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Guide to buying a road bike

Posted on 21st Jan 2013 @ 9:35 AM

If you're in the market for a road bike there's a lot to consider as road bike features vary depending on the type of riding it is designed for.  The term road bicycle is used to describe a bike design for speed on tarmac roads. Often referred to as racing or sports or sportive road bikes but, in general, road bikes are built for efficient cycling at speed for longer distance, fast bursts of speed and good climbing capabilities.

Road bikes are produced in a huge range of styles so you should be able to find a bike that meets your requirements and budget. With a big budget you can get a “Tour de France” pedigree bike of the shelf but at the other end of the price spectrum there are some great road bikes available for beginners under £ 500.

When buying a road bike it is good to try and push to the top of your budget as the quality of the components will reflect in the performance. As you progress you will be able to upgrade key parts like the transmission, wheels and forks.

General characteristics: 

Road bikes have a lower handlebar position with drop bars for aerodynamics, thinner tyres and lighter wheels than mountain bikes to accommodate longer rides on the road. They are also geared for easy climbs and descents.

Like mountain bikes, most good road bikes have aluminium frames but more specialist road bikes use carbon fibre or titanium for frame materials and this is reflected in the price! Alloy frame developments have seen the use of hydro formed tubing in increase stiffness and bottom bracket joints have become much wider / bigger to help reduce flex. 

The standard wheel size for a road bike is 700C (approx 28”) but recently smaller wheel sizes have entered the market such as 650C and 24” on bikes aimed at ladies and juniors.

Generally, road bike tyres are smooth for good contact with the road and low resistance.

Sizing and ride position:

Modern road bikes commonly have a compact frame design with an aggressive sloping top tube.  Whereas, a more traditional road bike will have a parallel top tube.  It is important to avoid buying a bike with a very large frame as a modern alloy framed road bike should have the seat post visible between 3” and 5”.

Getting the right size frame is important to ensure your riding position is as efficient and comfortable as possible. You also need to consider your leg extension, reach and saddle position and height.

Road bikes are normally measured in centimetres instead of inches, so you will need to convert your inside leg measurement to centimetres by multiplying the inches by 2.54. Again, it is good to have 3” to 5” stand over clearance on the top tube. You can get a good guide to your ideal road frame size by multiplying your inside leg measurement by 0.69. Depending on the size of your upper body the best fit may be within 1" (2 or 3 cms) on either side of this measurement.

Minor adjustments with the saddle height / position on the post will increase your power tremendously and when adjusting only make minor adjustments in your set up as they can have a major impact on how the bike handles.

As a general guide, the knee cap should be over the pedal axle when the crank is in the horizontal position and it’s important not to over extending your leg at the lowest point. The knee should be slightly bent at the lowest point. When riding you should not rock or bob from side-to-side.

As a basic guide on reach, sit on the bike and grab the top of the brake hoods learning forward into a comfortable position. The handlebar should obscure your view of the front hub. If the hub is visible in front of the bar you may need a longer stem and if behind the bar a shorter stem. The back angle should be approximately 45 degrees.

Other points to consider as you fine tune your position are handlebar width, crank arm length and cleat position and saddle angle.The most important consideration when fitting your road bike has got to be comfort.

Other options:

Vintage or classic road bikes are generally bicycles with frames which are manufactured using steel tubing and lugs. On-trend at the moment are single speed and multiple gear road bikes that have vintage styling. 

For the recreational road cycling a recent development has seen road bikes with a more relaxed geometry where the head tubes are longer than race orientated road bikes, so they give a more upright position for less pressure on the lower back.  These road bikes are commonly known as “Sportive” road bikes but offer comfort with road bike efficiency and speed. Often they have slightly wider saddles and tyres for comfort. 

Also to meet modern cyclist demands road bikes have evolved to be more practical and versatile and you can buy “Flat Bar” road bikes or “Sports Fitness” bikes. A relatively new style of bicycle that is a road bike with MTB style shifters, brake levers and a flat handlebar. A great bike commonly used for commuting, urban and fitness riding.

In the market for a new road bike?

Take a look at our great range of road bikes:

Mens road bikes

Ladies road bikes


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