You couldn't pick a better time to shop for a new road bike. Today, manufacturers offer more models than ever in a wider variety of price points. And component companies make an exceptional array of top-notch wheels, brakes and shifting systems that operate like never before.
Don't be. Having a lot of choices is a wonderful thing because it drastically increases the likelihood you'll find the perfect bike — as long as you know a little about what's available.
Answer These Questions
Before visiting our showroom, define yourself a bit. Consider how you'll use the new bike once you get it, as well as where you'll pedal once you've had the machine for a while. And ask yourself a few questions to figure out what model's right. Are you:
There are lots of fascinating variables in choosing a modern road bike. The rest of this article explains these choices so you'll have an easier time selecting your dream machine.
Although over the years there have been such oddities as bamboo (still available!) and plastic frames, current road bikes are made of one or more blends of these four materials: steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber. We get into the differences below.
The most traditional frame material, steel, has been used by framebuilders for over a century.
Entry-level steel-frame bikes are usually less sophisticated than those typically favored by discerning cyclists and steel fanatics. But, the affordability of the lesser steel frames usually allows you to get a better level of components. And, it's possible to make a fine-riding steel frame on a budget by cutting back on some of the frills that add cost. For example, such a frame might feature less-costly TIG welding and straight-gauge tubes compared to the fancier lug construction and butted tubes (varying tube wall thicknesses) on the higher-end model.
Aluminum was first used in frame construction in 1895. But, it didn't come into wide use until the 1980s when large-diameter tubing was conceived and construction processes were perfected. Now, it's the most popular of frame materials. It's subject to the same variances in assembly and quality as steel. And, like steel, as you spend more, you get higher quality tubing and better construction.
Carbon fiber is unique because it's not a metal. It starts out as a fabric that's impregnated with a glue called resin. The resulting material can be turning into tubes or shaped in molds and is usually cured with pressure and heat turning the material into a solid structure. Frames made of carbon are extremely light, stiff and durable.
Carbon's greatest advantage is that it can be manipulated essentially in endless ways (because builders can orient the fabric strands however they want), which means it can be fine-tuned to provide just about any ride qualities desired, so it's possible to achieve supreme lightness with outstanding rigidity and top-notch compliance for comfort, too. What's more, carbon is impervious to corrosion and can be built into beautiful shapes producing Ferrari-like looks.
Not too long ago, when you bought a new road bike, you got fairly run-of-the-mill wheels comprised of decent rims, spokes and hubs. These wheels were reliable and worked just fine. But, they didn't really add any pizzazz to your new two-wheeler.
All that has changed. Today, many if not most road bikes feature wheels that are marvels of engineering. They're prettier, more aerodynamic, durable and light, sometimes super light. Why is this important, you ask?
Because when you cut wheel weight, you drastically improve a bike's climbing, acceleration and handling. This happens because wheels are rotating weight. And this type of heft is felt most by the rider. In fact, a few-hundred grams reduction at the wheels feels more like a few pounds reduction. On the road, it's an amazing feeling, like suddenly dropping 10 pounds of body weight.
There are many wheelsets on the market designed for general and specific types of riding. Most use minimal spoke counts (traditional wheels have 32 spokes), which cuts wind drag and wheel weight. Superlight wheels are excellent for climbing. Aero wheels are usually a little heavier and intended to cheat the wind for an advantage during long rides and time trials.
Bike companies use a variety of different tires on their road models and usually, the tires are good for 1,000 to 2,000 miles, depending on your weight, riding style, and whether the tire is located on the front or back. So, the chances are pretty good that you'll be fine riding on the tires that come stock on your new bicycle.
You might consider upgrading however, if the tires are the wrong size or design for your predominant type of riding. One important difference is bead type. Beads are found in both edges of the tire. They're the parts that grip the rim to hold the tire on the wheel. Less-expensive tires use wire beads, which add weight (remember that rotating weight is the most important kind). Better models have Kevlar (a super-tough fabric) beads.
Tires with Kevlar beads are called "folding tires," and they're a great upgrade if you want lightweight wheels and lively handling. These tires cost more, so expect to pay for them. But, the additional expense is worth it if you want optimum performance.
Tread design may seem pretty minimal on a tire that looks very thin, but can mean all the diference when you are caught in the rain or riding on sandy roads. Different tread patterns offer water shearing like designs and may provide a small amount of tread to help keep traction through those loose spots on the road.
Tread construction can drastically effect how your bike handles and performs. The most common alternate tread construction uses kevlar under the tread of the tire as well as in the bead. The kevlar under the tread is not a weight savings this time! It's there to help with flat prevention and companies like Specialized and Michelin have been using this technology with great sucesss. This flat prevention comes at a cost. Often times the kevlar can create a brittle or stiff riding tire. Some companies have their own variances of rubber and other materials that they claim offer the best ride. Ask any of us at the bike shop our opinions.
Tire width determines how much air it holds, which in turn can also decide ride softness. It also affects how the bike handles and your wheels rolling resistance.
You'll find the tire's size written on its sidewall as "700 x XXc," where XX is the tire's width in millimeters (700 refers to the nominal outside tire diameter in millimeters, a European standard called "700c"). We're happy to discuss tire differences with you. Here's how the sizes compare:
Tubeless And Tubular Tires
Most road bicycles today are equipped with tires called "clinchers," which contain tubes inside. These tires are held on the wheel with a mechanical fit. The tire beads "clinch" the rim.
There's another type of tire found on some road bicycles and available for wheelsets with rims made for them. It's called a "tubular" and also known as a "sew-up," (you'll see why in a second). Tubular tires are common in professional road racing because they have a true round profile, which offers a slightly smoother ride than standard tires, something favored by those who spend entire days in the saddle. This round profile is due to the tubular's casing being sewn together at the bottom. There's a tube inside just like inside standard tires, but it's sewn inside, which means repairing flats requires a lot more work. (On the road, you simply replace the tire; to fix the tire, you must do minor surgery on it.) Besides the smoother ride, tubular wheels and tires are usually slightly lighter than standard models, too, because of the fact that tubular rims are simple box sections.
Tubulars aren't common on our road bikes because of the hassles involved in fixing flats and also the fact that to mount the tires, you must glue them on the rims and then allow that glue to cure for at least 24 hours. However, if you're racing, you might like to give them a try. And, if that's the case you'll want to learn about tubular tire gluing and tire repair.
The newest road tire type is "tubeless." Just like motorcycle and car tires, these are run without tubes, which eliminates pinch flats, saves a little weight and significantly improves ride quality. These, too, require a special rim, so only bikes with wheels with tubeless-compatible rims will accept tubeless tires. This is because with tubeless tires the tire and rim fit together with an airtight bead lock. And, there are no holes inside the rim, and a special Presta valve that's installed in the rim. We expect to see tubeless on more road bikes in the future. Right now, they're only found on a few of our highest-end models.
The main companies making full lines of road components (sometimes called "groups") are Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM. These makers offer different levels of components to suit the various rider levels from entry-level to pro racer. A group is typically comprised of brakes, hubs, chain, cassette, bottom bracket, crank, derailleurs, shifters and headset.
Keep in mind that many road bikes come equipped with wheelsets, which include hubs so you may or may not get hubs from the same manufacturer as the rest of the components on your new bike. Also, some bicycle manufacturers make or have made their own components, and you might see these on a bike instead of the brand found on most of the other parts. And, it's a common practice to upgrade certain components where the company feels it's beneficial so, for example, you might get the next level rear derailleur on a bike as a way for the bike company to add a little extra value.
As you spend more money, parts get lighter and the bearing quality (bearings are what the hubs, headset, pedals and crankset spin on) improves. Higher-level components shift and brake slightly better, too — though even entry-level braking and shifting is exceptional on modern systems.
So, how do you decide what to buy? It comes down to your price range and which group offers the features you want (i.e. weight, number of gears, appearance, quality). Usually, you can narrow it down to a couple of groups. And, at that point, a great way to decide is to ride and compare. If you can feel a difference in braking and shifting, go with the bike you like better.
Regardless of what bike you choose it won't be much fun riding it if the gearing isn't appropriate for your fitness level and where and how you pedal. Fortunately, all component groups offer a variety of different gearing options. And we can also modify things if needed to suit your needs. Here's what's involved:
Chainrings and Cogs
There are sprockets on the front and back of the bike. The fronts are called "chainrings" and they're located on the crankset, the part that the pedals are attached to.
The sprockets on the rear of the bike are called "cogs," or, if you're referring to the entire cluster of gears, it's called a "cassette" or "freewheel." The cassette is attached to the rear wheel to drive it as you pedal. Depending on the components on the bike, there will be from 8 to 11 cogs on the rear cassette.
How Many Gears?
To figure out how many total gears are on a bike, simply multiply the number of chainrings by the number of cassette cogs. For example on a model with a double crankset and a 11-cog cassette, you have 22 gears.
How many gears to get depends on how and where you ride. If you're reasonably fit and bike in flat to rolling terrain, you'll probably be fine with a double chainring and 8 to 11 rear cogs. If it's hilly and you're getting into shape, consider a compact chainring and its easier gears.
The Fun Part
Now that you have an idea how to decide what type of road machine to get, it's time to come into our store and do some tire kicking and test riding to see how the models compare in person. This will complete the picture and give you a chance to see what you get at the various price points. Here are a final few helpful tips:
Thanks for reading. We look forward to helping you select the perfect road bicycle!