How to buy a road bike

Bike Buying Mistakes

Bike Buying Mistakes

Guest Post by Michael


A month or 3 ago, I wrote a series of posts about how to buy a bicycle. Lisa asked me to write a little ditty about how I know about what type of bike you should (and more importantly, should not) buy.

I have never worked in a bike store, or retail sales for that matter. I am simply a person that has purchased the wrong bike before — possibly twice. I may not have sales experience, but I do have wrong bike purchasing experience and I hope to explain where I went wrong so you don’t repeat my mistakes.

Novara Fusion Bike - 2006

My first bike — The 2006 Novara Fusion from REI. This looks JUST like what I wanted. It’s got a rack on the back I can attach bags too so I don’t have to carry a backpack. It’s got lights on the front and the rear to increase my visibility on the road — two on the front even! The bars are flat so I’ll be comfortable while I ride instead of bent over looking like a speed demon, I just want to get to work and back, I’m not trying to set land speed records. Other features included fenders, a kickstand, and nice and big soft saddle. But the thing I liked most about it was the way it looked. I loved the utility look of it including the  colors.

So what’s wrong with this? Well, almost everything really. To start, this bike weighs about 35 lbs. To put that in perspective, my current bike weighs about 20 lbs. Carrying unnecessary weight with you will ultimately make you work harder and enjoy your ride less.

Why was it so heavy? It looks like a normal bike, right? It’s heavy because one of the two lights on the front is powered by a generator built into the rear wheel. As you pedal the light is lit up. The other light on the front of the bike is powered by batteries. Who needs two lights on the front? I mean, motorcycles don’t have two lights and one is sufficient. Either you’re going to be seen or you’re not. Having more than one light isn’t going to help that cause. So I took the light off that’s powered by the generator. That had to weigh a pound or two. It’s massive. Ok, now I’ve got one light on the front and one light on the rear.

Next up, the fenders. The fenders are nice and really, they’re a worthy  consideration for any bike. But you need to ask yourself if you’re actually going to ride in the rain or not. If the answer is no, then you do not need  fenders. At all, ever. And if you do actually find a puddle randomly that you  have to ride through, you’ll be just fine — unless you’re actually a wicked witch and if you are, you should probably be riding a broom instead of a bike. I  occasionally ride my bike in the rain (or when I know there’s a chance of rain
forecasted) and I do not have fenders on my current bicycle. It’s really not an issue when you have some proper rain gear anyway. I left the fenders on this bike though. They had long metal bars that attached them to the axle and it looked complicated to take them off. Plus, I might ride it in the rain! Note — I never road it in the rain.

What else is wrong with this bike? Not much really, it comes down to preference at this point. I ultimately concluded that I am not much of a fan of the flat handlebars because you cannot ever change the position of your hands which ultimately can lead to fatigue that goes well beyond your hands and arms. Changing your hand position occasionally can relieve pressure/fatigue to your entire body. Because of this, I concluded that I wanted drop style handlebars.

I also realized that I cannot ever go fast or feel nimble on this bike. The wider more versatile wheels coupled with the weight of the bike would always prevent that from happening and while I bought this bike to commute to work, I also wanted to think that I was capable of hauling ass whenever I wanted. In a way, I felt like a speed demon that was being held back by my equipment. This was when I decided to buy a road bike.

Novara Divano

This was the 2nd bike I bought — The 2008 Novara Divano again from REI. This looks JUST like what I wanted. An entry level road bike. It’s light and felt both fast and nimble. And it’s red and white, it has to be perfect, right? Not so fast…

There are some things that you cannot fully realize while you’re buying a bike if you’ve not owned one in a long time. In this case, I was unaware of what gears I needed in my bike. Most of us remember phrases like “10-speeds” which referred to bikes with 10 different cogs on their rear cassette and one in the front. Since the invention of these, bicycle manufacturers have also increased the number of cog wheels connected to the crank arms from 1 to as many as 3. This gives you many more gearing options — as many as 30 (3 in the front, 10 in the back). The problem with this for me is that many of these gears were redundant, especially in the middle. It seemed like there were like 8 combinations of front and rear gearing that would produce essentially the same results in efforts and speed. Not only do I not need this, it’s really just adding weight and complication to my bike which makes it harder to ride and more prone to error (ie — throw the chain off the gear).

The second thing that I realized was a problem is that there are a lot of hills on my commute and I have to really hunker down and put out a ton of effort to reach the summit of some of them. With this bike, I heard creaking. Creaking shakes down to power and efficiencies that are lost. And trust me, when you’re riding up a hill, you want that to be as easy as it possibly can.

As I look back upon this purchase, I realize that I bought it largely because I was scared about buying a road bike again and wanted to make a minimal commitment so I bought a beginner’s bike without properly doing my research. This type of bike is fine for many people, myself included, but I got more serious about riding and wanted to get a bike that I could comfortably ride for 4+ hours in a day. For that, you will want a carbon framed bike.

2009 Cannondale Six Carbon 3

This was the 3rd bike I bought — The 2009 Cannondale Six Carbon 3 from a store that’s been voted the #1 bike retailer in the nation — River City Bikes. When I was approached by a sales person, I told them that I was looking for a bike that I could use for commuting that would also work for occasional Centuries. He showed me a bike with a carbon frame and I was quick to say that I didn’t think I could afford this today. I did not want to spend $2000+ for a bike and that’s where these types of bikes usually start. Well, it turned out to be my lucky day because this $2300 bike was 30% off as it was an older model and they wanted to get it out of the store. I was able to negotiate for an additional 10% off and I left the store with a carbon framed bike. I was blown away with the deal I had gotten.

 

The frame is fully made of carbon as are the seat posts and front fork. I  replaced the saddle pretty quickly as this one didn’t fit me well. A few months later, I found a killer deal on some carbon handlebars to replace the stem and metal bars. These days, I’m 100% carbon. It’s by far the lightest, stiffest, and most comfortable riding bike I’ve ever owned. These days I’m able to attack many of the hills I encounter comfortably. There are two cog wheels in the front and 10 in the back which produces 20 gears in total. There are only a few combinations that result in duplicate gearing so I feel like I’ve gotten the best gearing options which were available at the time.

But it’s not all good stuff with this bike, there are some issues. The carbon bars that I upgraded to are too large around to attach a light too. There’s simply not a good workaround for this but it’s also to be expected. I bought top of the line carbon fiber bars that pro-cyclists use for racing. These bars were designed for Mark Cavendish who is currently one of the top sprinters in the world.

Mark Cavendish

Similarly, you cannot attach a rack to a racing bike and you cannot drill holes into it to allow for this. This isn’t a big deal but it pretty much means that I cannot take this bike to the grocery store because of the lack of storage options. Again, it’s a tradeoff that I’m OK with because the joy of riding on a carbon bike greatly outweighs the occasional inconveniences I experience.


So what’s next? I would like to get a bike that I can take to the grocery store. That would look something like this bike, the Novara Randonee. This isn’t exactly what I want though so it won’t be what I end up buying but I do like the traditional look of the saddle and bar tape. It’s just got far too many gears for my tastes…


I’ll probably get a bike like this in 2012 so if you see something that looks  sharp, let me know!

 

Lisa’s Note: As a newbie cyclist, I also made a mistake with my bike purchase. For me it came down to one factor: COST. I was new to cycling and had never owned a road bike. I’d been using my old mountain bike from my childhood, and then I borrowed one of Michael’s old Hybrids for awhile. I was reluctant to spend a lot of money on a bike for a lot of reasons, the main being: I was a runner. I was training for Hood to Coast and my focus was on running. The cycling thing was just something I was doing “for fun” with my boyfriend. Now that I am more serious about it and training for a Century, I regret buying such a heavy bike. My road bike is an entry-level Raleigh that was on clearance. It fit my body and it was in my price range. Now, I notice what a difference extra weight makes. Riding up hills is a chore because my bike weighs so much.

QUESTION: Have you regretted a bike purchase? What bikes are you interested in?

How to Buy a Road Bike

Lisa’s Note: Some of this information might be over your head if you’re a newbie biker. Don’t worry–Michael explains it all pretty well. While this is a lengthy post with lots of technical detail, I suggest you save this post for the future when you decide it’s time to buy a road bike. It will come in handy when trying to figure out the difference between all the options!

This is Part 2 of How to Buy a Bike

See Part 1 Here.

by Michael

Having previously discussed why you shouldn’t buy a cruiser, let’s discuss why the vast majority of you should be shopping for either a road or hybrid bike. In this instance, a hybrid bike refers to any number of terms given to bikes like commuter, town or city bike. There are a lot of words for these types of bikes but the reality is that they’re bikes intended to be ridden on pavement the majority of the time and have flat handlebars.

The differences between these bikes are, for the most part subtle. The entire focus of a road bike is on performance. This means that they tend to weigh less. Road cyclists are usually obsessed with their weight and the weight of their equipment. I heard Lance Armstrong say that for every extra pound you carry, you will lose about 1 mph of speed. He’s of course talking about weight and how it relates to the highest levels of competition but the point is important. The more your bike weighs, the more you’re going to struggle to ride it. The more you struggle to ride your bike, the less you’re going to want to ride it.

The focus of hybrid bikes is versatility. The main differences are the following:

Flat handle bars
Wider tires
A more upright (or less aggressive) position
Different shifters and sometimes different brakes

Hybrid - Flat Bars
Road Bike

The flat handle bars are intended to offer the most comfortable riding position possible. When you’re on a road bike, you will find yourself resting your hands on the back of the brake levers 90% of the time.

This is the most comfortable position on a road bike but you’re supposed to carry your weight on the “karate chopping” portion of your hand, not the palm. If you carry your weight in the middle of your palms on the back of the brakes on a road bike, your hands will eventually go numb. I found this out the hard way last year when I road 80+ miles of Reach The Beach. The flat bars on hybrid bikes are rounded and this should enable you to ride for expended periods of time without loss of sensation in your hands.

The wider tires give you more contact with the pavement. This will result in better traction when you encounter unusual surfaces like dirt and gravel. However, a wider tire will weigh more and result in more friction. This will cause an increase in difficulty when pedaling. These tires can be smooth like road bike tires, knobby like mountain bike tires, or something in between the two.

Riding with a more upright position may be easier on your back, depending on your weight. Keep in mind that the more upright that you sit, the more weigh you’ll be carrying on your saddle and therefore are more prone to saddle related discomfort. We should probably talk about why road bikes have such an aggressive riding position at this point.

Often times it appears that people on road bikes are attempting to look like racers even though they are clearly not racers. What’s the point of this aggressive riding position if you’re not racing? There are two real reasons that I can think of. First, you’ll encounter less wind related resistance as you get lower. This makes it easier to ride when it’s windy, especially when you the lowest part of the bars (called the drops) and really reduce your riding height. The other, and most important reason, is that you will carry a larger percentage of your weight split between the saddle and the handlebars which will increase the duration that you can ride in a session. By reducing the weight that you carry over the saddle, you’ll find it to be more comfortable to ride for longer periods of time.


Better weight distribution = Less potential discomfort

The only negative aspect of having flat bars on your bike that I can think of is that you don’t have variety and your arms may grow tired after you’ve been riding for awhile. You can install bar ends which can give you some variety which shouldn’t add much weight.

Bar Ends

Shifters and Brakes

Shifters can be quite different between the bikes. Hybrid shifters work either by flicking thumb/index finger levers to go up/down gears or by rotating the grips (less common). You may find yourself accidentally shifting gears with the grip style shifters when you least want it. Road bikes typically have the shifters as a component of the brakes. You nudge the levers to shift up/down. Road bike shifters can be reached from atop the brakes or down on the drops.

Thumb Shifters - Mountain/Hybrid Bikes

Brake Shifters – Road Bikes

Hybrid bikes can also have an internal hub for gearing which prevents the chain from accidentally flying off the gears. It’s supposed to be a fool-proof system, if you will but comes with some additional weight. Systems like this almost guarantee that if something goes wrong, you’ll need to take it to a shop for repair.

And finally, brakes. There are basically two types of brakes for hybrids — caliper based and disc brakes. Caliper brakes apply a rubber pad to the rim of your tire(s) to slow it down. Disc brakes have an additional metal plate around the axle of your wheels and a caliper presses against them to slow you down. Disc brakes provide better stopping power but they tend to be heavier and sometimes these are powered by fluid which makes them even heavier.

Caliper Brakes
Disc Brakes

The frames on both can be made out of metal (aluminum, steel, or an alloy) or a man-made composite, like carbon fiber. Each has an advantage but each also comes with drastically different price points. Aluminum bikes tend to be the most affordable and are usually featured on entry-level bikes. Steal will cost you a little bit more, be a little bit heavier, but will absorb more of the bumps on the road than aluminum will. People that ride steal bikes love them as they are pure and old school. Carbon fiber will be the most expensive option available, the lightest option available, and will absorb a ton of road noise. The pros all ride carbon fiber.

Carrying Your Stuff

The last thing to consider is how you’re going to carry your stuff with you on a bike and you need to make this decision before you buy a bike. Backpacks are comfortable but you will get hot wearing one. I prefer to ride with a backpack but it’s also pretty cool in the pacific northwest so heat isn’t the same concern here that it is elsewhere. They now make backpacks meant for cyclists. These often have a soft frame that gives the backpack more shape which will prevent whatever you’re carrying in the bag from annoying you while you ride. If you want a messenger bag, make sure you get one that has a strap that goes under your arm as well. This prevents the bag from rotating around your body when you pedal. Messenger bags are nice because you can easily access all your stuff while you’re on the bike, should you need to.

Messenger Bag

The other popular solution is pannier bags. The important thing here is to make sure that your bike frame is compatible with racks because you have to screw them into your frame to attach them. I have never seen this as an option for a carbon fiber frame and it’s not always an option on road bikes. It is usually an option on hybrids but you will certainly want to know this when you buy your bike.

Pannier Bags

Bottom Line: MONEY

What’s all this going to run you? Well, your entry-level road and hybrid bikes are going to set you back about $700-$1200. $1200-2000 you can get an upgrade in many components and at $2000+ you can get rigged with the silky smooth carbon fiber.

Don’t forget to budget for a helmet, pump, lights, and maybe a trainer!

Here’s how I’d make the decision between the two bikes:

If you’re getting something to ride less than a couple of hours a week and want to run errands on, you should be leaning toward a hybrid. If you want to be able to ride over an hour per session and don’t intend to ever take it off-road, you should get a road bike.

Lisa’s QUESTION: Are you considering a bike purchase? If you already have a bike, how often do you use it for fun and fitness?