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Road Bike Buying Guide

Road Bike Buying Guide

What's the difference between a carbon road bike and an aero road bike? What size of road bike should I go for? Buying a new road bike involves answering a lot of questions, but this guide is going to do a lot of the work for you.

Finding which road bike is right for you means looking carefully at your budget and getting a crash course on the huge array of technical terms and component set-ups you need to understand. Do you go for an aluminium bike or a more expensive carbon bike frame? And what groupset, wheelset, and finishing kits? What even is a finishing kit?


If you're not familiar with terms used when talking about road bikes, here's a jargon buster to help. These terms will feature in product descriptions when you're researching your bikes, so it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with them.

  • Drop bars: Drop bars are the classic racing bike u-shaped bars most commonly seen on road bikes. These bars offer a choice of riding positions: 'on the hoods', when gripping the handles on the top edge of the horizontal bars; and 'in the drops', gripping underneath the bars at the bottom of the bend. This position is often used for sprinting or getting low when descending a hill. Drop bars are by the most common on road bikes but flat bar road bike bars do exist, although they're more commonly found on commuting bikes.
  • Flared bars: Flared handlebars are most often used on gravel bikes, widening the turning circle of the bars to allow for more precise steering and better control.
  • Gravel bike: Gravel bikes or adventure bikes are a hybrid between a road bike and a hard-tail mountain bike, allowing you to ride off-road as well as on tarmac. Wide tyres, climb-focused gearing, and more robust frames usually also feature.
  • Geometry: Bike geometry refers to the angles in the frame that affect the riding position of the bike. More upright bikes, particularly endurance bikes and gravel bikes, are better for long climbs. Those offering a low 'racing' geometry, such as time trail and aero bikes, are more suited to sprinting and outright speed.
  • Finishing kit: The finishing kit usually refers to the a road bike's stem, headset, and seatpost. These are important aspects of any bike, contributing to stability and comfort.
  • Touch points: These are the bits you 'touch' or are in contact with when riding, such as pedals, handlebars, bike tape and saddle.
  • Groupset: The groupset refers to the bike's drivetrain - the cogs, gears, chain, and controls, like brake levers and gear levers. There are three main manufacturers, Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo (there are others, such as Box and Microshift), each offering different benefits. Each of the main three makers offer component sets at varying levels of quality and price, arranged in what are called hierarchies. While a good groupset is important for smooth operation, they are are easily upgraded.
  • Wheelset: After the frame, the wheelset probably plays the biggest role in your road bike's performance. Contributing hugely to the overall weight, stability, agility, acceleration, deceleration and overall speed. A quality wheelset should be at the top of your priorities.
  • Carbon forks: Aside from featuring on carbon frames, carbon forks are also fitted to many aluminium frames for their shock absorbing abilities and lightweight construction.
  • Electric road bike: An electric road bike provides battery-powered assistance while pedaling. Mostly used by commuters, leisure riders, those nursing long-term injuries, and thrill seekers, they're incredibly fun and hugely popular.
  • Tube, tubeless, and tubular: Road bike wheels come in three main formats. The most common is the classic tube set-up, often called clincher, which has an inflated inner tube and exterior tyre. Tubeless tyres are sealed to the wheel rim with no inner tube, offering lots of performance benefits, such as lower tyre pressures without loss of performance. Tubular tyres are probably the least common. Mostly used by pro riders and often referred to as 'tubs ', tubular tyres look the same as clinchers on the outside but work in a very different way. The inner tube is sewn into the tyre and is essentially part of it. As a result, the tubular tyre is just one piece, whereas the clincher is two pieces (tube and tyre).


If you're looking for an entry level road bike, then the chances are you're new to the world of skinny tyres and drop handlebars. So what should you consider when buying your first road bike?There are three key points to consider:

  1. Frame material - Beginner road bike frames are normally aluminium or steel. Aluminium is a light, strong and affordable material for bike frame manufacture. Steel is more of a 'heritage' option but provides a very robust and comfortable frame.
  2. Groupset - With the upgrade in price, you'll see an upgrade in gearing. Expect 11 or 12-speed drivetrains on an intermediate road bike, likely in the form of Shimano 105 or Ultegra; SRAM Rival or Force; or Campagnolo Potenza or Chorus.
  3. Wheelset - As you spend more on your wheelset, you will see the benefits in terms of performance. Better wheel bearings, reduced weight, and increased stiffness all improve tyre support and aerodynamics. This translates into better efficiency, making your bike feel fast and handle better.
  4. Disc brakes - Disc brakes play a much more significant role at the intermediate level. They are more powerful than traditional brakes and offer a range of additional benefits, particularly stopping power - especially in the wet - and modulation, how accurately they transmit your pressure on the lever into changes in speed.


So you've ridden your first few sportives, and you've booked your first cycling holiday... it's time for an upgrade. Intermediate road bikes strike that delicate balance between affordability and performance, giving you a fast and fun ride.

Here are the key stand-out points about 'Intermediate' road bikes:

  1. Frame material - You're now into the price range of carbon fibre; this is a fantastic modern composite material which provides a great mix of stiffness (aiding power transfer), comfort, and weight saving construction.
  2. Groupset - With the upgrade in price, you'll see an upgrade in gearing. Expect 10 or 11-speed drivetrains on an intermediate road bike, likely in the form of Shimano 105 or Ultegra; SRAM Rival or Force; or Campagnolo Potenza or Chorus.
  3. Wheels - As you spend more on your wheelset, you will see the benefits in terms of performance. Better wheel bearings, lighter spokes and rims, and deeper profile rims will all translate into lower rolling-resistance, better efficiency, and improved aerodynamics.
  4. Disc brakes - Disc brakes come into the equation more frequently with intermediate level road bikes. They are more powerful than traditional brakes and offer a range of additional benefits in terms of maintenance and weight.


It's time for the big guns. You want to race, you want to be the fastest you possibly can be - you want a lightweight road bike with pro-level capabilities. Those sound like the attributes of an advanced level road bike.

  1. Frame material - Carbon road bike frames are the most popular frame material for advanced level road bikes. They offer high levels of stiffness and the lightest weight possible.
  2. Transmission - Electronic gearing is increasingly popular on advanced level road bikes. Shimano's Di2, SRAM's AXS eTAP, and Campagnolo's EPS provide you with electronically controlled gear shifting, offering up to 12-speed cassettes for precise shifting.
  3. Wheelset - Advanced road bikes are all about marginal gains, so expect to find carbon fibre wheels, often with deep-section rims for aerodynamic advantage.


As highlighted above, road bikes come in a wide variety of frame materials. From aluminium to carbon fibre - they all have their advantages:

Carbon fibre framed road bikes: Carbon fibre is used in top of the range road bikes because it provides a superb balance of stiffness and light weight. Because it doesn't come in pre-shaped tubes, it can also be moulded into exotic and aerodynamic shapes; making it ideal for high-performance bikes.

Steel framed road bikes: Steel is still a popular and traditional material to use for bicycle frame manufacture. Steel frames are renowned for their comfort, strength, and durability.

Aluminium framed road bikes: This is the most common material for bike frame manufacture, and it provides a very respectable balance of comfort, performance and reliability. Aluminium bikes are stiff, lightweight, and strong.


Drop-bar road bikes are built, you guessed it, for the road. Their thin, light tyres and frames make them efficient for riding long distances, at speed and climbing hills (or even mountains).

So, yes, they can easily be used for a daily commute and are highly versatile as long as you stick to tarmac. Although there are a few things they can't do - or, at least, shouldn't.

If you hit mixed terrain, for example. a gravel bike or adventure bike is probably a better option. These feature tougher frames, wider tyres and, in higher spec bikes, more robust components.

Road bikes are specialised for road use and won't react well to the rigours of off-roading.

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