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.
Hybrid bikes combine some of the features of road bikes and mountain bikes, hence the name
The bikes we call hybrid 2.0 take disc brakes from mountain bikes and compact double-chainring gear systems from sporty road bikes
The result is bikes that are quick and fun, but still comfortable; ideal for the streets or the lanes
For round-town use, budget for a rack and mudguards too; these bikes almost always come 'stripped down'
Prices start around £400
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.
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.
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 an eminently practical example of hybrid 2.0, especially if you plan to ride through the winter. The all-weather edition of Halfords' popular Carrera Subway comes with mudguards, lights, reflective decals and heated grips, a feature we're not aware of being offered by any other bike maker. Now, that may be because it's a gimmick, but considering the rest of the spec here is very decent for the money, it's a gimmick we'd be willing to take a chance on. Oh, and the brakes are Clarks Clout hydraulic discs, considered in the mountain bike world to be the best budget stoppers you can buy.
The flat bar bike in Decathlon's Triban RC range is a great example of hybrid 2.0. The riding position is fairly upright for a cruisy ride even with drop bars; with flats it's perfect for unhurried country lane exploring or the office run. There's plenty of space for mudguards, and you could easily go up a tyre size or two as well.
Flat-bar bikes have always been a mainstay of the Boardman range, and the latest selection includes this great-value runabout. Shimano Acera mountain bike gears provide a wide range with a bottom ratio that should get you up the steepest urban hills even if you're laden with shopping. Tektro hydraulic brakes bring it to a halt.
Here's a go-faster hybrid that will still take bad roads and trails in its stride thanks to its 40mm Schwalbe G-One Allround tyres. Hung on the lightweight aluminium frame are a set of Tektro hydraulic discs and Shimano GRX 22-speed gears with an 11-34 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 Croix De Fer 10 Flat Bar 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. There are mounts for a rack and mudguards (and just about anything else you can imagine), 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 as part of the package, without having to get the shop to swap them over.
A flat bar bike called Speeder — well, it's almost mandatory that it'l be hybrid 2.0. And this is what we find. The Speeder 900 has Shimano's excellent second-tier Ultegra gears and hydraulic disc brakes. It rolls on quick but comfortable Maxxis Detonator 32mm tyres and it's very much a fast flat-bar bike. In his review of the Speeder 900, Matt Lamy said: "The sheer speed and efficiency lurking within the Speeder 900 is hard to ignore. This is a very fast bike."
Quite possibly the ultimate example of hybrid 2.0, the Sirrus 4.0 has a carbon fibre frame, making for a light and lively ride, and Trek's IsoSpeed decoupler, which isolates the saddle from bumps by detaching the top of the seat tube from the seatstays and top tube.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.