Road racing is more popular than ever, and road cycling is far more accessible now than it was just a few years ago. A few pedal strokes and your road bike will get you out of the city and into the countryside in no time! Commuting and some weekend riding on your road bike will keep you in good shape, help you forget about your stressful week and is suitable for any ability and age.
If you’re planning to buy a road bike, there are some important questions you have to ask yourself. What will you use it for? Are you a born competitor and want to add some more dates to your race calendar? Or do you enjoy escaping the city and working up a sweat on the weekend?
Road biking is really an umbrella term, and there are a few variations on the standard road bike:
Road or racing bike – Skinny tyres, drop bars and light components, designed primarily for smooth tarmac
Gravel – Wider tyres, beefier frame, this will take you off the tarmac and into forests, along fire roads and on most other surfaces you can point it towards
Cyclocross – A tough racing discipline: thin knobbly tyres, aggressive geometry, this is one for the racers
Triathlon bike – A dedicated racing machine, aerodynamic and designed for short, intense efforts
Buying a road bike is an investment, so it’s worth taking some time to narrow down what you’re looking for. There’s a wide range of components and materials that will determine the price of your new bike, so let’s go through some of the main ones below.
SHOULD I PICK A CARBON OR AN ALUMINIUM FRAME?
Aluminium is a light, stiff and robust material. Aluminium frames are mostly found on entry or mid-level road bikes. Aluminium is very responsive and will transfer your pedalling to speed very efficiently. However, aluminium does have some weak points: it’s generally heavier than carbon fibre and doesn’t absorb shocks as well as carbon does. Many aluminium bikes are fitted with carbon seat posts, stems and handlebars to make the ride more comfortable and reduce road buzz.
+ Stiff and solid + Less expensive – Heavier than carbon – Lower shock absorption
Carbon fibre frames
When used for bike frames, carbon fibre is much lighter than aluminium, and as we mentioned, absorbs road vibrations better. What does this actually mean for the rider? You’ll have a bike with excellent power transmission, that’s light and more comfortable than aluminium, which means you can ride for longer. Thanks to innovations in production methods, there are many different ways to produce carbon frames, and they are increasingly common on the market and at lower prices.
You’re probably going to spend quite a lot of time of your new bike. It’s therefore important for you to choose to perfect frame size and the one that suits your body well. You’ll find a detailed table of frame sizes on the website of each bike brand. The table here gives you a rough guide according to your height.
As its name implies, the road bike is made for smooth asphalt. You’ll be in a tucked position on the bike, with dropped bars helping you stay as aerodynamic as possible. Road bikes generally have tyres from 23-28mm wide, ‘drop’ handlebars and lightweight components. They’re not always the most comfortable as they’re designed for speed above all else.
Cyclocross bikes are something of a mix between road bikes and mountain bikes. Also known as “CX”, cyclocross is a type of racing in which a lot of road cyclists participate in the off-season. Racers compete on different surfaces: grass, wooden ramps, sand being just a few. CX races are a test for all aspects of the riders’ abilities, testing their endurance, strength and bike handling. The bikes have to deal with these different surfaces as well as obstacles such as stairs or hurdles. Therefore they must be strong, light enough to carry and easy to manoeuvre around technical courses.
Not everyone wants to be a professional road racer. Most cyclists ride their bike for fun, to get into nature and to exercise; for them it’s more about the journey and not just getting to the destination as fast as possible. If that’s how you see it, we advise you to choose a bike with wider tyres, a more relaxed riding position and mounting points for some luggage/mudguards. In the last few years, gravel bikes have become more and more popular. The discipline is named “gravel” after the long gravel fire roads and trails found in national parks and forests. The geometry you find on gravel bikes is a bit less extreme than road bikes, and they are therefore more pleasant to ride for long distances. The top tube will be lower and shorter and the handlebars higher, which makes the riding position a bit more upright. The wheelbase is also longer to add stability and the tyres are wider to deal with unpaved roads. Gravel bikes will still have drop bars, but these will be a bit wider, again for comfort and also for more control on rough surfaces.
Type of surface: gravel, forest roads, country roads
Type of use: races, long tours away from paved roads
Strong components for rough-riding and carrying gear
Triathlon bikes are more aerodynamic versions of road bikes. The rider is put in a stretched-out position to minimise wind resistance. Their main characteristics are handlebar extensions, an aggressive frame shape (sharp angles, low stem and low handlebar) and deep rims to improve airflow. These aero design features reduce the energy the rider has to use while riding so that they can save some strength for the final running section!
The three most prominent brands for bike components are Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. Each of them produces a range of groupsets, that are aimed at different types of cyclists: high-end componentsfor racers, and more affordable, robust groups for amateurs. The most expensive groupsets will be the lightest, made from high-end materials and using the newest technologies such as electronic shifting (as with SRAM’s E-tap or Shimano’s Di2). Entry-level groupsets sacrifice weight for reliability and are a great starting point for the beginner, the intermediate rider. Technology moves quickly in the bike world and features that were only found on the highest levels a few years ago are be available across the lower level groupsets.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WHEEL CHOICE
After the frame, choosing the right wheels is one of the most important factors when buying a road bike: their weight plays a huge role in how the bike accelerates, handles and feels on the road. Lighter wheels will improve acceleration and deceleration, so less effort is spent getting up to speed. At the top end, rims will be carbon fibre to save weight. Their depth also plays a big role: the deeper the wheel rims are, the more aerodynamic and stiffer the wheels are. Rims that are less aero can be more comfortable and flexible on the road and cost significantly less. Rims also come in different widths: the wider the rim, the wider the tyre that can be fitted. Road tyres are getting wider, with 25mm and 28mm tyres becoming the norm for road racing.
RIM BRAKES OR DISC BRAKES?
More and more bikes in the racing world are fitted with disc brakes, but many road bikes still use the traditional caliper brake, and for the majority of road riders, caliper brakes will provide plenty of stopping power. Disc brakes offer more stopping power in all conditions, so they are found on nearly all modern CX and gravel bikes.