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Our Guide to Buying: Road Bikes

 

What is a Road Bike?


In a nutshell

A road bike is any bike designed to be ridden exclusively on Tarmac roads. With subtle changes in material and geometry some road bikes are more suitable for racing, others for long distance or cycle touring. Road bikes are also often used by commuters who frequently cycle to work. In choosing a good road bike, it is important that you get it right, as you'll be cycling a lot. Our Road Bike Buying Guide will go through each type of road bike, helping you to choose the best bike for you.

 

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Road Bikes

Road bikes of the road racing kind will offer you an exciting, fast and fun experience. Race bikes are designed and built to be as light as possible, so expect light frames and overall bike weight to be impressively low. The best road racing bikes are reactive and fast handling – they should be nimble and agile. This is ideal for racing purposes: cutting through a crowded pack of riders, but also for fun, fast rides in the country with your cycling buddies. Electric road bikes are also available for all the main disciplines, if you need that extra added push to complete your ride.

Geometry

Frame design plays an important part in how race bikes handle, which is why racing frames use steeper angles for the fork and seat tube, along with short seatstays and chainstays, when compared to sportive orientated bikes. A short head tube keeps the bars low. Road race bikes also use longer top tubes to help create a flat-backed, stretched-out riding position. It means you'll have a much smaller head-on shape, making you more aerodynamic – all to help you ride as fast as you can. Short seatstays keep the wheelbase length under a metre and road racing bikes will have drop handlebars. If you're looking for something closer to a hybrid bike that provides the best of both bike worlds, a flat bar road bike could be good for you.

Frame material

Historically, race bike designers didn’t put comfort into consideration. Clever frame design, and use of materials like carbon fibre means that modern road racing bikes have benefited from vast improvements in comfort. This has meant that carbon road bikes like Cannondale's SuperSix Evo and BMC’s Teammachine SLR01 offer excellent comfort levels, even though they’re built for racing.

What is the gearing on a racing bike?

At the front, the gears on a racing bike are usually a large 53-tooth front chainring, with a smaller 39-tooth inner ring. The gears at the rear (the cassette) will have very small differences (the number of teeth) between gears. A racing cassette usually has an 11-tooth bottom gear (the hardest to turn), with gears stepping up in small increments to a 25-tooth, which is what you'll need on the hills.

Brakes

Disc brakes are increasingly offered on high-end race bikes. Whilst the UCI ban on disc brakes in the pro-peloton initially slowed their introduction manufacturers are fully supporting this technological development and the UCI have relented on their ruling.

As with all new developments there has been hesitation over the universal adoption of this technology but ultimately disc brakes on road bikes are here to stay.

What are the benefits of disc brakes on a racing bike?

There are numerous benefits to disc brakes, not least that they are very powerful but offer great modulation and brake feel. Disc brake wheels can be designed to be very aerodynamic as they don’t require a braking surface and the rotating mass of the brake disc is nearer the centre of the wheel.


Sportive Bikes


What is a sportive?

A sportive is simply a non-competitive mass-participation cycling event (our RIDE-IT events being one such example). One event will usually take place over two or three different distances, suiting riders of varying fitness and experience. Sportive bikes are bikes that have been designed with these types of events in mind.

Sportive bikes vs road racing bikes

Sportive bikes are road bikes that are more relaxed than pure road racing bikes. Compared to race bikes, sportive bikes have slacker head angles. More fork rake and a longer wheelbase have the effect of slowing down the initial response from steering - making the bike feel more stable. All these things have a big effect on comfort, especially over longer distances.

The best sportive bikes are comfortable and fun to ride, even after 6 hours and 100-plus miles in the saddle. Compared to a race bike, a sportive (or endurance) bike is designed to offer a less stretched out riding position with a shorter top tube, and a taller head tube. The result is a reduction in how far you have to reach to hold the bars. Sportive bikes put less pressure on your body, particularly your back, so you can ride for longer, in greater comfort.

What is the gearing on a sportive bike?

At the front, the gears on a racing bike are usually a large 53-tooth front chainring, with a smaller 39-tooth inner ring. The gears at the rear (the cassette) will have very small differences (the number of teeth) between gears. A racing cassette usually has an 11-tooth bottom gear (the hardest to turn), with gears stepping up in small increments to a 25-tooth, which is what you'll need on the hills.

The design of sportive bikes has edged closer to race bike design, with bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse and BMC Gran Fondo GF01 moving more towards accepted race bike design. The crop of sportive bikes includes models that are comfortable, but could easily be raced. It’s also becoming more common to see sportive bikes fitted with disc brakes, which offer increased feel and better wet weather performance.

 


Time Trial Bikes


What is a time trial?

A time trial is race run on a course defined by length, usually 10/25/50 or 100 miles. Riders set off at timed intervals (usually a minute) and compete against the clock over the set distance. Known as the 'race of truth', a time trial is just rider and bike; no hiding in the bunch drafting (sitting on the wheel) another rider before darting out and winning at the finish. Time trialling is one of the easiest ways to get into competitive riding.


What is a time trial bike?

A time trial bike is the most focused of all road racing bikes. TT bikes are designed to go as fast as possible with the least resistance to oncoming air. The best time trial bikes will have spent significant time being designed and developed in state-of-the-art wind tunnels. Advances in computing power and software play a huge role in designing the concepts that become the fastest bikes on earth.


How are time trial bike frames designed?

Time trial frames are designed around aerodynamics. Designers use super-slippery foil shapes for frames, which make it easier for the bikes to cut through the air. Time trial bikes put aerodynamics ahead of things like weight, but because most time-trial events are run on flat courses, the extra weight (compared to lightweight race bikes) isn't ever an issue.

Everything on a TT bike is designed to give optimum aerodynamic performance and speed. Wheels often have super-deep rims and aerodynamic spokes that cut through the air smoothly and reduce the amount of turbulence around the wheels. Hidden brakes and cable routing also aim to keep the surfaces of the bike as free from lumps and bumps as possible.


What are the biggest features of time trial bikes?

One very obvious feature of time trial bikes is that they don’t have the drop bars found on most road bikes. The aero or tri-bars on a time trial bike will be flattened, with two pairs of forward facing extensions – centre and outer. The central extensions are usually the longest. Using them gives you a super low, flat, stretched out position. The aim is to reduce your wind resistance so more of your pedalling power goes towards going faster, rather than breaking through the air.

Because time trial bikes take such a massive amount of design and development time, bike brands make their machines for all budgets. Cheaper bikes might not come with deep-section aero wheels, but they will have the same super slippery frame used by pro riders and triathletes in world class events.

Time-trial bikes in sanctioned competitions (national championships and bigger) have to conform to the UCI's regulations. For the triathlon, no such rules apply, which is why elite bikes like the Specialized Shiv is offered in legal and non-legal guises.