The Anatomy of a Hybrid Bicycle

Hybrid bike with optional equipment (photo by Jay Madden)

What is hybrid bicycle?

To some, a "basic hybrid" may be the deal advertised in the paper with a free helmet and lock thrown in. To us at Cosmic Bikes, a hybrid bicycle is a solid vehicle that will dependably carry you and your gear around Chicago year-round.

The problem with hybrid bikes is that they don't have a catchy name. If they were tomatoes or cars, perhaps things would be different. But in the world of cycling, hybrid is not very sexy word.

Yet, were it not for the invention of the hybrid bike, urban cycling in the US would not be what it is today. What started out as cross between a mountain bike and a road bike, resulted in a whole new bike category, offering a more comfortable sitting position and more sensible tire width than either of the parents. And, what started out as a compromise between two styles of riding, actually created a riding style all of its own. Thanks to their versatility, utility and ease of use, hybrid bikes made urban biking accessible and convenient for all. For the majority of urban cyclists, a hybrid is still a great choice, because it adapts well to a variety of uses.

When we evaluate our vendors' offerings each year, we look for a minimum of features before we decide if the bike is appropriate to carry in our store. Any basic hybrid we select will generally meet the following criteria:

  • A corrosion-resistant, durable and lightweight frame, either chromoly steel or aluminum, with quality construction (for a thorough discussion of frame materials, click here).

  • Wheels that can take a beating. We stock hybrids with double-walled alloy rims, with sealed hubs and stainless steel spokes. Such wheels resist corrosion, and can handle rough roads and occasional potholes.

  • A drivetrain that allows for a reasonable cadence on urban streets. Anywhere from 7 to 27 speeds is common. Although in Chicago, you're not likely to use all those gears, these bikes are distributed throughout the country, and that's just how they are spec'ed. (Increasingly, we're seeing "one-by" drivetrains -- the familiar triple front chainring is replaced with a single one, and combined with a wide-range 10 or 11-speed cassette on the back. This adventure-bike set-up is starting to trickle down to some hybrid bikes as well.)

  • Dependable brakes, including alloy (not resin) hand levers. The brake mechanism itself should be sufficiently adjustable and solid to allow for squeak-free, confident braking, without shuddering. Brake levers should allow for adjustment for smaller hand sizes. On the majority of new bikes today rim brakes (which grip the rim of the wheel) are being replaced with disc brakes (the brake mechanism squeezes a rotor attached near the center of the wheel). Once considered an expensive upgrade, disc brakes have become much more affordable, and offer superior braking under load and in all weather conditions.

  • Characteristics appropriate for street riding. We like bikes that don't go over the top with whistles and bells, but focus on well-thought-out features, such as smooth, puncture-resistant tires, comfortable saddle, and perhaps an upright stem.

  • Eyelets for mounting fenders and racks. This is a small but crucially important feature of any hybrid bike that will make it easy for you to carry loads and use the bike in less than perfect weather.

  • Out-of-the-box rideability. Though virtually any bike can be improved through customization, a good basic hybrid can be ridden as-is, once it has been properly assembled.

One of our favorite basic hybrids with an impressively long track record is the Kona Dew (and its more premium sibling Dew Plus). These bikes retail in the range of $600-$1000, lend themselves to a variety of uses outside of urban travel, and are sure to give you years of service and enjoyment.