13 Sep ROAD RACING BIKE
This is a road bike similar to the ones professional riders use. A bike with top-of- the-range components and lightweight wheels will cost the same as a hatchback car, although it requires far more looking after, and replacement parts and ser- vicing can cost a fair bit. However, a perfectly balanced bike like this one will ride superbly. The component groupsets are usually Shimano Dura-Ace, SRAM Red or Campagnolo Super Record and wheels by Zipp, Mavic and Lightweight are reassur- ingly expensive and very popular.
Road racing geometry is very aggressive and the position is quite extreme. Pro- fessional riders spend a long time in the saddle and are used to an aerodynamic position, so this will not be suited to a rider that only manages to ride a couple of times a week. Be realistic with your aspirations and consider a bike with a more ‘Sportive’ approach. Many manufacturers now offer high-end road bikes with the same technology and componentry as the professional’s bike, albeit with a more relaxed fit and usually a more comfortable ride.
Many of these frames are ideal for long days in the saddle and riding over rough terrain and poor road surfaces. The pro teams sometimes use these bikes for Paris- Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders where they race for many hours over vicious cob- bles and poor roads.
Every winter, the sport of cyclo-cross means hundreds of road riders pull out their neglected ’cross bikes and head off-road. ’Cross bikes make an excellent second bike, as they can be set up as a commuter or training bike for the rest of the year. A strong, lightweight, well-built frame is far more important than excellent components – once they’re covered in mud, function level is pretty academic. Wheels and tyres also play a considerable part in cyclo-cross success. Many man- ufacturers now have a ’cross bike in their range, such is the current popularity of this winter sport. Once, these bikes would have been made up from old touring bikes and junk parts – now they’re state-of-the-art carbon frames and high-end component-equipped race machines. Many mountain bike technologies have drifted into cyclo-cross including disc brakes and tubeless tyres, but cyclo-cross re- quires skill and control.
The Union Cyclist International (UCI – world cycling governing body) is very anxious to keep cyclo-cross pure and related to road bicycle riding as much as pos- sible, so very often bikes that get too much like their mountain biking cousins are not allowed in sanctioned races. Cyclo-cross is a tough sport and teaches skill and technique that will help your road riding improve. (See here for more on cyclo-cross bikes.)
ENTRY-LEVEL RACING BIKE
An entry-level bike like this one will be mid-priced and perfect for your first few seasons of road riding, and even a race or two. Many of these bikes will have Com- pact Drive (see here), which is a good choice for beginners. Components-wise, look out for Shimano 105 or Campagnolo Veloce groupsets.
Touring bikes are usually made from steel – it’s not going to be the lightest bike on the market, but it will provide strength for carrying luggage and comfort for long rides. A long wheelbase and a steel fork are worth looking out for. Some long-distance riders prefer a frame with slightly slacker seat and head tube angles, to provide a more comfortable ride. Often a custom-built bike is a good op- tion so these characteristics are built into the bike. A custom fit is sometimes the best route for many of these riders, but there are several manufacturers now offering a more sedate road bike, perfect for all-day rides and challenge rides.
TRACK Track bike geometry is generally tight and steep with short rake forks and a high bottom bracket (for pedal and banking clearance). Track bikes also have niche set- ups and types too – sprinters are after power so they prefer stiff, over-built frames with steel handlebars and lower front ends; endurance riders are after aerody- namics and usually use road components; and track pursuit bikes resemble road TT bikes.
Fixed-wheel competition track bikes have one drive option (fixed), no brakes and one gear ratio. Fixed has the main advantage of maintaining momentum (one of the reasons it’s favoured by time-triallists and specialist hill-climbers). After riding fixed, your pedal action will become smoother (which is why track riders always have good pedal actions) and after thousands of kilometres you’ll begin to use more of the pedal stroke to get the power down.
It’s known as souplesse from the French – literally, a ‘supple’ pedal action. Riding a fixed bike on the road can be a wonderful experience too, but only if the riding in your area is suitable and you remember that you can’t stop pedalling… so riding fixed can be hazardous if you’re not familiar with fixed gear riding (it’s best to go to the track to learn how) or the hardware you’re using isn’t up to the job. The climb- ing technique is also useful, as a single gear means you have to get up the hill in the only gear you have. It stops you getting lazy and using the gears, but it also teaches you how to squeeze every bit of advantage out of your technique – the momentum gained on the downstroke can easily be transferred to the upstroke, thus allowing all the power in the stroke to be used, and allowing a good pull tech- nique to the stroke.
It’s not all about racing. Each year, several thousand riders take part in ‘challenge rides’. These are often set out on one of the stages of the Grand Tours. You get to ride a stage of the Tour de France, known as the Etape, and some 10,000 partic- ipants are accepted each year with at least as many more being disappointed. Fancy being able to see what the professionals have to do for a living? You will not be disappointed – it’s a very humbling experience. The bikes are often geared ac- cording to mountainous terrain and the fit is more relaxed and comfortable than a pure racing bike.
ROAD SINGLE SPEED
Fixed gears are also now popular again, not just for track racing but also for com- muting and winter training. They’re a sensible option too, as they don’t wear out very easily and don’t require new chains, cassettes and chainrings. Fitting two brakes is a good idea, although the joy of fixed is controlling your speed with the drivetrain, and many countries only require a front brake by law.
The Northern European weather is hardly the ideal environment for bicycles. Win- ter bikes are often an entry-level bike or perhaps a retired racing bike. But seeing as most of your long training miles will be on this bike, a specialist bike with mud- guards is the best way. Use the same set-up as your race bike, and similar contact points (saddle, bars, pedals), to prevent injury and discomfort.
Time trials are the pivotal stages of big races like the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. Many professional teams will spend many hours testing products, frames and set-up to get every second out of the machine.
The essentials are a stiff, stable frame, aero TT handlebars and aero wheels. If you’re taking your time trial riding seriously, you’ll want to get a specific time trial bike. The differences between a standard road bike and a TT bike are not just aerodynamic.
A TT bike will have a steeper head- and seat-angle, thus placing the rider further forwards on the bike and into a more powerful pedalling position. The frame may be smaller to allow the rider to get lower at the front of the bike. The wheelbase is shorter, and the overall result is a bike that is very responsive and twitchy, so it takes some getting used to. A TT bike may also be a little heavier than a standard road bike, as there are loads of extras added.
BUYING A BIKE
Historically speaking, quality road bikes have always been built from the frame up. More recently, complete bikes from mainstream manufacturers have taken over as the preferred route for most riders. However, many quality bike shops offer the customer a better choice, with the possibility of customising the bike specification and building in personalised options. Complete bikes will, however, probably pro- vide better value for the first-time buyer.
A new bike will come with full instructions for the consumer, details of any spe- cial parts (Shimano usually supplies instructions), a PDI (Pre-Delivery Inspection) checklist and, lastly, a warranty card. Any bike that can’t supply this information should be avoided – you need to know you’ve done everything possible to prevent potential failures, which are very rare, but it’s far better to use a bike that is up to the job in the first place. This information also signifies that a bike has been pro- fessionally assembled and checked from new, which is why your first port of call should be a quality local dealer.
Good entry-level road bikes usually cost around £500 to £800. Because this is a very competitive price point these bikes are often very good value, featuring quality parts and a well-made frame. However, entry-level bikes are not designed and built to be pushed to the limits, so as your riding improves you’ll probably want to up- grade what you ride.
Remember that your main priorities are the frame and forks, then the wheels, then the contact points (saddle, handlebars and pedals), and lastly the compo- nents. Components are last on the list because they’ll wear out in time and, should you want to upgrade them, you can do it when they wear out. The frame, forks and wheels are always the most expensive parts of a bike, so look for the manufacturers that put the most effort into these areas. Look for the details and workmanship to see that the manufacturer hasn’t cut any corners.
TIPS FOR BUYING A BIKE
As with most things in life, there will be good and bad points about your new bike, but here are a few tips you should always consider before buying a new bike.
1- Take an experienced cycling friend with you to give you advice. Research the brands you like the look of. Phone the manufacturers for catalogues and take a bal- anced view, and use the internet – www.road.cc and www.roadbikereview.com both have user review sections, which can provide interesting insights.
2- Buy a range of up-to-date magazines to consider your options. Find back issues of group tests of bikes in your price range, or even e-mail the magazine to ask their opinion.
3- Find out each manufacturer’s best sellers.
4- Ask these questions at each shop you visit:
• What size do I need and, if you haven’t got one in that size, can you order it in? (See here for more information on sizing.)
• Can I have a test ride? (See right for more information on test rides.)
• Do you provide a free first service?
• Within reason, can I swap parts (saddle, stem, handlebars and so on) to get the exact fit I want? The answer to all of these questions should be ‘yes’.
5- Consider that you’ll need after-sales support, so you’ll need to build loyalty with the shop. Don’t just buy cheaper elsewhere and then expect a local dealer to fix or deal with the warranty on your new bike for free. It’s always worth thinking about buying some extras (helmet, clothing, tools and so on) when you’re at the shop buying your bike. This is probably the most you’ll spend in the shop at one time, so they may well offer you a few incentives, even if it’s just a free bottle and an inner tube.
6- Don’t be lured by discounted bikes, special offers or ex-demonstration bikes un- less you’re absolutely sure it’s the bike for you and it’s the right size.
7- If the shop doesn’t have your size, wait until they can get one. It’s better to leave it a little longer and have the right bike.
8- Always ask local cyclists for recommendations and ask them about the local shops – for example, which one is good for advice and which one specialises in particular brands? It’s always better to go to a dealer who has a good reputation. Ask lots of questions in the shop and make sure they have a good mechanic and a well-equipped (preferably tidy) workshop. As discussed, they should also offer you a free first service and warranty back-up.
THE TEST RIDE
You may have to leave your credit card (or your car keys, other half, friend, dog, whatever) as security in the shop before they’ll let you out on a test ride. When you leave the shop, relax and take the bike for a gentle spin. Stop somewhere quiet and have a good look over what you’re about to buy. Try adjusting the saddle height so that you feel comfy. If you aren’t happy, don’t feel pressurised to buy – try some- thing else instead.
In time you may want to have a go at building your own bike. Frame-only deals can offer excellent value, but be aware that using second-hand or used parts can create problems as you build. Things like front mechs and seat posts often vary in size and, unless you have all the right tools, you can easily make an expensive mistake.
Like self-build, buying a second-hand bike can be a bit of a hornet’s nest. You may think you have a bargain, but if the bike has had any serious crash damage it could be a very bad move. Ideally, you should only buy a bike that has had little use.
If the drivetrain and brakes show signs of wear, the chances are that these parts are about to need replacing. If this is the case, you’ll need to factor it into the bid- ding process, or reconsider the purchase if it will cost you more than the bike is worth to replace the worn-out parts. This is where taking an experienced riding friend is invaluable, as they’ll be able to spot the telltale signs of misuse immedi- ately. As with all second-hand purchases, be careful not to give out any personal details to people, unless you know who they are.
THE FRAME GEOMETRY AND FRAME ANGLES
the subject of bicycle frame geometry – bike magazine articles, tests and features will provide much opinion on the subject too. What’s here is an overview of road bike geometry, rather than an in-depth review.
Good shops will have people with experience and sensible opinions, so ask around and be prepared with questions, so that you get the bike that suits you the best.
The ‘diamond pattern’ frame with a front and rear triangle is still the most versatile approach for a bicycle frame.
Generally speaking, standard geometry (with a flat top tube parallel to the ground) allows for a more stable frame, and most experienced riders (and profes- sionals) will prefer the predictable handling and comfort a standard geometry frame will offer. Compact geometry refers to bikes with a sloping top tube that al- lows for a smaller rear triangle and, therefore, a slightly lighter frame. The result is a stiffer rear triangle but also, usually, a less forgiving ride.
Essentially you can have a seat or head angle that varies from 75–68 degrees (this is the angle measured behind the tube’s centre line and the floor), so 75 degrees is steep and 68 degrees is slack.
HEAD TUBE ANGLE
This will play a major part in how the bike handles. A steep head angle will make the steering lighter and twitchy, yet at high speeds still quite stable for sprinting. A slacker head angle will provide stability at all speeds but heavier steering and a ten- dency to wallow a bit at sprinting speeds.
SEAT TUBE ANGLE
Seat angle has a major influence on your weight distribution and position over the pedals. It’s a grey area, as saddle choice and seat post layback can also play a part in the overall picture. Time trial bikes usually have a steep seat angle to allow the rider to place themselves further forward, which provides a more powerful ped- alling position and allows them to reach lower-set bars and triathlon-style armrests without a big stretch. A slacker angle is generally for a more relaxed rider and sometimes preferred by cyclo-cross riders, as they can force their weight further over the rear wheel to provide better traction in slippery conditions. However, don’t compromise your fit for an over-slack or steep seat angle – fitting the bike accu- rately to your body is far more valuable.
Generally speaking (and depending on frame size), road bike manufacturers will go for a neutral 72–74 degree seat angle matched with a 71–73 degree head angle for a combination of comfort and stable, responsive handling.
Matching the fork rake to the head angle is essential, and forks have a variety of properties that influence the handling. Usually road racing forks have a 43mm rake (the distance from a centre line through the fork leg to the centre of the wheel hub) – track forks may be 37mm and touring forks as wide as 50mm. Shorter rake forks have a tendency to over-steer, i.e. turn a tighter cornering radius – longer raked forks will under-steer and have a wider turning circle.
Criterium racers prefer the former, and long-distance stage racers and challenge riders the latter. Most pro riders will opt for neutral handling to allow for comfort and improved control when descending, or riding over rough roads and cobble- stones.
Generally, at entry level, there are sadly only a few steel frames available – sadly be- cause, try as they might, the manufacturers can’t make an aluminium frame with the same strength, longevity and ride characteristics. If you can, always buy a steel bike first – it will last you several years and can be used as a winter trainer if you buy a more expensive second bike later on. Reynolds, Deda, Columbus and True Temper make excellent steel tubing for bicycles, and steel doesn’t have to be heavy either – Deda Zero One, Reynolds 953 and Columbus XCr are just as light as comparable Aluminium tubes. These days, 18lb (8.2kg) steel bikes are possible.
Aluminium is the cheapest material to make bikes from, which is why the market is flooded with hundreds of different types and models. On the plus side this means they’re very competitive and you can get a lot for a little money – however, on the downside they can be uncomfortably ‘stiff’ and are generally supplied in fewer sizes (often just Small, Medium and Large). So always remember to check the geometry before you buy, as some frames are made to very strange specifications.
The numbers quoted next to material relate to their alloy, with the ‘T’ suffix relat- ing to the heat treatment e.g. 7075–T6. Steel-butted aluminium is stronger and lighter, and quality frames are heat-treated after welding to ensure maximum strength. Many cheap aluminium frames are neither butted nor heat-treated, so find out what a frame is made of and how it is made before you buy. Tubing from Deda, Easton and Columbus is at the quality end of this market. Aluminium is not always uncomfortable and is far more bicycle-friendly. Easton tubes can rightly claim to ‘ride like steel’.
Titanium is light, durable and can be a wonderful material to ride. However, it re- quires great skill to weld and therefore can be (and perhaps should be) expensive. It’s the wonder material for bike-building – or so you might think. Sure, it’s as light as aluminium, as strong as steel and as comfortable as an armchair, but… you have to be a very good framebuilder to build a good titanium bike – it’s a very hard material to work with. So be very wary of cheap titanium frames, as there have been some horrendous bikes built in the past. Titanium is a high-end material, and as such should not be considered as a budget option, because you may have to com- promise too much on the wheels and components with your available funds to get a decent frame.
Carbon fibre is fast establishing itself as the new material for frames. It’s stiff, it’s really light in weight, it can absorb vibration and it can flex, so it has excellent qual- ities for road bikes. Many aluminium bikes now have carbon sections too. Man- ufacturers have adopted carbon fibre as the current favoured frame material, and being light and strong it’s easy to see why. However, there are better materials suit- ed to riders who want long-term reliability and value for money.
Most forks are now made from carbon fibre – it soaks up road shock well and it’s lightweight, strong and stiff. Carbon forks should always be checked out after a crash, and replaced should they show any signs of damage. Many mechanics recommend replacing well-used forks after two to three years, just to be safe.
Steel forks are still worth considering if you spend a long time in the saddle and/ or you’re of a heavy build yourself.
A short wheelbase makes handling quicker, and a compact rear triangle will provide stiffness, but at the expense of comfort. Super-short wheelbases were once very popular for racing, especially on very lightweight steel bikes, but are less so these days, as frames with aluminium and carbon with short wheelbases are a bit of a handful. Long wheelbases may take longer to get up to speed and require more ef- fort to turn into corners, but they’re super-comfortable and soak up the road shocks better.
If you don’t want to race, a longer-wheelbase bike, perhaps with mudguard clear- ance, is a good choice.
Generally, frames are measured in centimetres and, annoyingly, the manufacturers have never come up with a standard industry method. Some measure from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the top tube (‘centre-to-top’ or ‘C–T’) and some to the centre of the top tube (‘centre-to-centre’ or ‘C–C’). So, knowing exactly what size you’re buying (especially second-hand) can be a bit of a night- mare. However, most manufacturers measure the top tube in the same way – from the centre of the seat tube to the centre of the head tube – so this is usually a better way to reference frames. When it comes to bike fit, this top-tube measurement is very important. Seat-tube length can be easily adjusted (with the seat post) but it’s not as easy to adjust the reach.
GENERAL MATERIALS APPLICATION GUIDE
• Cheap steel – entry-level, commuting and training bikes
• Expensive steel – touring, cyclo-cross, Audax and challenge-ride bikes
• Cheap aluminium – entry-level road bikes
• Expensive aluminium – racing bikes, specifically cyclo-cross, track and time-trial
• Titanium – comfortable race bikes and exotic road bikes
• Cheap carbon fibre – entry-level road-race bikes
• Expensive carbon fibre – road-race and weight-conscious riders
Much of this book is devoted to the fixing and adjustment of road components. I’ve used pretty standard groupsets and race-level components. However, there’s a current trend for really lightweight (and really expensive) parts, which are inter- esting on a technology level but often require regular attention and servicing to keep them running. My advice to save your money is train harder (and maybe lose weight) to go faster. Use reliable standard equipment rather than getting hung up on shaving grams from already lightweight stuff. Safety and reliability are paramount.
I feel that the current lightweight racing wheels are not really appropriate for general riding and training, especially in the winter months when severe weath- er and road conditions don’t favour sensitive components. Top-of-the-range wheels are designed with performance in mind, and you’re far better off saving them for racing and sunny days. Wheels for everyday riding may be heavier, but a set of 32-hole standard wheels, if well built by a good wheelbuilder, will ride well and last far longer than factory-built super-lightweight performance wheels.
PEDALS AND CONTACT POINTS
Clipless pedals are safer and easier to use than standard toe clips and straps. Most entry-level road bikes now come supplied with clipless pedals.