So you've heard people talk about "hybrids." But what exactly is a hybrid bike, and why would you want to ride one?
A hybrid bike is one that blends the best characteristics of both road and mountain bikes into a bike that is sturdy, comfortable and fast, and ideal for riding on streets and bike paths.
Features of a hybrid that come from mountain bikes:
- a more upright frame, offering a more comfortable riding position
- a stouter frame that can handle more weight -- in rider and/or cargo -- as well as absorb the day-in, day-out punishment of potholes, etc., that you might encounter in a commute
- slightly wider tires for better traction and stability
Features that come from road bikes
- lighter rims for faster riding
- lighter components and taller gearing for going faster
Wheels: The wheels on a hybrid bike are a true combination of what you find on road and mountain bikes. Wider, like a mountain bike for greater stability and durability, but then with a higher recommended air pressure that puts them in the same level as a road bike when it comes to inflation level. The higher air pressure allows them to go faster by reducing rolling resistance. Think about how a properly inflated basketball bounces compared to one that is even slightly flat. Same concept.
The rims and spokes on hybrids are lighter too like a road bike, since the assumption is that you won't be doing the rougher off-road riding that mountain biking entails.
Frame: Most hybrid bike frames are made of lightweight aluminum or steel (also called "cro-moly"), due to the strength and durability the materials offers and their (relatively) low price.
Handlebars: The handlebars on a hybrid are typically flat like a mountain bike, and go straight out from the stem. With a wider grip, usually about shoulder width, these handlebars allow riders to sit upright and offer a better position for vision and control of the bike than the handlebars on a road bike.
Riding position: Like a mountain bike, a hybrid's design allows riders sit upright in a position that gives them best control of the bike with well-placed center of gravity and in a posture that reduces strain on the rider's neck and back.
Gears: Hybrids have a wide range of gearing to allow the rider to both climb hills and go fast on flats and downhills. Not usually equipped with gears in as low range as a mountain bike, the hybrid's gearing set-up is more similar to road bikes.
Typically a hybrid bike will have either two or three chain rings in the front as part of the crank assembly, again along the lines of what you’d find on a road bike. In the back you'll find eight or nine gears in the cassette on the rear wheel, a combination that allows for anywhere from 16 to 27 possible gear combinations, which will account for virtually every need a hybrid rider will have in town or on the bike path.
Pedals: Basic hybrids bikes come equipped with platform pedals. This is useful if you’re the type of rider who frequently puts your feet down. Other more advanced riders may prefer to use toe clips or even clipless pedals that allow the rider to secure his or her cleated shoes to the pedals, but people have different levels of comfort when it comes to being fully attached to the bike given the frequent stops you migth encounter riding in traffic.Accessories: for a hybrid bike include a cyclocomputer, frame pump, tool bag, water bottle and cage. This is about all you need to be self-sufficient when riding in town.
Major Brands: Cannondale, Specialized, Trek.
Buying Advice: A hybrid is a good choice for much in-town riding. The key to getting a good bike is to find one with decent components. It is these moving parts that will determine how well your bike will function and for how long.
Also, if you're going to be using a hybrid bike for commuting to work or school, check out the accessories that may make your trip easier and more convenient, such as lights, racks, and locks that can come as built-in features with many models.