Whether you’re a beginner or a pro cyclist, choosing a new road bike is no small decision. A road bike is designed to perform well at high speeds over long distances and should be fitted to your specifications and riding style. A road bike is more than a vehicle that takes you from point A to B–it’s an extension of you as you push ahead of the peloton, ascend climbs with speed, or enjoy long adventures across beautiful landscapes. Whatever your reasons for cycling, they wouldn’t be possible without your bike. That’s a no-brainer, but finding the right road bike isn’t so easy. We’ve simplified everything you need to know about buying your first (or fifth) road bike so you can gear up and get on the road.
What is a road bike?
A road bike is a light and fast bike designed for optimal performance when racing or distance riding. Road bikes feature slick tires, a slim frame, and drop handlebars and travel well on paved roads. They’re best for professional, competitive, or avid cyclists whose riding demands a bike with an aggressive position, aerodynamic qualities, and a wide range of gearing for precise cadences. “Road bike” is often used to describe racing bikes used by professional or elite riders, but there are many different types of road bikes designed for a variety of riding styles. Some are aerodynamic, some are lighter, while others are more adventurous, but all road bikes share characteristics that make a cyclist fast and powerful on the road.
Types of road bikes
When cyclists refer to road bikes, we usually mean one of two types–racing or endurance bikes. But there are many other types of bikes for road riding that all share common road bike characteristics but are suited for different riding styles.
1. Racing bikes
A racing bike is lightweight and designed for high performance on steep, flat, windy, or straight roads. Racing bikes have a slender profile and narrow wheels with little to no tread, which makes them super swift. A road racing bike frame places you in a lower, more aggressive riding position for greater speed and engagement of the glutes and hamstrings. You can find inexpensive road racing bikes, but the more specifically designed to meet the demands of different types of races, the more expensive they get.
2. Endurance bikes
Endurance bikes are comfortable and stable for long rides or gran fondos, where performance matters but speed isn’t the top priority. They look like racing bikes but put the rider in a more upright and relaxed position. They’ll usually have at least one bottle holder and possibly a mount for fenders. An endurance bike is designed to keep you comfortable in the saddle for hours but not to slow you down. Sure, you won’t go as fast as you might on a racing bike, but you wouldn’t be able to maintain race pace in a 75-mile fondo anyways. The point of an endurance bike is to enable you to perform your best for a long duration.
3. Aero bikes
Aero bikes are a specialized type of racing bike designed to reduce drag and increase speed, but they’re heavier than a lightweight road racing bike. Aero bikes have deep-section wheels with shallow rims to control airflow and well-integrated or hidden elements, like rear brakes and cables, to make the bike more aerodynamic. Riding an aero bike puts you in an even more aggressive riding position than a traditional racing bike to reduce wind drag against your torso. Aero bikes are as speedy as bikes come but not the best choice for comfortable riding over long distances.
4. Time trial bikes
A time-trial bike is a type of aero road bike built for racing against the clock at max speeds on straight roads. Every aspect of a TT bike is as aero as possible, even at the expense of weight and handling. TT cyclists are positioned so low they look crouched over the handlebars.
5. Gravel bikes
A gravel bike toggles the line between a road bike and an adventure bike, but it shares many qualities with an endurance road bike. A gravel bike performs decently well on paved roads but is the best choice for gravel or unpaved roads. It’s built for stability and easy navigation over gravel, mud, or sand but it’s not as adventure-ready as a mountain bike. Some gravel bikes are classified as “aero” and are best for races that include off-roading.
6. Hybrid bikes
Hybrid bikes aren’t made for competition but for the cyclist who wants to do a little bit of everything–from road riding to mountain biking. It’s similar to a gravel bike in that it’s made for off-roading, but it’s not as performance-geared. It also has more similarities with a mountain bike than a gravel bike does. A hybrid bike is like the recreational version of a gravel bike.
7. Touring bikes
Touring bikes are built for the long haul, on rides that last a full day, a few days, or even longer. They’re similar to gravel bikes but without any of the performance features. They’re sturdy bikes made to maximize your comfort and aid your adventure with rack mounts to carry your necessities.
8. Recreational and commuter bikes
Recreational and commuter bikes are made for cycling for transportation or leisure. They’ll have luggage racks, bottle holders, and usually a more cushioned seat than other road bikes. Recreational and commuter bikes are both practical and enjoyable.
How to choose a road bike
1. What type of riding do you prefer?
If you’re shopping for a road bike, you’re likely a competitive or avid cyclist or hope to become one. Before you start your search, you should consider what type of racing or riding you invest the most time in. Competitive road cyclists need a racing bike in their arsenal for sure and possibly an additional gravel or endurance bike.
If you’re an avid cyclist but don’t compete regularly or at all, choose a bike with qualities that suit the distance and terrain of your rides. If you enjoy off-roading, you may want a gravel bike that performs well on and off the road. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a bike to get to work or ride with your kids on the weekend, there’s no need to prioritize performance. You’ll want to focus on comfort, sizing, and style.
2. What are your goals and how experienced are you?
If you’re new to cycling, an endurance bike is a great first road bike. You can get used to the feel of cycling in a more stable position than a racing bike and build your mileage as you train for your first gran fondo. Before you buy a brand-new road bike, you might want to purchase a used one to make sure you enjoy cycling and are committed to the sport before investing in a new one. Unless you’re a dedicated and experienced cyclist looking for a competitive edge, spending more for aerodynamic, carbon-fiber components is not going to make much of a difference to your everyday rides.
3. What’s your budget?
Road bikes aren’t cheap, so it’s important to determine what your needs are first so you don’t pay more for a bike with features that don’t benefit you. You’ll pay more for lighter frame materials and more specialized components, like brakes, tires, or gearing. Beginner cyclists can easily find a high-quality bike for around $1,000. Experienced cyclists and professionals might purchase a bike in the six to the fourteen-thousand-dollar range.
How much does a road bike cost?
A road bike can range anywhere from two hundred to fourteen thousand dollars, depending on its function (road, aero, gravel, etc.), materials, and components. A brand-new mid-level road bike will cost you $800–$3,000. You can find a road bike for a few hundred dollars, but it won’t serve you well for races or high mileage or last you as long as a higher-quality bike would. Bikes in the $1,000–$2,000 range will likely have an aluminum frame and disc brakes. Bikes closer to $4,000 may have carbon fiber frames with some aluminum components.
4. What size bike do you need?
It’s crucial to determine what size bike you need before making a final purchase. There’s no one-size-fits-all bike, and sizing will be different across different manufacturers. Properly sizing and fitting your bike will reduce your risk of injury and make you more comfortable and efficient while riding. Start by measuring your height and inseam and then comparing these measurements to manufacturer size charts to find your size. For more precise sizing, you can measure your reach and stack, but only if you already own a bike and know how to position yourself on it. Learn more about how to find the right bike size.
Measuring yourself for a new bike will give you an approximate size, but it’s always a good idea to go to your local bike shop for a professional fitting, especially if it’s your first time buying a road bike. At a bike fitting, you’ll discuss your cycling history and goals with an expert who will take specific measurements and help you find a bike and adjust it to find your best fit.
What materials are road bikes made out of?
The materials of a road bike influence its weight, cost, and feel. Many bikes are made predominately of one material and have some parts in another material to improve the quality of the components.
Aluminum is a common material for entry-level to mid-level road bikes. It’s light, strong, durable, and cost-effective. The combination of quality and low cost makes aluminum a popular choice. However, aluminum is stiffer than carbon fiber, which impacts the feel of a ride and is not as lightweight as carbon fiber.
2. Carbon fiber
Carbon fiber is the most popular material for mid to high-level bikes. Bikes on the lower end of the carbon fiber price range may only be partially made from carbon fiber in prime locations, while the remainder is made from aluminum. Carbon fiber is very pliable, so it can be easily molded for more aerodynamic shapes. It’s extremely light and has a greater strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum. However, carbon fiber is more expensive than aluminum and doesn’t hold up as well in crashes.
A titanium bike has many pros–it’s corrosion-resistant and absorbs vibrations well, so it doesn’t fatigue over time and offers excellent ride quality. But titanium is rare and the most expensive option because it’s hard to work with. It’s lighter than steel but still not as light as aluminum or carbon fiber.
Steel is the old-fashioned choice for bike material. Several decades ago, most bikes were made from steel, and some cyclists prefer the retro look of steel bikes. But steel lost its popularity to aluminum and carbon fiber because it’s heavy, not very pliable, and will corrode over time.
Learn more: Parts of a Road Bike: Anatomy of a Bike
How much should a road bike weigh?
Racing bikes are the lightest type of road bike, weighing near the UCI minimum weight of 6.8 kg (15 lbs.). Aero bikes are light but about a pound heavier than lightweight racing bikes. The average endurance road bike weighs about 18 pounds, while gravel and commuter bikes generally weigh over 20 pounds.
But how much does weight matter? Faster road bikes are lighter than endurance or gravel bikes that prioritize stability over speed. But the fastest bikes aren’t necessarily the lightest. Wind resistance has the most potential to slow a cyclist down, so improving a bike’s aerodynamics is the best way to increase speed. Adding aerodynamic components add a little extra weight to a road bike but makes it faster nonetheless. Improving your cycling power and cardiovascular fitness will also make you a stronger and more speedy cyclist no matter how much your bike weighs. Here are 10 of the best ways to increase your cycling power.
Components of a road bike
Discussing the components of a road bike can get technical. For competitive cyclists, the technical details are significant when choosing a road bike. But beginner and recreational cyclists may only need to know the details that make a distinct difference in performance and comfort. Here are a few details on a road bike to consider for a better ride.
The frame is the core of your bike, as we’ve discussed, it’s critical to size it properly. The angles of your bike’s frame influence your riding position. A bike that supports a relaxed, upright riding position has a longer wheelbase (distance between wheel axles), taller stack height (distance from the middle bottom bracket and the middle of the head tube), and slacker head angle (formed where the head tube and wheelbase intersect). Road bikes with an aggressive position have the opposite so the rider leans forward, closer to the handlebars.
Wheels and tires
The tread, clearance, size, and pressure of a road bike’s wheels will influence the feel of your ride. A bike’s tire clearance determines how wide the tires can be, and terrain dictates the tire tread and pressure. Tires on racing bikes or endurance bikes have slick, narrow tires (24–28mm) because they’re made for riding at high speeds on pavement. Gravel bikes, on the other hand, need wider tires (28–47mm) with greater tread for better grip on loose gravel and rugged roads. On aero bikes, the rims are deeper and the tires are larger (>40mm) than a typical road bike to allow for greater air volume to improve rolling resistance and speed. These fast tires come at the expense of easy handling and are best suited for experienced competitive cyclists.
Tubed vs. tubeless bike tires
Tubeless bike tires, filled with sealant rather than a tube, are a good choice for gravel bikes because they aren’t as prone to pinch flats and can operate at lower pressures for better traction. Tubed bike tires are best for racing or endurance bikes because they aren’t at as high of a risk for flats on paved roads and require higher pressure for less resistance.
A bike’s groupset includes the brakes and the drivetrain, which consists of the cranks, chainrings, chain, cassette, derailleurs, and gear levers. High-end road bikes have the most sophisticated groupsets made from carbon fiber or titanium. Aluminum groupsets are most common on entry-level road bikes.
When considering brakes on your new road bike, you can choose between rim brakes and disc brakes. Rim brakes apply force to the outer edge of the wheel by gripping it with brake pads on either side. Disc brakes apply force to a rotor at the center of the wheel. Disc brakes are lighter and faster and the better choice for riding on wet surfaces, but rim brakes will also serve you just fine and cost less.
Gearing includes the gears or “cogs” in a group called the cassette. The front gears are referred to as chainrings. Bikes designed for the road require a 2x drivetrain, with 2 chainrings in the crankset. This means that they have more gear shifts for more precise cadences. With a gravel bike, you have the choice between a 1x or 2x drivetrain. A single drivetrain is simpler and only has 11–12 gear shifts, reducing the risk of dropping chains over rough roads but offering less precision. Entry-level bikes may have three chainrings with 27 gears when combined with a 9-speed cassette. A third chainring offers more options for a little more help when you’re just starting out.
You have the flexibility to choose a different saddle than the one that comes with your road bike. When choosing a bike saddle, consider your riding position, gender, and discipline. Saddles are designed for more or less aggressive positions and are gender-specific for the most comfortable fit for anatomical differences. Learn how to measure your sit bone width for the right size bike saddle or choose from 10 of the best road bike saddles.
High-end bikes come without pedals to fit with cycling shoes with clipless pedals so you can choose the right fit for your cleats. As a beginner rider, you may not start with clipless pedals but as you advance, you’ll eventually want to use them for more efficient pedaling and greater power. Road bikes use single-sided SDP-SL plastic pedals, while bikes for off-roading use metal SPD dual-sided pedals.
New vs. used road bikes
Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned cyclist, you can buy a brand-new or second-hand road bike. There are pros and cons to each. New road bikes should work perfectly from the get-go and should last you longer. They are more expensive, but they usually come with a warranty and are in perfect condition. Used road bikes are less expensive but aren’t in perfect condition and don’t usually come with a warranty. You’re also limited in options with a used road bike and would need to make sure it doesn’t have any serious damage before you buy. But none of these downsides mean that a used road bike isn’t a good idea. Buying second-hand is a smart choice for beginners who aren’t sure if they’re ready to commit to cycling yet or aren’t sure which type of cycling they like best. A used road bike allows you to get the feel of a road bike and experiment without investing in an expensive new bike.
Once you’re equipped with your new road bike, shop our men’s or women’s cycling apparel for a new jersey or bike shorts. And get ready to ride with us in the Gran Fondo Hincapie with our Cycling Training Plan for Beginners or our 3 favorite indoor cycling workouts.
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