It may seem like an odd time of year to be talking about getting into road riding, but if you are a savvy shopper, now is a great time for a new road bike purchase. Most bike companies have just released their shiny new 2017 bikes. This means all the obviously obsolete 2016 models can be found at some quite astonishing prices.
My recent road experience has shown me that tarmac is my friend and I am keen to explore this side of the sport more, and actually use cycling as a sport rather than just a slightly obsessive hobby. To that end, I am getting rid of a bike (or 2) and getting myself a lightweight road machine.
There is a lot to buying a road bike and it can be quite overwhelming. I have gone through quite the decision making process in the last week or so. I am sure I am not the only one who is somewhat baffled by the choice in front of them, so I hope the criteria I used prove helpful to some of you.
This was probably my most important parameter, as it is will be for many of you. It is a very useful one for road bike shopping though as it helps to constrain the choices. It can also stop you getting carried away and convincing yourself that you should spend thousands of pounds on a super lightweight race machine you don’t really need.
It is certainly possible to get a well functioning bike for general weekend riding and commuting for between £500-£1000. Spending less than that means sacrificing everything that makes a road style bike a good choice over a hybrid or mountain bike – light weight and speed.
There are a lot of great options around £1000. This is somewhat intentional as it is the limit for the cycle to work scheme and a figure people are often happy embracing. For this price you can get a pretty good bike that is relatively light, has good gearing and will be suitable for all but the most competitive riding.
Beyond £1000 you start getting into full carbon bikes, high end gearing and various things to make the bike as light, fast and high performing as possible. If you are specifically looking for a carbon bike around £1000, check out this post. If you want a higher end women’s road bike then head over here for some choices (there will be similar men’s models).
The frame is probably the one part of the bike you will not end up having to replace or upgrade over the years. It is therefore worth going for the best you can and making sure you know what you want.
Aluminium, carbon, steel, titanium or a bit of a mix? This choice will be somewhat constrained by your budget – titanium and carbon don’t come cheap, aluminium does (a bit). Steel is a bit of an outlier, and while I normally adhere strictly to a steel is real mentality, it is a little heavier unless it is prohibitively expensive.
It seems from reading around that aluminium has been shunned for carbon. However, if you are looking for something under £1000, an aluminium frame can allow for better component specifications and they are no where near as harsh as they used to be. Most aluminium bikes now, other than really cheap ones, have carbon forks to help dampen road vibration, lower overall weight and help with speed.
Aluminium is only a little heavier at the cheaper bike end, and lets face it, most of us are not as light as we can be, so really does the cost/weight trade off matter for carbon?
Shimano is probably the most dominant gearing manufacturer for bikes, certainly at around the £1000 mark. Sora, Tiagra and 105 are the specific group sets you can expect to get for between £500-£1000. 105 is considered one of the best and some tests have shown no performance downsides compared to its more expensive Ultegra sister.
The new Sora group set looks suspiciously like 105 of yesteryear and performs pretty well (it was on the Aprire bike I borrowed a while back). It seems to represent great value for money, so if you cannot find a 2016 bike you like in the sale, you could get a lower spec gearing option for a good performance/cost balance with Sora.
This is what I got hung up on the most – did I want traditional rim brakes, or should I go with the revolution and pick disc? I like my mechanical disc brakes on my tourer, but did I really need them on a road bike? If pro cyclists can stop going down mountains with rim brakes, why are they not good enough for me? Should I go with hydraulic discs as they need less adjusting and self align when replacing a wheel.
Ultimately I think at this point there is no right decision – unless you plan to enter races in which case go rim – it’s up to personal preference. Things seem to be moving in the direction of discs though generally so there is that to keep in mind. Also, if you are intending to commute on it too, rim brakes help in gross weather when a pedestrian, car or squirrel decide to cut you up.
Endurance, aero, performance? This will be something else you have to decide and it ultimately should be based on what you want to do with you bike in the next few years. Endurance bikes are pretty popular as they don’t require quite such an aggressive position as performance bikes. They are therefore good for riding for longer periods by those of us who can only touch their toes on a good day.
Pretty much any of the road bike geometries will be good for general commuting, weekend riding, club riding and sportives. If you are going high on the budget and ambition, then it might be worth thinking about getting an aero bike, which will allow you to be a bit more competitive should you get serious – you don’t want to have to buy another bike in a years time (or maybe you do, I am not one to judge!).
Fit is the most important thing here – the bike that fits you will allow you to perform best and get out and ride.
My bike of choice has ended up being an aluminium framed bike with carbon forks, rim brakes and Shimano 105 gearing. I ended up finding a 2015 bike in an even better sale. I was tempted by disc brakes, but the sale bike was basically the same other than brakes, and over £400 cheaper. To me this was unjustifiable for a feature I was kind of on the fence with anyway.
So, what bike was it I hear you ask – well, it was a Liv Avail SL 1 – a bargain 2015 model that I got at an exceptional price. The men’s version, the Giant Defy has hardly been out of rankings for best bike under £1000, and the Liv follows in its footsteps. Liv bikes are truly women’s bikes, not slightly altered men’s ones, and it shows. It is super comfy, not at all harsh and super speedy, particularly when accelerating. I took it to the Velodrome road track at the weekend and was very, VERY pleased (I held off a guy on a very expensive Cervelo aero bike, not that I was being competitive of course).
What were your deciding factors when buying a road bike (or thinking about buying one)? What road bike do you have and why do you like it?