Road Bike FAQ
What should I look for when buying a road bike?
First you must decide what type of road bike you want to buy, whether it be an aero, lightweight, endurance, time trial or flat bar bike (please see the Road Bike Gear Guide or the answer in this FAQ for information on bike types).
Once you know roughly how much you are willing to spend, then it is time to look at the features of a good road bike. The frameset is the most important part of a road bike, followed by the groupset and then the wheelset.
In summary, the key qualities and features to look for in a new road bike include:
• A well built, stiff, lightweight, high quality frame preferably made entirely of or from a mixture of high grade carbon fibre, aluminium, alloy or titanium
• A carbon fibre fork
• Suitable frame sizes and geometry to suit the rider
• Higher groupset level = lighter, stiffer and more durable
• High quality rim brakes or disc brakes for better braking
• Suitable gear ratios for hilly and flat terrain, for eg. 52/36 for the chainrings and 11-28 for the cassette
• Lightweight, stiff and high quality seatpost, stem and handlebars made from carbon, aluminium, alloy or titanium
• Higher quality aluminium or carbon fibre wheelset which are lighter, more aerodynamic, and have more durable hubs and wheel bearings (preferably high quality steel or ceramic bearings)
• High quality tyres with greater puncture resistance
• Lightweight yet comfortable saddle
Once you find a road bike that meets all your criteria, do some research and check out some reviews to see what the cycling experts have to say. There are plenty of great websites, blogs, magazines and bike stores out there which can all provide valuable information to help you find the best road bike for you.
Road Cycling Gear Guide has simplified the road bike review process by making a list of every road bike made by every bike brand used in the UCI Men’s and Women’s WorldTour, with specifications as well as summarized and full reviews.
What is a road bike good for?
Road bikes have excellent lightweight characteristics, handling, speed and efficiency compared to other types of bikes. Road bikes tend to have these characteristics as they are designed to be ridden primarily on tarmac roads.
In summary road bikes are great for:
Speed: Road bikes allow a cyclist to travel at higher speeds compared to other bike types due to the aerodynamic wheels and frame, as well as the narrow tyres and lower bike weight.
Weight: Road bike frames and bikes in general are very light as they are designed for on road use only. Lightweight bikes and wheels allow us to ride more easily up hill, allow for quicker acceleration and greater speed in general.
Efficiency: Combining a lightweight and more aerodynamic frameset, a fast wheelset, aerodynamic rider positioning and very stiff materials, results in greater pedaling efficiency and speed.
What are the different types of road bikes?
There are many different types of road bikes available, with each type being specifically designed to suit a particular road terrain and purpose.
Many companies design ‘all-rounder’ road bikes which share design traits and characteristics from some of the seven different types of road bikes.
To view the different types of road bikes in greater detail, then view The Road Bike Gear Guide.
In summary, road bikes can generally be broken down into the following:
Aero road bike: Aero bikes are made purely for speed on flat terrain, with aerodynamics being at the forefront of the design. Aerodynamic tubing and high stiffness levels are the main priority, usually at the expense of weight and comfort.
Lightweight road bike: Lightweight bikes have great handling characteristics, are low in weight and are generally comfortable, which is excellent for hilly terrain and general all-round purposes.
Timetrial (TT)/Triathlon bike: These bikes are built for very high levels of speed on flat surfaces, with superior aerodynamics. This comes at the expense of comfort, due to the aerodynamic low rider positioning, as well as weight.
Endurance road bike: Endurance bikes are designed for long comfortable rides. They generally have relaxed frame geometry and vibration-dampening properties to reduce rider fatigue, especially when riding on rough road surfaces.
Flat bar road bike: A flat bar road bike has the same characteristics as a lightweight road bike, except they have a flat handlebar like a mountain bike.
Touring bike: A touring bike is mainly for long rides and/or to carry extra gear. They tend to be heavier but more comfortable than other road bike types. They usually have fenders and rack mounts to enable a rider to carry gear with them.
Urban bike: An urban bike is designed for short distance, inner-city riding. They typically have flat handlebars, and have either a single chainring and/or a single-speed cassette.
What frame material is best for a road bike? What is the best material for a road bike frame?
Carbon fibre is currently the best frame and component material for road bikes due to the high levels of stiffness, very low weight and great levels of comfort.
The top end or ‘best’ road bike frames are typically made from higher grades of carbon fibre, designed and processed in a particular way, or from a combination of very high grades as well as lower grades of carbon fibre.
It is important to know that each type of frame material – carbon fibre, aluminium, steel, titanium or a combination of these materials, and grade of frame material (especially carbon fibre) has different characteristics, which can affect the cost, weight, comfort and the overall ride quality of the bike.
It’s also worth noting that it is how the materials are used and layered during the design and manufacturing process that ultimately changes the overall outcome and ride qualities of a frame, especially in the case of carbon fibre.
Different grades of carbon fibre allow different levels of flex and vibration dampening. Higher grades (high modulus) can cause greater rider fatigue due to the high levels of stiffness and low levels of flex and vibration absorption. Lower grades (low modulus) of carbon fibre are not as stiff which results in greater shock and vibration absorption for a more comfortable ride. That is why a top end bike and/or frame components are usually made from one particular grade designed and processed in a particular way, or from a mixture of the highest and lower grades of carbon fibre. The highest grades of carbon fibre are usually found around the bottom bracket/crank area in particular, for greater stiffness, power transfer and speed.
Do carbon bike frames break easily? How long will a carbon fiber bike last? What is the lifespan of a carbon frame? When will a carbon fiber bike need to be replaced?
Carbon bike frames can last for a very long time if they are built well using the proper manufacturing processes, are undamaged and are stored safely, in a cool place and out of direct sunlight.
Bicycle manufacturers recommend that a carbon frame should be replaced after six years. Due to the natural degradation of the resin, the frame will gradually lose stiffness and be more susceptible to cracking and/or breaking over time.
Any carbon fibre frame or components can break relatively easily in the event of a crash if they are hit very hard on a particular angle, or on a particular part of the frame. Breakage tends to occur more frequently when the carbon fibre and resin setup is not correctly made.
For cyclists who don’t ride thousands of kilometers a year in the hot sun, a good quality carbon frame may still remain very stiff and last even even longer than the recommended six years of use.
Does the sun damage carbon fibre?
The actual carbon fibres are not susceptible to UV damage, however the resin used to bond the carbon fibres together can be damaged by UV light. This means that carbon fibre components and frames can degrade over time, becoming less stiff and more susceptible to cracking or even clean breaking. If carbon fibre isn’t treated with a UV inhibitor/coating, then the resin can begin to yellow and fade if left in the sun.
Why are road bike seats so hard? Are hard bike seats better?
Road bike seats, also known as saddles, are hard to allow for maximum power transfer down through the legs when pedaling, to prevent compression of the nerves, to stop chafing and to help prevent lower back strain. They also tend to be more compact – reducing the point of contact between the legs and seat, weigh less and do not absorb sweat or water. The main disadvantage of a soft seat is the reduction in pedaling efficiency, as rider movement will be greater and more energy will be absorbed through the seat instead of being transferred through to the pedals.
Although they may be less comfortable, the benefits of using a slightly harder bike seat is worth it, just as long as it doesn’t cause too much discomfort.
Why are road bikes so expensive?
Road bikes can be very expensive, with some costing as much as a motorcycle or even a car! This is due to consumer demand, high cost materials, research and design, manufacturing processes, marketing, quality control and customization of parts.
Supply vs consumer demand: A manufacturer can only make a certain amount of bikes in their factory per day. Due to high consumer demand, a manufacturer can increase the cost of their frame or bike to suit the current year trends. This will ensure that the bikes don’t fly off the shelves too quickly and with lower profit margins. The regular retail price for the current year model can always be reduced with sales or haggling, if the inventory levels are too high. Besides, there will always be someone out there who is willing to pay the given price for a bike.
Material costs, manufacturing processes and production costs: The cost of bike materials as well as the manufacturing processes are certainly some of the biggest factors that affect the price. Production costs are relatively high for frames and bikes. Materials such as carbon fibre and aluminium come in various forms and grades. Obviously the higher the quality, the greater the cost for the manufacturer, which then gets passed on to the consumer. Top end frames typically have complex and aerodynamic tube profiles which requires greater manufacturing precision, quality control and much smaller tolerances. The way in which aluminium is welded together, in particular how clean the finish is, as well as the resin layout of carbon fibre, can make the manufacturing process much more challenging for all those involved, which also increases the cost. Partial assembly of the components and groupset takes time and labour. The rising costs of higher-end components, groupsets and wheelsets has also inflated bike prices, with some top-end models nearing the $20,000 mark.
Research and design: Creating a stiff, lightweight and aerodynamic bike can take a very long time and can cost a lot of money. Companies need to make a profit from the effort, time and money spent to make a bike. It takes many hours for all the engineers and staff members involved to research and design the final product. In addition to the cost of staff, the production of new molds for various prototypes as well as product testing in wind tunnels and with professional cyclists, can cost a lot of money. All of these expenses must also be factored into the final cost of a bike.
Marketing: A bike needs to be advertised and marketed by a company in order to generate interest and sales. It costs a lot of money to effectively market a bike to an audience through different websites, magazines and sponsorships. Team sponsorship is an effective way to market a bike and generate a lot of sales however it does cost a lot to provide a team at least 30 bikes (one for each rider) not including spares in case of a frame or mechanical failure. All of the costs of marketing is factored into the cost of a bike.
In summary, road bikes can be ridiculously expensive, especially at the top-end. There are a few factors which can make a road bike expensive, however bike brands exist to make money, as with any brand in any other industry. At the end of the day, there are plenty of people out there who are willing to pay top dollar for the best road bikes that are available. Even with the high price tag, they are still selling so fast that the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand.
Can a beginner ride a road bike? Is a road bike easy to ride?
Beginners can definitely ride a road bike. There will be a few minor hurdles to overcome initially, in particular, adjusting to the narrow tyres, the narrow drop bars, harder seats, clipless pedals (if you have them), bike handling and a larger amount of gears, however, a road bike is easy to ride. It will just take a little bit of time and practice before you are confident riding a road bike.
If you are a beginner with little bike experience, then it is usually best to start off with a road bike equipped with flat pedals. Roll around in a quiet street and/or on very smooth road surfaces to get used to the feel of a road bike and the narrow tyres. For most beginners with some previous bike experience, it won’t take long to adjust to a road bike at all.
Using flat pedals instead of clipless pedals is a great way to start out on the road. For most beginners clipless pedals will take the most amount of time to adjust to. By following these tips, you will be able to adjust to clipless pedals in no time. After a few practice rides and with greater confidence, you should be able to step up and use clipless pedals out in general traffic.
How fast can a cheap road bike go?
A cheap road bike can be ridden at high speeds, depending on the capability of a rider. In the case of a cyclist who rides one to two times per week (at least 70km/44miles+ per week), more expensive road bikes will approximately allow you to travel at speeds of around 30kph (18.64mph) on flat roads with much less effort whilst entry level road bikes can allow you to comfortably travel at speeds of around 22-25kph (13.67mph-15.53mph) on flat roads. Entry level road bikes usually allow a maximum speed of around 55kph+ (34.18mph+) whilst higher-end road bikes allow at least 75kph+ (46.60mph+) on wide descending roads. Of course, apart from the frame and gear ratios, the wheels (profile, weight and bearings) also make a huge difference to the speed at which you can ride at.
One of the biggest differences that you will notice apart from speed when riding an inexpensive bike compared to an expensive bike, is the amount of tiredness that you will experience. You will feel much less tired and/or sore from riding an expensive bike, which in turn will allow you to ride further. A possible advantage of a cheaper bike can be rider positioning and comfort whilst riding.
How do I know my road bike size? What size road bike do I need for my height?
There are a few simple methods to determine the correct road bike size for you. Our favourite (and simplest) method is based off your height. The table below shows the approximate frame size that should be a suitable starting point based on your height.
|Road Bike Frame Size
|Triathlon Bike Frame Size
|155 – 160cm
|46 – 49cm
|46 – 48cm
|160 – 165cm
|48 – 50cm
|47 – 49cm
|165 – 170cm
|48 – 51cm
|48 – 50cm
|170 – 175cm
|50 – 52cm
|50 – 52cm
|175 – 180cm
|52 – 55cm
|52 – 55cm
|180 – 185cm
|54 – 56cm
|55 – 57cm
|185 – 190cm
|56 – 58cm
|57 – 60cm
|190 – 195cm
|58 – 61cm
|60 – 62cm
Another simple method is to measure your leg inseam or inside leg length, basically from the ground (without wearing any shoes) to the top of your inner thigh. Multiply the leg inseam (in cm) by 0.7 to get your approximate frame size.
The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to stand over the bike frame, with only a few centimeters of space between you and the top tube. You shouldn’t be able to touch the top tube and there shouldn’t be a large gap between you and the frame.
To read more and watch a great video about choosing the correct road bike size, then view the Road Bike Gear Guide.
What height should my bike seat be? How do I set my saddle height?
To put it simply, your knees should be slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock position) and your hips should not rock around on the saddle whilst pedaling.
It’s best to place a bike on a trainer, lean or hold yourself up against a wall to determine the correct height of your saddle.
Place your pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock position). Sit on your saddle and place one or both hand on your handlebars. Your saddle height is correct if your heel (when not clipped in) just touches your pedal and your leg is straight. When you clip your shoe in, your knees should be slightly bent.
If you get frontal knee pain then you should raise your seat height, around 2-4mm at a time. If you get pain at the back of your knee then you should lower your saddle height, around 2-4mm at a time.
To read more and watch a great video about choosing the correct road bike size, then view the Road Bike Gear Guide.
Should your leg be fully extended on a bike? How do I know if my bike seat is too high?
Your leg should not be fully extended whilst pedaling. There should be a slight bend of the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock position). Your seat is set too high if your leg is fully extended. A high saddle height can cause your hips to rock and roll over the seat whilst pedaling and can cause strain at the back of the knees.
How do I know if my bike seat is too low?
Your bike seat is too low if your foot can be fully planted on the ground whilst sitting on your bike seat without any bike lean and/or your knees are bent too much whilst pedaling. There should only be a slight bend of the knees at the bottom of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock position). If your saddle height is too low then you will likely experience pain at the front of the knees, tightness of the upper leg muscles and a lack of power whilst pedaling.
Looking to buy a road bike? Road Cycling Gear Guide has simplified the road bike review process by making a list of every road bike made by every bike brand used in the UCI Men’s and Women’s WorldTour, with specifications as well as summarized and full reviews.