Road bikes have come in all sorts of shapes and sizes over the past 100-plus years so finding the best road bike for you might seem overwhelming. Here’s one Cannondale did already, on the right.
Today, the design has pretty much settled down, so at least 90% of today’s road bikes come in one of three styles: classic road, endurance road and aero road.
Classic or ‘Race’ Road Bike
Characterised by a lightweight frame (usually sub-kilo) and drop handlebars set quite a few centimetres lower than the skinny saddle, this is the style of bike you’ll see most pros riding most stages of the Tour de France. It’s also the first choice of most keen cycle club members.
The Giant TCR Advanced 2 2018 ‘classic’ road bike. A full Shimano 105 group (inc chainset and brakes) perfectly complements the Giant handcrafted carbon frame to create a road bike that rivals any for the money.
Its light weight makes this type the best road bike for romping over hills you might struggle up with an everyday bike. The drop handlebars help you tuck out off the wind so you can keep going at a reasonable lick, even when riding into a headwind. You can understand why this fundamental design has endured since the early 1900s.
Endurance Road Bike AKA sportive bike
Lightweight frame, skinny tyres, drop handlebars… To the untutored eye, the endurance road bike looks just like a classic road bike.
The Whyte Wessex 2018: Whyte’s best carbon road bike with Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes and 2×11 gearing. Its Schwalbe G-One tyres are sportive/commuting ready making this a UK-ready road bike.
Get up close and you can spot subtle differences. The frame’s head tube is a little taller so the handlebars can be set higher (though still usually lower than the saddle). The wheelbase is a little longer for extra stability on twisty descents. A wider ratio cassette makes the gearing lower so it’s easier to climb hills. The tyres might be 28mm wide rather than 23 or 25 to make the bike smoother and safer on dodgy road surfaces.
All these tweaks make endurance road bikes more comfortable and more accessible to riders who might not be quite as supple as the flat-back 25-30 year old heroes who ride road bikes for a profession.
All these characteristics make endurance bikes the best road bike choice for the growing number of cyclists who call ourselves spotivistes. So much so, cycling has its own chicken and egg-like riddle: what came first, the endurance bike or the sportive?
User-friendly traits, such as mudguard compatibility, also make the endurance road bike more viable for everyday year-round use than a pure race bike. It’s therefore little wonder that endurance road bikes appeal to more people and have been our best selling road bike type for over 10 years.
Aero Road Bikes
When you get into road bikes, speed becomes addictive. So can competitiveness. You want to keep up with your riding partners, or outpace them. You ponder the question, how can I get faster? The answer might be that an aero is the best road bike for you. Why? Because nothing slows you down on the bike more than wind resistance – especially when you exceed 15 miles an hour. Hence the aero road bike, optimised to minimise air turbulence.
The Cervelo S3 Ultegra 2018: with its optimised carbon layup and its skinny seat stays, it delivers a level of engineered-in comfort and stable handling, previously absent from regular aero bikes.
An aero road bike’s deep wheel rims slice through the air. The rear wheel sits snug behind the frame seat tube. The brakes are usually tucked behind the fork blades and seat stays. The bars will be lower than a classic road bike’s to make you as aerodynamic as can be.
Combine these aerodynamic elements and the results are impressive. Aero road bike pioneers, Cervélo, conducted trials, which showed that club riders who averaged 30km/h (18mph) on 20km time trials dropped their time from 40 minutes to under 39 minutes when they switched from a Cervélo classic road bike to the equivalent Cervélo aero road bike.
Which is the best road bike for me?
As with any type of bike, this depends on where you ride it. The example of pro cyclists who have the luxury of switching bikes is illuminating.
On a stage race such as the Tour de France, most of the peloton will be on aero road bikes on the long flat stages.
Once the gradient gets steeper than 5% for a club rider or 8% for a pro, gravity slows you down more than wind drag so light weight and a more comfortable climbing position become more important than aerodynamics. Most riders therefore switch to the lighter weight classic road bike on hilly and mountain stages.
On less smooth roads, the riders will often switch to endurance road bikes whose more stable, cushioned ride enables them to ride faster over cobbled secteurs. Hence Specialized’s smoother is faster strapline for their multi Paris-Roubaix-winning endurance bikes, the Roubaix and the Ruby.
The other governing factor when choosing a bike is how you prefer to sit on it. If you can’t comfortably ride with your back lower than a 45˚ angle, you’re not going to get on too well with an aero road bike whose bars are 10cm lower than the saddle.
To help you chose what suits you best, we can offer you short or long test rides on each style of ride bikes.
Whichever bike you opt for, we’re pretty confident we can offer you the ride of your life.
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