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As the name suggests, hybrid bikes are somewhere between two premier/parent bikes. These two parent bikes are the mountain bike and the road bike. The contrast between the parents is quite visible and can be viewed as the sole reason for the creation of the hybrid bike.
Why do we need hybrid bikes?
The difference between the mountain and the road bike is just too great. It makes for the need for something in between. Something that can both run off-road as well as on-road without looking too odd or being too impractical. Something that won’t make you sit fully recumbent on the seat but will still be fast on the road without too much drag working against you.
This is the space that hybrid bikes occupy. The space between the heavy set, bulky tired mountain bikes, and superlight, trim framed road bikes.
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Uses of Hybrid Bikes
The use of the hybrid bike is quite obvious. It’s for people that have the need for both paved-road commutes but also face a little uneven or bumpy terrain along the way. For terrains like forest roads, irregular pathways with just the right amount of paved or regular driving surface, hybrids would make for the best choice.
Difference between hybrid and other bikes
There are a number of ways hybrid bikes differ from their parents and even with other types of hybrid bikes. Let’s look at some of the main features that separate hybrid bikes from others.
As hybrid bikes take their primary elements from either mountain or road bikes, the handlebars are either flat (as in the mountain bike) or ‘drop’ (as in road bikes). The position of the handlebar itself varies throughout the spectrum of hybrid bikes.
They can be just as low as a race bike, where the handlebar is on the same level or lower than the seat. They can also be higher up to the point that they start to resemble mountain bikes or occupy the space between these two extremes, which adds to their versatility and practicality in both urban and rural environments.
Gears aren’t a mountain bike only or a road bike only department. Nearly all types of bikes are capable of having gears although mountain bikes may have a natural proclivity towards having gears more often, as they have to face inclines or boulders to climb up more frequently than other types of bikes.
Hybrids can have a varying number of speeds. The ones that are based on road bikes can have up to 27 gears via a combination of 9 cassettes and 3 sprockets (or chainrings). Some hybrid bikes can have more than 27 gears but as the intricacies of the gears become more and more complicated, the harder it starts to be for the maintenance, especially if the bike is going to be facing gravel or muddy terrain.
Hybrid bikes with more gears should help you face different sorts of inclines by making it easier on your legs. A 1×10 drivetrain should be adequate for that kind of terrain whereas if you won’t be doing much climbing, going with a bike with less or even no gears should be fine.
As with most modern products, hybrid bikes are also moving forwards with technology to bring in greater degrees of comfort, convenience, and versatility. And their brakes haven’t been too slow to catch up to the pace. Though older V-brakes and other sorts of rim brakes are still in operation, disc or hub brakes have also moved into the products in the market and they almost completely dominate the modern bike’s ‘brake type’ category (especially mountain bikes) and all high-end or even good quality entry-level bikes have the ‘hydraulic’ (disk brake) sub-category.
Disc brakes should be readily available on many hybrid bikes but as with most of these factors, hybrid bikes don’t have a single point to be fixed at, they vary on and on from each other based on what type of bike they’re supposed to be (in the sub-categories of hybrid which will be explained further on) and what purpose they’re supposed to be serving.
Pros and cons of disk brakes
Disc brakes are generally better at braking, they auto-adjust to the brake pad wearing down and require less effort on the rider’s part. They’re also supposed to be more reliable.
On the downside, disc brakes are harder to have serviced, especially if they’re hydraulic or complex in their build.
Hybrid bikes can both be super lightweights like race bikes or sturdy with fat tires like mountain bikes. Again, it’s just a question of what purpose they’re supposed to serve.
Some of the bikes (like cyclo-cross) are actually supposed to be lifted and carried around so special consideration is supposed to be given to the weights of such bikes.
Others are meant to be a little more flexible to incoming pressure and rough terrains so they can be thick and long with wide tires and low centers of gravity to avoid unbalancing the rider.
This is one of the most prominent things that distinguishes or differentiates hybrids from mountain bikes and road/race bikes.
Mountain bikes have handlebars and seat placement that help the rider in sitting upright which is one of the things that lets the rider have a more convenient ride on rough and bumpy terrain. Road or race bikes have a fully or at least partially recumbent posture which, again, helps the rider have a more comfortable experience by making them more aerodynamic when they try going faster on the road.
Hybrids lie in the grey area between the two, they can offer a very similar (even identical) posture to the posture that mountain and road bikes offer but they’re usually designed for the medium space between the two. Where race bikes have the handlebars lower than the seat itself, hybrids can bring it up to the same level and further up to the point where you’re sitting upright or crouching just a bit forward onto the handlebars.
Check our detailed article on the Benefits of Cycling.
There as two things to be noticed when you’re considering wheels on different sorts of bikes.
1) Wheel size
As for the length of the wheel i.e. the diameter, the length doesn’t usually vary too much. Hybrid bikes generally lean towards road bikes in this regard and are generally supposed to have 28” (also called 700c or 700 mm tires). They also have 26” long tires but these aren’t the standard compared to the 700c tires.
700c tires are also commonly used on road bikes but remember that this is just the diameter of the wheel, not the width of the tire. Mountain bikes are supposed to have three variants when it comes to length. These are the 29” (also called 29ers), 27.5” (or 650b wheels) with the older 26” wheels for special needs. Most manufacturers try and incorporate variety into their products by having frames designed for both 27.5” and 29” tires but 29ers are considerably more common in the high-end market these days.
The width of the tires is where the variation comes in. It’s no surprise that road or race bikes use the slimmest tires starting at about 23 mm or 0.9” which usually varies up to 30 mm or about 1.2”. in comparison mountain bikes have tire widths dancing from 40-63 mm or 1.6”-2.9” with possible widths up to 4.5” (like on the Trek Farley 5 ‘fat bike’). So that shows how much mountain bikes differ from the normal paved-road bikes.
Hybrid bikes usually don’t have heavily treaded or prominently knobby tires to increase traction to the point of what mountain bikes offer. They usually have treading that is finer than mountain bike tires, yet are more intricate and knobbier than road bike tires which may offer no knobbing at all.
One of the other visible features of hybrid bikes is their carrying capacity. Some bikes (like touring bikes) are designed to be absolutely laden with stuff like single or sometimes even double pannier bags, up to 3 water bottles, and front baskets. Although, usual hybrids may just settle on just the one rear rack and maybe a water bottle cages/mount. Mud-guards are also present in some types of hybrid bikes along with a few dynamo lights here and there among the utility types.
Check our review of the top Recumbent Bikes.
Types of hybrid bikes
The spectrum of hybrid bikes doesn’t seem to have much of a definite composition, meaning that there’s no official consensus on what types of bikes are to be recognized as hybrid bikes. That leaves space open for a lot of opinions and classifications… all of which help blur the lines between hybrid bikes.
But if we consider a hybrid bike as anything between a mountain bike and a road bike, the following types of bikes can be thought of as what a hybrid is supposed to be.
Known as the touring bike in the UK but going as the trekking bike (with a few adjustments) in Europe, these bikes have the sturdy frame close to what you might see in a mountain bike, with either flat handlebars that are low or traditional drop handlebars. The low flat handlebar is more common in trekking bikes while touring bikes are more commonly seen with drop handlebars. But generally, both trekking bikes and touring bikes have both flat and drop handlebars in their ranks.
Fenders (or mud-guards) are mostly present in the general models unless the bike is inspired by race bikes. These bikes mostly have single pannier racks on the back. A few models have water bottle holders, drop post seats, and low gears for ease in climbing.
These bikes are supposed to be very versatile and have sub-categories within them based on the type of handlebar they have (flat or drop), the type of tires they use, and the frame type.
Some bikes come with wide, sturdy tires that may be knobby for better grip or slim n’ trim for better speeds on paved roads, although an intermediate type of tires is more common since these bikes are supposed to be able to handle gravel, uneven paths as well as paved roads. Generally, trekking bikes are supposed to have wider tires ( and thus improved versatility) than ‘touring bikes’. As for the frame, they aren’t usually super light nor too heavy to handle, but instead lie somewhere on the spectrum in between the two extremes.
Dynamo lights (lights that use power from your pedaling) aren’t too uncommon of sight in these bikes.
The ‘race bike takes on rough terrain’ point of the spectrum is where you may find cyclo-cross bikes. Cyclo-cross racing is a sport that involves riders biking through paved surfaces, grass, mud, and dirt terrains while overcoming obstacles that require the rider lifting the bike up, traversing obstacles while doing so and then remounting when he’s done. It typically takes place in the autumn and winter seasons.
Cyclo-cross bikes have drop handlebars and are on the light side of the frame weight spectrum. So that much they share with road bikes. Their tires, however, are treaded or knobbed to provide traction since they have to deal with much rougher terrain than road bikes. There are no fenders that add to the whole ‘cyclo-cross=mud everywhere’ scene.
Since these bikes are so versatile and strong while also having been designed for speed with light frames made of aluminum, titanium, or carbon fiber, they can provide a stronger and more versatile alternative to other types of commuting and everyday bikes.
As the differentiation of different sorts of bikes progresses, the line between categories becomes more and more blurred. City bikes, commute bikes, or utility bikes have the common factor of being used in or around the vicinity of relatively smooth or paved roads. The first two (i.e. the city bike and the commuter bike) are better equipped to handle steep terrain and among the three the city bike is supposed to be the most rough-terrain tolerant bike with the thickest tires among itself and the commuter bike.
The traditional utility bikes that resemble the European ‘Stadsifiets’ or cruiser bikes too much can’t really be included in the same category as a hybrid utility because of their general designs. However, some hybrid bikes (utility or otherwise) do share the ‘step-through’ top tube design facility with traditional utility bikes without being too identical to them. Commuter bikes have race-bike-like trim tires at about 30 mm wide while the city bike goes up from this number featuring a typical thickness between 38-50mm.
City bikes and commute bikes, the more sporty two among the three, are quite similar to each other with shorter reaches, longer stacks, and flat handlebars. These features make for a more comfortable, upright posture compared to typical road or race bikes. They also have different gear ratios for ease of riding through inclines. Traditional utility bikes however don’t usually have gear options to choose between.
Facilities or add-ons are usually the highest on utility bikes with front (and sometimes back) pannier racks, but as mentioned plenty of times already, the lines continue to blur and blur and so some of the ‘best bike’ picks in the utility bikes section ironically have little or no ‘utility’ additions into their designs like fenders, lights, racks, water bottle holders, etc.
Looking towards the city and commute bikes, you may often find bent top tubes in popular models. Fenders, lights, pannier racks, and even front baskets are seen on some models.