Road biking isn't just revered for Olympians, it's a great fun way to get in some fitness, and if you shop wisely for a good cheap road bike, it doesn't have to cost the earth either.
So this guide is for the total beginners. We'll tell you what a road bike is, what features to look for and what they are, and more importantly, what you can get for your budget.
So what is it that sets a cheap road bike apart for any other bike? They are very lightweight, narrow wheels and tyres, the better, more expensive ones are carbon fibre, or have carbon fibre components, and have no front or rear suspension.
They are only meant to be ridden on patted surfaces and they allow the rider to go further and faster than a normal mountain bike, or a commuter bike.
These are the basics that all road bikes have, but their are some subtle differences between road bikes. These are:
Recreational Road Bike These bikes are ideal if you plan to ride up to 3 times a week and log from 20 to 150 miles a week. They are also well suited for a longer organised event a few times a year. The riding position is more upright and the steering more relaxed than on a performance bike.
Race Road Bike Road bikes with a performance geometry appeal to the competitive rider. These bikes ask the rider to be more flexible and stretched out to improve aerodynamics, and they are more responsive to steering input. Performance bikes feature a stiffer frame, higher end components, lighter wheels and a steeper price tag.
Flat Bar Road Bike These are similar to bikes with sport geometry but have a more upright riding position. This style of road bike is popular for commuting as they are easier to look about and observe traffic or if you don't anticipate riding on the lowest part of a curled bar but still want a comparatively nimble bike. Flat bar road bikes are commonly equipped with entry to mid level components.
We feel that unless you plan on doing triathlons, or road bike racing you should opt for a cheap road bike with sport geometry. This will be better on your wallet and give you a more versatile bike.
Road Bike Materials
Stick to road bikes that are made from two materials, aluminium and carbon fibre. This is what most will be made from anyway. Here's the pros and cons of each of those materials.
Most aluminium frames are very good at providing a smooth ride, and they are generally less expensive than carbon fibre. Most aluminium frame road bikes come with a composite carbon fibre front fork to absorb some road vibration and give an improved ride quality.
A carbon fibre bike frame generally provides a more comfortable, vibration absorbing ride than an aluminium frame. They are more expensive than aluminium framed bikes due to their labor intensive manufacturing process. However, the ride quality can vary widely depending on the design of a specific frame, so don't assume superior results.
So to help you choose, think of it this way. If you plan on doing some serious competition riding or want the best and money isn't an issue, then go for a carbon fibre road bike. If you want a good quality, but lower priced road bike for recreational use and some commuting, then opt for an aluminium road bike.
Road Bike Components
These are all the parts that are attached to the frame and can be updated and replaced over time. If you're big into road biking you've probably already considered getting a great quality road bike frame and buying these parts separately and building the bike yourself. The major components are as follows:
If all of that sounds gibberish to you, then it's best to stick to a pre built cheap road bike. This is a good way to get started in road cycling without all the technical knowledge.
The drivetrain is a major part of road cycling and many a forum will have some passionate discussions as to which is best. A crankset is the component that the pedals turn and that rotates the rear wheel via the chain.
A road bike will have either a triple, double or compact crankset. This refers to the number and size of chainrings. A triple crankset has 3 chainrings. It is often paired with a 9-speed cassette on the rear wheel to give it a total of 27 gears. This configuration is most common on entry-level road bikes and provides a wide range of gears for cyclists.
Double and compact cranksets both have 2 chainrings up front and are paired with a 10-speed cassette in the back for a total of 20 gears. A compact crankset has smaller chainrings with fewer teeth than a double, giving it a lower range of gears.
A compact crankset is a common arrangement on bikes with a sport geometry, as it gives a similar range of gears (from low to high) as a triple but for less weight. A compact or double crankset also offers better heel clearance to the crank arm than a triple crankset, which prevents the potential issue of annoying shoe rub on each turn of the pedals.
That is some technical knowledge and if none of it made to much sense then we feel if you are new to road cycling or you're going to be riding up steep hills or canyons, you will want a triple or compact crankset. Strong cyclists and flat-land cyclists may prefer a double. That's basically the long and short of it.
Wheels are another major part of the road bike and different quality road bike wheels can have a major affect of the ride style and stability. They'll dictate how well a bike accelerates and carries momentum. The aerodynamics and handling in wind.
Unless you choose a custom-built bike, you don't get a choice of wheels when you buy a bike. You can, however, choose to upgrade to a better quality wheel-set once you own the bike. As with all things cycling, the higher up a bike is in its model range, the lighter and faster the wheels will get. Recreational and fitness riders are less likely to concern themselves with the wheel choice than competitive cyclists, who can totally geek out over wheel selection.
Changing the wheels on a road bike is generally consider one of the best upgrades a beginner can do to improve riding. A to save money you can always sell the ones that come with the bike.
Brakes make up the last of the 3 biggest and most important components of a road bike. On road bikes the brake lever and the gear shifter is one in the same mechanisms, but the way they operate the brakes and gears can change from brand to brand and even different models of the same brand.
By test riding different bikes, you may develop a personal preference for the functioning of one style over another. With Shimano models, the brake lever doubles as one of the gear shifters. With SRAM models, the gear shifter is a smaller lever tucked in behind the brake lever and is independent of the brake mechanism. This is the best one for the beginners and since most people start on this, it's the one they stick with throughout their cycling life.
When testing out for the brakes you like be sure you can maintain a good grip on the handlebars while braking or changing gears. Try shifting and braking with your hands on top of the bars as well as in the drop position. If you have smaller hands, ask if the levers have reach adjustment and how that works. It could be a simple screw adjustment or a shim addition.
After these 3 components their are other ways to get your bike seriously lighter, the pedals and seat and seat post are to name just a few. These don't need to much in the way of an explanation and are super simple to swap over. When it comes to this, less weight cost money and it's that simple. These parts are best improving over time as this won't be such a big cost in one.
So now you know what a road bike can do for you and what the main parts are, it's time to set a budget.
Getting a road bike from Halfords can be sneered at from some in the cycling community. We don't agree with this. They have a great selection of entry level road bikes for a great low price. The Carrera and Boardman road bikes from Halfords are perfect for those wanting to make a start on road cycling.
Both Wiggle and Evans Cycles have a pedigree in road cycling. These are good places to get full road bikes at all levels and road bike frames that you can then build you own bike on to. This is a good way of getting the exact bike you want, built the way you want it. But this is by no means a thing to do for the beginners.
As for budget, under £500 should get you a good quality cheap entry road bike. If you take to road cycling you probably want to be upgrading this after a couple of years, but it's a great budget to start at. Around £1000 will get you some good components and a bit of carbon fibre thrown in their too. Anything over £1500 and you've got some great road bikes to choose from and we think Evans Cycles is the place to start your search.
All the prices for all the road bikes from Halfords, Wiggle and Evans Cycles. They start at the cheapest first and this makes is so easy for you to see who is selling the road bike that suits your budget for getting the best value for money.