Road bikes are designed purely for on-road use – they are fast, lightweight and efficient. They are great for general fitness training, as a social activity (they’ve been called ‘the new golf’), or more serious events and racing. Purchasing your first one is exciting – and daunting at the same time. The possibilities and questions are endless. Here are a few pointers to help you on your way!
Price Range and Materials
Entry level bikes feature alloy frames and simple gearing (or groupsets). Generally these bikes as more comfort focused, and keep prices cheap by using more basic componentry for gears, brakes and wheels.
Moving through the range, bikes become more performance focused, with materials and components becoming more lightweight, durable and easy to use. Riders who get the bug can often begin to feel as though they are ‘outgrowing’ their bikes, and start to crave lighter frames, smoother shifting, better braking and improved handling.
Carbon frames achieve a big advance in performance, as the material is extremely strong, light, and stiff. It also provides greater comfort (through vibration dampening), as well power transfer (and therefore efficiency) compared to an alloy frame. The less flex there is laterally in the frame as a rider pedals mean less power is lost from each pedal stroke, and more in transfer into creating forward motion through the crank and wheels. Performance focused bikes aim to give the rider a bike that is laterally stiff, while allowing for some flex (or compliance) vertically as a way absorb some of the bumps in the road before they reach the rider. Obviously a more comfortable ride is not only more enjoyable, but improves performance and means a longer time can be spent out on the road riding.
The possibilities are endless and you will quickly become appalled just how much certain brands are!!! If you are a brand kind of a person then I suggest that your bike brand WILL matter to you. So ask around what your mates think are cool brands and go for one of these. You will spend more but you will be saved from your own personal brand envy every time you stop for coffee. The international brands have tons of street cred – check out Colenago, Cervello, and Trek to name just a few.
If you are not remotely brand motivated then you can likely spend less and still get a great buy. Some bike shops do their own range at far lower prices (although it turns out the bikes are made in the same factories). Try Avanti for example…..
Whatever brand you end up with make sure it fits comfortably and is not so heavy that you are put off from riding it in the first place. Try and get the best componentry as you can whilst keeping within your budget and don’t worry about the seat during purchase. You will probably end up replacing it anyway – so the manufacturer put on the cheapest he could when it left the factory!
Shimano is one of the biggest manufacturers of gear componentry and offer 3 basic levels of gearing – varying mainly in weight as well as some degree of usability.
The basic is Shimano 103 and any bike using this as its gearing mechanism will likely offer a decent brand and good value for money. The gearing is adequate for most uses and its slightly heavier weight than the more expensive versions is likely not to be noticed at entry level. I like to ask IF the bike has Shimano gears because they are well recognised in the cycling world as being great at what they do and I would always select a bike with Shimano against a bike without, all other factors (including price) being equal.
Next one up is the Shimano Ultegra and most of my bikes have used this level of gearing. Its components are lighter than the 103 and appear to be perfect for any of the riding I have done including triathlons, road cycling, long rides and hills. Any bike with Shimano Ultegra will be well respected by your snobby bike riding mates but still offer good value for money. Again, if I am picking a bike with Ultegra vs a bike with 103 I would always select the Ultegra as long as the price differential is not ridiculous.
Near the top end are bikes with Shimano DuoAce gearing. This is the lightest and highest in spec. of the non electronic gearing options. I have noticed that blokes tend to get rather over excited about this kind of gearing but I have not seen much in additional functionality that it brings to a bike other than street cred and a higher price point.
At the top end are electronic braking options such as Di2 which are certainly the best option for a new time trial bike. But this type of bike is not likely to be in your target if you are reading this article so ignore this for now.
Just one more thing to consider – if you are of smaller build and/or consider yourself a less strong rider then ask about a COMPACT bike with COMPACT gearing. This offers you more gears at the lower range without compromising on some of the higher geared options. Fabulous to go up hills and for long distances or for short legs.
Before You Buy
It is important to be properly fitted to a road bike, as this process will ensure maximum comfort and performance, while reducing the risk of injury. Most bike shops will do a basic fit ensuring the suitability of riders of different heights to the frame geometry of the respective bike. Please be aware though (and I am not disrespecting bike shops who try and do a great job) the main aim of a bike shop is to SELL you a bike – they may not always be the most objective if it comes to the finer points of one bike in their shop which (nearly) fits vs. one that you tried in the shop down the road. The most accurate way to ensure you are riding the correct size road bike is to be measured and fitted by a trained professional. You can do this BEFORE entering a bike shop for the first time and take your measurements with you OR you can take your current bike (whatever type), get a fit on this and take the specs to find a better fitted road bike option.
Second Hand Options
These days the second hand bike market is very active and, if time is on your side, you should always have a look at second hand sites. The value for money is fantastic – you can pick up a great brand for fractions of the price in the shops. The downside is that you MUST be sure of your bike fit requirements before you purchase. Many sellers simply quote SMALL or LARGE and you must know the right questions to ask to ensure the fit is as near as possible without parting with your cash.