Buying your first road bike should be a really easy thing to do. Browse online or walk into your nearest bike shop, ask for a road bike in your size and budget, and walk out the proud owner of a nice bicycle. Only the reality is sadly a little different because there’s a lot of choice. Do you want carbon fibre? 11 or 12 speeds? Deep section wheels? Mechanical shifting?
Things You NEED to Know Before Getting a Road Bike – key questions to ask yourself:
- What’s your budget?
- What frame material do you want?
- What type of road bikes do you need?
- How many gears are you looking for?
- What wheels and tyres suit your riding?
- What’s the right size for me?
It’s easy to get lost in a sea of jargon and before long your head is hurting. So let’s demystify the process of buying a new road bike and share some advice on the important decisions between you and your new pride and joy.
How much to spend?
The first decision to make is to decide how much you want to spend. Your budget will determine the choices available to you so it’s worth really looking at what you can afford to lay out. Many bike shops offer finance deals which may be an appealing way to spread the cost of payment over a longer term, while the Cycle to Work scheme if available to you is another option.
The important thing to know is that you don’t need to spend £10,000 on a road bike unless you want to emulate the pros. The most affordable bikes start from just over £300 and you get a lot more bike for your money than ever before, with high quality frames, wheels and components that will ensure your first road bike experience is a very positive one.
What type of road bike?
The first thing to realise is that road bikes aren’t all the same. Sure, from a distance they all look similar with their double diamond frames and curly handlebars, but get up closer and there are some key differences.
But the differences come down to how you want to ride your bike. Do you want to pin a number to your jersey and go racing? You’ll want a regular race bike. Does the idea of touring with panniers strapped to the bike appeal? You’ll want a touring bike. Understand your riding requirements and you can zoom in on the correct bike for your needs. Here are some of the key flavours of road bike currently available:
|Aggressive design aimed at speed and going fast.
Within the race bike category you have sub-genres of aero bikes – aerodynamic efficiency – and lightweight climbing bikes
|Comfort is a big focus and they are more forgiving than race bikes
|Designed to waft from campsite to hotel in comfort with fittings for panniers and bags
|These are off-road biased road bikes designed to ride dirt, gravel and off-road tracks and popular with bikepackers
|Designed specifically for high-speed off-road racing
What frame material?
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of road bike you want life gets a lot easier but there are still some important decisions to make. The biggest one is the material the frame is made from and to a large extent this will depend on your budget. Generally the most expensive bikes are made from carbon fibre while the cheapest are made from aluminium. Other popular materials include steel, the oldest bicycle frame material which still has many fans for its smooth ride, and titanium which is exceedingly expensive and offers similar comfort to steel with less weight.
These four main frame materials each have their pros and cons and there really is no best material. Your budget will influence your choice and while carbon fibre is perhaps the most desirable largely because of its use in the professional peloton, don’t discount aluminium as an inferior material. Aluminium bikes still provide performance that won’t disappoint but will leave more money in your bank account.
Getting the right size
Just like a badly fitting shoe can quickly lead to discomfort, so is the case with a bike that doesn’t fit you. The best advice for getting the right size bike is to drop our Tech Team a line or visit a high quality bicycle shop that can offer you an assessment to ensure you get the right size. There’s nothing like swinging a leg over a bike and pedaling down the road to make sure it fits. A good bike shop will also be happy to make any required adjustments to get you fitted perfectly as well.
If you can’t visit a bike shop or are shopping online then you are going to have to rely on the manufacturer’s size guide recommendations. Happily these are very reliable and most often will pair your measurements with the right size bike. The key measurements include height and inside leg measurement but some size guides will ask for more detail to get the fit perfect.
Components and equipment
After the cost of the frame the wheels and components make up a large portion of the cost of the bike. There are a few things to really focus on and they are the gears, brakes and wheels. The gearing on the bike will come from one of the three bike manufacturers – Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo – and be made to a price.
The more you pay the lighter the components and the more gears you have, but more gears aren’t always better. Gear ratios are more important when starting out so look for large cassettes and small chainrings to help you on hilly terrain.
Wheels & Tyres
Wheels play a big part of the ride quality of a road bike but can often be a component that a manufacturer skimps on. Look for high quality aluminium wheels which are lightweight or if you want speed then deep section carbon wheels are a must. The difference between cheap and heavy wheels and expensive and lightweight wheels can be significant.
Along with wheels the choice of tyres is important. Most road bikes use clincher tyres with inner tubes but many are now coming fitted with tubeless, replacing the inner tube with sealant to reduce the puncture risk. The other big choice is tyre width. Only a few years ago narrow tyres were the norm on road bikes but these days wide tyres are very popular and that’s good, since they provide more comfort at the lower pressures you can use.
When it comes to brakes you have a choice of rim or disc brakes. Increasingly modern road bikes are switching over to disc brakes so this choice is being taken away, at least in the midrange to high-end. Rim brakes are lighter and easier to setup but disc brakes provide superior braking performance in all conditions, lower maintenance and allow wider tyres on road bikes.