How to find the best hybrid bike for the riding that you're doing
If you’re mainly using your bike for commuting to and from work, maybe with the odd bit of recreational riding at the weekend, then a hybrid bike might be the bike for you. Intended as an affordable option for riders just getting in to cycling, this sort of bike will be good enough to cope with all sorts of terrain without fuss, hopefully helping you to enjoy your cycling and get more involved in this great sport.
But what should you be looking for to make sure you get the best hybrid bike for your money.
What is a hybrid bike?
The clue’s in the name really. A hybrid bike is a hybrid of a standard road bike and a mountain bike, taking the best bits of both types of bike to create a machine that is comfortable over all terrains and surfaces.
The frame of a hybrid bike will generally have a fairly relaxed geometry. This means a short top tube and tall head tube to give a relaxed and upright riding position that should be nice and comfortable, not placing any strain on your neck and shoulders. Many hybrid bikes also feature a top tube that is sloped downwards from the front of the bike towards the back, which should make it a little bit easier to get on and off whatever you are wearing.
Another feature common to all of the best hybrid bikes is that they come with flat handlebars rather than the dropped bars found on normal road bikes. This will again mean a more upright riding position, and means that the bikes will normally use mountain bike-style shifting and braking, with the levers also being easier to reach for less experienced riders.
Compared to road bikes, the best hybrid bikes will come with wider tyres. The width will vary, but it will generally be something between 28mm and 42mm. Not only will this help to improve comfort, ironing out any rough surfaces, but will also add to the level of grip when the roads are wet.
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Are there different types of hybrid bike?
The best hybrid bike for someone else might not be the best hybrid bike for you. Depending on what sort of riding you’re going to be doing, it is worth considering whether you’d be better suited buying a hybrid bike that is more similar to a road bike, or one that is more similar to a mountain bike.
If you’re doing most of your riding on roads and cycles paths, then the best option is to go for a more road-orientated hybrid bike. Quite often, these bikes will feature the same frame and fork as found on the manufacturer’s sportive road bike, but with a flat bar handlebar for a more upright position. The tyres will also be slick, and not super wide, allowing you to ride fast and keep up with traffic.
Watch: Buyer’s guide to road bikes under £500
This type of hybrid bike will normally also come with gearing that reflects its road origins, mainly designed for relatively fast riding over flat roads. At its bottom end, the gearing should also be easy enough to tackle some pretty fierce hills, although if you’re carrying extra pounds in your panniers (or on your belly) then you might struggle a little.
However, if you are going to be riding your hybrid bike on rough cycle paths and bridleways, then it’s better to go for one that will be able to cope with a terrain. The main difference with this type of hybrid bike is that it will come with a suspension fork, which will improve comfort when riding over rough, rutted surfaces. These bikes will also come with slightly wider tyres, usually with a bit of tread on too to give a little more grip.
With regards to gearing, this type of hybrid bike will genearlly have slightly easier gearing than its more road-orientated bretheren. This means that although you won’t be able to hit quite the same top speeds, having a big sprocket at the back and a tiny ring at the front, you should be able to get over that steep climb at the end of your commute with ease, even on a Friday evening at the end of a long, tiring week.
Does it matter what material the bike is made from?
The majority of hybrid bikes will be made from one of three materials: steel, aluminium, or carbon.
Probably the least used of the three is steel, which although it is able to give a comfortable ride, generally makes quite a heavy bike which can be tough to haul over the hills. However the upside of steel is that it very aesthetically appealing, so can be a good choice if you’re looking for a bike to tootle down to the shops on summer days.
A much more popular choice is aluminium, which is used on the majority of hybrid bikes, everything from £200 budget options right up to more serious machines costing £1,500. The reason for it’s popularity is that, if used properly, it can provide a comfortable ride, is relatively light, and can stand up to plenty of abuse through years of use without giving up the ghost.
Watch: Nine beginner mistakes and how to avoid them
Finally carbon, a material more often used on expensive road bikes, is beginning to turn up on the very best hybrid bikes. This is a good choice of your looking to shave a bit of time off your commute, with carbon doing a better job of taking the power you put through the pedals and sending it through the rear wheel.
There are also quite a few hybrid bikes on the market that combine an aluminium frame with a carbon fork. This helps to keep the cost down through the use of aluminium for the frame, while the carbon fork will do a better job of soaking up judder from rough roads.
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What components should I expect?
It might be a bit of a cliché, but you will generally get what you pay when it comes to gearing. Pay more and the best hybrid bikes will come with higher quality groupsets, meaning better quality shifting and less effort needed to shift between gears.
However, if you’re just using your hybrid bike to get to and from work and maybe the odd weekend ride, then shift quality might be a secondary concern to the range of gearing on offer. If you live in a hilly area, then it’s worth looking for a bike with a 32 tooth sprocket at the back to let you winch your way up steep gradients.
There are also lots of hybrid bikes that offer a triple chainset. This is good if you want some seriously easy gears, but the gear range is often not that much more than if you just have two rings at the front, and it can be harder to find the perfect gear if you want to get into a rhythm on a long flat road or steady climb.
Watch: How to use your brakes properly
You’ll also find that there’s a pretty even split of rim brakes and disc brakes on all but the very cheapest hybrid bikes. The differences between the two are simple, with rim brakes using two pads to grip the rim of the wheel, while disc brakes grip a rotor attached to the hub of the wheel. Both have their benefits, so it’s best to choose depending on what you want from a hybrid bike.
Rim brakes are the cheaper option and have been the preferred method of braking on road bikes since time immemorial. They’re also lighter than disc brakes, and are really easy to adjust and maintain, just requiring you to slide in a new pair of brake pads every few months or so.
Although disc brakes have been used on mountain bikes for years, they have only recently made their way onto the road, and although traditional roadies have yet to fully embrace them, they’re a perfect match for hybrid bikes. They are a little more expensive than rim brakes, so you should only expect them on the best hybrid bikes, but offer better braking power and more consistent performance in both wet and dry conditions. They’re also a better option if your commute takes in potentially muddy bridleways and cycle paths, doing a good job of clearing mud and debris from the braking surface.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the saddle that comes with the bike, and whether that suits the sort of riding that you’re going to be doing (and the clothing that you’re going to be doing it in). If you’re riding more than a couple of miles then a pair of padded cycling shorts are a shrewd investment and will vastly improve your comfort in the saddle. And once you’ve got a pair, then you shouldn’t be put off by skinny-looking road saddles, which despite they’re lack of padding will be more comfortable on your backside.
However if you’re buying a hybrid bike just for popping round the corner to the shops at the weekend, then a more padded saddle might prove more comfortable, providing better support for an upright riding position.
Watch: How to fit and remove pedals
As is the case with most bikes, you’re likely to have your hybrid bike sold either without pedals, or with plasticky black flat pedals. The first thing you should do to your new hybrid bike is take these off and throw them in the bin, and invest in a more suitable pair.
The best options for commuting and urban riding are off-road pedals such as Shimano’s SPD system. Not only are these easy to get in and out of so beginners shoudln’t be put off, but they feature a recessed cleat that means you can wear shoes that let you walk instead of waddling as you do with normal cycling shoes. They are also less susceptible to clogging up with mud if you’re taking your hybrid bike off-road.
Are there any other features that I should look for?
While the frame and components will govern how good the bike is to ride, it is a bike’s other features that will decide how good it is to use day to day.
If you’re having to carry large or heavy items into work, then it can be uncomfortable to carry a rucksack which can often stick into your back. A better option is to invest in a pair of panniers, which will mean the weight is taken by your bike rather than by you.
All of the best hybrid bikes should come with eyelets in the frame that will allow it to take a pannier rack. It is possible to buy adaptor clips that will let you use a pannier rack without having the eyelets, but these won’t hold the rack quite as securely as if the frame is specifically designed for the purpose.
You should also try and find a hybrid bike that has plenty of clearance between the frame and the tyre to enable you to fit mudguards, as well as eyelets so you can fit ones with better coverage, rather than flimsy clip on ones. It might seem a shame to spoil the look of your new bike in such a way, but you’ll certainly appreciate it when cycling on wet roads.
How we score
10 – Superb, best in its class and we couldn’t fault it
9 – Excellent, a slight change and it would be perfect
8 – Brilliant, we’d happily buy it
7 – Solid, but there’s better out there
6 – Pretty good, but not quite hitting the mark
5 – OK. Not much wrong with it, but nothing special
4 – A few niggles let this down
3 – Disappointing
2 – Poor, approach with caution
1 – Terrible, do not buy this product