How to Choose a Road Bike? Everything you Need to Know! [GUIDE]

How to Choose a Road Bike

Whether you struggle with choosing a road bike type or you want to learn more about road bikes in general, you are in the right place.

In this article, you find out:

  • What types of road bikes are there?
  • Which one is the right for you based on your riding style?
  • What are the pros & cons of different frame materials?
  • What components to expect in various price ranges?
  • How to chose a road bike size?
  • And much more!

Feel free to navigate using the table of contents below.


Types of Road Bikes

Before you buy your next road bike, you should know what type of rider you are and how you want to use your road bike.

Every type of road bike is suitable for slightly different use and rider type. So, before we jump onto the individual road bike types, answer these questions:

  • What is your budget for a new bike?
  • Do you want to ride on paved surfaces only, or do you want to include light terrain as well?
  • Are you performance-oriented, or do you want the enjoy casual road rides?
types of road bikes
Basic types of road bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of canyon.com and trekbikes.com

Endurance Road Bikes

Endurance road bikes are the best road bikes for beginners, in my opinion. Their geometry allows you to sit in a more upright position that doesn’t put as much pressure on your intimate parts and hands. Their frame geometry is, therefore, more comfortable than performance or aero road bikes and ideal for people with limited flexibility.

On the other hand, a more upright position is less aerodynamic and slower. But, it doesn’t mean you can’t use endurance road bikes for racing. I met plenty of amateur road cyclists in hobby races who prefer comfort over speed.

If you have a limited budget, an endurance road bike may be a good option for you because they are the most affordable. Performance and aero road bikes are more expensive.

According to The Pros Closet, endurance road bikes should fit at least 28mm tires. These tires will provide you with extra comfort, and you will also be able to ride on paved roads and tarmac or light gravel.

Performance Road Bikes

Performance road bikes are also sometimes called lightweight or race road bikes. They are very like endurance road bikes. The main difference lies in their frame geometry. It is more aggressive than endurance bike geometry. This means it forces the rider into a more aerodynamic (racing) position with a lower drag coefficient which is faster.

They are perfect for road races (especially for criteriums and hilly races) and performance-oriented riders. Entry-level performance road bikes start at around $1500 and can above $10,000 for the pro models.

Top-end performance road bike with rim brakes, top-end components, and carbon frame weigh around 13.23 lb (6 kg). But, remember that the UCI limit is 14.99 lb (6.8 kg).

Aero Road Bikes

Aero road bikes are optimized to be as aerodynamic as possible. They allow riding in an aerodynamic position that is more aggressive compared to endurance road bikes. It requires a good level of flexibility, so aero (and performance) bikes tend to be less comfortable than endurance road bikes.

On the other hand, aero road bikes are fast and offer great cross-wind performance. They are popular among sprinters and racers, especially for the criterium, flats, eventually hilly races.

Aero road bikes also feature deep-section wheels and thicker tubes to improve aerodynamic performance.

Their main downsides are the reduced comfort, higher weight than performance road bikes, and higher price. Aero road bikes start at around $2500.

NOTE: There are also road bikes that combine the best features of aero and performance road bikes. They are aerodynamic and lightweight at the same time. Examples: Specialized Tarmac SL7, Cannondale Supersix Evo

road bike types 2
Endurance vs Performance vs Aero Road Bike

Try Bikeinsights for comparing frame geometries of different bike brands.

Gravel Bikes

Gravel bikes (some online stores call them Adventure bikes) usually have geometry like endurance or performance road bikes. But, they are specific for their wider tire clearance that should be at least 40mm, according to Rotorbike.com. This tire clearance allows you to use wider tires suitable for rough terrains.

Some gravel bikes are also compatible with bike accessories like racks, 2 and more bottle cages, fenders, etc. This makes them suitable for long trips and bike packing. Gravel bikes with more aggressive geometry are ideal for gravel races like Dirty Kanza 200, etc.

You can use 700c or 650b wheels on most gravel bikes. 700c wheels have lower rolling resistance and carry more momentum. They can also handle obstacles better. On the other hand, the 650b wheels can accelerate faster and are often equipped with larger, high-volume tires that are more comfortable.(Source)

These features make gravel bikes very versatile and popular among riders who don’t want to limit themselves to paved roads only.

The table below shows a few bike brands and their road bike lines for different types of bikes.

BrandEndurancePerformanceAeroGravel
TrekDomaneEmondaMadoneCheckpoint
CanyonEnduranceUltimateAeroadGrail
SpecializedRoubaixTarmacVengeDiverge
GiantContendTCRPropelRevolt

Touring Road Bikes

Touring road bikes are a specific category of road bikes. They have a geometry designed for bike packing and touring. This means it is even more relaxed than the geometry of endurance road bikes.

Touring bikes are also compatible with various bike accessories like racks. This allows you to equip them with panniers that increase your storage capacity for multi-day bike trips and bike packing adventures.

According to Bikeradar, touring bikes feature a longer wheelbase (source), so the panniers won’t get in a way when you pedal.

So, if you want to take multi-day adventures and you don’t care about speed and performance as much, touring bikes may be the right choice for you.

Other Types of Road Bikes

There are 3 more basic types of road bikes. They are niche-specific so I explain them very briefly:

  • Cyclocross bikes offer wider tire clearance than road bikes. This means you can use them with wider tires suitable for rough terrains. Their geometry and gears are also slightly different. This makes them more versatile than classic road bikes. They are often mixed up with gravel bikes.
  • Time Trial (TT) bikes are designed specifically for time trials. They push the rider in an aggressive aerodynamic position. TT bikes are mostly used by professionals or amateur racers because their handling is more difficult than standard road bikes.
  • Triathlon bikes are very similar to TT bikes, but their geometry is slightly different. They have a steeper seat tube that pushes the hips forward and saves the hamstrings for the run, as 220triathlon explains.

To wrap these 3 types of road bikes, get one of these bikes if you want to race cyclocross, time trials, or triathlons.


Frame Material & Bike Weight

Road bike frames are mostly made from one of the following 3 materials:

  1. Aluminum road bike frames are the most affordable because of the low manufacturing costs. Aluminum frames are not as stiff as steel or carbon frames, but they are lighter than steel frames. The biggest downside of the aluminum frames is that they fatigue and corrode over time. Aluminum road bikes are the perfect entry-level point for beginners and advanced riders with a limited budget.
  2. Carbon road bike frames are very stiff and light (they offer the highest stiff-to-weight ratio). They are perfect for performance-oriented riders or for people who want the latest and greatest. The biggest downside of the carbon frames is their price and the fact that they need to be inspected for cracks after a heavy crash to prevent failure under stress (but you should do that for aluminum frames as well).
  3. Steel road bikes are not as widespread anymore. Yet, they are stiff and durable but relatively heavy compared to aluminum or carbon frames. They provide good power transfer, won’t crack after a first crash, and have a unique look thanks to thin tubes.

Sources: CyclingWeekly, SheldonBrown, ScienceDirect

Frame MaterialWeight of the Bike
Carbon6 to 8 kg
Aluminum8 to 10 kg
Steel9 to 11 kg
The estimated weight of the road bike depending on the frame material

The estimated weight is based on my market research and the comparison of weights of road bikes from various manufacturers. The bike weight also depends on the components used on the bike. The more expensive road bikes usually have better and lighter components, so their overall weight is lower.

Should you get aluminum or carbon road bike?

Well, it depends… on your budget.

According to Bikeradar, it is better to buy an ‘expensive’ alloy bike and not cheap carbon one. Why? “The thing is, cheap carbon just isn’t that good.” Well, even expensive carbon frames can be bad (check the Hambini YouTube channel to find out more).

A carbon bike with the same components as an aluminum bike is more expensive. I prefer getting better components and aluminum frame than worse components on a carbon frame.

On the other hand, if you read the pros and cons of aluminum and carbon frames, it may be tempting to spare more money and get a carbon frame.

To wrap this up, get a carbon road bike if you have a budget of more than $2000. If you are limited to, $1000, an alloy frame is probably a better option.

Components

Don’t overlook the quality of components as the groupset, brakes, and wheels. They are as important as the frame.

Groupset

The vast majority of road bikes use 2X groupsets. But, there are also road bikes with 1X or even 3X groupsets. So, which one is the best and which one should you choose?

Buy a road bike with 2X or 1X groupset. If you look at the bikes used by professional riders or do your own research, you will find that most road bikes are fitted with 2X groupsets. They are the most widespread.

For example, in our 20 men cycling team, we all use a 2X groupset. I don’t see very often road cyclists with 1X groupsets.

1x chainring
1x chainring
2x chainring
2x chainring
3x chainring
3x chainring

1X groupsets are much lighter and simpler but also pretty expensive, so you find them on higher-end road bikes. In 2019, a couple of riders from Trek-Segafredo experimented with 1X groupsets, but it seems this trend did not catch on.

3X groupsets are used on entry-level road bikes. They are heavier, more complex, and less aerodynamic. For these reasons, I don’t recommend them.

TIP: If you ride a bike with a 2X (eventually 3X) groupset, make sure you avoid cross-chaining. It is a situation when you ride with the chain on the small chainring and the smallest sprocket on the cassette (and vice versa).

Shimano, Campagnolo, SRAM, or ‘the Others’?

There are 3 main manufacturers of groupsets – Shimano*, Campagnolo, and SRAM. There are also ‘the others’ – less known manufacturers with minor market share.

*According to Credit Suisse, Shimano had about 80% of the global share in bike components in 2016.

So, are the Shimano groupsets the best? It depends on your personal preference. There are small differences in the shifting mechanisms. If you are a beginner, you can get a Shimano or Campagnolo groupset, and you probably won’t notice any difference. More experienced riders know better what suits them and what groupset is the best for them.

The table below shows the price ranges of groupsets produced by the 3 biggest manufacturers.

 ShimanoSRAMCampagnoloType
Entry levelClarisMechanical
Entry levelSoraMechanical
Entry levelTiagraApexMechanical
Mid range105RivalCentaurMechanical
Mid rangeUltegra R8000ForcePotenza
Chorus
Mechanical
ProUltegra Di2 R8070Force eTap AXSChorus EPSElectric
ProDura-Ace R9100REDRecord
Super Record
Mechanical
ProDura-Ace Di2 R9170RED eTap AXSSuper Record EPSElectric

Shimano produces the full range of groupsets – from the most affordable, to the high-end ones.

Budget road bikes almost always come with cheaper mechanical groupsets like Shimano Claris, Shimano Sora, etc. Some road bikes feature components made in-house or from less-known brands.

These budget groupsets wear out more easily. They are not as precise, light, quick, and reliable as mid-range and high-end groupsets.

I recommend getting a road bike with at least Shimano 105, SRAM Rival, or Campagnolo Centaur.

Mechanical or Electric?

There are 2 types of groupsets – mechanical and electric. You can skip this part if you are a beginner with a limited budget because road bikes with electric groupsets start around $3000.

Check the pros & cons of mechanical vs electric shifting in the table below.

ShiftingProsCons
Mechanical• Lower price
• Lower weight
• No need for recharging
• Not as smooth
• Manual front derailleur adjustment
Electric• Effortless shifting
• Automatic front derailleur adjustment
• Multiple shift points
• Customizability
• Needs to be recharged
• Higher price
• Higher weight

Sources: TheProsCloset, CyclingTips

Wheels & Tires

Road bikes use 700c (622 mm) wheel size. Entry-level and mid-range road bikes come with alloy wheels. High-end road bikes feature carbon wheels. Carbon wheels are expensive and you can always upgrade them later. So don’t worry if you can’t afford them right away.

Make sure to consider the tire width. The general rule of thumb is the wider and higher volume the tire, the more comfort you get. According to road.cc, the common standard was 23mm tires, but it slowly changed to 25mm tires. Nowadays, road bikes are designed to fit 28mm and sometimes even wider tires.

I use 25mm tires, and most of my friends as well. I recommend you do a few experiments and test rides with various tire widths inflated to different pressures to find which one will best suit you.

Brakes

Road bikes come with rim or disc brakes.

  • Rim brakes exist in many variants. But the principle is always the same – braking pads apply friction to the wheel’s rim and slow the bike.
    Rim brakes were pretty popular for decades, but they have a strong competitor in the last few years – disc brakes. The advantage of rim brakes is their lower weight, easier maintenance, and lower price than disc brakes, but they are not as effective in the rain and long descents.
  • Disc brakes
    • Mechanical disc brakes work similarly to rim brakes – a steel cable moves the pistons, creating friction that slows the bike. The advantage is that they are compatible with standard rim shifters and are easier to maintain at home. Their disadvantage is that the steel cable can wear out more quickly and break when you don’t expect it.
    • Hydraulic disc brakes use fluid filled in the system. As CyclingAbout explains, when you pull the brake lever, the fluid rushes down to the caliper, closing the brake pads. This type of disc brakes provides braking consistency in any riding conditions. On the other hand, they are more difficult to maintain at home due to their complexity.

The entry-level road bikes for up to $1000 are usually equipped with rim brakes. If you want a road bike with disc brakes, you will have to pay a little bit more ($1500 and up).


Brand

The brand is crucial to some people. When most bikes are equipped with Shimano, SRAM, or Campagnolo components, there is not much to change on the bike besides the frame and a few other components.

I won’t evaluate which brand is good and which is not. It is purely up to your preference. However, well-known brands, such as those that sponsor world tour pro teams, are usually more expensive than lesser-known brands.

Of course, the price of a bike is influenced by many factors. One of them is also the sales model. Canyon bikes, for example, are sold directly to customers. This means they often provide a better price-value ratio compared to brands sold by distributors.


Road Bike Size

The last important step before buying a new road bike is choosing its right size. Why is it important? There are 2 main reasons for this:

  • Your riding position will be more comfortable.
  • You prevent injuries caused by the wrong bike fit.

Road bike size is usually given in centimeters (48, 50, 52, etc.) or descriptive sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL, XL). The size is based on the seat tube length.

Correct road bike size
Make sure to get a bike size that provides you with a few inches of clearance

My favorite method for choosing a bike size is to measure your inseam length. Learn how to measure it and choose the right bike size in my article on How to Choose Bike Size.

TIP: To compare different frame geometries, use the Bikeinsights tool.


Other Road Bike Essentials

If you are starting with road cycling, I have one bad news for your wallet. It does not end with the purchase of a new road bike. There are other essentials to get. Luckily, you don’t have to buy them all at once.

The first and more important thing is a road bike helment. Do yourself a favor and wear it at every time!

Most road bikes also come without pedals. I recommend using road bike pedals with road cycling shoes. Once you get used to them, you will pedal more efficiently, and you experience better comfort.

Over time, you can also get less important equipment like cycling clothing (jersey, bib shorts, vest, jacket, gloves…), sunglasses, etc.

These things are also nice to have:

When you do the math, you find out that you will have to invest another few hundred dollars. Yes, cycling is not a cheap sport, but even with a limited budget, you can enjoy it.


Final Thoughts

When choosing a road bike, you need to consider your budget and riding style. These two basic factors significantly affect which road bike is the right one for you.

For beginners, I recommend the endurance road bike, which is more comfortable than performance, and aero road bikes, thanks to the more upright riding position.

If you are a performance-oriented rider who trains hard and want to participate in races, get:

  • A performance (lightweight) road bike if you live in a hilly and mountainous area and you like the design of this road bike type.
  • Or an aero road bike for flats, eventually hilly areas, and you don’t mind a heavier frame with thicker tubes.

Consider buying a gravel bike if you don’t want to limit yourself to paved roads only and you plan to ride in terrain as well.


How to Choose a Road Bike FAQ

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