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6 Tips to Consider When Buying a Road Bike

best beginner road bikes

If you are reading this article, chances are you are a first-time buyer looking for a decent starter bike for your money. It’s easy enough to walk into a store and get yourself a bike. However, it can be challenging to get the right bike for you. “The wearer knows where the shoe pinches” would be a suitable expression in this case.

The very first thing you should decide before you walk into a store would be your budget. There is no ideal budget so to speak – however, the bare minimum for a good quality entry-level road bike would be in the region of $500-$1,000. 

Spending higher will get you lighter, stiffer frames and more sophisticated components. Bikes offering decent all-round performance retail for around $1,000 on up – and these are often great value for money and can be used to ride up mountains or put through their paces during the occasional race.

These are some of the things you should keep in mind while picking up one:

1. Choose a proper groupset 

A groupset is a collective term referring to the brakes, gears, or cassette and shifting mechanism. These are manufactured by various brands such as Campagnolo, SRAM, Microshift, and the more popular Shimano. 

Shimano is the oldest among all brands of bike manufacturers and can be considered the most trusted since they account for at least half of the global bike component industry. They’re the go-to of many bike enthusiasts because Japanese manufacturer’s reliability is unquestionable.

These are offered across various tiers such as entry, mid-range and high-end. Typically, bikes around the $1,000 range come equipped with mid-tier groupsets which are quite capable for a first-time owner looking for a decent entry-level or mid-range offering. Higher tier groupsets are lighter, made from more exotic materials, and offer more features and a smoother experience. 

2. Know your gear ratio

Once you have settled on the quality the next thing to pay attention to would be the gear ratio. An 11-32 cassette is a more rider-friendly option as compared to an 11-28 cassette. 

The 32-cog gear is a massive bonus while attempting to scale mountains and reduces the strain on your legs by allowing your legs to spin more while pedaling. Mixed surface or gravel bikes – which are essentially road bikes with subtle modifications have up to a 42-cog gear to better tackle uneven terrain. 

Another component to pay attention to would be the chainset. A 50-34 configuration is more forgiving on beginner riders while traversing uphill. Basically, you want larger cogs on the back and compact ones on the front.

3. Select the right brakes 

You have the option of choosing between the rim and disc brakes. Rim brakes are lighter, require less maintenance, and therefore cost less. However, unless you deal with wet weather or uneven terrain regularly, these are perfectly adequate. 

Disc brakes on the other hand have a slightly more complicated mechanism but have higher stopping power, are less impacted by road or weather conditions, and allow for a more controlled stop by allowing you to modulate your braking force. 

Disc brakes systems also offer more modularity – allowing you to swap out your rotors in case you choose to modify your bike at some point.

The brake levers for men’s bikes are larger to accommodate their large hands. So, if you’re buying a bike for a lady you need to consider this.

When it comes to brakes, always choose the one you would be comfortable using and one that won’t fail you. Ultimately, this will be your protection against unexpected things appearing your way. A brake that will react quickly and will give a powerful braking force may give you peace of mind as you cruise along a busy intersection. 

4. Find the ideal frame

First off, you’ll want to ensure you purchase a road bike that fits you well. Use resources like bike size charts and frame geometry dimensions to make sure the bike frame will be the right size, as a frame that’s too large or too small will be uncomfortable and could result in injury or suffered performance.

The right bike frame will mean you can ride comfortably and support your goal of clocking in extra miles. This is the reason why taking your time in choosing the right frame is crucial. You may try to refer to the most accurate sizing chart and order your bike online. It can’t beat the feeling of being able to try the bike in real life and measuring its performance before you swipe your plastic.

The material of the frame largely dictates the handling characteristics of the bike. Bikes are predominantly manufactured using aluminum alloys which makes them light and resistant to corrosion while keeping costs down. Carbon fiber frames are lighter and more expensive, requiring you to shell out at least a thousand dollars. 

With the right balance of components, an aluminum bike can stack up well against a low to mid-range carbon framed one. If you’re investing high enough, shelling out a little extra on road bike insurance can be a sensible idea as your sweet ride may entice thieves when you park outside.

A good compromise would be an aluminum bike with a carbon fiber fork which helps you shave off weight and reduces vibrations felt through the handlebars.

Bikes with specific frames for women are available. These have slightly shorter stems and cranks with narrow handlebars – making them more ergonomic. Buying from a reputable brand ensures that the frame has been properly designed and tested for durability. Some brands even offer a lifetime warranty on their frames.

A threaded bottom bracket is more user-friendly as it has a wider range of compatibility with cranks and also allows for easy maintenance as they require no special tools.

Frames with wider tire clearance are more versatile as you can opt to install wider tires suitable for gravel or off-road biking as and when required.

Another aspect to consider is the correct road bike frame size. The wrong size frame may cause discomfort and impair balance.

5. Invest in quality wheels

Wheels affect handling characteristics as much as your frame. The key difference is that wheels are easier to swap out and upgrade to something lighter, stiffer, or aerodynamic.

Entry-level bikes come with more basic wheels which are adequate for the most part but choosing one more carefully may help you get more out of them – a higher spoke count is directly proportional to wheel strength and a wheel with a wider rim width will allow you to fit slightly wider tires such as 28mm ones. Wider tires are more comfortable, have less rolling resistance – require less effort to pedal and offer more grip than thinner tires.

6. Consider pedals, saddle, and other miscellaneous

Other things to keep in mind would be to invest a fraction of your budget into biking accessories. Entry-level bikes usually come with flat pedals but upgrading to clipless SPD pedals and cycling shoes make a lot of difference. These ensure that your feet remain at the same position during each stroke increasing efficiency during longer rides or sporting events.

Default road bike saddles are meant to be used with padded shorts making them uncomfortable otherwise. You can swap out for something more ergonomic. You may also want to consider additional performance accessories like aero helmets, tires, and cycling apparel.

Final Takeaways

To conclude, choosing your first bike properly is essential to further fuel your passion for cycling and therefore certain subtle details can make a lot of difference to your riding experience. Mid-range bikes aren’t cheap, so if you are investing a fair sum on your first bike, it is best to understand the basic know-how.

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Tyler Tafelsky Gravel Cyclist
Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler