Road Bike Shopping? Our Guide to Doing it Right.
Our guide to finding the road bike that’s right for you, how to make use of your local bike shop, and how to take advantage of bike sales.
If you’re reading this you already know that cycling is a great way to keep fit, and fantastic fun at the same time. Some of us may be lifelong cyclists, while others may just be considering getting into cycling for the first time. Whatever your reason or motivation, finding the right bike is key. For many, buying a first real road bike is the trigger we need to start regular cycling. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that cycling can be addictive, and having the right bike can make the difference between a great ride and an average ride. Once you have the right road bike, one that is comfortable and reliable, you’ll be more inclined to make cycling a key part of your routine, rather than something you might do occasionally. Cycling of all types can also be a very social experience, but that’s especially true for road cycling. While there are some that always prefer a solo ride, there’s also a great camaraderie when you start cycling in a regular group. Many great friendships can be forged while spinning the pedals out on the roads.
So how do you begin when you’ve made the mental leap to deciding you need a road bike – whether that’s a first time bike or an upgrade? There are so many choices that you may find it all a bit bewildering. Especially for novice riders, the acronyms can quickly confuse. Group sets, carbon frames, aero wheels. What does it all mean and who can help me make the right choice?
Start at the local bike shop[s]
Even if you don’t end up buying your road bike from the local bike shop, it’s always a good idea to explore what’s on your doorstep. A good local bike shop should stock a range of brands, with models at various price points. As a guide, you’re going to be looking at a range of prices between around $700 and upwards of $10,000. [Do the conversion to your home currency if you’re not in the US]. That’s a very big range so how do you know where you should be? At the lower end of the scale you can forget about carbon frames. You’re probably looking at a road bike with a steel, alloy, or aluminium frame, and fairly basic components at this level.
A useful article on selecting an entry level road bike can be found at Bike Radar – http://www.bikeradar.com/road/gear/article/best-entry-level-road-bikes-for-beginner-riders-on-a-budget-32772/
They also have a useful video that is well worth a watch;
As you will see, nearly all of the leading bicycle brands have entry level models. That includes bikes from the likes of Scott, Trek, Specialized and Giant. With the market being as competitive as it is, there is some great value to be had even at the sub $1000 level. We’ll come on to discuss more about the right bike for you in a moment.
Any good local bike shop will be used to dealing with novice riders and will be experienced in helping you find the bike that’s right for you, and your budget. They will usually start by asking you what you intend to use the bike for, as that will narrow down the selection and shortlist a range of bikes that are going to meet your needs. Typical uses would include the occasional ride to the shops, the weekend 2-3 hour group ride, a race, or a cycle tour/holiday. Your typical use will very much shape the right choice of road bike. It will also be important to choose a bike based on your usual terrain. For example, if you live at the top [or bottom] of a mountain, you’ll be looking for something with a wide range of gearing suitable for grinding out a hill climb. Equally, if you live and ride in an area that’s as flat as a proverbial pancake, you won’t need the same range of gears.
Before we stray too far into bike selection let’s wrap up this discussion on starting at the local bike shop. If you’re lucky [as I am] you will have multiple bike shops in your local area. [I think I have 12 within about 20km radius.] While you may not want to visit all of them, unless you find it particularly enjoyable, it’s a good idea to compare the range of road bikes, and advice, from more than one bike shop. A useful tip would be to ask your local shops if they offer hire bikes, or road tests. They may well have a range of different brands that you can try before you buy. This is often a good way to find a bike that feels just right for you. We’re all different, so a bike that feels great for one rider, may be uncomfortable for another. Keep in mind, the comfort is not just about how razor sharp the seat may be. Comfort is also determined by the bike’s geometry and the choice of components. For example, some brands will have models more suited to casual riding that may look pretty much identical to their more expensive race ready machines, but will actually be styled slightly differently to offer a more comfortable riding experience. Keep in mind that more expensive machines are likely to be designed for out and out racing, and these machines are more about speed than comfort. Even if you have money burning a hole in your pocket, you’d be advised to focus on your usual use case, rather than going for a trophy bike you can impress your friends with. Remember you can always upgrade the complete bike, or the components, as your experience, or addiction, develops.
While you’re at your local bike shop, you can get that the shop owner, or salesperson, will try to close you there and then. Don’t be tempted. Choosing the right road bike is not something you should rush. There are 1000s of makes and models out there and you want both the right bike, and the right price. Before you leave the local bike shop, do take the time to get a bike fitting. We’ll cover the details of bike fitting in another article, but let the bike shop guide you on the right size of frame, and how to set saddle height, and handlebar position. That’s the bare minimum you will need to get the right fit. Again, the right fit is crucial to ensuring you have an enjoyable ride.
What else do I need to consider to get the right road bike?
Hopefully we haven’t put you off yet. Yes, it can be complicated, and quite time consuming when shopping for the right road bike. But it can also be fun, so embrace the process, take the time to expand your knowledge, and you’ll be out on the roads on your perfect bike in no time.
We’ve already touched on gearing and the importance of knowing your typical riding terrain. One of the big factors that will affect the price of your road bike, is the group set. Group what you may well ask. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The group set is the group, or family, of components, that make up the essentials that transfer the power from your legs, and the ones that help you stop. If you look at any road bike you’ll be able to pick out the brakes, the levers, the crank arms, chainwheels, and derailleurs [gearing components at the front and rear]. The most common brand for groupsets is Shimano, but there are others including SRAM, and Campagnolo. Groupsets vary enormously in price. The most expensive can be upwards of $10,000. Modern groupsets at the high end typically use electric shifting technology with wireless technology to send instructions from the levers to the gearing systems. Unless you’re very rich, or a true pro, you won’t require that level of sophistication. For a guide to groupsets you can ask Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupset
Cycling Weekly also has a nicely presented 7 minute video all about groupsets;
Carbon or Not?
Unless you’ve been cycling in a bubble for the last 20 years you’ll be aware that carbon fibre has revolutionised road bike design. The reason that road bikes are now often made from carbon fibre is weight and stiffness. Your local bike shop may well have a sample carbon fibre frame handing from the ceiling. Ask them if you can have a look. If it’s the first time you have handled a carbon frame you’ll probably be amazed at how light it is. All top end road bikes are made of carbon fibre [at least the frame, fork, and wheels will be]. This makes for a superb balance of weight, strength and stiffness and really does make a difference to overall feel. When I upgraded from allow to carbon, I really did knock a few minutes off my time for my usual circuit. Whether you need a carbon frame or not depends on your budget, and your style of riding. I still see people in group rides on 80s style steel machines, more than able to keep pace with the carbon boys and girls, but it’s about personal choice. One tick in the box for choosing a road bike with a carbon frame and fork, is that you can keep the frameset for years, and upgrade the components around it without having to upgrade the entire bike. In terms of budget, a carbon bike is likely to start you from around $1200 [possibly a little less if you find the right bike sales]. More on that later.
For more discussion and information on carbon vs alloy here’s a useful article on Over40cyclist [you are over 40 aren’t you?] – http://www.over40cyclist.com/carbon-fiber-bikes-vs-aluminum-bikes/. Most of the well known bike forums will also have ongoing debate on whether or not you need to go carbon.
What about Wheels and Tires?
It’s true. You won’t get very far without wheels and tires [or tyres as we call them in Europe].
The experts will tell you that the single biggest upgrade you can make it is to your wheels. Simply put, a faster, lighter set of wheels [and tires] can transform your ride. Wheels can also be one of the most expensive upgrades so it’s important to choose wisely. As with the evolution of the bicycle frame, wheels have moved with the times, and most wheel upgrades will mean a move to a carbon fibre rim. Coupled with a hub with ceramic bearings, you’ll have an ultra-smooth set of circles to keep you spinning regardless of the slope. How much will this wheel goodness cost? For a reasonable set of carbon wheels you’re looking at round the $1000 mark. Yes, we know, that’s the same price as an entry-level road bike, but the difference justifies the cost. As with all things, shop around for the best deals. Some of the leading wheel manufacturers are Zipp, Mavic and Reynolds.
Here’s a nice concise buyer’s guide to wheels – http://www.merlincycles.com/blog/choosing-best-wheels-road-bike/
Road Bike Brands – Are they all Equal?
When it comes down to road bike brands it’s very much about personal preference. Many road bikes from competing brands are very similar, with most in the same price range having more or less identical groupsets. You’ll see many entry level bikes using the Shimano 105 set, with higher priced offerings using Ultegra or Dura-Ace.
There are so many bike manufacturers, from all corners of the globe, that the choice can be bewildering. The benefit for the buyer, is that more competition means generally improved quality and value. The brands to look out for when shopping for a road bike would include Specialized, Giant, Trek, Cervelo, and Willier. There are of course, dozens more, but at least one of these will tend to be on the menu in any quality bike shop.
Giant is recognised as the world’s biggest bike brand with 2012 sales of more than $1.8 billion. They are based in Taiwan but their bikes are seen all over the world, including on Grand Tours as ridden by the Giant-Alpecin team. http://teamgiantalpecin.com/
In general, you are likely to get better value by sticking with the stock components that come with the bike. Manuafcaturers will have pre-selected the core components for a reason, will have bought at scale from the component manufacturers and can pass on the savings within the sticker price for your chosen road bike. That doesn’t mean you can’t make changes, either at the time of purchase, or later. For example, you could ask your local bike shop about swapping out components, such as wheels, in order to do some mixing and matching to get the bike that’s right for you.
How to Save More on just about any Road Bike
So, let’s say you’ve taken our advice, shopped around, read reviews, and visited your local bike shop. If you haven’t been tempted to open your wallet there and then, you may now be sitting at home pondering your next move. You already know that the internet can be an amazing place for research and discount shopping. Bikes are no different with millions of dollars spent online on bikes and bike accessories. Online bike shops compete fiercely on price so take advantage and shop around. It will help if you’ve narrowed down your choice to a particular brand, or at least your top 2-3 brands, and have an idea on which model you want. A good tip for additional savings is to consider a model that may be one or two years old. All bike brands launch new models every year so it’s very likely that both offline and online bike stores will be discounting prices for past years’ models. We’ve seen savings of up to 50% just for going for a 2014 model over a 2016 model. In many cases, the specifications will be almost identical, so if you’re comfortable having a slightly older model you can make big savings.
Buying online is much easier than you might expect. You’ll find dozens of online bike shops with a simple Google search. If you’ve narrowed down the search to a particular make and model you will quickly be able to compare prices between competing bike shops. In some cases, you may find that the manufacturers have restricted pricing to ensure that all retailers sell their bikes at the same price. That restriction may be lifted for older models so it’s still worth shopping around. We’ve also seen some retailers charge parity pricing but throw in a 10% rebate to be spent on parts or accessories. That can be a very nice bonus if you’re spending a few thousand $s or £s on your new road bike.
Don’t end your search without a look on eBay. At the time of writing, our search for “road bikes” threw us more than 2500 results. You can spend hours flicking through bike listings. Many will be brand new, and you may just be able to pick up a bargain. We wary that some overseas sellers may advertise bikes that may be non-branded. Even though these may be good quality bikes, you run the risk of warranty issues, or low resale values.
If you happen to be shopping for your new road bike around the holiday season, you can expect to find some especially good deals. Particularly in January, you will find online bike retailers offering extra discounts on both current, and past years’ models.
For example, we found competitivecyclist.com offering 2015 road bikes at up to 42% discount, along with free shipping. Take the time to shop around. It’s actually good fun, and you might just grab a great deal.
Buying a new road bike is a big decision so it’s worth the investment to do your research, try before you buy when possible, and shop around to get the best deal. Above all, treat it as part of your overall cycling experience. When you’re out on the road, the bike plays a key role in your overall cycling enjoyment so get it right and you’re new road bike will give you pleasure for many years. We hope this guide has been helpful. If you have any other tips or comments we always enjoy hearing from you.