February 10, 2016

Words by Steve Ranger

Danny’s Guide to Buying Your First Road Bike

Danny’s Guide to Buying Your First Road Bike

BUYING YOUR FIRST, OR NEXT, ROAD BIKE

When you’re buying a road bike, the range of bike types, materials and component options can be bewildering. Let us steer you through your choices and help you find the right road bike for you.

There’s never been a better time to buy a new road bike. While the likes of Wiggo and Froome might belt around France on bikes costing anything up to £10,000, you don’t need to spend anywhere near that much. Over the last couple of decades entry-level bikes have become ever better value for money, with much of that Tour de France advanced technology trickling down to bikes we can all afford.

First, you need to decide how much you’re prepared to spend. Decent road bikes start from about £550.00; the more you spend the lighter and better specified a bike will be. There is no right price. From £700.00 to £1000.00 you’re entering the territory of very capable road bikes (this price bracket also falls neatly into the Cycle to work scheme). Beyond that, well, you’re entering a world of choice to suit all tastes.

Do your research

With a budget in mind, you want to do some research. Give us a ring, or better still, come into the shop to discuss your needs. A bicycle is an investment and, as with most investments, it’s worth spending some time researching the options. We can help with all aspects of choosing your new bike.

Some of the important considerations to think about are…

Frame materials

The frame is the heart of your new road bike and it’s where the majority of the budget goes. Frames are made from a range of materials, the most common being  aluminium and carbon fibre. With steel and titanium also available. Broadly, frames made from any particular material will have common characteristics, though what the designer does with a material is as important as the material itself.

Aluminium is the most common frame material for road bikes costing under £1,000. It’s inexpensive, and a very good material to make bikes from because it builds into stiff, light frames. The latest aluminium frames boast some advanced features and design touches, for example the Trek Domane 2.0: http://www.trekbikes.com/gb/en_GB/bikes/road/endurance-race/domane/domane-2-0/p/1404000-2016

Carbon fibre is now the most coveted road bike frame material. Once an ultra-expensive choice, bikes with carbon fibre frames are now available from about £1100.00.

Carbon fibre frames aren’t all equal though. There’s a huge difference between cheap and expensive carbon fibre, down to the type of fibres used, how it’s manufactured and other important factors that make a big impact. Carbon fibre can be relatively easily manipulated by designers to create frames with the particular balance of properties they want, whether that’s low weight, comfort, stiffness.

If you’re facing a choice between a bike with a carbon fibre frame, and another with an aluminium frame, don’t dismiss aluminium. Often you will get an aluminium bike with higher grade wheels and components than you could get on a carbon bike of a similar price, and that will contribute to a lower overall weight. That can lead to a far more enjoyable ride than you’ll get from a carbon fibre bike where the manufacturer has had to cut corners (with heavy wheels or a low spec groupset) to make a price point. So don’t just put carbon fibre at the top of your list because your friend has bought a carbon fibre bike. http://www.trekbikes.com/gb/en_GB/bikes/road/performance-race/%C3%A9monda/c/B211

Steel was the dominant road bike frame material until the 1980s and is still a lovely material in the hands of a good designer. It’s most often found on custom bikes and those designed for touring because in those applications its weight penalty is less important. It’s heavier than aluminium but can be wonderfully comfortable. http://www.genesisbikes.co.uk/bikes/road/sportive/equilibrium-20

Titanium was once the most exotic material of them all. A titanium frame can be as light as aluminium and as durable as steel, making it a wonderful material for bicycles. Its corrosion-resistance is the icing on the cake. http://www.genesisbikes.co.uk/bikes/adventure/multisport/croix-de-fer-ti

Choosing the right size

Choosing the right size bike is absolutely critical when buying your first road bike. Please come and talk to us for advice. Don’t go for a bike that is too small or too large just because it’s a bargain. Only with the correct size bike for your height and dimensions will you really get the most out of your new hobby.

As all bike manufacturers use different methods of measurement, the best thing is to try the bike you’re considering buying for size. If it’s dry outside, take it for a quick test ride. We do have several models/sizes of bikes as demo bikes, available to take out for up to 4 hours no matter the conditions.

Bike Fitting Service

We do offer a bike fitting service, using the Trek Precision Fit method.

The fit process costs £100.00 and will take between 1 1/2 – 2hours. It involves:

• Customer Interview

• Assessment of range of motion

• Cleat alignment

• On bike adjustment

• Review of fit

If you’re crossing over to road cycling from, say, mountain biking, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. On a road bike, you spend lots of time in one position, whereas on a mountain bike you move around a lot. Spending a long time in the wrong position can lead to aches and pains or even over-use injuries in some riders, so it’s worth getting your position right to minimise the risk.

Components

Bike component manufacturers assemble their parts into groupsets — collections of brake and gear parts matched for quality and function and designed to work together. Bike makers buy groupsets to build into bikes. There are three major manufacturers that you’re likely to encounter: Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. At entry-level prices, Shimano is the most popular choice.

The order of quality and price for Shimano goes like this, from entry-level to top-end: Claris, Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace.

Campagnolo starts with Veloce, then Athena, Chorus, Record and, at the very top, Super Record.

SRAM offers four road groupsets: Apex at the entry level, Rival, Force and Red. Pay more and you get better performance, lower weight, or both.

All three manufacturers make combined brake and gear levers, so you don’t have to take your hands of the bars to change gear. Each manufacturer does this slightly differently. Shimano uses the whole brake lever to shift one way and a lever behind it for the opposite shift. Campagnolo has a lever behind the brake lever for one shift and a thumb lever on the brake lever body for the other. SRAM also has a gear lever behind the brake lever; pressing it for a single click shifts one way, a double click shifts the other. If all that sounds like manufacturers trying to get round each other’s patents, you’re dead right.

Shimano and Campagnolo also offer electronic versions of their top groupsets. Switches on the brake levers take the place  of gear levers and motors in the derailleurs make the shift happen. They work superbly, but they’re expensive. At the time of writing, SRAM and FSA (a component maker best known for chainsets, headsets, bars and stems) have confirmed they are developing electronic shifting too.

Compact, standard or triple chainrings

The chainset (the part the pedals attach to) comes with chainrings of various sizes. On an entry-level bike you’ll usually find a compact double chainset, with 50 and 34-tooth chainrings to give low ratios that make getting up hills easier.

Racing cyclists usually prefer a standard double chainset. A larger pair of chainrings (usually 39/53) is better suited to the high speeds of racing in a bunch.

The broadest possible spread of gears is achieved with a triple chainset, so called because it has three chainrings. These are now fairly rare, because a compact chainset gets you gears that are almost as low while being lighter and simpler to use. Triples still ideal for really steep hills, riding in the mountains or carrying luggage.

The wheels make the bike

The next important area of your new bicycle is the wheels and tyres. The wheels heavily influence how the bike rides, feels and responds. Lighter wheels with less rotating mass are slightly quicker to spin up, but real speed comes from  deep-section aerodynamic rims. Lighter and faster tyres feel more responsive.

When researching your new bike, decent wheels should be high on your list of priorities. While you can easily replace components like the rear derailleur and other components that will eventually wear out, the wheels take up a large chunk of the bike’s overall cost so they’re more expensive to upgrade.

In the last few years it’s become more and more obvious how important tyres are to the ride. Tyres 23mm wide used to be the standard, but now even pro riders are using more comfortable, faster-rolling 25mm and 26mm tyres. The small increase in weight and aerodynamic drag is more than compensated by improved comfort and road holding.

Rolling resistance is the measure of how much energy is needed to keep a tyre moving down the road. In tests there can be a difference of up to 83% between the best and worse. That’s an extra 55 Watts to maintain 25mph, and that’s a difference you can feel.

Disc brakes: not just for mountain bikes any more

As well as gearing choices, you can now choose whether your bike has mountain bike style disc brakes or traditional rim brakes. Rim brakes are still lighter and more aerodynamic, but the difference is dropping. Disc brakes provide better power and modulation, are less affected by bad weather and carry on working even if you ding a rim.

If you ride year-round, another advantage of discs is that winter road crud won’t wear out your rims. To really get the advantages of disc brakes you want a hydraulic system, but the better mechanical and hybrid systems are very good.

So there you go, some useful tips and hints for making the right choice when it comes to buying your first road bike.