I am sure that you will agree with me when I say that buying any type of bike has become quite a daunting process today. Now, imagine the troubles of having to choose a specific type of bike- in this case, a road bike. You probably do not have any idea of where to start. With so many features and brands, identifying the road bike that suits you best could get extremely confusing. Worry not, however. In this article, I am going to take an in-depth look into road bikes, their features, and review the components that make them efficient and capable of delivering as they should be.
What is a Road Bike?
A road bike is a lightweight bike that features smooth thin tires and other features that make it ideal for fast riding. The most notable feature on this type of bikes is the drop handlebars. The handlebars give you an aerodynamic position that is best for fast riding. They also enhance your comfort and allow you to achieve greater efficiency.
Since road bikes are designed to be fast, they are the best for racing, commuting, touring, and fitness. They do well on pavements and smooth ground. Because they are light, they cannot carry loads and are unstable on rough trails.
How to Choose a Road Bike Frame
The most important part of the bike has to be the frame. It holds the entire road bike together, which means that it cannot be changed. As such you need to find a bike with frame features that meet all your riding needs. One of important factors to consider when choosing a bike frame include frame materials, geometry, and size.
Bike frames are made from different materials with the most common being aluminum, steel, carbon fiber, and titanium. Let us delve into the specifics of each material.
- Aluminum: this is arguably the most common material in bike frames. Aluminum builds lightweight bikes and is very affordable. It is also easy to design and customize to your specific needs. The latest aluminum frames are using butted tubes. Butted tubes have ends that are thicker as compared to the middle to be able to handle pressure at the joints. It’s also lighter and deliver more comfort to you when riding.
- Steel: this is no longer a common material for the manufacturing of bikes today. This is because it is very heavy. However, it can be a good option for casual riding road bikes where weight resistance is not an issue.
- Titanium: it is boasts of producing extremely lightweight and strong bike frames. Additionally, it is resistant to corrosion, thus making it one of the best bike frame materials. However, it is very expensive and is not easy to work with.
- Carbon fiber: most modern bikes are made from carbon fiber. It is one of the most coveted materials due to its lightweight nature and ability to be customized into almost anything. However, because of its ability to be manipulated into almost anything, unscrupulous people might use it to create bikes whose quality is compromised. It is important, therefore, that you buy a carbon fiber bike only from a trusted manufacturer. This will help you to avoid compromising on your bike’s quality.
The frame geometry on road bikes differs according to the use of the bike. Different road bike frame specs give different levels of riding experience, which means that you have to settle on any set of specs depending on your riding needs. For example, endurance bikes have a longer head tube, a sloping top tube, and low handlebars for increased comfort. On the other hand, racing bikes have drop handlebars that allow the rider to assume an aerodynamic position for faster riding.
Choosing a road bike frame size
Choosing the right frame size can be hard because different manufacturers have different measurements for the frame with different increment sizes. Since different people have different body shapes, choosing the right one for you means being able to estimate your sizing accurately, something that can be challenging for most people. To help you estimate your bike size, manufacturers have a size chart on their websites. You can also find one in a bike shop. This is the simplest way for anyone to estimate his or her bike size, especially when he or she cannot see it. The best way to be sure, however, is going to test the bike you intend to buy physically at a bike shop. You can also get the necessary customizations done by a professional at a bike shop to get a bike that is fine-tuned to your specific fit.
A groupset is a bike’s brakes and transmission. Groupsets are differentiated based on their prices, performance, and weight. As a result, most of the expensive groupsets are lightweight, give smooth and fast gear shifting, and have more gear options. Shimano and SRAM are the common groupsets for road bikes. Shimano groupset has 5 levels: Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, Dura Ace, and Shimano Di2 arranged from entry-level to professional. SRAM has 4 groupsets: Apex, Rival, Force, and Red.
Cranks and chainsets
Different road bikes have different chainrings of different sizes in the chainsets. Currently, a mid-compact is being developed with 36/52 for fast riding even on hilly terrains. Compact double chainsets with 34 and 50 chainrings offer low ratios for easy uphill climbs. For higher speeds, however, larger pairs are ideal like 39/53.
Multiplying the number of chainrings by that of the cassette cogs on your road bike will give you the number of gears on your bike. The number of gears on a road bike determine what kind of terrain it is ideal for. A smaller gearing is best for easy trails and flat pavements. Wider gearing, on the other hand, is best for rougher terrains because it gives low gears. The wider the gears, the more terrains you can ride in and the more the speed.
There are three types of gear shifters in road bikes including:
- Electronic shifters: these work using batteries and wires and are very easy to use. Bikes with these type of gears, however, are very expensive.
- Internally geared hubs: these shifters work with a chain or belt drive but provide limited gears. The best feature about these is that they are protected from water and dirt, thus making them very easy to maintain.
- Belt drives: these use a belt to move as opposed to a chain. They are made from urethane and carbon fiber and are quieter and stronger as compared to chain ones.
Road bikes come with two types of brakes: rim and disc brakes. Rim brakes feature pads that stop your bike by gripping the wheel. They are cheap and easy to replace. However, they do not work well in wet conditions, they wear out easily, and they require a lot of finger pressure to engage.
Disc brakes stop your bike by gripping the braking rotor on the bike’s wheel hub. They offer superior braking with little finger strain and work well even in wet conditions. They, however, are very expensive. They come in two types namely hydraulic and mechanical.
Wheels are a priority when it comes to road bikes. The wheel size determines the speed and drag of your bike. 23mm was the standard width for road bikes but 25mm and 27mm wheels are increasingly being adopted. A wider wheel means more comfort and increase in weight but can be slower as compared to the ones with smaller widths.
Road bikes have three different types of tires namely:
- Clinchers: clinchers are the most commonly used tires on road bikes. They are held in place by a wire bead that is joined to a hook. They also come with separate inner tubes.
- Tubular tires: these feature an inner tube held onto the rim with glue and covered by a tire casing.
- Tubeless tires: these tires hold air in using a rubber coating, a sealing strip, or a liquid sealant on the rim.
Buying Guide Checklist
Whatever your budget, you should be able to stick to it. This is because there will always be a better bike that will be more expensive in the market. Additionally, bikes come with different accessories that have to be bought separately. Having an unsteady budget can make you pay up to twice what you wanted to spend on a road bike.
Type of bike
There are different types of road bikes. These are:
- Racing bikes: these feature very light frames made from either aluminum or carbon fiber in a simple design that facilitate fast riding. They are ideal for racing uphill and flat surfaces. Racing bikes have features that make them faster as compared to other types of road bikes. Some of the features include drop handlebars, thin tires, and close ratio gearing.
- Endurance bikes: these road bikes are identifiable based on their frame geometry. Endurance bikes have long head tubes, lower handlebars, and sloping top tubes that provide maximum riding comfort. They also have thick wheels that allow you to enjoy a more comfortable ride.
- Touring bikes: featuring a simple design and comfortable drop handlebars, these bikes are suitable for long distance riding. The wheels are wide enough to allow extra weight because touring bikes have racks and fenders to carry things. These bikes have short top tunes and long head tubes for an upright position when riding. Longer wheelbases make them easy to control since they lower the center of gravity. What’s more, they have low gears for riding on steep terrains. Touring bikes use cantilever brakes that allow quick braking even when carrying an extra load.
- Cyclocross bikes: these are made for racing on mixed surface courses such as in parks for fun and games. They ride on a mixture of gravel, unpaved trails, grass, and pavement. Cross bikes should be light and are mostly made from aluminum and carbon fiber. Additionally, they are raised from the ground and have large tire clearance to avoid being clogged by mud. Tires on cross bikes are wider for increased traction on the mixed surfaces. Tubular tires are ideal for cross bikes since they can run on low pressure and not go flat. Clinchers with a restricted tire width of 33mm are also popular among cross bikes. The bike gearing has 46/36 chainrings for quick and accurate shifting. Cantilever brakes and disc brakes are designed to keep mud from building up on the bike while the drop handlebars offer increased riding comfort.
Aesthetics are key when buying anything that is important to you. Since a bike is an investment, it is imperative that you get one that looks good to you. As such, pick a color that will make you want to ride your bike more. You can be sure that with the wide array of road bikes available in the market today, you can get one with a color that matches your color preferences.
Choosing a road bike can be quite challenging as seen from the above guide. There is a lot of technical jargon that you need to understand and features that you need to keep in mind when looking for the ideal road bike. Different road bike features are good for different riding needs, which means that it is important to know your riding requirements before you purchase one. As a result, you will need to do more research before settling on a specific bike. Bikes are available in local stores and even online, and these are great places to start your research. It is imperative to note that a bike is a long-term and costly investment. As such, it is critical to choose one that gives you premium functionality at the best price.