What is a Road Bike?
Road bikes (also known as racing bikes) are easy to recognise, with their drop handlebars, 28-inch (700c) wheels and narrow tyres – they’re what the professionals use to conquer the mileage and mountains of races like the Tour de France. The large wheels and thin tyres of a road bike help it roll over tarmac very efficiently, while its light, aerodynamic frame helps you travel faster up and down the hills.
Why buy a Road Bike?
Road bikes are the perfect tool for going fast or covering longer distances on tarmac. They’re ideal for club rides, road racing and fitness training, and are also a great choice for commuting. Developments in modern engineering mean most new models weigh below 10 kilogrammes (you can even pick up some with one finger). This makes riding up hills much easier and more enjoyable.
Are there different types of Road Bike?
Road Race Bikes
Ideal for traditional road riding, road race bikes combine the most up-to-date technologies to create lightweight, aerodynamic speed-machines. Frames are usually very stiff – made of high-end alloy or carbon fibre – to help transfer every watt of power from the pedals to the road, meaning handling is very responsive.
Sportive/Endurance Road Bikes
Sportive/Endurance bikes are similar versions of the bikes used in races like Paris-Roubaix, where rider comfort is absolutely essential for peak performance. Their frames are designed to flex in key areas to reduce vibrations from potholes and rough roads, and some models feature disc brakes for efficient braking in all weather conditions. They often hit the sweet spot between speed, comfort and weight, making them extremely popular for regular riders.
Aero and Semi-Aero Road Bikes
Aero road bikes travel the fastest along flat roads, with an aggressive, ‘tucked’ riding position, aerodynamic frame to reduce drag, and ultra-stiff handling. They are a little heavier than road race bikes, due to all the aero enhancements, so they’ll be slower ascending the hills than an equivalent spec road race bike. The latest semi-aero road bikes borrow some features from the endurance genre, making them a less harsh ride, while remaining ultra fast and responsive. They can be ridden safely in a group (unlike time trial (‘TT’) bikes, which are designed for solo racing).
Flat-bar Road Bikes
Flat bar road bikes look very similar to traditional hybrid bikes, with flat handlebars and a more upright position to increase the rider’s visibility. However, they feature the narrower tyres and speed-focussed gearing of road bikes, making them perfect for quick urban commuting or simply a more relaxed position for those who don’t like drop handlebars.
What type of Road Bike should I buy?
This is a question that even the most experienced cyclists ask themselves. The type of road bike to look for will be determined by your experience level, fitness and what kind of riding you want to do.
Beginners to road cycling
Sportive/endurance road bikes are a popular choice if you’re new to road riding. They have a more relaxed geometry, so they tend to be more comfortable and make for an easier transition if you’re used to riding a hybrid or mountain bike. Entry-level models offer great value for money, making the riding sensations of high-end road bikes more affordable by using different materials and trickle-down technology.
If you prefer a more upright position, you may find a flat bar road bike an even better option.
Commuting and fitness riding
As for beginners, sportive/endurance or flat bar road bikes are both good options. With their more relaxed, upright geometry, they offer a comfortable riding position and are easier to get used to if you’ve previously ridden a hybrid or mountain bike. If you’re planning to carry luggage and/or ride in all weathers, you’ll want to choose a model with rack and mudguard mounts.
Sportives, long distance and mixed terrain
This kind of riding can range from 20 miles in distance to 100+ miles, so speed and comfort become important. The smoother ride qualities of sportive/endurance bikes are perfect for those looking to experience the satisfaction of ‘the century’, whilst their similarity to race bikes offers the speed needed to keep up with the fast guys in the local club. Wider tyres also mean you can ride more confidently on bumpy roads, or go off the beaten track when the opportunity arises.
Club riding and racing
If you’re already enjoying the benefits from taking up cycling and want to step up to the next level, you might be considering joining a cycling club or entering a local race. The lightweight, stiff frames of road race bikes will really make the difference here, offering the speed and responsive handling you need to keep up with opponents or beat your friends up the local hill.
If out-and-out speed is what you’re looking for, then an aero road bike will deliver. It’s the bike most commonly ridden by the pros as its aerodynamic features will give you the advantage – and the latest semi-aero models blend some features from endurance road bikes, too, making them a less harsh ride, while remaining ultra fast and responsive.
What should I look for when buying a Road Bike?
The two most popular road bike frame materials are alloy (aluminium) and carbon fibre composites. Alloy is strong and lightweight and offers the best value for money. Different grades of alloy frame are available, with more premium versions having better compliance features, to give you a smoother ride. Carbon fibre is the more premium material. It’s as strong as aluminium, while being significantly smoother and lighter. It’s also stiffer than aluminium, making a carbon bike feel more responsive. Premium carbon composite frames use sophisticated engineering techniques to enhance carbon’s natural vibration-dampening qualities, for an exceptionally smooth, fast and responsive ride.
Some alloy road bikes feature a carbon fork, bringing the added benefits of better steering control and a smoother, more comfortable ride over bumpy roads.
Steel and Titanium frame road bikes are also available and offer impeccable ride quality. The price point tends to be higher than an equivalently-specced alloy or carbon frame bike, as they are finely crafted and cost more to produce.
Groupset (also known as drivetrain) components encompass the bike’s gears and brakes. The quality of groupset you choose makes a big difference to how the bike feels to ride, so go for the best groupset you can afford. Premium groupsets are lighter, with smoother, faster shifting and more gear choice. Electronic shifting is also available at the top end, to make gear changes very smooth. Road bike manufacturers feature groupsets from Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo, each of which have a range of models, catering for different performance levels and price points.
In addition to component quality, it’s also important to consider the range of your gears. Wide ranging gears – with smaller (50/34 tooth) chainrings at the front, and a larger (11-32 tooth) cassette at the back – allow beginners to spin the pedals easily or get up really steep climbs. Narrow range gears – with larger (52/34 or 54/34 tooth) chainrings and/or a smaller (11-28 or 11-25 tooth) cassette – are more traditional and are perfect for making small changes in cadence at high speeds, but you will need to work harder on the climbs.
Normal rim (calliper) brakes are still the most common and affordable road bike brakes on the market. On higher-end models, they are also much lighter which means the overall weight of the bike is kept to a minimum. However, disc brakes are becoming more popular on road bikes, due to their better modulation and versatility, as rim brakes can lose performance in particularly wet conditions.
Wheels and Tyres
Wheels are one of the most varied components available. Usually, more expensive race bikes will have either lightweight or aerodynamic wheels to aid climbing or speed respectively (usually at a cost of one or the other). More versatile wheels have more spokes to increase strength and aid longevity, striking a good balance between climbing efficiency and speed on flat roads. Tyres are one of the fastest-developing areas of the road bike market, with the transition to wider road tyres proving popular for professionals and enthusiasts alike. Wider tyres (25-28c) offer a smoother, more comfortable ride and allow for greater flexibility in the terrain you can ride on, but some riders still favour a more traditional narrow tyre (23c), as they offer the least rolling resistance on smooth tarmac.
Versatility and Details
If you want to use your bike for a variety of reasons and destinations, it is important to consider the details. For example, you might want a bike that can go quick at the weekend but also take you to work on Monday. On the other hand, you may want a bike to just enjoy the local roads and occasional venture onto some rough tracks. Look for details like rack and mudguard mounts, and tyre clearance (for example if you want to swap out for knobblier tyres, for winter riding or rougher terrain), as these will give you greater flexibility in your riding style.