Hybrid bikes offer some of the most versatile and most accessibly priced options on the market. Designed primarily for the commuter, leisure and urban cycling markets, the best hybrid bikes combine flat bars and an upright riding position on bikes that are ideal for attaching panniers, keeping a good view while zipping traffic or riding through parks and lanes.
Cycling is one of life's greatest pleasures – in fact, we've thought of 30 reasons to take up cycling, and we're sure there are plenty more reasons out there. Many people start out riding a hybrid because of the versatility and price, and whether you stick with a hybrid or move on to road or mountain bikes, there's no arguing with the fact that they are a durable and popular choice.
If you're looking for a bike to commute on and aren't sure whether a hybrid is the right type of bike for you our quick commuter bike quiz can help you work out the best option, and our guide to different bike types will give you the lowdown briefly on which is which and the pros and cons of each.
- Quiz: Which type of bike should I be commuting on?
- 5 reasons to cycle to work
- Best bike: What type of bike should I buy?
What is a hybrid bike?
The clue is in the name here: hybrids have elements of both road and mountain bikes, and are designed to work over a variety of terrain. They typically have flat handlebars, an upright riding position, V-brakes (though some have disc brakes), larger volume tyres than road bikes for comfort over uneven ground, and lugs that allow you to attach things like mud guards, pannier racks and child seats.
Hybrid bikes exist on a spectrum. Some are more like mountain bikes with fatter tyres and some front suspension, and these are ideal for rough terrain such as uneven roads, towpaths and bridleways. On the downside, they can be on the heavy side. At the other end are hybrids that are more like road bikes: they still have the flat handlebars and upright body positions, but have lightweight frames and narrow tyres.
Popular hybrid bikes
Because the average price point for hybrid bikes tends to be quite low – sub-£1000 / $1,500 / AU$2,000 – there are a lot of regional brands that produce excellent quality hybrid bikes. Examples in the UK include Pinnacle and Boardman, and in the US Kestrel.
Many of the popular hybrid bikes are made by some of the big international brands, such as:
See the full list of BikeRadar hybrid bike reviews for more individual product information.
Hybrid bikes: drivetrain options
While the vast majority of hybrid bikes use the common derailleur gear system, which consists of a series of cogs at the rear wheel (cassette) and at the cranks (crankset, together with the cranks and pedals), a chain to link the two and a derailleur device that moves the chain up and down the various cog wheels, there are alternative systems.
Hub (or internal hub) gears are one such alternative. The gears are enclosed in a drum around the hub of the rear wheel, hence the name. They are still controlled via a shifter on the handlebars as with derailleur gears, and usually provide a range of three to eight gears. The system may still driven by either chain, or by a belt drive, more on which shortly. While bikes with hub gears tend to be pricier than those with derailleur gears, there are definite advantages: the fact that the system is enclosed means it's protected from all the dirt, mud and street crud, so hub gears tend to require very little maintenance.
Belt drives are an alternative to the traditional chain drive systems and are similar to automotive belt drives. Rather than a metal chain, which needs to be regularly cleaned and lubricated in order to work, a belt drive uses a toothed belt that works in a similar fashion, but doesn't require the same level of maintenance. So no more greasy chain marks on your legs.
Hybrid bikes for commuting
The majority of commuters will find a hybrid bicycle ideal for their needs (let's face it, commuting by bike can knock the socks off driving, getting the train or walking any day). If you do need persuading, or know someone who could take a nudge in that direction, check out our 5 top reasons to cycle to work.
When considering what type of hybrid bike is best for commuting, you need to take into account how long your journey is, what the terrain is like, how much you need to carry (clothes, laptop computers, gym gear and so on).
For journeys where the road conditions aren't great or that take in cobbled roads, towpaths or good-condition bridleways, you might want to consider a hybrid bike with a front suspension fork, another item borrowed from the world of mountain biking.
For longer distance commutes, or for commuters who want something a bit speedier or nippier, hybrids with lightweight frames, narrow tyres and a slightly more aggressive body position, and with the benefit of flat handlebars and lugs for attaching accessories, may be the order of the day.
Carrying lots of stuff? You might want to consider a hybrid that has pannier racks already attached, or adding a pannier rack and bags as an accessory once you've purchased it.
Accessories for hybrid bikes
The versatility of hybrids extends to the number of accessories that are either designed specifically to go with them, or that can be added.
A large percentage of hybrid bikes come pre-fitted with mudguards (fenders), particularly those aimed at commuters or urban cyclists who are likely to be using them in all weather conditions including wet roads. Hybrids that don't come with them attached will usually feature lugs that allow you to fit full-length mudguards that give excellent protection.
These lugs also enable pannier racks to be fitted to the rear of the bikes on the vast majority of hybrid bikes, allowing riders to carry pannier bags rather than, or in addition to, a rucksack. Again, some hybrid bikes come with these pre-fitted. Front baskets, either wire or wicker, are also a popular accessory for hybrid bikes. There are a huge array available, and most are easy to fit. You can even get covers for them to keep your things dry and secure when riding.
Bike lights are a must for anyone riding after dark, and ideally also in low light or wet weather conditions. Bike computers are also handy: the simplest ones are great for keeping track of the miles you've covered, and how long your journey has taken you. More advanced options with GPS, such as those by Garmin, will also let you map and track your route.
And of course wherever you park your bike, you'll need a quality lock (or two!) to deter thieves.
Child seats for bikes
Hybrid bikes are the best choice of bicycle if you want to ride with a child seat. The upright position and flat handlebars help with stability and visibility when riding, and the lugs allow the child seats to be bolted into position.
Alternatives: folding bikes, electric bikes, Dutch bikes, touring bikes and road bikes
Folding bikes are an excellent alternative choice to hybrid bikes, combining many of the useful features of them – flat handlebars, mudguards and even luggage-carrying attachments – but in a compact form that can be folded to a small size and easily stored. This type of bike is especially popular with city commuters, particularly those who need to travel on trains at peak travel times. They are also popular with riders who don't have a lot of safe and secure storage room either at work or at home. On the flip side, the small wheel size they are usually fitted with means you won't move as quickly, so these are better for shortish across-town trips.
Another increasingly popular option is electric bikes or e-bikes. These are bikes that have an integrated electric motor that provides an additional power boost when pedalling, meaning cyclists can cover ground more quickly, climb hills more easily, and don't need to expend as much energy when compared with a regular bike. There are ever more hybrid e-bikes on the market, as well as e-road bikes and e-mountain bikes.
Dutch bikes are also a very popular option for commuters and leisure cyclists. They typically feature a step-through frame, a stand, an enclosed chain or chain guard, large handlebars that curve around to the rider, and (often) front baskets.
Touring bikes are sturdy bikes designed to travel long distances comfortably and take a lot of luggage, which also makes them a good choice for cycle commuters. There are many different types, but most are either hybrid-type with flat bars or road bike style with drop handlebars.
Road bikes are sometimes used for commuting, but it's worth noting that a lot of them won't include lugs for attaching mud guards or pannier racks, though there are clip-on options. If you do fancy a road bike and you want to attach a pannier rack, make sure you check it's possible first. Single-speed (one gear only) and fixed wheel (no free wheel, so your pedals are continuously turning) road bikes are also very popular with urban cyclists as they are low maintenance, but the lack of gears, and in many cases freewheel, can be tough in busy traffic or in hilly areas.
Despite the fact that mountain bikes aren't very efficient for travelling on the road, due to their heavier weight, large knobbly tyres, and suspension that can suck the power out of your pedal stroke, cheaper models are a surprisingly common sight. They are comfortable, and have the same upright position and flat handlebars as hybrids. If you do decide you want a mountain bike for commuting on, your best bet is a 'hardtail' (one that has front suspension only), and it's also worth swapping the tyres over from grippy knobbly ones to something with a semi-slick, smooth surface that will roll better on tarmac.
So now you know what you're looking for, it's time to work out which hybrid bike is right for you. Check out all our hybrid bike reviews on BikeRadar in one place - the perfect starting point.