Before I decided to bike to work every day a while ago, I had done extensive research about the different bike options and I borrowed different bikes from family and friends to see how they compare in terms of speed and comfort. One of the pleasant surprises was my brother’s hybrid bike, which struck me as a particularly good commuter. Let’s dive into the details a little bit, and understand more about this exciting breed of bikes.
Are hybrid bikes good for commuting?
Hybrid bikes are excellent commuters because of their versatility. They offer a good balance of comfort, speed and practicality, which combines the best features found in different bikes. They perform well on a variety of terrains.
Since there are differences among different hybrid bikes, let’s try to understand what you need to look for as a commuter so you can enjoy many happy hours in the saddle.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a hybrid bike?
As its name suggests, a hybrid bike is a blend of different bike types. It borrows elements from road bikes, mountain bikes, and touring bikes as well. The degree in which it borrows elements more from one than from another makes it resemble more a road bike, a mountain bike or a touring bike.
These are some characteristics that you will always or sometimes find in hybrids:
- Flat or slightly raised handlebars (always)
- More upright than road bikes
- Wider tires than road bikes, but narrower than MTBs (always)
- Front suspension fork (often)
- Fenders/mudguards (sometimes)
- Rear rack (sometimes)
- Internal gear hub (sometimes)
Since the category of hybrid bikes is not as defined as that of road bikes or mountain bikes, different manufacturers may place their hybrids in different sub-categories and may call them: fitness bikes, trekking bikes, city commuters, urban commuters or simply commuters.
In fact, the hybrid category is so broad that electric hybrid bikes are also very popular, and a great way to get to work for those who need some extra assistance on their way.
Commuter friendly features on hybrid bikes
The average commuter rides between 6 and 10 miles each way. This range is long enough that you should place an emphasis on comfort and practicality, but since it’s not a race, it’s enough to have a bike that’s reasonably fast, but not the fastest. Hybrid bikes offer plenty of features that make them ideal for this type of commute.
Because of their geometry, hybrid bikes allow the rider to sit in a comfortable, fairly upright position. This is a welcome feature especially for riders with little or no experience. Since you don’t need to lean too forward, this also alleviates some of the discomfort and numbness you may experience in your hands and core muscles when riding a road bike.
Having wider tires than road bikes means that they hold more air, and they can be used at lower pressures. Hybrid tires usually range between 28 and 40 mm (road bikes usually range between 23 and 28 mm).
Since the tire acts as a cushion, hybrid bikes offer a smoother ride than road bikes. It’s difficult to understand it without trying it out, but the difference is striking once you have tried both of them. This is a big advantage to commuters, especially to those who ride on low-quality roads with potholes, curbs, cobbles…
Most hybrid bikes have front suspension forks. These don’t offer as much shock absorption as MTBs because they have a shorter travel, but the difference between rigid forks and front shock is remarkable. There is a weight penalty you pay by having front suspension, which won’t significantly affect your overall speed, but it will offer you superior comfort on rough road segments.
The gear range of hybrid bikes is usually between road bikes and MTBs, which makes them good for climbing steep hills as well as for going reasonably fast. Having a few extra lower gears is a very welcome thing if you are a heavier rider carrying some load.
Hybrid bikes either come equipped with fenders or have the mounting points ready to receive fenders. Rainy commutes can be made miserable without fenders as you feel the muddy grime from the city streets dripping down your belly and also covering your back.
Rear racks are often found on hybrids, or at least, they have eyelets you can mount a rear rack on. Most people will find riding a bike to work much more comfortable if they don’t have to carry a backpack, but can place their laptop, change of clothes and other whatnots in a pannier bag that attaches to the rear rack of the bike. In case you’re wondering just how to use a rear rack, there is an article on the blog about it here.
A small number of hybrid bikes come with internal gear hubs, which makes your gears maintenance free and last forever. The gear range is more limited than on regular bikes, but not having to worry about a derailleur and replacing the cassette when replacing your chain is really convenient.
A few hybrids come equipped with lights and a hub dynamo. These are typically found in purpose-built urban commuters, which makes them super practical. You don’t ever have to worry about charging batteries or leaving your light at home or in the office since it’s always attached to the bike and ready to shine.
Belt drive is also found on some purpose-built commuter hybrids. What makes a belt drive appealing is that it doesn’t require lubrication or maintenance, and doesn’t need to be replaced as often as a bike chain.
What kind of commutes are hybrids for?
Hybrids are very versatile. They make climbing easy, they are fast, they can carry a lot of weight. They are suited for most types of commute.
Unless your commute specifically requires a MTB because you have to cross a mountain, or a folding bike to take with you on public transport in the city, or you don’t need to carry anything to work in a bag and you want a road bike to be as fast as possible, a hybrid bike is the best bike you can buy to get around.
A hybrid is great for all of the following commutes types:
- Short, medium or long commutes
- Flat commutes
- Hilly commutes
- Urban commutes
- Commutes with light off-road segments
- City commutes
- Commutes where you have to carry stuff
Price of hybrid bikes
New hybrid bikes from reputable manufacturers start at around the 450 dollar price tag and can be as expensive as 2000 dollars.
The difference between low and high end models is mostly the components used. The frame the bike is built on is often the same, although sometimes the aluminium fork is changed for a carbon one. Gears and derailleurs, brakes, rims, tires, pedals are different. Overall, you often save a few lbs by spending more.
It’s always easiest to compare the different bikes of the same brand and model. You won’t notice any difference in terms of riding experience if you have a bike with low end components, but generally speaking the more you pay for the bike the more durable bike you get.
The extra money you spend on your bike pays itself back in the long run.
Cheaper bikes are equipped with rim brakes. As you spend more, you can get mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes. With these brakes braking performance improves and brakes last longer.
Gears also become more sophisticated, but more importantly more durable if you spend some extra money.
Extra money spent can also get you some additional features that you need in a good commuter and that you would have spend money on if you only bought a barebones bike:
- Rear rack
- Dynamo hub and lights
What are some good hybrid bikes?
There are literally hundreds of hybrid options available, which is way more than one can ever compare. I have limited the recommendations to three brands: Trek, Giant, and Decathlon. The former two are well-known big brands, but Decathlon offers really good value for money.
Under 500 dollars.
If you want to spend no more than 500 dollars on your bike, check out these options. Keep it in mind that some extra money will be spent on additional gear such as fenders, lights and a rear rack.
|Price||Brakes||Front suspension||Commuter ready|
|Trek FX 1||439||V-brakes||No||No|
|Giant Escape 3||479||Mechanical disc||No||No|
|Decathlon Riverside 500||499||Mechanical disc||Yes||No|
Under 1000 dollars
This is a very exciting price range, where you get the most for your money. The extra money you spend on the bike often gives you a fully equipped, ready to go dedicated commuter.
|Price||Brakes||Front suspension||Commuter ready|
|Trek Dual Sport 3||859||Hydraulic disc||Yes||No|
|Giant Escape City Disc 3||710||Mechanical disc||No||Yes|
|Decathlon Hoprider 900||899||Hydraulic disc||Yes||Yes, including dynamo hub|
If you want to get into bike commuting, hybrid bikes certainly deserve your attention. They are comfortable, reasonably fast and practical. Instead of sitting in a bumper-to-bumper traffic they can help you get fit as you’re making your way to work.