If you ask a rider who has been using a mountain bike for everyday street riding, he will definitely tell you that the heavier weight of the mountain bike and the aggressive tread on tires can become a bit uncomfortable for urban riding. So for people who want a comfortable upright riding position with less complicated gearing for urban riding but occasionally like to ride the trails of their local state park, hybrid bikes are a great option.
As you can guess by the name, hybrid bikes are designed to be used for both street riding and trail riding. However, the off-road capabilities of hybrid bikes are limited and you can’t do serious downhill riding or racing on a hybrid bike. This is because it lacks the rear suspension, aggressive tread and a strong frame of a mountain bike and can’t handle too much abuse. Ideally, a hybrid bike should only be used on less extreme off-road terrains such as gravel or dirt roads.
For most riders, a hybrid bike would be the right choice as it can handle anything that an urban environment throws at them like potholes, badly paved shortcuts and some casual trail riding. You also have to be aware of the off-roading capabilities of a hybrid bike before you take the plunge to buy a hybrid bike for mountain biking. In this article, we will walk you through some in-depth details that will give you an idea on if you should use a hybrid bike for mountain biking or not.
How does a hybrid bike compare to a dedicated mountain bike
- The suspension differences between a mountain bike and hybrid bike
The suspension of a mountain bike plays a key role in absorbing the jumps and bumps while going down a steep bumpy terrain. Most hybrid bikes come with either, no suspension at all or only a simple fork suspension at the front. Hybrid bikes lack comprehensive suspension systems. This keeps them light and more efficient as a lot of suspension makes it difficult to transfer the power to the wheel by making the bike bouncy. But this lack of suspension in hybrid bikes also limits their off-roading abilities as they can’t insulate the roughness of a really bumpy terrain. So if the trail you want to ride on has a lot of bumps, you should avoid a hybrid bike and instead get a mountain bike with a dedicated off-road suspension system.
- The gearing of hybrid bike VS a mountain bike
The gearing of a hybrid bike is more inclined towards speed and it does not have as many gearing options as a mountain bike’s drivetrain. The reason for fewer gearing options in a hybrid bike is that it is not meant to be used in a wide range of terrains. Apart from fewer gearing options, a hybrid bike’s gearing will start at a much higher point as compared to a dedicated mountain bike. This gearing configuration makes it easier for the hybrid to gain speed in an urban environment. At the same time, this higher gearing starting point limits the options of terrains on which you can use a hybrid bike.
- Tyre differences of hybrid and mountain bikes
Tyres used on a hybrid bike are unique because they are specially designed to provide maximum comfort for road riding as well as grip while doing some off-roading. Hybrid bike tyres are not totally smooth but at the same time, the tread pattern on them isn’t too aggressive. Fortunately, there are different kinds of hybrid bike tyres available to choose from depending on how you use your bike. For example, if you use your bike on dirt or gravel tracks quite often, you can go with more aggressive and wider tyres. If you are going to mostly ride on roads with very little off-roading then choose less aggressive and smoother tyres for improved comfort while riding.
- Hybrid bikes are made for practicality
This is where the biggest difference between a hybrid bike and mountain bike lies. A mountain bike is a hardcore off-roading machine and you will have a hard time using it for daily use because you can’t add panniers to them in order to carry luggage. But hybrid bikes win when it comes to practicality because they have plenty of mounts where you can add panniers to carry light items such as bags and other necessary items.
How can you make your hybrid bike suited for more off-road trips?
Hybrid bikes can handle way more abuse than regular road bikes because they are almost always made using aluminum alloy which is light yet strong. Below are some ways you can make your hybrid bike even more suited for off-road trips.
- Reduce some air pressure in the tyres to make them wider
We established that a hybrid bike’s tyres aren’t as wide as a mountain bike’s tyres. But if you deflate your hybrid bike’s tyre by the right amount, you can increase the road grip by allowing the tyre to cover more surface area. In addition to better grip, lowering some tyre pressure can also provide added suspension because a slightly deflated tyre will absorb a lot more bumps as compared to a fully inflated tyre.
- Improve your off-roading skills
Of course, a hybrid bike can never provide the same level of off-road capability as a mountain bike, but a hybrid bike does give you an opportunity to practice on beginner trails and hone your skills. As you gain more off-road experience on easier trails, you will develop the necessary skills needed in order to become a better off-road rider. A hybrid bike is also a great way to get you into mountain biking by riding your local city park’s trails and getting a sense of the sport without spending a lot of money on a dedicated mountain bike.
- Avoid the jumps and keep your tyres on the ground
The frame of a hybrid bike is suitable for smoother trails that don’t involve any jumps. So to keep your hybrid bike’s frame safe from too much stress make sure to ride on less rocky trails that have a nice flow. By knowing the limits of your bike you can use it to its full capacity while staying within the range of the intended use of the bike.
- Choose a hybrid bike with a front fork suspension
The best way to get the most out of a hybrid bike is by choosing one with a fork suspension. As a fork suspension in the front of the bike will allow you to absorb more shocks as compared to a bike without the suspension. The result will be a much smoother and comfortable ride while riding on a trail.
Different Kinds of hybrid bikes you can buy
Luckily there are different kinds of hybrid bikes that you can choose, depending on your intended use. Here are some of the most popular types of hybrid bikes available in the market.
- Mountain bike based hybrid bikes
Designed to provide the most off-road capability, this type of hybrids come with the widest tyres of all the hybrid bike variations. They have much stronger brake systems and a pretty strong frame for added safety while riding on rougher terrains. The only thing they don’t share with a true mountain bike is their lack of rear suspension and a low travel front suspension to keep the ride less bouncy.
- Road bike based hybrid bikes
These are the least off-road capable variation of a hybrid bike and they are more focused on speed and comfort. The tyres of these hybrids are thinner and the tread on their tyres are also pretty smooth to avoid friction. Their most distinctive feature is the lightweight frame usually made out of aluminum and flat handlebars to make them as aerodynamic as possible for maximum speed and agility for road riding.
- Commuter hybrids
These types of hybrids come in more trendy designs and they are less focused on speed or offloading and more suitable for cruising through town. They have very simple drivetrains and their braking mechanism isn’t too advanced either. Their main purpose is to provide a smooth ride at a slow pace and they are neither suitable for off-roading nor speed riding.
Who should use a hybrid bike?
If you are a daily commuter who has to get groceries, go to work, and ride around the city but occasionally like to take on a dirt trail then a hybrid bike is perfect for you. But in case you are planning to take on a rocky trail that is super steep then you might want to invest in a proper mountain bike because no variation of a hybrid bike is as suitable for off-roading as a true mountain bike specifically designed for the purpose.