Road bikes fall into two general categories; race and endurance.
Race bikes put the rider’s torso in a lower, more aerodynamic position and typically have more aggressive geometry for quick handling.
Endurance bikes put the rider in a more upright position and the frame angles are a little more relaxed for confidence-inducing stability and long-distance comfort. These are almost, sometimes, known as sportive bikes.
In either category, you should expect to pay between £500 and £700 for a high-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 (aluminium bikes tend to be cheaper, while carbon fibre frames are lighter but more expensive. Steel and titanium frames tend to be more niche), the parts (strong, light, cheap — pick two) and the wheels (see previous parenthetical).
Road bikes used to be called 10-speeds, referring to the two chainrings up front multiplied by the five cogs in the rear. These days, most road bikes have two chain rings and 9, 10, 11, or now, even 13 cogs in the rear.
Shimano and SRAM are, by far, the most common drivetrain brands, although you will also find Campagnolo, Microshift and FSA components out there too.
In general, endurance bikes have smaller gears, meaning it’s easier to get up hills, while 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.
While most brands have bike fit charts on their websites, it’s vital to just go and sit on the thing if you are new to cycling. Once you learn what fit works for you, you can shop off of charts; in the meantime, try bikes like you would shoes.
Once you have selected the right size frame — which any good bike shop can help you with — you then need to get your saddle and handlebar height correct. Again, a professional fit at a good shop is invaluable here.
The numbers on the sidewall of the tyre refer to the size of the tyre on the wheel and width of the tyre when inflated. Minimum and maximum air pressure figures are usually printed tooJames Huang / Immediate Media
Most road bikes come with slick or very lightly treaded tyres.
In recent years, it’s become more common to spec wider tyres on road bikes, with race bikes often coming fitted with 23 or 25mm-wide tyres, and endurance bikes coming with 25 or even 28mm tyres.
Regardless of the width, all of these tyres will roll fast and the wider tyres give you a little more cushioning (and speed over rougher road surfaces) in exchange for a little more weight.
Tyres are one of the easiest things to change, 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 favour aerodynamics will typically skew towards skinny tyres, while the endurance bikes that deliver comfort will generally have plump rubber.
If you’re unsure how to pump up your tyres, check out our comprehensive article below.
Now, however, many road bikes come equipped with disc brakes, which have been used on mountain bikes for many years. Discs offer superior braking in wet weather, but are heavier.
In general, you will find disc brakes on many new endurance bikes and caliper (rim) brakes on a majority of race bikes — though this is changing quite rapidly.
Disc brakes are increasingly found on endurance bikesCourtesy Zipp
Note that the majority of rim brake bikes cannot be converted to discs and vice versa, so once you’ve made your choice you’re committed to it.
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.
Most bikes will come with a set of cheap plastic pedals and these won’t stop you enjoying your road bike, but investing in a set of clip-in (confusingly known as clipless) pedals will massively improve performance and control.
£2,000 gets you a whole lot of bike nowadaysRussel Burton / Immediate Media
The pro-level superbikes that fall into the price range beyond this bracket are truly amazing and it’s easy to be tempted by them. But don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on one without remortgaging your house, because the best road bikes under £2,000 still bring you into serious — and seriously good — bike territory.
Bikes for under £3,000 are now incredibly goodRussell Burton / Immediate Media
This sort of price range used to be the sole preserve of the dedicated race bike. But the profile of this section of the market has now changed and the best road bike under £3,000 is now just as likely to be a sportive model.
A special place must be reserved for the overall winner of our Bike of the Year award, for 2019 that title was crowned to Rondo’s HVRT CF0. Watch the video below or read the full review to find out exactly how the Rondo beat every other bike to take away our most coveted award. Testing is now underway for Bike of the Year 2020, so stay tuned for a new winner.
Jack has been riding and fettling bikes for his whole life. Always in search of the hippest new niche in cycling, Jack is a self-confessed gravel dork, fixie-botherer, tandem-evangelist, hill-climbing try hard, and thinks nothing of taking on a daft challenge for the BikeRadar YouTube channel. With a near encyclopaedic knowledge of cycling tech — from the most esoteric niche nonsense to the most cutting edge modern kit — Jack takes pride in his ability to seek out tech and stories that would otherwise go unreported. Jack has been at BikeRadar for three years now and is currently testing an All-City Mr Pink as his long term test bike.