Are Hybrid Bikes Good For Trails?


If you’ve ever considered purchasing a bike to take advantage of the ever-growing network of bike paths and rail-trails, then you’ve probably realized that there are many options available for you. Although there are many types of bicycles on the market, a hybrid is a great choice.

Hybrid bikes can be excellent for trails, especially paved bike paths, gravel trails, and carriage roads. While hybrid bikes excel in these environments, they are not the best choice for singletrack trails, or trails that are steep or technical. A mountain bike is a better option for a rider looking to regularly ride off-road singletrack.

What Exactly Is A Hybrid Bicycle?

A hybrid bike is bike meant for casual riding, with mid-width tires, a rigid frame, and flat handlebars. They are called “hybrids”, because they are essentially a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. These bikes are an ideal choice for riders who want to ride casually on pavement, gravel, and the occasional smooth doubletrack trail. 

Hybrids come equipped with a wide range of features. Most hybrids have flat handlebars, as opposed to “drop bars” that are found on most road and gravel bikes. They typically have multiple gears, which allows the rider to adjust the level of resistance for conquering steep hills. Hybrid bike frames are designed to put the rider in a neutral position that is less upright than a comfort or cruiser bike, but not as aggressively hunched forward as a road bike.

What To Look For When Purchasing A Hybrid

While these elements are typical of most hybrid bikes, there are other features which can vary between makes and models. The features that are likely to vary between models are the following:

  • Fork
  • Brakes
  • Tires
  • Step-Through Frame
  • Weight
  • Gears
  • Saddle
  • Cost

When choosing a hybrid, It is important to consider how differences in these features might affect your ability to ride and enjoy your new bike. Before you purchase, you should consider the types of trails you hope to ride, your skill level, and your riding goals.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the different features you may want to consider before you purchase your hybrid bike.

Fork

The fork is the front piece of the bike that attaches the front wheel through the frame and to the handlebars. Hybrid bikes usually have a rigid front fork, which allows the bike to be light-weight, nimble, and efficient on smooth surfaces.

There are some hybrid bikes that do come with a small shock absorber to help the bike stay stable over loose stone and when dropping off of curbs. If you plan on riding more than just smooth pavement, then a hybrid bike with a suspension fork can be a good option.

Tires

Typically, hybrid bikes come with tires that are 35mm-45 millimetres wide. The narrower the tire, the faster it will be on smooth surfaces. Wider tires provide greater traction, and may be a good option for riders looking for a more stable, secure ride.

 Tires that have a relatively smooth tread will be more efficient on paved surfaces, since there is less friction between the tire and the surface of the road. Because the lack of a knobby tread will mean less rolling resistance, these tires will allow the bike to accelerate faster, making it easier to achieve higher speeds . However these tires may feel skittish and less stable on loose surfaces like crushed stone or dirt, so consider the surface of the trails you plan on riding before choosing a tire.

A good option for many hybrid bike owners is a semi-slick tire. These tires are smooth along the center-line of the tire, but have slightly knobby edges to provide additional grab on looser surfaces. This option is a good middle-ground between slick tires and knobby mountain bike style tires. 

Brakes

It used to be standard that all hybrid bikes came with rim brakes. However many bike brands are seeing the advantages of disc brakes, and are speccing their hybrids with them. 

Rim brakes slow down the bike and bring it to a stop by clamping onto the rim of the wheel. The brake is engaged when the rider pulls a cable-actuated lever on the handlebars. 

While this type of brake has proven effective, they may not be as effective in wet conditions or when high speeds are involved. 

Disc brakes work in the same way that the brakes in your car work. Rotors mount to the hubs on each wheel, and a calliper clamps over the rotor. When the brake lever is squeezed, pistons inside the caliper grab the rotor, slowing down the wheel, and bringing the bike to a stop.

Disc brakes may be both mechanical (cable-actuated) or hydraulic. While hydraulic brakes are generally smoother and more efficient, they are also higher maintenance than their mechanical counterparts.

Hybrid bike on trail

Step-Through Frame

Bikes that have a downward slanted top tube are called step-through bicycles. While these used to be typical of “women’s bikes”, bike brands have come into the 21st century, and realized that there are many men who can benefit from this design as well.

For riders who may have mobility issues, or find swinging a leg over a bicycle to be difficult, then a step-through is a great option. Fortunately, there are numerous bike brands that make step-through bikes for both men and women.

Weight

An important factor when considering the purchase of a hybrid bike is its weight. Most modern hybrid bikes are much lighter than old style cruisers and comfort bikes. The vast majority of hybrid bikes on the market are made of aluminum, which provides a lightweight, durable alternative to steel. 

For riders looking to shave additional weight from their bike, carbon fiber provides an even lighter, stiffer option.  Carbon fiber is more durable than aluminum, but typically costs much more than a comparably specced aluminum bike. For riders looking to regularly ride long distances on bike trails, then a carbon bike may be worth the investment.

Gears

Hybrid bicycles can have many different gearing configurations. The most common gear combination for hybrid bikes is to have three gears in the front, and seven in the back. While the nuances of gear ratios are a bit beyond the scope of this article, it is still worth noting that having multiple gears will make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the trails.

When looking at bikes with different gearing options, it may be worth consulting your local bike shop. Talk to them about the types of trails you intend on riding, and they can give you their best recommendation on the type of gear ratio that will suit you best.

Saddle

Most hybrid bikes come stock with a basic, no-frills saddle. While this may be a good option for some riders, it may also be worth considering the different options on the market. Saddles can come in all shapes and sizes. Riders looking for comfort may opt for a larger, softer saddle. If you’re the type of cyclist who stands up to pedal frequently, or rides more technical and challenging roads and trails, then a thinner saddle will likely be a better fit.

Saddles can range in price, from $20 for a very basic saddle, into the hundreds of dollars for custom ones made of carbon fiber. 

Cost

A new hybrid bike can cost anywhere from $400-$1000 on average. Lower priced bikes will have lower end parts, and be on the heavier side of the spectrum. More expensive bikes will be lighter and have nicer components.  

When considering the cost of a hybrid bicycle, keep in mind the type of riding you want to be doing, how often you plan on riding, and what upgrades you may anticipate making in the future. Spending a bit more on a nicer bike in the beginning of your trail-riding journey might save you money in the future, since you might not need to pay for expensive upgrades (and labor).

E-bikes

If you have been shopping around for a bicycle recently, then you may have noticed that e-bikes are one of the hottest subcategories of bikes to hit the market recently. While the topic of e-bikes deserves an article of its own, we want to briefly discuss the topic of electric hybrids.

Electric hybrid bicycles can be excellent for commuting, fitness, or just riding for fun. However, one should give this option deeper consideration if the primary intent is to ride trails.

Many designated bike trails and paths don’t allow motorized vehicles of any kind, including e-bikes. Prospective e-bike owners should check their local trail laws before pulling the trigger on an e-bike.

How To Get the Most Out of your Hybrid on the Trails

Now that we’ve discussed a bit about the different factors to consider when purchasing a hybrid bike, next we are going to explore the best ways to get the most enjoyment out of your hybrid when you hit the trails.

Find Local Trail Resources

As mentioned previously, not all trails are created equal. A paved bike trail is going to provide a very different experience from an old hiking trail, so doing a bit of research before heading out to ride will make sure you’re prepared for what lies ahead.

If you’re not sure what trails exist in your region, do a google search for  “your hometown+bike trails”, and you will likely find links to some regional trail websites and advocacy organizations. There are hundred of miles of trails being built every year, so chances are there are some near you. [Source]

If you are looking for apps to put on your smartphone with trail locations, a good app we recommend is Trailforks. While this app is aimed primarily towards mountain bikers, riders can use this app to find fire roads and dirt trails that are suitable for hybrid bikes as well.

Respect other trail users

It is important to know the rules of the trail before venturing out on your new hybrid for the first time. Understanding right-of-way, pedestrian rules, and speed limits will make sure you’re being safe and abiding by the law.

In general, cyclists should ride on the right side of the trail, just as you would on the road. When passing pedestrians on foot, let them know if you are coming up behind them. Always pass on the left, then return back to the right side of the trail after you have passed [Source].

Bring a Repair Kit

There’s nothing that will ruin your ride quicker than a flat tire or busted chain. That is, unless you have the gear (and knowledge) to fix it! We recommend always carrying a spare tube, pump, and tire lever with you in case you find yourself with a flat. A quick-link and chain tool will allow you to quickly fix a snapped chain.

Accessorise Your Bike

One of the great things about hybrid bikes is that they are compatible with a variety of accessories.

Most hybrid bicycles work great with child trailers and seats, making them a great option for parents hoping to hit the trails with little ones.

Frame and saddle bags are other excellent accessory items, especially if you plan on carrying extra clothing, gear, or even a snack with you when you hit the trails. 

Wrapping It Up

Hybrid bikes can be an excellent option for hitting the trails. Having some knowledge about the different options available will help you purchase the best bike for your goals, and get the most enjoyment out of the trails.

Recent Posts