If you start a new hobby you are always a little lost in the beginning. Where should I start? What’s his money worth? Which model is right for me? No easy questions, especially when cycling. Hundreds of brands, an unmanageable number of bicycle types and a wide variety of models make it difficult for you as a buyer to decide on the right bike after all. To assist you in the selection process, we have gathered all the helpful information in our road bike purchase guide so that you will end up with what you are looking for: the perfect road bike for your needs.
There are a few things you should realize at first. Biking technique, level of fitness, preference for certain routes, and above all the question of what purposes your new racing bike should fulfill. In this way, the selection can always be reduced right from the start. A road bike with disc brakes is currently not an issue for prospective racing riders (prohibited by the UCI), ultra-light racing bikes for climbing experts in flat terrain rather wasted money (then prefer Aero!) and those who are only looking for a fast bike for whom to work need not even look around in the high-end area (unless you can afford it). No matter what your wishes are – we will help you find your dream bike!
The basics: What makes a racing bike?
- Lightweight frame: All road bikes have a fairly light frame compared to other types of bikes. We will discuss the different frame materials and their advantages later.
- Narrow tires: Race tires typically have a width between 23 mm and 25 mm, sometimes 28 mm for comfortable tires for long tours. The latter is also often found on off-road racing bikes to provide more safety and grip. However, a width of more than 30 mm is rarely found.
- No suspension: Unlike mountain bikes, road bikes generally do without any suspension, as they do not require extra comfort given their preferred smooth surface. If you want a little more flexibility on the bike, this is often achieved in the form of wider tires or more flexible frames.
- Multiple gears: As a rule, road bikes have two front chainrings and up to 11 gears in the rear cassette, making a total of 22 gears. The variety of gears allows the rider to overcome the most varied height profiles in his preferred difficulty, no matter how steep the ascent may be.
Essential question: Which road bike is the right one?
The variety of road bike types is great – after all, there has to be a special frame for every riding style and every terrain. There are aero bikes for flat tracks, lightweight road bikes for hilly tracks, endurance bikes for long distances as well as “all-road” and leisure/fitness bikes that are designed for more fun. In the following we describe in detail what distinguishes the individual types and for whom they are suitable.
Aero bikes stand for one goal – maximum speed! This is not so much about weight and comfort, but simply about leaving the wind behind with the most aerodynamic shape possible and saving energy at the same time. The main distinguishing features of the Aero road bikes are the thicker frame tubes and the total integration of the individual frame components and the rims.
The frame profile is, therefore, wider to create an aerodynamically improved shape and thus reduce wind resistance. As a result, aero bikes are often heavier than classic racing bikes. The integration of individual components into the frame, such as brakes and cables, is crucial in order to reduce the number of points of attack and to achieve an even more aerodynamic shape. The tube cross-sections are partly formed in such a way that they are oriented to the shape of the tires.
Due to the thicker tube cross-sections, aero road bikes are also typically very stiff and are therefore made for powerful sprints. Further details: The frame geometry requires a more aggressive seating position, the wheelbase is relatively short and the steering tube is quite short.
Endurance Road Bike
Endurance or long-distance road bikes are becoming increasingly popular thanks to their relaxed geometry, stable handling, and high comfort. This is due to the longer wheelbase and the higher head tube, the upright sitting position, and, more recently, the use of disc brakes. Further features usually include a drive with a compact transmission, more free space for the frame for wider tires, and additional integrated damping mechanisms which iron out minor unevenness in the track.
If you think that long-distance road bikes are slower than their kind, you are mistaken. Endurance bikes often use the same frame materials and technologies as high-end racing bikes. In addition, there are similarly high-quality shift groups and impellers. The additional flexibility of the frame is the biggest difference from the regular road bike.
Classic Road Bike (Ultra-Light Road Bike)
The “classic” racing bikes are the pros’ favorite bikes when it comes to the overall success or mountain stages. They feature an ultra-light frame that is extremely agile and can be maneuvered quickly through winding tracks. Its low weight makes it a real mountaineer, who is on long climbs in his parade discipline.
Many particularly light racing bikes even weigh less than the 6.8 kilograms prescribed by the UCI for professional races. That is why the motto in this area is: the lighter, the better. Some manufacturers even keep their bikes below 5 kilograms.
Gravel Bikes (All Road Bikes)
Gravel bikes are the latest trend in the world of racing bikes and are suitable for all types of terrain. This is made possible by a robust and flexible frame that also provides solid performance on the road. The bottom bracket is also higher to provide more ground clearance for obstacles. Furthermore, wide tires, disc brakes, and a light transmission ratio are important characteristics of the gravel bike.
Touring bikes are even less focused on performance and attach particular importance to stability, comfort, and durability. This is also noticeable in the higher weight. Luggage racks, mudguards, and like the Gravel Bike disc brakes are standard for the tourers. Steel is often used as the frame material for this type, due to its high robustness, lower costs, and good driving comfort.
Fitness Road Bike
Functionality and comfort are the two most important factors of the fitness bike, which is mainly intended for recreational and training use. Beginners are optimally supplied with it and come fast from A to B. In this category, you often find a flat-bar handlebar instead of the typical racing handlebar, wider tires as well as normal platform pedals, and a beginner-friendly transmission ratio for the drive.
Fitness road bikes are therefore particularly suitable for beginners and hobby cyclists who are hungry for training and do not need full racing bike equipment for cycling.
Budget: How do I best invest my money?
Money is the most important factor when it comes to quality and performance. The price range is enormous and reaches from fitness bikes from 300$ up to high-tech professional bikes beyond 10.000$.
But one should not be deterred by this. Even in the lower price categories, you will find solid bikes that will meet your requirements. In most cases, however, you get a bike with less weight, higher rigidity, better drive components, and a more robust and comfortable frame for more money.
The material of the frame and fork change up to a certain limit in a straight line, the more you are willing to invest. From steel to aluminum to carbon. Road bike groups are also an important price point and increase in terms of workmanship, durability, lightness, and function. Depending on the price, wheels also move between heavier aluminum and high-tech carbon, with ceramic bearings that reduce friction and thus reduce rolling resistance.
Below you will find a classification of the different price categories for the road bike and what equipment you can expect for your budget.
Racing bikes up to 750$
In this price range, racing bikes are mostly aimed at recreational athletes who attach great importance to durability and versatility. Therefore most bikes have a cassette with 8 to 9 gears and two to three chainrings in the front, which offers good-natured transmission ratios and 16 to 27 gears. The frame is mostly made of aluminum or steel, the fork can also be made of carbon. The wheels and tires are rather robust and heavy and can easily be upgraded for more performance if required.
Racing bikes up to 1.500$
The most important decision in this price range is the question of whether aluminum or carbon. Many manufacturers already offer bikes with carbon frames for beginners up to $ 1,500. Both materials allow stiff, comfortable frames that do not differ too much in weight. Although there are differences between the individual manufacturers, we advise you to prefer high-end aluminum frames to carbon frames. The big advantage here is that the aluminum models have better components for the money thanks to the savings on frames.
Racing bikes up to 3.000$
In this price range, we have definitely reached the performance range. The weight of the bikers here decreases with every euro, the shift groups become higher and higher speeds become possible. Performance features such as aerodynamic tube profiles and racing geometry can be found as well as more comfort on long-distance bikes.
An 11 mm cassette with a double chainset at the front is the standard in this area. As groups, you often find the SRAM Rival or the Shimano 105, or Ultegra. The frame is often made of carbon, just like the fork and if you get a real bargain you can also get the wheels. The tires become smoother and have lower rolling resistance.
Racing bikes up to 4.500$
Now we slowly come to the professional bikes. In this area you have to have a lot of bad luck and bad karma to catch a cucumber – around 4.000$ there is actually only high tech at its best. Now everything revolves around the preferred type of road bike – aero, classic, or endurance.
Regardless of this, it is the same as in the previous category: the weight drops, equipment improves and the wheels become more aerodynamic. The combination of an 11 cassette and a 2-piece crank is standard, groups are SRAM’s Rival, Force, and Red, Shimano’s Ultegra, and Dura-Ace or Campagnolo’s Potenza and Chorus. Electrical circuits from Shimano can also be found in this area. The predominant material for frame, fork, and wheels is high-quality carbon.
Racing bikes from 4.500$
Racing bikes from 4.500$, or also “Sky is the Limit” – general differences in terms of performance are difficult to spot here and are often not related to the price. It’s all about personal preference, high-tech gameplay, and the last grams of weight.
If you have the money in your account, you can look forward to the finest carbon frames and forks, electric gears such as SRAM Red eTap, Shimano Ultegra Di2, or Dura-Ace Di2, and lightweight wheels with an aero design. If you want to spend more than 10.000$ on your racing bike replica of a professional, this is the right place.
The road bike frame: Which material is the most suitable?
The frame material of racing bikes today is limited to carbon, aluminum, titanium, steel or a combination of these. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, particularly in terms of price, comfort, weight, and driving feel. However, it is always up to the developers to get the maximum out of the frame and make the best possible use of the individual properties of the materials.
There was a time when a carbon frame was a pure luxury reserved for professionals. Thanks to improved and, above all, cheaper manufacturing processes, carbon is now the most common material for road bikes alongside aluminum. The directional structure of the carbon fibers makes them easy and clean to process and shape, allowing developers to experiment with different tube diameters and find the best balance of stiffness, weight, and aerodynamics piece by piece. Carbon dominates the ratio of weight to stiffness and is, therefore, the established standard in the professional sector.
Carbon is not only used in the frame, but also for forks, wheels, gears, stem, seat post, saddle, actually everywhere. In addition, compared to other materials, it shows no signs of fatigue and has the positive side effect that it has vibration-damping properties, which is always an advantage when cycling. The only catch on the carbon? As soon as the frame is damaged, i.e. it is cracked or has a crack, the integrity, i.e. the cohesion of the carbon in the bucket and the carbon frame must be completely replaced.
Aluminum basically offers the same advantages as carbon: light, rigid, and easy to work with, even cheaper than carbon, which is why aluminum frames are always cheaper. The greatest advantage is the outstanding power transmission made possible by the stiffness of the aluminum. On the other hand, however, there is a relatively rigid frame, which will also lose rigidity in the long term if the material shows signs of fatigue. To achieve more flexibility of the bike, manufacturers often combine aluminum frames with carbon forks.
A word that is often used in connection with aluminum frames is “butted”. This is a process by which the wall thickness of the individual pipes is reduced up to once, twice, or three times at the points which are not so decisive for the rigidity. This weight can be saved without loss of stiffness. A “Tripple Butted Tube” has three different wall thicknesses and is, therefore, lighter than comparable frame tubes.
Due to the triumphant advance of carbon, titanium frames have become increasingly rare, but are making a comeback in the form of custom products. The relatively light and very resistant material does not corrode like steel, but compared to carbon and aluminum it is very difficult to process, which is why it is so expensive. But a titanium frame is virtually indestructible and can accompany you all your life. Modern processing methods also allow even thinner tube diameters and thus even lighter frames.
Steel was the number 1 material for bicycles, ahead of aluminum and carbon. However, high-quality steel is still very expensive and labor-intensive and is therefore hardly used anymore, especially when there are cheaper and better alternatives in terms of weight/stiffness such as carbon. However, the aspects of handcraft and retro have breathed new life into the steel frame. Steel frames are also often still found in the all-road and entry-level racing bike sector, as weight does not play the decisive role here. Modern development processes also allow the production of ultra-thin and stable steel tubes, which compete in terms of weight and performance aluminum and also carbon.
Although steel as a material is comparable in terms of driving comfort, its greatest weakness is of course rust.
Control center: Finding the right road bike group
A racing bike group consists of the brakes and the drive system. The latter consists of a crankset, chainrings, chain, cassette, rear derailleur, and gear lever. The drive is a closed system that drives the wheel, and the more money you invest in the quality of the drive, the more efficient, durable, and faster you can shift gears, while the weight continues to decrease. Below we give a brief insight into the available groups of well-known manufacturers.
Shimano road bike groups
Shimano currently has the largest range of road bike specific groups and is used by many professional teams.
- Claris: Shimano’s beginner group is primarily aimed at recreational and fitness cyclists. It consists of an 8-speed cassette and comes with a double or triple crank in front.
- Sora: The Shimano Sora is similar to the Claris, but offers an extra gear in the cassette and differs visually in the four-armed crank.
- Tiagra: The Shimano Tiagra is often found on entry-level bikes around 600-800 Euros and adds one more gear to the cassette to a 10. The group represents the transition between a fitness road bike and a beginner road bike and offers reasonable performance and high stability.
- 105: The 105 is probably the most popular group on the road bike market and is the entry into the professional world of road bike groups. It is aimed at advanced hobby riders and, in addition to its durability and reliability, offers many of the technologies of Shimano’s top groups. The 105 also offers the same number of gears (11) and can be combined with components from the more expensive Ultegra and Dura-Ace groups.
- Ultegra: Ultegra is already a true high-end group for professionals, which differs only in weight from the top model Dura-Ace. Even many professional teams use individual Ultegra components during the off-season of the Circus to save money. The Ultegra is also available in an electronic version, Ultegra Di2, which initiates the switching process with a small motor and enables extremely precise, fast switching.
- Dura-Ace: The Dura-Ace is the showpiece of the Shimano road bike groups. A mix of carbon, titanium, and aluminum components makes the Dura-Ace an extremely smooth and efficient shifting group that lasts a lifetime even when felt. A total of 17 professional teams relied on the Group for the Tour de France 2015, which clearly underlines its status. The electronic variant is the Dura-Ace Di2.
- Veloce: The Veloce is Campagnolo’s beginner group, which moves at about the same level as Shimano’s Tiagra or 105. The name of the group means “fast” and indicates that it is not a beginner group. The components are primarily made of high-quality aluminum.
- Athena: The Athena is Campagnolo’s first group of 11, but will be replaced by the new Potenza at the end of the year. The Athena was the first Campagnolo circuit to enable electronic shifting (EPS).
- Potenza: the successor of the Athena and competitor of Shimano’s Ultegra and SRAMs Force. The Campagnolo Potenza offers a four-armed crank and a new derailleur design to optimize the shifting process. Technologically comparable to the Chorus, Record, and Super Record circuits, a lot of aluminum was used in the Potenza to save costs.
- Chorus: The Chorus run Campagnolo is the perfect circuit for those looking for an affordable super record. Although the price of a bike with chorus shifting is usually already over 3.500$, compared to the top group this is really still cheap.
- Record: The Record would probably be the top model of the road bike groups for any other manufacturer. Made entirely of carbon and high-quality aluminum, the Record is an ultra-lightweight, precise circuit that also looks ingenious. Also available with EPS.
- Super Record: Campagnolo describes the Super Record as the maximum of evolutionary and technological art in a mechanical drive. The Super Record further improves the record with titanium elements and ceramic bearings, improving efficiency and reducing weight. Also available with EPS. The Super Record is only recommended for professional riders or cyclists without budget restrictions.
SRAM road bike groups
SRAM has four groups for road bikes on the program and generally offers the tightest groups in their respective price range. Another characteristic feature of the SRAM groups is the YAW technology, in which the rear derailleur rotates analog to the transmission ratio and ensures an even angle between chain and drive. Advantages: Better chain guidance, more precise, and fast shifting. The shifting process itself takes place via Double Tap, a shift lever for shifting up and down.
- Apex: The entry-level group of SRAM has a 10-speed cassette and two front chainrings. The latter is in most cases a traditional compact set up with a large chainring with 50 teeth and a small one with 34 teeth. This translation is ideal for recreational and hobby riders.
- Rival: Rival is the counterpart to Shimano’s 105 and is aimed at price-conscious, ambitious drivers who do not want to do without the technological refinements of the top models. Decassettesre gears thanks to the 11 cassettes, the Rival weighs less than the Apex and is available with hydraulic disc brakes. Options with a single front crank are also available. 1x drives are suitable for commuters and cyclocross thanks to the simpler gear ratio.
- Force: Force shares almost all features and technologies with the Rival, but relies on carbon instead of aluminum for most parts. The Force is perfect for advanced riders who want to venture into the racing world and need a little more speed. Like the Rival, the Force is also available with disc brakes and 1x drive.
- Red: The top model of SRAM is the SRAM Red, which is also represented on the international professional stage. It is currently the lightest road bike group on the market and consists mainly of the finest carbon fibers. Ceramic bearings also contribute to the low weight. The Red is also available as the RED eTap electronic circuit, whose wireless switching technology is reminiscent of switching in Formula 1 cars.
The choice of wheels
A wheel consists of a hub around which the wheel rotates, the spokes connecting the hub to the rims, spoke nipples connecting the spokes to the rim, and the rims. Good wheels are characterized by durability, resistant hubs, high rigidity, and lightweight.
The width and height of the rims are decisive for the driving experience. The current trend is towards wider rims, as they offer better aerodynamics and more tire volume, which increases driving comfort. This coincides with the development of larger tires that reduce rolling resistance and offer greater comfort with less air pressure. The height of the rims is decisive for the wind resistance and thus for the bike handling. The higher the rim, the more aerodynamic the bike becomes, but at the same time the handling becomes more demanding when side winds occur.
Beginners’ wheels are made of aluminum, while top models are made entirely of carbon and are superior in weight, rigidity, and speed. The number, shape, and material of the spokes vary depending on the wheel and have a strong influence on performance. Many spokes provide more stability and robustness, but of course, they weigh more. Flattened spokes have an aerodynamic advantage over round spokes. Materials are either steel, aluminum, carbon, or titanium.
There are also three types of tires, each of which requires specific wheels.
The clincher, tubular and tubeless tires. Clincher tires are still standard on most racing bikes today.