Road bike popularity has peaked in recent years as commuting by bike and competitive cycling took off in Ireland. Better cycle paths in our cities and towns and burgeoning cycle clubs has increased the demand for better bikes.
As a result, there is now a huge range of road bikes available to suit all budgets and needs. Bikes with lighter frames, fancier groupsets and a great deal of specification choices. When you get the bug for biking, the choice can be overwhelming.
This guide will help you decide what you need from your road bike, be it for racing, leisure or commuting.
Why buy a road bike?
A road bike is sometimes referred to as a racing bike but not all road bikes are for racing. Road bikes are especially designed to be used on paved roads. They move better on tarmac and concrete and give a smoother, more comfortable ride. You could argue that mountain and hybrid bikes work fine. However, if you want speed and agility, it has to be a road bike.
Road bikes are at least 10% faster than a mountain bike on the road. No surprise since mountain bikes are designed to be used off road and for durability on paths less travelled. Road bikes are built for efficiency and endurance. Hybrid bikes are designed to combine the best of a road bike and mountain bike. This makes them good for leisurely rides and commutes but not for racing or stamina.
What to look for in a road bike
Road bikes range in budgets from hundreds to thousands of euros and ultimately that might dictate your choice. Make sure you get bang for your buck by knowing what you are buying.
What all road bikes have in common is that the frame is designed to be aerodynamic. This prevents slow down from wind and increases speed. Road bike frames tend to be lighter than their mountain and offroad counterparts too.
How road bike frames differ depends on the intended use. There are road bikes that are designed just for racing and others just for touring. Some race bike frames are designed with different seasons in mind. The frame of the latter is designed to fit with tyres that are wider than the standard slim race bike tyre.
The frame is what affects the weight of the overall bike. Lighter bikes move faster so keep that in mind if you’re going competitive. Road bike frames are typically made from carbon or aluminium. Carbon is lighter, however as a beginner, an aluminium frame is more affordable, durable and stronger.
Often overlooked in the excitement of choosing a road bike, posture is an important aspect of the purchase. There are two subtly different road bike postures. One is lower and meant for aerodynamic gain. The other is a straighter seated position favoured by long distance cyclists. Posture can be changed when cycling on a road bike by shifting handlebar hand positions. This can help relieve muscle ache.
If you have ever experienced back or hip pain try different bikes. Some bikes might force you into a posture that just isn’t maintainable with back problems. It shouldn’t stop you cycling, but looking after your back is important.
A bike with inefficient gears becomes hugely frustrating when you find yourself struggling to gain traction. Get the right gears and your bike race or tour will be more satisfying and efficient.
Gear quality is a huge factor in budget, The high end gears are undeniably better quality than budget gears. It’s not impossible to upgrade your gears at a later date, but it is difficult and can be expensive to do. Ask about this when buying your road bike.
Your cycling style also has an impact on what gears are right. Strong cyclists may prefer bigger gear options whereas the opposite is true for lighter riders. Likewise, think about where you will be cycling most. Is your terrain hilly or flat? Hilly climbs are better with lots of smaller gear choices. Smaller gears are used for endurance, including hill climbs. There are of course powerhouses of cyclists who like to charge up the hill using big gears. Know your strengths and buy with them in mind.
Bike Lingo explained: When anyone refers to a bikes groupset they are, most likely, talking about the brakes and gears. However, some people include the frame, fork and callipers (basically everything) in their groupset definition. Ask to avoid confusion.
There are several types of brake but road bikes generally come with either disc brakes or calliper (rim) brakes. Callipers are the standard type of bike brake you would have had on any bike growing up. These brakes sit either side of the wheel rim, front and back, and have black carbon ‘shoes’ or cartridges. Calliper brakes work by squeezing the wheel when the brake is applied.
Disc brakes sit centrally on each wheel and have callipers of their own. Disc brakes work by applying pressure to the central disc rather than the wheel rim.
There are pros and cons to both brake types but one thing to consider is maintenance. Calliper brakes are straightforward and easy to repair and replace yourself. Disc brakes however are a whole different ball game and not so easy to self manage.
Saddle size is the standard guide for deciding adequate bike size. We recommend trying a bike size in person before ordering online. It’s important to ensure that you feel comfortable, and safe. Generally speaking, the taller you are, the bigger the bike size needed. That said, the inside leg measurement of two people who are the same height can differ. A smaller inside seam might be better off on a smaller frame.
Reach is the other main factor to consider. Road bikes that are designed for racing have a longer reach design. This is to ensure that your posture is lower so you can move more aerodynamically. If you can’t reach without stretching then you need a smaller frame. Being hunched over the handlebars is no good either. This suggests your upper body is too long for the frame. Try a size up.
Electric Road Bikes
Last but not least, there are always electric road bikes to consider. These bikes are perfect for the cyclist who aims to go far often. For a road bike to take touring that has a built-in booster, an electric road bike will tick the box. These bikes aren’t meant for racing obviously, not unless all participants are using electric road bikes.
The frame, groupset and basic mechanics of an electric road bike are essentially the same as any other. You ride like you would normally ride a road bike with the option for extra power assistance when needed. Electric road bikes are a touch heavier because of the extra power unit, but a lot lighter than standard electric bikes.
Road cyclists who are heading on long distance endurance tours that last weeks or months, may find this to be the perfect companion. There is a lot to be said for electric road bikes as commuting bikes too. If you intend to cycle in every day, then an extra boost might be worth investing in to prevent burnout.
Check out our wide range of cycling products and clothes on our online store.