Buying a road bike can be a daunting task with so many brands, models, features and prices available. Understanding what price you’re willing to pay helps to limit choices. But what if you’re not in touch with the market or able to distinguish the crucial points of a bike worth investing? How do you even begin to create a budget? In this article, we discuss main considerations when looking to invest in your ideal road bike.
Affects on prices worldwide
The price of bikes has increased over the years, but so too have the quality and technologies available. From reactive disk brakes, integrated cabling, faster shifting, 12 or even 13 speed electronic options, or internally geared hubs… the list of new developments go on. Prices have also been affected by an increased price of shipping and materials, and even manufacture closures. Add the effects of unavailable parts alongside inflation and you’ll find every industry from construction to interior design, have been affected. Consequently creating “set prices” has been difficult for both suppliers and retailers.
Because of the turbulent market, the last few years has brought a torpedo of innovations. Its no wonder so many riders are caught unawares and still holding pre-covid budget expectations. So for the money that is paid today, the options far exceed what was bought just a few years ago. Thats good news if you’re looking for a bike for the long-term to help future performance and motivation.
But having to disappoint riders with the news that prices have increased isn’t favourable. So we’ve developed a guideline on the important aspects to research when looking for a performance bike.
First step to investing in your best bike
You may assume we’ll immediately broach aspects of frames or components. We know the choice of group-set and wheels influence prices significantly. But pricing a bike by adding up the mechanical parts and accessories is a direction that leaves riders wasting money and experiencing buyer’s remorse. Over 50% of riders looking for a new bike experience pain during their current rides. If it’s not a physical impediment then discomfort often means a rider has the wrong frame, incorrect bike set up, or unsuitable components for ride intentions and/or physical requirements.
Ride intention plays a huge part when deciding on your bike. As much as the pro's look great on their bikes as they race around Adelaide streets during the TDU, buying Pro bikes may not be the answer. Instead we suggest you list all the aspects of riding you'd like to achieve - whether its local bunch riding, triathlon competition or sportifs, touring or off-road adventures. List everything and highlight what the most common use of the bike will be. Include terrain and any typical conditions. This will be extremely useful for the next step.
How to guarantee you achieve results
Why do we start with looking at your goals and advising a bikefit?
Riding a bike for several hours is never going to replicate what it’s like to lay on a couch. Being seated in the same position, you can expect some regular aches and pains in your muscles. But there are plenty of riders experiencing unnecessary, excessive and avoidable discomfort. The main aim is to buy a bike which is in unison with your mobility, flexibility and strengths so you can focus on enjoying the experience of improving while performing at your optimal best.
In reality post-purchase bike fit and sales of after market components is a large business for good reason. Bike fit has entered areas of the medical profession, including physiotherapy. Meanwhile sports physicians also attract cycling clientele suffering pain which, in may cases, could be avoided at the initial point of purchase.
We hear a great deal of stories by riders who've sought medical advice to ease their aches and pains. From having saddle sores surgically removed, to spending hundreds of dollars on customised footbeds to alleviate knee pain. Not only are riders uncomfortable, their pain negatively influences their motivation. Avoiding the risk of injury is a major reason to start the process of finding a bike by assessing you and your personal needs.
We’d say the number one mistake in buying the wrong bike is allowing yourself to be influenced by what others ride. The second mistake is buying a bike for its components. The third is buying a bike because its a good deal.
If any of these mistakes sounds familiar in other purchases you’ve made, be it shoes or a domestic appliance, we ask you look at purchasing a bike differently.
Instead of looking to others (be that friends, influencers, journalists or pro’s) begin the process of buying a bike by assessing yourself. After all, its not your friend who’s saying, “buy a tarmac” who’ll be spending hours in the saddle.
Starting with yourself, as a first-step in buying a bike is as valid for a new rider as it is for the most experienced. Starting with yourself is more than assessing what your riding goals are. It also means utilising the expertise of a professional bike fitter.
Bikefitting - Deciding your frame, bars and stem, seatpost and saddle
So to guarantee you’re in the correct ballpark when investigating the right bike, a bike fit is crucial.
Without a bike fit you’re leaving the choice to guesswork. Who wants to leave your future ride position to lady luck? The model, the frame and component sizes, as well as their installation, assigns your ride position. Bike fit will not only measure your ideal ride posture, it’ll give you the chance to understand which frame models will best synchronise you and your machine. Simply speaking, investing in a bikefit before you buy will ensure you get the most out of your bike and your performance.
To briefly note, a professional bike fit differs from having the sales staff check a computer using your height and inner seam. Exceptional bike fitters will have the means to simulate your future ride position even when you don’t own a bike. They calculate your many measurements and use instruments and techniques to understand how your body best operates. Not only will a seasoned bike fitter understand your ride position, they’ll take time to apply this to matching bike models and components. If the bike fitter is extremely versed, they’ll be capable of working with new technology and frame integrations. You can request this information before booking an appointment.
When it comes to looking at components such as the bars, stem, seatpost and saddle an expert bike fitter is capable of assigning models to suit your fit. They’ll assist you by suggesting suitable handlebar size, material, reach and drop, as well as the stem length and saddle width/style.
Frame Material: Alloy, Carbon, Steel, Stainless Steel or Titanium
Now that you understand your ideal ride position, its time to choose a frame. Choosing the right frame for your bike is an important decision. You want to make sure you invest in a frame that matches your favoured use and ideal ride position. It may be important that a bike be comfortable for longer endurance rides. You may aspire to ride challenging conditions like gravel, and durability will be a deciding factor. Perhaps you’re surrounded by hills, and a lightweight stiff bike will be a preference.
Another consideration may involve a frame built for compatibility with the latest technology (electronic shifting or suspension), as you aim to stay ahead of the bunch.
When it comes to choosing your frame material, deciding on your riding goals will help. Though often the immediate go-to, carbon is not always the best choice for a rider. We’ve had exceptional results from contemporary steel frames especially for larger riders and those who have significant injuries. One client named Michael has successfully increased his riding to achieve many cycling goals with his Chesini steel bike after a severe back surgery. Fortunately he had the option of custom, to help build the bike around his adapting flexibility.
For road bikes we’d recommend some basic requirements. The frame material should be lightweight yet suitable for handling your desired terrain. Different materials offer different levels of stiffness and weight. Aluminum frames are lightweight but not as strong as steel, or titanium. Stainless steel is nowadays light durable and strong but I wouldn’t say it’s responsive. Carbon fiber frames are comparatively lightweight and, depending on the quality of the layup, offer superior stiffness.
Each material has unique traits affected by quality of the material, the builder/brand ambitions and the technique or application.
Deciding on the material will thankfully eliminate many options. Along with your bike fitter the decision of the best model (either generic size or custom) can then be made. If you’ve a high rating in flexible with good hip mobility, your performance could benefit from an aerodynamic focus. Alternately, you could be of a more average flexibility, and a frame with a higher head tube and longer reach may allow you more competitive and enjoyable hours in the saddle. Working with your body will produce an ideal frame. Buying blind, and basing assumptions aligned with bike marketing is a risk if you’re looking to invest in long term health.
Groupsets - the choices
Knowing the pros and cons of components before making your final decision is imperative. Starting with an overview of the different group sets will empower you to make an informed choice. Too often we see riders buying a bike based on the group set, with little importance placed on the quality of the frame. A frame will make the biggest change in ride feel, performance and comfort. You can always upgrade the components, but you’ll be stuck with the same frame.
First decision is whether your cycling requires the newest available technologies. Do you feel the practical functions of electronic, quick shifting will do your cycling a service? Or are you open to the idea of mechanical? Are you a loyalist to Campagnolo, or share popular affection for Shimano? Does the competitive price of SRAM AXS (electronic) attract you?
The group set choices you face are as follows:
- Electronic versus mechanical
- Cables versus bluetooth
- Disk versus rim brake (more a question for custom bike owners)
An additional list of preferences that may help refine your decisions? We've mentioned a few preferences you may wish to highlight:
Quick shifting, weight, compatible bars/stems, minimal clean lines (cable-free), braking force, ease of cleaning, ease of servicing, requires charge, reliability/warranty, local experts, available parts, local mechanic expertise
Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM are some of the most popular brands in the market today. There are a few alternatives, such as Rotors 1x13 speed, but you may wish to consider the ease in finding parts in the future. Each brand offers different levels of quality and performance for different prices.
Wheelsets are also responsible for the overall performance of your bike and ride quality. The choice of a wheelset depends on several factors, such as the type of material used (carbon versus alloy), hub and bearing quality, the number or type of spokes, the depth and width of the rim and whether you want tubeless, tubular, or tube. Also new to the stage of performance wheels is Classified, who’ve installed a rear internal gear system for road and gravel bikes.
Carbon wheel sets are usually lighter, stiffer and durable compared to alloy wheel sets, but they come with a higher price tag. Finally, Unbranded carbon wheel sets may be cheaper, but there’s an inherent risk due to unknown quality control standards. We will always recommend wheels be bought through a retailer, as well as branded by a reputable company to avoid risks of riding “fake” wheels.
Buying a road bike is a difficult process and we understand not everyone wants, or has the time to research every detail. When it comes to investing in the best bike it’s important to look at every aspect in relation to you and your riding needs. Reputable bike shops do exist and it can be worth entrusting your investment in their expertise. This is especially helpful if they’ve the industry contacts, experience and equipment to build your dream bike each step of the way.