[This article was last updated on January 10, 2018]
Hybrids have been around since the 1980s, but in the last few years a distinctly modern version has emerged. Here’s why your next bike should be a hybrid 2.0.
The bikes known as hybrids combine road bike size 700C wheels with mountain bike brakes and gears. They appeared not long after mountain bikes became popular in the 1980s, providing riders who didn’t want to ride off-road with the other advantages of mountain bikes: upright position, powerful brakes, and wide gear range.
Hybrids have long been the best-selling bike type in the UK, and they’ve developed along with changes in the bikes that supply their components. In the last few years, with compact chainsets dominating on road bikes, and disk brakes providing reliable, powerful and weatherproof stopping for mountain bikes, we’ve seen a new generation of hybrids develop: hybrid 2.0, if you like.
Compact chainsets are good for hybrids because they can provide a wide gear range without the complication of an extra chainring, especially when combined with the rear sprocket sets intended for mountain bikes. There are still plenty of hybrids on offer with triple chainsets, but they’re now an unnecessary complication, even more so than for most road bikes.
Disc brakes are the development that really ushered in hybrid 2.0. Since hybrids get used around town a lot, they need brakes that are affected as little as possible by the weather, and immune to the effects of a wheel getting dented or knocked out of true.
Those are the big advantages of disc brakes, and there’s another bonus too. I see an awful lot of bikes with very badly set-up rim brakes, and in particular V-brakes that are flapping around with the cable unconnected; closing them is awkward and people just give up. Discs have their issues too, but at least if you get the wheel into place, they work.
What are hybrids good for?
Their upright riding position and good brakes makes hybrids ideal for short trips round town. That doesn’t just mean commuting, which actually accounts for a minority of short trips, but also general getting around, visiting friends, going to the pub or the shops and like that.
With a rack and especially with mudguards a hybrid is practical, sensibly-priced general transportation. A few hundred quid for a decent hybrid — less with a Cycle To Work scheme deal — pays for itself in a just a few months of not driving or using public transport.
But hybrids aren’t just about practical cycling. They’re great for unhurried country lane pootling. The upright riding position lets you sit up and enjoy the view and the medium-width tyres let you explore dirt roads and tracks as well a poorly-maintained back lanes.
If you’re accustomed to speeding through the countryside with your head down and bum up, a hybrid is an altogether more relaxing ride, but still capable of covering distance. And yes, you can ride poor roads and a bit of dirt on your regular road bike, but a hybrid frees you from constantly scanning for every rock and pothole.
Five examples of hybrid 2.0
Even within the hybrid 2.0 spec of double chainset and disc brakes there’s a lot of variation, along a spectrum from upright and cruisy to low-slung and speedy. Here are a few we like.
Here's a go-faster hybrid that will still take bad roads and trails in its stride thanks to its 35mm Schwalbe Kojak tyres, though being slicks they'll struggle in actual mud. Hung on the lightweight aluminium frame are a set of Shimano hydraulic discs and Sora 18-speed gears with an 11-32 cassette for a wide gear range. It's a bit short of features and extras, but there are mounts for rack and eyelets, so you can fit them without too much faff.
The Ridgeback/Genesis bike family has always excelled at practical bikes and the Skyline 20 carries that tradition into hybrid 2.0 territory with an 11-34 cassette for a very wide gear range that'll get you up just about anything in the UK, and mudguards to keep you dry if it rains. There are mounts for a rack too, so you can set it up for touring as well as round town use.
A bike with an upright riding position doesn't need a women's version as much as a drop-bar bike, but it's nice to get components like an appropriate saddle and grips as part of the package, without having to get the shop to swap them over. The women's version of the Sirrus Elite has a frame with a slightly shorter reach for each size than the men's bike.
BMC bills this aluminium-framed flat bar speedster as a super-fast urban bike: "faster than all previous BMC urban bicycles, faster than the competition, and faster than you might expect possible of a commuter bicycle with flat bars". To this end you'll find Continental's Sport Contact II tyres and a close-coupled frame. And the good news is that this version is £200 cheaper than the 2017 edition.
Quite possibly the ultimate example of hybrid 2.0, the Quick Carbon 1, as its name suggests, has a carbon fiber frame, making it both exceptionally light and very lively. We reviewed and liked the 2013 version, with reviewer Steve Worland describing it as "a thoroughbred mongrel". Steve added: "Its mountain bike-style aesthetics and riding position might initially confuse but it manages to blend many of the best aspects of quality mountain bikes, hybrids and competitive road bikes into a single tidy and lightweight package."
The Quick Carbon 1 is a rare beast in having a carbon fiber frame with rack eyelets; as well as its intended fitness riding role, it'd make a great upright day tourer.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.