If you’ve recently gotten into road riding and you think it’s now time to move on from that rusted, 10-year-old corpse of a bike that you dug out of your garage, but you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone. There is a multitude of factors to consider when looking for a new road bike, so it’s good to have those in mind before you have a salesperson trying to sell you the bike that they like the most.
Whether or not you need to buy a female specific bike is a definite maybe. Men and women have different physiologies, so bike manufacturers have designed a range of frames to better suit the differences between male and female body geometry. Some of these have been made around the concept of the average women’s shape having shorter arms and torso with longer legs than that of the average men’s physiology, which can tend to have broader shoulders and a longer reach. Women’s road bikes will tend to accommodate for this shorter reach, so may have a lower top tube to allow this. However, if you find any frame in your size that you like, you can easily customise the bike to your own body geometry by swapping out the contact points. Women-specific setups may run narrower bars (36-38 cm) with a shallower drop, alongside shorter stems and shorter cranks (165mm). Women-specific frames are sometimes more upright, designed to be more comfortable, but unfortunately this comes at a cost of being less aerodynamic. If you find the women-specific bike geometry doesn’t feel comfortable or you want a more aggressive riding position, a smaller men’s or unisex frame may be a better option.
The way a bike fits you is the ultimate determinant of how a bike feels, so make sure you get this right. If you find that you’re between sizes, a general guide is that if you’re looking for an aggressive position, opt for the smaller size, whereas if it’s comfort that you’re after, go larger.
An approximate frame size guide.
For more information on how to fit your bike, check out our article on how to custom fit your bike.
The variation in frame design among road bikes is endless.
Every bike company has multiple road bikes, designed for a multitude of different riding styles. From out and out precision instruments of speed and aerodynamics, all the way to relaxed touring bikes. The only way to know which is right for you is to know what type of riding you want to do. If you’re just commuting 25 minutes to work everyday, a comfortable ride is the way to go. However, if you’re commuting to work everyday, but want everyone to think that you’re an elite cyclists whilst doing it, go for the aero machine. As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the tubes, the more aero the bike. Be aware that as you get more aggressive, you get exponentially more uncomfortable, so whilst that racing machine may look the part, it possibly isn’t the best choice for your specific purpose. Basically, the longer you’re going to be in the saddle, the more upright you’ll want to be.
Road riding is a commitment, so you need a bike that’s in it for the long haul. If you’re looking for a bike that’s going to last longer than the time it takes to get it out of the shop, you’ll need componentry that exceeds your current skill level. If you’re serious about getting into road riding, don’t buy less than Shimano 105 or equivalent (Centaur or Rival). It’s much cheaper to buy a complete bike that is built to how you want it, rather than progressively upgrading the individual components. If you’ve got the cash, spend that little bit extra on the shinier groupset.
If you want to do most of the repairs and servicing on your bike at home, do yourself a favour and buy a bike that makes it easy for you. Avoid internally routed cables and brakes that are mounted within the fork or behind the bottom bracket. Any aerodynamic gains are not worth the extra hours spent in your workshop cursing the engineer who designed the system.
You can often find great prices on new road bikes, so there’s no time like the present to treat yourself to that new ride, but if you still feel you’re not yet ready to make the commitment to buy a shiny new roadie, here’s some tips to help spruce up your vintage beast and help keep you on the road until you’ve found your perfect new bike.