For many people, buying a road bike is a big decision. You have to ask yourself how much you are willing to spend, whether you want an aero, lightweight or an all-day comfort bike, a bike with rim or disc brakes, a carbon fiber, aluminium, titanium or a steel frame, the list goes on. There is a huge number of options to consider when it comes to choosing the best road bike to buy.
Below, we run through all the factors to consider when buying a road bike, so that you can get the most out of your bike and money.
If you are looking to buy a road bike, we have compiled a list of every bike made by every bike brand ridden by the UCI Men’s and Women’s WorldTour Teams that are available to buy, with specifications, reviews and the latest deals.
Why should I buy a road bike and what is a road bike good for?
Road bikes are designed to be ridden primarily on tarmac for fitness, recreation, commuting or racing. Many people choose road bikes over other types of bikes for their lightweight characteristics, handling, speed and combined efficiency.
Speed: Compared to every other type of bike, road specific bikes allow a cyclist to travel at higher speeds. The aerodynamic wheels and smooth, narrow tyres are the biggest contributors to increasing speed as they are designed to reduce drag and rolling resistance.
Lightweight: Road bike frames and bikes can be very light as they are designed for performance only on hard and smooth road surfaces. A road bike is not built to ride on very rough surfaces or jump over obstacles, meaning that the bike and wheels can be made of lightweight materials at the cost of ruggedness and in some respect, durability. A good analogy is the difference of running in lightweight running shoes compared to running in heavy, rugged hiking boots.
Efficiency: Combining a lightweight frameset, a fast wheelset, aerodynamic positioning and very stiff bike materials results in greater pedaling efficiency and speed.
Road bikes are an excellent cost-effective alternative for those who regularly commute to work. You could technically use any type of bike for commuting but a road bike will get you there faster, with greater efficiency and also without making you as tired.
Along with the health benefits of cycling, those who are more environmentally conscious can rest easy knowing that they are doing their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all whilst reducing traffic congestion and saving money in the long term.
What distinguishes a road bike?
A road bike is distinguishable by a few key details including:
Drop bars: Most road bikes feature a curled/c-shape drop bar, which allows a rider to place their hands in multiple positions and adjust their body positioning to suit the terrain and wind.
Rider position: The geometry of a road bike frame in conjunction with the drop bars allows a rider to improve their aerodynamic positioning and reduce wind resistance.
Narrow and smooth tyres: Tyres on a road bike are typically 23mm-28mm in width. Bike manufacturers are now developing road bike frames which are compatible with wider tyres, even up to 33mm, which provides greater comfort and versatility on different road surfaces.
Large number of gears: The crankset on a road bike usually has two chainrings, whilst the typical cassette goes up to 12 speed, providing up to 24 gears in total. The large range of gears allows us to efficiently pedal at higher speeds on flat roads or whilst descending, and slowly whilst climbing hills.
No suspension: Unlike mountain bikes, road bikes typically do not have suspension as they are generally designed for flat and smooth road surfaces. Wider tyres and extra ‘give’ through the use of different frame/fork materials and tube shaping, can add additional levels of comfort to a road bike.
What are the different types of road bike?
There are many types of road bikes available which are specifically designed for certain terrain or the type of riding that you do. Some road bikes share design traits and characteristics from other types of road bikes. For example, some manufacturers are creating road bikes which are described as ‘all rounders’, which have some aerodynamic qualities whilst only being slightly heavier than some of the lightest bikes available.
Road bikes can generally be broken down into the following types:
Aero road bike: Aero road bikes are made purely for speed. Aerodynamics and very high levels of stiffness are the main priority, usually at the expense of weight and comfort.
The tube profiles on aero bikes are generally larger with less frontal surface area to create a more aerodynamic profile in order to reduce wind resistance and drag. Due to the larger tube profiles, aero bikes are incredibly stiff which makes them a great choice for racing and sprinting on flat roads. The geometry usually results in a long and low riding position to aid aerodynamics. The handling is normally quite sharp.
Tube profiles are often moulded to conform to the shape of the wheels. Deep rim wheels often accompany aero bikes to further improve aerodynamics and to help maintain high speeds on flat roads and also whilst descending. As a result of the tube profile and deep wheelset, aero bike frames and bikes tend to be heavier compared to other types of road bikes.
Integrated handlebars and hidden brakes are another key feature of aero bikes. Brake and gear cables are hidden to reduce wind resistance and create a ‘clean’ look at the front end of the bike.
Time trial (TT)/Triathlon bike: Time trial bikes, like aero bikes are built purely for high speeds, mainly on flat roads. Aerodynamics and very high levels of stiffness are the main priority, usually at the expense of weight and comfort.
There are a few key differences between an aero bike and a TT bike: TT bikes have ‘aero bars’ that extend out the front, which allows riders to bend and maneuver into a very aerodynamic position. TT bikes do tend to weigh more due to the handlebars and frame profiling. The geometry allows for excellent low rider positioning, forward over the bottom bracket for higher power output and efficiency. Gearing size is similar to or even larger than standard race bikes as riders need bigger gears to move faster. As a result of the aero bars, smaller and more aerodynamic shifters are used.
Lightweight road bike: Lightweight bikes are agile, low weight and generally comfortable bikes which are great for all round purposes.
Lightweight bikes typically do not have ‘aero’ qualities such as the large aero tube profiles seen on aero bikes, or an elongated headtube and large wheel base as seen on endurance bikes. They generally have narrow frame and fork tube profiling. The frame, components and wheelset are usually featherlight but very stiff, to maximize power transfer. The wheelset often has a shallow rim depth to reduce the overall weight of the bike.
Whilst lightweight bikes may not be as efficient on flat roads as an aero bike, they are the class leader on any road that goes up.
Endurance road bike: Endurance road bikes are designed primarily for long comfortable rides.
They generally have a relaxed geometry with excellent frame and fork vibration-dampening properties to reduce rider fatigue whilst riding on rougher surfaces. Endurance bikes tend to have stable handling, elongated headtubes, wider tyre clearance, a larger wheelbase and an upright, comfortable riding position.
Endurance bikes are often made with the same materials as aero and lightweight bikes and use similar groupsets and wheelsets. Although most associate endurance bikes as all day comfort bikes and not on the same level as aero or lightweight bikes in terms of speed, they are still very fast.
Flat bar road bike: A flat bar road bike shares all the same attributes of a lightweight road bike except they have a flat, mountain bike style handlebar.
Merida Speeder 400
Touring bike: Touring bikes are slightly different to gravel bikes. They are heavier than other types of road bikes as they are built for comfort on long rides and enable a rider to carry gear on the bike. Fenders and rack mounts are commonly seen on touring bikes along with wider tyres, steel frames, disc brakes and smaller gear ratios.
Trek 520 Disc
Urban bikes: Urban bikes are designed for short distance, inner-city riding. They typically have flat handlebars and a smaller gear ratio, sometimes with a single chainring or fixed/single-speed.
Pedal Messenger Detroit Fixie Bike
What frame materials are road bikes made from?
Road bike frames are commonly made from carbon fibre, aluminium, steel, titanium or a combination of these materials. Each type and grade of frame material has different characteristics which affects a frame in a number ways, including the weight, comfort, cost and the overall ride quality and feel of the bike.
Generally the stiffer the frame material, the greater the power transfer from the rider into forward motion, as less energy is wasted through material absorption whilst pedaling. However the stiffer the material is, the less comfortable the bike will be, as more vibrations are transmitted from the road to the rider.
It’s worth noting that it is how the materials are used and layered during the design and manufacturing process which ultimately changes the overall outcome and ride qualities of a frame.
Carbon fibre: Carbon fibre is the most highly sought after road bike frame material which is often seen on higher level bikes. What was once an expensive choice, carbon fibre bikes have become much more affordable in recent years.
Carbon fibre can be easily moulded into any shape. This enables manufacturers to alter tube profiles and frame shapes to create a bike that can be lightweight, stiff, aerodynamic and/or comfortable. The stiffness to weight ratio of carbon fibre is the best of any bike frame material, making it the preferred frame material choice for top level bikes used by professional cyclists.
It is important to note that there are different grades or modulus of carbon fibre used in bicycle manufacturing. There is a very large difference between cheaper and more expensive carbon fibre, mainly the fibres used and how it is manufactured. This affects the weight, comfort, stiffness and overall ride quality of a bike. Lower priced carbon bikes are usually made entirely of lower modulus carbon fibre whereas more expensive carbon bikes are made completely of high modulus, or a combination of lower and high modulus carbon fibre in certain frame areas. High modulus carbon fibre is stiffer but weaker (more brittle) than lower modulus carbon fibre which aids power transfer, especially when placed in the bottom bracket area.
Choosing the right carbon fibres, reinforced with the best resin, the right layering technique, fibre direction and moulding method will ultimately decide the performance of a carbon bike.
Aluminium: Aluminium is a strong and relatively inexpensive material that can be used to make light and stiff bikes.
Better quality aluminium frames have butted tubes which can add comfort and reduce frame weight by up to 15%. These tubes have a constant outside tube diameter however the wall thickness varies. The end of the tubes tend to be thicker than at the middle of the tube, to handle greater stresses and improve stiffness. If tubes have two different wall thicknesses along its length then it is double butted. If the tubes have three different thickness along the length then it is triple butted.
Aluminium alloy 6061, 6063 and 7005 are commonly used as bike frame materials. The lower the number (6061), the higher the amount of silicone in the metal. The higher the number (7005), the much higher the amount of zinc in the metal. There is also a slightly higher amount of copper and magnesium in 7005 as well.
Aluminium alloy 6061 is generally considered to be more superior for bicycle manufacturing compared to other variants. 6061 has lower hardness and tensile strength properties compared to 7005, making it easier to manipulate and work with, which helps to reduce frame costs. In terms of the forces that a bike frame is subjected to, the base material strength differences between 6061 and 7005 are negligible and not noticeable to a rider. 6061 is also generally lighter than 7005.
Aluminium frames are a good cost-effective solution for those who are seeking excellent performance on a budget. It’s worth noting that a high quality aluminium bike with a higher end wheelset and components are often lighter, more comfortable, more durable and much better value than a low end carbon fibre bike with lower end components and a heavier wheelset.
Titanium: Titanium is relatively lightweight, highly durable, very strong and is corrosion resistant. It is as strong as steel and twice as strong as aluminium. However titanium is hard to work with, unlike carbon fibre and aluminium. As a result titanium has always been a more expensive frame material option.
Steel: Steel was the main material of choice for road bikes, prior to the use of aluminium and carbon fibre. Like titanium, steel is often seen on custom-made bike builds.
Steel is stronger and more dense than aluminium. Thinner-walled and smaller diameter tubes can be used by frame builders to achieve the same strength and stiffness as aluminium. However steel does weigh more, is more labor intensive and expensive, and harder to mass-manufacture compared to other metals.
How do I choose the correct bike frame size?
Choosing the right bike size is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable riding experience. Don’t fall into the trap of buying a bike that is too small or too large just because it’s a bargain. Choosing the incorrect bike size will lead to discomfort, a negative riding experience and even potential injury.
Bike frames are commonly measured by the total length of the seat tube, in centimeters (please see the chart below). Manufacturers allocate each seat tube length to a general size. For example a 54cm frame may be classified as a medium and a 52cm frame may be classified as small. Some manufacturers also include a recommended rider height range and inseam leg length for each frame size, which makes it easier to select and hone in on the correct frame size.
The table below shows the road and triathlon frame sizes best suited to your height, which provides a great starting point for frame sizing.
|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
The sizing chart usually varies greatly between manufacturers and even between different models made by the same manufacturer. For example, a small frame size may be a medium frame size for another brand or bike model.
It’s always best to check the frame size chart for each model from each manufacturer to compare sizes. When comparing sizes between brands and models, it’s best to focus on the stack and reach measurements, as they are often the most consistent. The reach is the measurement of how long horizontally the frame is, from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre top position of the head tube. The stack is the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre top position of the headtube.
BIKE SIZE CHART
A: Head Tube Angle B: Head Tube Length C: Top Tube Horizontal D: Standover Height E: BB Offset F: BB Height G: Frame Length H: BB Center to Toptube Center I: BB Center to Top of Seat tube J: Seat Angle K: Chainstay L: Reach M: Stack
Image: Courtesy of Scott Sports
The optimal reach and stack for every rider is different and depends on the type of riding that you do (and also how flexible you are). Higher end lightweight and aero frames will typically have a longer reach and a lower stack, which puts the rider in a lower, more aerodynamic position. In contrast, endurance frames have a shorter reach and a higher stack, which allows a rider to sit more comfortably in a more upright position.
The general rule of thumb is that you should be able to stand over the bike frame, with a few centimeters of space between you and the top tube. The frame is too large if you touch the top tube and is too small if there is a large gap between you and the frame.
If you are on the cusp between two different frame sizes, it’s usually best to go for the smaller size frame. In this case, handlebar and stem adjustment and/or size change, as well as saddle length height and repositioning, should allow for a comfortable bike setup.
Bike sizing can be tricky so it’s always best to get the advice of your experienced local bike store and to test the sizes of the bikes in store where possible. Getting a professional bike fit is the best way to make sure that a bike will fit you. Alternatively it is possible to do a bike fit yourself but there are pitfalls.
Groupset and Gearing
A groupset consists of the crankset, chain, cassette, shifters, brakes as well as the front and rear derailleurs. The groupset gives us a good indication as to the overall ‘value’ of a bike.
As the price of a groupset increases, the efficiency, durability and shifting performance improves and the component materials change, which reduces the overall weight. Entry-level groupsets are generally made from aluminium and steel, which then move to higher grade alloys and then ultimately to the highest quality alloys, carbon fibre and even titanium for the top-tier groupsets.
The gearing that you have on your bike has a significant impact on how fast and far you ride. It all comes down to gear ratios, pedaling efficiency and terrain, as well as rider style, experience, fitness and preference.
Road bikes have either a single, double or triple chainring. Two chainrings are the standard for road bikes. Single chainrings have become more common on road bikes in recent years as they minimize potential mechanical issues, reduce weight and simplify shifting. Triple chainrings are often seen on recreational, entry-level and touring bikes.
Cranksets with two chainrings are split into ‘regular’, ‘compact’ or ‘semi-compact’. A regular set up has 53 teeth on the large chainring and 39 teeth on the small chainring, which is the preferred option for racers, strong cyclists or those who ride in flat areas. A compact set up has 50 teeth on the large chainring and 34 teeth on the smaller chainring, which is more suitable for those who live in hilly areas, prefer a higher cadence or are less experienced or fit. A semi-compact set up has 52 teeth on the large chainring and 36 teeth on the small chainring, which is more suited to strong climbers, hilly areas, sportive riders as well as racers and riders who want a wider range compared to the other available cranksets.
Manufacturers are currently making 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and even 13 speed cassettes with a wide range of teeth options. In case you are unsure, 11 speed means that there are 11 sprockets on the cassette. As the speed of a cassette increases: the number of sprockets increases, the step between each sprocket can be decreased and it can also allow for a wider gear range, which is beneficial for both hilly and flat terrain. A different chain size will be needed for each speed.
The most common cassette options are 11-25T and 11-28T, where the smallest sprocket has 11 teeth and the largest sprocket has 25 and 28 teeth respectively.
The greater the number of teeth on each sprocket, the smaller the gear ratio, which therefore increases cadence, making it easier to pedal but with less speed output. A lower tooth number on each sprocket results in a higher gear ratio, making it harder to pedal but increases speed output at the cost of reduced cadence.
If you would like to know more about gearing and groupsets, including the brands, weights, hierarchy, the available gear ratio options and much more, then please read the Road Groupset Gear Guide for more in-depth information.
Rim Brakes vs Disc Brakes
When looking to purchase a new road bike, prospective buyers will have the choice between traditional rim brakes or disc brakes.
All bicycle brakes work the same way, by touching brake pads against a wheel surface. The difference between rim and disc brakes is where the braking force is applied. With rim brakes, the braking force is applied to the rim of the wheel, whilst a disc brake applies force to a metal disc rotor close to the middle of a wheel.
There are two different types of disc brake systems that can be found on a road bike, hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes.
Hydraulic disc brakes work in the same fashion as motorbikes and cars, via the use of hydraulic brake fluid. When the brake lever is pulled, a plunger is activated at the master cylinder. This pushes fluid through a hose, to the caliper at the wheel. The pressure of the fluid operates pistons in the caliper that causes the brake pads to clamp to the disc rotor. Hydraulic disc brakes are often found on higher level bikes.
Mechanical disc brakes work via the use of cables and in a similar fashion to traditional rim brakes. When the brake lever is pulled, it pulls a braided stainless steel cable which is then used to apply braking force to the disc rotor. Due to their simplicity, mechanical disc brakes are typically found on entry-level bikes.
Rim brakes have been around for a very long time. Although that may no longer be the case in a few years’ time. In recent years, with the advancement and rapid evolution of disc brakes, some bike manufacturers have decided to cease rim brake bikes and produce only disc brake models.
Disc brakes are considered to give greater braking power at the expense of weight and the ease of maintenance, however, it all comes down to personal preference. Rim and disc brakes are both capable of doing the job.
In summary, go for disc brakes if:
• You ride or commute a lot in winter/bad weather
• Bike weight is not your top priority
• You want or will have only one bike to use all year round
• You have a little extra money to spend and want the best braking you can buy
If you would like to know more about disc brakes and rim brakes including all the pros and cons, then please read our Road Groupset Gear Guide for more in-depth information.
The wheels heavily influence the ride quality of a bike, in particular the comfort, the feel and how the bike responds whilst pedaling. The groupset as well as the wheels give us a good indication as to the overall ‘value’ of a bike.
Lower to mid-range road bike rims are made from aluminium/alloy with cheaper steel or low grade ceramic ball bearings in the hubs where as mid-to-top level rims are made from carbon fibre, usually with higher quality steel or higher grade ceramic bearings. The durability and quality of the rims, spokes, hubs and ball bearings increase as the price of a wheelset increases. The weight of a wheelset will also be lower as the wheelset level increases. There can be around a 1kg difference between entry level and top level wheelsets.
The width and depth of the wheels will ultimately influence how they ride and feel. Modern wheel designs tend to have wider rims than previous models which results in better aerodynamic performance and greater tyre air volume to improve comfort.
The depth of a rim affects the aerodynamic properties and handling of a bike. The deeper the rim depth, the more aerodynamic the wheels will be, however the bike will be more difficult to handle as the wheels will be affected by the crosswinds. Conversely, shallow depth wheels are much easier to handle in crosswinds and are generally more lightweight, however they are not as aerodynamic.
There are three different types of tyres that can fit onto a bike wheel: clincher, tubular and tubeless. Each tyre type requires a specific wheel rim type.
23mm tyres were previously the standard for road bikes. In recent years there has been a trend towards the use of wider tyres. Many professional cyclists now use 25mm tyres or wider, which provide less rolling resistance and greater comfort at the slight expense of weight and aerodynamic drag. It is considered that the speed and comfort advantages of using a wider tyre far outweigh the negatives.
The three types of tyres are detailed below:
Clincher: Clincher tyres require a separate inner tube which holds air. The tyre will have either a steel or kevlar bead on the tyre edge to hold it to the rim. The majority of road bikes currently on the market will come with clincher tyres.
Tubular: Tubular tyres also use an inner tube however the tube is sewn directly to the inside of the tyre. The tyre is then glued directly onto the rim. Professional cyclists tend to use tubular tyres as they are lighter and have reduced rolling resistance. The downside of tubular tyres is the extensive amount of time and work it takes to correctly connect the tyre to the rim. The risk of riding on and replacing an expensive punctured tubular tyre is also another major drawback.
Tubeless: Tubeless tyres do not require an inner tube. The tyres attach to a specific rim design that creates an airtight seal. They are becoming more popular on the road bike scene. Compared to clincher tyres, tubeless tyres create less friction which improves rolling resistance, can be run at a lower tyre pressure which improves comfort and offer greater puncture resistance. To aid with puncture protection, a liquid sealant can be inserted into the tyre (as with tubes) to help seal small punctures if they occur.
We would highly recommend that you do plenty of research on the top three to five bikes on your list, keeping your budget, riding goals and the terrain which you will ride on at the forefront of your mind.
In summary, after deciding on the amount you are willing to spend, your goals and where you will be riding your bike, first look at the frameset and its features including geometry, materials and whether it is disc or rim brake compatible. Second, look at the groupset level and gearing ratios, and then the wheelset level.
Research is the key. Websites, blogs, magazines and bike shops can all provide valuable information that can help you to make a better, more informed decision when looking to purchase a new road bike.
If you are looking to buy a road bike, we have compiled a list of every road bike made by every bike brand ridden by the UCI Men’s and Women’s WorldTour Teams that are available to buy, with specifications, reviews and the latest deals.