The Best Hybrid Bike
If you want a versatile bike that can work for anything from short road rides to dabbling in triathlons to commuting moderate distances to work, a performance hybrid like the Trek 7.2 FX is likely the right bike for you. In a corner of the bicycle world that is congested with countless nearly-identical bikes, the 7.2 FX rises above the fray.
If you don’t have a Trek dealer near you, or the Trek is selling for substantially more than its $550 MSRP, the Specialized Sirrus a decent alternative. The only major differences are the plastic pedals, which won’t grip as solidly or last as long as the alloy metal pedals on the Trek, and the paint job, which comes down to personal preference.
Both of these bikes also come in Women’s Specific Design (WSD) configurations, which means they claim to be optimized to work with the female physique. Usually this means a purple/pink/light blue paint job, a different seat, and slightly smaller sizing. Thing is, this may not actually fit you better, even if you’re a woman. The only way to tell is by trying them out yourself at a bike shop. (More on this here)
Ideally, you should really buy your bike in person. A good bike store will help you find the right size to fit your needs and maybe even swap out some parts to really dial in a good fit. That’s in addition to perks like comped maintenance and professionally checked assembly that is guaranteed to be of high quality. (More on why we recommend this here)
Why should you trust me?
I’ve spent more than fifteen years working as a journeyman mechanic at some of Boston’s largest bike shops, about that many years racing bikes at the Expert or Elite level, and I now help run a program that distributes more than one thousand bikes per year to low-income Boston residents. I get to see all kinds of bikes after they’ve been out in the real world for a few years. After a while it becomes obvious what works and what doesn’t as far as bike parts go.
Who is this for?
The fitness or performance hybrid is great for someone who wants to get into cycling but isn’t entirely sure that they want a road bike with tiny tires and drop handlebars. It’s also a good bike for someone who wants to run errands around town, commute a good number of miles back and forth to work or school, or even do a short charity ride or triathalon.1
That, and it doesn’t look too dorky. The same can’t be said for clunky comfort hybrid bikes, which add ineffective and heavy suspension that even a 90-year-old grandmother wouldn’t benefit from. Similarly, “commuter” hybrids can come equipped with racks and fenders (mud/rain guards) that add a lot of unnecessary weight. If you really need these features, you can always add them yourself later on.
Another good thing about fitness hybrid bikes is that they don’t become redundant if you decide to upgrade to a higher-end road or mountain bike. This bike can remain in your stable, relegated to being a dedicated commuter or grocery getter or for any other time you don’t want to dirty up your expensive prized steed.
How we picked
I started my research by searching the web for “best hybrid bike” and “hybrid bike guides.” What I found wasn’t all that helpful. There are lots of sites out there that will help you decide what type of bike you need, breaking down the differences between a “Fitness Bike,” “Comfort Bike,” “Mountain Bike,” “Cross Bike,” “Road Bike,” and “Unicycle.” Bicycle Habitat and Consumer Reports both have great guides for narrowing down what kind of bike you need. Of course there are also a whole lot of guides out there created by retailers who just happen to sell the bikes they coincidentally end up recommending. You should probably steer away from those.
The guides will tell you that a bike is better due to some vague reason—“it will dish out whatever you can take,” “it has a solid Shimano parts package”—but this stuff is meaningless. What they fail to mention is the truth about this category of bikes: They are all basically the same.
My experience in the bike industry has taught me that around $500 is a good amount to spend on a first-time or casual-use bike. That’s the price point at which you can start expecting bikes to last a long time and perform consistently well between tune-ups, which are fewer and further between. Spending less means you’ll end up making the difference, and then some, in maintenance costs. Spending more means you’re mostly paying for lighter, more premium materials and components that a novice biker won’t really notice or benefit from—especially if you’re talking about a hybrid bike, which is designed for versatility and approachability over pure speed. If you want a lighter bike, it’s worth looking into, but it’s not worth it for most people. Also, if you’re riding around in an urban environment, expensive bikes become targets for professional bike thieves like the ones we interviewed for our bike lock guide.
There are a few options with steel frames, but cheap steel is incredibly heavy and not worth your consideration. Steel is like steak: You should pay a lot for the real deal or greatly lower your expectations. Buying a $500 steel hybrid is like getting a steak at IHOP.
That said, many of these bikes, including the Trek 7.2 FX have steel front forks (the thing that holds the front wheel). Steel is a great material for a fork. It’s much better at absorbing road chatter and vibration than an aluminum fork, and the weight penalty is more than made up for by the added comfort.
When it comes to gear-shifting and braking components on low- to mid-range hybrid bikes, you are effectively dealing with two major component manufacturers: Shimano and SRAM. At this price, you want Shimano. While SRAM has made a name for itself with its high-end components, it is still severely lacking at the more economical end of things. Shimano has been at it longer and produces the hell out of some cheap, indestructible drive train components (cogs and chain rings). Through my line of work I get to see bikes from every era. We’ll get bikes at the shop from the ‘90s, even the ‘80s with still-functioning Shimano shifters and derailleurs (the things that facilitate shifting between the different gears).
On the other hand, we’ll install brand-new SRAM components on a bike and see them deteriorate and then detonate within weeks or months. Even Shimano’s low-end stuff is made mostly of metal. SRAM’s low-end components are primarily plastic, more Mattel than metal.
All bikes in this price range have very similar aluminum frames with almost identical parts: rim brakes, 24 speeds (more than enough for covering most hills), and house-brand everything from wheels to grips. The only way to discern between them is by splitting hairs when it comes to their spec and price. So I took out my mini axe and set to splitting.
I pored over dozens of spec sheets looking for differences, and the bike companies didn’t make it easy—one company will use “Shimano Altus” to describe a front derailleur (the front shifty thingy) while another will call the same derailleur by its part number, “FD M191.” I came to the conclusion that unless you are buying a bike online from some cut-rate outfit, you are basically going to be getting the same bike across about fifteen brands. The only major differences were in the quality of the tires, pedals, and other minor components.
Many bikes were eliminated from the line-up because they had inferior parts packages, had heavy steel frames, came from not-so-legit manufacturers, or just looked dumb. If a bike didn’t at least look cool online, I wasn’t going to bother meeting it in person.
In the end, I felt the only way to make a determination was to actually go and throw my leg over a few of these bikes. Bikes I test-rode included: the Cannondale Quick 6, Raleigh Cadent FTO, Giant Escape 2, Specialized Sirrus, Kona Dew, and the Trek 7.2 FX. It was difficult to discern any differences between these bikes since, again, they’re designed to be roughly similar in riding experience. But, under close scrutiny, I found that the Trek had a slight edge.
I’ll admit, if you asked me, “Hey bike dork, what’s the best hybrid bike?” I would’ve knee-jerk replied, “Probably the Trek 7.2 FX.” When I began my research I was hellbent on proving myself wrong, but I failed. There are bikes that are cheaper than the Trek 7.2 FX, but they cut cost in areas where you’re going to feel it. When you’re looking at a field of virtually identical competitors, it’s the little things that make the big differences. In the case of the Trek, those differences came down to the tires and pedals.
The 7.2 FX was also the only bike that came with metal pedals, which would otherwise run you another $15 to $20. The alloy pedals are going to hold up better than plastic pedals and they provide more grip in wet conditions.
If the fit of the bike is anywhere near good, the only place you’re going to notice a difference is at the saddle and the grips. I found the grips and saddle on the Trek comfortable, but saddles in particular are a very personal thing. What works for one person might not work for another. Again, these items can be swapped out at little to no charge by a good shop.
Also, as with most bikes of this type, both the frame and the fork are fender- and rack-ready (as indicated by the little holes on the back of the frame and bottom of the fork).
In the end, the Trek 7.2 FX doesn’t have a ton of advantages over the closest competition, but it definitely has something. That said, as aforementioned ad nauseum, there is very little difference between the bikes discussed here. If you find a better deal on a Specialized or if you prefer the style, I’d go for it. The Giant is also decent, but doesn’t have flat-resistant tires.
Why is the 7.2FX better than the 7.1 or 7.3?
A very close runner-up
Disc brakes: a dubious upgrade
Any hybrid bike in this range is going to have a big brother with disc brakes (what they use on cars and motorcycles). The Trek 7.2 FX has the 7.4 FX Disc at $879.99 and the Specialized Sirrus has the Sirrus Sport Disc at $770.00.
A step up in a commuter-oriented direction
What caught my eye right off the bat was the artsy headbadge. The headbadge is designed to allow the rider to slide any piece of artwork or sticker they want into it. The frame is free of logos and many of the bolts use a security torx-style head so you need a special tool to remove them. The quick-release levers also screw off so that an opportunistic thief can’t pop your wheels off as easily. Another perk is the fenders. At a roughly $40 upcharge from the Specialized Sirrus, the Globe Work 2 comes with full fenders. A set of aftermarket fenders is going to cost you $40. This bike is an excellent choice for someone who is planning on being more committed to commuting, especially in an urban environment or anywhere where theft is an issue.
WSD or “Women’s Specific Design”
Something you’re bound to run into is the acronym “WSD.” WSD stands for “Women’s Specific Design.” WSD bikes have slight tweaks to the frame geometry and componentry that claim to make them better suited for (some) women. Sarai Snyder, founder of Girl Bike Love and CycloFemme elaborates:
“As a little person of just 5’2″ (on a good day), attention to women’s specific design has greatly increased the smaller bike options available for me. But I think the term “Women Specific Design” can be a little misleading. Most of the time WSD means a shortening of the top tube length, smaller all around sizing, and the addition of a women’s specific saddle, narrower handlebars, shorter stem, and maybe even a shorter crank length. These things account for the notion that most women have shorter torsos, longer legs, and narrower shoulders on an all around smaller frame than men. Realistically, we are all unique in our build. A woman of 5’10” might be hard pressed to find the benefits of WSD. It should also be noted that for some companies WSD is really just an excuse to change the paint scheme to market to a different audience. In the end, the most important thing is finding the bike that fits your body and your riding style as an individual.”
What does that mean for you as a prospective biker who’s also a woman? Basically, test some bikes with WSD, test some without, then decide which one fits you better. While unisex/men’s bikes won’t often come in pink or purple (if that’s your thing), fit, comfort, and component quality will matter more than colors when it comes to actually riding your bike.
Why shouldn’t I buy a bike online?
It’s generally not a great idea to purchase a bike online. And we’re not talking about this from a poetic “buy local” perspective. Buying local ensures you get a safer product thanks to professional assembly and will often end up being cheaper in the long run. Plus, if you have someone helping you set up a bike, you’re more likely to have a good experience with it.
On the other hand, the lack of care and attention put into your online-ordered bike will be blindingly obvious (possibly literally) when you hit a pothole and your wheel winds up turning 90 degrees while your handlebars stay straight ahead as you fly over them.
Online retailers and big box stores work on volume, and they tend to pay their mechanics (and I’m using this term loosely) a piece work rate as opposed to bike shops, which pay mechanics by the hour. A piece work bike assembler churns out bikes as fast as he can—they fly out the door and he or she never thinks about them again because they will be sold to someone far away.
A shop mechanic, on the other hand, has to be more accountable. If that person neglects to tighten a pedal and the customer eats it on their first ride, he or she will see the customer come into the shop the next day all battered and bruised. The shop will feel awful for causing a customer injury and the mechanic will definitely feel awful when he or she gets fired.
Seth Sampson, manager of Giant Bicycle Store in Boston, put it best: “It is amazing what can go wrong, even when you have only 10 percent of the bike to build. Our bikes have better quality, and are correctly assembled. You can always save more [up front] buying online, but end up paying more to make it work right.”
For safety’s sake, even a bike that is advertised as “90 percent assembled” is going to require a trip to a bike shop for final assembly and a safety check. This assembly and safety check is going to run you $60 to $150. “Whoa!” you’re saying, “But I only paid $300 from the whole bike.” Thing is, for liability (and ethical reasons) a shop mechanic must go over every bolt on that bike to make sure it was assembled correctly, which, more often than not, it wasn’t. Just go down to a Sears or even a Dick’s Sporting Goods, put the front of wheel of the bike between your knees, and try to twist the bars, and you’ll see how much those guys care about your wellbeing as the bars easily turn sideways while the wheel stays in one place. That’s not what’s supposed to happen.
You will also notice that, with your online order, nobody helped you find the ideal size for your body measurements, and unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re probably going to buy the wrong size bike. There’s a lot more to fit than just the number on the frame. Just the frame itself has no fewer than seven major variables that comprise its “geometry,” all of which affect how a bike ultimately feels. Bikes like these tend to have more or less identical geometry across brands, but there are other factors that contribute. A good shop will help fit you to a bike and make any alterations that might be necessary. Saddles, stems (the thing that holds the handlebars), and the handlebars themselves can often be swapped out for a better fit and improved comfort.
You’re also likely to get perks and freebies for purchasing from a shop, like a free 30- or 90-day break-in tune-up that would otherwise run you another $60 to $100 each for your super-deal bike from Bikes Direct. And don’t think these are just “nice to have” but unnecessary; cables will stretch and need readjustment after the initial few weeks of riding. Many shops will also give you discounts on accessories like locks, lights, helmets, and fenders within a certain window after your purchase. Not to mention help with warranty issues. Your shop will deal with that annoying stuff for you. Even expensive bikes break, and it’s good to have someone in your corner when things go awry.
Hopefully we’ve convinced you by now that it’s worth going to a real bike shop to get your bike. Now for the bad news: Not all bike shops are created equal, and it’s up to you to find a good one you can trust. Yelp and advice from friends can help, but ultimately you’re going to want to shop around a bit to see for yourself. Especially if you find that you have an affinity for a bike, but its gears weren’t working well on a test ride from a particular shop.
You want a shop that will take care of your needs throughout the shopping process and offer you services even after you’ve made the purchase. Make sure the salesperson takes the time to quickly look at you on the bike to make sure your saddle height is roughly correct. And make sure the bike is properly set up when you’re test-riding it; if the shop is sending you out on a bike with rubbing brakes or loose bars, this reflects badly on how well they will service your bike in the future. It’s also worth asking them to adjust the bike before you make a final decision. If they fail on any of those accounts, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere.
Shopping for a kid’s bike? You’ll also want to do that in person, for the same reasons listed above. There are some useful tips for getting the size, weight, and features right for every age group from pre-school through 12 years here.
What about the other bikes I tested? Well, as I stated earlier, none of them are really bad. In fact, if you can get them for significantly cheaper than the Trek or Specialized, they might even be the better buy. But I had my reasons for not choosing them.
The Cannondale Quick 6 is arguably the coolest-looking bike in the mix but it doesn’t have the alloy pedals or flat-resistant tires of the Trek 7.2 FX. However, it does come in (at least MSRP-wise) at $40 less than the Trek. $40 isn’t quite enough to buy yourself a pair of decent pedals and some better tires, but if this bike happened to be on sale it might be the one model that could draw my interest away from the Trek.
The Giant Escape 2 is a very popular bike, but, and I’m not sure why, Giant decided to go with an aluminum fork on this bike. It’s lighter but does much less than the steel forks found on the other bikes listed here to dampen road shock and vibration. It also doesn’t have the flat-resistant tires of the Trek.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Kona Dew has a kind of silly-looking narrow-legged steel fork that comes off as an unfortunate afterthought when juxtaposed with its wider-tubed aluminum frame. Which is weird because Kona generally gets it right aesthetically. Hey Kona, put a fatter fork on your bike!
The Raleigh Cadent FTO is a good-looking bike and it felt great on my test ride, but I still can’t recommend it. The FTO has sub-par plastic pedals, an aluminum fork, and tires that aren’t extra resistant to punctures.
As for bikes I didn’t test, let’s just say there were a lot. But I had a good reason for skipping each one.
The Motobecane Cafe Latte is the one Bikes Direct bike on the list. Personally, I wouldn’t ride a bike called a “Cafe Latte” if you gave me all the free lattes in the world, but that’s just me. Well, me and a lot of people who have an iota of self respect. That said, you get a lot of bike for your money. Of course you then have to have it assembled at a bike shop, tuned at a bike shop after it breaks in, and Bikes Direct won’t be easy to deal with when it comes to warranty issues. It’s not like sending back your iPhone.
Schwinn has a similar brand image issue as Raleigh and the Sporterra 3 is their version of this bike. They have effectively become synonymous with crap. This an ugly bike with a horrible name from a less-than-reputable manufacturer. They are now owned by the company that produces Pacific Bicycles—the only brand that gives Huffy a run for its money in the race to the bottom of the bicycle food chain. The Sporterra also seems to have vanished from the internet, which could mean it’s being discontinued.
The Diamondback Insight 2 is one of the only bikes in this list available on Amazon. As previously mentioned, buying bikes online is not a great idea for so many reasons. It is cheap and you will get slightly nicer components at the same price point as the Trek or Specialized, but you’ll pay for it later.
The Jamis Coda Sport is the only steel bike in the mix. While it has a similar parts spec, it is bound to be significantly heavier. Steel does have its attributes—it’s stronger and more durable than aluminum, but there’s a good reason people pay more than $2,000 for a good steel frame. Steel is real (heavy). Unless it’s incredibly well built out of select tube sets.
The Trek Allant 7 is a worse version of the Specialized Globe 2. Rather than a sporty 7.2 FX rigged up with fenders, it’s more of a grandpa bike and is less versatile due to its single chainring.
Giant’s V2 is a similar, more commuter-y retro bike that falls flat aesthetically.
Care and maintenance
Hybrid bicycles require the same maintenance as any other bicycles—lube the chain (but not excessively) and fill up the tires to the recommended pressure weekly (check out our guide on bike pumps). Nearly all bike shops have free air either in the form of a compressor or a floor pump with a gauge. Gas station compressors are set very high (and they charge you money), which can result in blowing the tire right off the rim with a terrifying gunshot-like sound. And remember, bikes like to be stored in dry places whenever possible. I’d advise getting your bike tuned annually. If you do find that you’re riding regularly, it is a good idea to grab a small bottle of lube and a floor pump.
Pro tip: if you live in a part of the country where there is a winter, take your bike to the shop in the middle of winter. You’ll beat the spring rush when everyone decides on the first gorgeous day that they all need their bikes NOW! A bored winter mechanic will spend much more time on your bike than a stressed-out summer one. Especially one who is rewarded with craft beer or homemade cookies.
Oh, and make sure you get a good lock and learn how to use it.
Wrapping it up
I liked the Trek 7.2 FX most because it looks and feels good and it has a couple features that the competition doesn’t have. It is slightly more expensive than its close competitors, but I feel that those upgrades are worth the few bucks. Talk to your local bike retailer, shop around, and don’t hesitate to have them tweak a bike you like to get it dialed so that you don’t look like a poster child for the “bicycles are horrible” campaign while you’re riding.
Originally published: April 2, 2014