Are you looking for the best road bike?
Easy tips to choose the best road bike for you
If you are thinking about getting serious into cycling, then owning a road bike, is the next natural step to take. But before you can start talking to sellers of new or second hand bikes, you’ve got to know what exactly you are looking for (Or at the very least, a rough idea). You want to avoid buying the wrong bike at the wrong price.
So before you jump in, and head to the shops with your friends, I strongly encourage you to read up first and if possible test a few road bikes before hand.
If you want to know where to begin in choosing your road bike, then please read on.
1. Know your budget
Straight up, without thinking about what types of road bikes are out there and how much you think it would cost, be honest with yourself and set a budget. The budget can either be a maximum limit or a range. What is most important though is to set the budget. Once you set the budget then you should commit yourself to staying within the budget (if possible). I understand that sometimes the budget won’t be high enough to meet the road bike of your dreams, but the reason for setting the budget in the first place is to work out, how much can you afford. If you have a high ability to spend, then that’s great! However others may not have the same ability and can only afford $1,000 because of financial constraints. Setting a budget is a good and healthy approach to take.
To give you a rough idea:
- $600USD to $800USD = minimum to average road bike
- $800USD to $1000USD = average
- $1000USD to $1200USD = good
- $1200USD to $1500USD = very good
- >$1500USD = crazy good
Driver of price differentiation
The largest driver of price differentiation is whether a road bike is alloy, hybrid carbon or full carbon. Alloy and carbon are the two most common materials at the moment for building road bike frames. The frame is probably the most critical aspect of a road bike. A good frame can make a significant difference to the speed, sturdiness, durability of a road bike.
Road bike frames
Aluminium frames: Aluminium is a material that is very strong and tough. Road bikes that are made of aluminium are usually very tough and withstand falls and other impact. Unlike carbon, it is more likely to not crack. But if there is a crack, it can be easily spotted and be repaired to its previous durability and strength. Aluminium road bikes, however, are heavier than carbon fibre made road bikes. The weight for a frame, for many serious cyclists is a huge factor in choosing their perfect road bike.
Choose aluminium if you are:
- starting out
- on a tight budget
- have not ridden for on the road for more than 6 months
(if you have a few falls, the aluminium will be stronger to withstand, and it won’t hurt your bank).
Carbon frames: Carbon fibre made frames for road bikes are much lighter than alloy road bikes, and in some instances are just as strong and durable as an alloy road bike. However, should there be a crack in the carbon frame it is usually extremely difficult to detect with the naked eye, and a mechanic will need to be seen to ensure that there is no crack. If there is a crack, it is extremely expense to repair. In fact, it is more than likely cheaper to simply buy a brand new carbon frame, than have the cracked one repaired. Carbon made frames are also more expensive than the alloy frames.
Choose carbon if you:
- have built a good level of riding experience
- you feel you will continue to ride regularly
- you’ve had your fair share of falls
- you have the budget, and
- weight of the bike is important.
Composite frames: Some road bike frames are made with a mixture of carbon and alloy. For example, the fork of some frames are carbon whilst the remaining body is alloy. Using a mixture, allows for a different price range to be offered, and provides a middle ground for cyclists.
Choose composite if you want:
- something in between alloy and carbon frames
- if you don’t have the budget for carbon,
- but want something to be lighter than aluminium.
Titanium frames: The new tough style frame which costs a lot of $. Titanium frames are considered as probably the toughest frames out there. I was told once that you could throw the bike around with no fear (a bit of an exaggeration in my opinion). Nevertheless the point is, you don’t have to be as careful as the carbon frames, and yet, they are lighter than alloy and just as strong.
Choose titanium if you:
- have a high budget range,
- want a something that is tougher than carbon yet still light
- you have ridden for many months and
- have built a lot of road riding experience.
Titanium frames are the most expensive, are for the seasoned rider.
Steel frames: The good old steel material that was latter replaced by titanium frames. You will find plenty of old school road bike frames made of steel. Strong and tough, but unfortunately on the heavy side. They can withstand minor nicks, dents and scratches for many years. Deterioration in a steel bike is gradual and noticeable before it becomes too dangerous to ride.
Choose steel frame bikes if:
- you like going old school,
- you want a sturdy, classic, and cool bike look
- Or you want toughness and durability
Probably the next most expensive part (or rather group of parts) of the bike is the groupset. The groupset is a combination of the drivetrain, shifters and brakes. The groupset are the components that help make you stop and push the bike forward. There are quality and durability contributes significantly to the comfort and speed of the ride. There is oligopoly of the market for groupsets, controlled by three companies: Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. Each of these three companies produce the standard and the premium groupsets, that aren’t interchangeable with each other.
If you are starting out, the most popular would be Shimano.
There are so many other aspects that can drive a price of a road bike higher or lower. Wheels are an example that can cost up to $5,000 each. With so many parts to a road bicycle, many companies have focused on specializing on components, and thus can charge a premium for their most high tech, light and durable products.
2. Aero vs Endurance
Not always the case, but more often than not, the design of the road bike will be built for endurance or speed. And then you have many that are in between. And just like many consumer goods in life, if you are either extremely short or extremely tall, you will have a hard time finding the right bike for you. There are less variety of road bikes at the extreme range (because there isn’t enough demand unfortunately) and as a result there may be instances where you will need to compromise.
Endurance Road Bikes
I feel that endurance road bikes are the most popular at the moment for those who are in it for the social aspect, for the fun, and are more or less starting out. Endurance road bikes position the rider more upright, less crouched, and in general have a more comfortable ride. Bumpy rides are absorbed better with endurance bikes.
To qualify, endurance road bikes are designed for the long rides, to ease the discomfort of being in the saddle for hours. A long ride would probably be one hour and more. Anything less than 30 minutes would probably considered a short ride.
Choose an endurance bike if:
- you are looking for longer ride,
- commuting to and from work,
- wanting a bit of comfort on the ride.
Aero Road Bikes
Aero road bikes are generally more for the serious riders who are looking for speed. These bikes are built with premium light weight material, and often are carbon fibre. The components are also designed and built with aerodynamics in mind, and maybe less interchangeable with “normal” bikes. As an example the seat post for some aero bikes are tapered so that it cuts through the wind easier, this means you will need to buy backlights which can fit the shape of the seat post, costing further dollars as these lights are not common.
In general the ride for aero road bikes is harsher, but there is more power and is far lighter. The position of the rider is more crouched, resulting in a more aero dynamic body. In general, there is also far less stability and control than an endurance bike.
Choose an aero bike if:
- you can compromise comfort for speed
- want that edge,
- have a high end budget,
- and you are a medium to serious rider.
3. New or Second hand
This is always a hot topic for road cyclists. Should you buy brand new or go with the second hand? For consideration is your budget, your time, and your ability to ask the right questions when looking for a road bike.
Naturally new bikes are more expensive than used bikes. In general, they are approximately 20% to 30% more expensive than the used version. If you like, this is very similar to when buying a new car. What you get when buying a new road bike from a shop, is the comfort that there are no detrimental damages, the bike shop should have fitted it for you so it’s sized properly and you have upgraded (or downgraded) some components to your liking. Buying brand new, in theory, should be easier and quicker. Your local bike shop should be able to cater for what you are looking for.
Second hand bikes on the other hand can result is great savings – giving you more bang for your buck. But you should be quite clear in what you are looking for. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to compare various second hand bikes. The risk of buying second hand, is that there could be undetectable damage to the bike. Of particular danger is a fractured or split frame. The last thing you want is to ride a road bike which falls apart on your if you hit a small bump. Not only do you waste your money, but it can also lead to significant injuries and hospital bills.
Choose a new bike if:
- you want to be sure of the quality
- you want a good fit
- unsure of what you ideally want and need sales advice
- willing to spend that extra $ for the safety and knowledge
Choose a second hand bike if you:
- know what you are looking for
- know how to compare bikes and pricing
- are willing to spend the time looking at bikes
- want to save money
- know the risks of purchasing a damaged bike
When choosing a road bike to own, take note of where you are in terms of bicycle experience. If you are only just starting out, my suggestion is go with second hand aluminium bikes. They are sturdy, cheaper, and allows you to further develop your sense of road cycling. From there you can then upgrade, sell the old road bike, and steer yourself in the right direction, whether it be with a new bike or with another second hand bike.
What ever choice you make, make sure you’ve done the research and above all, if in doubt, consider safety first.