The Road Bike: A Comprehensive Guide

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The Road Bike: A Comprehensive Guide 1

When it comes to understanding your options as a brand-new bicycle enthusiast, you may feel overwhelmed. You have a ton of options, and you have a lot of upgrades and additional gear you can add to upgrade your bicycle in many ways.

I get it. It was the same way for me in the beginning.

Sometimes it’s hard even to know which kind of bike to start with.

Should I purchase a road bike?  Should I choose aluminum or steel or carbon? What about titanium, what benefits can it provide me? The options are endless. In today’s guide, my goal is to get you to understand all your options and hopefully help guide you towards making the right decision.

At the very least I want to make you understand the core differences between the bike options and how they work. Let’s break these down and see what options we really have.

Today’s post is only going cover road bicycles which as also frequently referred to as racing bicycles. Sorry for all the BMX fans and mountain bike fanatics. We will cover those in a different post, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

A Break Down of Road Bicycle, AKA (Racing Bicycles)

Road bicycles are the bikes we see perhaps the most frequently outside of mountain bikes and of course BMX bikes if you just finished watching the X Games. The primary trait that makes road bikes stand out are the skinny tires and the inverted or dropped down handlebars.

Many individuals opt to start with road bikes for 2 reasons. Speed and efficiency. It certainly has nothing to do with the cost, but we will touch more on that later.

Road bikes are primarily designed for individuals who will be consistently riding on regular pavement and for individuals who really enjoy taking the longer bike rides. Or, road bikes are for the die-hard competitive cycling fanatic. As you can see, road bikes serve many individuals with different taste.

Pros and Cons of Road Bicycles and Racing Bicycles

With road bikes, you have some clear reasons that make them an excellent choice for many reasons. Some of the pros of road bikes include the following.

The Pros of Road Bicycles

  • Lightweight and Potential for Higher Speeds
  • Drops Bars Help Create a More Powerful Transfer of Energy to Increase Speed/Efficiency
  • Aerodynamic and Ability to Cut Through Air More Efficiently
  • Thin Tires on Road Bikes Reduce Friction and Improve Speed
  • Highly Tolerant Components

The Cons of Road Bicycles

  • Not as Stable as Other Options
  • Not the Most Comfortable to Ride Compared to Other Options
  • Tough to Ride On your Muscles at High Speeds Due to High Gear Ratios

Why would I begin By Looking for Road Bikes Opposed to Other Options?

This depends a lot on why you are shopping for a new bike or potentially even your first bike in general. The second most popular bike is the mountain bike. The mountain bikes only serve the purpose of higher end suspension and the ability to maintain stability on rough and bumpy terrains.

If this isn’t the primary reason that you need a bicycle and you often use your bicycle to perform other functions such as commuting to work, exercising, touring or even competitive racing then the only bike you should be looking at is a road bike. It’s going to fit the bill for you the best. No questions asked.

Once you have narrowed down your search this far, it’s time to make the decision on which bike to get, how much you want to spend and what options are you looking for?

Sizing and material all come into play when purchasing a road bike so it’s important to take this purchase slow and be somewhat methodical about it.

What’s the Average Cost of a Road Bike?

This question depends a lot based on your taste. Road bikes can range anywhere from 200.00 to 12,000.00. It depends on the options you choose, and the materials used. For instance, a Bianchi Oltre XR4 can run you 11,000 to purchase, but it’s incredibly lightweight and even comes with an electronic and wireless shifting system.

While these features would be great to have, they aren’t necessary. Especially for the beginners. The lower end road bikes in the 200.00-700.00 range will do the trick just fine for any bicycle enthusiast newbie and save you a ton of money in the beginning.

Consider it From Another Angle.

Depending on why you are looking into road bikes, you could spin the cost from another angle as well. Road bikes are costly, yes, but they also make great commuting bikes. In some cities, these are all that are used for many individuals who are opposed to public transportation or purchasing a vehicle.

This could mean that you avoid paying for car insurance, fuel or other cost associated with owning a vehicle.

Also, you are getting a great workout each day. Some road bike manufacturers also offer to finance the bikes themselves, so before letting price be the reason you walk away from the potential road bikes is okay in theory but it’s important to understand that other alternatives exist.

You should make sure that you are considering the purchase from all angles first.

If it were me and I was just starting out, I would stick with your lower end model road bikes until you get a feel for how everything works. Once you are a little more knowledgeable on the different options and components available, you can then tweak and upgrade things to your liking. It will make more sense than to make a big investment initially.

Just starting out, there is really no reason to go overboard with options or features. You probably won’t even be able to tell the difference in a low-end road bike and a higher end road bike when you are first getting started.

Where could you begin with a Road bike?

I recommend starting out with a road bike something like the Vilano R2. The reviews are great, and the company has been manufacturing bikes for a while. This is also going to keep you close to the bottom end of the price scale. Can’t ask for a better combination than that. (There is a link here if you want to take a closer look and see what the reviews say)

Starting with a bike like this will keep some money in your pocket while you learn the sport. You can always upgrade your equipment down the road.

The Construction of Road Bicycles

Road bikes usually come in a few different options for the construction of the bike itself. You typically have the choice between the following

  • Carbon Road Bikes
  • Titanium Road Bikes
  • Steel Road Bikes
  • Aluminum Road Bikes

All these options have unique characteristics that can provide a benefit to the biker in one way or another. Let’s look at some of these familiar pros and cons of each of the bikes we have discussed previously.

The Pros of Carbon Road Bicycles

When a bike is made of carbon fiber, you are choosing the lightest and strongest material possible. Not a bad combination to have to your advantage. Also, carbon bikes are going to be very sturdy and the best at absorbing shock and maintaining stability.

Carbon bikes are known to be very stiff and can be customizable to any design easy. Finally, carbon road bikes are going to be resistant to rust and corrosion which can be a substantial additional benefit depending on what you usually use your bike for and where you store it most frequently.

The Cons of Carbon Road Bicycles

With quality always comes to a price tag. Not much you can do about this. You can’t expect to have a weather resistant and the most reliable version of a bicycle without it carrying a higher price tag. Also, not all carbon bikes are the same quality and may be susceptible to cracking/fracturing or splitting in the finished construction.

As far as the stiffness we mentioned as a nice perk of road bikes, it’s important to understand that this can vary based on the actual design of the bike you ultimately purchase. The easiest way to break this down in a more straightforward version is that not all carbon bikes are created equal.

It’s important to read reviews and do your research on any bike before making the final decision on which bike you will ultimately go with. This can save you a lot of time and headache.

If you aren’t considering a Carbon Bike, you may have some interest in some of the other options. Let’s dive into the Aluminum option for your bike and see what pros and cons it may be able to deliver.

The Pros of Aluminum Bikes

Aluminum bikes are also very lightweight but not quite as light as the carbon option. They are also a reliable option when it comes to overall durability. Aluminum bikes are the best for climbing and sprinting. You can also save substantial money opting to purchase an aluminum bike instead of the carbon option we discussed previously.

The Cons of Aluminum Bikes

Aluminum bikes aren’t going to be nearly as smooth on rough roads. Also, aluminum bikes are known to have weaker joints, and when they do run into issues, they are not as easy to repair or fix.

Overall, on a budget, the aluminum bike can still be an excellent option for you. Especially if you are not racing competitively and the small weight difference won’t make a big difference for you.

Now, we will move into one of the cheapest options of them all that can be considered. Let’s dive into the steel road bikes and see what they can offer you.

The Pros of Steel Bikes

First and foremost, steel bikes are much cheaper than aluminum bikes and carbon bikes. In addition, steel will last you a lifetime and still has enough flex to provide a soft enough ride.

This is also one of the most straightforward versions of a bike in terms of repair when something does happen your bike. Now, let’s break down some of the cons you may experience with steel bikes.

The Cons of Steel Bikes

Steel bikes are much heavier compared to the aluminum and carbon options that we discussed previously.

Steel is also capable of rusting and corroding much easier, so it’s important to keep your steel racing bikes stored indoors and out of the weather elements when possible.

Steel bikes are often rarely if ever used for racing. They have to flex which will burn more energy for the rider, reduce aerodynamics for the rider and compared to the other options, just wouldn’t be a good choice overall.

Finally, we need to cover the titanium option. Titanium is the last material that’s commonly used for road bikes or racing bikes, but it’s certainly still a good option.

The Pros of Titanium Road/Racing Bikes

Titanium Bikes are going to have better shock absorption than your steel or aluminum options. With titanium bikes, you also have the luxury of not worrying about the bike rusting or corroding just like the carbon and aluminum options.

The Cons of Titanium Road Bikes

With everything, we have some pitfalls. Titanium bikes are no different. First and foremost, these are going to get you back into the expensive bracket compared to other options. 

Also, these bikes are again, not easy to repair when your bike has a malfunction or defect take place. You’re also sacrificing weight (added weight) for the added stiffness you get with titanium bikes.

We now have a good understanding of the options available based on construction and material but what other considerations do we need to make sure we cover? Sizing. Sizing is also an essential factor to consider when choosing the best bike for you. Let’s take a moment and break down how this works.

Sizing for Road/Racing Bikes

Sizing is based off your height.  Sometimes you need to cross-reference sizing factors to ensure that the manufactures offer the size option that you need, but in general, the table below can give you an idea of what you should be looking for.

HeightFrameSize
4’10” – 5’1″XX-Small47cm-48cm
5’0″ – 5’3″X-Small49cm-50cm
5’3″ – 5’6″Small51cm – 53cm
5’6″ – 5’9″Medium54cm – 55cm
5’9″ – 6’0″Large56cm – 58cm
6’0″ – 6’3″X-Large58cm – 60cm
6’3″ – 6’6″XX-Large61cm – 63cm

Why is sizing important with road/racing bikes?

Sizing for road bikes has mostly to do with your height and making sure you have a comfortable enough amount of space to clear the top tube of the bike. In addition, picking the wrong size for your bike can create problems with comfort and usability. It’s important to make sure you get a bike that fits your sizing correctly.

In addition to the clearance of the top tube, you also need to consider other factors about the sizing of your road bike. Other considerations that you need to factor include the following.

  • Framing Size (See Chart Above)
  • Seat Height
  • Seat Angle
  • Seat Position (Front and back)
  • Handlebar Style

For the framing size, you can just refer to our chart listed above.  For the other consideration we have listed out for you, be sure to view are our article about sizing and specifications for your road bike here.

If you aren’t entirely comfortable yet using the quick chart above, you can also opt to visit a local bike shop to ensure you are getting the correct size before ordering. Better safe than sorry in these situations.

The Components of Road Bikes

Once you have your basic plan laid out for which kind of bike you are looking for, you need to consider the components involved as well.

In most situations, road bikes will come with many Shimano components, but you will also get SRAM to dabble into the mix and Campagnolo will show up on your high-end models and more pricy options. Here’s a look at some of the main components I’m referring to.

Seats and Saddles

When you first purchase a new bike, it’s not going to usually come with the most ideal saddle or seat. This is usually one of the first things to upgrade or swap if necessary.

The biggest factor with choosing a saddle is making sure you choose something comfortable and that will allow for long rides without any discomfort.

You don’t necessarily need to spend too much time on this component and surprisingly it can get very in-depth including measurements and positioning but it’s an area to make sure you at least consider when looking for a road bike that will have you riding for long durations.

Wheels

Wheels are another area of the bike that isn’t going to be where a lot of the manufacturing budget is allocated. In most situations, they will be adequate to get the job done but will be heavier and less quality than some possible upgrades that you could consider.

In the future, as your hobby progresses, consider upgrading to a stronger, lighter wheel with premium hubs if the budget will allow for it. (We have a section on our recommended wheels here)

Tires

With tires, it would be tough to tell you that the tires your bike comes with won’t get the job done. They certainly will. Once they have the time and miles on them, it’s certainly possible to upgrade your performance but for the time being, stick with what the bike comes with. (Some of our favorite tires are here)

Pedals

With pedals, it’s most common to see some form of cheap plastic platforms. They will also get the job without issue, but you can also consider purchasing something such as the Trek Mid-Tier Pedals. These allow you to use the pedals flat-footed if you desire to or simply flip them over so you can clip in your shoes. Something to consider

Now, let’s cover some other related questions.

Are Road Bikes Easier to Ride?

Yes, if you are currently used to riding a mountain bike, you will feel like you just purchased a new Lexus switching to a road bike. If you don’t use your mountain bike regularly on rough terrain. 

Road bikes are much easier to pedal at faster speeds, and the leaned over position creates less resistance as opposed to sitting upright on your mountain bike.

How Fast Can a Road Bicycle Go?

This depends on many factors. It makes it tough to break it down. Tom Donhou was able to get a road bike over 80mph, but for someone like you or I, not professional racing or doing other extreme events, you can expect a road bike to be able to hit 30mph on a flat surface and winds not forcing against you.

If the conditions are just right, it’s possible even to hit speeds of 45 mph if need be.  In general, these are designed for no other reason but speed and performance but if you don’t know how to use it properly, you won’t be cracking 45 mph very often.

Are Road bicycles Faster than Hybrids?

Yes, road bikes are faster than hybrids for one key reason. First, hybrids have more full tire treads which is going to slow you down considerably.

The tires on a road bike are explicitly designed for speed. In addition, the flat handlebars that you encounter with hybrid bikes cause you to sit upright which slows you down considerably.

Can I use my road bicycle for commuting only?

Absolutely. Unless you are commuting to an oil mill with only off-road tracks. Road bikes are fantastic for commuting and one of the many great uses. They save time by being faster and save energy by requiring less force to create forward movement. They also save money by not purchasing fuel and other cost associated with owning a vehicle. Can’t beat that if you ask me.

Just make sure to have a quality lock for your road bike because they are expensive, and you don’t want it getting stolen while shopping or working your shift for the day.

What Would be a Good Average Speed for A Road bicycle?

If we are talking about an excellent relaxing speed that you could consider a “cruising speed” you would be around the 10-15mph range. This would be factoring in that you aren’t exerting a ton of energy and traveling on flat surfaces, but many commuters report that the average speed they travel heading to work or other activities is right inside that 10-15mph range.

Some even report speeds around 15.5 mph.

Will A Road Bicycle Hurt My Back?

Unfortunately, yes. A common issue that frequent road bike users report is lower back pain. This can, however, be countered by learning proper posture and developing an excellent and consisting routine that includes strengthening your core, stretching and lower back exercises.

Road bikes when used properly require a strong and stable core. Improving your core strength and flexibility can do wonders to help you fight back against lower back pain if you are someone who uses road bikes with any type of frequency.

Where Do You Recommend We Begin?

Well, this depends heavily on where you are in the process. Have you ever used a road bike before? What’s the use you are looking to gain from your bike? Are you trying to become a professional racer or just trying to form a new hobby to get exercise?

These are important factors to consider because it makes a big difference in the price you ultimately pay for your bike.

For a beginner, there is no reason to spend more than needed on a bike. We even mentioned the 200.00-dollar bike at the beginning of this post that you should consider. In case you missed it, it was the GMC Denali. Be sure to check it out if you are just scraping the surface with road/racing bikes.

If, however, you are more advanced and, in a position, where you want the best of the best you can start looking at the higher end carbon and titanium models that we covered before. At this point, we recommend finding a bike that fits all your specifications and needs but also a bike that fits your budget.

Putting It All Together. Road bicycles Are Not a One Size Fits All

You have many options when it comes to picking the most fitting racing bike/road bike for your unique needs and uses. It’s tough to understand which material is best and where to begin. Overall, if you are just starting this hobby, you can get away with almost any of the materials or options we have discussed here today, but if you are more advanced, I don’t think we need to explain to you the considerations that need to be made before purchasing your bike.

Make sure the bike can be used on the roadways and applications you plan on using it with and find a bike with strong reviews, and you should be off to a good start. On your way out, don’t forget to stop by our frequently asked questions and related questions below. What material road bike do you recommend? Leave a comment below.

Frequently Asked Questions/ Related Questions

What’s the Best Road bicycle on A Budget?

This depends significantly on what being on a budget entails for you. Some of the bikes that we mentioned previously you can get for under 300.00.   We mentioned it above in the post, but we are big fans of the GMC Denali. It’s around that 200.00 mark and will take care of all your basic needs as a beginner just learning the sport.

What is the best road bicycle brand?

You could ask this same question to 5 different people and potentially get five different answers. Everyone has their own preference and likes and dislikes about specific bikes. Especially those that have been in the biking hobby for quite some time.

In general, though, here are 10 brands that have proven themselves by offering quality products and time in the industry. Here’s a look at them.

  • Shimano
  • Trek
  • Cannondale
  • GT Bike
  • Banchi
  • Scott
  • Giant
  • Wilier
  • Canyon
  • Cervelo

This also doesn’t mean you have to only stick to this recommended list. Plenty of great bikes exist from various brands. Our biggest recommendation is to check reviews from others or see what policies the manufactures carry when it comes to warranties and defects that your new bike may have.

If you do your homework before purchasing a road bike, it should be straightforward and not overly difficult for you.

What is a road bicycle used for?

Road bikes can serve many purposes. Some individuals use these bikes for their own personal hobbies and exercise. Others use road bikes competitively to race or even professionally race. In addition, road bikes can be used for touring or even commuting. It just depends on your personal circumstances or what you decide to use it for. Overall, they are very versatile and great bikes to consider.

What size road bicycle should I get? (Non-Beginner)

We discussed this previously, but you need to get a bike that fits your body. It’s important to consider all the factors we discussed above. Measurements and sizing are customizable and choosing the wrong size can either render your bike useless for you or a very uncomfortable.

Regardless, not considering the size could be a mistake that leaves you frustrated after your purchase.

Be sure to see our section above breaking this down. In that section, you will also see a link that allows you to navigate to our full article which will break downsizing for road bikes even more for you.

Are road bikes faster than other bicycle options?

Road bikes are the fastest version of bicycles. They are specifically designed to be lightweight, aerodynamic, and the handlebars are designed to allow your body to get lower cutting through the air. Also, the tires on road bikes create less friction. Mountain bikes have a specific area of appeal, but for speed, road bikes are your king.

How much of a difference will I notice going from a mountain bike to a road bicycle?

A lot. There is a big difference between these two bikes in general. Your mountain bike is going to be the king of rough terrain. If that’s what you do the most often, you shouldn’t consider switching. If you are considering changing due to a commute to work or other reasons, then the road bike should be a night and day difference for you.

It will take less overall work to travel at adequate speeds, and it should create a much smoother ride for you on the regular roads and flat terrains. However, you will also experience a price hike from a mountain bike to a road bike.

Road bikes carry a heftier price tag compared to your mountain bike by a long shot so if you want the benefits, be prepared to pony up the cash my friends.

At the end of the day it comes down to why you need the bike, and why you want to switch, but it is essential to understand that these are two completely different bikes with different pros and cons.

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