Find the Perfect Road Bike for You
Just as every journey is different (think changing weather, scenery, traffic and temperature for starters), every cyclist is different. Picking the right road bike will depend on a range of factors to do with you, including where you’ll be cycling and your riding style. You’ll also need to think about practical components such as frame geometry, frame materials, seat height, handlebar height and tyre width. Who knew bike buying could be so complicated, right?!
Choosing the right bike will depend largely on what you intend to use it for. If you’re going to be using your bike for commutes, in cities and town centres, or on cycle paths and paved surfaces, a road bike is likely the right choice for you. For more off-road adventures and countryside cycling, a mountain bike might be better. If you plan on mixing up your locations frequently - for example biking to the office in the week and heading off for bike treks at the weekend - consider a hybrid bike.
Our road bike buying guide is designed to make it simple for you to choose the perfect bike for your needs. We’ll explain the difference between sportive and race bikes, how to choose the right frame type, which accessories and tools you’ll need and more.
What Is a Road Bike?
For the most part, road bikes do what it says on the tin. Road bikes are designed to be used on paved surfaces - roads, pavements, paths - and are typically designed to be as aerodynamic, light and compact as possible. They have narrow tyres and wheels, a lightweight frame and usually a drop handlebar design. Within the broader road bike category there are a number of different types to choose from. So, which is the right bike for you?
Sportive (endurance) Road Bikes
Excellent for those likely to take longer trips, sportive bikes offer comfortable riding over long distances. Sportive bike frames are usually designed to help the rider sit more upright, and are great for first-time road bike owners and seasoned cyclists alike. The sportive frame geometry allows for more comfortable riding, and boasts a seat design that should minimise vibration and make every cycle smooth sailing. Thanks to the sportive seat design, endurance road bikes make easy work of rolling over uneven pavements and bumpy bits of tarmac - for this reason they’re ideal commuter bikes.
Best for: commuting and long rides
Racing Road Bikes
As the name suggests, racing road bikes are designed for performance cycling and race training. A longer reach and sharper frame geometry is designed to maximise aerodynamism & handling, and, as such, race bikes aren’t the most comfortable for long rides. Choose a racing bike for dynamic training and speed - these are the choice for serious cyclists and those after performance.
Best for: performance cyclists and seasoned pros
Gravel Road Bikes
Gravel bikes are perfect for adventurous riders and adrenaline junkies. Great for long rides, gravel bikes have wider tyres than other road bikes and a higher bracket providing better ground clearance for riding over rough terrain.
Best for: adrenaline junkies and off-the-beaten-path roads
Road Bike Buying Tips
Road Bike Frames
At the heart of your bike, the frame is what forms the basis of your entire cycle. Road bike frames are usually made from aluminium, carbon, steel or titanium. Forks - the part which holds the front wheel and is controlled by the handlebars to steer - should ideally be made from carbon for the best quality and most lightweight feel.
Alloy frames with a carbon fork are great for beginners and commuters, offering a good compromise between the strength of robust alloy and carbon’s lightweight feel. For example, the Lapierre Crosshill 3.0 gravel bike has an alloy frame and single chainset, which allows it to travel between surfaces and conditions easily. Carbon is the preferred material for more advanced bike frames. It’s a step up and offers a lightweight sturdiness and vibration absorption perfect for the serious cyclist or those looking to upgrade. Among modern road bikes, a compact frame made up of lighter frame materials and a sloping top tube is most common.
Road Bike Groupsets
A bike’s groupset is the collection of components on a particular bike - namely the transmission and brake system - pretty much all the integral parts apart from the frame, tyres, wheels, saddle, frame, fork and seatpost.
In essence, the groupset is the collective name for the bike parts that help you start and stop your cycle. Having a complete groupset not only enhances the bike’s appearance for a sleek and stylish finish, but often helps determine the quality and longevity of a bike.
There are lots of manufacturers of bike components, but the three major brands known for their groupsets are Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. Each offers a range of groupsets for road bikes, ranging from beginners’ sets up to advanced components. Groupsets in road bikes are priced according to how advanced they are, so as well as choosing the right one for your ability it’s a good idea to choose the best one that fits your budget. As a rule, the more expensive and advanced groupsets offer reduced weights plus lighter feeling, more precise gear shifting.
Among Shimano groupsets as an example, the Sora model, as seen in the Lapierre eSensium 2.0, is a good entry level choice for those looking to choose the best first road bike. The next step up is the Tiagra groupset, which offers a 10 speed cassette, less weight and a hydraulic brake option without a huge jump in price point - for example in bikes like Lapierre’s eSensium 3.2, perfect for those looking to develop their cycling performance.
If you’re already a seasoned cyclist looking for a new bike to up your game, you may be more interested in ‘enthusiast’ level groupsets, such as Shimano’s 105 and Ultegra - both of which are available as part of the Lapierre Aircode DRS 6.0 and the Xelius SL 6.0 Disc. The Ultegra in particular is an excellent choice in the ‘groupsets for road racing’ category, thanks to its light weight and slick shifting.
Road Bike Brakes
Traditionally, road bikes have been fitted with calliper brakes, which squeeze the wheel rims. You can still find these classic style brakes on bikes like the iconic anniversary edition Raleigh TI, which boasts a range of other original features including a Campagnolo groupset and Cinelli handlebars.
These days, however, road bikes usually come with disc brakes, which used to be more associated with mountain bikes. The evolution to disc brakes means that contemporary road bikes offer much improved stopping power and handling in wet conditions. Disc brakes differ to the traditional rim brakes mostly in where they apply the braking pressure - they’re fitted to the central wheel hub, closer to the axle. Disc brakes generally operate via hydraulics, though some may also be cable-operated. While cables are often cheaper, they’re also more susceptible to wear and tear than their hydraulic counterparts, and can be less efficient.
Disc Brakes vs Rim Brakes
In the rim brakes vs disc brakes debate, there are a number of plus points to choosing the more modern disc brake for your road bike. Discs can generate more immediate stopping power, which in turn means you don’t need to pump the brake levers as much - which can be a real saver on long journeys where your muscles are already aching! Disc brake application is also more controllable, manageable and adaptable - you can switch up the rotor size to increase or decrease stopping power as required.
|Rim brakes||Disc brakes|
|Usually lighter (though modern frames make up for this)||More stopping power|
|Generally cheaper||Better modulation and control|
|Easy repairs||More predictable power - switchable rotors|
|Simple adjustments||More consistent in varied weather conditions|
Road Bike Wheels
Kitting your bike out with the right tyre and wheelset can be a seemingly complicated process. Having the right wheelset on your road bike really can be make or break for your cycling experience. We say ‘wheelset’ rather than just wheel here because there are actually a number of components to think about - hubs, spokes, nipples, bearings… and that’s even before we think about the tyres!
The size of your bike wheel rims can make a big difference on how your bike brakes or handles in general. Entry level road bikes often have shallow section rims (25mm and under), and offer a comfortable ride on most road bike-ready surfaces. Deep section rims (at least 40mm in depth) are used on certain performance road bike models for ultimate speed and wind resistance.
Shallow section wheels are great all rounders and are ideal for beginners thanks to their comfortable riding experience. Mid section bike wheels tend to be less popular than their counterparts, but can offer an excellent feel for a step up from shallow rims thanks to the combination of a deeper section and a lightweight material. For the ultimate in aerodynamism, deep section road bike wheels offer the best speed and are ideally suited for cyclists after premium performance.
What size road bike do I need?
If your bike isn’t the right size, you’re not only going to have some uncomfortable cycling experiences - you might actually end up doing yourself serious damage. As well as having the right sized frame for your build, you’ll need to make sure that the bike fits your body correctly at the saddle, pedals and handlebars.
The first question to ask when looking for your new bike is ‘what size road bike frame do I need?’. If you are unsure you visit a specialist bike store who can help you determine the best size. Once you’ve got the right size, you can make smaller modifications and adjustments to make sure your bike fits you like a glove.
If you find that you’re measuring between road bike frame sizes, the usual advice is to base your choice on your ‘reach’ measurement - how far away the handlebars are when you sit on the saddle; if you’ve got longer arms go for the larger frame, and opt for the smaller frame if your torso is more on the shorter side.
How To Look After Your Road Bike
Once you’ve decided which road bike is right for you, it’s time to start planning.
When buying a road bike, beginners and those who haven’t had a bike for a long time might not consider that their new purchase actually requires a bit of care and attention. Keeping up a regular programme of maintenance on your bike will help prolong its life and make sure every cycle is as smooth and comfortable as possible. Check out our Beginners Guide to Bike Maintenance for some top tips from our team on keeping your cycle in tip top condition.
You’ll need to invest in the best bike maintenance tools to keep your shiny new toy in the very best condition. Keeping a well-stocked bike kit both at home and on the go is vital for getting the best out of your bike.
Road Bike Essential Accessories
No one likes to think about problems, but punctures are, unfortunately, a way of life for cyclists. Make sure you’re never caught unprepared on the road with a well-equipped bike puncture repair kit that you can stash somewhere on your bike or your person.
Helmets are, of course, completely essential for any bike journey, no matter how short. Because road bikes are so often used in high-traffic areas and with hard road surfaces, having a helmet is especially important. In the past, helmets might have been cumbersome and a bit awkward looking - the best road bike helmets these days however are aerodynamic, stylish and lightweight.
Make bike cleaning a breeze by keeping a stock of the best bike cleaning products. From lubricants and grease for your bike chain and components to frame polish and wipes, there are a range of easy to use products available that will turn bike maintenance into an enjoyable task.
Keeping you visible and helping you see where you’re going, reliable bike lights are a must. For road bikes, rear lights are particularly important for making sure you can be seen on dark roads and at traffic lights. Headlights, wearable lights and wheel spoke lights are other options to keep your bike looking its best.
Road bikes are often used for commutes, so having somewhere on your bike to keep a change of clothes, your phone or other work essentials is a great way to lighten the load on your back. Depending on what you need to carry, you may opt for a bike bag or basket, which can be attached to the front, rear or underneath the saddle.
How To Ride Your Road Bike
So you’ve chosen the best road bike for you. You’ve got all your accessories and you’ve stocked up on cleaning and maintenance supplies. Now what? It’d be remiss of us not to include some pointers and advice here. After all, this isn’t just a ‘buying a road bike guide’ - it’s a how-to on ways to get the best out of your cycling.
Before You Set Off
No matter how short the journey, it’s important to always give your bike a once over before starting to pedal. Make sure everything is in place and not damaged to ensure as smooth a ride as possible. If you’re just starting out on your road bike, check out our beginners guide to get up to speed and take the bike lane by storm.
Check Your Tyres
You’ll be able to check the optimum pressure for your particular bike on the sidewall of the tyres. It’s a good idea to keep this as a note on your phone or somewhere handy so you can check when you need to. Use a bike pressure gauge to check your tyres’ pressure, and pump up as needed.
If you’re going to be cycling through particularly icy or wet conditions, don’t pump up your tyres too much (though make sure you stay within the recommended pressure range as noted). Softer tyres offer better grip and traction,so they can help reduce the amount you slip and slide around on the road!
Arm Yourself With the Essentials
Make sure you’ve got a puncture repair kit, mini pump, bike lock, water bottle and whatever else you might need for your journey. If you don’t want to carry a bag, it’s an idea to install a saddle bag or basket on your bike to take a load off.
It goes without saying (hopefully), but having a quality and trustworthy helmet is vital for any serious cyclist. You should also consider lights for your bike, to make sure other road users can always see you. Check your tyres before any long journeys, and keep tools and repair kits with you as a matter of course. For more information on keeping you and your bike safe, take a look at our road safety guide for cyclists.
Saddle Up (or down)
When you head out on your very first ride, make sure to take a moment to double check that you’ve got the saddle in the right position. Sit on your bike (lean against a wall or hold onto a chair for balance), and pedal backwards to a six o’clock position. Your knee should be straight - if it’s bent, raise your saddle a little, and lower it if your foot doesn’t reach the lower pedal position.
It’s a good idea to periodically check that your saddle is in the right place, as sitting in the wrong position can cause all kinds of aches and pains. Once you’re sure it’s correct, make sure that you can comfortably reach the handlebars with a slight bend in your elbows.
Get in Position
After you’ve made sure your bike is the right fit for you, it’s important to get used to the proper posture and position. Not only will you look the part out on the road, but you’ll minimise any pain or long-term damage if you follow these tips from head to toe.
Keep your shoulders relaxed, and don’t let them creep up to hunch around your ears. Make sure your neck can turn freely - to minimise stiffness and maximise range of vision. It’s also important to keep your elbows bent and in as straight a line as possible with your fingers on the brake handles. Try to keep your core as engaged as possible (cycling really is a great workout!), and keep your back fairly relaxed and in a straight line with your hips and shoulders. As far as your lower extremities go, make sure your feet are comfortably and fully on the pedals, and make sure they’re in line with your knees to avoid strain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Like gears in a car, your road bike’s gears are there to help you navigate different inclines and speeds. Bike gears are close together, and usually use derailleurs (external mechanism) to move the chain between different sized sprockets. The multi-toothed gears close to the pedals are called chainrings, while the ones near the rear wheel are known as the cassette. A good rule of thumb is that the smaller the chainring and larger the cassette sprocket, the easier and lower the gear.
Some road bikes may also have more classic hub gear systems, which are heavier and generally offer fewer gear selections than derailleurs.
To get to grips with switching between gears and learning what each level does, take your bike to a flat path and practice shifting up and back down through each gear until you feel comfortable.
If you’re going to be cycling in town, along pavements or on cycle paths, a road bike will make your journeys much more comfortable. Road bikes offer greater speed, more comfort and a wider range of gears on flat surfaces. If you’re going to be cycling on rocky or uneven terrain regularly, check out our mountain bike buying guide.
Ideally, you want your saddle to be high enough that your knee is at about a 30-degree angle (a slight bend) when you reach the bottom of your pedalling motion. While it might be tempting (particularly for beginner cyclists) to have your saddle low to allow you to place your foot on the ground to steady yourself, having it too low will make riding more difficult and will tire you out more quickly.
Saddle height is important - make sure it’s set so you can sit comfortably on the widest part of the seat pad and keep your leg straight when you put your heel on the pedal. You need to make sure you don’t have to bend or stretch to reach the handlebars, and that you’re able to comfortably move your legs to pedal.
The most important thing about riding your bike is to be comfortable! With the right sized bike, you should be able to ride comfortably. Make sure you’re not straining your back or neck to reach both the pedals and the handlebars - sit yourself on the widest part of the seat and make sure you can rest your hands on the handlebars easily. Relax your shoulders, bend your elbows and keep your spine as straight or ‘neutral’ as possible. When pedalling, make sure to keep your knee over the ball of your foot - splaying your knees at an outward angle will not only look odd but also potentially cause aches and pain.
In a nutshell, road bikes are for fast rides on flat surfaces, while mountain bikes offer more control on rugged surfaces for a slower ride.
Road bikes are built to be compact, speedy and easy to pedal on flat surfaces for shorter journeys, making them ideal for town and city commutes. By contrast, if you try to cycle along pavements on a mountain bike, you’ll find it slow and hard going - they’re made with wider tyres and flat handlebars for tackling bumpy, uneven and rugged off-road terrain.
Road bikes are designed to be ridden on paved surfaces - like roads, pavements and paths. They’re generally more lightweight, compact and aerodynamic than mountain bikes, and offer commuters and city cyclists an easy to use and store option.