So you’re finally going to take the plunge and get yourself a proper road bike, joining the ever-growing peloton of road cyclists. Excellent decision. The time has never been better to enter into this exciting sport, whether you’re intending on joining a club and enter sportives or simply looking to get a bit a fitter and see more of your surroundings under your own steam. But where to start? There are so many options, so many bikes, so many styles, makes, materials... Calm down. We’re here to help. Let’s clip-in at the beginning: What’s your motivation?
Having an idea of why you’re buying a bike and what you intend to use it for is your best starting point. As similar as most road bikes appear, small but significant differences make each model more suitable for a different discipline, such as sportive, road race, time trial, touring, triathlon etc. Buy a pure racer and then trying to load it up with panniers and head off to the coast is only going to lead to expensive chiropractor bills. Single-minded racers, for time trial, triathlon and the like, are going to have a more aggressive riding position and more responsive set-up – great for improving your PB and winning medals, but not so good for greater distance or time in the saddle. Likewise, a more comfortable sportive geometry will be more relaxed allowing you to ride longer in relative comfort and be more suitable for training, commuting and pleasure riding. So choose your weapon wisely.
Now that you know what you want from your bike, you can look at the kind of frame that will help you achieve your goals. But first you need to settle on your budget, as this will guide you as much as the type of riding you’ll be doing. If you’ve only got £400 to spend, for example, then you won’t be looking at carbon, and you won’t find a bike to seriously stack up against the competition at the Sunday club meet. But you certainly can pick up a decent entry-level road bike for this little, and you have quite a choice. But once you breach the £700-1000 mark, your options open right up and you can find an excellent competitive ride with high-quality components and modern technology that’s shared with the manufacturer’s flagship bikes in the range.
Frame material is primarily chosen for two key properties: weight and strength. But your budget may play a part here too. The most popular frame material is aluminium as it’s nice and light and these days, using the myriad construction techniques available, can be made to be pretty tough too, and it can be relatively inexpensive. Ride quality is much better than it used to be, again, thanks to modern tubing design and construction techniques, such as hydroforming. However, there is an array of material quality and manufacturing techniques, and two frames made of the same material can have completely different riding characteristics and quality, depending on geometry, tube shape, welding etc. It’s highly recommended that you try before you buy and a Bike Fit is a great way to find out what bike suits you.
Carbon frames are no longer the unreachable holy grail of road bikes and you can pick up a taught carbon-framed bike without breaking the bank. However, to reach an affordable price point and offer the all-attractive carbon frame everyone seems to want, a manufacturer might scrimp elsewhere on the bike, with lower spec components than you might get on an aluminium bike, which may in turn actually be lighter than the carbon bike as a result, and also offer a more comfortable ride. Carbon isn’t the be-all and end-all, especially if the rest of the bike doesn’t match up. But frames can be upgraded with better kit, so it’s up to you whether you’re willing to compromise on the quality of your drivetrain, wheels and components just to have a light, upgradeable frame.
More recently steel has seen a bit of a renaissance and is a wonderful material for building bikes with, as it always has been. Steel offers greater comfort than other materials, but of course is heavier. However, modern forming processes and techniques are seeing steel frames squaring up to comparable alloy and carbon items, with manufacturers such as Genesis producing beautiful light and strong frames using Reynolds heat-treated 953 tubing. If you’re a fan of craftsmanship and love to ogle at a lovely bit of welding, maybe steel is for you.
The service I received from Uldis whilst having my bike fit was simply exemplary. I rode out with a group last night and the whole experience was improved by the two hours spent with Uldis. I would have paid double! The service you provide differentiates you from other bike shops and Uldis is a great ambassador. Thank you!
Second to the frame, the wheels are the next most important element of the bike as they’re obviously connecting everything else to the road. Poor wheels won’t do any justice to a good frame. However, at the entry level, much of the decision has been made for you by the manufacturer and their choice is well matched to the overall set-up.
A good lightweight wheel will have less gyroscopic force and therefore turn quicker, and a decent low-profile tyre with low rolling resistance will carry you forward quicker. You’d be wise to choose your bike based on the quality of the wheels, providing the frame matches your needs, as it’s a fundamental part of the overall experience and an expensive component to upgrade later on.
The next factor is probably the most important as, even if you’re on the right type of bike for your riding, if it doesn’t fit you, you’re wasting your time (and energy and money). Too big a bike and you’ll be swamped, over-stretching to reach the bars, straining your back, and simply struggling for proper control. Too small and you’ll be cramped, you won’t be in the right position to put power through the pedals and you’ll look a bit of a tool, especially every time you knee yourself in the face. The right fit is critical on a road bike if you want the most from it and don’t want to create the conditions to develop injuries later on.
Simply taking professional advice in any of Rutland Cycling’s stores from the qualified staff will point you in the right direction. Taking your shortlist for a test ride is essential; you need to feel comfortable on it and this is the only way of finding out before committing. All Rutland Cycling stores offer test rides, with options to have a bike delivered for you to test the whole weekend and have collected when you’re finished. Alternatively, there are options to rent many of the most popular models to ride around any of the store’s surrounding cycle routes, so you can spend enough time in the saddle to make a fair judgement.
But for utter precision, getting measured with a bespoke motion capture bike fitting service, such as the Body Geometry studio at Rutland Cycling’s Whitwell store, is the way forward. It’s the Saville Row of bike tailoring, and you’ll know exactly what size bike you’ll need and how to set it up afterwards.
Gearing and Components
Your drivetrain is what converts your leg power into forward momentum and these days, even on the most modestly priced rides, the level of quality is surprisingly good on entry level bikes. Shimano is the name you’re most likely to see, offering gearing systems to appease the novice and expert alike. Gone are the days of reaching down to a lever on the downtube to change gears, as smooth, slick shifts occur at the flick of the brake lever. These are STI levers (Shimano Total Integration), combining shifting and braking into one unit.
The quality of the rear derailleur system will determine how smooth your shifts are, and the number of cogs on your rear cassette will determine your spread of gears. When people speak of a 9-speed or 10-speed bikes, they generally refer to the rear cassette. This is only the total number of gears if you have a single chainset - the part the pedals are connected to. At this level you’ll likely have a compact chainset, offering two rings with around 34 teeth on the smaller and around 50 on the larger ring. Compact chainsets offer a good spread of gears, making them suitable for different styles of riding, and largely replacing the traditional triple chainset due to its lighter weight and simplicity. A standard chainset offers higher gearing for faster speeds and is more likely to be found on mid to higher spec race bikes. You might want to go for a standard chainset if there are no hills where you live or want a focused race machine.
As for brakes, they are most often the rim caliper style, as these are lightweight and effective, but you can find mountain bike-style disc brakes on some road bikes which work better in the rain and so are ideal for winter training set-ups.
So now you have your bike, but what else would we recommend before you set off? Well, a helmet for one. Don’t even consider hitting the road without one, literally. And riding in jeans isn’t going to help you set any personal bests, so you might want to look at some proper riding shorts. Yes, tight Lycra shorts; it’s a rite of passage.
What kind of pedals does your new bike have? Are they SPD clip-in style? If so, you’ll need a compatible pair of shoes to clip into them. These start at around £70 but can often be picked up cheaper in rutlandcycling.com’s Sale section, as new models supercede old at the start of the season.
Then it all depends on when, where and how you ride. Commuting? Get a tough lock, some high-powered lights and high-visibility, waterproof over jacket. You may even want mudguards in the winter, so check that your frame has the appropriate eyelets to accommodate them.
Competing? How about an onboard computer to help develop your times. Planning on a longer all-day ride? Fit a water bottle cage or two. And of course, regardless of how you ride, make sure you have the tools, cleaners and workstand to keep your pride and joy maintained and on the road.
Welcome to road cycling. See you in the lanes.
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