As a beginner road cyclist, it can be overwhelming trying to choose the right road bike for your needs and budget. With so many brands, models, and features to consider, it's easy to feel like you need a PhD in engineering just to understand what you're looking at.
But fear not! Choosing the right road bike doesn't have to be rocket science. In fact, it can be quite simple if you follow a few guiding principles.
First and foremost, you need to decide on
your budget. This will narrow down your options significantly, and it's important to be realistic about what you can afford. Don't forget to factor in the cost of accessories like helmets, shoes, lights, and pedals, as well as any maintenance or repairs that may be needed.
If possible, always look to invest as much as possible into the components such as gears. These are often the things that can go wrong most often, cause the most frustration, and make rides less enjoyable when they don’t work properly. From a brand perspective aim for a minimum quality offered from a Shimano 105 set up or equivalent make /model.
From a performance and speed perspective (if that’s your thang?) then the next best thing to invest in is the wheels. From an objective data perspective, it’s the wheels that have the greatest impact on your ability to go faster relative to your levels of fitness.
Once you have a budget in mind, it's time to think about the type of riding you'll be doing. Are you planning on tackling long, hilly rides, or do you prefer shorter, flatter routes? Do you want a bike that's super lightweight and agile, or something more comfortable and upright? Your answer to these questions will help you narrow down your options even further.
When it comes to entry level road bikes the decision between a steel vs. carbon frame might not be something you need to think about unless you’re looking at a brand-new bike north of £1000 – 1500. This is when carbon frames often come into play. Obviously, you can dive into the second-hand market, which can be great if you know what you’re looking for and how to spot common defects such as hairline cracks in frames, and the health of brake and gear components.
If you’re starting out, I wouldn’t get too hung up on whether you should ride steel or carbon. The impact to performance for an absolute newbie won’t really be noticeable. Perhaps decent carbon is something to upgrade to if you find you’re still loving the sport in a years’ time, and have kept a smile on your face through numerous challenging climbs, weathers, and mechanical mishaps? However, if you’ve the budget to consider both, there are three main differences between steel and carbon road bike frames: weight, stiffness, and cost. Semi-decent steel frames are typically cheaper but heavier than carbon frames. Any additional weight can make riding up steep hills a bit more difficult. Having said this, if saving weight is important to you, remember that it’s a lot bloody cheaper to lose weight on the thing sat on the bike vs. paying for lighter materials within the machine itself! 😉
Although heavier, steel is generally more durable and can handle impact better than carbon, which makes it a good choice for rougher terrain. Carbon frames, on the other hand, are usually much lighter and stiffer than steel frames, which typically makes them faster and more efficient for road cycling.
Next, consider the fit of the road bike. It's important to find a bike that fits you properly, as this will greatly impact your comfort and performance on the road. Don't be afraid to try out a few different sizes and models to see what feels best. And remember, it's okay to ask for help! Bike shop assistants are there to help you, and they can often recommend models based on your specific needs, physical stature and flexibility, and size of wallet.
There are different frames with differing geometries. At two ends of the spectrum (there are many others in the middle), you have ‘Aero’ and ‘Roubaix’ frames, which have some important differences that a beginner road cyclist might want to consider before deciding which type of bike to buy.
Aero road bikes are designed with aerodynamics in mind. They’re typically made of good quality carbon (not all carbon is made equal), have a more aggressive geometry, with a lower, more stretched-out /hunched over position, and they often have features like thicker wheel rims, and integrated brakes and handlebars to minimize drag. They are typically lightweight and stiff, which makes them great for racing and high-performance riding… They look bloody gorgeous, too, in my humble, (very superficial) opinion.
Roubaix bikes, on the other hand, are designed with more comfort in mind. They have a more upright seating position and are often equipped with features like vibration-damping materials, wider tyres, and more forgiving frames to make them more comfortable to ride over rougher surfaces for longer periods of time. They are typically heavier and less stiff than aero road bikes, but they are ideal for riders who prioritize comfort and stability over speed and performance.
So, what should a beginner road cyclist consider when deciding between an aero road bike and a Roubaix? First and foremost, think about the type of riding you'll be doing. If you're planning on tackling long, hilly rides or tackling rough roads, a Roubaix might be the better choice for you. On the other hand, if you're interested in racing or high-performance riding, or just think you’ll enjoy going faster, an aero road bike might be more what you’re after. It's also worth considering your budget and level of experience. Aero road bikes are generally more expensive than Roubaix’s, and they may require more maintenance and technical know-how to keep them running smoothly. If you're just starting out and are on a tight budget, something more towards the Roubaix side of things might be a more practical choice. Either way, it's always a good idea to test ride both types of bikes before deciding which one feels best for you.
Finally, don't get too caught up in the latest and greatest features - especially as a complete newb. Sure, it's tempting to splurge on a bike with all the trimmings, but if you're just starting out, it's probably not necessary. Focus on finding a bike that fits your budget, meets your needs, and feels good and enjoyable to ride. You want a machine that will make you love cycling, not loathe it.
In the end, choosing the right road bike is all about finding a balance. With a little bit of research (hopefully including this post!) and some good old-fashioned trial and error, you'll be well on your way to finding your perfect steed.
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