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What is the best second bike for road cyclists?

What would you have? Would you go for gravel, choose ‘cross or maybe a mountain bike? The road.cc team pick their ideal second steed

The dream for many cyclists is to have the right bike for every niche of cycling, with the 'n+1' rule being the only thing most of us need when debating whether or not to buy another bike... but the cost of your own fleet can be eye-watering, and for many riders a second bike is a luxury.

> 6 of the best winter bikes

We started thinking about what would be the best second bike to have for a roadie, and the discussion quickly showed us two things. Firstly, we were never going to agree on what is the best second bike for a road rider; we’re all different and we each have our own ideas. Secondly, there are a huge number of options if you are indeed looking for a second bike, and they don’t all need to be an off-road bike.

So, instead of starting an argument that would never stand a chance of ending, we’ve asked everyone on the tech team and a select few other road.cc staffers to tell you what their second bike would be, why they’ve chosen it and what, if anything, they’d miss out on by being limited to two bikes.

Mat Brett - Tech Editor

First bike - Bianchi Oltre XR4 road bike

Second bike - All-road gravel bike

2020 3T Exploro Pro GRX - riding 1.jpg

My ideal second bike would be a gravel bike that's capable on tracks and trails, and still pretty quick on the road. 

I need to ride three or four miles on Tarmac to get to gravel, then it's a mix of well-drained tracks, potholed stretches and muddy bridleways, with the occasional stretch of road in between. I want something that's versatile enough to feel lively on each of those surfaces.

> Review: 3T Exploro Pro GRX

I usually like something with a sporty geometry, so maybe one of the 3T Exploros would be the one for me. On the other hand, I’ve got more into exploring unsurfaced byways lately, and they’re often more technical, so maybe I’d opt for something with a more relaxed geometry, like a Giant Revolt or an Orro Terra C – the new version with a semi-integrated cabling at the front looks gorgeous.

Jack Sexty - Editor

First bike - Specialized Tarmac SL6

Second bike - Aluminium endurance road bike

Van Rysel edr af 105

While I’d love to tell you about all the bespoke custom loveliness I’d ride if the gloves were off, the rules of the game are that I’m allowed one second bike… so for various reasons personal to me, it would have to be an almost completely blacked out aluminium road bike. Something like Decathlon’s Van Rysel EDR AF is a prime example, but any other inconspicuous road bikes offering a similar ride/geometry to my Specialized Tarmac would suffice.

> Review: Decathlon Van Rysel RR 900 AF

When there isn’t a pandemic on, my second bike is utilised for everything from shopping to commuting a 35-mile round trip each day. I use the commute to train and rarely do extra bike miles if I do this 3-4 times a week, so I prefer speed over comfort.

Although the commute is suitable for road tyres it can get extremely muddy, so much so that I would opt for clip-on mudguards to make it easier to take them off and clean nooks and crannies occasionally. All the other add-ons need to be quickly removable for easy charging and simplicity day-to-day, so for lighting, I can’t really look past the Lezyne 1000XL front and BlackBurn Dayblazer rear lights I already have. The Lezyne is bright enough for unlit sections of my commute in winter and can be taken on and off in a flash.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus.jpg

While tubeless is great, something like Schwalbe’s Marathon Plus 28mm clinchers would be my tyres of choice, just because I can change the tube quickly and mess-free. A decent-sized saddle bag with room for two tubes, levers, patches and a multi-tool is a must, and I’d attach a mini pump to the seat tube bottle cage mount. One cage will do, as I rarely use my second bike for rides longer than an hour in duration.

After much experimentation I’ve found that I prefer to carry luggage in a cycling-specific backpack, so for times when I need to take a change of clothes to the office and back or do my shopping, I don’t really need more storage options on the bike.
Why all black? Because I live in a big city with a big reputation for bike theft, so I’m steering clear of anything with attractive colours and lots of branding! I’ll always lock this bike up with my trusty Pragmasis DIB D-lock when I park it anywhere which should deter most amateur thieves, but the nondescript appearance would hopefully encourage them to look elsewhere too.

> 6 of the best bike locks — stop your bike from getting stolen with our selection

In terms of gearing, mechanical Shimano 105 in its rim brake guise is all I’d need. I’d go for a compact chainset and 11-32t cassette to deal with Bristol’s brutal urban hills, and to the bars, I’d attach my Quad Lock out-front mount for navigation. My choice means I can’t really go off-road riding, but I’m not a mountain biker and I could take this bike on brief towpath journeys without worrying too much.  

Anna Marie Hughes - Tech Writer

First bike -  Carbon race bike

Second bike - Custom aluminium endurance bike

Sonder Colibri AL

With a carbon race bike as my go-to ride, my second bike needs to be something that’s super reliable for all occasions so I can trust it is there ready to go whatever the weather conditions, time of day and that it can also survive some of my poor route planning…

I’d go for a frame like the Sonder Colibri aluminium endurance disc brake frameset, built up with these features:

As I’m really forgetful when it comes to charging up lights a SON dynamo setup would be ideal so even if the night creeps up on me and I still get out and pack a session in.

> Review Pirelli Cinturato Velo tyre

With so many little lanes with a light dusting of gravel near me, I’d run 32mm tyres tubeless, probably Pirelli’s Cinturato Velo tyres as they have decent grip for all conditions as well as loads of puncture proofing. With the wider volume, I can run lower pressures and be more confident that the sealant will plug the holes.

Full-length mudguards are a must and I’d also opt for a Tailfin AeroPack rack so that the weight is kept low, but I have luggage storage options when needed. With downtube bottle bosses I’d use this to have a tool keg attached down low.

> Your complete guide to Shimano's GRX groupsets

For gearing, I’d go for a Shimano GRX groupset, 2x11. With a 46/30 crankset and an 11-32 cassette, I can stay in the big ring for a lot longer when on the road, which simplifies shifting. But the smaller than 1:1 bottom ratio means that no matter the hill or the load I’ll always be able to sit at the right cadence. There’s also tight enough spacing that the jumps between gears aren’t so big as to be annoying. Plus, the clutch mech stops the chain bouncing around so much and hitting the chainstay.

Liam Cahill - Tech Writer

First bike - Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7

Second bike - Cyclocross bike

Ridley X-Night SL

While I’ve been spending a lot of time this winter on a mountain bike, I can’t bring myself to not race cyclocross in the winter, so it’d be a full CX race setup for me. I'd have something like the Ridley X-Night SL.

A cyclocross bike is the original versatile off-road option and, with the correct tyre selection, I believe that this is still the case. In fact, for my local area, I think it’s a better choice as stringing together sections of singletrack means quite a bit of road riding and around us, it is very hilly.

We also have a lack of proper mountain bike trails, so a ‘cross bike is all I really need. In fact, I’d say that this choice is actually better for my technical riding skills as I’m forced, because of a small tyre and lack of suspension, to choose my lines perfectly. I’ll just have to accept that on rougher terrain, my wrists, knees and ankles are going to take a beating.

> Video: How to choose the right mudguards for your bike

For winter road duties, a CX bike also has plenty of space for mudguards if I want to stay dry on a longer ride or on the spin to the office.

Disc brakes are a must for me now. Being able to stop in any weather is rather nice and discs have the added benefit of not staining my lovely cotton sidewalls on my tubulars when it is wet. While I’m here, Di2 is a lovely thing to have, and not just for the cool noise the front mech makes. The motorised mechs shift more consistently in heavy mud. I’ll have the Ultegra clutch mech too, just to stop the chain bouncing around so much.

At the front, a 2x chainring setup is what I’ll have. I simply find it more useful on the road and unless the mud is really heavy, there is no issue for CX racing. Also, you’re allowing me an identical bike for the pits and supplying a pit crew to wash my bikes, right?

> 6 reasons to try cyclocross this winter — have crazy fun, build skills & maintain fitness in the mud

Seeing as I’m already cheating, I’m going to grant myself two wheelsets for my CX bike. The first, for general off-road riding, will be a wider 36mm semi-slick handmade tubeless tyre like the Challenge Gravel Grinder. It’s great for a mix of road speed and cornering grip and the supple casing is excellent.

My second set of wheels will be reserved for racing. Carbon 40mm tubular rims with 33mm FMB Slalom tyres would see me through most of the cyclocross season.

Stu Kerton - Reviewer

First bike - Road racer

Second bike - Gravel Adventure bike

Ragley Trig Gravel complete bike -16

If I had to choose just one other bike to sit alongside my road machine it’d definitely be of the gravel/adventure variety, purely down to their versatility for off-road adventures while still having a bit of zing on the tarmac.

Before the first lockdown of 2020, my riding was split about 85% road to 15% gravel, and that was purely down to the fact that that was how the ratio of test bikes I had coming through balanced out.

Since then though I’d say the split is more 60/40 favouring the road but the gravel bike has become a real release, allowing me to escape into unknown places and travel new, yet quiet routes in and around quite highly populated areas.

The reason being is that they are so damn versatile, a selection of different tyres can allow you to do so much.

Equipped with a set of fat slicks you can fly along on the road whether that be smooth trunk roads or taking to the broken country lanes, while the handling remains similar to that of an endurance road bike, meaning you still get some fun handling in the bends.

Stick some semi-slicks on and you’re all set for darting between the road and hardpacked gravel as you criss-cross the countryside, and even if you go for something knobblier for wet winter trails a gravel bike isn’t as much of a slog on the tarmac to get to the fun stuff.

The majority of gravel bikes come with mounts for guards and racks too which means they can make capable commuters, winter trainers and even lightweight tourers.

There is so much choice as well, right across the price ranges.

> Review: Ragley Trig Gravel Bike

Something like the Ragley Trig Gravel are both great for fencing about off-road without breaking the bank, coming in at just over a grand apiece. 

The world of bikepacking is well within reach with a gravel bike too thanks to the huge amount of frame, seatpost and bar bags available although if you want to basically carry everything including the kitchen sink then you could treat yourself to something like the Kona Rove LTD with its fork mounts to get even more kit on-board. It also has one of the best ride qualities I’ve found on a gravel bike.

> Review: Kona Rove LTD Gravel Bike

All you need to do is choose the right gearing set up to suit your riding.

Dave Atkinson - road.cc Founding Father

First bike - Kinesis Tripster ATR V3

Second bike - Custom fixed/Single speed

DWARD Design

My first bike - a Kinesis Tripster ATR V3 - is a real do-it-all machine. It’s quick enough for fast road rides and it’s got enough clearance to fit some big tyres and head off-road. And it’s comfortable enough for really big rides, too. So a lot of the time When I’m riding outside I’ll be on board the Tripster. I do have a carbon race bike, but mostly it’s actually for racing, or the club paceline, or anything else where out-and-out speed is important. Due to lack of any racing, it’s mostly sat on the turbo for the past year, and it’s done a lot more miles indoors than it has out.

> What is a fixed gear bike good for? 

If I’m not riding the Tripster outdoors then most likely I’ll be aboard my DWARD Design custom fixed/single speed. This was made for me to mirror the geometry of the Tripster, so swapping between them feels really natural. It’s a practical winter bike, with clearance for 30mm tyres with mudguards, full hydraulic disc brakes and a dynamo setup from SON; most of the time I run it as a single speed but if I’m planning a flatter ride I’ll stick a fixed cog on instead.

> What is Audax? A simple guide to the world of long-distance riding

I love the way that riding on a single ratio moves you in and out of your comfort zone; it’s always a bit like an interval session and there’s never an option to take it easy on the climbs! When we’re allowed to meet up again and ride together I hope to complete some flatland audax rides on it, it’s a super-comfy bike and great for long distances. So far my biggest fixed gear ride is 150km but there’s a couple of 400km loops I have my eye on...

We really want to know what you’d choose as a second bike. Would this restrict your riding? Do you agree with any of us, or have we all got it horribly wrong? Let us know down in the comments section below! 

Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. After joining the road.cc staff in 2016 as a reviewer, Liam quickly started writing feature articles and news pieces. After a little time living in Canada, where he spent most of his time eating poutine, Liam returned with the launch of DealClincher, taking over the Editor role at the start of 2018. At the weekend, Liam can be found racing on the road both in the UK and abroad, though he prefers the muddy fields of cyclocross. To date, his biggest race win is to the front of the cafe queue.

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