You walk into your local bike shop and are greeted by snobby employees and $3,000 bicycles.
What. The. Hell.
I mean, what is that guy who merely wants a cheap bike for riding around the neighborhood with his kids supposed to do?
In this article, I am going to describe what should be the ideal bicycle for 80% of my readers. (Many of these can be purchased for under $300!) I’ll also get into some variations that can be confusing, and, finally, offer some options that you can buy online.
(As always, remember that proper sizing is the most significant consideration of any cycle you are buying.)
All day long, I would see curious customers stop by the shop, take one out for a test drive, and come back 15 minutes later, out of breath and in love.
Decades ago, there were two options for bicycles: the 10-speed road bike (you know – the “ram’s horns”) and the banana cruiser.
Most of the folks in my family had road bicycles. (They were great for running those paper routes.) However, as the body gets older, the thought of teetering atop skinny tires is less appealing.
Today, we have road bikes — those steeds with curved handlebars and slick tires — which is ideal for the dedicated fitness nut (I’m guilty) who wants to ride on asphalt.
Mountain bikes are perfect for those daredevil fitness nuts who want to go off-road.
But what about those of us who want to ride to the coffee shop? Who wants to commute to work? Who wants a cycle we can use to stay in shape every night after we get home from work?
Most people choose to go with a hybrid bicycle. These are, as the name suggests, an amalgamation between other bike styles — specifically the road and the mountain designs.
Traditionally, these models offer wider tires than a road-dedicated machine but not quite as wide as a mountain bike. These tires provide a happy medium between speed and stability (mountain bike tires tend to feel sluggish when used on asphalt).
The bicycle designs themselves emphasize comfort, creating the ultimate machine for daily riding.
Types Of Hybrid Bikes
This category tends to be a “catch-all” for every design that isn’t specifically “road” or “mountain.” As a result, there is a large amount of variety and options within this niche.
700c Vs. 26-inch
For starters, I typically recommend that you buy one with 700c tires. This tire size is the optimal height to allow you to pedal easily along, and I find it to be the most satisfying to ride on pavement and fine gravel paths.
However, if you are going to be riding on a lot of gravel roads, you would be better suited with a 26″ tire that is wider and slightly more puncture-resistant. (Also if you are under 5’4″, you will probably prefer the 26″ tires, as they are closer to the ground.)
Fitness Versus Comfort Versus Cruiser Versus Gravel
(shoot me now)
Ideally, you would choose a comfort bike if you were riding for pleasure, such as cruising around your neighborhood riding downtown for Saturday morning brunch.
The fitness hybrid is designed to cater to the athletic crowd. It would appeal to runners who want something to cross train with, for example, and is better able to handle longer rides.
Typically the fitness hybrid is lighter, and often it has more narrow wheels. It also leans you slightly forward — like you would be if you were riding a mountain bike — which makes you more aerodynamic, provides better control, and enables you to engage both your quadriceps and gluteus muscles more efficiently.
Comfort: Available with both taller (700c) and shorter (26″) tire options, these models sit the rider in an upright position that is ideal for avoiding back problems.This helps take pressure off of your hands and lets your back and core support their weight. These bikes often incorporate shocks to help lessen the jarring of the road, and, quite simply, are a lot of fun to ride. If you are interested in mixing up your workout with a regular ride but are not looking to train for something insane — like complete a triathlon or do a century ride — this bicycle is just the ticket. (Although I have seen people do their first triathlon on these bikes, and have seen plenty of people ride 50+ miles on them in a single day — it’s just not the most efficient setup.) True to their name, they deliver a comfortable ride and are the ideal choice for most new cyclists. The downside is they tend to be heavier and are best suited for rides of under 1 hour.
Fitness: These flat-handlebar road bikes straddle the line between speed and comfort. They are excellent choices for someone who is pretty serious about riding their bike. These sacrifice a little bit of comfort to save weight and deliver more speed. They also lean you forward a little bit to allow you to use not only your quadriceps but also the full power of your glutes. Designed with taller, narrower tires, they are the perfect option for the rider who thinks they might secretly be roadies at heart, but who also need to hop curbs and pull a trailer for the kiddos. I commonly see cyclists riding more than 100 miles a day on these things (such as in century rides for charities)
Gravel/Fire-road/Dual-sport: This is a newer category that is only adding to the confusion. It isn’t quite a mountain bike, but it has more front shocks and wider tires than a Fitness model does. This one is perfect for rural dwellers who do a lot of gravel riding, but it can certainly excel in the urban environment when needed. The Haanjo series is an excellent example.
Cruiser Bikes This is another model that needs to be on the list. These are the more “classic” models with the balloon tires. We often refer to them as “beach cruisers.” These bikes are inherently heavy and slow and are typically best for riding on flat ground.
Proper Sizing Is Based On Height And Frame Size
Proper fit is incredibly important. I’ve seen so many 6’3″ folks who thought they could ride any bike they found on Craigslist.
They have so much neck and wrist pain from being scrunched up on these tiny bicycles like a circus bear on a tricycle.
Conversely, riding a bike that is too large for you can lead to knee and lower back pain.
Finding the right size is simple. Just find your height on the list below, and then compare it to the frame measurement!
A good-quality bicycle will come in different frame sizes. Typically the frame height is going to be measured from where the pedal crankshaft enters the bike up to where the seat post is. The different frame sizes ensure that no matter how tall you are, you will be able to correctly:
- Reach the Pedals with the optimal leg length for power
- Allow the upper body to be comfortable for long rides
When you are shopping try using this sizing guide as a rule of thumb for choosing your bike:
How To Size Your Bicycle
(Your height = Frame size)
- 4’11” – 5’3″ = 13 to 15 inches
- 5’3″ – 5’7″ = 15 to 17 inches
- 5’7″ – 5’11” = 17 to 19 inches
- 6’0″ – 6’2″ = 19 to 21 inches
- 6’2″ – 6’4″ = 21 to 23 inches
- 6’4″ and taller = 23 inches
Ideally, when you are seated on your bike, with the pedal in the lowest position, the saddle should be raised so that your knee only has a 30-degree angle in it.
Best Fitness Hybrid Bikes
This bike is absolutely phenomenal. I’m not only going to say that it is the best fitness hybrid but that it may qualify as the best bike on the market.
This bicycle is so versatile. It flies when on the pavement and can handle chat and gravel roads. I’ve had some clients train with these bikes every day, while others used them to commute to work. I’ve even seen many riders use them to successfully complete their first century.
In a word, the Diamondback is impressive.
Here’s what I appreciate about this bike.
Quality: Diamondback has been making bikes for a long time, and they continue to make some of the most durable mountain and BMX bikes on the market. They know how to create a bicycle that can take a beating, and they don’t cut corners. The frames are welded aluminum, the wheels have TWO LAYERS (double-walled) of aluminum, and they use durable Shimano components. Not all Shimano components are created equal, but Diamondback uses the good ones.
Light: Borrowing from the road bicycle design, they have used a lighter frame and wheel design to keep you trucking along with no effort. At the same time, you’ll be able to ride this bike — even if you are 300 pounds. (see the above section again). There are no massive shocks or cheap, heavy welds to slow you down.
Fast: This bicycle is going to lean you forward, so you will ride on it just like you were on a mountain bike. This not only makes you a little more aerodynamic, but it also enables you to use both your glute muscles and your quads, letting you burn more calories and deliver more power.
In my experience, most of the century riders who have used one of these bicycles will complete their century ride averaging about 13-16 miles per hour with one of these bikes.
Diamondback Trace Dual Sport
Want something a little more rugged? Diamondback has you covered!
For the city rider that needs to have the ability to navigate curbs and stop on a dime, you are going to appreciate some of the durability features that Diamondback has woven into this version of their performance hybrid.
Disc Brakes – To begin with, you get the disc brakes. While disc brakes are not essential, they sure are nice. And you can stop on a dime. Or inches away from that car that cut you off. Whatever is important to you. They also give you added control in wet weather — always a plus.
Double-Walled Rims – I realize the Diamondback Insight above also has double-walled rims. The rims that come with the Trace are just a little bit stronger. It helps for those moments when you catch a little more air than you should.
On Road or Off Road – If you find yourself doing some gravel roads and dirt trails, I’d advise that you go with the Diamondback Trace. While not a full-on mountain setup, it does have that little extra hardening that makes it a good fit for these gravel road and fire road scenarios.
Vilano Diverse 1.0 Performance Hybrid
But if you are looking for an affordable performance bike, this is an excellent option.
Vilano is a relatively new player to the market, but I am impressed with the quality that they are bringing to the table. Their frame quality is top-notch, and they use all bike-shop-quality parts, so you aren’t ending up with some Walmart knock-off.
In a lot of ways, this machine is similar to its Diamondback cousins. Vilano uses a little bit lighter-duty wheelset (still uses double wall rims), and steps down a level in the quality of gears. The gears should last almost as long as the Diamondback’s setup, but won’t shift quite as smoothly nor will take the abuse that the nicer rides can handle.
That said, I don’t like the rear wheel. To make it extremely affordable, Vilano makes a big step down in the hub to a freewheel design. Now, I don’t want to get too technical, but, basically, this design moves the bearings from the outside of the axle where it can support your weight, to the inside of the hub. Also, I do frequently see freewheels fail after a couple of years of hard riding. (On the upside, they’re under $20 to replace).
At the end of the day, I’m positive that the Vilano Performance is going to treat you right. If you are looking for a cheap bike, then go for this one. By the time you wear it out (IF you wear it out), you should be in the best shape of your life.
Best Comfort Hybrid Bikes
These are the models that focus on an upright position and sometimes incorporate seat shocks to maximize comfortability of riding.
Now, I have seen some pretty ludicrously priced comfort bicycles. There are people who will spend over thousand dollars for comfort.
Thankfully, we can keep you below that price point.
For my top pick, I’m excited to recommend the Diamondback Edgewood. This 700c ride has all the bells and whistles you’d want, with none of the expense.
If you are looking at the picture, you can see the black rubber boot under the seat where the shock is. The seat shocks do a lot to smooth the road and get rid of the jolts that can make cycling so uncomfortable.
And, of course, you can easily see the front shock system as well. These shocks are different from the sharks the use of mountain bikes, as they want them to be lighter, and have just enough shock to smooth the road without making your ride overly bouncy.
One of the things I like about this bicycle, however, is the reinforced wheels. In industry lingo, these are called “double-walled.”
Bicycle wheels are probably the most vulnerable part of a bike. You put one of us out of shape humans on it and then run it over a curb, and the impact can be destructive. Even worse, replacement wheels can cost a quarter of the entire purchase price.
So I am pleased that they upgraded the wheels on this model.
The trigger shifters are another nice feature. The take just a second to learn since you have a low shifter and a high shifter for each hand. But once you figure it out, it is very intuitive and extremely accurate.
Frankly, I like this bike so well I’d encourage you to not even read the rest of my reviews and hop right over to check it out.
Raleigh Venture 3.0
Raleigh has been around longer than I have. They’ve also had more ups and downs than most of my high school romances.
They are an excellent, incredibly resilient company who makes a good bike, and I’m excited to be able to list one of their bikes here.
The saddle on this bicycle mirrors some of the most comfortable saddles I’ve ever ridden. Even on these bikes, you will sometimes see the companies try to cut corners on the saddle quality. It looks to me like Raleigh made sure to get a comfy saddle for their ride.
The shifting is the easy-to-use twist shifting combined with Shimano Altus derailleurs. This is about Shimano’s mid-range on their urban bike components and is going to be overkill for most of your readers. But that gives you room to expand. Let’s say you love cycling and decide that you suddenly need to start riding 100 miles per week or start commuting to work every day.
This gear system should hold up nicely to whatever crazy brained riding schemes you decide to step into.
As with the Diamondback above, you get the nice front road shock to help level the bumps out on the road.
You have a lot of options to choose from Cannondale, Trek, Diamondback, Giant… In my opinion, this Raleigh fits right up there with the best of them. If you plan on riding three times a month, this is a perfect choice that will leave you looking forward to the next time you ride.
If you ride more than that, this bicycle will hold up just fine, but you might take another look at the Diamondback above for better ride quality.
If I were buying the bike, I would probably take it to my local shop and pay the $60 to have them put it together. Make sure they torque the crankarms as there have been reports that the factory may not put them on tightly enough. While I headed there, I would see if they could upgrade the pedals ($20) and install better rim tape in the wheels to help prevent flats ($12). You could certainly get by without those upgrades; it’s just what I would do.
I love how stylish this one is. And functional. I mean, heck, it comes with a stylish rack for slapping a picnic basket or backpack on.
Designed For Comfort. The difference between this bike and the one that we looked at earlier is that this one is designed to let you be extremely comfortable as you ride. It sits upright so that your back doesn’t strain as you pedal. Plus, it has a shock on the front wheel to absorb bumps from the road. It also has a little shock under the seat to absorb those back-jarring bumps. And, the saddle is nice and comfortable.
Addictive Weight Loss: This ride is perfect for everything from riding around the neighborhood to taking with you on vacation. In fact, in Chicago, they rent bicycles very similar to these for seeing sites in the city. These machines are fun. As an bonus, they burn crazy calories, too.
Durable: Unlike the competitor knock-offs you see at Walmart, this one uses bike shop level components. When you realize that all of those gears, and shifters and brakes and even the chain are just repairs waiting to happen, it is reassuring to know that you are going to be doing more riding than repairing.
By using high-quality parts, you increase the cost slightly, but it gives you a ride that is both long-lasting and low maintenance. So get a lot more use out of it than you do out of the competition’s offering, in my opinion.
Besides, the swept-back handlebars and adjustable handlebar stem mean that you can adjust the handlebar to let you sit upright or lean slightly forward — whatever position is most comfortable to you. This feature is especially handy if you are trying to work on an old back, arm or shoulder injuries and need a more customized fit.
On this model, you have the 700c tires which make it a great option for people who do a lot of paved and packed gravel riding.
It is offered in both men’s and women’s designs.
Six-Three-Zero Seven Speed
I’m loving the SixThreeZero brand. In a world where most bike companies are focused on the bottom line, this company is working to bring style back into cycling.
You can see that on the bike pictured above. The sweeping handlebars, the sloping top-tube… it looks so stylish that it almost feels wrong.
It turns out they are on to something. The sloping top tube makes it easier to get on and off the bike. The handlebar shape delivers control while keeping you upright and comfortable. The fenders not only add a European flair but also serve the practical purpose of keeping mud splatter off the rider.
The drawback of this bike is that it only has a 7-speed hub.
That said, for a lot of readers, this is EXACTLY what you’ve been looking for. Too many gears are just too confusing.
You’ve been a looking for a bicycle that does it all but without two million gear options. And that is quite hard to find.
The SixThreeZero delivers and does so with internal gearing, making this one of the simplest, lowest-maintenance machines you ever ride.
It’s down lower on our list because it lacks the rear seat post shock of the other brands. But, unless you live in a hilly area where you will need a lot of gears to climb the hills, the Journey is everything you could want in a comfort bike.
And it comes with a style that you just don’t often see anymore.
Best Hybrids For Women
Women and men can ride the same bike.
As a marketing ploy, separating designs by genders is a smart move. Some ladies appreciate the “girly” color schemes, and I’ve seen first-hand where a stylish bike is what tips the scale in favor of mom joining the rest of the family on buying a bicycle.
(In some cases, the rest of the family refuses to purchase one until mom buys one.)
The Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Hybrids
There are two added benefits to these women-specific designs.
The first is that these models have a shorter top-tube. This creates a slightly more upright position for the rider. Since women tend to have heavier upper torsos than men, this more upright position tremendously reduces the pressure on the lower back.
(Men’s bicycles can be adjusted into a similarly comfortable position by adding a shorter stem.)
The second benefit is that many of these models have a “step-through” frame design which makes it easier for mounting and dismounting. This design is especially helpful for women under 5’4″.
Finally, shorter sizes such as XXS are sometimes available only in women’s designs.
I’m going with a fitness hybrid for this pick. And I don’t know whether to be more impressed with this bike, or the price that they are selling it for.
This is an excellent option for the serious fitness enthusiast. Frankly, you could ride it across the country if you wanted. Now, granted, few of us would want to do that, but the quality of this bike — and the incredible ride that it delivers — is genuinely one-of-a-kind.
But there are a lot of us who have wanted to do a triathlon. Or to ride a fundraising event like the MS150. Or to join the other gals on a once a week nighttime ride.
This bike can do all of that with ease.
For the athletic lady looking for a fitness hybrid, you would be hard-pressed to find a better deal than the Clarity 1. It uses the industry-standard 6061 double-butted aluminum frame, making it designed for the long haul. The lifetime warranty only sweetens the deal.
As far as the technical stuff goes, this bike has it where it counts: double wall rims and trigger shifters. I find trigger shifters to be much easier to understand and operate and the double wall rims mean that the bike can handle thousands of miles without the wheel “coming out of true” or breaking a spoke.
The overall package is extremely smooth and effortless. Riding it is like gliding.
This bike may well be the closest you will ever get to enticing your fat to melt off like butter.
I have nothing bad to say about this ride (except that I wish it were in stock more often. Too dang popular).
You can buy a lot of bikes online. These are close enough in the “ball-park” for them to make it on my list as an affordable option.
While I love the Clarity reviewed above, the Calico brings an added degree of ruggedness to the conversation.
You can’t help but notice the disc brakes. And for those of us who want additional stopping power in all weather conditions, discs are the way to go.Since discs are not as close to the ground as the rims of the wheel, they are less likely to get as wet and therefore offer a safer stop n wet weather.
This bike also has slightly wider tires on it. So if you want to do some fine gravel roads (chat trails) or ride across your office’s back lot on your commute to work, this one is up to the task.
So the computer is going to love this one.(It also has attachments pre-drilled for if you want to add a rack or a child carrier to the back)
The trigger shifters are always fun, and the aluminum frame keeps it from rusting, so this is a bike that can be in the family for the next 20 years.
The Calico is everything that the Clarity is, with wider tires and a disc brake. Frankly, for folks who will be riding mostly on roads and trails, the Clarity is going to make you plenty happy.
But if you are the type that buys all of your cars with AWD since you never know what life will bring…. this Calico model is going to let you blend effortlessly into every situation.
Diamondback Vital 2
This is the best comfort hybrid bike for women that I have seen online. It has everything you are looking for: lighter weight design (should be right around 30 pounds ), upright positioning, cushy seat and front and rear shocks.
It’s comfy and durable.
I like that it uses reinforced wheels. Even if it has been a long time since you worked out, you can be reassured that the wheels will hold up to the added stress. But, more importantly, it isn’t going to fold a wheel the first time you go over a pothole… like most bikes, you would get at your local department store will do.
I like the saddle on this bike. I know it seems petty, but I’ve had universally success with putting customers on a dual density foam saddle like this one. They are just quite comfy, and you find yourself wanting to ride because it is the most comfortable seat in the house.
The shocks under both the seat and the handlebars, plus the bikes upright position, means that you can ride in ultimate comfort. This is going to be perfect for those of you suffering back or neck pain.
Like the others on this list, you have 21 total gears possible, with plenty of low gears for hill climbing, and enough high gears to keep you cruising through the city at a nice clip.
This hybrid is built to last, and long after you’ve gotten back in shape, made some fun family memories and handed this bike down to your grandkids, it is still going to be riding strong.
Vilano Retro City Commuter
Vilano typically makes road bikes. However, they do have an often-overlooked hybrid line. And I like what this retro city design has to offer.
It isn’t anything fancy, but you have eye-catching style, fairings to stop mud from flying up on you and a bike rack for grabbing some wine on your way home from your ride. The step-through frames are going to make getting on and off this bicycle easier.
The grip shifter is extremely easy to use. This one only has seven speeds, so it should be the top pick for people who are confused by too many gears and want a simple gearing system. However the lower number of gears, it does mean that it is not as ideal for hill climbing.
Probably the best part is that Vilano has a proactive Warranty department. So if you run into a problem, they are anxious to help make it right.
Compared to other bikes of this quality, this is a better package, at a better price.
I reviewed this cycle above since they also make a men’s version (want a “his” and “hers” matching pair? This one will do it!
The thing that annoys me about Schwinn’s is how heavy they are.
I mean, they used to be some of the lightest bikes on the market, and now a bike like this weighs nearly 50 pounds.
In fact, if it were lighter, it would win this competition hands-down. It has a higher-quality Suntour front fork. And the Shifters and gears are higher-quality.
Plus, you’ve got to love the functionality of that rear rack. I mean, think of all the eggs and milk and butter and fruit you could strap on the back!
Altogether, it is a great package. Extremely high quality. Just heavier than I would hope.
It’s going to be ideal for the lady who wants to ride around their town for shorter jaunts. It is perfect for coffee shop runs, not so great for pedaling 5 miles to the nearby swimming pool (do-able, but wouldn’t be my first pick).
Where to buy
Buy new online: The models I mention on this page are all available to purchase online. With just a few clicks of the button, your cycle arrives at your home and only requires minimal assembly and some air in the tires before you are riding.
Buy on eBay: The challenge with eBay is that you might be purchasing a new model, but from a middle-man vendor. These vendors are not operating as “authorized retailers,” and purchase closeout models for resale. These vendors become the first owner of the bicycle, making you the second owner, and voiding all of the warranties that have a “first owner” restriction. eBay can be an excellent place to purchase a bicycle, but be aware of the warranty restrictions that may come into play.
Buy at a local shop: Shopping at a local store is extremely handy for several reasons.
- Assembly: while bicycles are easy to put together (most are assembled by high school kids), the first one or two you do can be maddening, especially if there is a manufacturer’s defect in the way. Even if you purchase online, you may want to have it professionally assembled. In my experience, local shops will provide this service for $50-$75.
- Maintenance: Some shops offer ongoing maintenance packages. Those cables and brakes need adjusting every so often to provide consistent, smooth movements. If you have a shop that offers lifetime adjustments, buying local can save you more over the life of your ride.
- Customer Service: A good shop will have knowledgeable, friendly employees. I do respond when my readers leave a comment, but your shop can help customize your purchase in a way I never can. If you don’t like the first store you are at, try another! A good shop becomes like family.
Does it matter what material the bike is made out of?
Weight is profoundly affected by the material of a bicycle. However, you can have a lightweight steel model that that is lighter than a clunky aluminum machine.
The confusion surrounding bike materials and their properties is commonly used as a marketing ploy. This especially becomes a problem when new riders get excited by an “aluminum bike” only to be frustrated when it weighs over 40 pounds.
Material types aren’t always the best scale. Weight, the biomechanical comfort of the frame design and the quality of the warranty are better indicators of bicycle quality.
Ride quality is also often affected by the frame material. Aluminum is more rigid while Carbon Fiber and Steel are viewed as more “comfortable.”
However, when shopping for a hybrid, the shocks will likely have a greater impact on the ride quality than the materials will.
With these models, purchasing from a good company is more important than buying a specific frame type.
Other Buying Guides You Might Like:
Top image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net