Are hybrid bikes good for riding on trails? Yes, in fact, there are hybrid bikes that are specifically designed to get you pedaling along some nice forest trails. You just have to pick your trails carefully. You do not want to be going down a double diamond black run on a hybrid.
Ignore the Haters
People will tell you that riding trails on a hybrid can’t be done. They will then list you a load of reasons why you can’t take your hybrid off-road: “It doesn’t have suspension”, “It doesn’t have great tires”, or “It is meant more for on-road riding.” These people are all naysayers.
They have bought into the idea that bikes all have a niche, and you can only ride those bikes for that niche. They believe they need to spend more money to be able to have fun. You can pretty much have fun for free if you think about it carefully.
We will start with the argument that “a hybrid doesn’t have a suspension”. The thing is, you can get both front suspension and rigid fork model hybrid bikes. The front suspension pretty much kills that notion.
Another thing to note is that, back in the day, mountain bikes came with rigid forks. You will also see people riding 24-hour races on mountain bikes with rigid forks. Together these pretty much mean you can ride a bike with rigid forks off-road. In some places, it may even be ideal. That solves the debate about whether or not hybrid bikes can handle the trails! Those rigid fork model hybrids will do the job.
On flat, non-technical trails, you be looking to lock your suspension out (turn it off) while on a mountain bike. You do this because your bike will bob as you pedal, wasting your energy and slowing you down. On this kind of trail, a rigid hybrid would actually be faster. The same goes for climbing uphill.
You can quickly develop an arm pump on a hybrid while going downhill, and that can be painful or even deadly if you have issues steering or braking. This is something you need be careful about.
The next issue is that a hybrid doesn’t have great tires. You can reasonably make the argument that most bikes do not have great tires right off the rack. We can assume the person saying this is talking about knobs. They believe that the lack of knobs means the hybrids are not great for off-road riding.
However, if you go and look at the Schwalbe tires website, they have a tool on there for cutting off or downsizing the knobs.
I am going to go on a limb here and suggest that a lot of people riding hybrids do so during the summer rather than winter. The weather is excellent, you are getting a lovely tan, and the trails are drying out. The drying of trails is great if you have a hybrid.
As trails dry, they become more like riding on the road, and they become hard like concrete. Your big knobbly tires will do nothing here. There is nothing for them to bite into and give you grip. All the knobs do is become noisy. They can even cause you to slide out when cornering.
When the trails are bone dry, they become less technical to ride. For this, a hybrid bike may actually be preferable. The tires designed for a mix of on-road and off-road riding are at their best. You can fly along forest trails effortlessly.
The Kerouac Argument
The other answer about off-road riding is to look at cyclocross racing, which hybrid bikes are often used for. Cyclo-cross racing is generally carried out in winter on a muddy, snowy field. The bikes used to look like road bikes, the bike designed purely for roads. That is because cyclo-cross used to be raced on road bikes with knobby tires.
It was a form of winter training for professional cyclists. Cyclocross has grown in popularity, and now it even has bikes that are specifically designed it. These bikes are almost a road bike version of a hybrid bike. Indeed, you will also find people racing hybrids at some beginners’ races.
The ability of a hybrid bike to race cyclocross must surely help to put to bed the myth that you cannot use them off-road. You will rarely find worse off-road conditions than you will see at a cyclocross race. The ground is often churned up and rutted by hundreds of people racing.
Just Trailing Along
Let’s come back to the tires again. You will want to change your tires on your hybrid if you are racing cyclocross. That does not reflect poorly on a hybrid’s ability to ride trails. You will find that most bikes will need their tires changed to suit where you want to ride. Tires are always said to be one of the first upgrades that can be made to any bike.
Manufacturers fit tires that are manufactured close to their supply chains and readily available. The tires that suit a manufacturer might not suit you. You can haggle with a bike shop when you buy your bike for tires that may be more suitable for you. Yet another solution!
To Sum It Up
With all of this information, we now know that hybrid bikes can most certainly handle trails. It is, however, important that you ride those trails when it’s safe and the weather is favorable.
While safety can be an issue, it can be solved with simple things:
- Make sure you have good quality tires that fit your bike and are suitable for trails (and the occasional tough terrain).
- Keep your eye on the weather, and make sure you’re riding in conditions that are safe.
- Ensure that your hybrid bike has rigid forks and a rigid front suspension.
It isn’t always guaranteed that you’ll be able to safely ride the trails on your hybrid, but as long as you follow the safety tips and watch that weather, you’ll be fine. Get out and ride your bike!