ROAD BIKE GUIDE  Fuel your need for speed.

You Couldn't Pick a Better Time to Shop for a New Road Bike.

Today, manufacturers offer more models than ever in a wider variety of price points. And component companies make an incredible array of top-notch wheels, brakes, and shifting systems that operate like never before. For example, it's possible to get 20-speed drivetrains that shift in a split second, and wheelsets so light that pedaling is effortless. In fact, there are so many attractive choices today that if you just walked into our store, you might be overwhelmed.

Don't be. Having a lot of choices is a wonderful thing because it drastically increases the likelihood that you'll find the perfect bike — as long as you know a little about what's available.

To help, we've put together this comprehensive guide for finding the ideal road rig. We explain the decisions you need to make and offer advice on everything from frame materials and wheels to gearing and component choices. To start, though, you need to do some self analysis (therapist not required).

Answer These Questions

Before visiting our showroom, define yourself as a cyclist. Consider how you'll use the new bike once you get it, as well as where you'll pedal once you've had the machine for awhile. To find the perfect road bike, are you:
  • A new cyclist?
  • Into improving fitness (medium to long rides)?
  • Interested in touring?
  • Training for an event?
  • Getting into road racing or triathlons?
  • Thinking of commuting to work/around town?

Analyze Yourself

Consider how many miles you might log per week, or year. Think about your tendencies in purchasing other things. For example, do you demand the highest quality, or are you more apt to look for reasonable quality and lower cost? Do you dig high-tech gadgets or are you satisfied with simpler designs? Additionally, it helps to know about how much you want to spend because that's a quick way to focus the selection process and narrow down model choices. 

Answering these questions will ensure that you get the best bicycle. We'll be able to show you models with the right features for your needs, interests, and budget, and you'll soon be sailing down the pavement with a big grin on your face. There are lots of fascinating variables in choosing a modern road bike. The rest of this article explains these choices so you'll have an easier time selecting your dream machine.

Frame And Fork Materials

Although there have been interesting designs over the years, such as bamboo (still available!) and plastic frames, current road bikes are made of one (or a blend) of these four materials: steel, aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber (carbon). We get into the differences below.

But first, realize that fine bicycles are built of all these materials. Also, two frames can be constructed of the same material yet have entirely different ride qualities due to differences in geometry, assembly, tube shapes, and material manipulation (reinforcing a tube, for example). It's very important to test ride and to feel the bikes you're considering purchasing.

A tip for inspecting frames: Look for a tubing decal on the seat tube or down tube. Sometimes manufacturers provide these and they usually help explain what brand and type of material is used in the frame. We're happy to elaborate if you have questions. Just ask!

Steel

The most traditional frame material, steel, has been used by framebuilders for well over a century. Many types of steel tubing are available, and the material is easy to bend and shape. There are myriad methods of assembly, making steel very adaptable to cyclists' needs. It also offers excellent ride quality, durability, is easily repaired, and affordable. If there's a knock on steel, it's that it tends to be heavy when low-quality tubing is used (found on bikes sold at department stores). While there are new steels almost impervious to corrosion, most types can rust if treated carelessly (protect that paint job!).

Entry-level steel-frame bikes are usually less sophisticated than those favored by discerning cyclists and steel fanatics. But, the affordability of the lesser steel frames usually allows you to get a better level of components. It's possible to make a fine-riding steel frame on a budget by cutting back on some of the frills that add cost. For example, such a frame might feature less-costly TIG welding and straight-gauge tubes compared to the fancier lug construction and butted tubes (varying tube wall thicknesses) on the higher-end model.

High-quality steel frames integrate great design, superior assembly, and better alloys in the tubing. A popular quality steel for bicycle frames is American SAE 4130 steel, better known as "chrome molybdenum," and referred to as "chromoly" or "chrome-moly." There are plenty of other impressive alloys offered by tubing suppliers such as Columbus, Tange, and True Temper. Frames built of these materials are famous for their combination of responsiveness, comfort, and value. 

Steel is an excellent fork material. It can be formed into any shape; even aero ones. It's plenty strong. It also absorbs shock to soften rough roads. Steel forks are heavier than those built of lighter materials such as aluminum and carbon.

Aluminum

Aluminum was first used in frame construction in 1895 but it didn't come into wide use until the 1980s when large-diameter tubing was conceived and construction processes were perfected. Now, it's the most popular frame material. It's subject to the same variances in assembly and quality as steel. Like steel, as you spend more, you get higher quality tubing and better construction.

You may hear that aluminum has a more jarring ride than other frame materials. While this used to be the case in its early years, it's not a problem today thanks to new aluminum alloys, tubing enhancements, and improved construction techniques like hydroforming (shaping tubes with high-pressure water). These improvements allow the frames to absorb shock better than ever while still offering the lively ride that makes aluminum so popular.

This magic ride is attributed to aluminum being one of the lightest frame materials. It makes an aluminum frame a great choice for racing and for time trialing. Unlike most steels, aluminum won't rust - another advantage.

There are various types of aluminum tubing in use by manufacturers. Some common types are 6061 and 7005, numbers that refer to the alloys in the aluminum such as magnesium, silicon, and zinc (pure aluminum isn't strong enough for bike use). There are also some super-light tubesets, such as scandium.

Aluminum forks are generally stiff and light, and can be shaped aerodynamically. They also offer good vibration damping to smooth yo