How to choose a road bike

Josh Page | Wed 20th May 2020 10:41

Looking to buy a new road bike, but don't know where to start? This guide should help you through the main differences in road bikes and help you work out what type of bike best suits your needs.

So you're keen to get into road cycling? Whether you want to have a crack at the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, complete an Ironman or just want to get fit and enjoy the countryside with your friends, we can help.

Like all forms of bike riding these days, purchasing a new road bike can be a daunting experience, with so many different designs, materials and bike styles it's easy to get confused as to just what you might need.

Use this guide to become familiar with the different options out there and to learn what type of bike will work best for your needs.

Frame Materials

Most road bikes Evo stock are made of aluminium (alloy) or carbon, but there are also steel and titanium bikes out there. However, these are mainly produced by boutique frame manufacturers due to the expertised need to craft them.

Each material has different characteristics when it comes to ride feel and performance, so it’s important to understand why each material is used and whether it is right for you.

Alloy:

Most companies use aluminium alloy for their low-cost / value range of road bikes. Alloy is light, strong, durable and corrosion-resistant, and provides a very comfortable ride when the bike is well-made. Alloy frames are made by welding aluminium tubing together, a process that is faster and easier for frame builders than working with other materials. For this reason, alloy bikes tend to be cheaper to produce as there is less labour time involved. Aluminium is also a cheaper raw material.

Alloy tubing is welded together
Alloy is corrosion-resistant

Carbon:

Many bike products are made of carbon, including frames. Carbon starts it’s life in a cloth-like state before resin is added. The frame is then moulded and baked into the finished product. This is a simplified explanation of the build process, but the key thing is that the cloth-like starting point means frames can be sculpted into all sorts of shapes and sizes to best suit their end purpose and discipline. These qualities have made carbon very popular. Not only is it light and strong, but it can provide a very comfortable ride.

The downside to carbon versus alloy is that they can take much longer to produce and require more expensive upfront costs for moulds, thus carbon bikes will almost always be more expensive than alloy bikes.

Carbon is easier to make into unique shapes for better performance characteristics
Carbon allows for seamless joins

Titanium and steel:

Some boutique manufacturers make beautiful titanium and steel bikes. A lot are hand-welded and custom, leaving you with a bike that a lot of traditionalists would consider artwork. When made well, these bikes are very comfortable and tend to last for a very long time. However, because of the specialist skills required to make them, especially with titanium, they can be very expensive, especially compared to mainstream bikes.

Steel tubing is welded at the joints and makes for ‘classic’ looking bicycles
Steel tends to last for a very long time

Types of road bike

Road bikes come in many shapes and designs depending on their intended use. Most work well in all aspects of road cycling, but some specialise in certain areas and are better used for those disciplines.

Endurance:

Endurance road bikes are a great place to start looking if you’re new to road cycling as they are the closest you’ll find to a do-it-all road bike. Their geometry is designed for stability, comfort and predictability, with taller head tubes, short top tubes and long wheel bases. Modern endurance bikes have spacing for wide tyres, up to 32c, and disc brakes. This gives the bike great versatility for riders who also like to explore dirt and gravel roads. The modern endurance road bike was born from a need for a better platform to tackle the notorious roads of northern France in the famed Paris – Roubaix cycle race.

Endurance is designed for longer rides and stability
"Relaxed geometry” make for comfort and versatility
Shop Endurance Road Bikes

Aero Race:

Whether you want to race, ride draft-legal triathlons or smash your mates on the flats and rolling roads, aero bikes are made for speed. They are designed and optimised in wind tunnels and their tube shapes help air flow smoothly around the frame when every second counts. Aero bikes used to carry the stigma of being heavier and harsher than their traditional cousins, but modern design technology has made them lighter and more comfortable, and allowed them to become more than just flat-land warriors.

Aero race bikes are designed to have aerodynamic tube shapes.
Aeronamics at the heart of design
Shop Aero Race Road Bikes

Lightweight Race:

Most modern lightweight-race, or traditionally called climbing frames, have round-tubes that have been optimised to achieve aero qualities. Climbing bikes tend to be very light and aggressive. They were designed for Tour de France riders to float through mountain passes and tear down the other side. Now riders can purchase and ride the same bike as their sporting heroes. At the top end, sub-6kg bikes are not uncommon. Look to these frames if you love climbing, want to race or like the look of a more traditional frame design.

Lightweight race bikes have been designed for excellent climbing properties.
Climbing bikes tend to be very light and aggressive.
Shop Lightweight Race Road Bikes

Cyclocross:

Cyclocross has been around since the first world war and was invented as a way for road pros to keep fit through winter. Cyclocross bikes are somewhat a specialist bike. Riders race around a short circuit between five to 10 minutes long for up to an hour, and must navigate barriers such as stairs, small walls, ditches and other natural obstacles on- and off-road. Cyclocross is huge in the northern low-lying countries of Europe such as Belgium and Holland, and it wouldn’t be a traditional winter cyclocross race without a bit of mud. While cyclocross isn’t huge in New Zealand the bikes are great for winter training, adventure or commute riding.

Cyclocross is optimised for on and off road performance
Flat top tubes let riders carry the bike on their back to navigate obstacles
Shop Cyclocross Bikes

Gravel:

Gravel riding has taken off in the past few years. Most countries have miles of backcountry unpaved roads that are accessible but too hard on road bikes. Cue the gravel bike. They are almost a love child of endurance and cyclocross, utilising the mud clearance and off-road capabilities of the cyclocross bike, but with the comfort and stability of the endurance road bike.

Learn more about gravel bikes here

Time trial/triathlon:

If you want to go fast – really fast – or you’re keen on racing a half or full ironman triathlon, these are the bikes for you. With full aero frames and geometry that puts you in an aggressive aero tuck position, the focus is on aerodynamics and riding solo as fast as possible. However, time trial/triathlon bikes come with a trade-off. The deep aero tubing tends to make them harsher than aero road bikes, and the tuck position means you will want to work on your flexibility and core strength.

Disc brakes or rim brakes?

One debate in road cycling is whether rim or disc brakes are better and if disc will supersede rim. Road cycling is a very traditional sport, and many road riders – even pros – still use rim brakes. In the dry, rim brakes are powerful and a handful of brake lever will have your wheels locked up in no time at all. Rim brakes are light and easy to use, and riders can switch between wheels without too many issues. Wet weather riding is where rim brakes struggle. When water and other road-surface contaminants end up on the rim, the brake pads can take a couple of seconds to clear the surface before creating the friction required to slow the bike.

A disc brake, however, really shines in the wet. Because the disc rotor is designed to dissipate heat and create friction, braking power is almost the same as it would be in the dry. The only limiting factors are the tyres and the rider’s control of the brake lever and brake modulation

If you’re riding over long mountain passes, such as those found in Europe, heat dissipation from the pad and rotor means disc brakes don’t reach high temperatures when descending for long periods. Specific parts release the heat, whereas on a rim brake bike, the heat goes through the braking track of the wheel and can also be absorbed by the tyre and tube.

Disc brakes have better stopping capabilities and heat dissipation
Rim brakes are lighter and are easier to change wheels.

Wheels and tyres

Wheels:

A wide range of wheels are available for road cycling. They are the one part, along with tyres, where you can essentially purchase more bike speed. Better wheels and tyres mean more pace for the same effort or the same pace for less effort.

Most wheels are made of aluminium or carbon. Cheaper bikes come with aluminium wheels, which are strong, reliable and long lasting. Better quality alloy wheels tend to range from $500 to around $2500. As the price bracket ascends, the wheels get lighter and stiffer, with better quality hubs. These qualities increase wheel stiffness and decrease rolling resistance, equalling more speed.

Carbon wheels tend to start at around $1500 and you can spend up to $6000 if you really want. Again, there are increases in bike speed and the quality of materials, spokes, hubs and bearings as you go up in price.

Carbon wheels also have varying rim depths. At the shallow end, they become lighter and accelerate faster. As the depth increases, they become more aerodynamic and better at holding speed. What rim depth you choose depends on the style of riding you’re doing and the sort of rider you are.

A time trialist, triathlete or super-strong road cyclist may choose deep rim profiles up to 80mm. These are very fast but side winds can affect them and knock the rider around, and they are slower through corners.

A climber or lighter rider may choose a shallow rim profile for climbing acceleration and to avoid getting knocked about by the wind.

Tyres:

Tyres also come in many designs and sizes. The most common widths are 25c and 28c, with tyre technology and science showing us that these sizes provide less rolling resistance and more comfort on your road bike. 30c + tyres are found on bikes where comfort and terrain versatility are more important than speed on sealed roads.

Tyres come in three types: Clincher (non-tubeless), clincher tubeless and tubular.

Clinchers are the most common, fitting on the rim with a hook-type system. This is the tyre you will most probably have in your garage and it requires a tube for inflation.

With a clincher tubeless, you don’t need a tube to inflate the tyre. The tyre carcass is thicker and less porous than a straight clincher, meaning it’s harder for air to escape through the rubber. Add some special sealant and you end up with a fast-rolling, puncture-resistant tyre, with the added benefit of sealant to help fill small holes from things that may normally cause punctures. However you do need a tubeless-ready rim to run tubeless tyres.

Tubular tyres are more common in the pro ranks. The tyre and tube are one system, with the tube being integrated into the tyre carcass. The tyre is then glued onto the rim. These tyres are light, comfortable to ride, tough and resistant to the pinch flats that are common on rough roads or gravel. However they can be messy to fit and tend to be a throwaway item when they get a puncture, due to the tube being integrated into the tyre.

Groupsets

When it comes to groupsets, we’re talking mainly about the components that make up the drive-train of the bike, but can also include the brake set depending on one's interpretation. The drivetrain is the chain, cogs & gearing of your bike - basically the parts that allow you to drive power through the bicycle.

As with anything, the more you spend, the better the performance will generally be. With groupsets, benefits include wider gearing ranges, weight savings, durability, shifting precision and efficiency. At the top end, drive trains will focus on being able to create the highest power to weight ratio.

You find most component manufacturers will have a hierarchy of groupset series. With each step up, you’ll get some extra benefits over the lower tier, but with each step, you’ll find an increase in price. As a guide, the hierarchy for the two main manufacturers Shimano and Sram is below.

Shimano SRAM
Dura Ace Di2 Red eTap AXS, Red eTap 22
Dura Ace Red 22
Ultegra Di2 Force eTap AXS
Ultegra Force 1, Force 22
105 Rival 1, Rival 22
Tiagra Apex 1, Apex
Sora
Claris

*Please note, this is not an extensive list of all grousets as most of these series will have evolved over the years and kept the same series name, just with a new model name.

So as you can see, there are plenty of options and now it’s a case of finding the right bike for you. Click here to see our road bikes or come on in to one of our showrooms and we’ll be happy to help!

Shop All Road Bikes

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