Congratulations, you have decided to buy your first road bike. What seemed like such an easy decision only a second ago now seems like an endless list of options, models and colours. It’s just like the milk isle in your supermarket. Sure, they all come from a cow and will taste similar, but do you need the added calcium bottle, the folate enriched option, or perhaps milk with omega 3? In this article, I’ll outline what you need to look for in buying your first road bike, and how to navigate all the options.
Number 1: Bike Fit
On the most basic of levels, it determines how comfortable you will be. Even the shortest of rides are enough for a poor fit to ruin your ride. The advantage of buying a bike from a reputable bike store is that they will take the time to fit the bike up to your body shape. It might seem insignificant, but a poor fit can lead to muscle imbalance if you’re over-working a certain muscle group due to (but not limited to a too big bike/ too small bike, seat height/ angle issues, reach to the handlebars too far etc). It might also lead to knee problems if you are putting lateral stress through your knees. Remember that when you’re cycling, you are rotating your knees over and over again, thousands of times an hour. Any misalignment can quickly add up and wear your joints out prematurely.
Number 2: Priorities
Given a set budget, there are certain things on a bike you should prioritise. Those priorities are:
The biggest single influence on the weight of the bike and how it rides. The more you spend here, the lighter and more responsive the bike will be. This is also the single most expensive part of the bike to replace, so make sure you are happy with your choice.
The next biggest influence on how a bike will behave. Lighter wheels reduce rotational weight, making your bike feel more alive and will allow you to accelerate quicker.
By groupset, we refer to the gears, brakes, chain and handlebar shifters that make up your gearing. There are three main manufacturers here: Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram. Which you choose is down to personal preference. The difference between the different models will be in materials used, their weight and serviceability. Individual components are cheaper to replace if they wear out, or you decide to upgrade later on.
Individual components can usually be swapped out by the bicycle store at time of purchase for a nominal price and will come down to personal preferences in terms of colours, shapes, and materials.
Remember that bike manufacturers will typically use lower quality components around the bike to keep the price low. The best example is the seat. Good seats cost more money to manufacture than cheaper seats and as such, the seat you typically get with a bike might not be the best seat for you. Ironically this is one of the most important parts of the bike for your comfort. Check out my previous two articles on choosing the right bike seat for your anatomy here.
Bikes don't generally come with pedals, so you will need to decide whether you will go clipless (special shoes with a cleat (adapter bolted onto your shoe that clips into the pedal)) or flat pedals. Clipless pedals are more efficient because you can pull up on the pedals and push down at the same time rather than just push down like on a flat pedal. However depending on how serious you want to go, choosing flat pedals might be better for your circumstances. If you do go down the clipless path, you will need special shoes. There are two styles, one has a hard plastic sole and the other type has a carbon fiber sole. Carbon is stiffer and aids in power transfer...it also costs more.
In terms clothing, if you are going to buy lycra (and i'd recommend it), you will need at least two pairs of knicks and tops. Lycra is more comfortable than loose clothing because it follows your body and doesn't chaff you as you cycle. Remember you are pedalling repeatedly so the tiniest seam in your normal pants can lead to serious discomfort. And you don't wear underwear under your knicks as they have a built in chamois that takes care of padding. Buy bib knicks over half knicks (the shoulder strap ones that look like they are out of Borat). Reason is that the straps keep them in place when you move around the seat so they move around less (less chaffing), and as they don't need a waist band, and thus won't compress your stomach. All of the serious bike riders have this type of knick.
Hopefully this will give you pointers into what to look for when choosing a bike. Any specific questions on brands or this topic, please comment and I will respond.