If you’re thinking about buying a new road bike, or even if you just want to start researching so you know what to buy when you’re ready, we have a few pointers here that may make the process a bit easier.
When it comes to road bikes, there are three basic elements you need to know about: bike frame materials, bike frame geometry, and components.
Let’s consider your options; when it comes to bike frames, you generally have three to choose from: steel, carbon fiber or aluminum. The material you choose is going to depend on which ride feels best to you – bike makers choose frame materials based on the particular ride characteristics they’re aiming to capture, and sometimes they’ll combine materials to achieve that.
Aluminum is the most popular bike frame choice because it is lightweight and stiff. Aluminum frames will flex less under their load, which in turn directs more of the bicyclist’s energy into forward motion. Aluminum bikes will have a fast, agile feel, although the stiffness of the aluminum can make it a less than comfortable ride on bumpy roads.
Bike builders have been using steel in their frames for more than 100 years. Steel will give you a smoother, more stable ride and although it’s stiff, it is probably going to be more comfortable on bumpy roads. Surprisingly, steel is a more pliant material than aluminum or carbon filter, so it absorbs vibration. Steel is incredibly strong, reliable, and can be repaired when bikes made of aluminum or carbon filter may suffer the same injury and not be repairable. One negative: steel bikes weigh more than the others.
If there were a “best of both worlds” in the bike frame realm, a carbon filter bike frame could be your moneymaker. It’s a versatile material, and can be manipulated to be stiff or compliant, depending on where in the frame it’s located. But carbon fiber has always been the most expensive of the three materials, although the price has come down in recent years and more people are buying carbon fiber bikes. Another drawback is that carbon fiber does not withstand impacts well. Cracks can form in the bike’s frame that may not be visible, but can make the bike unsafe to ride.
Frame geometry also effects how a bike rides and handles. The term frame geometry refers to the lengths of the frame tubes, and the angles at which they are assembled. The frame geometry, like the frame material, effects how the bike rides. The frame geometry will dictate if your bike has a smooth ride or a zippy ride. Variations in the frame geometry can affect how well a bike fits (physically) as well.
The rule of thumb for road bikes used to be that their components all came from the same manufacturer, but lately more bikes have a mixture of components from different manufacturers. When the cost of production or materials spikes, bike manufacturers will use generic components or mix and match components to keep costs down.
There’s only one way to choose the bike that’s best for you – try riding a few, and buy the one you like best. one. If there’s a cool bike shop near you, they’ll probably indulge your desire to try a few different bikes out. Plus, you’ll be going back to them for services and accessories, so you might as well get to know them.
When it comes to price, obviously you can only spend what you can afford, but in the world of bikes the more you spend, the higher quality the bike. The higher quality the bike, the nicer the ride. Since you’re probably going to have your bike for a long time, spend as much as you can on it up front.