With 700C wheels, wide-range gears, flat bars and cantilever or disc brakes, hybrids are midway between road and mountain bikes. They're the UK's most common and best-selling bike type.
The upright riding position makes them great for traffic, and for leisurely rides in the country — slow down and sniff the flowers.
Oddly few hybrids come with practicalities like mudguards and rack. Budget £50-100 for them and get them fitted when you buy the bike. You'll be glad you did.
These bikes are inexpensive transport par excellence, paying for themselves in just a few months if you live in a major city.
The most popular bike style in the UK, hybrids are practical and comfortable, and their upright riding position makes them ideal for the office run or leisurely cruising the lanes.
As the name suggests, hybrids have aspects of road bikes and mountain bikes. From the road comes a lightweight frame and fast-rolling 700C wheels, while mountain bikes contribute flat bars, disc or V-brakes and wide-range gears. The tyres are usually an intermediate width and tread to provide enough cushioning and grip that rough surfaces like forest roads and tow paths are no obstacle,
There are many variations under the hybrid umbrella. At one end, flat-bar road bikes are great for zipping around the lanes and even some light touring, but with skinny tyres might not be as much fun on potholed city streets. At the other end of the range are fully-equipped European-style city bikes, with mudguards, rack and even built-in dynamo lights or a rear-wheel lock.
Hybrids make great urban transport for potholed streets or towpaths (CC BY-NC 2.0 Tom Blackwell:Flickr)
Hybrids are great transport. You can pick one up for less than a hundred quid, and by the time you get up the price range to £300-600 there are some really very nice bikes. That's where we've started with this selection. If that blows your budget take a look at our guide to the best cheap hybrid bikes.
Oddly, fully-equipped bikes are less common at higher prices. Manufacturers perhaps think buyers with more money to spend will want to choose their own mudguards, rack and so on, but we see lots of people riding nice quality hybrids without mudguards and just getting wet bums. Seems a bit daft.
It's not unusual for designers of hybrid bikes to specify alternatives to the ubiquitous rear derailleur and you'll find a couple of examples in our recommendations below. Hub gears are less unusual than on sportier bikes, and can pick up flat-bar singlespeeders very inexpensively because they's so simple.
Hybrids are great cheap transport. Bung even a £500 bike on Cycle To Work Scheme and you'll barely notice the payments disappearing from your pay packet. In fact, in many cities, you'll be better off. Compared to a London Zone 1-3 Travelcard at £148.70 per month, a £154.00 Bristol City peak travelcard or a Cambridge Megarider Plus bus ticket for £96, the repayments for a hybrid are trivial.
Let's take a look at some of your best choices in flat-bar bikes.
The B'Twin Hoprider 500 comes with everything you need to pootle round town, to the office or the shops or just round the park for exercise. It's not the lightest hybrid ever, but it's very well specced for the money.
Off the peg, the Hoprider 500 comes with hub-powered lighting front and rear, mudguards, rack and kickstand. That's a great set of accessories for a hybrid (too often they're just a bare bike) and really makes this bike an excellent choice for commuting and other practical riding.
If you want something a bit more upmarket, the £549 Hoprider 900 has disc brakes, Shimano Deore gears and a built-in Axa Defender lock.
Trek's best-selling city bike has a light aluminium frame, very wide-range 21-speed gears that'll get you up any hills you're likely to find in the UK, and convenient Shimano trigger shifters.
You don't get extras like a rack or mudguards, but the frame has all the necessary fittings for them, and will even take a Dutch-style frame/wheel lock like the AXA Defender so you can't forget your lock.
Looking for a no-frills city bike? At £430 the Reid Blacktop isn't going to break the bank, and it isn't going to break itself either: it's a well-built and easy-to-ride city bike with durable components and an engaging ride. I like it.
The Blacktop has an aluminium alloy frame and fork. The welds are smoothed and the bike is finished in a matt/gloss black paintjob that's very understated and urban. There are a few chips in the paint now but generally it's holding up very well. The alloy fork is painted to match.
To that frame is attached some very sensible and durable city kit. The transmission is a Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub with a grip shifter and a Prowheel 44T chainset. With the 20T sprocket on the hub that gives you 43in, 60in and 81in gears (approximately). That's a nice spread for getting yourself up the hills and still being able to push on along the flats.
B'Twin's Triban 520 promises road bike zip with the more upright position of a flat bar so you can sit up and admire the view or keep an eye out for random taxis.
The Triban 520 strikes a balance between speed and practicality. On the speed side, well, at heart it's a road bike. Skinny tyres, narrow saddle, seat a bit higher than the bars. On the other hand, it's got a flat bar, with gears controlled by mountain bike-style triggers so you never need move your hands away from the brakes.
The frame has fittings for rack and guards so it can be practical too and the Shimano Sora components make it a bargain for this price.
A dry bum, a place to carry stuff and a kickstand so you don't have to lean it against a lamppost or railing to park it. There's also a triple chainset for a huge gear range, so if you head for the hills at the weekend you need fear no climb, however steep. Hydraulic disc brakes bring it to a halt and there are nice wide puncture -resistant tyres to keep you rolling.
Now, this is interesting. The Strada 5 uses 650B wheels, a size that's smaller than the usual 700C wheels used on road bikes and most hybrids, but bigger than the 26-inch wheels that used to be standard for mountain bikes. With fat tyres, like the 50mm Clement Stradas here, the wheel ends up with the same rolling size as a skinny 700C, but with lots of cushioning and grip, so it's comfy and sure-footed on potholed urban roads.
Picking up on another emerging trend, Raleigh have gone for a simple single-chainring gear system with a wide-range set of sprockets so you've got plenty of low gears for the hills. Stopping power comes from Shimano hydraulic discs.
Hybrids intended for women tend to have a shorter top tube than their male equivalents, and have female friendly components like a woman's saddle, as here. With hydraulic disc brakes and nippy 28mm tyres, the Victoria is at the sportier end of hybrids; when you need to get a move on it's noticeably quick.
Boardman is another brand that's ubiquitous on the city streets and main man Chris Boardman is similarly ubiquitous in the media advocating for cycling rights.
Boardman somehow finds time to design nice hybrids too, like this aluminium-framed, round-town speedster. It has hydraulic disc brakes for confident stopping and carbon fibre forks, which helps take the sting out of potholes, and wide-range SRAM Apex gearing with just a single chainring to keep things simple.
The late, sadly missed bike reviewer Steve Worland described this luxury hybrid as: "Quick like a road bike, comfy like a mountain bike, with disc brake confidence; a thoroughbred mongrel of an all-rounder". A hybrid with a carbon fibre frame will seem over the top until the first time you have to carry it up several flights of stairs, at which point it suddenly makes perfect, shoulder-friendly sense.
It makes sense on the road too. Its instantly most obvious and endearing characteristic is its casual speed, while the handling far more sprightly than most hybrid type bikes.
The latest version of the Quick 1 has wide-range Shimano 105 gears and hydraulic disc brakes, and fast-rolling 28mm Schwalbe tyres. There are fittings for racks and mudguards too, it can be practical as well as quick.
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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.