Hybrid Bikes For Commuting: How To Choose

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What are hybrid bikes? That’s a huge question that many first time commuters ask when buying a bike. A hybrid bike is a general-purpose bike, usually costing between $500 for an entry level model to over $1,000 for a top level model, that blends characteristics from more specialized road bikes, touring bikes and mountain bikes. This makes hybrid bikes capable of handling a wide range of riding conditions.

Designs range from having frames made out of aluminum, steel or carbon fiber. You can get them with front suspension or no suspension. Gears can range from 1 to 27. Wheel size usually ranges from 26 inches to 700c. Brakes usually come in two options: rim brakes or disc brakes. And handlebar options can come in different styles such as drop bars, flat bars, riser bars, and mustache bars.

When choosing a hybrid bike to commute with, you must first determine which type of terrain you plan to ride on.

Will you be riding on the streets, bike paths, unpaved roads and trails or a combination of smooth pavement and off-road.

There are a few things to consider when shopping for hybrid bikes

The features and components on your bike

Walk into any bike shop and compare different bikes, and you’ll notice how differently they ride.

Different sized wheels, tires, tire pressure, suspension, gears, brakes, racks and fenders, and even handlebars can have a huge influence on ride quality and the way you use your bike.

Bike fit

Beginner bike commuters should be aware that a correct bike fit will dramatically improve comfort, performance and overall enjoyment while cycling.

What is a bike fit?

Unlike cyclists, bikes come in a limited number of shapes and sizes. That’s why bike manufacturers use adjustable components so their bikes can be made to accommodate a larger amount of riders.

This allows a trained bike fitter to make the needed adjustments to each of these components so that your bicycle is more comfortable on longer rides.

To learn more about a proper bike fit, go to The Importance of Bike Fit.

How to choose a hybrid bike

When trying to figure out which type of hybrid bike is right for you, it’s important to know which type of riding you will doing:

  • Commuting in the city?
  • Riding paved paths?
  • Cruising smooth streets?
  • Riding on a mix of gravel and pavement?

Some other questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • Who do you ride with?
  • Kind of bike they ride?
  • What have you had in the past that you liked?
  • What have you had in the past that you disliked?

Once you know which features you need on your hybrid bike, you can then decide which type is suitable for your needs, such as commuting with a group of friends.

Hybrid bikes can vary, such as being more closer to the road bike category, with thinner tires, drop handlebars, and weighting less. Or they can be more focused towards the mountain bike category, with fatter tires, flat handlebars with a more upright position, and weighting more.

Make sure you get the proper type of hybrid bike or you may not be able to keep up on smooth pavement, or go off-road such as dirt or sand.

Choose your wheel size

Hybrid bikes come with different wheel sizes.
Hybrid bikes come with different wheel sizes.

700c: Known as the standard wheel size found on most hybrid bikes, 700C is used to refer to any tire, rim, or wheel with a 622mm BSD. This could also be on a skinny-tired road bike where the wheel has an actual diameter of only 660mm (which is actually a little LESS than 26 inches!), or a mountain bike with a wheel diameter of over 29 inches.

For more information about 700c wheels, go to Tech Talk: Know Your Tire Size.

26 in: Some hybrid bikes use twenty-six inch wheels that are most commonly used on mountain bikes and tend to be fatter. 26 inch tires have a little more cushion to them naturally. They contain more air volume to disperse as you go over bumps. 26 inch wheels also are smaller than standard 700c wheels that also tend to be narrower.

Find out more about 26 inch wheels at Understanding Bike Wheel Sizes 26” and 700c.

How many gears do hybrid bikes need?

Bicycle gears.
Bicycle gears.

Hybrid bikes come in a broad range of gears, from 1 to 27 or more.

For a beginner commuters this can be complicated to figure out until they clearly know what they need from their bike.

The number of gears you choose for your bike will depend on how you choose to ride, such as slow weekend journeys to the farmers market or along a bike path.

A bike with multiple chainrings and cogs will be more complex, but will allow you to tackle hills, descents and rough terrain better.

If you’re a strong cyclist, only ride in your neighborhood, or only ride flat terrain, you may possible be able to stick with a single-speed, seeing you won’t need as many gears to power up hills.

This will keep your bicycle very simple to maintain, clean, and very light. These bicycles only contain a freewheel mechanism in the rear hub that allows you to coast just like you would on a standard bike with multiple gears.

On the other hand, if you are more adventurous and decide to ride longer distances, or your commute has more hills, you’ll most likely need a multi-speed bike.

Just keep in mind what your fitness level is, and the terrain you’ll be riding. If you’ll be riding lots of hills on your commute and find yourself struggling, then you’ll want a bike with more gears.

Lear more about gears at The Perfect Number Of Gears For Your Urban Bike.

Do you need bike suspension?

Front suspension.
Front suspension.

Front suspension:

Some hybrid bikes (generally urban bikes) have front bicycle suspension forks. A bicycle suspension is the system, or systems, used to suspend the rider and bicycle in order to insulate them from the roughness of the terrain. Bicycle suspension is used primarily on mountain bikes, but is also common on hybrid bicycles.

Disadvantages of front suspension:

The disadvantages of a hybrid bicycle having a front suspension is that it slows the bike down by making pedaling less efficient, and adding weight.

Hight quality suspension usually has a lock-out option, that doesn’t slow the bike down as much, bust still when locked out, doesn’t make it completely rigid.

This makes it more difficult when riding up hills, and is the reason why most people who ride paved bike paths and smooth streets will not prefer it.

Find out more about front bike suspension at Pros And Cons Of Suspension On Bicycles.

Types of brakes that hybrid bikes come with

Bicycle brakes.
Bicycle brakes.

Hybrid bikes usually come with traditional rim brakes or disc brakes.

The major difference between traditional rim brakes and disc brakes, besides aesthetics, it how the force is applied.

A rim brake uses calipers to apply force to the outer edge of the rim itself.

Disc brakes work by moving the brake surface away from the rim to the rotor. Originally used on mountain bikes for years, the rotor is mounted to the hub, while the caliper is mounted to the fork near the axle, making the calipers less likely to get clogged with mud.

Rim Brakes:

Most hybrid bikes come equipped with rim brakes. Disc brakes are considered the newer netter option when it comes to brakes, but there’s still many advantages to using traditional rim brakes.

Advantages of rim brakes:

  • Lighter than disc brakes, usually up to a pound.
  • Easy to observe brake pad wear
  • Easy to replace worn pads.
  • More aerodynamic than disc brakes.
  • Easier to repair.
  • Cost less.

Disadvantages of rim brakes:

  • Gradually wears out your rim, eventually requiring it to be replaced.
  • Less stopping power.
  • Not as effective in wet or muggy conditions.
  • Requires more finger effort on the levers to brake fast.

Disc Brakes:

Many newer bikes are now coming with frames that are disc-brake ready. Disc brakes offer several important benefits over using rim brakes.

Advantages of disc brakes:

  • Greater stopping power on long descents.
  • Don’t heat rim helping to prevent tire blowouts on long descents.
  • More precise braking helping to lessen wheel lockup.
  • Works better than rim brakes in wet weather.
  • You can change rotor sizes allowing you to adjust how much braking power you want.
  • Allows you to use wider tires.
  • More consistent braking in all conditions.
  • Cheaper to replace a worn rotor than a whole wheel.
  • Superior performance in steep and wet terrain.
  • Less finger strain.

Disadvantages of disc brakes:

  • More difficult to inspect pad wear and replace pads.
  • Disc brakes are more expensive to maintain.

Types of disc brakes:

Disc come in two versions, hydraulic and mechanical. Disc brakes feature brake pads that grip on a brake rotor to the wheel hub, but have slight differ

Hydraulic brakes:

Hydraulic brakes offer you more progressive and stronger braking while using less finger strength. They also are self-adjusting as your brake pads wear.

Mechanical brakes:

Mechanical disc brakes need to be manually adjusted as the brake pads wear out.

Bike Frame Materials

Bicycle frame.
Bicycle frame.

Many bicycles are made from aluminum, steel or carbon fiber. While each of these materials have their pros, they also have their cons.

Aluminum:

Compared to steel, aluminum is lighter but also stiffer and more affordable design.

Aluminum has been known to be harsher on rough roads because of it’s reduced shock absorption. But newer, improved manufacturing processes and designs, has reduced tube sizes and price tags, and improved shock absorption.

Steel:

Hybrid bikes can come with either a high-tensile or chromoly steel frame. Chromoly steel is lighter than high-tensile (carbon) steel but is equally as strong, but has a higher price tag.

Unlike aluminum and carbon fiber, steel usually is less stiff, and weighs more. Despite these disadvantages, steel is extremely strong and long lasting, and can offer the best combination of responsiveness and flexibility (comfort)!

Chromoly steel is considered the more high-tech version of carbon steel. It’s lighter than carbon steel and equally as strong, but it typically carries a higher price tag.

Steel tends to be the least stiff of frames on the market, so despite the weight, when any type of steel frame is built well, it can offer the best combination of responsiveness and flexibility (comfort!) when compared to other high-end materials.

Carbon fiber:

Traditionally used in the aerospace industry, carbon fiber is lighter and stronger than both aluminum and steel, but at a hefty price tag.

Carbon fiber frames are made out of fibers woven into sheets that are combined with a glue-like resin, resulting in a material that can be shaped into any form desired.

Bike frames made out of carbon fiber can vary widely in price depending upon the quality and complexity of the manufacturing.

In order to help keep the price down, some bikes feature carbon fiber forks and seat posts, rather than an entire frame made entirely out of carbon fiber.

Carbon fiber is a popular choice for high-end bikes, but usually not worth the costs for daily commuters, due to being prone to dings and damage if ridden hard or not cared for properly.

Handlebar Shape

Theres a variety of handlebar options for hybrid bikes.
Theres a variety of handlebar options for hybrid bikes.

Handlebars for bikes come in many shapes and sizes. There’s drop handlebars usually found on road and race bikes. Flat handlebars that are usually found on hybrid bikes, that offers a more relaxed, upright position. Riser handlebars that allows you to sit more upright and farther back. And mustache handlebars that offer a variety of hand positions while allowing you to sit more upright.

The height of your handlebars can also affect the comfort and handle of your bike. Higher handlebars with a lower seat provides more comfort, but less efficient and aerodynamics against wind.

Lower handlebars are less comfortable, but allow your to get into a tucked position which provides more leverage for climbing hills, and more aerodynamic against wind. You’ll be able to put more power into your peddling and go faster, but might be very uncomfortable on longer rides, especially if you lack flexibility.

There are different varieties of handlebars that you can choose for your bike:

Drop bars:

Drop bars are usually found on road bikes, but sometimes included on high end hybrid bikes. These handlebars are very lightweight, aerodynamic, and allow you to get into a tucked position in order to go fast.

For longer rides, they are a great choice because they offer multiple hand positions that helps eliminate hand numbness.

These types are handlebars are usually not preferred for city commuting because they put you in a lower, hunched over position that’s hard on the back, and makes it harder to see your surrounding area.

Benefits of drop bars:

  • Great aerodynamics.
  • Highly versatile.
  • Better leverage for pedaling.
  • Good for bike enthusiasts.
  • They look cool.

Disadvantages of drop bars:

  • Not for frequent tight turns.
  • May not be good for trail biking.

Flat bars:

Flat bars, even thought they’re heavier than drop-bars, are more common on hybrid bikes because they allow you to sit in a more relaxed, upright position. This allows you to scan your surroundings better for possible road hazards, and puts less strain on your hands, wrists, shoulders, lower back and neck.

Benefits of flat bars:

  • Versatile and simple.
  • Better for climbing.
  • Better for tight spaces.
  • Lighter and cheaper.
  • Less lower back load.

Disadvantages of flat bars:

  • Not optimal for risky courses.
  • Not good for speed.

Riser bars:

Riser bars are another popular type of handlebar that’s commonly found on hybrid bikes. These types of bars give you a more upright position than flat bars by extending slightly upward and back towards the rider.

This provides a very upright position that allows you to sit farther back while providing an excellent view of the road ahead and great control while steering the bike over rough roads.

Benefits of riser bars:

  • More control.
  • Better for wrists.
  • Better for trail and free riding.
  • You can give it negative rise.

Disadvantages of riser bars:

  • More expensive.
  • Heavier than flat bars.
  • Wider handlebars.
  • Not good for climbing.
  • Bad aerodynamics.

Mustache bars: 

Mustache bars are very similar in design as drop bars, except that they have very little drop.

While not as possible on hybrid or road bikes, they still give you an upright position and a variety of hand positions.

Bullhorn bars:

Bullhorn bars come in two types, regular and pursuit. Regular bullhorn handlebars are bike bars that curve up and forward. A pursuit handlebar slightly differs by curving forward, dropping down slightly and the curving back up again.

Benefits of bullhorns:

  • Great aerodynamics.
  • Best bars for climbing.
  • Pursuit bars are better for speed.
  • They look badass.

Disadvantages of bullhorn bars:

  • Not suitable for frequent tight turns.

Other articles about handlebars that you might enjoy:

Cargo Racks for hybrid bikes

Hybrid bikes can be equipped with racks.
Hybrid bikes can be equipped with racks.

Cargo racks for hybrid bikes makes them great for urban commuting. They come in all shapes and sizes and are usually highly adjustable.

For those who have to carry lots of items on commutes to work or pick up items at the grocery stores, there’s also racks that attach to the front forks.

There’s also many options when it comes to carrying gear such as the Two Wheel Gear Pannier Backpack Convertible.

Fenders

Bicycle fenders.
Bicycle fenders.

Fenders are a must have if you plan on commuting to work everyday or running errands. If your’e not commuting in bad weather, then you can avoid having fenders, which will also save some weight.

But if you plan on commuting in rain, snow, or on wet roads after a storm, fenders are essential for keeping road grime and puddles from splashing all over your clean clothes.

Fenders are also helpful if you plan on riding with others, as they will keep dirt and water from flying off your wheels and into their face or clothes.

Conclusion on how to choose hybrid bikes

Hybrid bikes are a great option when it comes to daily commuting. They combine all the best features of a road bike and a mountain bike that makes them extremely versatile.

You can choose between different sizes, materials, suspension, gears, wheel sizes, brake options, handlebar shape, and of course extras such as rack and fenders.

Just make sure you take one for a test ride before buying, and that it fits you properly.

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