Buying your first road bike by Jon Melson
Need more advice when buying a road bike. Read John Melsons advice on buying your first road bike. He has five top tips.
First Road bike
I can remember every bike I have ever owned; from my first little silver Raleigh with stabilisers right through to the time-trial bike which hangs on my garage wall now, like something from the Tron movie with carbon bar extensions and a disc wheel.
As a child of the 80’s I was born when BMX in its heyday, but perhaps as sign of things to come I never had a ‘proper’ BMX- just a 16” kids version before a series of 7 mountain bikes which took me from ages 9 to nearly 40.
My friends all had BMX’s or mountain bikes, too. Nobody had a ‘road bike’ unless it was a rusty relic hand-me-down. In fact we knew nothing about road bikes except they had skinny wheels, drop handlebars and the gear shifters on the frame. Read our beginners guide to road bikes.
Who’d want that?
Well, by the time I was 30 I wanted that. I was tired of getting muddy or needing to drive for an hour just to find trails to ride, I wanted to own a road bike and be part of the resurging scene- lycra shorts and the whole shebang. But just like teenage me, I didn’t really know much about road bikes beyond the cursory stuff. Read some road and mountain biking techniques.
Here are five pieces of advice for starting our right when choosing your bike:
You do get what you pay for (up to a point)
A fun, rewarding, confidence inspiring bike must be lightweight, well-built and responsive. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t use it- and it’s money wasted.
Get the best bike you can afford, whether that’s new or used. I don’t advocate getting a second mortgage but upwards of £600 for a new bike and £350 for a used example is a sensible start.
Or should I say ‘fit matters’. Road bikes are measured in top tube length, not seat tube- so this means the reach is the key measurement.
When trying bikes start by setting the saddle height correctly, then sitting on the bike and trying your hands in three positions.
On the flats of the bars (the main handlebar)- this should feel relaxed.
One the hoods (where the brake lever tops are)- this should feel more purposeful.
On the drops (the curled section of the bar)- this is the attack position. It’ll feel odd at first but it should be attainable.
With a curved back the reach should feel natural; if you’re too stretched it’ll feel like the bars are a long way away, if too cramped your arms will be heavily bent at the elbow.
With your feet on the pedals turn them so the cranks are horizontal. Now turn the handlebar. Does the wheel hit your toe? This is toe overlap, a little is to be expected but if too much consider sizing up.
Don’t be afraid to try different frame sizes; the correct fit is the most important factor in your purchase.
21st Century Technology
Fortunately, things have moved on since I was a teen and on most road bikes the gears are now combined with the brakes (no longer on the frame). A few other things have changed, too- here’s what you need to know:
Frames are typically alloy or carbon, with carbon generally a more expensive material. If budget allows a carbon frame will be light, rigid in key areas and compliant in others. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker though (my bikes are alloy) and a great compromise is an alloy frame with carbon fork.
Disc brakes appeared around 5yrs ago; they offer superior braking power to rim brakes, with the added benefit that they won’t wear the rim (as the pads use a hub mounted disc, instead). They’re great if you intend on riding through the winter, on gravel or plan in putting in thousands of miles. They are expensive, however, and not even all of the pro riders use them.
Even just five years ago recreational riders used ‘clincher’ tyres- that’s a tyre which hooks into the rim and uses an innertube. Pro riders used tubular tyres (‘tubs’), these combined the tube and tyre into one component, offer reduced rolling resistance and weight.
The new kid on the block is Tubeless; like a clincher the tyre is retained by the rim but is airtight. Tubeless tyres can be more difficult to change but offer the advantage of less weight- so doesn’t need a tube. They also resist pinch punctures.
Buy Online or Instore?
It’s true that the best deals can often be found online; reduced overheads make e-commerce far more cost effective. But if you’re new to the sport or still in the process of learning, the value which comes from your Local Bike Shop (LBS) is invaluable.
Experienced staff in-store will be able to tell you immediately which bike is right for you and answer all of those awkward questions about maintenance, upgrades and accessories.
If, however, you’re prepared to embark on a voyage of discovery then by all means buy online; you’re reading this so you’re not averse to researching online!
YouTube has literally thousands of videos to help with problem solving and buying advice, not to mention the number of active forums.
If you really get stuck then of course your LBS will help you but don’t expect them to do it for free. Even if a fix takes just a few minutes it’s their knowledge which has as much value as their time.
Ride. Wash. Wrench. Repeat
Now you’ve got your bike don’t be afraid to ride and enjoy it… but PLEASE wash it!
Apart from helping to maintain the value in the bike and keeping it running smoothly, it offers the opportunity to learn about your bike and how it works.
Buy a quality bike wash (not washing up liquid, it damages the bike) and a degreaser. Clean the bike regularly and degrease the chain.
After cleaning lubricate the cables by popping the outers out of the cable stops and using a Teflon based spray. Pay special attention to which cable operates which component and how it works.
Use a purpose made chain oil or wax, applying liberally to the chain and pulley wheels- again look at the chain and follow its path.
By cleaning a bike you get to know it and you’re more likely to spot a fault or a loose bolt; it could literally save your life if you discover a pedal is loose or your quick release skewer is undone.
Give the bike a visual inspection after every wash to look for tears in tyres, worn brake pads, frayed cables or anything else which could result in your next ride ending with a trip home in a taxi.
share your opinion – I’d love to hear your thoughts!