road bike guide

Fulfil your need for speed

Road bikes are largely defined as bikes with drop handlebars and 700c wheels.

They also usually have narrow tyres to make them roll faster on the road and are designed to be lightweight and aerodynamic. Their gearing and chainsets are designed for speed and efficiency.

  • Race bikes
  • Sportive bikes
  • Cyclocross bikes
  • Touring bikes
  • Tri/TT bikes
  • Track bikes

There are other varieties of drop bar bikes, listed on the right, which are grouped with road bikes, but which have slightly different features. For instance, cyclocross bikes have wider, grippy tyres for riding off road, track bikes have only one gear for riding in the velodrome, and touring bikes are less aerodynamic and heavier as they are built for comfort rather than speed.

Race bikes

Light, fast, aero

These bikes are out-and-out speed machines. They are often at the more expensive end of the road bike spectrum and built from lightweight carbon.

Race bikes have standard double chainsets with high gearing to allow greater speeds, but this means you’ll need a decent level of fitness to get up hills.

Road race bikes have frame geometry designed to give a more aerodynamic position on the bike and they tend to be built from stiff materials for efficiency, which can make them less comfortable over longer distances.

If you want a road bike for all-day riding and long distances rather than racing, you’ll probably prefer a sportive bike.

Sportive bikes

Going the distance

Sportive bikes are road bikes which have been designed for fun and comfort, as well as speed. Cheaper sportive bikes are made of aluminium, but you can also find carbon sportive bikes if you have a healthy budget.

Sportive bikes have more relaxed frame angles and a more upright riding position than race bikes. Chainsets are compact doubles, or sometimes triples, so you have lower gears with a wider range than the standard double chainsets found on race bikes. This means you can tackle long climbs with a lot less discomfort.

Sportive bikes are often designed to be more versatile than race bikes too. They often have eyelets in the frame and fork so you can fit mudguards or maybe a rear rack. This means you can also use them for plenty of winter training, commuting, or maybe a bit of light touring.

Material assets

Style and substance

The two main materials used for building road bikes are carbon and aluminium. Steel and titanium are also used.

Each of these materials has its own properties and functions, but the way the bike’s frame is built is far more important in determining how the bike rides and what it is used for.

Aluminium The most common material for road bikes under £1,500. Aluminium can be formed in aero shapes and is light and stiff. It’s ideal for road bikes and incredibly versatile.

Steel Steel-based alloys such as cro-mo, are really popular for stylish, comfortable bikes. Classically-styled road bikes and touring bikes are often built from steel because of its comfortable properties.

Carbon This is the stuff Tour de France bikes are made from. Carbon bikes have become more affordable in recent years and you can now get carbon sportive bikes as well as race bikes. It’s very light and stiff but can be built for plenty of comfort too.

Titanium Titanium is a real premium material with a price tag to match. Ti frames usually have a beautiful raw, unpainted finish as it doesn’t corrode. Ti has similar comfort attributes to steel but ti frames are lighter. High-end touring bikes are often titanium.

Essential equipment

Buy with your bike

Almost all road bikes arrive without pedals, so it’s really important you budget for a pair. If you buy clipless pedals, you will also need the right shoes to go with them.

Although most road riders will choose to use road clipless pedals like SPD-SL, Speedplay and Look, some riders feel more comfortable on SPD pedals which are traditionally used for mountain biking – it’s up to you which you go for.

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