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Guide To Racing Road Bikes

   Words by Harry Archer

   on 13/02/2018 12:15:44

hero race rpad

Summer is getting closer and closer, Grey Britain won’t stay cold for long, soon transforming itself into the beginnings of spring and the sight of Lambs and blooming flowers will be commonplace when out on your bike. But there's something else that will be spotted pounding the tarmac once the sun comes out, The race road biker. Head to toe in the latest aero clothing and not a leg hair in sight, these wily greyhounds of the cycling community peer out from behind their turbo trainers and head to the shed, taking the lightweight race-ready speed machine out of hibernation and back onto the road. But what separates a dedicated race bike from the rest of the road bike family? Simply follow this guide to find out the what's,whys and how's of race bikes and use your new-found expertise to become the fastest rider you can be, smashing your Strava records without even trying. Bikes designed for all-round road racing will have an aggressive geometry similar to that of an aero bike but often engineered to offer greater compliance and weight saving features. The best racing bikes are reactive and fast handling, allowing you to carve your way through the peloton, take corners like Valentino Rossi and bomb your way down long, winding descents. Expect a low front end for an aerodynamic position and a design that places emphasis on speed over comfort. Stiffer frames and higher gearing ratios are pretty much guaranteed as this increases your efficiency and top speed on the bike. In addition, finishing kit will be focused on being as minimalist as possible to avoid unnecessary weight and aerodynamic losses whilst the wheels are either skinny lightweight alloys or carbon aero depending on your budget. Essentially race bikes are for those who want to go fast all the time on the lightest,stiffest most efficient bike possible and can roll with the punches, without worrying about boring things like comfort and climbing without your calves exploding. If that doesn't describe you then fear not, we have lots of other guides for you - check some of them out below!

Guide To Endurance Road Bikes >What bike should I buy? >Road Bike Guide >

Geometry & Frame Material Groupsets Wheels & Tyres Brakes Our Favourites

Geometry & Frame Material

When it comes to the frame material of your race bike then quality carbon is by far the lightest, and most compliant (comfortable) material. These qualities immediately put carbon at the top of the wish list for any aspiring racer as even the smallest of weight saving,efficiency-improving features can make all the difference to performance on the road. Carbon can also be moulded into any shape – so it’s the most popular when it comes to aero and race bikes as often tubes will be tapered or adjusted in gradient and design in order to make the bike as quick and aerodynamic as possible. That being said, with the technological improvements in the manipulation and utilisation of bike frame materials over the last ten years or so ,very high-quality aluminium can actually be lighter than bad carbon whilst also offering increased strength and durability. This has made niche aluminium race bikes become a popular option amongst racers who want to rely upon their bike after a crash or not have to worry about replacing an expensive, cracked carbon frame. Most alloy/aluminium race bikes will come fitted with a carbon fork and seat-post, which will drop the overall weight of the bike and offer greater compliance and vibration dampening. It will also improve the stiffness of the frame, something that is vital in a successful racing bike as, although a stiff frame is less comfortable and forgiving than a frame with more ‘give’ in it, a stiffer frame does provide increased performance due to the fact that power is directly transferred to your wheels from your pedal stroke without any energy being needlessly lost on ‘frame flex’. It's all about being savvy with your budget, If you're spending under £1000 then an alloy/aluminium frame could be the bike for you, countering the additional weight by providing a vastly superior rider experience. However, for the time being if you've got the means the carbon is still king and will be found on 99% of the higher end of brand's racing bike ranges.

10 of Our Favourite Road Bikes Under £1000 >

Geometrically a race bike is refined in order to offer the rider the optimum riding position for speed,pedalling efficiency and aerodynamics. The dimensions and design of a frame affects how a bike will 'feel' especially in terms of handling,which is why racing frames will sport steeper angles for the fork and seat tube along with shortened seat-stays and chain-stays, creating a short-wheelbase and generally more compacted complete bike when compared to endurance-focused designs. A short head tube keeps the bars low whilst elongated top tubes help to support a flat-backed (flattening the back and reducing frontal area to minimise drag), stretched-out riding position.

tarmac extra

Approximately 85% of wind resistance encountered by a rider is due to their body so by being lower and more compacted It means your centre of gravity is lower and you'll have a much smaller head-on shape, making you more aerodynamic and allowing you to reach your top speeds with less effort. The geometry of a racing bike will force the rider to push their weight low and forward leading to less air resistance and more front wheel traction as the increased front-end mass puts more weight through the front tyre and directly increases cornering grip. Traditionally, race bikes will feature steeper steering angles and longer stems to enhance the aggressive feel to the ride whilst shorter, stiffer rear ends and deeper, rigid tube shapes all contribute to bikes that are brilliantly fast and efficient, but potentially unforgiving and uncomfortable on longer days in the saddle. For true comfort and maximum performance output there's really no substitute for a quality bike fit that will meticulously measure out your bike to your unique dimensions. It's critical to the point that even a budget aluminium racer that fits you perfectly is likely to give you far better comfort,performance and handling than a top of the range model that isn't fitted to you correctly.

Discover Bike Fitting At Rutland Cycling >

Groupset

A road bike’s groupset is the collection of components that make you stop and go including the drivetrain, shifters and brakes. Whenever you're shopping for a new bike it's generally the case that throughout a certain range, the frame remains largely the same (exception include such things like the use of different construction materials/brake set-ups ETC), with the differences between the models as you move up the price points relating to improvements in the groupset and other components. This is great for the upgraders - buying the best frames and improving components along the way - but what about if you want a race ready bike from the off? Not a problem, you just need to do your research and make sure that you get the right level of groupset for what you want to achieve. Shimano groupsets remain the most common with the hierarchy starting at Shimano Claris and topping out at Dura-Ace with Di2 electronic shifting. Other brands such as Sram and Campagnolo will feature on higher spec'd models and will offer similar hierarchal upgrades as you move up through the range. The more you spend initially on a groupset, the less likely it will clatter around like an orchestra of wolves and you won’t have to upgrade your components as time goes on.  With new technology being developed all the time it's all about finding that sweet spot between expense and performance.

spec tarmac 1

At the front, a racing bike will normally feature a gearing set-up focused on maintaining the highest speed possible at the expense of climbing ability - essentially giving you an increased number of 'higher' and reduced number of 'lower' gears. The gears at the rear (the cassette) will have very small ratios allowing for quick and seamless shifting for greater acceleration qualities. In the current market, most road bikes have two chain rings and 9, 10 or 11 cogs in the rear with race orientated bikes having the largest gears for that all-important higher top-end speed. The bigger the chain-rings the more outright speed but the massive amounts of effort needed to maintain cadence has led to the development of smaller chain-rings, known as 'compact' (The great forgiver of less abled climbers). Basically, a compact crank-set means the uphill's will be kinder on the calves, but you will lack that ultimate top end speed. You'll need to consider whether you're the type of rider who will really need that top end (unless you're a very experienced racer it's unlikely). Pay attention to what gears you use when riding and whether you feel like you’re lacking more on the top or low end and whether a higher potential top speed or better climbing ability is likely to improve your overall times and race success - If its the former then go for standard, if you need the boost on the hills then compact is the way to go.

As you move up the hierarchy of groupsets there are some common features to look out for , with each improving with the more you pay (In theory):

  • Weight - Generally the higher end group sets will be lighter (sometimes made from carbon fibre or titanium).
  • Shifting - The gearing will be smoother and more efficient shift on more expensive groupsets.
  • Braking power –Brakes are often more powerful and responsive.
  • Ease of use - Higher-end group sets tend to have more ergonomic hood designs and intuitive brake and gear lever integration.
  • Visuals - Companies invest in making their higher-end group sets look the part with nice finishes, colours and paint jobs.

emonda groupy

    Wheels & Tyres

    Most 'complete' road bikes come with entry level wheelsets when purchased. Wheels are one of the first and most common early upgrades that can make a big difference to your ride by reducing those all important weight and aero figures. The tyres you go for will depend on the weather and terrain in the location of your ride, with the traditional 23mm tyre rarely seen these days due to the market shift to wider 25mm tyres that enhance the cornering ability of the bike. All road bikes come with slick or very lightly treaded tyres to reduce resistance with the road and increase rolling efficiency to maintain speed. Tyres are a personal choice and are easy to change ride-to-ride but as a general rule, race bikes favouring aerodynamics and speed will typically be fitted with the skinniest tyres possible for the conditions. It's worth noting that wider tyres (25mm and above) can be run at lower pressures to provide a smoother ride. Two millimetres may not seem like much, but the difference in ride feel is huge, gripping like a gang of leeches whilst still being as fast as ever. Although there is a small weight penalty - Unless you are racing a time trial or are dedicated to the gains down to the last gram then go with a 25mm or wider option and save yourself from the discomfort - you'll probably end up performing far better as you won't be so fatigued from all that road buzz and the added grip ensures you’ll be safer from the misery of falling off and sustaining a couple of black eyes..at best.

    29075532721_38ffe89ee2_o

    Brakes

    Calliper (rim) brakes have, until recently,  been top-dog when it comes to brake systems in the road bike category. This was especially true in race bikes as they are the most aerodynamic and lightweight braking system available to the cycling market. However, the last 5 years has seen Disc brakes becoming the go-to option for manufacturers. Disc brakes offer more effective braking, especially in the wet when compared to rim brakes.The cheaper, Mechanical disc brakes use a steel cable to move the pistons, whilst the more expensive hydraulic discs are even more reliable and use a sealed, fluid filled system. Disc brakes are becoming increasingly common on high-end race bikes ( A UCI ban on disc brakes in the pro races initially slowed their introduction but as opinion amongst manufacturers has shifted to become fully supportive of this technological development, the UCI have backed down on their ruling.) As with all new developments there has been hesitation over the universal adoption of disc brakes and it's still very much a ‘marmite situation’ with some people really behind the idea and others vociferously refusing to abandon ship on the old-school feel of calliper breaks. Though it may cause the latter a small nervous breakdown, ultimately disc brakes on road bikes are here to stay and their benefits to rider safety via their power, reliability and modulation cannot be ignored. As innovation continues, Disc brake wheels can now be designed to be very light and aerodynamic as they don’t require a braking surface and have central rotating mass that doesn't negatively affect the balance of the bike. Remember that that the majority of rim brake bikes cannot be converted to discs and vice versa, so once you've made your choice there's no going back unless you buy a brand new bike. Talk about commitment!

    race road calliper

    Your road bike will come nearly complete but you can just ride around looking like you’ve just been regurgitated up from the belly of a shark, You will need to make sure you have got the essential accessories and clothing to hit the road and feel the part. Follow our comprehensive clothing and accessory guides and you'll be well on your way to rocking the 'casually deliberate' look all roadies aspire too.

    Cycle Clothing Guide >Essential Cycling Accessories >Guide To Women's Cycling Clothing >

    Our Favourite Race Road Bikes This Year

    Specialized Tarmac 2018

    The new Tarmac is the lightest bike Specialized have ever produced, but what makes it so outstanding is its completeness as a race bike. Its handling is sublime, regardless of frame size, while its aero advantage slays the competition.Through their partnership with Retül, Specialized have access to over 40,000 rider's digital fit data, and through this, they have changed how they tackle their approach to fit and frame geometry. They analyse fit data not by gender, but simply by experience. For competitive road riders, they looked at the collective of all riders' stack and reach of the handlebar positions and concluded that there was no statistical difference in position correlating to gender. There was, however, the need to accommodate for handlebar width, crank-arm length, and saddle preferences, which lead to the creation of separate models of Men's and Women's Tarmacs bikes built on shared frame geometries. It certainly won’t be the geometry that kills the rhythm when riding on the Tarmac.

    Via another partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies, Specialized have integrated a structural analysis simulation into the build process that led to a design that sees three unique forks for the different frame sizes of the Tarmac. Each fork attaches to the frame through a 1.5-inch lower bearing, while a new carbon layup was developed in painstaking detail. Through these technologies, all seven sizes have tailored levels of stiffness - making the experience for each rider stiff, yet compliant, snappy, yet aero, and of course, fast. Aerodynamics is the most important factor when it comes to going faster, but it’s clear that Specialized didn't want to add one gram or change stiffness at all in this pursuit. They therefore discovered three areas where they could add aero for free. This was achieved via a new fork shape, dropped seat-stays with aero tubes, and a d-shaped seat-post and seat tube. The result? A bike that’s approximately 45 seconds faster over 40 kilometres compared to other lightweight bikes in the same weight category.

    View The Full Range Of Specialized Tarmac >

    Specialized S Works Tarmac SL6 wins at the World Champs >

    Trek Emonda 2018

    Trek's aim for this years Emonda range was all about making the lightest lighter. Every detail of the Émonda line, from frame design to each component choice on every model, serves the same audacious goal. That goal is to create the lightest line of production road bikes ever offered. Émonda is the ultimate lightweight road racing machine, pushing the boundaries of what's possible for bicycle weight and ride performance. This years model elevates Trek ride performance to a whole new level. Custom ride-tuned OCLV Carbon frame provides the perfect balance of stiffness and weight.

    In-depth Trek Emonda 2018 Range Review >

    View The Full Range Of Trek Emonda 2018 >

    Giant TCR Advanced 2018

    TCR is an abbreviation of Total Compact Road. A Giant brand-specific term, it's characterized by a top tube that slopes downward. This leads to smaller, stiffer and lighter frames than the use of a  horizontal top tube which was once the standard for road bikes. Giant uses its OverDrive steerer (tapered steerer) throughout the range to improve front-end handling whilst the fitting of a composite seat-post right up from the bottom of the range gives more saddle comfort than an alloy alternative.

    OverDrive

    The frameset is compatible with electronic groupsets as well as cable-operated shifting which is great for future upgrades you may wish to make as you develop. Sold in five sizes from S up to XL, there’s a frame to fit riders from 167cm right up to 194cm tall. On paper there appears to be six TCR Advanced sub-families, three of them are disc versions of framesets which are also available as rim braked bikes. So in reality there's only three different models within the range: TCR Advanced, TCR Advanced Pro and TCR Advanced SL.

    View The Full Range Of Giant TCR Advanced 2018 >

    New Giant & Liv Bikes for 2018: Our Picks >

    Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Disc 2018 Carbon

    cannondale-supersix-evo-dura-ace-disc-2018-carbon-road-bike-black

    Balancing pure race performance with the ultimate stopping control, Cannondale's Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Disc 2018 is the future of road racing.Crafted from a high performance BallisTec carbon fibre, the Supersix Evo is light with a high level of stiffness and aero features. Equipped with Dura-Ace Disc, the Supersix Evo 2018 boasts a top of the range Dura-Ace groupset, Carbon wheels, and powerful hydraulic disc brakes.

    • Frame - BallisTec Hi-Mod Carbon
    • Fork - BallisTec Hi-Mod Carbon
    • Drivetrain - Shimano Dura-Ace 22 Speed
    • Brakes - Shimano Dura-Ace Hydraulic Disc

    Bianchi 2018 Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace Di2 55T

    Bianchi_OltreXR4DuraAceDi217

    An advanced carbon fibre frame and high-spec components come together to give the Bianchi Oltre XR4 Dura-Ace Di2 Race Bike its race-ready performance. Not all carbon is made equal, and there’s no other carbon fibre quite like Bianchi’s Countervail anti-vibration enhanced carbon. This technology is built in to the carbon fibre itself, and gives the bike impressive smoothness over harsh road surfaces. The result is a much smoother ride so you fatigue slower helping you to stay focused on even the longest stage races. These benefits are even more impressive when you factor in that the Oltre XR4 sacrifices no power transfer or stiffness for the increased comfort. The Shimano Dura Ace Di2 groupset needs no introduction, as it gives quick, precise and reliable gear shifts across the 2x11 speed drivetrain with every push of the levers. This version of the Oltre XR4 features a Fulcrum Racing Speed 55T carbon tubular wheelset.

    • Frame - Oltre XR.4 carbon w/Countervail
    • Fork - Bianchi Full Carbon Aero w/Countervail, 1.1/8>1.1/4"
    • Drivetrain - Shimano Dura Ace Di2 2x11sp
    • Brakes - Shimano Dura Ace BR-R9110 direct mount

    Liv Langma Advanced Pro 0 2018 Ladies Carbon

    giant-liv-langma-advanced-pro-0

    The Liv Langma Advanced Pro 0 is a lightweight racing bike that delivers speed, strength and responsive control so you can take your racing to a higher level. Featuring Advanced Composite technology with high performance Grade raw carbon material to give you a very high stiffness to weight ratio and allowing you to have a bike that is lighter than before while also being stronger. With 22 gears of full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset you get smooth, quick shifting as well as all the power you need to climb hills with ease and really get your wheels turning when you put your foot down. The OverDrive 2 Steerer technology is the most advanced steerer technology to date in the Liv bikes, designed to provide extremely precise front end steering performance by using oversized headset bearings, this gives the rider much more comfort in the steering getting the bike exactly where they want it. Shimano Ultegra Calliper brakes provide you with all of the stopping power, and more, that you will ever need when descending a tough climb you've just flown up.

    • Frame - Advance-Grade Carbon Composite
    • Fork - Advance-Grade Carbon Composite w/Full-Composite OverDrive 2 Steerer
    • Drivetrain - Shimano Ultegra Di2 2x11 Speed
    • Brakes - Shimano Ultegra Calliper

    Browse The Full Range Of Road Race Bikes >

    Road Bike Size Guide >

    37163923831_71f90009a6_o

    So there we have it - a comprehensive guide for you to use to find your brand new race bike. For more details contact us online, in store or read through one of our many other guides on pretty much everything within the world of cycling! For a limited time only you could even save yourself some money on your new ride, Read about Rutland Cycling's new trade-in offer and learn how your old bike can help you to finally move on to a new, shiny model.

    The Big Rutland Trade In >Contact Us >View All Guides and Advice >

    Find your nearest Rutland Cycling store

    You can browse the entire Road Bike range online, or you can get your hands on it in your nearest Rutland Cycling store.

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