road.cc Buying Basics: Buying your first road bike
What to look out for if you want to get into cycling and you're after your first road bike
If you're looking to buy your first road bike, you are in the right place. road.cc will steer you through the occasionally confusing world of road cycling and arm you with the right information to make the best buying decisions.
Where to start
The good news is, it'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. Rapid development in the past couple of decades has seen entry-level bikes look ever better value for money, with much of that high-end technology trickling down to bikes we can all afford.
First, you need to decide how much you're prepared to spend Prices can start from about £250 and, generally speaking, the more you spend the lighter and better specified a bike will be. There is no right price. There's great choice between £300-500 these days and from £600 to £1000 you're entering the territory of very capable road bikes. Beyond that, well, you're entering a world of choice to suit all tastes.
Do your research
So, with a budget in mind, you want to do some research. Sure, you can just walk into your nearest bike shop, slap down some cash on the counter and leave with a road bike... and there's nothing wrong with that. But a bicycle is an investment and, as with most expensive investments, it's worth spending some time researching the options.
Our forum is a great place to ask questions about road bikes, and our review database gives you valuable advice for sorting the wheat from the chaff. They're both very good places to start. Below we outline some of the important considerations to think about.
The frame is the heart of your new road bike. It's where the majority of the budget goes. Frames can be made from a range of materials, the most common being steel, aluminium, titanium and carbon fibre. Each is a worthy material in its own right.
Aluminium is the most common frame material for bikes costing under £1,000. It's a cheap and very good material to make bikes from because it's stiff and light. The latest aluminium frames boast some advanced features and design touches.
Better aluminium frames use butted tubes (where the wall thickness is varied along its length) which makes them lighter and can offer more comfort. Frames with Deda, Easton, Columbus stickers, highly praised tubing manufactures, will command a premium.
Steel is a lovely material for a road bike. However, it's most often found on custom bikes and those designed for touring these days. It's heavier than aluminium but can be wonderfully comfortable. The latest stainless steel tubesets from Columbus and Reynolds demonstrate the material's suitability for lightweight race bikes although they don't come cheap.
Once the most exotic material of them all, titanium is as light as aluminium and as strong as steel, making it a wonderful material for bicycles. It is, however, difficult to work with and this means that it has always been an expensive option, although it is steadily becoming slightly more affordable.
Finally, there's carbon-fibre. This is the material that most people want their road bike frame to be made from. Once an ultra expensive choice, carbon fibre is now available at some very low prices, making it affordable to a large section of the bike-buying public.
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 is great in that it can be relatively easily manipulated by designers to tick whichever boxes they desire. Carbon-fibre offers light weight and, in the right hands, can be both stiff and comfortable.
While it's entirely conceivable that you'll want a carbon-fibre frame, don't discount aluminium. Often you will get an aluminium bike with far 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 experience than you'll get from a carbon-fibre bike where the manufacturer has 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!
Choosing the right size
Choosing the right size bike is absolutely critical when buying your first road bike. Take advice from the bike shop but 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 realy get the most out of your new hobby.
Picking the right size can be difficult. Generally, road bike are measured in centimetres but the way in which frames are measured varies between manufacturers. They're not all the same. Some offer three sizes and some offer 10 with smaller increments between them. However, as everyone has their own individual body shape it can get complicated.
The best thing is to have a good look at the size chart on each manufacturer's website, and sling your leg over any bike you're considering buying. If you can get a short spin on a bike, even better.
If the bike fits
Bike fit services have become popular these days, and many bike shops offer such a service. They'll give you expert advice and will even fit you on the bike in the shop to make sure you leave a happy customer.
There are several parts of the bike that you can change to help find a good fit (and a good bike shop will be invaluable here). Saddle height and its fore/aft position can be adjusted, the height of the handlebars can be raised or lowered with spacers on the steerer tube. Stems come in a range of lengths with 10mm increments to help you get the right reach. These are all changes that a good bike shop will happily assist you with.
The groupset comprises, essentially, the moving parts on your bike (gears and brakes) and 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 pecking order for Shimano goes like this, from entry-level to top-end; Claris, Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace. Campagnolo starts with Veloce, then, Athen, Chorus, Record and, at the very top, Super Record. SRAM offer four road groupsets; Apex at the entry-level, Rival, Force and Red. Pay more and you'll get a higher performance, a lower weight, or both.
Each system uses a different shifting system and it's down to personal preference which you choose. Shimano and Campagnolo also offer electronic shifting versions of their higher end groupsets although they command high prices. We're seeing electronic shifting gradually trickle down through the price points.
Compact, standard or triple
The chainset (the part the pedals attach to) comes with chainrings of various sizes. Most common at entry-level is a compact: a low ratio chainset (usually 34 teeth on the smaller chainring and 50 teeth on the bigger chainring) that will make getting up hills easier.
A standard, or double, chainset is favoured by racers. A larger pair of chainrings (usually 39/53) makes hitting higher speeds easier.
It's still possible to get triple chainsets on road bike, although they have mostly been replaced by compacts – which offer nearly the same spread of gears but they're lighter and simpler to use. Triples are good for those who want the very lowest gears, and they're ideal for really steep hills or riding in the mountains.
The wheels make the bike
The next important area of your new bicycle is the wheels. The wheels heavily influence how the bike rides, feels and responds. Lighter wheels will ride faster with less rotating mass. Lighter and faster tyres feel more responsive.
When researching your new bike, a bike with 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.
So there you go, some useful tips and hints for making the right choice when it comes to buying your first road bike.
So, you'll be wanting to know what good bikes are out there. Luckily, road.cc can help there too.
Here are 10 of the Best £500 to £750 road bikes.
Here are 15 of The Best Road Bikes Under £1,000.
And here are 11 of the Best £1,200 to £1,500 road bikes.
Good luck and happy shopping.