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man riding his hybrid bike down the dirt trails

Can Hybrid Bikes Go on Dirt Trails?

Can hybrids bikes go on dirt trails? Yes, they can. A hybrid bike is called a hybrid because it’s a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. The secret is just to ride it like a mountain bike and not a road bike.

You always need to pick the dirt trails carefully that you are going to ride on. That in no way means that a hybrid is not capable, but you wouldn’t want to take a $1000 mountain bike down some trails in British Columbia. At the same time, you can take a $100 mountain bike around off-road trails in Arizona.

If you want to take your hybrid bike down some dirt road trails, there are a few things you can do to make it more fun. The first thing you’ll want to do has nothing to do with your hybrid bike.

Skills to Pay the Bills

You need to learn to ride. As with all skills, learning to ride will take time to feel natural. Once it does click for you, it’s an incredible experience. If you want an extra boost, one of the greatest modern cyclists, Peter Sagan, is rumored to have won a mountain bike race riding his sister’s hybrid bike.

The single best attribute and skill every trail rider can have is flow. You want to learn to keep your head up and look down the trail. When most people start riding, they will be tighter on the berms (corners) instinctively, because they’re looking down at their stem. You don’t ever want to do this. You will go where your head looks, so if you’re looking straight down, that’s where you’ll go.

If you’re looking ahead and straight down the trail, that is where you’ll be going. Doing so will also allow you to judge your speed. You should use your brakes a lot less than you think you should on dirt trails. By looking ahead, you’ll see if you need to scrub speed off in advance. Sudden braking is another good and fast way to crash.

By looking down the trail, you’ll be sitting in a much more comfortable position. You’ll feel more relaxed, and things will be easier than you initially thought. Looking up is how flow develops. As you are looking down the trail, you and your bike start to act as one, and you’ll look like a drop of water chasing its way down the trail.

You will not be stopping and starting. Stopping and starting is a pain and makes the whole act of riding off-roading more difficult. Speed makes it easier to roll over and around things. There are places where this is unavoidable unfortunately, but for everywhere else you’ll want to appear fluid. When you nail this movement, the feeling is fantastic; it is hard to describe, but you’ll be elated for a few days with a smile that is threatening to take over your face.

We All Feel Deflated at Times

Now we should look at your bike. The first and easiest thing to look at is your tires. If you have hybrid tires with side knobs and a central pattern that looks like a file, all you need to do is let some air out. Letting air out does give you a higher risk of punctures, but much more importantly it gives you grip.

Letting air out also allows your tire to deform and become a similar shape to the ground. Think about when a balloon is full of air it is hard to press. As it loses air, it becomes more sensitive to touch. You can squash it and press it flat. That is what we want your tire to be doing.

Other hybrid bikes will come with a more road-focused tire. You can save them for dirt trails during the height of summer. Trails then will be like riding down a road, and the extra knobs on some tires will be more than useless then. If it is not the middle of summer, go and buy some new tires.

You can buy budget tires, but if I were you, I would see about buying a mid-range cyclocross or gravel tires for riding off-road. A mid-range tire will be far superior to the tires on your bike. You could lose a significant amount of weight. A lot more than you would imagine. Doing this will change the way your bike feels. It’ll be like riding a new bike.

Tires are the real secret to how well your bike performs. No matter what other parts you change on your bike the tires will have a more significant effect. Everyone will talk about wheels as the first bike upgrade but honestly start with tires. It will cost less and give you a more substantial change.

Get Your Bounce On

The next thing you want to look at is your hybrid bike’s fork. You will either have a rigid fork or a suspension fork. I will let you in on a big secret: You do not need a suspension fork to ride dirt trails.

There are even times when a rigid fork is better. That is why most suspension forks now have a lockout setting, which minimizes travel to copy a rigid fork. The flowy trail that we just rode above is great to ride on with a rigid fork.

You will not be losing energy as you flow around the trail, you won’t have the wrong compression or rebound setting annoying you, and you will be more in tune with the trail. That may all sound like I am a hippy but give it a try and remember cyclocross riders still use rigid forks.

If you have a suspension fork, take time to read it’s manual. If you don’t have a manual, the manufacturers have them all stored as PDFs on their respective websites. Give it a read and set your fork up correctly. A badly set up fork makes everything miserable. A well set up fork makes life great.

Now don’t listen to people who say you can’t ride hybrid bikes on dirt trails. Get out there and show them you can. You will also develop better bike handling skills than the people who hide their lack of ability behind full suspension behemoths. See you out there.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for the article. I have been riding my hybrid with no suspension and changed tires before i read your article. I ride 99% on dirt, gravel, sand on narrow trails that dip and rise. It is soo fun to ride fast down a trail and keeping it under control. Yes there have been times when I didnt get the right gear so had to walk. I would tell everyone who has a hybrid to get out and ride trails. I am up to 16 miles at one time. And i am 62 years old!

  2. Avatar

    I bought an MTB 130mm forks travel, 2.6 knobbly tyres, mega robust but I’m thinking of a hybrid with-forks & 40c tyres as more of my riding is trails, forest paths, canals etc… & I don’t really want two bikes in the garage… with the headache of which do I choose to ride… When it comes to road/trail riding big knobblys are a pain & slow… Hybrids are the way to go unless you are a technical/fast rider hitting harder trails….

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