The bicycle (also sometimes called a ‘push bike’) is one of the most versatile modes of transport available to us.
This is a form of transport that is human powered of course, meaning that you need to put in considerable physical effort to move around and meaning that it will never be as quick as driving, or taking a bus or train.
That said, a bicycle will still allow you to travel on pavement, on the road, or off road.
It will let you get places much more quickly than walking and it will allow you to store your bike without needing to find a parking space. Often you can just bring it in with you!
You get to skip the traffic, improve your health and save money on fuel (not to mention the environment).
And all these benefits are particularly appealing to commuters who want to stop sitting in traffic jams every morning and perhaps burn a few extra calories on their way to work.
But what type of bike is best for a commuter?
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 owing to a number of benefits. In this ultimate guide, we’ll be taking a look at precisely what hybrid bikes are and why you might consider them for your own routine.
What’s more, is that we’ll go over the different types of hybrid bikes, the key features to look out for when buying them and how to ensure that you will get the maximum bang for your buck.
These are not cheap investments but they can improve your lifestyle in some big ways!
Read on then and make sure that you know exactly what you’re getting before you consider spending any money on a hybrid.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What exactly is a hybrid bike? How is it different from other types of bikes?
Simply put, a hybrid bike is a hybrid of two other types of bikes: road bikes and mountain bikes.
This is a differentiation that most people are already familiar with but just to clarify, a mountain bike is a bike with lots of gears and relatively wide tires that you can use in order to ride off road. Mountain bikes are good for taking out on trails, family days out or of course ‘extreme’ rides down mountain sides and the like.
On the other hand, a racing bike is a bike that is meant primarily for riding on the road. As such, it will have a particularly horizontal riding position and this will be combined with very narrow tires (often around 700c). In many cases, your shoes will lock into place on the pedals and this will allow you to ‘pull’ the pedal up as you go.
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.
Those thin tires put up considerably less resistance and will allow you to move very easily and very quickly – as long as you don’t leave the tarmac.
On the downside, a racing bike may well have fewer gears, as it generally won’t be used on as steep gradients.
There are other types of bike of course – like the BMX – but a hybrid bike is designed to offer a comfortable ‘halfway house’ between these two main types.
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.
There’s a lot more to it than that though, so keep reading the guide to learn the different types of hybrid bikes and various different options you have when choosing them.
So if a mountain bike is for riding off road and for family days out, while a racing bike is for getting to work quickly… what is a hybrid bike for?
In what scenario might you want to use one of these?
The answer is that the hybrid bike is particularly well suited to commuting.
If you live in a city or town and if you 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, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily want to be practically lying down on your bike, travelling at incredibly high speeds and with your feet tied to the pedals!
It also doesn’t mean that you might not 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, you will be best suited to a hybrid bike. But you still need to know a bit about what precisely you’re buying. And this is particularly true seeing as different hybrid bikes lean more one way or the other…
First, let’s consider the anatomy of your ‘typical’ hybrid bike.
We’ve said that a hybrid bike is a halfway compromise between a mountain bike and a racing bike. So the next question we need to ask ourselves is what this actually means in real terms.
What does a hybrid look like? What is it about it that will make it a hybrid?
The first thing you might 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 that the seat will be a little lower in relation to the handlebars when compared with 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.
Otherwise though, a hybrid bike can be quite different depending on which type you went for…
Hybrid classic bikes are bikes that are similar to traditional bicycles but they have 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 go more at their own pace and will tend to be ideal for a more leisurely commute to work, or ride around town.
Hybrid classic bikes very often come with the inclusion of a basket or a rack on the back and this makes them useful for grabbing groceries etc. What they’re not quite so useful for, is riding quickly 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.
You might consider ‘cruisers’ or touring bikes to be a subcategory of the classic hybrid bike.
This is a bike that is not only upright but also has the pedals quite far forward, meaning that you’ll be almost leaning back as you ride. They look very much like touring motorbikes and are best for chilled and relaxing rides down the promenade, watching the sunset, etc.
Note that comfort and cruiser bikes will often have thicker tires more in-keeping with mountain bikes. These will tend to be 26-inches. Some go even further and give you 29-inch bikes, which starts to provide enough surface area to even be taken out on sand and other 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 should be fast on tarmac while not falling over when taken on a pavement.
There are plenty of varieties and variations within this category too.
Some hybrid sports bikes for example will have wider tires and a suspension fork. These will be better suited to taking on rougher terrain and steep hills and can be used in a wider variety of scenarios.
On the other hand, those that a more horizontal will be best for riding on pavements and roads at higher speeds.
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. What’s key though, is that they can lean a lot more one way or a lot more the other.
The question is to ask whether you want:
In other words, you need to ask yourself whether you want something that leans more toward the racing side of things, or that leans more toward the mountain side of things.
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 to do something out in the open with friends and family?
Or are you going to be using it mainly for enjoying yourself and occasionally to ride into work when you’re feeling especially healthy?
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 spending your time, then it’s not going to be possible to really go fast – and it will be more effort and more work when going uphill as well.
Another way to think about a hybrid bike meanwhile, is to consider it in terms of the different features that it has to offer.
Regardless of the category, a hybrid bike’s performance can be impacted greatly by a number of different optional extra features.
You need to think about the shape of the bike and how it balances performance and power and then consider that in conjunction with the features that it offers vs the features you need.
The gears on a bike work just like driving stick in a car. This basically gives you control over the amount of resistance that your gears provide and the amount of power that they deliver.
Increase the total number and you’ll end up with a bike that requires a lot more force to turn the pedals but that will move forward more quickly once you do manage to do that.
On a flat, this is the best way to generate power but only if you have the strength to do so. Having your bike in a higher gear can also be useful for riding in slippery conditions, or when you are going downhill.
On the other hand, the lower gears will allow you to turn the wheel much more quickly and with less force but this will then output less force as well. In other words, it will take considerably more revolutions of the pedal to travel the same distance. Lower gears are useful for going up hills (when the resistance is high enough already) or on soft surfaces like sand.
Being able to switch between gears on the fly is useful as it will let you find the perfect level for your intended scenario. This way, you can make sure that the ride stays smooth and adapt the bike to suit your level of tiredness and the type of terrain you’re crossing.
The more gears you have, the better able you’ll be to go off road and to handle whatever situation the journey throws at you.
But note as well that more gears mean more to 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.
If you’re mostly going to be riding on flat surfaces, you don’t really need a high number of gears and thus it might actually make more sense to get something more basic that won’t get damaged.
Just to make things even more confusing, it’s worth noting that gears themselves also come in a range of different varieties.
Fixed gears and single speed gears basically means that you have only one setting and won’t be able to change the speed.
Hub gears meanwhile 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 (giving you either 3 or 8 different settings).
There is interestingly 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) manufactures these and thus they are fairly rare.
But the most common of all types of gears is the ‘derailleur’.
Derailleur uses a combination of different chain rings and sprockets and allows you to literally move (derail) the chain from one to the next. So by switching the gear using the controls on your handles, 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 different chain rings and sprockets to give you a lot of different options. This is handled by two separate controls handled by your left and right hand and these are your front and rear derailleur.
You can get chain rings that have either 2 or 3 different sizes and you can get sprockets (on the back wheel) of 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 different sizes.
In this case then, a ’21-speed’ bike would likely be a bike with three chain rings at the front and 7 sprockets round back.
This would give you a wealth of different options and let you find the perfect setting for your bike.
A lot of bikes – including a lot of hybrid bikes – 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, that means that it can become dislodged and thereby leave your bike stuck.
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 with a variety of different 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 apply the front and back gears.
Thumb switches meanwhile 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 different gears.
Each option has its advantages.
Grip shifts of course mean you don’t need to move your hands off of the handlebars but on the downside, this means you can conceivably 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 make the frame.
This 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 your materials are aluminum and carbon-fiber (or cabon aluminum combined).
Aluminum on its own is highly affordable, resistant to rust and corrosion and feels sturdy and smooth to ride. On the downside, it is also heavier than carbon and that 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. At the same time, it is also the strongest and the least likely to get damaged. The big downside of a carbon fiber bike though is the price, as these types of bike tend to be a lot more expensive.
Another thing to consider is the actual shape of the bike.
The amount of material used can vary depending on the width and shape of the frame and that means that the bike might be stronger than its material would suggest, or lighter.
Suspension on bikes works similarly to suspension in cars. The idea of course is that a spring is built into the wheels in order to allow them to move independently of the entire bike.
This is very useful if you should ride over the top of a large stone or if you should go through a ditch or a 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 experience.
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 29ers 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.
In other words, just how comfortable is the seat and will it be as comfortable and supportive when you’re 10 hours into a long ride?
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 then 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.
That’s pretty bad.
But if your brakes are what go, 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!
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 the more 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 brakes. In reality, you can normally rest assured that the bike you get will have the appropriate brakes for its intended usage.
Brakes can vary in responsiveness though and this may depend on whether they are pneumatic or hydraulic etc. Check reviews and just make sure that there are no problems with them.
Of course different manufacturers might also see fit to throw in various different additional features.
Some other things to consider then 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, flask 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 then raise the question as to what the difference is and also how you can be sure whether you’re getting the right bike for your particular size and shape…
Of course 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 floor in order to balance yourself!
The fortunate 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!
Luckily, the height of the seat tends to be adjustable, as is the position of the handles very often.
Rather then, you instead simply need to choose between one of three different sizes, one of which might be better suited to your own size and shape.
The frame sizes are generally split into three categories, those being ‘Small, Medium and Large’ and with slightly different definitions of each for men and women’s bikes.
In some cases though, you might also find that you can find X-Small and XX-Large and that means that even if you are an ‘outlier’ in terms of your height, you should always be able to find something that you can ride!
Amazon for instance will often have a tool to help you find the best size of bike for you and this allows you to enter in some details and then choose whether you should get small, medium or large.
To find the right bike for you, you can consult 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 say, but find that one is more comfortable for you than the other depending on your use and personal preferences.
As you’ve seen already, men and women ride hybrid bikes that are slightly different sizes.
On average, women are a little smaller than men and as such, the ‘medium’ bike for a woman is going to be slightly smaller too.
But there are also some other differences between men 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 and this makes it slightly easier for a shorter rider to mount.
For men, the bar is parallel toward 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. Even then, the woman’s bike will usually be shorter in length compared to the man’s but with the seat slightly higher up to compensate.
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.
Another consideration though, is that this has become the norm for bikes.
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 female bike. That means that 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.
Of course bikes will also vary from individual example to individual example. Sometimes a bike will tick every single box in terms of the 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 then is to find the right manufacturer for you and right model of bike.
By shopping around, you can ensure you are going to get the best value for money and that your bike will be as high quality as is possible.
In terms of manufacturers, there are plenty to choose from that make hybrid bikes. These include:
...and many others.
These all vary in terms of the type of bikes they make and their average quality.
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 your purposes.
But with that 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 or novel.
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.
That said, 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 very best bikes in each category so that you don’t have to, and so that you can buy with confidence, knowing that you’re getting amazing value whichever hybrid bike you choose.