Who could imagine a big old lump of a hybrid – with 38mm tyres and a suspension fork and weighing north of 13kg – being any fun to cycle? Anybody riding something like that is in for a slog, right? Thankfully, nobody told those crazy French cats about accepted wisdom because in the B'Twin Riverside 920 they've managed to put together an incredible bike that combines all the practicalities of a hybrid, with a fun and enthusiastic ride and almost unlimited potential.
The first thing that hits you about B'Twin's Riverside 920 is just how reactive it is. For a big and relatively heavy bike, you can get it up to speed without any real effort, and weaving in and around parked cars or street furniture is exciting and direct.
Crucially, even if the Riverside 920 isn't necessarily quicker than other bikes, it at least feels lively and willing. This is a really rewarding bike to ride.
The tiny rear triangle does help power transfer – even when you're suffering on a climb, there's a reassuring sense that all your effort is going into forward motion. But a great deal of credit for the ride experience also has to go to the front end. Although you sit relatively high, you never feel estranged from the front wheel, even with the suspension in operation. Placing the bike exactly where you want is so certain and direct that you can quickly go looking for excitement.
Rather incredibly, none of this direct power delivery and control comes at the expense of comfort. While both ends of the bike feel stiff when it counts, the overall ride is rather refined. The suspension fork helps smooth out vibrations coming through to your upper body, while the rear triangle still has give to keep things smooth. As a complete design, everything just feels fully resolved.
For all its qualities, I'd be lying if I said the Riverside 920's aluminium frame was the prettiest thing in the world. As you can see in the photos, there's a very pronounced kink in the top tube; as is the fashion, the rear triangle is tiny; and the welds are neat if not as smooth as some rivals. The frame is finished in smart rather than exotic metallic grey paint.
Far more importantly, though, it comes with a lifetime warranty and a really great riding position that definitely errs on the side of uprightness. That gives you a good view ahead and commanding road presence in urban environments. It also contributes to a ride experience that is stable when cruising but dynamic when the mood takes you.
I tested a medium size version, which was just about perfect for me at 6ft tall. And while the 13kg weight seems hefty, such is the bike's general enthusiastic character – and its sensible gearing – you really don't notice the mass.
Up front, the 63mm Suntour NCX air-sprung fork features a very handy remote lockout. These Suntour forks seem ubiquitous on mass-produced hybrids and may not be any ardent off-roader's idea of a plush front end, but for taking the sting out of road imperfections, potholes and sleeping policemen, they do a laudable job.
Then, when the going gets tough, you can click the switch and ensure all your effort is converted into forward momentum rather than lost to suspension bob.
Any worry that having a fork lockout lever to add to the clutter on the handlebar is dismissed with the SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain.
With only your right hand controlling gearing, things couldn't be simpler. Things couldn't be much more efficient, either.
The classy NX 36-tooth chainset is teamed with a wide-ranging 11-42t cassette, which really does provide all the gear ratios you'll need to enjoy (or at least conquer) everything from tough climbs to long descents. These days, who needs triples, or even doubles?
Operation is fairly impressive, too. Although there is the occasional hesitant gear change, by and large the SRAM NX setup works very well. Clicking up and down the 11-sprocket cassette is solid and secure, and – possibly best of all – it's super-easy to maintain.
I tend to test my review bikes in the limbo hours between 9am and 3pm when vans and 'mature' drivers rule the roads, so the need to be prepared for the unexpected is perhaps more paramount than when you know everybody's simply trying to get to work/home as quickly as possible. To that end, the B'Twin branded disc brakes are perhaps the only real disappointment – I almost ended up in the boot of a Honda Jazz that pulled out on me then proceeded to drive at 10mph below the 20mph speed limit.
To be fair to B'Twin, its own-branded kit – such as the Hybrid Trekking Speed tyre here – is normally very good. But these are rebranded Promax discs rather than anything of proprietary design, and a change of name doesn't change performance. When it comes to scrubbing off speed, they're OK, but in terms of all-out braking power, you're going to be squeezing very hard before you get anywhere near locking the wheels in dry conditions.
In fact, even in soggy conditions, I didn't experience much loss of grip. That's thanks to those 38mm Hybrid Trekking Speed tyres, which feature a nice low-profile tread across the middle with more pronounced grip at the sides. As a do-anything compromise, suitable for road, leisure or even a bit of trail riding, they're surprisingly impressive. However, once you know what you plan to use your Riverside for the majority of the time, a switch to more role-specific rubber would highlight the bike's abilities even further. Some semi-slick 32mm tyres for commuting would make the Riverside 920 an awesome urban machine, and some more mud-favouring rubber would even give you a fun hardtail.
As well as the fantastic frame, drivetrain and tyres, the biggest speccing highlight is the Mavic Allroad Aksium wheelset. Whatever potential the rest of the package holds, with these hoops it all comes alive, and they even elevate the already supremely positive and enthusiastic ride. In the £600 hybrid marketplace, often the best you can hope for are wheels that don't nullify the rest of the bike too much. These quick and lively wheels are more like the cherry on the cake.
Controls are all B'Twin's own kit. The Ergofit Sport 900 saddle contributes to overall ride comfort and offers decent support.
The stem and handlebar are fairly run-of-the-mill aluminium efforts, although the bar does feature welcome central crosshairs so you can line it up properly.
Even the basic plastic pedals are nice and wide, with little knobs to keep your feet in decent contact.
Probably the most exciting components among the finishing kit are the handlebar grips that feature bar-end cow horns. These might not be in vogue so much anymore, but on a bike that B'Twin says is designed for 'long distances and very regular rides', the ability to change your hand position is a ride-saver. It also gives you just a little more purchase and leverage for out-of-the-saddle efforts.
Of course there are some significant speccing differences: the Saracen in particular offers a great deal with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and Shimano Deore gears. But don't forget the B'Twin has those Mavic wheels, which help make the Riverside a very decent value all-round package.
Back in 2012 I tested the B'Twin Triban 3, a £300 drop-bar bike that played its own little role in the road bike revolution of the last decade or so, and significantly contributed to Decathlon's reputation for selling 'proper' bikes. This Riverside 920 is just about the best B'Twin I've ridden since then. Few bikes will ever again match the Triban 3 for value, but the Riverside 920 is almost faultless in terms of ability and ride quality, while the underlying potential of the frame and package is unquestionable.
In fact, it's to Decathlon and B'Twin's credit that they pitch the Riverside 920 as a wide-ranging hybrid trekking bike suitable for commuting, gravel or even trails; other manufacturers would be tempted to chuck in some 'urban lifetstyle' mumbo-jumbo. Keeping the idea that the Riverside 920 has a variety of potential uses, rather than opting for some trendy marketing spin, couldn't be more sensible. Short of road races or hard sportives, this bike can do almost anything you ask of it.
Agile and exciting ride makes the Riverside 920 an unexpected treasure
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road.cc test report
Make and model: B'Twin Riverside 920
Size tested: Large
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: 6061 aluminium
Fork: Suntour NCX Air 63mm suspension
Chainset: SRAM NX 36t
Cassette:SRAM NX 11-speed 11-42t
Rear derailleur: SRAM NX
Shifters: SRAM NX
Brakeset: B'Twin (by Promax) DSK 908 hydraulic discs
Wheelset: Mavic Allroad Aksium
Tyres: B'Twin Hybrid Trekking Speed Protect+
Saddle: B'Twin Ergofit Sport 900
Seatpost: B'Twin aluminium
Stem: B'Twin aluminium
Handlebar: B'Twin aluminium
Grips: B'Twin Ergonomic
Pedals: B'Twin plastic
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
It's a general-use hybrid bike aimed at serious leisure cyclists.
B'Twin says: "This Riverside 920 hybrid trekking bike comes with a lifetime warranty alloy frame and impressive spec for the money. Equipped with SRAM NX 1x11 gearing, Mavic Allroad Aksium touring wheels, Promax hydraulic disc brakes and Suntour NCX Air forks with lockout, this package is very hard to beat for long distance riders, commuters and multi-day cyclists."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The Riverside 920 is at the very top of B'Twin's leisure/commuting bike range.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Interesting design and sturdily made. Manufacture quality is not quite as refined as some big-name rivals, but overall finish is still very acceptable.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Frame is made from 6061 aluminium. Fork is an air-sprung Suntour NCX with 63mm suspension and a remote lockout.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Very positive but still quite high geometry. Good view and road presence, but no sense of compromise if you want to go fast. I tested a medium frame and I'm 6ft tall.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Felt pretty much perfect.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes. It felt lively and direct, but never at the cost of comfort.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The rear end in particular felt suitably stiff, but never too firm.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Surprisingly impressive – every pedal turn felt like it counted.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Responsive, even with the suspension fork in operation.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
This is a really lively bike that handles corners well and gets up to speed eagerly.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Saddle was pretty good. Suspension fork helps take the sting out of the road.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I wouldn't recommend any changes – everything felt positive.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Perhaps opt for more road-focused tyres if you plan to use this for commuting on tarmac.
Feels eager to get up to speed.
A big hybrid is never going to sprint very well, but this does better than most.
No worries at all.
Happy to cruise.
Agile but stable at low speed.
Keen to take a corner.
Despite 'only' having a 1x11 drivetrain, climbing was actually quite fun.
I really liked the SRAM NX11 setup.
Looks long-lasting – lack of front mech helps!
Again, lack of front mech/shifter is all good for weight saving.
Really solid drivetrain for the money.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The 1x11 system isn't just fashionable – with the 11-42t cassette there's almost every gear you need.
Wheels and tyres
These are the best wheels I've seen on a hybrid at this price.
With Mavic's experience, these should last well.
Despite being lively, they didn't affect comfort.
Incredible value: bought separately, they'd cost £180+.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
Brilliant ride quality compared to typical wheels on these kinds of hybrids. Helped to make the rest of the bike's ride quality come alive. Wouldn't change them.
Another nice surprise – great performance across a range of conditions.
With 60TPI and anti-puncture protection, they will last.
Par for the course.
Very good – contributed well to the overall comfort.
Better value than you might normally expect on a £600 hybrid.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
Impressively grippy when needed, but the quick-rolling central section worked well on roads.
Extra bar-end handholds help with long-ride comfort.
Solid value with some nice extra details such as bar-end grips and good pedals.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Grips were good. Basic flat pedals were wide and had good grip. Decent saddle.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
In terms of bikes with similar talents, the Specialized CrossTrail Sport costs £750 and the Saracen Urban Cross 3 costs £749.99. The Saracen in particular offers a great deal with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and Shimano Deore gears. But the B'Twin has those Mavic wheels, which help make the Riverside a very good value all-round package.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Forget the big ol' bruiser looks – the B'Twin Riverside 920 is among the most rewarding, most exciting, and best value hybrids on the high street.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure