Choices abound for road bikes in 2016, and this guide will help you select the best road bike for you.
Road bikes fall into two general categories: race and endurance. Race bikes put the rider’s torso in a lower, more aerodynamic position, and have steeper angles for quick handling.
Endurance bikes position the rider more upright, and the frame angles are a little more relaxed for confidence-inducing stability. In both categories, expect to pay between £500 and £700 for a quality entry-level machine.
The best way to learn the difference between the two is to ride both, either through test rides at an event or a shop, or by borrowing a bike from a friend.
As with any product, bikes come in good/better/best levels. The main points of difference are the frame materials (aluminum bikes are cheaper; carbon fiber frames are lighter but more expensive), the parts (strong, light, cheap – pick two) and the wheels (see previous parenthetical).
Bike fit is critical. A budget machine that fits you like a glove will feel and handle much better than an ill-fitting superbike. While most brands have bike fit charts on their websites, it’s vital to just go sit on the thing if you are new to cycling. Once you learn your measurements you can shop off of charts; in the meantime, try on bikes like shoes.
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Gearing – types and brands
Road bikes used to be called 10-speeds, referring to the two chain rings up front multiplied by the five cogs in the rear. These days, most road bikes have two chain rings and 9, 10 or 11 cogs in the rear. Shimano and SRAM are the most common drivetrain brands, although you will also find Campagnolo, MicroTec and FSA components out there, too. Which is best? Well, each company has its own tiered system.
In general, endurance bikes have smaller gears, meaning it’s easier to get up hills, and race bikes have larger gears for higher top-end speed. Bigger chainrings mean more outright speed (and effort), and smaller chainrings, dubbed compact, mean less effort.
As mentioned above, getting a good fit is paramount. It starts with selecting the right size frame – which any good bike shop can help you with — and then you need to get your saddle height and handlebar height correct. Again, a fit professional at a good shop is invaluable here.
Most good shops will work with you to also fine-tune other elements of your fit, such as the distance to the handlebars, the angle of the handlebars and even the feel of the saddle. Saddle preference is highly personal; there is no universal best answer here. But try a few until you find something comfortable.
Tyres — trending wider
All road bikes come with slick tyres. The new trend is wider tyres, with race bikes often coming with 23 or 25mm-wide tyres and endurance bikes coming with 25 or even 28mm ones. All of these tyres will roll fast; the wider tyres give you a little more cushioning in exchange for a little more weight.
Tyres are one of the easiest (and, at some point, necessary) things to switch out, so you don't need to worry much about what the bike comes with. That said, if you are keen on maximising the comfort of your bike, make sure the frame has clearance for wider tyres. Again, race bikes that favor aerodynamics will typically skew towards skinny tyres, and the endurance bikes that deliver comfort will generally have plump rubber.
Brakes – rim or disc?
For decades, road bikes have used caliper brakes where blocks of rubber squeeze against the rim. Now, you have many options of hydraulic disc brakes, a lightweight version of the braking style found in all motorised vehicles, as well as cheaper, less effective cable-actuated versions.
Discs offer better braking, which is unaffected by wet weather, but are heavier. In general, you will find disc brakes on many new endurance bikes, and caliper brakes on virtually all race bikes.
Your road bike will come nearly complete. You will still need to purchase a few things to hit the road, including water bottle cages, water bottles and supplies to fix a flat (inner tube, tyre levers and either CO2 cartridges and/or a pump). If you buy at a shop, they will be glad to set you up with these things.