Have you been thinking about hitting the trails but found yourself wondering if you can mountain bike with a hybrid bike? If so, you’re not alone!
While hybrid bikes are not ideal for mountain biking, they can be used in less aggressive riding situations such as on smooth cross-country trails where their lack of suspension and smooth tires will be less problematic.
After all, it’s worth considering that hybrid bikes evolved as an in-between option for mountain and road bikes. So it should come as no surprise that they don’t excel at mountain biking.
Well hybrid bikes aren’t quite the fit for true mountain biking terrain, they can perform well in other conditions.
So, where can you use a hybrid bike?
While mountains may not be there forte, hybrid bikes are suited to other “off road” situations. For example, grass, gravel or dirt roads are all well within their capability!
If you plan to use your hybrid bike for casual rides around the neighborhood, and the occasional cut across a grass or gravel area than you’ll be just fine with a hybrid bike.
Sure, it’ll be more bumpy than if you were on a mountain bike but this shouldn’t be the end of the world.
The overall comfort that it provides on paved surfaces should make up for these infrequent trips off-road.
Compared to a true road bike, your hybrid won’t be the “most efficient” means of transportation on paved roads. But I can guarantee you that it will be more comfortable!
And frankly, that’s what hybrids were made for.
Hybrid bikes are quite literally a blend of the features of mountain and road bikes. So while the won’t be the “best” for either situation, you should fine them to be generally useful for getting around.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the differences that separate hybrid and mountain bikes.
Differences Between Mountain & Hybrid Bikes
I’ll quickly detail some of the key differences between mountain and hybrid bikes here. But if you want a more detailed breakdown, make sure to also take a look at my full article on this topic here.
Hybrid bikes are primarily designed with features for on-road biking. They are relatively light. They have a thin lighter frame, which impacts the aerodynamic advantage compared to its rival bikes. The light frame is streamlined reducing the drag effect.
The frame geometry matters; how the corners, angles, and lengths work together to determine the bike’s experience. It influences how the rider sits on the bike, the handling, and the feel of the bike.
Because these bikes are intended for smooth surfaces, they (usually) lack suspension.
While some newer hybrids may come with a front suspension fork, this are generally very low performance options compared to what you’ll find on true mountain bikes.
Not to mention the fact that you’ll probably be paying a little extra for it should your hybrid bike come with front suspension.
Not only will you literally be paying a price for this suspension when you get the bike, but it’s also going to add weight to your bike for that minimal performance.
While it might help to take the edge off your quick off-road detours, I wouldn’t recommend taking it on true mountain bike trails.
Hybrids typically make use of traditional rim brakes instead of the hydraulic disc brakes used in mountain bikes.
Rim brakes are perfect for the road because they’re lightweight and provide ample stopping power. However, they’re not enough to meet the needs of steep downhill situations found in mountain biking.
While they are heavier than rim brakes, disk brakes are far more powerful. For safety and peace of mind, this is why disk brakes have become the de facto standard on mountain bikes.
Tires and tire pressure
Because they spend most of their time on smoother roads, hybrid bike uses smoother, lighter tires, 700c standard tires. The tires are slick and typically without much tread.
They are considerably larger than road bike tires but definitely not as big as the mountain bike tires.
The tire size directly impacts tire pressure. Its tire pressure lies in both bikes, with the mountain bike having the least tire pressure values and the road tire pressure being the highest. Below a few examples of common tire pressure ranges used by each.
- Mountain bikes: 20 – 35 psi
- Road bikes: 80 – 120 psi
- Hybrid bikes: 40 – 70 psi
The relationship demonstrates indirect proportionality where the thinner the tire, the greater the tire pressure needed to support it. Wide tires and low tire pressure are an ideal combo to beat small potholes and bumps during casual riding.
With a lighter workload than the mountain bike, many hybrid bike comes with a smaller range of gears. Because they’re generally used for cruising on smooth and reasonably flat surfaces, they simply don’t need a ton of range.
By comparison, mountain bikes may need to take on extremely steep climbs or descents. This means that they’ll need a wide range of gears to handle this diversity of situations.
Some hybrids even come as single speed bikes because they simply don’t have a need for as many gears as other bikes!
Remember when you used to need a bag or backpack to carry anything on your bike? Well, you sure don’t need to anymore with most hybrids!
Many come with baskets or cargo racks to shoulder the load for you. While these are great for running errands around town or heading to a picnic, they don’t have much utility on a mountain bike.
This isn’t to say that you won’t bring things with you mountain biking, just that you want to carry as little extra weight as possible and what you do carry needs to be well secured!
Hybrid bikes are all about comfort and fun while riding!
For this reason, the seats are more comfortable and cushioning, which is not of major importance to mountain bikes whose prime concern is performance and durability.
For more information about making your seat more comfortable, make sure to take a look at my article here.
Still want to hit the trails with your hybrid bike?
If you’re not interested in replacing your hybrid with a mountain bike but would like it to be a little more trail friendly, then you’re not out of luck!
Here are tips on how to transform your bike into a more off-road friendly option!
While you can’t do much to chance your bike’s frame geometry you can add cushion in the form of suspension. This could range from a front suspension fork, suspension stem, or suspension seat post.
While they will all improve your bike’s performance, a suspension seatpost is by far the most cost-effective of the three. Spend too much and you might as well just get a new mountain bike!
Here’s a great option to consider that’s easy to install and a bargain price.
Depending on the gear range that you hybrid bikes provides, you may want to consider looking at an expanded one. A larger gear range will give you far more options, especially on the steepest of climbs.
Since we’re on the topic of seats, you may also want to consider a replacing the saddle on your hybrid bike. While most hybrid rides are very casual in nature, you may find yourself quite literally pedaling for your life on a mountain bike!
A poor saddle could lead to excess friction, or simply not providing enough shock absorption for bumps. This is yet another quick and easy fix that you can take on yourself.
If you’re really serious about using your hybrid off-road more than you’ll seriously want to consider a tire change!
Most hybrids run slick or semi-slick 700cc tires which just won’t give you the necessary traction off-road. Furthermore, you’ll want to get tires that not only provide more traction but also can run a little lower tire pressure.
This also helps increase traction, but equally importantly will lower your chances of flat tires!
Let’s face it, your hybrid probably came with a pretty cheap set of pedals. While they weren’t an issue on paved roads, I can guarantee you that they will on actual mountain bike trails!
Knowing that you will still likely want to use your hybrid bike for neighborhood cruises I wouldn’t recommend switching to clipless pedals.
However, you would absolutely benefit from putting a better flat pedal on your hybrid bike.
This will not only provide your foot with more grip, but most mountain bike flat pedals are much large to give your foot a larger platform to rest on. This is especially helpful for not losing your footing in bumpy terrain!
While you could spend a lot on pedals, one of my all-around favorite’s is the RaceFace Chester (link to Amazon). This composite pedal provides excellent traction will still being lightweight.
Better yet – you can grab it for fraction of the cost of similar models!
For a more advanced upgrade, you may want to consider upgrading the bike’s cassette. Many hybrids lack the low end gearing necessary to tackle extremely steep hills.
While this type of replacement requires a little more work and know-how, it’s well within most people’s ability to handle on their own. You could also consider having your local bike shop handle the install for you if you’re worried about it.
Before you go, I’d recommend taking a look at the following resources that answer many common mountain biking questions.