaking of seats and comfort, the ergonomics of the saddle are also important to consider. You'll want to think about how comfortable the seat is going to be, and how much support it will provide when you're taking longer rides, where comfort is a huge priority.
The things to consider here are the material used, the amount of padding or foam, and whether the bike seat is contoured to the shape of your buttocks. Some will even use gels, which can help to make them considerably more comfortable.
The good news is that whatever seat you get, the saddle can normally be interchanged fairly easily.
I always say that the brakes are the single most important parts of a bike.
Why? Well, if any other part of your bike should break down and fail, then you won’t be able to go anywhere.
But if your brakes quit working, then you’ll be fine setting off and you won’t know about the problem until you’re heading down the side of a steep hill into traffic and you can’t stop! That’s pretty bad, to say the least.
Brakes on hybrid bikes tend to be either linear/hub brakes or direct-pull brakes. It’s also possible to occasionally get disc brakes.
Hub brakes are most often found on leisurely classic bikes, touring bikes and other bikes that aren’t going to be going at breakneck speeds (literally).
Direct pull brakes, meanwhile, provide more stopping power for sports-like braking. In reality, you can normally rest assured that the bike you get will have the appropriate brakes for its intended usage. Manufacturers don't want to be liable for selling bikes with ill-fitted brakes.
Brakes can vary in responsiveness, though, and this may depend on whether they are pneumatic or hydraulic etc. Check reviews to ensure there are no issues with the brakes on the bike that you're thinking about buying.
Of course, different manufacturers might also see fit to throw in various different additional features.
Some other things to consider are the inclusion of a basket or rack if you need one, anti-theft wheels (which are harder to remove when the bike is chained up), reflective lights, water bottle holders (grips that are normally found on the frame of the bike itself) etc.
As mentioned, some more performance-oriented bikes might also have pedals designed for shoes that lock into place. This is something you’ll only really want if you’re all about the speed though, as it can be a problem if you ever need to dismount quickly.
When choosing a hybrid bike, you will also have the option to pick between different sizes, and between "male" and "female" bikes. This might raise the question about what the difference is and how you can be sure whether you’re getting the right bike for your particular size and shape…
The frame size tells you something about the actual size of the bike and the distance between individual elements. For instance, the distance from the pedals to the handles and the handles to the saddle.
If you get a bike that is too big, then you might struggle to reach the pedals, or you may struggle to step on and off the bike or to put your feet on the ground to balance yourself!
The good news is that you don’t need to find the precise right size of bike for your height. This isn’t like trying on different shoes! The height of the seat tends to be adjustable, as is the position of the handles very often.
Instead, you simply need to choose between one of three different sizes, and figure which might be best suited to your own size and shape. The frame sizes are generally split into three categories, those being ‘Small, Medium and Large’, with slightly different definitions of each for men's and women’s bikes.
In some cases though, you might find X-Small and XX-Large which means that even if you are an ‘outlier’ in terms of your height and weight, you should still be able to find something that you can ride!
To find the right bike for you, you can use the following charts:
Feet & Inches
Frame size (inches)
4'10" - 5'2"
148cm - 158cm
13" - 14"
5'2"" - 5'6""
158cm - 168cm
15" - 16"
5'6" - 5' 10"
168cm - 178cm
17" - 18"
5'10" - 6'1"
178cm - 185cm
19" - 20"
6'1" - 6'4"
185cm - 193cm
21" - 22"
6'4" - 6'6"
193cm - 198cm
23" - 24"
Feet & Inches
Frame size (inches)
4'10" - 5'2"
148cm - 158cm
13" - 14"
5'2"" - 5'6""
158cm - 168cm
15" - 16"
5'6" - 5' 10"
168cm - 178cm
17" - 18"
5'10" - 6'1"
178cm - 185cm
19" - 20"
6'1" - 6'4"
185cm - 193cm
21" - 22"
6'4" - 6'6"
193cm - 198cm
23" - 24"
Another thing to note is that in some cases you might be able to ride either a small or a medium bike, but find that one size is more comfortable for you than the other depending on your use and personal preferences.
On average, women are a little smaller than men and, as a result, the ‘medium’ bike for a woman is going to be slightly smaller than a man's 'medium' sized frame. There are also some other differences between men's and women’s hybrid bicycles and, in particular, the design of the frame is slightly different depending on which you pick.
Specifically, a woman’s bike that is designed for casual riding will have the top bar slanted downward toward the seat which makes it slightly easier for a shorter rider to mount.
For men, the bar is parallel with the ground. Even when it’s not slanted, the top bar for women’s bikes will normally be shorter than it is on men’s. The woman’s bike will typically be shorter in length compared to the man’s bike, but with the seat slightly higher up to compensate for the difference in length.
The interesting thing here is that the bikes are not just bigger or smaller but are designed to take into account the slight differences in ratios and proportions between men and women.
Even though a man would find it no different to mount a woman’s hybrid bike with a slanted bar, this has become the design that is most associated with a women's bike. That means many men might not want to ride a bike with that design for fear of looking as though they have made a mistake at the store!
Something else to bear in mind is that the seats will likely be different shapes for men and women. This is something that is fairly self explanatory, but most women’s bikes have a wider seat to fit the pelvis, while most men will have bikes with a longer and more narrow seat.
Finally, the handlebars can also be designed slightly differently for men and women.
On average, the handlebars on men’s bikes are a little wider than the bars on women’s bikes. For men, the width is usually somewhere around 42-44cm. For women, the same bars will be closer to 38-40cm. This is of course to accommodate a woman’s shoulders, which are narrower on average.
Bikes will also vary from model to model. Sometimes a bike will tick every single box in terms of features and design and seem as though it is perfectly made for you… but then you’ll check the listing and find that it is riddled with bad reviews!
What’s important is to find the right manufacturer for you and the right model of bike. By shopping around, you can ensure you are going to get the best value for your money and that your bike will be a perfect fit without falling apart.
In terms of hybrid bike manufacturers, there are plenty to choose. These include:
...and many others.
These all vary in terms of the type of bikes they make and the quality they produce.
For instance, Diamondback company makes high-quality bikes that won't break your budget and are perfectly fit somewhere between the specifications for a mountain bike and the specifications for a sports bike. On the other hand, companies like SixThreeZero make hybrid bikes that are a more classic and a little more upright.
Once more, this all comes down to what kind of bike you’re most interested in and finding the manufacturer with a mission statement that most closely resembles your own priorities.
At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of the different options available to you when it comes to choosing a hybrid bike. You can pick between a variety of different form factors, frames, features and more.
There is no right answer, it simply comes down to the best type of hybrid bike for you and what you need the bike to do
With that being said, there are definitely a couple of standout models that have been released over the last couple of years that offer particularly good value for money or that are particularly well-made.
With all this information, you are ready to start looking at different models and choosing the one that is going to be best fit for your individual purposes. Why not check out our detailed breakdown of the best hybrid bikes in 2017 and find the right fit for you?
We have done a ton of research to highlight the best bikes in each category so that you don’t have to. After reading this article, you can buy with confidence, knowing that you’re getting amazing value and quality, whichever hybrid bike you choose.
This post was last updated on January 15th, 2018 at 12:45 pm
Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start BikesReviewed.com. In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.
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