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The Ultimate Road Bike Buying Guide


the-ultimate-road-bike-buying-guide

Table Of Contents

Introduction

Bicycling is a popular sport, with 59.67 million Americans having ridden a bike in the past twelve months. It's a $6.2 billion market and growing, illustrating the voracious appetite we have for these two wheelers.

Whether your dream is to cruise down the open road at a leisurely pace, feel the burn that comes with pushing the limits of your endurance or experience the thrill of competing in a fast race, a road bike can make it a reality.

But with so many types and brands to choose from, let alone the broad range of prices, buying a road bike can seem like a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be. Keep in mind that not all frame designs are suitable for all types of riding.

With a little time spent thinking about your cycling goals, you'll be well on your way to selecting the perfect bike for you. With that in mind, it's simply a matter of choosing a size, selecting a frame, picking a brand, and getting the right components.

Of course, the price will be an overarching factor in your decision. While you will have a budget in mind, as we'll learn, bicycle prices are in fact subjective, and can easily be influenced by what you hope to get for your money.

Not only that, but the price can be further affected by whether you buy new or used. Buying a road bike that retails new for $7,000 can be purchased used for significantly less from an online store.

In this guide, we'll take you through the process of buying a road bike from start to finish. You'll learn everything you need to know, what to consider, and how to select a bike that's perfect for you.


types-of-road-bikes

Types of Road Bikes

The first thing to realize is that road bikes are not created equally. While all bikes have the basics in common - they all have two wheels, handlebars and pedals after all - the reality is that, like automobiles, every bike is different and caters to specific requirements.

A Cervelo S Series road bike, say, has about as much in common with a Diamondback Century as a Porsche has with a Kia. While both will get you where you want to go, the ride quality, performance, components and brand power will determine how quickly and how much you enjoy getting there.

So start by asking yourself some basic questions about your riding intentions. Do you plan to ride on pavement or unpaved trails? Will you be riding by yourself or with a group? Do you intend to use it for racing?

Fundamentally, road bikes are designed for smooth pavement at high speed. They are lightweight, not meant to carry heavy loads, and have different frame geometries as well as other characteristic features. Apart from a few exceptions, they generally do not handle well off-road, but on paved roads, they go very fast. If you are riding with others on a solid surface, a road bike will let you keep up with them fairly easily.

Beyond the standard "road bike" type, there are several subtypes available, depending on what you plan to use them for. Let's take a look at the different types of road bikes so you can figure out which one best suits your needs.

Endurance: An endurance road bike is designed to reduce road vibrations for maximum comfort on longer rides. While it can be used for racing, this type of bike is becoming very popular due to its versatility and comfort level.

Aero: As the name suggests, aero bikes take aerodynamics to the next level. Having said that, it tries to strike a balance between frame stiffness and handling ability. Overall, it is a bike that strives to cut through the wind as efficiently as possible, and the aggressive frame geometry makes for a considerably different riding experience than endurance bikes.

Allroad: Also known as gravel bikes, these road bikes feature a wider range of tire options letting you ride on unpaved trails. It allows for greater riding flexibility as it can effortlessly handle different types of flat terrain.

Cyclocross: These bikes are designed for cyclocross racing, a race discipline involving both onroad and off-road courses. The bikes have become very popular due to their versatility and usually feature wider knobby tires to grip the ground.


Sizing

It can't be understated how important it is to get the size right for your new bike. An incorrect size will be less comfortable and harder to ride, and can also be dangerous. Not only that, it will significantly affect how efficiently you can operate it depending on the frame geometry you're after.

Indeed, the style you are going for will affect the measurements as your positioning on the road bike will be impacted. For quick trips on the bike a more upright position is suitable; however, for commuting or faster rides, you'll want to be in a more aerodynamic posture.

Even if you are planning to shop for a bike online, there are simple ways to ensure you get the right fit. If you intend to measure yourself, the easiest method is to measure your inseam from floor to crotch and subtract about nine or ten inches for the necessary clearance from the top tube.

Different manufacturers not only have different frame geometry ideas and engineering which differentiate con company’s model in a particular category from another,  they may use different design philosophies for different level products within their line. When it is not clear - measure.


Frame Geometry

Typical bicycle frame geometry chart

Frame geometry - cont.

Simply put, frame geometry refers to the angles of and length of the tubing, which will determine how you are positioned on the bike. Different road bikes come with different frame geometries, and you will want to give careful thought to which size makes the most sense for your needs.

Endurance bikes feature a taller head tube than other styles of bikes meaning that the handlebars are higher. This translates into a more upright sitting position and is designed to be more comfortable for longer rides.

In contrast, racing geometry incorporates a longer top tube, resulting in handlebars that are further out in front of you and putting you in a much more inclined-forward position. The purpose of this is to have your body tucked down out of the wind for aerodynamic purposes.

The difference in feel between racing and endurance geometries can be dramatic. While an endurance upright-seated style is more comfortable than a racing bike, you wouldn't want to take a bike with a tall head tube into the Tour de France.

As well, the shape of the tubes themselves is something to consider. Many road bikes today feature flattened tubes for increased aerodynamic responsiveness.


Frame Composition

Frame composition refers to what materials go into the frame's build, and there are typically four major ones to choose from. When selecting one, be sure to take into account what you plan to do with your bike, and how much you expect to pay.

Carbon fiber: High-performance road bikes are dominated by carbon fiber. Manufactured from woven carbon fibers, they are lightweight yet stiff. However, beware not carbon tubing is not created equally.

Some manufacturers have two or three different grades of carbon fiber, with a significant difference regarding rigidity and strength. Typically, the best quality carbon fiber frames are referred to by their makes as "high modulus" or simply "high mod." The quality of carbon fiber

is judged by its stiffness and how it the structure deforms under stresses. It has a strength to weight ratio 18% higher than aluminum.

How the various carbon layers are “laid up” in the mold has a direct impact on the riding characteristics and feel of a frame and bicycle. Number of fibres, density of the weave along with the amount and consistency and type  of the resin will all have an impact. Finally, the amount of “void” or  actual space with neither carbon fiber or resin is in the 1% range are what are constitutes premier manufacturing outcomes.

Aluminum: Aluminum is a popular choice among bike manufacturers, yet is rarely seen in the best performance bikes. It's relatively inexpensive, lightweight and stiff but the ride is harsh.

It offers a more plush ride than its steel counterparts and is available in a number of grades and types.

Steel: Steel bike frames offer a smooth ride and excellent handling ability; however, it comes at the cost of weight, as steel is significantly heavier than both aluminum and carbon fiber. For that reason, it's not typically used for racing as carbon fibre has become the norm.

The grades of steel range from very basic mild steel, generally found on low end, mass merchant style of bicycles to super light, high tech “Air core and heat treated designs, found on so very nice bicycles.

Titanium: Many cycling enthusiasts swear by titanium frames for their combination of light weight and strength, eclipsing both carbon fiber and aluminum in the latter department. Titanium frames are usually made from an alloy containing approximately 3-6% aluminum.

There's a catch, however: titanium is very expensive, and it will add quite a bit to your bike's price tag.


Brand Selection

Selecting a brand is a very subjective exercise, yet it can't be ignored. Just like with car brands, particular road bike manufacturers are renowned for their attention to quality and performance, while others are more focused on their price points.

A few brands are seen as "Gucci" brands, and some riders won't settle for anything else. These manufacturers, including Specialized S-Works and Cervelo, command high prices as they are considered to be among the most innovative road bike designers.

Here are some other factors that can impact the relative pricing of brands:

Fit: Each manufacturer brings their own design and engineering philosophy to their bicycles. Two different brands of bicycles, built with the same materials, and equipped with the same build kit will ride with a different feel because of their respective geometries.  

Materials: As carbon fiber has become the “go to” material for bicycle frames, the pricing of the average bicycle has crept up to where $3.500  plus bicycles are not uncommon. There are still examples of aluminum, titanium and, actually, steel bicycles being built today.

Components: In bygone days all one had to do ws decide on what level of mechanical shifter were appropriate and affordable. Now one must weigh the benefits of electronic shifting from each of the three major component manufacturers against the cost effectiveness of mechanical(cable actuated) shifting.

Innovation: Cervelo is known for pushing the limits of innovation in their designs and refining categories. Specialized, meanwhile, has its "rider-first engineering" that, unlike most manufacturers, purports to keep the same performance properties of stiffness and ride quality intact regardless of the frame size you choose.

Coolness: Some people just want a road bike that nobody in their area or riding group has. S-Works and Cervelo are considered "cool" brands, whereas Huffy and Schwinn Diamondback is not.

If ranked for innovation, Cervelo would probably occupy the top spot while Pinarello, Focus and SWorks come in close seconds. There are any number of fine bicycles available. The trick is to find the one that suits you on all levels - need, type, fit, price and of course the graphics!

The brand you choose ultimately comes down to a question of value - performance versus cost. Your budget will determine how much leeway you have in indulging intangibles such as brand perception and "coolness."

Bottom line: if you want a high-end S-Works or Cervelo, be prepared to pay anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000. If you want a Diamondback, you can get a road bike in the neighborhood of $1,500. So the brand you buy matters a great deal to the overall cost.


Components

Another key factor in your road bike selection is the set of components that goes into it. The individual components matter, and can make a sizable difference in the ride quality and performance of your road bike.

Shimano is the Goliath of the bike components market, with approximately 70% of road bikes coming equipped with their parts. SRAM is trying to change that and capture a larger share of the pie, and each brings their own unique set of advantages to the table.

While there are some who swear by one brand or the other, for the most part, they offer comparable component groups. SRAM generally tries to compete on weight, as many of the components are lighter than Shimano's offerings.

Both brands offer two levels of products representing standard and premium equipment. SRAM has their Force line as their lower-cost option while their high-performance products fall under the SRAM Red moniker. Similarly, Shimano has their Ultegra value brand and their premium Dura-Ace.

The third major component maker for bicycle is Campagnolo. This Italian manfucturer has

long made what are considered some of the finest mechanical drive components in the world. Their electronic shift systems follow that premier lineage and can be found on the most expensive of road bike offerings.

Mechanical vs. Electronic shifting Systems

Your bike's shifting system regulates how the gears are changed, and these components are always evolving. Whereas previous years saw strictly mechanical systems available, today you have the added choice of electronic shifting systems.

A mechanical setup is cable-actuated; when you move the gear selector, a cable adds tension and changes gears. An electronic system can either be wired or wireless and generally offers a faster, crisper response.

Shimano's electronic groupset is called Di2. It features wires threaded through the bike frame to components that are electronically controlled. Conversely, SRAM's E-Tap system is wireless. While E-Tap reduces the weight, it can't compete with Shimano's wired electronic system as the latter can reduce shifting time by up to two seconds. Campagnolo’s system is EPS.

While an electronic system may be one of the latest innovations, it will add to your road bike's price tag. Both companies still make great mechanical shifters, with SRAM's Doubletap system being considerably lighter than Shimano's counterpart.

Rim vs. Disc Brakes

Traditional rim brakes have been the standard on most road bikes up until recently. However, disc brakes are exploding in the marketplace with the industry making a big push to increase their adoption. They have been tested in the pro peloton as well.

Disc brakes offer clear advantages over rim brakes. With rim brakes, calipers squeeze the wheel rim to slow it down. Disc brakes do the same but on a central disc, allowing for better stopping speed in wet conditions and letting you increase the tire size as they are not limited by the scale of the rim calipers.

Tire diameter and width

Larger diameter tire sizes can give you a greater ride quality. Tire width affect the road feel of the tire. Until the recent past, tires ranging from 23-25cm were the norm; however, with disc brakes, 28cm tires are starting to become popular.

There are a number of diameter in use in the performance arena -f rom 24” front wheels, through 650b and 700c as well. Mountain bicycles bring another set of time dimensions into consideration.

All in all, the component set you choose will be governed by the performance you'd expect and the price you are willing to pay.


Conclusion

There are a lot of factors to consider when buying a road bike, and for a good reason. No two bikes are alike as each has their own set of unique characteristics such as materials, frame geometry, components and brand identity.

Moreover, you don't necessarily have to pay list prices for your road bike. Buying a used bike online can save you significant amounts versus the cost of buying new.

It's of vital importance that you get the most out of your investment. Taking the time to figure out what you want to do with your road bike, how you want it to perform, and how much you want to pay for it will pay dividends toward your satisfaction with it in the long run.

The Racery(theracery.com) is your online source for high-performance bikes and accessories. Each one of our bikes has a story to tell and has been lovingly reconditioned through our rigorous 55-point inspection program to ensure that you get maximum enjoyment for minimal cost. To learn how we can get you in the saddle of your next road bike, contact us.

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