If you've fallen in love with riding on tarmac and want to purchase a road specific bike to take your cycling experience to the next level, Bex Hopkins demystify's what you should expect from your budget when buying the best road bike.
Steering you through the world of road bikes, Bex arms you with the need to know basics, from the style of road bikes available, to the components you need to pay attention to, before delving into what a bike should feature in the various price brackets.
Getting started, do your research!
If you’re about to embark on buying the best road bike we’d suggest you visit a couple of shops, find out your size and test ride a few before hand. If you don’t know where to start, then have a chat to the sales person and see what they suggest, tell them what sort of riding you’re looking to do and think ahead – what sort of riding do you want to do next year?
Read our ‘Buying Your First Bike’ article for useful info on what you need to look out for when shopping for a new bike.
Types of road bikes
They may all look similar but the geometry of road bike frames differ sufficiently depending on their intended purpose.
An endurance bike aimed at sportive riders will offer a more relaxed riding position thanks to a slightly higher bar position and be more comfortable on longer rides, than a bike designed for racing on. A race bike will have a lower, more aerodynamic ride position and sharper handling; everything designed for maximum speed and agility.
It’s worth mentioning that there are also flat-barred road bikes that are both popular and comfortable to ride, however, for now, our focus is on those bikes with drop handlebars aimed at pure road cycling.
When you’re getting down to the nitty gritty, always start with the frame, it’s the most important, expensive part, truly the heart of the bike. If you get the frame right, over time you can upgrade your components, so it’s a worthwhile spending time to get the right frame.
There are a number of choices for frame material, namely steel, titanium, carbon fibre, and aluminium. They all make excellent road frames but have different properties, costs and ride feel.
Steel is slightly heavier than the other frame materials but offers a high degree of comfort, it’s very strong, can be repaired easily, and is highly desirable. Nowadays, it’s mostly used for custom frame builds, where a frame and bike is specifically designed and built for an individual rider to order.
Not so long ago most frames were built using steel, today Reynolds and Columbus are still the most popular tube suppliers, but be prepared to pay extra for the premium product.
Entry-level and beginner road bikes tend to be constructed from Aluminium tubing, they are lightweight, stiff and easy to manufacture.
Higher end bikes can also be made from aluminium but these have butted tubes, with varying wall thickness and shaped tubes to enhance comfort and reduce weight.
Titanium shares some strength and comfort properties with steel, yet it is lighter and more expensive due to the high cost of the raw materials and the extra care needed during construction. It’s highly desirable and often used for custom-built bikes.
4. Carbon fibre
Carbon fibre is a wonder material for frame design, it allows for variety in shape and is incredibly light and strong. Quality and price varies dramatically depending on the type of fibres and the manufacturing processes used.
Previously it was only found on high-end race bikes but today the technical qualities, including being very comfortable and compliant, have trickled down to more affordable models, entry-level models.
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All road bikes come equipped with one of three main manufacturers groupsets, we’re talking about the moving parts such as the gear shifters, and derailleurs, brakes and levers, made by Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM. The more expensive the bike the better the groupset, the lighter and more reliable the components will be and the better the performance too.
Shimano offers groupsets from the entry level 2300 range through Sora, Tiagra, 105 and Ultegra, up to the top end professional level Dura-Ace range.
Campagnolo ranges start at Veloce, increasing in cost and performance through Centaur, Athena, Chorus, Record and Super Record. SRAM are newer to the market and have four ranges, Apex, Rival, Force and top of the SRAM pile, Red.
The most noticeable differences between manufacturers are the way they’ve designed the shifters, they all work well but in slightly different ways. The levers, or buttons, are positioned differently, and the feel and fit of these may well be the deciding factor for some riders.
At the top end of the spectrum are electronic gears, it sounds rather futuristic and somewhat lazy, but the electronic systems from Shimano and Campagnolo really are extremely precise, reliable, and effortless too!
The next area for choice is the chain-set, you can opt for a triple (that’s three rings if you haven’t already guessed) or a double chain-set. A triple chain-set is oriented towards riders who seek out the mountain, as it offers more gear options for climbing steeper hills.
More recently compact double chain-sets with smaller rings are used due to weight saving (losing a chain ring, means dropping weight) and ease of use.
Wheels are of vital importance, we don’t just mean having wheels, but having the lightest and most appropriate for the task in hand can significantly improve your ride. A bad pair of wheels can ruin an otherwise great bike, so get the best and lightest you can afford to enhance the way the bike handles and responds.
Like the frame, wheels make a huge impact on how the bike rides, so unlike other components that you can upgrade later, it’s worth buying your new road bike with a set you’re happy with.
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Budget: What should you expect for your money?
Starting at the entry-level road bike range, that’s about £700 in real money, you’ll get a decent double butted aluminium frame with carbon bladed fork and a Shimano Sora groupset. Head up towards £800 and the bikes will include more Shimano Tiagra parts to entice you in.
It's worth having a look at our 8 of the Best Road Bikes Under £500 and 10 of the best 2014 women’s road bikes under £1000 if you're looking for a cheaper model with great value to start with.
Moving on up to the £1000 price range the extra money will get you a lighter aluminium frame with butted tubing, meaning the tubes are tapered in thickness to reduce weight while still being strong and stiff in the areas needed.
Not all frames in this price range are purely aluminium so look out for the occasional frame with carbon inserts or tubes. Have a read of our ‘Six of the Best Women’s Road Bikes around £1000’ article for more details on our best road bike picks for this price range.
Once you get to the £1000 price band bikes the lightweight aluminium frames come equipped with more reliable groupsets, likely to be Shimano Tiagra or Campagnolo Veloce, resulting in smoother gear changes that will feel more accurate and reliable.
This price range caters for riders who may want to ride further and faster, tick off some sportives or simply want a reliable ride at weekends.
You can expect carbon bladed forks, the healthy upgrade to carbon fibre reduces weight and also makes for a more comfortable ride, the carbon fibre reduces road buzz and vibration. If you really want a carbon fibre frame then you’ll most likely need to stretch to £1200, at this price point the choice for best road bikes then explodes.
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Serious riders looking to spend £1500 will be treated to a race ready groupset, most likely Shimano 105, keep you eyes open for occasional upgraded Ultegra component thrown in for good measure.
This price category will give you a really good start into the lightweight and performance road bike field. You’ll be ready to race or kick some ass on the sportive scene, long distances will be a breeze and you’ll certainly enjoy the reduced weight a carbon fibre frame brings.
Have a read up of our best road bikes over £1500 for an insight in what models are good to lookout for when buying.
It’s quite a jump to the next price bracket, although this varies depending on the manufacturers you compare. If you’re thinking of spending £2500 then look out for a carbon fibre frame fitted with Shimano Ultegra and 105 mixed groupsets.
Aim for as much Ultegra componentry as you can, these parts are lighter and even more reliable than 105, which we already said is worthy of racing stripes.
This price point starts to see lightweight wheel sets that feel compliant and ride fast, whether you opt for a race geometry or a more relaxed frame geometry you’ll certainly benefit from a quality wheelset. You should expect a splattering of carbon fibre parts, usually in the form of a seatpost, saddle rails as well as full carbon forks.
We mean forks with a carbon steerer tube - this is the tube section that fits up inside the frame and attaches to the headset and stem, rather than a heavier and cheaper aluminium steerer.
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Spending as much on a bike as you would a car, means you are a real enthusiast. In the £3000 plus price range, you will get a more expensive, read into that ‘lighter, more comfortable and faster,’ carbon fibre frame. We’re talking enhanced quality here with some nice features like internal cable routing, E2 tapered headtube and full carbon fork.
Components will be all Shimano Ultegra or comparable Campagnolo parts, even the parts you can’t easily see such as the bottom bracket and headset will be of higher quality, lighter and last longer. You should aim for a carbon fibre crankset as well as a carbon seatpost. Spend over £3400 and you’re into the realms of electronic gearing, integrated bottom brackets and super lightweight wheel sets.
And if you're looking for an expensive ride, or wondering how much the most someone has ever spent on a bike before, our 10 of the Most Expensive Bikes in the World is definitely worth a read.
Budget: If money were no object
So, how much do you need for a top of the range Shimano Dura-Ace equipped road bike? Brace yourselves now, £6500 would get you a top end race warrior, but should you prefer an electronic groupset like Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 then expect to spend more like £8500. Better get saving those pennies now!
We hope you have a great deal of fun and excitement choosing your new ride, take your time and savour the experience in order to find the best road bike out there.
Although we recommend spending as much as you can to get the best bike possible, we’re not advocating you get into debt, set a budget and stick to it. Don't forget, it is worth looking at interest free purchases or spreading the cost monthly so you get the right bike for your needs.
Go on – you deserve it!
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