Hybrid and city bikes can combine road bike speed and mountain bike toughness in a single machine versatile enough to handle the rigours of the daily commute or the pleasures of a weekend country ride.
Growing in popularity thanks to an increased awareness of the benefits of cycling – to your wallet, your health and to your environment – hybrids have evolved to offer premium performance without the sacrifice of comfort or practicality.
When choosing your hybrid remember that under this description can come very different bikes – from fast flat-barred road bikes that wear their racing heritage on their sleeve to city bikes designed for all-weather urban practicality ahead of flat-out speed.
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Read on to learn more about the different types of hybrid and city bikes and to help choose one that suits your needs and your budget.
The right bike for you will depend to a large extent on the reasons you want it and the riding you wish to do. If you are hoping to take up leisure riding as a way to get fit and have fun, a fast, flat-barred hybrid is just one step removed from a ‘proper’ racing bike and could be right up your alley.
However if you are looking for a workhorse city bike to handle the daily commute in all seasons you may need a model that has accessories such as luggage racks and mudguards as standard. And if you’re looking for a ‘do-it-all’ bike – for fun, commuting, touring and more – you will need a model that provides versatility, accepting that this sometimes comes at the expense of speed.
As the name suggests, the ‘hybrid’ category of bike can bring together design characteristics and components from a number of bike families, but we’ve tried to break it down loosely into speed-oriented ‘flat-bar’ city bikes and the more leisurely commuter-type workhorse.
For fitness – the flat-barred road/city bike
Flat-barred road/city bikes are ideal for general fitness cycling, light weekend touring and fast commuting. These bikes share most of the design features of their racing cousins but offer a slightly more relaxed geometry that is more practical and comfortable for city use, and flat handlebars for ease of control in traffic.
Aluminium frames combine stiffness and light weight, while some models will boast rigid carbon fibre forks to reduce vibrations. Such speedy city bikes often share components with the racer crowd – gearing is 24- or 27-speed with a triple front chainset the norm, plenty to tackle even the steepest of hills. 700c wheels and narrow tyres ensure on-street speed, but wider rims and clearance for bigger tyres delivers better commuting comfort and can allow for some light off-road excursions. Many feature lightweight road bike-style caliper brakes, but the popularity and performance advantages of disc brakes has seen them appear more and more on high-end hybrids.
Crucially – and unlike the majority of MTBs and road bikes – hybrid frames in many cases feature eyelets enabling the attachment of add-ons such as panniers, mudguards and chainguards, allowing them to be easily adapted for leisure touring, day-to-day commuting or inclement weather.
For work – the city commuter
Many city commuter bikes are designed to be more practical and robust than racer-inspired hybrids, with features such as racks, baskets, mudguards, chainguards and kickstands often coming as standard.
These rush-hour workhorses also make even more concessions to comfort, with geometry giving the rider a more upright posture, larger-volume tyres to deal with city streets, adjustable stems, deeply-cushioned saddles and even suspension forks.
Wheels on commuter bikes can either be 700c in diameter (like a road bike) or sometimes the smaller 26” standard (like an MTB). Gearing is usually 24- or 27-speed, however some commuter bikes come with three- or five-speed internally-geared rear hubs for simplicity and low maintenance. Brakes are normally MTB-style v-brakes.
For fashion – the urban ‘fixie’
The trend for courier-inspired urban bikes has seen a resurgence in single-speed ‘fixie’ models coming to the market. While these are elegant in terms of design, simplicity and lack of maintenance required, the benefits of a range of gears for day-to-day practicality – especially if you live in a hilly area – must be carefully considered.
If you like the retro ‘fixie’ style – but not the impracticality – you might want to take a look at some of the lovely examples of retro-inspired steel-framed city bikes, that will still look beautiful outside a chic city café but which offer concessions such as gears and brakes.
Women’s-specific hybrid bikes
Women have a different body geometry to men and the range of women-specific bikes on offer reflects the different needs of female cyclists.
Because women tend to have longer legs in proportion to their torsos than men, women’s-specific hybrid bikes will have a shorter top tube to bring the handlebars closer to the saddle while still enabling full leg extension.
They can also feature adjustments such as a relaxed head tube angle and lengthened head tube as well as a slightly steeper seat angle, all aimed at increasing comfort and stability.
Handlebars are narrower to reflect narrower shoulders; brake levers and handlebar grips are sized to fit smaller hands and saddles are shaped to support sit bones and relieve pressure on soft tissue.
Some city bikes aimed at the female market will also feature feminine colour schemes, step-through frames and features such as front baskets, but make sure that the basic design elements are female-friendly before being tempted by these fun additions.