Road bike week: Why a road bike?

The overriding message of this blog, from the beginning, is that cycling can be done with any bike. I’m living proof of this. If you ever popped round to my house for a cup of tea, looking outside at the tatty old hybrid bike you’d wonder if it really is “the London Cyclist” who lives here. Frequently, when I chat to someone involved in the cycling world they shake my hand and can’t avoid producing a look of disappointment at the bike I have in tow. That’s fine with me. My second hand hybrid bike, purchased years ago, has always tackled any task I’ve thrown at it.

Figuring out how to get the wheel back on the Trek Madone 3.1

Recently however, I’ve had calls from the dark side. They’ve come in the form of a Trek Madison 3.1 road bike.

The lift-it-to-believe-it lightness and speed focused design make it a bike that is always beckoning me to go out for a ride. There’s something about knowing that under my own steam, a road bike is one of the fastest ways I can travel.

May I welcome you therefore, to day one of our road bike week. The posts this week will be useful for anyone who is considering a road bike purchase but also for those London Cyclist readers out there who’ve already taken the plunge. We’ll be looking at which road bikes give you the most value for your money, showing you some excellent road cycling routes to try around London and also talking about why would anyone want a road bike.

Let’s start with the latter.

The answer will vary depending on what you are looking for. If you have a lengthy cycle commute then you may enjoy the speed advantage of a road bike. Alternatively, perhaps you wish to join a road cycling club to get fit. It may just be that you enjoy long rides in the countryside and a road bike is the most comfortable way to ride it.

So what exactly makes a road bike, a road bike? The first is the weight. Generally, everything is optimised to be as light as possible. This often means expensive carbon components. The second is the riding position. The drop handlebars mean that you can adapt your riding position depending on where you rest your hands. The thin wheels are another noticeable change, again contributing to speed gains and a different feel in the handling.

Compared to other bikes, you may notice a road bike lacks the relevant mounts for panniers. Restricting you somewhat to what you are willing to carry on your back. Although, there are exceptions to this.

My personal reason for wanting to try out a road bike was to discover another side of the cycling world that I’m learning more about.

If you already ride a road bike, then leave a comment below about what first made you decide it was the way to go.

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22 Responses to Road bike week: Why a road bike?

  1. phil 29/08/2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Bought it because i signed up for a group Tri and i was doing the cycling part and it was a good excuse to get an alternative bike for my commute which was a bike lighter and faster than my mountain bike. Took a little while to get used to it compared to the mountain bike, the lack of grip in rain and in winter, shifting gears, the lack of gears for hills but i got used to it pretty quickly. I use it pretty much everyday as part of my commute and reckon if i was to switch to usign my mountain bike it would be 5 minutes slower over the 10km that i cycle each way. Still do a few proper road rides every year as well.

    But like any tool, it is good for some jobs and not for others. I still love my mountain bike and i think for shear fun i still prefer it over the road bike.

  2. Sweetman 29/08/2011 at 12:56 pm #

    I have the good fortune to own several different types of bikes, although just recently entered the world of the road bike. I ride a beautiful road bike for long, purposeful road trips The dynamics and rider position are quite different from the more upright hybrid, English 3-speeds but the transition was no problem. Personally, I still forget I have access to all the gears at my fingertips. Road bikes are fast, responsive and very light–so much fun. Agreed: there’s less area to load up with racks/packs (and I prefer to keep it streamlined). My greatest barrier? The distinct camps of thought among cyclists who dismiss the types of bikes and riders they don’t own.
    Great forum! Thank you, cheers.

  3. Pete 29/08/2011 at 1:50 pm #

    Agreed on all points of what makes a road bike a road bike (over and above other bikes) except their order of precedence.

    1st. Body position. The most efficient of all bike types in regards to power transfer.
    2nd. Wheel/tyre size/pressure. Ditto.
    3rd. Weight. This is a common prejudice aimed at road bikes/riders. To qualify this point with “expensive carbon components” is a bit of a misnomer. (not that there aren’t bike riders out there that put this at the top of their own agenda!,)

  4. Portellini 29/08/2011 at 2:21 pm #

    I own a hybrid bike but I always wish it was a road bike. I bought it due to lack of money to go for a road bike but really wanted to get rid of my slow MTB. I have tried 700×23 skinny tires but I now use 700×28 for more comfort.

    I’d love to use a road bike for a while 🙂

  5. Ian 29/08/2011 at 3:49 pm #

    I owned a hybrid initially but once you ride a lightweight road bike that feeling of speed and pushing yourself further is great!!

    The other thing about road bike is SPORTIVES – Yes you can use any bike but it is a great way to judge your fitness and enjoy cycling with a whole new world of cyclists.

    I joined a road cycling club – Seeds in Dartford and it is an amazing way to meet like minded very friendly people who love riding!!

  6. Eddie 29/08/2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I recently (5 months ago) took the plunge and bought a road bike (Genesis Equilibrium 20) having been commuting to work for 18 months on a Boardman hybrid. The boardman was said by some to be a road bike with flat handlebars so I wasn’t sure how much of a leap it would be, but wanted to do some longer rides and really thought I needed a road bike.

    First impressions – very different to ride, took a few rides to get used to it. I initially felt very unstable – probably due to the drop handlebars. I also had to get used to riding with SPD shoes which I hadn’t used before. Didn’t take long to adjust though, after a week of commuting it felt completely normal.

    5 months down the line and I love it. I did my first proper ride, the London bikeathon – a 52 mile ride. I now ride more regularly and having this bike just makes me want to ride. I love it.

    Negatives? Well, for commuting it’s not ideal – the hybrid was better here really, especially with the disc brakes compared to calipers on a road bike. But since I only have space for one bike, I’d rather have the roadie.

    The Genesis is a steel frame road bike – slightly heavier than some, but more durable and much more comfortable. I test rode several similar spec bikes from top brands (circa £1,300) and the steel just soaks up road bumps and vibration. Although to say it’s heavier might do it an injustice – I haven’t properly weighed it but it’s noticeably lighter than the hybrid which is 10.7kg so I imagine this is still under 10kg. For someone of my ability and ambitions I don’t see this as a drawback – fitness and rider weight play a much bigger role at this level!! haha.

    So in conclusion – road bikes aren’t necessarily the “best”, it depends what you need a bike for. But for longer rides and fun factor, they win hands down for me. I also love the variation in hand position – the basic hands on the hood position feels much more natural than the horizontal position on flat handle bars.

  7. Stephen 29/08/2011 at 7:52 pm #

    hi Eddie, thanks for the post above.

    I’ve just bought a Genesis too and can’t wait to get onto it. It will be quite a change from a much beloved Brompton! That said, I could easily cruise10 miles to work on it in 55 mins so it will be interesting to see what’s to gain from joining the lycra brigade!

    • Eddie 29/08/2011 at 9:58 pm #

      Hi Stephen,

      Ah great, good choice 😉 I think you’ll love it. Did you get the Equilibrium or a different model? All their bikes look great, I’d love to have a Croix de Fer too – possibly the ultimate commuter, but probably not great for weekend rides.

      Although I haven’t joined the lycra brigade – just padded MTB shorts for me. I just can’t bring myself to do it!!!!!

      Let us know how you get on with your new purchase 🙂

      • Andreas 30/08/2011 at 12:43 pm #

        Eddie – thanks too from me for your comment above. Was very interesting to hear about your first experiences with road bikes.

      • Stephen 31/08/2011 at 12:14 am #

        thanks Eddie, will do.


        • Stephen 16/09/2011 at 11:36 pm #

          hi Eddie, two weeks now and I’ve clocked up a hell of a load of miles and every day is a dream to wake up and clip in and head to work and then a whole day to look forward to the run home. I’ve got a bit more brave too with the distances and am seriously considering an application to either start work early or finish late so I can eat up the road home with a bit of ompf!

          loving the Genesis, so glad I picked up one and I’ve had a load of adoring glances which only serve to boost my confidence a bit more. My poor Brompton looks lonely and unloved, I must give it a bit of attention again soon! Bring on the cold weather – that will be the next test for me.

          Best wishes

  8. Mike 29/08/2011 at 9:43 pm #

    For anyone thinking of going for a road bike, I’d suggest looking at a lower-end cyclocross bike as a more practical all rounder. Avoid higher-end machines, as they are out and out competition bikes, so aren’t as suitable for commuting/general purpose use.

    Lower end cross bikes tend to be set up for multiple uses, so sport a full set of bosses for mounting mudguards & racks. Some come with triple chainsets, so they can easily be used for touring. They are “overbuilt’ compared to a standard road bike, so can put up with more abuse too.

    They can also take big tyres, I used the supplied knobbly 700x35c on mine to ride to work in the snow a couple of winters ago. I’ve also used it for sportives using 23mm tyres, and I’m about to ride John O’Groats – Land’s End on one.

    Makes to look out for are the Kona Jake, Surly Cross Check, Specialized Tricross, Planet X Kaffenback & Uncle John.

    On a slightly more esoteric tip, check out the On One Pompetamine Versa; a drop bar steel bike with disc brakes and a rear hub gear. Genesis offer a similar bike too.

  9. Eddie 29/08/2011 at 10:02 pm #

    Mike – pretty good advice I’d say. Unless you’re thinking of using the bike mainly for competing/ club riding a cross would be a good all rounder.

    I was very torn between the Steel road bike I ended up buying (a compromise anyway vs the usual “high end” road bikes) and the Croix de Fer cross – decided against the latter due the the extra weight of disc brakes and lesser components.

    That On one bike does look interesting and reasonable price. I’m quite a genesis fan so would also suggest (as you mention) the croix de fer or day one 🙂

  10. skippy 30/08/2011 at 7:28 am #

    It would be interesting to know WHY you chose to feature a ” Madone ” as the first of your ” Road Bikes ” ! And even more so WHY a Carbon Frame bike ?

    With the ” risks ” of theft always constantly in the picture many of your readers will be thinking lower end Alloy or Aluminium framed bikes particularly when they will be using it to commute . That said i also know some using the ” Tax Incentive Scheme ” to buy Highend Bikes which get used daily but rarely ridden to work in risky areas .

    Building my own bikes i choose to use Alloy Frames for the Grand Tours since an unlucky crash on a Carbon will see the frame damaged and thus an early end to the event . Regretably there has been several incidents in recent years in Italy where the drivers are becoming as bad as the Brits when close to cyclists . Gone are the days when Cyclists were treated with care and consideration .

    Recently i have had to withdraw bikes ” loaned ” to Disabled Athletes as i no longer have the resources to fund their upkeep so i have a variety of bikes for sale and in disposing of them will be able to fund the remainder that are on loan !

    Will be showing these bikes on my blog in the next days so will appreciate all the help given to find new homes for those available .

  11. Phil 30/08/2011 at 9:42 am #

    I have no axe to grind about who rides what or why; the more people on bikes the better in my view.

  12. Apples 30/08/2011 at 6:35 pm #

    i ride a road bike 10miles to work everyday and thoroughly LOVE the thrill of crossing london NE to SW in around 45 minutes!! i bought a dawes 400 second hand at a nice entry level price…and i must admit i was initially quite scared on the notoriously bad london roads, but as Phil says – the more cyclist the better – and over the last few years London has seen some dramatic improvements to its roads in general, mostly thanks to the Barclays bike scheme.

    So if you are thinking about getting a road bike for the commute to work, my advice to you would be to start cycling on london roads on the weekends first, when the traffic isnt so frantic, and you are more relaxed in general (ie no time pressure to get to work on time) – if you have a friend who cycles alot, then ask them to accompany you to show you the ropes, as it can be quite daunting being a beginner out there! It took me a good few months to feel completely comfortable, on the road on my road bike, but now I avoid taking public transport like the plague – its too much fun on my roadie, and i get a good 1.5 hour work out every day too!

  13. Andrea 30/08/2011 at 8:45 pm #

    I have not tried modern high end road bikes yet but this summer I bought a beautiful steel vintage bike while on holiday in Italy. It’s an early 90s model with Columbus SLX frame and 105 groupset (not Campagnolo unfortunately!) and despite the 250 Euro it’s a great machine and it feels like new (the owner had it built from scratch and didn’t use it much) and unlike a mid priced modern bike, beautiful to behold! It’s just under 10kg but that does not matter at all as the balance, position and skinny tires just make you ride very fast with half the effort… no joke! I would recommend anyone to try a road bike but I would suggest you have a look at a (modern) steel vintage… they can be comparatively very cheap, very good (80s, 90s), very fast and extremely beautiful!
    The fact that I can’t carry anything apart from a little saddle bag is actually a plus point and very liberating aftef taking to always carry tons of stuff in my pannier!!
    Just pump your tires up to over 100psi and tuck in… you’ll be amazed at the speeds you can achieve.
    No wonder roadies are so fixated with training… they just wanna go faster :-))

  14. Steve 01/09/2011 at 8:20 pm #

    I commute 10 miles each way into central London each day using a hybrid. As 40th birthday treat earlier this year traded up for something lighter and faster, tested a few road bikes between £1000 to £1500 but lost my nerve just before buying was a bit concerned about ride position for busy London roads. Opted for specialized sirrus pro hybrid has good ride position for commuting but also light and fast enough for weekend jaunts in the country.

  15. Ben 02/09/2011 at 11:22 am #

    I bought a Genesis Croix de Fer last February and I love it, although it’s not a trully “road bike”.
    It has changed my conmuting life: those 7 miles of daily conmute from Brixton to Fulham take sometimes just 25 min.
    Changed the knobbly tyres for 700x25c road tyres and attached a Carradice saddle bag to carry my stuff to the office. And I’m not missing the braking power of my old hybrid thanks to its disc brakes.
    I’ve been going out for long rides on weekends and next week I’m cycling from London to Amsterdam.

  16. Andrew Ebling 03/09/2011 at 6:04 pm #

    For me a road bike makes it possible to ride my entire commute a few times a week (60 mile round trip). The other days, I use a combination of folding bike and train.

    Note that there are different design compromises even within the “road bike” category; I went for a Jamis Venture Comp (£629 from Evans) which is a Sportive model, having a slightly more upright riding position and longer wheelbase. Sportives are a compromise between an all-out racer and a tourer; designed for comfort and speed over long distances, but not designed to be ridden all day. I also considered the Specialized Secteur, but the distributor had sold out of the 2011 model and the 2012 model will not be introduced until October in the UK.

    Please note – fit is even more important on road bikes than other types of bike and there is more to a correct fit than just inside leg measurement; reach to the handlebars is also important to consider. A good bike shop can advise on getting the best possible fit (preferably using an indoor training stand), but I would strongly recommend test riding a road bike prior to purchase.

    And to put the difference in context, it took me 2hr30m to do my commute one-way on my Dahon folding bike. Best time yet on the road bike? 1hr 46m.

  17. Rick Sutton 23/04/2012 at 10:25 am #

    Is it possible for a traditional, track geometry style, fixed steel frame bike to “feel” and respond like a “Sportive” style carbon road bike, with 10 speed (Shimano) gears.

    I would like (at least) two bikes, one for every day 20 mile commuting/local rides and one for longer weekend endurance rides and events, up to 100 miles. Towards this end, I purchased a very nice Schindelhauer Siegfried (2010 model now up for sale for £500?) urban bike and flipped it to fixed. This is a aluminum frame and I’ve had it for 8 months but it has never felt quite right and I find myself using the road bike most of the time.

    Both bikes are good quality and design and I try not to directly compare the two but I would like to know if an alternative material to carbon will ever feel like, well carbon. I like the concept of a traditional steel fixed bike but not if it will not feel and respond like the CF road bike does.

    The CF road bike is a 2007 Specialized S-Works Roubaix and has been the best bike I have owned to date. The Siegfried needs to be pushed and although quite light never “floats” or flows. With the Roubaix I can spin almost effortlessly and feel no pedal drive resistance at all but with the Siegfried, the pedals and drive must always be “maintained”. I appreciate this is a factor of fixed and some say the attraction, the sense of being connected and in touch with your bike.

    So, have I answered my own question and I just happen to prefer to be in the CF derailleur camp? or can a steel fixie really feel the same?

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