So, you’ve decided you want a road bike. The only thing stopping you is that nagging question that everyone has: where do I start? Maybe you’re trying to be more fit or even thought of cycling professionally. Perhaps you just need an affordable way to get to work. Whatever the reason, this guide will help you narrow down exactly what you need.
When you get down to it, there are many more parts to consider when buying a road bike – more than you may think. Don’t let this discourage you, however, as I will explain the uses of these parts and how they contribute to the overall ride.
Just to be clear, this article is about road bikes specifically. While I will briefly mention mountain and commuter bikes, I won’t be going into too much detail about those.
Road bikes are generally made to move fast on smooth surfaces, primarily being used on pavement. In terms of speed, they are preferable to hybrid or mountain bikes due to their design.
Here are the main things to consider when determining the differences in a road bike. Keep these in mind as I will be referencing them throughout the article many times:
Bike Geometry – the way the frame is built, such as the angles and lengths of each part. This can affect the reach of the bike.
Bike Weight – depending on the materials the bike is made of as well as the types of parts included in it. A lighter bike will go faster but may be less durable.
Tire Width/Tread – this will determine if a bike will move faster or sacrifice that speed for more durability and comfort.
Let’s get more specific with the factors you’re considering to get that perfect road bike.
What kind of road bike should I buy?
To answer your question of where to start, you need to ask yourself another question: “What am I looking for in a bike?”
Do you want a road bike that is built to endure long stretches whilst providing you with the comfort you need to last? Do you want a bike that is purely designed for maximum speed? Maybe you just want a reliable day-to-day bike for the commute? You could even want to try a bit of off-roading.
Even within the category of road bikes, there are distinctions to be made. Here is a brief overview of the different road bikes for each of these purposes:
Aero road bike:
If you’re mainly looking for speed, an aero road bike is the way to go. Aero bikes are specifically designed to cut drag to achieve the fastest speed possible. For example, the frame is made to cause a longer reach between the seat and the handlebars. This, combined with the shorter headtube forces the cyclist into leaning forward more.
While this position is more aerodynamic and reduces drag, it also reduces comfort. The comfort is reduced even more due to the stiffness of the frame.
The wheels/tires are also thinner and smoother to maximize that speed.
There are also accessories made to be more aerodynamic as well, such as aero helmets, tires, and skin suits.
On the other end of the spectrum would be endurance bikes. These bikes are designed for long-distance rides that can handle more bumps and vibrations. This is achieved with wider tires, along with less stiffness in the frame.
Due to the longer distance, the bike will also feel more comfortable. The longer headtube and shorter reach allows for a more upright position. When it comes to longer rides, this will make a world of difference.
Both of these types of bikes have other tradeoffs as well. The aero bike will have sharper handling but also requires more flexibility from the rider than the endurance bike does.
If you like the idea of climbing a lot with your bike, a lightweight one would be your best bet. The frames and wheels are composed of light material. On steeper inclines it climbs faster than even aero bikes.
While these aren’t every type of road bike, this does encompass a large majority of them.
There are also gravel bikes for, well, gravel surfaces. These can’t beat mountain bikes off-road, as mountain bikes still have wider tires and better tread. Gravel bikes are faster on smoother surfaces. So, if you plan on riding on a little bit of rough terrain mixed with pavement, consider a gravel bike.
Anything rougher, then perhaps a mountain bike would be the way to go.
E-bikes are a newer type of road bike. These come with an electric motor to assist with pedaling.
Other aerodynamic bikes would include TT bikes and Triathlon bikes, but these are specifically designed for competitive races.
How to get the correct road bike size?
The last thing you want to do is purchase a bike without making sure it fits you. The most basic way would be to use a brand-specific size chart based on your height. If you want something more accurate, it would be a good idea to take the bike for a test ride before buying, if possible.
Some other dimensions you want to look for are the reach(the horizontal distance from the center-top of the head tube to the center of the bottom bracket) and the stack(the vertical distance between them).
You want to make sure you can put your feet flat on the ground and still have some space between you and the seat. If the bike is too cramped or too stretched out you will be uncomfortable at best and risk injury at worst.
There are also even more specific tube measurements such as the top tube, seat tube, head tube, etc… You can go as detailed or simple as you like.
Road Bike Size Guide Chart:
|Rider Height (inches/cm)||Inseam Length (inches/cm)||Recommended Road Bike Frame Size (inches/cm)|
|4’10” – 5’1″ (147-155 cm)||25″ – 27″ (63-69 cm)||47cm – 49cm|
|5’1″ – 5’5″ (155-165 cm)||27″ – 29″ (69-74 cm)||50cm – 52cm|
|5’5″ – 5’9″ (165-175 cm)||29″ – 31″ (74-79 cm)||53cm – 54cm|
|5’9″ – 6’0″ (175-183 cm)||31″ – 33″ (79-84 cm)||55cm – 56cm|
|6’0″ – 6’3″ (183-191 cm)||33″ – 35″ (84-89 cm)||57cm – 58cm|
|6’3″ – 6’6″ (191-198 cm)||35″ – 37″ (89-94 cm)||59cm – 61cm|
Note: This is a general guide for road bike sizing. Individual preferences may vary. It’s recommended to test ride bikes and seek professional fitting advice for the best match.
What are road bikes made from? (Frame Material & Bike Weight)
There are four main materials bike frames are made from: aluminum, carbon fiber, steel, and titanium. Much like the types of bikes, it all depends on what you’re looking for in the bike.
Aluminum is most commonly used for more affordable frames. Not only is it more budget-friendly than the other materials, but it is also much lighter(only being beaten by carbon fiber). The downside to aluminum is its lack of longevity.
Aluminum also has high stiffness which can cause discomfort, but this is less of a problem today due to our technological improvements.
Carbon fiber is the lightest frame material, generally speaking. Despite its lightness, it possesses an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio. It’s also less dense than the other materials which makes for a much more smooth and enjoyable ride.
The downside to carbon fiber is that it is quite expensive. Most of the high-performance bikes are made from this material. If you have the money to spare, however, it’s definitely worth it.
Steel was used in most bike frames before aluminum frames became popular towards the end of the 20th century.
Being a more durable material, steel has far more longevity than aluminum and can take more of a beating as well. Steel frames also flex, making your ride smoother and more comfortable due to the shock absorption. Unfortunately, steel is also heavy, so it isn’t a good choice for professional cyclists.
The last common material for road bikes is titanium. Much like steel, it is very durable and can last a very long time. It also provides that smooth ride from its vibration-dampening effects. Where titanium beats steel is that it has those same benefits without all that weight slowing it down. It is also more resistant to corrosion.
The tradeoff is that titanium bike frames are going to be a lot more expensive.
So, it really comes down to what you’re looking for. Is price more of a factor, or do you just care about performance alone? Each material has its pros and cons so make sure you know which ones you care about most.
- Get Your Bike Within Budget … Best Road Bikes In 2023
We’ve gone over frame geometry and materials, but it’s not all just about the bike frame. A road bike is made up of many components, and if you’re going to find the perfect one, we’ll need to take a closer look at them.
Groupset refers to the mechanical parts of the bike that include:
Drivetrain: All the parts that make the bike go. This would be the pedals, chain, chainrings, crank, cassette, and derailleurs.
Shifters: These allow you to shift the gears. They are located on the handlebars.
Brakes: When you pull the brake levers(which are also located on the handlebars) it stops the bike. We will go more in detail on brakes a bit later.
The 3 leading manufacturers of road bike groupsets are Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo.
Each manufacturer makes groupsets that could appeal to certain cyclists. It’s best to try out different ones and see which works best for you.
One example of variation in groupsets is mechanical vs. electrical shifting. While mechanical is serviceable for casual cyclists, it requires cables that its electrical counterpart goes without. Electrical shifting will be more pricey, but if you can afford it, it’s definitely the better choice.
Brakes are quite simple in how they work. Road bikes mainly use either rim brakes or disc brakes.
Rim brakes: These brakes are attached to the rim of the wheel. When used, the brake pads squeeze on the rim and the friction causes the bike to slow down.
Disc brakes: These rely on rotors attached to the hub of the wheel. The brake pads are pushed against these rotors via pistons. Whether this is done with cables or hydraulics depends on the type of disc brakes.
Generally, disc brakes are more effective than rim brakes due to their superior stopping power. Since they are more expensive, too, however, it’s important to note that rim brakes will serve their purpose just fine.
Wheels/Tires are another important part to consider when looking for a perfect road bike. The wheels have several parts to consider, such as the rim, hub, spokes, and nipples. Variations in these will depend on the purpose you want out of the bike. For example, a deeper rim profile will be more aerodynamic.
As for the tires themselves, they come in several different widths. A 25mm width would be standard for a more aerodynamic bike, but if you would like something with more endurance, then a wider tire would be the way to go.
Tire tread is another important thing to consider. For smoother surfaces, the tread will also be smoother for maximum speed. If you plan on going through rougher terrain, the tread will be more grippy.
After all of this comparing and deliberating, you’re probably thinking “what is the nicest bike I can afford?” Many of these parts are objectively better than others, but come at a higher cost. Let me summarize what affects the cost.
How much should I spend on a bike?
On the cheaper end, road bikes can cost within the hundreds of dollars to low thousands. The high-end, professional ones can cost into the high thousands and possibly over ten thousand. There are plenty of bikes in between of course, but the distinctions are more subtle with those.
So, what is the difference? Well, if you’ve read up to this point, then you can probably guess where I’m going with this.
Frame materials such as aluminum or steel are going to be on the cheaper end. Since more professional bikes use carbon fiber, those will be the pricier ones. Titanium would be more expensive as well.
If you want disc brakes over rim brakes, that’s also going to cost you. Disc brakes have higher stopping power and are just more expensive overall.
The same goes for electric shifting over mechanical. As amazing and convenient as this newer technology is, there is a price for it.
Speaking of new technology, the progress we’ve made in making bikes more aerodynamic is going to be much better for higher-priced ones. If you’re willing to spend that much for better bike geometry, the results are there.
So, which should you get? Well, if you’re more of a casual cyclist, simply wanting to have fun or commute to work, I’d say go for a lower-end one. Even if you’re using it for non-competitive fitness purposes, you don’t need the fanciest parts or most aerodynamic frames.
If you are wanting to participate in competitions, however, then it will help you significantly to get the best bikes on the market.
For those who aren’t swimming in money, I would recommend getting a solid bike for 1 or 2 grand.
Keep in mind the cost for additional accessories as well. They might not seem like much at first but can add up if you plan on biking a lot.
I know what bike I want. What else do I need?
You’re pretty sure you’ve settled on a road bike, but what about the other accessories? What do you need to get pedaling?
A helmet is a must when cycling. You never know when an accident could happen and you want to be as protected as possible(especially if you’re zooming on a nice aero bike).
- Find more … 10 Best Road Bike Helmets Under $100
For road bike helmets specifically, you could get a standard one or an aero one. The main difference is that the standard one has better ventilation for hotter days whereas the aero one sacrifices that for less drag.
Just make sure to get the right size. You don’t want your helmet to be too tight or too large to fit on your head at all.
So you’ve protected yourself, but what about your bike? What happens when you get a flat tire for example? You don’t want to be left stranded in the middle of nowhere after biking for a few hours.
Carrying a mini pump allows you to inflate that right back up. It’s also small enough for you to keep with you while you’re biking. Very convenient.
I also recommend you keep a floor pump. This will fill up your tires much faster than a mini pump. You can’t carry it with you, though, so it’s probably best to have both.
We recommend the best floor pump selected by our experts :
If you’re planning on a longer biking trip, then it would be a good idea to bring a saddle bag. This will allow you to carry anything else you think you may need to bring on your adventure. Sunscreen, snacks, etc… It can’t hurt, right?
- Find more … 10 best road bike Saddle for 2023
Another good accessory for long trips is sunglasses. Odds are you’re not planning on biking with your back to the sun all the time for every trip. That’s no reason to blind yourself while you’re trying to get your fitness in or perhaps even win a race.
Did you know there are even different types of pedals you can get for your bike? There are flat pedals, which are the more comfortable kind and can be used with regular shoes, but you have less control over the pedal itself. Your feet have more freedom with these pedals.
The clipless pedal requires you to get specific shoes to lock into the pedals. This allows for more control over them. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of learning compared to the flat ones.
As for biking shoes, the clipless shoes are the ones that would clip into the pedals that share its name. The other type of biking shoe would be ones with more grip to grab onto the flat pedals. Make sure whichever shoe you choose matches the pedal you want.
The final accessory I will go over is the speedometer. This might not sound like something you need if you’re just commuting or biking for casual fun. But if you are competitive or even just wanting to time yourself for fitness purposes, a speedometer can be a very helpful addition to your kit.
- The most important road bike accessories you need… Category Accessories
Frequently asked questions about road bikes
1- Is a road bike a good choice for beginners?
Because road bikes are intended for use on smooth, paved roads, they are a great choice for beginners. It shouldn’t be particularly difficult or dangerous to learn, as opposed to mountain bikes which are used for rough, off-road biking. Road bikes are simple and easy to use.
Maybe you want something faster than a city bike for your commute? Perhaps you are getting into cardio? A road bike fulfills both of these purposes effectively. As a beginner, though, I recommend you don’t purchase a higher-end one until you know you like biking.
2- Are there differences for male and female cyclists?
While both men and women can use road bikes, there are general differences in design for each. Women tend to have shorter torsos, but longer legs than men. Men have bigger hands and wider shoulders. Due to these differences, the frame size, handlebar width, tube length, and saddle width could be different for each.
There are unisex bikes that seem to fit well for men and women, but it is ultimately up to you to decide what bike fits best for you. Always make sure to test it out before buying.
3- Is there a road bike for gravel?
As I briefly mentioned toward the beginning of this article, there are gravel road bikes made to travel on this type of terrain. These bikes also work fine on the smoother surfaces as well. Much like an endurance bike, the frame is designed to give you a more comfortable, upright position for longer rides.
A key factor as to why it can travel on such terrain is the tires. The width is increased much more than the pavement-only road bikes. The tread is also designed to have more grip and resistance to puncture.
4- What is the difference between a road bike and a mountain bike?
Road bikes are generally used on pavement – roads, sidewalk, etc… Mountain bikes are the most effective bike for off-road terrain. The frames on mountain bikes have a shorter reach for that upright position. The tires are much wider and have a more knobby tread for better grip.
The handlebars on road bikes are curved to be more aerodynamic, whereas the mountain bike ones are straighter. Mountain bikes are also designed to absorb more shock and vibrations.
5- What is the difference between a road bike and a city bike?
While road bikes are intended mainly for paved roads, city or commuter bikes can also be used on pavement, but its wider tires and suspension allow it to be used effectively on dirt roads and worn streets(bumps, potholes, etc…).
Because road bikes are mainly designed for speed, it forces the rider to lean forward to assume a more aerodynamic position. City bikes are intended for comfort and longer use. They put the rider in a more upright position and are more durable, but weigh more than road bikes.
6- Can heavier riders use a road bike?
Due to the thin and aerodynamic design of road bikes, they usually can’t handle a weight over 300 lbs. Unfortunately, the thinner wheels and frame make it the wrong choice for riders who exceed that limit.
The good news is that there are other types of bikes. As previously mentioned, the mountain bike is much more durable with a thicker frame and tires. You can even bike indoors with a stationary bike as well.
Don’t be discouraged from biking when there’s so many options for all kinds of people!
7- Can road bikes be tubeless?
Although they’re mainly used in mountain bikes, tubeless tires can also be fitted to road bikes. Like everything else, though, being a superior tire means it will cost more.
Tubeless tires offer a few advantages. The first being that they’re much more likely to avoid being punctured due to the sealant it comes with. If the tire gets a small hole, the sealant will automatically seal it extremely fast.
They also allow for a more comfortable ride. This is because the air pressure in tubeless tires can be lower and absorb more vibrations. Since they are without the inner tube, they are also lighter.
We recommend the Best tubeless road tires 2023 selected by our experts :
To wrap things up …
Hopefully, this helped you decide on exactly what you want. To summarize, you should figure out what you’re going to use the bike for, and then determine how much you’re willing to spend on it. Once you know those things, figuring out even the most specific parts you want should be much easier.
If you have the money, feel free to try out different parts and pieces of equipment. The best way to know if something is right for you is to give it a whirl. Maybe after reading this article, you thought you were okay with a mechanical groupset only to find out after experimenting that you prefer the electrical one.
Whether you want to use your bike for fitness or competition, or even the commute, there’s no reason not to make your bike ride as fun and convenient as it can possibly be.