Road Bike buying guide

Alex Godbout Simard
  • 10 minutes
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Buying a bike might seem like a simple task, but there are plenty of things to consider to zero-in on the perfect bike for you. Different bikes are designed for different purposes and the price should not be the only deciding factor. The process of choosing the right bike is even harder nowadays with the apparition of different sub-types of road bikes. Let’s start with what defines a road bike before moving on to its different subtypes.

What is a Road Bike?

Road bikes are designed for riders seeking speed and efficiency on tarmac and asphalt roads. If you are looking for information on gravel or cyclocross bikes, please refer to our Cyclocross/Gravel Buying Guide.

Although features and performance vary between brands and models, lightweight, agility, speed and efficiency are key characteristics of all road bikes. Some common features that help differentiate road bikes from other types include:

  • Narrow, high pressure and smooth tires to minimize rolling resistance
  • Bent or dropped handlebars, allowing riders to lean downward/forward and decreasing air resistance (hybrid road bikes have a flat bar)
  • Mostly use derailleur gears, but fixed-gear and single-speed versions are also available
  • Lightweight construction of the frame and other components
  • Usually geared faster than other types such as mountain bikes and have fewer climbing gears
  • Few or lack of mounting points for racks and panniers compared to adventure-oriented bikes or commuters.
  • Lack of front or rear suspension
  • Tight tire clearance

Who Should Consider Buying a Road Bike?

Road bikes are not just for racing and sporting events. They are a fun way to improve fitness and designed for a variety of activities including weekend stage races, evening criteriums, weekly group rides, and century rides. Road bikes are suitable for beginner riders, enthusiasts as well as competitive cyclists.

Regardless of the type of road bike you plan on buying, it’s important to know what size works for you. Some suggest trying a bike in-person, but you can also buy online if you know how to determine the right size. Bicycle geometry charts are probably the easiest and most straight forward way to figure out which bike is right for you. It's important to note that not all manufacturers have the same size ranges and standards. Therefore, when browsing on our

website, always make sure to properly check the sizing chart corresponding to the right bike. Our customer service agents are here to help!

Types of Road Bikes

The ever-expanding range of different types of road bikes can make the buying decision difficult. Therefore, it’s important to understand the differences between the four road sub-types below:

The Race Bike

Race bikes are lightweight, stripped down, and aerodynamically designed for speed and efficiency. These bikes are suitable for anything related to going fast, including speed thrills and racing, but not so much for long-riding and touring. Key characteristics of race bikes include:

  • Skinny tires, usually 25mm wide
  • Lightweight frames, high-end bikes come with frames made of carbon fiber
  • Low rolling resistance
  • Aggressive geometry
  • Nervous handling

Who Should Consider Buying a Race Bike?

Race bikes are intended for riders wanting to blast down the road as quickly as possible. Although many consider road bikes to be uncomfortable and stiff, that’s not always the case if they are set up properly. No wonder professional racers ride on race bikes for weeks on end, which would have been very difficult if they were so uncomfortable.

The high-pressure skinny tires can transmit road vibration, which is why these bikes are meant for smooth roads. These bikes are not the best option if you are only looking for a bike for cruising and touring as they are designed to serve a different purpose.

Cons of Race Bikes

Since race bikes are designed for paved roads and focus on speed and efficiency, they are not very suitable for long tours and uneven surfaces. You probably also would not want to use a multi-thousand-dollar bike for daily commuting due to the comfort factor and that it might get stolen. Race bikes are designed for a particular purpose and if that’s not your game, you’d probably be better off with a more versatile option.

The Aero Road Bike

As the name suggests, Aero road bikes are designed to cheat the wind as much as possible, since air resistance is the greatest obstacle to overcome when going 30 km/h or more. These bikes are a hybrid of race bikes (lightweight and designed for speed) and triathlon road bikes (designed for max speed on flat roads). What differentiates Aero road bikes from other types of road bikes is their geometry which puts the rider in an even more aggressive race position. They have aerodynamically optimized tubing, handlebars, wheels, brakes, and other parts, which all help riders to cut through the wind more efficiently. The brakes of these bikes are also often placed behind other parts of the bike to minimize wind resistance. Although an Aero bike looks pretty similar to a racing bike, things are a little different under the hood. Aero bikes are wind-tunnel-tested to minimize drag and help the rider achieve more speed than standard racing bikes.

Some key features that make Aero Bikes stand-out include:

  • The aggressive and angular geometry
  • Shorter head tube (results in lower frontal profile) e.g. 140mm head tube of medium-sized aero bikes vs. 160mm+ of endurance bikes
  • Aero tube profiles (long and thick)
  • Deep section wheels (40-80mm, can make control difficult in windy conditions)
  • Lower-than-usual position
  • Wind-tunnel tested
  • Longer frame reach
  • Larger gear ratio on some aero bikes oriented for speed more than climbing

Who Should Consider Buying an Aero Road Bike?

Aero bikes are designed for riders who are willing to compromise a little bit on comfort for better aerodynamics and speed. These bikes can be less comfortable than other road bikes because of their comparatively low position and larger fairings. Most of these bikes are made of carbon fiber, which itself is lightweight and strong. However, more of the material is used to make the bike more aerodynamic, therefore they tend to weigh a bit more than racing road bikes.

Despite the aero bikes being less comfortable and heavier than racing bikes, the reason riders choose them over other road bikes is that they can help save quite some time during a long flat course. Due to the additional weight and low position, aero bikes are not considered to be a good choice for climbing-heavy rides.

Cons of Aero Bikes

The main disadvantage of Aero road bikes is that they can make it difficult for riders to hold themselves in the intended/optimal position for long periods of time. Riders may start to feel uncomfortable when trying to hold the aerodynamic position these bikes are intended for during longer rides. Forcing yourself into the lowered position not only means you lose the aerodynamic benefits but it can even cause an injury if not properly adapted.

The Endurance Bike

Also known as sportive bikes, endurance bikes are perfect for those who want a good balance between comfort and speed. Compared to racing and aero bikes, endurance bikes have a more upright position, making them more comfortable for long distances. They are usually the best option for folks getting into road cycling or people living in areas where the roads are rough. Key characteristics of endurance bikes include:

  • More upright set up for a comfortable sitting position
  • Wider tires can be installed due to larger clearances
  • Some come with vibration-dampening inserts for more comfort on (slightly) uneven roads
  • Wide gearing range as typical in road bikes, perfect for steeper or longer climbs
  • Slightly tweaked frame geometry for steadier handling on long routes
  • Less stiff tubes than race bikes, which again translates into more comfort

Who Should Consider Buying an Endurance Bike?

Endurance/sportive bikes are designed for riders who want to ride far and fast, and although not as fast as racing and aero bikes, they are considered a great option for touring and covering long distances. These are also the most popular road bikes and great for riders who find the position of race/aero bikes too aggressive.

Cons of Endurance Bikes

Although endurance bikes are a lot like racing bikes, an advanced rider would feel a bit limited by its upright geometry and more stable handling. Sportive bikes are primarily meant for mass-participation, long-distance events in which endurance and comfort are prioritized over speed. However, improved comfort comes at the expense of aerodynamic efficiency. That’s why they are not so suitable for short adrenaline-fueled rides or racing where speed and efficiency are key.

The Wrap-up

Each sub-type of road bikes has a defined purpose, but many of them also have shared attributes. Racing and aero bikes are meant for enthusiasts and people who want to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of their bikes. Endurance bikes are designed for riders who want to travel fast and far and need a certain degree of comfort the other types usually don’t offer.