Buying a road bike - how to choose the best one for you

15 tips you must read before you buy your first road bike

So you've chosen the best bike for you and decided upon a road bike – and now it's time to buy it. But don't do anything until you've read our essential tips to help you get the best possible deal.

1. Your budget

The first thing you need to do is work out your budget, just like in our guide to buying your first mountain bike. It's worth considering that you can potentially save money by using the Cycle2Work scheme, whereby you won't need to pay the tax on a bike.

2. Extra costs

Factor extra items, such as a helmet, gloves and apparel, into your budget. You may want specific road shoes, clipless pedals and glasses too, so bear this in mind when considering your overall budget. Around £100-120 would be a sensible amount to hold back for all the accessories.

3. Tools

You may also want to buy items such as a puncture repair kit, lights, lock, tyre levers or a track pump to help keep your tyres fully inflated (100psi for a regular 23mm road tyre). Keeping £50-60 in your pocket for these items would be prudent.

4. Maintenance

Still on budget, think about holding back some money for maintenance too (about £100 a year would cover a couple of cheap tyres, a new chain, a couple of sets of brake blocks and some workshop labour). You could save yourself some of this by doing the work yourself, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and you feel confident enough to give it a try.

5. Local bike shops

Your local bike shop is a good place to buy a bike, especially if you take a long-term view on warranty and after-sales service. The staff there should also be able to offer some good advice – it can be well worthwhile asking them what they use personally and why.

6. Do some research

Before you step over the threshold of your bike shop though, make sure you have a firm idea of the extent of your budget. Keep in mind that most local shops will have deals on offer depending on the time of the year, and that they’re always keen to move last year’s stock.

7. The best deals

There’s no doubt that a lot of the best deals are to be found on the internet. But remember to set aside at least £30 to £50 to get things sorted mechanically during the first month because, unlike purchases made at your IBD, you won’t be able to send an internet-bought bike back for its required first service.

8. Buying from eBay

eBay and other auction sites are another obvious online option (see our tips if you're buying a bike from eBay). However, we would only recommend purchasing from auction sites if you’re an experienced mechanic or know one who can check the bike over for you.

9. Which frame material?

Alloy, steel, aluminium or carbon? The frame material will largely be dictated by the price, but expect steel or aluminium to cost up to about £300. From this point onwards, oversized aluminium tubing is pretty much dominant. As you head towards the £1,000 mark, you might start seeing the appearance of carbon in the fork, and possibly portions of the frame. Steel is the most forgiving of the trio, and will tolerate the most neglect, as long as you don’t let it rust. Aluminium takes hard knocks in its stride but has to be watched more closely after about three years or more of use as it has a limited fatigue life. Carbon is the most temperamental as any cracks or frame damage from careless use usually mean the bike is toast. You should only consider carbon if you’ve got a long commute on good roads or are planning more serious riding beyond your everyday jaunt to work.

10. Upgrading

Road bikes can be battle-hardened for commuting duty by adding slightly bigger and tougher tyres where possible, and by adding mudguards, which can look quite subtle on some modern road bikes.

11. Extra features

Such is the state of refinement and advanced technology in bikes today that virtually any widget or feature you could think of has been designed, tried, tested and put on the market, offering what amounts to an overflowing buffet of choice. Consequently, another way to fine-tune your bike is to think of some of the features you want and ask the helpful salesperson if that combination is already available off-the-peg.

12. Which gear system?

Internally geared hubs are bulletproof and require little maintenance. They’re available in various models with between three and 14 gears, but will add weight and cost to the bike. Derailleur gear systems are more widespread, offer up to 30 gears and are generally lighter – but because they’re more exposed to the elements, they require more frequent maintenance. With regular checks though, derailleurs are the way to go for easy riding.

13. Need eyelets?

If you're going to be using your bike for commuting then you might want to make sure that the bike you’re getting is equipped with sufficient and correctly placed eyelets (attachment points that are built into the frame) to install a rack of some sort, possibly with mudguards too.

14. Get the size right

We’d strongly recommend you don’t buy any bike until you’ve checked it for size. Like with clothes and shoes, sizing tends to vary between manufacturers, so while you might need a bike with a 54cm frame from one brand, you might require a slightly smaller or bigger size from another. You should stand over the bike with both feet flat on the ground, legs close together. Lift the bike up or look at the amount of clearance: you should be able to lift the front and back wheels evenly off the ground by about 7 to 8cm, which should give the equivalent clearance between your crotch and top tube.

15. Go for a test ride

Equally important is the reach, or distance from the saddle to the bars – a test ride will help you to determine if your position on the bike of your choice is going to be comfortable or not, and experienced shop staff are trained to help you achieve this correctly.

For more advice on bike positioning, check out: How to get your road bike position right and How to get your seat height right.

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