Best hybrid bikes: A buyer's guide to find what you need

What's the best bike for commuting, urban cycling or leisure riding?

Hybrid bikes are some of the most versatile and accessibly–priced bicycles on the market, they’re also some of the most popular bikes around.

Our guide will walk you through exactly what a hybrid is and if it is the right bike for you, as well as introducing some of the best hybrid bikes on the market right now.

  • This article was updated 28 March 2018

What is a hybrid bike?

Trek's FX Sport is a typical example of a modern hybrid bicycle
Trek's FX Sport is a typical example of a modern hybrid bicycle

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 that form an upright riding position as well as larger volume tyres than road bikes for improved comfort over uneven ground.

Hybrids put practicality first, so frame mounting points (often called eyelets) that allow you to attach accessories like mudguards, pannier racks and child seats are commonplace.

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 dirt roads, paths and backways. On the downside, they can be on the heavy side and usually make for slower progress.

At the other end of the scale are hybrids that are more like road bikes: they still have the flat handlebars and upright body positions, but have lightweight frames, narrow tyres and are less likely to have suspension.This sort of hybrid will usually be better for travelling at speed but is likely to be slightly less comfortable.

Popular hybrid bikes 

Because the average price point for hybrid bikes tends to be quite low – sub-$1,000 – there are a lot of brands that produce excellent quality hybrid bikes. 

Many of the popular hybrid bikes are made by some of the big international brands, such as Specialized, Trek 7.6 and Cannondale.

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 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 be driven by either a chain, or by a belt drive, more on this 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 at its best, 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

A large proportion 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). 

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 potholed roads, paths or the occasional backroad, 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, hybrids with lightweight frames, narrow tyres and a slightly more aggressive riding position, and with the benefit of flat handlebars and eyelets 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.

The bike on the left is more towards the road end of the spectrum, and the one on the right toward the MTB end with its front suspension fork
The bike on the left is more towards the road end of the spectrum, and the one on the right toward the MTB end with its front suspension fork

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, 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 mounting points on the frame that allow you to fit full-length mudguards, which give excellent protection. 

These eyelets 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 backpack.

Again, some hybrid bikes come with these pre-fitted. Front baskets, either wire or wicker, are also a popular accessory for hybrid bikes.

Hybrid bikes (with or without baskets) are a popular choice among commuters and leisure cyclists
Hybrid bikes (with or without baskets) are a popular choice among commuters and leisure cyclists

Bike lights are a must for anyone riding after dark, and ideally also in low light or wet weather conditions. Some select hybrid bikes will arrive with lights already fitted — these are normally powered by a dynamo, which draws power from the bike’s riding effort as opposed to batteries.

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 to deter thieves. We recently tested 24 of the most popular bike locks to destruction.

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 eyelets allow the child seats to be bolted into position. 

Alternatives: folding bikes, electric bikes, Dutch bikes, touring bikes and road bikes

Folding bikes

Folding bikes are an excellent alternative choice to hybrid bikes, combining many of their useful features: flat handlebars, fenders 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 train and/or buses 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. 

E-bikes

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

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. 

Dutch bikes in Amsterdam, their natural habitat
Dutch bikes in Amsterdam, their natural habitat

Touring bikes

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

Road bikes are sometimes used for commuting. These bikes favour speed over outright comfort, and it's worth noting that — unlike a hybrid — a lot of them won't include eyelets for attaching mudguards or pannier racks, though there are clip-on options.

If you do fancy a road bike and you want to attach such accessories, make sure you check it's possible first. Singlespeed (one gear only) and fixed wheel (no freewheel, so your pedals are continuously turning) road bikes are also very popular with urban cyclists because they are low maintenance, but the lack of gears and lack of coasting can be tough in busy traffic or in hilly areas. 

Mountain bikes

Despite the fact that mountain bikes aren't very efficient for travelling on the road due to their heavier weight, large knobby tyres and suspension that adds needless weight and cost, cheaper models are a surprisingly common sight.

They are comfortable and have a similar upright position and flat handlebars as hybrids. If you do decide you want a mountain bike for commuting, your best bet is a hardtail bicycle (one that has front suspension only), and it's also worth swapping the tyres over from knobbly ones to something with a semi-slick, smooth surface that will roll better on the road. 

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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