The Hybridized Hybrid Bike

My trusty Kuwahara hybrid bike, now in its third incarnation.


In the Beginning...

This was the first new bike I ever bought, back in 1990. While living in Toronto in the '80s I found it easier to get around by rapid transit and by bike. I got rid of the car in '87, and started to re-evaluate the use of my old Raleigh ten-speed. The skinny 27" tires and steel wheels were not ideal, and neither were the drop handlebars. Everyone seemed to be buying mountain bikes, but I just wanted a tougher version of the Raleigh, so after some research I concluded that the hybrid design would suit me better, and it did (though I still think "hybrid" is a rather uncreative name for a style of bike; it's almost as bad as "recumbent"...).

The bike cost me around $700 back then, with a triple-butted cro-mo frame and fork, Shimano 500 LX components and IRC Cross-Country 700C x 35 semi-knobby tires (soon replaced with Avocet Cross tires). If you remember the Miyata Triple Cross, this bike is very similar, and I bought it instead of the 'Cross because it was knocked down in price late in the season. I added fenders, a rack, and toe-clips, and I also took a tip from the bike couriers and made it look unappealing to Toronto bike thieves by wrapping most of the tubing in black electrical tape, thus covering up any ID of the bike. After adding the ubiquitous milk crate, I had a strong, reliable, and hopefully over-looked machine. The only other mods were to add bar ends, and to cut down the width of the handlebar to match my shoulders for jamming through tights spots in traffic. This is the bike that helped me become a cyclist, and learn about coping with big-city traffic.

2nd Incarnation - Winter Bike


When I bought my Linear recumbent in early '97, this faithful old bike got demoted to winter bike-only status, since in '92 I had moved here to Ottawa where the winters are serious. The first indignity was that I swapped its 700C rear wheel over to the bent, which had come with a 27" rear wheel. This allowed me to run a wider tire on the bent, and putting the 27" on the hybrid worked well for me, as the skinny rear tire cut through the snow down to pavement, and the 700x35 semi-knobby up front gave me some steering control. As the winters went by the bike had its speeds dropped to 7 (due to the Rapidfire shifter freezing up), and then later down to 3 by way of a new 700C rear wheel laced with a Sturmey-Archer hub. This set-up proved to be ideal, as the internal hub never froze up, and the 3 gears were fine for this mainly flat city. But...

Over time I was finding that the bike's stable "road" geometry was not the best for handling slippery and slushy road conditions. I realized that a mtn. bike frame would offer more manouverability, and after finding a decent frame at the Re-Cycles Bike Co-op I built that one up in the same 3-speed fashion. The hybrid was thus retired, especially once I found that its stem had siezed quite firmly into the steerer tube, after I had neglected to free it up each season to prevent this from happening (winter salt and slush do very unpleasant things to bicycles). And so the bike was hung up in the shed.

3nd Incarnation - Hybridizing the hybrid back into an urban warrior


Front view, with happy vibratin' Bee taken from Bee Bike. Note the shifter mount, fashioned from a metal reflector bracket hanging from the stem bolt. I like the placement, and it was chosen because the shifter would not fit the thicker road bike bar, and I wanted something closer to the "on the hoods" position than the usual stem-mount. Also shown, older style 6-volt BLT headlight.

In 2004 I built up Bee Bike to be my errand / "lock it up don't worry about it" bike, but was finding that the humble Raleigh gas-pipe frame was a bit too flexy. I could feel the rear triangle protesting that I was a bit too strong and heavy for it, and as I pondered what to do I realized that the old hybrid bike has almost the same frame dimensions, but its frame is full cro-moly steel. So, the old beastie comes out of the shed for an inspection and to see what life can be breathed back into it.

The main challenge was that seized stem. I tried all the usual tricks to unstick it, but to no avail. I decided to cut the stem so that I could remove the fork and use another one. But alas, the re-Cycles shop only had either mild steel or road bike forks without canti bosses. What to do, what to do... Then Rob, one of the shop's mechanics, told me he used to ride a bike with a 700C rear wheel and 26" mtn. bike front, and liked the nimble handling. Since I had always thought the bike's handling was a bit slow, I thought this idea might actually work.

I found a good cro-mo 26" fork, and with that together the build began. The bike's rear axle spacing had been narrowed previously to utilize the 3-speed hub, so I had to spread it back out again. This was done rather well by finding a block of 2x4 with a length slightly narrower than the dropouts. It was gently pounded in between the chainstays towards the bottom bracket, slowly spreading the frame as I checked it. Then I realigned the dropouts with the correct tool at the re-Cycles shop. I wanted to stay low-tech with the bike, so no new parts aside from bearings were used.


Outer chainring crudely sawn down to create chainguard.

The rear wheel is a 700C with a 7-speed freewheel and nutted axles. The freewheel is an old Suntour 14-32, chosen for its wide and even spread of gears, which is handy for the trailer towing I sometimes need to do. The wide range also helps since I'm using only one chainring, an old alloy 52-42, of which the 52 was a tad worn. I like chainguards, and since I only needed the 42 the 52's teeth were sawn off to create an integral guard (this also saved me having to make spacers for the chainring bolts, or having to buy the shorter BMX ones).

I added fenders and the cool plastic bike trunk that I had used with Bee Bike. Then on went a wider straight handlebar with integral bar-end curves, and a lovely retro Deore top-mount thumbshifter. The front tire is a 26x1.5 Specialized Nimbus EX, and the rear is a fat 700x40 Continental Avenue (originally purchased for the Linear, but it didn't have enough chainstay clearance, so that bike now has a 700x35 Schwalbe Marathon Slick). To me, these fat yet slick tires give the bike a rather cool look, sort of a stretched out mtn. bike, or perhaps a chunky road bike...


Extra long mud flap. This was made by first adding a vintage plastic mudflap to the fender with a single bolt, and then below that zip-tying a strip of flexible rubber plumbing gasket. This way, the flap bends quite easily when the front wheel goes off a curb or other object. (This photo reminded me to cut the grass when I was done!)

After riding it for a while, I knew I had made the right choice reviving this frame, as it's definitely stronger than Bee Bike's. But I was finding myself wanting to stretch out a bit more for longer rides, and the mtn. handlebar only offers two hand positions. So I decided to experiment and harken back to the old 10-speed this bike replaced, and try out some road bars. I first had to install a fairly hi-rise stem, since I knew my back and wrists would not like the bars to be lower than my seat, and the 26" fork conversion had definitely dropped the front end just a tad! For the bar itself, I used a basic alloy one at first, then switched on a friend's recommendation to wider "anatomic" bars, and they do indeed feel better. But of course that meant unwrapping all the bar tape and resetting everything, and it was also a special challenge to set up the cantilever brakes to be used with drop bar levers. I'm getting used to these bars, and will decide at some point if I want to add the extra braking security of inline, or "cross", brake levers, or switch back to the previous straight bars. Time will tell...

I must say that overall the bike just rocks! The handling with the 26" front end is nice 'n nimble, but not at all twitchy, and the bike feels very solid. So far this "hybridizing of the hybrid" has worked out very well.


Copyright 2007 by Mark Rehder; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.