With a lightweight frame combined with an aggressive riding position road race bikes, are built to be fast in real world riding condition. These bikes feature a race-oriented geometry in a frame that is as light as it can be without compromising on stiffness. The featherweights of the road bike world these bikes are fastest when the gradient points upwards.
Also known as climbing bikes, road race bikes are the lightest type at any given price point. These are the bikes that you will see the pros riding on mountain stages. They’re not as comfortable as endurance road bikes, but the pure speed combined with agile handling make these bikes fun to ride. If you like a fast, dynamic ride and want to be as quick up the climbs as possible then a road race bike will give you everything you’re looking for.
Key Features of a Road Race Bike
Flat backed, race oriented riding position - this offers dynamic handling and better aerodynamics to help you to ride faster.
Lightweight frame - combined with lightweight wheels and components this makes climbing faster.
Big chainrings on higher end bikes - this will suit strong riders who like to use their power to ride faster.
Some compliance features - while not as comfortable as endurance bikes, road race bikes offer a smoother ride than aero bikes.
The frame is the beating heart of all road bikes. It is here that you will notice the most difference between the various types.
Road race bike frames differ from other road bikes in two main ways; geometry and lightweight.
Road race bikes offer a flat-backed, stretched-out riding position with nimble handling. Compared to a similarly sized endurance road bike the overall reach is a little longer on climbing bikes. The head tube is also a little shorter. This means that you have to stretch a little more to reach the handlebars which are positioned lower. Experienced road racers usually like the bars to be as low as possible as this offers a faster more dynamic position on the bike
As well as allowing you to get into an aerodynamic tucked riding position the short chainstays and steep steering angle give these bikes their agile handling characteristics. This is so that you can make quick decisive direction changes.
Climbing bikes are as lightweight as they can be while still being stiff enough for proper race performance. This is because you want your pedalling power to be converted into forward motion as efficiently as possible. A stiff frame allows you to accelerate quickly and ride fast without wasting any of your watts. Stiffness also helps with the bike's handling, so that you can make lightning-quick direction changes.
Traditionally this frame stiffness meant that road race bikes offered an uncomfortable ride, but not with today’s advanced machines. Modern carbon fibre technology has allowed designers to build in some vertical compliance in key areas. This softens the ride a little without compromising handling or power transfer. Alloy framed road race bikes can be just as efficient as carbon bikes. You get similar geometry, but the ride isn’t as smooth.
Climbing bikes have similar components to most other road bikes: Dual-action brake and gear levers, double front chainsets, narrow (compared to a mountain bike) range rear cassettes, 700c wheels slick tyres and disc or rim brakes. The differences between the components may seem slight but they are significant and do make a difference to the way that the bike performs.
Some road race bikes are racier than others and this is reflected in the gearing. Entry-level road race bikes tend to have similar gearing to endurance bikes. Compact 50/34t chainsets and wide-range cassettes 11-32t make climbing easier. Narrow range 11-28t or 12-25t cassettes have smaller gaps between each gear. This helps you to better match your cadence to your speed. The downside is that you get less low range climbing gears. High-end road race bikes have bigger chainrings which will benefit stronger riders who can make the most of bigger gears.
Road race bikes are best with lightweight wheels as this is the part of the bike where shaving a few grams makes the most difference. Carbon wheels weigh the least and will help you to conquer the climbs. Lightweight wheels don’t come cheap, so you’ll only find them on high-end road bikes. Tyres tend to be a little narrower than endurance bikes.
What do you get for your money?
While road race bikes are the lightest type of bike, there is much variation across each brands range of bikes, so what do you get for your money? The short answer is that the bikes get lighter and faster as they become more expensive, but in reality, it is a little more complicated than that.
The two main things that you should consider when deciding which road race bike to buy are frame type and component specification:
There are two main frame types carbon composite and aluminium alloy. As well as being lighter weight carbon frames offer a more advanced ride feel. This is because carbon can be made to be stiff in one direction while allowing flex in another. Carbon bikes offer stiffness where you need it so that the bike doesn’t flex when you push down on the pedals or lean the bike into a corner. At the same time, the bike can be compliant in response to bumps in the road. This is what gives you that smoother ride feel.
Alloy frames are a little heavier and the ride feel isn’t as refined as carbon. On the plus side, alloy frames are much more affordable, so you get a much better component specification compared to a similarly priced carbon bike.
The rule of thumb with components is that they get lighter in weight and slicker in operation as you move up through the price points. At the entry-level, you get bigger gaps between the gears but as soon as you reach Shimano 105 level the gear ratios are much the same as top-of-the-range bikes. Wheels play a big part in the way that a bike rides and this is the most overlooked aspect of bike specification. If you want to make your bike faster, then a wheel upgrade is the first place to start.
Other Types of Road Bike
A great place to start your cycling journey, endurance bikes are the most comfortable type of road bike. Designed for long-distance racing over rough road surfaces the extra comfort makes them a popular choice with the average cyclist. They may not be as fast and nimble as road race bikes on smooth roads, but the extra comfort and stability make them faster and easier to ride when the going gets rough.
As the name suggests aero race bikes are designed with aerodynamics as the main focus. They combine the aggressive riding position of a road race bike, with a frame profile that is designed to cut through the air as quickly and efficiently as possible. Other than specialist time trial machines, aero race bikes are the fastest type of bike on flat roads. It’s only on the climbs that lightweight race bikes are faster.
Gravel bikes are rugged road bikes with larger tyres suitable for riding on rougher terrain. A gravel bike has much more clearance in the frame and forks allowing much bigger tyres to be fitted. This increased air volume increases comfort on all surfaces and allows the bike to be used on light singletrack and gravel roads, they bridge the gap between road and mountain bikes and make the perfect all-season commuter.
Popular Road Race Bikes
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