Yes, you read the headline correctly. I invented the hybrid bicycle. You know, those nippy commuter machines with road-style frames and wheels but flat handlebars and brakes from a mountain bike. That was me.
Of course I wasn't the first, and my bank account gives eloquent testimony to the fact I played no part in popularising this most ubiquitous of modern urban bicycles. But I still like to think I came up with my version of the idea alone.
It was May 1991 and I'd made the drastic decision to ride to Bilbao. By then I'd only been cycling regularly as an adult for about nine months, clanking around London's streets on an absurdly heavy Raleigh mountain bike. Even discounting the weight – roughly that of a small family car – its ultra-wide knobbly tyres, low gearing and upright sitting position made it completely unsuitable for clocking up long miles on the road.
Overcome with enthusiasm but utterly broke I spent £20 on a housemate's late 70s steel-frame road bike but soon found a snag: I hated craning my neck to look up while gripping the bottom of the drop handlebars, the only way to reach the brakes. Hang on, I though – why not add some straight handlebars with horizontal lever brakes and have the best of both worlds?
It's difficult to exaggerate my mechanical incompetence at the time – only a couple of month earlier I'd spent an entire evening struggling to replace a rear wheel after fixing a puncture – but following a few trips to bike shops and a full day of effort my mongrel creation was ready. I added a luggage rack, tied on a couple of small ruckacks as makeshift panniers, and was off.
I don't remember having seen a hybrid before then. The internet tells me some early production models emerged in the late 80s so it's possible I'd spotted one and took unconcsious inspiration. But as far as I can recall the idea came unprompted.
Sadly, no photos remain of this mutt of a machine, not least because about an hour after I got to Bilbao some enterprising local removed the handlebars and stem while it was locked to a lamppost. But it lives on as the original in a series of self-modifed Frankenstein bikes.
The bike you see at the top of the page, modelled by a younger, slightly sheepish-looking me, was a refinement from a couple of years later when I was working as a cycle courier in Sydney (hence the curious outfit). You'll note, between the weeds and hanging washing, a saddle and bar tape in matching lime green, accessorised with pink brake levers. This garish colour scheme was soon abandoned but the bike worked so well I still own it.
The culmination of these years of tinkering came a couple of months ago when I put together the latest in this bespoke lineage, an unashamedly self-indulgent flat-handlebar commuter machine based around a lightweight carbon fibre road frame.
The point to these rambling anecdotes is this: if I can do it, anyone can. And that's one of the beauties of cycling. If you buy a car and don't have access to a lot of expertise and a garage-full of equipment you're essentially stuck with what you've got. If you have a bike and even a basic multi-tool then you can – finance permitting – tweak it to your heart's content.