So you've decided you want to take your cycling to the next level.
The only question that remains is, "what's the best road bike for me?" With so many brands, and bike technology evolving at a rapid rate, it's best to look to the details to obtain the right answer. Whether it be a Colnago, Cannondale, Giant or Specialized, the process of choosing a road bike should fundamentally be treated in the same way as choosing a car.
Are you looking for comfort? Are you looking for speed? Are you looking for a road bike predominantly for flat riding, or are you looking to tackle mountains? What groupset are you after? Do you want a carbon fibre frame? These are all essential questions and, as you can begin to see, it can get confusing fast. You begin to ask what am I doing? Where do I start?
You see I had the same problems but also some serious help - a friend of mine had all the answers for me - but for those who won't have the luxury of an expert on hand, we'll break down the process so you can find your dream two-wheeler.
Before you purchase: It's essential you're measured up by a salesperson at a store. This will narrow down the choices you have and help the salesperson pick the right bike for your posture. Everyone sits on a road bike in a different way and bikes need to be tailored to your body, otherwise, back problems and muscle aches will be the norm.
We all know the most common hurdle when making a purchase is a budget. It's no different when choosing a road bike. A budget of $15,000 will ensure you a top-end bike with top tires, carbon fibre and all the extras to help you feel like Cadel Evans. A beginner will find a reasonable bike between $2,000 and $3,000. When talking bikes, more expensive means two things - comfort and performance. So, like with a car, it's all about how far you're willing to go.
First things first, you need to be able to answer exactly why you want this bike. Are you riding competitively? Are you riding for a specific event? Is it a new hobby that you are sharing with friends? There are two categories each bike will fall under. Endurance bikes and Race bikes.
What's the difference?
- Endurance bikes will set you higher in the saddle and tend to be more comfortable for longer rides.
- Race bikes will place you lower in a more aerodynamic position allowing for quick handling.
The best way to answer which type you need is to answer these questions:
- How often will I ride?
- How competitive and result based will I be?
- How far will I ride?
- What will I ride more? Flat roads, or hilly roads?
In general, endurance bikes have smaller gears, meaning they make climbing hills and mountains easier, while race bikes have bigger gears allowing for more outright speed. So it's more effort vs less effort, however, more effort should get you there first. If you find yourself clocking up more than 200km a week, an endurance bike will keep you feeling less fatigued after rides. If you are riding at a more competitive level, a race bike is preferable. Longer rides will favour endurance bikes, whereas shorter routes will favour race types. If this is a hobby and a more social activity, endurance bikes are where you will find your mean machine.
Where to next? Groupsets, electronic shifting, and disc brakes
Now we will touch on groupsets, these can be confusing even for the well-initiated. Groupsets, are essentially the collection of components which help you stop and go. The big three brands in this space consist of Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. They vary in price and carry the same stigma as buying a car, do you want Italian or anything else? If you are buying your bike with everything as it comes, then not to worry, you will be assigned one of the three with your bike depending on which brand. For instance, if you are buying a Colnago they use Campagnolo whilst Giant use Shimano.
The more important question to ask when making a choice on a specific groupset is not the brand but whether or not you wish to have electronic shifting between gears and disc brakes. Choosing which groupset suits you best will always come down to feel, testing different options is the only way to know which you prefer, however, here are some recommendations to get you going.
Shimano 105: This Japanese groupset is the most affordable performance based groupset on the market. Its 11-speed group is said to be the best in performance and value for mid-range bikes.
Campagnolo pro-level: Record and Super record: Should you have money to burn, this set is the one for you. Highly regarded as one of the best groupsets on the market, the Italian workhorse produces high-grade carbon fiber construction with lightweight alloys and titanium.
So there are two ends of the spectrum for you to consider, we will also delve into the disk brake and electronic shifting scenario, I myself have used disc brakes on a Giant and currently have electronic shifting on my Willier. We'll break down the pros and cons for you so you can have it out with the salesperson.
Pros of electronic shifting:
- Minimal effort
- If shifted at the right time it can save you a whole lot of energy.
Cons of electronic shifting:
- If not charged can malfunction or play up on rides
- Charging the battery can be tedious
- More expensive
Verdict: It's more of a want than a need, but if you have the money, it'll make a big difference to your riding experience.
Pros of Disc Brakes:
- Quicker at coming to a full stop
- Less time to slow down.
Cons of Disc Brakes
- Can be too efficient (that's right) Disc brakes can often be too efficient if riding in a peloton, as you come to a full stop far quicker, cyclists trailing behind have been known to crash into one another due to how quick the bike comes to a stop. So you will need to monitor yourself, how quickly you need to clamp down on the brakes.
- Can be dangerous in wet-weather, braking hard can cause tires to slide out in wet weather, be cautious.
Verdict: Disc brakes are widely debated among cyclists, but if you have the money there is no reason why you shouldn't have them. They will take some getting used to but it's the same as everything, it's all about practice.
Some Road Bike Options
Colnago C60 ~$5,000
Ernesto Colnago is the godfather of road biking. Since the 1970's, Colnago has produced some of the best road bikes in the world, and the 2018 Colnago C60 is a rider's dream. Handmade in Italy, built for comfort with optimal performance and guaranteed to turn heads on the road, this bike is for those who like to ride long distances and spend lots of money.
Cannondale Synapse from ~$4,000
Cutting edge technology boosts Cannondale's Synapse onto our list of serious hitters. Sleek, powerful and fitted with disc brakes, this bike is for those who will clock more than 300km a week. Cable control makes all wires invisible, and disc brakes make stopping and starting super efficient.
Specialized Tarmac SL4 Elite ~$3,000
Carbon fibre, durable components and a sleek build make this bike fantastic for anyone who is wanting to spend, but not overspend. Built for comfort, this bike will do just fine on those 'lengthy' rides.
Giant Defy Advanced 3 ~$2,000
This was my first bike and what a bike it was. As a beginner, this bike is fantastic. It's as comfortable as you will get with a small budget and is extremely friendly when it comes to handling. Finding a more stiff bike with a low budget will be hard to find. The only downside is it can be a bit heavy, but at this level, somethings gotta give.
So there you have it, a few recommendations and tips for finding the right bike for you. Asking yourself the questions above will help narrow your search, but the most important thing to remember is to try before you buy. Or at best be fitted and coached by a salesperson.
When it comes to bikes you do get what you pay for; but it's all about what you want out of your riding life, the type of body you have and the money you have put aside to start your adventure on the road.