Understanding Hybrid Bikes
The cycling world can be a daunting place. If you’re a beginner looking to get into the sport, you might see hard-core mountain bikers with beefy-looking bikes and loads of bike accessories, or streamlined cyclists who fly along bike lanes every weekend. But don’t worry—just because you want to get into biking doesn’t mean you have to immediately choose which side of the biking spectrum you’re on.
Enter the hybrid bike. These machines are designed with the best aspects of road bikes, touring bikes, and mountain bikes combined, and are therefore ideal for the occasional neighborhood bike ride, a ride through the city, or a long commute to work. However, choosing the right hybrid bike can still be a challenge, and it’s important to know which model is best for you before making a purchase.
Some of the most popular hybrid bikes are those that put the primary focus on comfort, rather than speed, efficiency, or ruggedness. Hybrid bikes built for comfort have powerful suspensions and cushiony seats to absorb small bumps, and often feature handlebars that rise higher and are set wider apart. With this construction, it allows the body to remain upright, as opposed to bent over, as you would be on a road bike.
Remember that with these bikes, you’ll likely give up efficiency for comfort, so they’re best for leisure rides on a sunny afternoon.
If you need a bike that can handle a little more than a Sunday afternoon ride, but still don’t want to plunge into the world of mountain or road biking, your best bet is most likely a commuter hybrid bike. These bikes are typically much lighter than bikes based simply on comfort, and they feature more of the beneficial aspects of road bikes to help you get to your destination faster and more efficiently.
Most of the time, you’ll see commuter bikes that have the handlebars and brake systems of mountain bikes, 700c wheel diameters typical of road bikes, and bike gear attachments that are used on touring bikes—great for long distances.
Distance or City Rides?
When selecting a commuter hybrid bike, you may want to think about if you’ll be traveling over long distances on paved bike paths, or if the rugged concrete jungle of the city is a more likely scenario.
The best hybrid bikes for longer, higher-speed commutes are built more like road bikes; however, their handlebars feature a heads-up position necessary for riding in traffic. These bikes are lighter, often made of aluminum, and built with seat stays and chain stays that are shaped to make braking easier and increase tire clearance. The Jamis Allegro is a great example of a bike that’s perfect for getting to and from work.
If your terrain will be only the tight turns and packed streets of a downtown city area, go with a bike made for such areas. These are often heavier than bikes built for speed and distance, are made of steel rather than aluminum, and are more rugged. The Marin Muirwoods 29er, for example, features a 29er fork designed specifically for tight turns, and works well with several kinds of tires.
A great feature of these bikes is that they often have lockable quick-release tires, making it easy to bring the take tire into the office with you to deter thieves.
The Inner Workings
Regardless of which type of hybrid bike you choose, there are a few characteristics that most have that separate them from road or mountain bikes. Most feature suspension forks to absorb many of the bumps you typically feel on a road bike. In addition to ensuring a smooth ride, hybrids also give you more control over uneven terrain, similar to a mountain bike.
However, suspension forks are slightly heavier, so if you don’t expect to leave smooth, paved surfaces, you may want to find a hybrid built with an aluminum or steel fork.
Hybrid Braking Systems
Hybrid bikes are designed with brakes that give you the ultimate stopping ability. For city riders, choose a bike that has a mechanical disc brake, which will give you the best stopping power while staying in control—a great feature when car doors can open at any time.
V-brakes, which are often found on mountain bikes, may be a better choice for long-distance commuting or when terrain may vary. These brakes, sometimes referred to as linear-pull brakes, are also a great choice if you plan to be commuting in all kinds of weather.
The gearing technology that goes into hybrid bikes also sets them apart from other models. Some bikes come with few gears, usually fewer than eight, which is great for even terrain such as neighborhoods and cities. But there are many options available for bikes with up to a 30-speed drivetrain, making it easier to get up and down hills, or ride with a trailer or child seat in tow.
On hybrid bikes, all it takes is a simple push of a button or twist of the handlebar to shift gears. You’ll be able to concentrate on the road ahead and whatever else it is you think about on your commute, rather than if your gears are working properly.
Sitting in Comfort
Saddles also differ among hybrid bikes. If your biggest concern is comfort, go for the most cushioned one you can find. You may even want to look for a bike that has a suspension seat post, which helps absorb shocks even more. Keep in mind, however, that these saddles aren’t designed for long, fast, or aggressive rides.
Most commuter bikes feature a sleeker, smaller saddle sized between that of a road bike and a mountain bike.
Hybrid bikes are hands down the best way to get around town, and are excellent confidence-building bikes to help you ease into cycling culture.
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