Why Buy a Road Bike?
Road bikes are the sports cars of the bicycle world. They go fast and handle great in the paved world. Though there is a price to be paid for this performance, many people still choose road bikes for their lightweight speed, efficiency and fun. This article will give you an overview of the many advantages road bikes have over types of bikes, as well as a look into the different styles and uses that make up the road bike family.
Read the primer material here to learn the basics and feel free to call with any questions. Even better, visit our store to see the different models, learn about the many recent improvements that make road bikes more fun than ever, and take some for a spin to feel the wonderful rides for yourself. We highly encourage test-rides!
Road Bike Advantages
Road bikes, in the broadest sense, share several traits that unite their different subsections and separate them from mountain bikes, hybrids and cruisers. Speed, lightweight frames and efficiency are the three traits that define this category of bikes. These things are not important only to road bikes, obviously. However, road bikes do the best job of maximizing each of these qualities.
While fast is a relative term, road bikes take top honors when compared against any other style of bike. The large diameter wheels with narrow tires are the biggest contributor to a road bike’s swiftness. Wheels and tires are light, aerodynamic and smooth, designed to roll you down the road with as little drag as possible. Mountain bikes with their heavy, lugged tires and mixed-surface design can’t keep up. Same with hybrids, comfort or cruiser bikes, whose wheels and tires are built with more bump absorption or durability in mind. It is the difference in going for a run in lightweight running shoes vs. hiking boots.
Put simply, road bikes can be made very light, because they are designed for performance only on hard, smooth surfaces. It does not matter whether it is concrete or asphalt—a road bike is not built to jump over logs, ride down rocky paths or through sand and gravel. Other bikes that are have to have greater durability built into them in order not to leave a rider stranded on a mountain trail with a broken bike. Road bikes, however, see such consistently smooth roadways that they can be trimmed down to the barest minimum weight.
Combining fast wheels and lightweight construction with a purposeful, athletic, forward-leaning position create a very efficient package. The wheels generate little drag. The light frame and components don’t weigh a rider down. A rider leans into the wind, rather than sitting upright like a sail and has multiple hand positions to stay comfortable for a long time. These things combine to create a highly efficient, human powered package. A road bike will whisk you down the road like no other.
Fast, light and efficient are all traits of modern road bikes, though all bike designs are not the same.
Basic Road Bike Style Terminology
Road bikes, as a collection, are made up of many different styles for different purposes. They may be hard to differentiate at first, since they all look the same in terms of wheel size, drop bars and skinny-ish tires. The relatively small differences there are allow a bike to perform optimally in a specific set of circumstances. One style of bike may also be a good choice for a couple different uses. Here’s a look at some of the larger categories of road bikes.
Racing or Sport
These bikes are what most people envision when the term “road bike” comes up. Light frames made of carbon fiber, aluminum, titanium or steel are combined with drop bars, fast wheels and a wide range of gearing to create a classic road machine. Sport bikes are used for everything! Leisure rides, general exercise, charity rides, centuries, commuting and racing (of course) are all within the scope of this design.
Riders who take overnight (or longer) bicycle tours appreciate a few key differences their bikes have. Frames have special fittings to accommodate racks for luggage, as well as a more relaxed design better for covering the miles than ripping around corners. Wheels and tires are wider and stronger to handle the added weight of the gear and add long-haul reliability. Touring bikes, though not as light and sporty, make a good choice for longer rides due to their added comfort or for commuting, because of their luggage and durability.
Not all that different from Touring bikes, cyclocross bikes have wider, knobby tires designed for racing on a combination of dirt paths, grass and asphalt. Lighter than mountain bikes and not typically set up for racks and luggage, a cyclocross bike can be a perfect commuter bike.
The most aerodynamic of all road bikes, a TT/Tri bike has an accentuated, airfoil-shaped frame, deep-section aero wheels and special handlebars that allow a rider to lean farther forward. Intended for going as fast as possible in a straight line, these are the most purpose-specific bikes you will find. The position they put the rider in, the tall gearing and more fragile nature make them less suited for leisure riding or commuting.
In recent years, flat bar road bikes have become very popular as an alternative to a traditional racing or sport bike. They share all the same attributes of a racing bike, but have a flat, mountain bike style bar to allow a somewhat more upright riding position. The distinction between these bikes and hybrids is fairly small. Generally, flat bar road bikes have no suspension and are more stripped down for light weight than a hybrid is. However, if the definition of hybrid is “flat bars and road bike wheels,” then flat bar road bikes would be included. Regardless, the added comfort and control the flat bar offers strikes a perfect balance for many riders and doesn’t give up much in performance to a sport bike with drop handlebars.
Road Bike Frame Materials
Road bikes are made from the widest variety of materials. You will see frames made from steel, aluminum and possibly carbon fiber, depending on the price range you are looking at. Each material has its advantages and historical disadvantages. Refined designs and modern methods of construction have allowed greater parity between materials in recent years. It is now possible to find light and strong bikes with great ride qualities made from each material. In your shopping, you may find you prefer how one frame material rides. It really doesn’t matter which it is, as long as it appeals to you and your riding.
Road Bike Gearing
One of the greatest advances in bicycles in the past few years has been the wide range of gearing available. Many riders returning to the sport recall “It was so hard to get up the hills!” or “I always had trouble moving the lever to the right spot and the bike would forever make this clacking or grinding noise.” Here are the two things you need to know about gearing on a modern bicycle.
First, the gear range on many road bikes is huge! Regardless of how many specific gears a bike has, the lowest will allow you to ascend hills with ease and allow you to cruise as fast as you want going down. You can tackle any terrain while staying seated, pedal at the rate that is right for you and not feel limited at all.
Second, while 21 (or more!!!) gears may sound daunting, moving through the selection is easier than ever before. Shifters for front and rear are “indexed” and will pop or lock into gear without any grinding or alarming noises. Shifting gear to gear is a click-click-click process much more like shifting a modern car—you put the lever in the right spot and the drivetrain does the rest.
Drivetrain parts come in a wide range of models from several manufacturers. As you spend more, you will get more durable, lighter components with more possible gear combinations. For casual riding, you won’t need to have 30+ gears, though an enthusiast may prefer to have those options.
Go Ride Your Bike!
With so many things going for modern road bikes, it is easy to see why they are such a popular choice. Whether it is riding on weekends with friends, regional racing or taking a tour across many state lines, a road bike will get you where you want to be quickly and efficiently.
We look forward to showing you our various lines of road bikes and helping you find one that suits your needs perfectly. Come on down for a test ride!