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Buying Guide: Hybrid Bikes

By: Saundra Latham on June 01, 2017

The best hybrid bike has:

  • A sturdy frame. Most hybrids have aluminum or steel frames. Both are strong, but aluminum tends to be lighter. Steel frames, while heavier, absorb more bumps and may be better suited for riders who prefer more comfort over speed. Some pricier, higher-end hybrid bikes may have carbon frames, which offer the best of both worlds.
  • Upright, comfortable geometry. Hybrids are built to minimize muscle strain and allow riders to remain relatively upright on the bike. Unlike road bikes, they typically feature flat handlebars, shorter top tubes and longer head tubes that keep everything in easy reach.
  • Wider, grippier tires. According to Cycling Weekly, most hybrids have tires anywhere from 28 to 42 millimeters wide – much wider than those of a speedy road bike. The wider the tire, the more stable and comfortable the ride – just keep in mind that wider tires also add more weight to the bike.
  • A comfortable saddle. Since hybrids emphasize comfort, the seat on any hybrid should provide adequate cushion for a leisurely ride, even if it does add more weight to the bike. Note that an excellent saddle may still be uncomfortable if you buy the wrong size bike – ideally, you'll want to try before you buy.
  • Reliable brakes. While most hybrids have rim brakes that clamp the wheel's rim to slow the bike, some use more-sophisticated disc brakes that employ a rotor on the wheel hub activated by friction from brake pads or hydraulic pressure. Both types of brakes have their pros and cons; disc brakes are a bit more precise, while rim brakes are lighter and simpler to repair.
  • Versatile gears. Hybrids offer a wide range of gearing options – some may have seven or eight, others, as many as 21; there are even single-speed hybrids. As REI notes, you'll want to have a wider range of gears if you'll be tackling a lot of tough hills, or if you're just starting to build those bike muscles. On the other hand, a huge range of gears adds weight to a bike and might not be important for strong, experienced riders or those sticking to flat terrain. 

Know before you go

What style of riding will you do? Will you use the bike for staying fit, commuting, or slow leisure rides? In general, hybrids can accommodate all three types of riders, but some will utilize higher-end, lighter components in order to better accommodate fitness riders; others may add features such as more comfortable grips and saddles or heftier frames that absorb more bumps, better for leisure riders. Commuter-friendly bikes borrow from both ends of the spectrum.

Do you plan on battling the elements on your bike? While a little bit of rain is no big deal for most quality hybrid bikes, riders who face consistently wet, muddy, icy or snowy weather may want to look for a bike with disc brakes instead of more-common rim brakes. Disc brakes have more reliable stopping power, especially in less-than-ideal conditions. Though pricey, another feature ideal for weather warriors is a low-maintenance belt drive that won't corrode like chains.

What size frame do you need? Determining the proper size frame for your new bike is essential for both comfort and efficiency. If you choose a frame that's too big, you'll find it difficult to control, reach the ground, or even reach the shifters and brakes. A frame that's too small will be not only uncomfortable and inefficient to ride, but you also run the risk of injuring your knees. Many hybrid bike manufacturers offer a variety of sizes, so visit your local bike shop to get a feel for what specific measurements you'll need – this is especially critical if you're ordering a bike online.

Set aside more cash for accessories. The bike is your main expense, but remember all the odds and ends you'll need to accompany it. Those may include a well-fitted helmet, a tire repair kit and pump, spare tubes and chain lubricant. If you'll be commuting on your hybrid bike, you may want to invest in a pannier or some other sort of bag to store your things. A sturdy bike lock that will protect your investment is also a must.

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