Riding a bike is a great activity that keeps you active as well as providing a unique way of meeting new people and experiencing your surroundings. It is a enjoyable way to connect with your kids and enjoy family time together. It's also a great way to stay fit at any age due to the lack of impact on your muscles and joints.
When it comes time purchase a new bike, there is a plethora of options that can be daunting. To help you make an informed decision we've created the ultimate guide to buying a road bike to help you sort through all the information and find the perfect bike for you.
To start with consider some of these questions;
What type of riding are you doing now?
What type of riding do you intend to do in the future?
What is your budget?
What is your cycling ability?
Some of these questions are easier to answer than others, and some will impact the final decision more so than others.
For example, if you intend to race your bike then bikes featuring disc brakes are out (for the time being). If you live in a flat area with not a hill in sight, a bike with aerodynamic features or additional comfort is most likely going to be a better investment than a super lightweight climbing bike. If you just need a solid commuter bike for work and perhaps some recreational riding on the weekends then you can afford to be thrifty and forgo the bells and whistles. And if you're not a high-level cyclist but very enthusiastic about your riding and have the money to spend, why not go all out and get the bike of your dreams?
What is a road bike and why is it better than other bikes?
A road bike is distinguishable by a few key details;
Lightweight frame: All road bikes have a relatively light frame when compared to other cycling disciplines. As we will cover, there are multiple types of frame materials, shapes and purposes for road bikes but they are universally lightweight.
Skinny tyres: Tyres on a road bike are typically 23mm or 25mm, with some endurance orientated tyres at 28mm. It's rare for tyres on road bikes to be any larger than 30mm although touring and 'all-road' bikes require the extra width for security and grip when off-road.
No suspension: Unlike mountain bikes, road bikes do not feature suspension. Most surfaces covered on a road bike are flat and smooth, not requiring the extra comfort that suspension provides. If road bike users do require additional comfort, it's normally in the form of wider tyres or inbuilt compliance to the frame and fork.
Multiple gears: Road bikes will normally have two cogs on the front crank set and up to 11 gears on the rear cassette providing up to 22 gears. The large span of gears allows riders to cover any kind of profile no matter how steep and make riding easy (or hard) if they choose.
These features make travelling large distances on a road bike easier than on other bikes, faster too!
Which type of road bike?
There are many types of road bikes available to specifically cater for the terrain or type of riding you do. There are 'aero' bikes for flat roads, 'lightweight' bikes for hills, 'endurance' bikes for long km, 'all-road' bikes for adventure riding and 'recreational' bikes that are just for fun.
Below is a description of each to help you decide which type of bike suits you.
Aero roads bike are built for one thing... speed! They are not overly concerned with weight or comfort. It's all about cheating the wind and saving watts. Aero road bikes are distinguishable from other roads bike by their large tube profiles, deep section wheels, and total integration.
Tube profiles on aero bikes are generally larger than other road bikes to create a more aerodynamic profile and are shaped to reduce drag. This causes the overall weight of the bike to be greater than other road bikes. Deep dish wheels are another feature of aero road bikes.
Integration on aero road bikes is key. Everything on an aero road bike is hidden out of the wind (cables, brakes, etc). The tube profiles are even moulded to conform to the shape of the wheels.
Thanks to the larger tube profiles, aero road bikes are typically also incredibly stiff, making them the bike of choice for people that race and like to sprint. They come with a narrow wheelbase, short headtube and aggressive geometry.
Endurance road bikes are fast becoming the most popular form of road bike with their relaxed geometry, stable ride and focus on comfort. Endurance road bikes are distinguishable from other road bikes by having a longer wheelbase, longer headtube, relaxed geometry, and in recent times coming with disc brakes as standard. In addition to those qualities, endurance road bikes will also typically have a compact drivetrain set-up (scroll down for more details on 'compact' set-ups), greater clearance allowing for bigger tyres, and additional vibration damping mechanisms to further smooth out the road.
Endurance road bikes are sometimes called 'Sportives,' as they are perfectly suited to endurance road riding and Gran Fondos.
When you think endurance, don't think slow. Very often a manufacturers endurance bike is made from the same material as the top of the line lightweight or aero bike and shares similar groupsets and wheelsets. The additional compliance (bike lingo for comfort) is what sets endurance bikes apart from others.
Lightweight bikes are the bike of choice for general classification contenders in the pro peloton and riders who enjoy seeking out some elevation.
Lightweight bikes are agile, high-performing machines that focus on keeping weight down above all else. They don't have the aero tube shapes and profile of an aerodynamic bike or the elongated headtube and wheelbase of an endurance bike. Instead, they have featherlight frames and are designed to perform at their best when climbing mountains.
Many lightweight bikes from manufacturers are under the UCI's minimum bike weight of 6.8kg as the public aren't required to conform to these regulations. As a result, a mini arms race is taking place to achieve the lowest weight possible, some even falling below 5kg.
Extremely new, All-road bikes fall into a very broad category that allows the rider to access all types of terrain on one bike. In order to do this, the bike needs to be durable, comfortable and have sufficient performance features. Adventure bikes will typically have a higher bottom bracket to provide extra clearance for obstacles, great clearance for wider tyres, disc brakes for optimal performance in all weather conditions, and lower gear ratios to cater for easier riding or extreme profiles.
Touring bikes are a slightly different category to all-road bikes and not so focused on the performance aspect of riding. Touring bikes are heavier than other road bikes with the emphasis on comfort and longevity. Fenders and rack mount are commonplace, as are disc brakes and easy pedaling gear ratios. Steel is often used for the frame thanks to its durability, plush ride and low cost.
For these type of bikes, the tyres are likely to be 30mm or above, disc brakes are preferable, and they will weigh more than a performance orientated road bike. Flat bar or drop handlebars could be used and it's not uncommon to see varying types of frame material depending on where the bike sits along the spectrum of performance, comfort and price.
Recreational or Fitness bike
Recreational bikes forgo the bells and whistles of performance road bikes (actually they do come with bells) and focus on comfort and practicality. They are best suited to new riders who are looking to be active and easily get from A to B. These bikes will typically have flat bars, wider tyres, flat pedals and easy-pedaling gear ratios.
They are a great introduction to cycling or the perfect all-purpose machine for those who don't take their cycling too seriously.
Flat bar road bike
Any bike that features a 'flat bar' can be considered a flat bar road bike but the quality and purpose can vary greatly. As mentioned above most recreational bikes will feature a flat bar but it's not uncommon to see a more performance orientated frame with a flat bar instead of drop handlebars.
In a true flat bar road bike, the shifting mechanics differ to a drop bar, but the general performance and equipment aren't compromised.
Budget is the biggest question and the biggest limiting factor when purchasing a road bike. The price range for a road bike is enormous, entry level recreational road bikes start at AU$300 and extend to over AU$10,000 for elite performance road bikes.
Regardless of your price range, you can pick up a great bike that will serve your purpose. Spending more money on a bike will typically (but not always) result in a reduction of weight, increased stiffness, improved shift quality, increased durability and greater comfort.
The materials of the bike's frame and fork will change as the price increases, typically moving from steel to aluminium to carbon fibre. Groupsets will have a similar progression starting with low grade alloys, then progressing to higher grade allows, then a mix of the highest grade alloys, carbon fibre and titanium. Wheelsets follow a similar path from aluminium to carbon fibre and will have ceramic bearings at higher price points which reduce friction, consequently reducing resistance and rolling faster.
Below is a summary of what you can expect within a set budget.
Bikes of this price range are targeted towards the recreational cyclists with some performance elements but are mostly based on durability and versatility. As a result, bikes in this price range will normally have an 8 or 9-speed cassette on the back with a double or triple crankset on the front providing either 16, 18, 24 or 27 gears for easy pedaling ratios. The frame is most likely to be made from aluminium or steel and the fork from carbon, aluminium or steel. The wheelset and tyres will be heavy and robust but can easily be upgraded to provide more performance-orientated handling.
At this price point the biggest question becomes whether to choose an aluminium or carbon fibre frame. Entry-level carbon fibre frames become available at this price point and so the decision can be confusing. Both materials are capable of being light weight, stiff and providing a comfortable ride. While the answer will vary based on specific brand, our advice is to typically pick a high-end alloy frame over a basic carbon one. As a side perk, the alloy-framed bikes will typically feature better components for the same money.
The focus of bikes in this price range shifts from recreational to performance. Total weight of the bike decreases, shifting becomes crisper and general speed typically increases. Performance features like aerodynamic tube profiles, deep profile wheels and race geometry can be found at this price point, as can advanced comfort features.
Bikes within this price range will likely have an 11-speed cassette on the back with a double crankset on the front. SRAM Rival or Shimano 105 and Ultegra are the groupsets you will typically find. The frame will be made from high-quality aluminium or carbon fibre, with the fork almost exclusively carbon fibre The wheelset will be lighter and possibly even made from carbon fibre if you really search for a bargain. Tyres will become more supple and provide less rolling resistance making it easier to go faster.
Most frames within this price range will be made using carbon fibre and it's just a question of the groupset and wheels that accompany it.
Now we are starting to get to the pointy end of road bikes. Bikes within this price range share similar high-performance features and you're unlikely to find a lemon when spending this kind of money. The biggest decision to be made in this price range is which type of bike to buy as bikes become distinctively split in this group between aerodynamic, lightweight or endurance.
Regardless of which type you choose, once again weight of the bike goes down, shifting is further enhanced and wheelsets are light and aerodynamic. Bikes within this price range will all have an 11-speed cassette with a double crankset on the front. The following groupsets will feature on bikes within this range; SRAM Rival, Force and Red, Shimano Ultegra and Dura-Ace and Campagnolo Potenza and Chorus. Both electronic and mechanical shifting groupsets can be found at this price point.
The frame and fork will be varying grades of carbon fibre and will mostly likely be paired with a carbon fibre set of wheels or a high-end alloy option.
Differentiating the performance of bikes at this point becomes harder because the amount of improvement isn't relative to the amount of money spent. As a result, deciding on a bike in this price range will be largely based on personal preferences rather than one bike performing better than another.
At this price range you can expect a high-grade carbon fibre frame and fork that is light, stiff and compliant. Additionally you'll experience precise shifting and carbon fibre wheelsets that are light and aerodynamic. Electronic groupsets begin to be common at this point as does top-of-the-line SRAM Red, Shimano Dura Ace and Campagnolo Record and Super Record.
It's not uncommon for people to spend over $10,000 on a road bike and in most cases, those bikes will be some form of professional race bike replica, 'BeSpoke' creation or have customised features.
It's important to know that once you've purchased a bike, the job isn't over. Assuming you have cycling shoes and kit, additional purchases in the form of shoes, pedals and bottle cages will still be required. It's worth either put some additional money aside for these items or trying to get them included in the price of the bike.
Other common accessories that are essential for riding your bike are lights, spare tyres and tubes, tyre levers, a hand pump and multi tool.
Road bikes are commonly made from either carbon fibre, aluminium, titanium, steel or a combination of these materials. Each material has different characteristics and will affect the cost, comfort, weight and general 'feel' of the bike. It's worth noting that it's often how the chosen material is used by the engineers and manufacturers that matters most, and this is something that each brand will typically play with.
Below is a summary of each type of material, check out our Frame Material Explained Guide for a more in-depth description.
Once upon a time, carbon fibre was found exclusively in the professional ranks due to its high cost and difficulty to work with. Over time the price has come down, manufacturing processes have improved and it is now the most common material you will see in a bike.
Carbon fibre is now easy to work with, is directional in its nature and can easily be moulded into any shape enabling manufacturers to experiment with tube profiles and frame shape to create a bike that is stiff, light, aerodynamic and comfortable. The stiffness to weight ratio of carbon fibre is the best of any material used for bikes which is why it is the universally chosen material for bikes in the professional ranks.
Carbon fibre is now used in the frame, fork, wheelset, groupset, stem, seat post, almost everything. In addition to its performance benefits, it has a longer shelf life and won't fatigue over time like other materials. It can also be used to offer great vibration damping properties providing a more comfortable ride.
A carbon fibre bike is actually a combination of carbon fibre and a resin that penetrates and bonds the fibres together. This composite material is the foundation of all carbon fibre you see on bikes. It's important to note that not every carbon fibre bike is the same. The type of carbon used, how the carbon is layered and penetration of the fibres by the resin will result in varied levels of stiffness, comfort and weight.
The downfall of carbon fibre is it can crack under excessive stress to an area such as impact from a crash or over tightening screws. Once the integrity of the carbon has failed, the material can become extremely fragile and dangerous to use. At this point, it either needs to be repaired or replaced.
Aluminium shares similar properties to carbon fibre; it can be used to make a light and stiff bike. It's also easier to work with, which makes it a cheaper option than carbon fibre.
Aluminium bikes have great power transfer thanks to the stiffness of the material and thickness of the tubes, but this can lead to a harsh ride. To lessen road vibration and improve rider comfort aluminium frames will often have a carbon fibre fork. A downside of aluminium is that it will fatigue over time, although if properly treated and maintained it should take years for that to happen.
A common term you will hear when dealing with aluminium frames is 'butting'. To add strength whilst keeping weight down, manufacturers will add 'butting' in single, double or triple variations to the frame tubes. This involves producing tubes with varying wall thicknesses which become thinner in the centre where strength isn't as crucial as it is at the welded ends. For example, a triple butted tube will change wall thickness three times and therefore can be made lighter without a loss in strength, but at an increased cost.
Choosing an aluminium frame can provide a cost effective solution for those seeking performance on a budget.
With the prevalence of carbon fibre it is rarer to see titanium frames, but the material is making a comeback via bespoke creations. Titanium is relatively light weight, highly durable and won't corrode like steel. Unlike carbon fibre and aluminium that can easily be molded, titanium is hard to work with which makes it an expensive material choice.
Titanium has a distinct advantage over aluminium and carbon fibre in that it's incredibly resilient in the event of a crash. It takes a lot to damage titanium which is why people choose it as a lifetime luxury purchase.
As well as being durable, titanium frames are comfortable and with new machining techniques, the tubes can be made very thin enabling the weight to be kept low while still providing all the qualities of a performance road bike.
Like titanium, steel is most commonly found on bespoke creations. Before aluminium and carbon fibre, steel was the material of choice for road bikes, both recreational and professional. Modern, premium steels can be quite expensive and laborious to use and so lost favour with many brands choosing other materials that offered greater stiffness to weight ratios. The hand-crafted and 'classic' nature of the material has seen it make a resurgence in recent time.
It's still common to see steel used on touring or adventures bikes and entry level recreational bikes where weight isn't such an important factor.
A steel bike is every bit as comfortable as any other material and doesn't require the TCL of other materials, but the major Achilles heel is rust. Modern day manufacturers are using ultra high strength steel tubes to create bikes that nearly match aluminium and carbon fibre bikes in terms of weight and performance.
Groupset / drive train
A groupset comprises of brakes and the drivetrain which is thought of as the bikes engine room.
The drivetrain consists of the cranks, chain rings, chain, cassette, derailleurs and shifters. The drivetrain is a closed circuit which propels the bike and as you spend more money the efficiency, durability and shifting performance increases while the weight decreases.
As you work up the groupset hierarchy, the materials change. Entry level groupsets are made up of mostly low-grade alloys which move to the higher-grade alloys, and then the highest-grade alloys, carbon fibre and titanium for the top-of-the-line options.
Below is a description of each manufacturer and their groupsets, and if you want to know more, read through our article explaining road bike groupsets in detail.
Shimano has the largest range of road specific groupsets and is a favourite with professional teams. Shimano pioneered the STI (Shimano Total Integration) lever which is the most commonly used lever today. The ingenious system allows the user change gears up or down and brake with one hand. The right-hand lever controls the rear derailleur and front brake (brake orientation can change based on country), while the left-hand lever controls the front derailleur and rear brake. The STI lever allows for multiple shifts and means never having to move your hand position to slow down or change gears.
All of Shimano's groupsets are designed to work together (as long as they share the same number of gears), making it possible to mix componentry, although for optimal performance it's best to keep uniformity.
Below is a brief description Shimano's groupsets.
Claris: Claris is Shimano's entry level groupset best suited to recreational or fitness bikes. It has an 8-speed cassette and comes in either a double or triple crankset providing a multitude of gearing options.
Sora: Sora is similar to Claris but adds an extra gear with a 9-speed cassette and is also available in a double or triple crankset. Sora has a different aesthetic to Claris and features a four-arm crank instead of five.
Tiagra: Tiagra appears on many entry level bikes priced around the AU$1,000 mark and gets another gear with a 10-speed cassette. While still seen on recreational bikes, Tiagra is common on entry level road bikes or off-road adventure bikes thanks to a combination of durability and performance.
105: 105 is considered Shimano's first step into the performance orientated groupset market and the most popular groupset on road bikes. Aimed at the entry to intermediate level road rider, 105 is durable, reliable and features much of the technology found on the more expensive Ultegra and Dura-Ace. 105 has 11 cogs on the cassette, the same as Ultegra and Dura-Ace, so at this point you can change and swap componentry with a minimal decrease in performance.
Ultegra: Ultegra is for intermediate to high-level road riders with almost identical features to Dura-Ace, albeit with a weight penalty. Many professional teams will use Ultegra cassettes and chains mixed with Dura-Ace components to save money in the off season. Ultegra also comes in an electronic version known as 'Di2', which uses motor-driven mechanics at the front and rear derailleur to provide a crisp perfect shift, every time.
Dura-Ace: Dura-Ace is the gold standard of groupsets. The groupset uses a mixture of carbon fibre, titanium and high-grade alloys to create precise shifting and unmatched reliability. 17 teams at the 2015 Tour de France used Shimano Dura-Ace as their groupset of choice, highlighting its status in the professional ranks. Dura-Ace is also available in the electronic Di2 option.
Campagnolo is the longest standing groupset manufacturer and has been innovating cycling for over 80 years. Many riders have a romantic notion of the Italian company thanks to its longevity and reputation for high-end products. The vast majority of work still takes place at Campagnolo's headquarters in Vicenza, Italy.
Campagnolo has five groupsets but enters the road market at a higher price point than SRAM and Shimano. It's rare to see a Campagnolo groupset on a budget road bike, but very common on high-end Italian road bikes and expensive bespoke creations.
Campagnolo levers feature curved hoods to improve ergonomics and unique shifting, a single lever behind the brake lever is used to go to an easier gear, while a small thumb lever on the inside of the hood is used to go into a harder gear.
Below is a brief description of Campagnolo's groupsets.
Veloce: Veloce is the entry level groupset for Campagnolo but is similar to Shimano Tiagra or 105 and SRAM Rival. Veloce means 'fast' in Italian which indicates it leapfrogs the recreational or fitness bike and jumps straight into performance road bikes. The groupset is predominantly made of aluminium.
Athena: Athena is Campagnolo's first 11-speed groupset but will be replaced with the new 'Potenza' groupset at the end of 2016. Athena is the first groupset in Campagnolo's range to have the option of electronic shifting known as 'EPS' (Electronic Power Shift).
Potenza: Potenza is the new mid-range groupset to compete again Shimano Ultegra and SRAM Force. Potenza features a four-arm crank and re-designed front and rear derailleur to improve shifting. While the Potenza features resemble Chorus, Record and Super Record, a mix of alloys is used throughout the groupset to cut down costs.
Chorus: Campagnolo describe Chorus as 'the perfect solution for sophisticated cyclists searching for Super Record performance at a more competitive price'. That price is likely to be on bikes in excess of $5,000 with high-grade carbon fibre already featuring throughout.
Record: Record is a professional quality groupset despite having one groupset sitting above it. Record combines carbon fibre and high-quality alloys to create a groupset that is lightweight, provides impeccable shifting and looks stunning. Record is also available with EPS.
Super Record: As previously mentioned, Campagnolo have been innovating for over 80 years, trying to push the limits of performance and with their elite performance groupset, they think they've found it. The Record groupset was already so good Campagnolo could only come up with one name for a groupset even better, 'Super Record'. Campagnolo describe this as, 'the maximum evolutional and technological expression of a mechanical drivetrain for bikes'. The differences between Record and Super Record are minor, mostly based on the inclusion of titanium and ceramic bearings which further decrease weight and improve efficiency. Super Record is for elite cyclists or ones without budget restraints. Super Record EPS even more so.
SRAM has four road specific groupsets available and is widely considered the lightest groupset at any price point.
As well as being lightweight, SRAM is well known for its 'YAW' angle technology. In this, SRAM's front derailleur cage has the ability to rotate as the gears change to maintain a 'consistent angular relationship with the chain'. This optimises chain alignment and is said to improve shifting and performance.
Shifting with SRAM is controlled by 'Double Tap' technology, utilising only one lever to change up and down which is separate from the brake lever.
Below is a brief description SRAM's groupsets.
Apex: Apex is the entry level groupset from SRAM featuring a 10-speed rear cassette and two chainrings up front. The front chainrings will normally be a traditional compact set-up featuring a 50 tooth large chainring and 34 tooth small chainring, perfectly suited for touring or recreational riding.
Rival: Rival is SRAM's answer to Shimano's 105 groupset aimed at the entry level rider with a lot of technology trickling down from the Force and Red groupsets. A step up to Rival gives you an extra gear, 11-speed. Rival weighs less than Apex, has hydraulic disc options and is available in a 1x-specific version. This means only one chain ring on the front for a simpler setup that can be ideal for commuters or those into adventure and/or off-road riding like cyclocross.
Force: Force is similar to Rival in a lot of ways but at this price point, carbon replaces aluminium, making an appearance in the rear derailleur and crank arms. Force is for intermediate to elite level racers looking for a lightweight, high performing groupset. Force too is hydraulic disc compatible and a 1x version.
Red: Red is at the top of SRAM's tree in terms of performance, featuring on professional teams and International level triathletes. SRAM describe Red as the 'pinnacle of road racing technology' and it's the lightest groupset on the market. Carbon fibre features more heavily on Red, and the introduction of ceramic bearings further improves performance.
SRAM also provides an electronic groupset known as 'eTap' which is exclusive to the Red range at the moment. The technology is wireless and mirrors Formula 1 race cars by having left and right side shifting paddles.
Gear ratios on road bikes vary depending on the purpose of the bike. Gear ratio is a combination of the number of chain rings on the front of the bike, the number of teeth on those chain rings, the number of cogs on the rear cassette and the number of teeth on those cogs.
Traditionally there will either be two or three chain rings on the front, although in recent times some road bikes have followed the mountain bike trend of having a single chain ring. Having a single chain ring minimises potential mechanic issues and simplifies the shifting to the rear cassette. The majority of road bikes will have either two or three front chain rings, although three front chain rings (known as a 'triple') are commonly reserved for recreational, entry level or touring bikes.
Bikes with two front chain rings are normally split into a 'regular', 'compact' or 'pro-compact', also called a 'mid-compact' set up. A regular set-up sees the large chain ring with 53-teeth and the small chain ring with 39-teeth and is most commonly used by professional riders. A compact set-up sees the large chain ring with 50-teeth and the small chain ring with 34-teeth which provides easier pedaling ratios when compared to a regular set-up. A relatively new option, the pro-compact set-up is in between the two, the large chain ring with 52-teeth and the small chain ring with 36-teeth.
A 'triple' will normally have a 50-tooth large chain ring, a 39-tooth medium chain ring and a 30 tooth small chain ring.
The front chain ring set-up is the foundation for the gear ratios which the cassette on the back complements. The cassette is made up of a number of cogs or sprockets which can be changed to make the gear ratio easier or harder. Modern day cassettes feature 11 cogs providing 22 gears when paired with two front chain rings.
The most common ratio on a cassette is an 11-25 or 11-28 whereby the smallest cog has 11-teeth and the largest cog has either 25 or 28-teeth. The cogs in between these two have a spread of teeth aimed to make shifting between gears smooth. The larger the difference between the smallest and largest cog on the cassette, the greater the chain has to move and the less consistent a rider's cadence becomes between gear changes.
Choosing a bike with smaller chain rings on the front and a larger ratio cassette on the back will provide a greater spread of gears and easier pedaling ratios. A bike with larger front chain rings and a smaller ratio cassette on the back will be more targeted for speed and provide less range of gears.
A wheel consists of the hub which the wheel spins around, the spokes which connect the hub and the rim, the nipples which connect the spokes to the rim and the rim which is the round surface of the wheel. A good set of wheels will be durable, have dependable hubs, provide confidence-inspiring braking, be stiff for power transfer, and also lightweight.
A wheel's rim width and deep will largely dictate how it rides and feels. The trend is for modern rims to be wider than previous generations to provide better aerodynamics and greater tyre air volume, resulting in improved comfort. This coincides with the shift to larger tyres that are said to improve rolling resistance as well as comfort by running at a lower pressure. The depth of the rim will affect the aerodynamics of the wheel and the handling of a bike. The deeper the rim, the more aerodynamic but the harder to handle given they will be more affected by side wind than a shallow rim.
Most entry to intermediate level wheels will be made from aluminium of varying quality, while high-level wheels will be made from carbon fibre which reduces the weight while increases the stiffness, comfort and speed.
The total number, shape and material of the spokes on a wheel will vary. High spoke counts (having a lot of spokes) increase the robustness and durability but come with a weight penalty. A flat spoke can provide some small aerodynamic gains over a rounded one. And the material could be steel, aluminium, carbon fibre or titanium. For a more detailed guide on wheels and what to look out for, read our Road Bike wheels: What to Know article.
It's worth knowing the three different tyre types that fit onto a wheel as they require a specific wheel rim. Tyres will either be 'clincher', 'tubular' or 'tubeless' and the wheel will specify which tyre it is compatible with. The majority of road bikes available for sale will feature clincher tyres which need an inner tube to hold air.
Getting the right size bike is crucial. If you are comfortable on the bike it will provide a more enjoyable experience and you will want to ride it more; plus comfort equals speed. Conversely, the incorrect sized bike will lead to discomfort, potential injury and a negative riding experience.
Finding the right frame size is the first step. If your frame is too small or too big it will make it virtually impossible to fine tune to fit you perfectly. Moving the seat position, adjusting the handlebars and changing the stem length are all easy adjustments to make but if the frame size is incorrect these are band-aid solutions.
Bike frames are commonly measured in centimeters representing the length of the seat tube. A description on the frame size based on this measurement is then allocated, for example, a 51cm frame is considered a 'small'.
- Each manufacturer will have different sizes and frame descriptions so a small for one brand may be a medium in another brand. Similarly, different bike models from the same manufacturer may be different effective sizes with shared descriptions. For example, a 54cm lightweight bike and a 56cm aero bike might both be a medium. It's always best to check with the specific manufacturer and bike model to confirm. If cross comparing between brands or models, the most consistent measurement to use is the 'effective top tube length'.
Stack and reach are another two key measures worth knowing. The stack relates to the height of the bike measured vertically from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. The reach relates to the length of the bike measured horizontally from the bottom bracket to the head tube. If you know these two values you'll always be able to find the appropriately sized bike regardless of manufacturer or frame description.
For more on geometry and how it affects a bike, check out our guide to geometry charts and what they mean.
Do some research
To help you make an informed decision, create a list of your top five bikes and do some research.
As well as trawling through cat videos, YouTube can also be used as a quick source of easily consumable information. Look for videos from the manufacturers for specifications and technology information but also look for impartial people or companies providing their opinions.
Look for relevant information that is going to be important to you in the years to come, not just which colour is in vogue at the moment. Weight, comfort and safety are all key considerations. Has the bike had any issues or been recalled? What kind of rider is the bike suited to? As mentioned previously, although you may have your eyes set on a 4.6kg lightweight climber, if there are no hills around and 95% of your riding is done on flat roads, than perhaps an aero or endurance orientated bike is more suited to you.
If you are looking for a performance bike, ask if it is raced professionally. If it's not, why not? That's not to say for a bike to be good it needs to feature in the WorldTour, but if it's good enough for the professionals, it's highly likely to be good enough for the rest of us.
Look for reviews from other sources too. Magazines, websites, blogs all provide valuable information, normally in much more detail than an online video. And while you're online, look at forums or reviews for information, and be sure to check the comments section at the bottom.
And in this digital age of selfies and filters where information is only a click away, jump onto your own social media channels and post a question about it. You'll no doubt be inundated with responses of people that have had an experience or heard something that could prove crucial in your decision making.
Imagine buying a car without taking it for a test drive first. It's just a given that you test drive a car and a bike should be no different. Only by taking a bike for a ride will you get a feel for its characteristics, size, geometry and intricacies.
When taking a bike for a test ride, don't just go around the block and make a decision. If possible try to get it for the weekend, or at least try to simulate the type of riding you plan to do. I.e. If you favour the hills, take it for a ride up and down the nearest climb. If flat, fast tracks are more your thing, try to get it up to speed and see how it handles sprinting. If it's a commuter, make sure it feels robust and can accommodate your storage needs.
And don't be dazzled by a new shinny bike. Look at it constructively and make an informed decision as to whether or not it meets your needs. If you have doubts at the time of purchase, they will only compound over time.
Get a bargain
Here are some tips to help you grab a bargain
EOFY: End of financial year is a great time to buy a bike. Retailers are looking to clear old stock to make way for new, creating the perfect opportunity to get a great price on the current or last years model. Road bikes typically work on a three-year life cycle, meaning the bike is wholly updated every three years. If you time it right, you can get yourself a great deal at the transfer of product seasons.
Christmas: Christmas is another good time of year to get a bargain. Christmas is the busiest time of year for retailers and the bike industry is no exception. Many retailers will try to clear old stock that didn't sell during the end of financial year period or add sweeteners such as a pair of shoes or a computer in the spirit of Saint Nic.
Demo's or floor stock: Most bikes shops will order stock in bulk to keep costs down and have display models that people can view and test ride. Once these bikes have served their purpose they are sold at a greatly reduced price to account for the usage. These bikes are normally well maintained and aside from having a few kilometres on the odometer, they are virtually brand new.
Buying online: Buying on line from a manufacturer cuts out the middle man, reducing the overall cost which is then passed on to the consumer. This can be a great way to save money but should be approached with caution. Buying online has its pitfalls; you generally can't inspect the bike, take it for a test ride, check if it fits, assess unique features, make alterations or ask questions. It's a risky game unless you know your exact size and specifications.
Local Bike Shop: More often then not, bike shops will come to the table with a deal or price that makes both parties happy. Shopping locally allows you to talk to someone, check out the bike and take it for a ride. You may pay a small premium but you will most likely end up saving money compared to an online purchase as most shops will include a bike fit and ongoing servicing with a sale. Good bike shops know the bike and the brand, and will work hard to make you happy and keep you as a customer.