Whatever your goals are for cycling—fitness, fresh air, speed, community, great scenery—there’s a bike for you. Road bikes commonly include drop bars, which allow a lower, more aerodynamic position, skinny tires to improve speed, and gearing that allows for the most efficient climbing and descending. But beyond that there are key differences that you need to understand to find the best bike for you. Let’s get started.
Ask Yourself These Questions
Before choosing a bike, you need to think about the riding you’ll do in order to focus your search and get what’s best for you.
Where am I going to ride?
Lots of hills? A lighter bike makes climbing easier. But lighter bikes usually cost more, and if most of your riding is flat, you’ll get less benefit. Rough roads? Consider a gravel bike.
How long is my average ride?
The distance you ride and amount of time you spend on your bike are critical pieces of info. If you plan on riding for several hours at a time, consider a more relaxed geometry, higher handlebars, and more upright riding position.
Is there a specific type of riding I want to do?
Entering a triathlon or other competition? Make sure your bike meets the rules. Some sports require specific brakes or frame geometries to be eligible. Similarly, if you buy a very specific bike, like a time trial or triathlon bike, you may find it uncomfortable and inefficient for daily riding.
What’s my budget?
No surprise: Cycling can get pricey, fast. Every frame or component upgrade will cost more. But the lightest and fastest may not always be the best choice, especially if durability is a priority. And when you’re creating a budget, keep in mind that you’ll likely need to buy pedals, a helmet, cycling shoes, lights, repair tools, and maybe a phone mount. Once you have a range in mind, stick with it.
Types of Road Bikes
Now that you’ve given some thought to your riding plans and bike budget, these bike categories will help you find the right model.
This generalist design is built to handle all parts of the road well without excelling in any one specific category. They’re often more affordable than high-performance and niche bikes.
An aero bike is designed for aerodynamics, to move as quickly and efficiently as possible. These are often incredibly expensive and reasonable only for the most enthusiastic enthusiasts.
Endurance bikes are built for comfort on longer rides. Even riders who favor shorter outings might choose an endurance bike for the balance of speed and comfort. These bikes often have a longer wheelbase (the distance between the wheels) for a more stable ride, as well as slightly wider tires and a less rigid, more forgiving frame.
Race bikes are exactly what they sound like. They’re incredibly lightweight, geared for speed, exceedingly expensive, and often uncomfortable. If you need a race bike, you know who you are. Everyone else stay away.
These bikes are built for riding on rougher terrain like dirt roads or gravel paths. They often have a more relaxed riding position, a long wheelbase, and wider, knobbier tires.
There are a slew of road bikes designed for incredibly specific uses. You may see classifications like time trial, triathlon, cyclocross, and fixie. Each is built for a specific task and won’t make a great bike for anything but that purpose. If you get hooked on road riding, you’ll likely find your way to a specialty bike eventually, but by then you’ll know a lot more about what you want.
Men’s and Women’s Bikes
Some models are made specifically for women. These bikes have the same high-quality components and materials. The biggest difference is the fit and geometry, such as frames shortened in certain areas to better fit a woman’s body. But don’t get fixated on gender-specific models. The important thing is fit and comfort. If that comes from a women’s bike, great, but if it comes from a men’s or unisex bike, that’s fine too.
What your bike is made of will greatly affect how it feels to ride and, importantly, how much it costs. You’ll see a variety of materials, and sometimes manufacturers combine different ones. For example, it’s not uncommon to see an aluminum or titanium bicycle with a carbon fiber front fork. Here are the most common types you will see:
Steel is incredibly strong and affordable, but it’s also heavy. You won’t see a modern steel road bike unless it’s an exceptionally cheap model or if it’s created by hand by an enthusiast. You’ll find plenty of vintage road bikes made of steel.
Aluminum is one of the most common bike frame materials, especially for entry- and intermediate-level models. It’s light and strong and will last for many years. While it’s not as light as some other frame materials, its affordability, in combination with its performance, makes it a great choice.
Exceptionally light and impressively strong, carbon fiber has become more affordable in recent years and can now be found on mid-range road bikes in addition to the top-of-the-line models. It’s also incredibly rigid for its weight, giving it a stiff ride that pros love for its efficient transfer of power.
Light, durable, and strong. Titanium has it all, including the price tag. If it’s in your budget, you won’t be disappointed.