Buying your first road bike can be a bewildering experience, so here’s our guide to the basic terms, and a quick catch-up on some of the most important decisions you’ll be faced with.
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Like most sports cycling has its own unique lexicon. If you’re contemplating buying your first road bike, then these are the terms you need to know. As you might guess geometry refers to the angles and lengths of the tubing that make up a bike frame.Some key factors that determine how a bike rides, and fits, are: reach, stack, heights and head angle.Taking all these factors into account, most bikes are classified as either race bikes or endurance bikes, with the latter also known as sportif or Gran Fondo bikes.
Typically, race bikes feature long reach and short stack heights. These are the types of geometries you’ll see in the Tour de France and other Pro Road races. The race designation doesn’t necessarily mean the bike must be light and expensive, but the frame will be built for stiffness to maximize pedalling efficiency and the geometry will allow you to flatten your back for a more aerodynamic position.
On the other hand, for the relatively casual rider wanting to cover longer distances, endurance bikes typically prioritize comfort over speed, and the geometry will usually allow the rider to sit a bit moreupright than they would on a race bike. It’s a slower position, but one you’ll be comfortable in for hours and hours.
Both main types of road bike typically come with handlebars featuring distinctively hooked drops. These give the rider three options for hand position: on the tops, sitting upright and opening the chest for easier breathing on steep climbs, on the hoods, a comfortable position that still lets you control the brakes and gears and on the drops, a fast position that gets you out of the wind and gives the best control over the brakes.
Speaking of brakes and gears you won’t get far into your bike buying experience before someone starts talking at you about group sets. These are collections of compatible components, grouped together under a single name and at a comparable price point, ranging from the reasonable to the horrifyingly expensive.They include the brakes, shifters, chain rings, cranks, cassette,rear derailleur and front derailleur. If that last bit just sounded like a list of familiar words that make no sense to you in a bike context, allow us to explain.
Shifters are the combined gear and brake levers mounted to the handlebars, chain rings are the big sprockets that drive the chain and cranks are the arms that drive the chain rings. Collectively rings and cranks are known as the chain sets or crank sets. The cassette is the collection of sprockets at the rear of the bike and the derailleurs are the mechanisms also known as mechs, that change gear by shifting the chain between the sprockets at the front and the rear. There’s a very clearly defined hierarchy amongst group sets, with the most common Shimano sets starting at the bottom with klaris, then moving up to surah, t agra, 105, el tigre and finally the pro level Gerace. Campagnolo and SRAM also make group sets, but they’re currently something of a rarity on entry-level bikes.
Aside from some incremental refinements, the major differences between high and low-end group sets, are the number of speeds, a little bit of weight and a lot of cost. By speeds we mean the number of sprockets at the rear, rather than the total number of gears on the bike. In recent years component manufacturers have been trending towards increasing this number as much as possible, while using only two chain rings at the front.
Many respectable, very low-budget bikes still use a triple chain set and eight speeds, but a double paired with a nine, ten or eleven speed cassette is generally a much better option. Modern Raider alias can handle a huge range of sprocket sizes within a single cassette. So a double chain set and a big wide 11 to 32 or even 34 teeth cassette, will give you all the ranging needs and be much easier to maintain and use than a triple.
That’s the complicated bit over, now on to the controversial stuff. Disc brakes are becoming more and more commonplace on road bikes and they’re starting to creep into lower price brackets. While a conventional rim brake uses levers and cables to squeeze the wheel itself, disc brakes press on a dedicated rotor fixed to the wheel hub, like on a car. Cheaper disc brakes use cable actuation, but really good stuff happens when you bring hydraulics into the mix. Hydraulic disc brakes turn a very small effort from a single finger into a brutally effective amount of stopping power. You still need to be careful to avoid locking up your wheels and skidding, but it’s a lot easier to push your braking as far as possible before that happens. They’re also much more consistent and predictable in the wet than rim brakes.Some established riders, including many professionals, argue, that you don’t need disc brakes on a road bike and they’re technically right. They’re more expensive and heavier than traditional brakes and slightly harder to look after. Budget-conscious riders may still be better off with rim brakes, though if performance was the only consideration, we’d pick discs every time, especially if we were going to be riding in urban areas or in the wet.
Carbon is relatively affordable these days, with prices for a complete bike starting at around 800 pounds and is often considered to be more compliant and lighter than alloy. That said, many of today’s alloy frames are more than a match for the lowest cost carbon frames. When it comes to ride quality, they’re also more durable and crash proof than their plasticky cousins, and often not much heavier. Alloy frames are usually cheaper to produce, which means you can expect nicer parts than on a similarly priced carbon bike.
Bikes are usually measured from the middle of the chain set up to the top of the seat tube, so your inside leg measurement is usually the most important factor in correct sizing. People come in all shapes and sizes though, so if you’re an anatomical anomaly, then you might need to consult with an expert.
Most brands classify sizes in letters from XS 2 XL or numerically in centimetres. A medium frame would typically correspond to 54 centimetres, but there is quite a bit of variation between manufacturers. Once you’ve picked your bike and found the right size, you’re going to want to do a fit. Very distinct from sizing, this process involves adjusting the saddle, pedals and handlebars, collectively known as your contact points, so that you’ll be as comfortable and efficient as possible when riding. Most bricks-and-mortar bike shops will sort you out with a basic fit as part of your purchase, or you can arrange one separately. They’re highly recommended for all riders, and are absolutely essential, if you’ve ever had a bag neck or knee injury.
A very frequent source of confusion, the ironically means clipless pedals, are pedals you clip your shoes into. The name originates from the days, when buckle up toe clips were in popular use among enthusiasts and races, and the new clipless pedals did away with these. We strongly recommend clipless for anyone, who’ll be riding more than a few miles at a time. Most riders find them to be far more efficient than flat pedals, because they allow you to pedal in smooth circular strokes and far easier and safer to use than toe clips. Most new bikes are sold with terrible flat pedals, sometimes with toe clips, so you should budget for a set of clipless pedals and compatible shoes at the same time as buying your new bike.
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