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How To Choose A Road Bike

Updated: Mar 8

Everything you ever wanted to know about road bikes but were afraid to ask

Road bikes are made for speed and efficiency on paved or gravel roads. You might be thinking, “But you can ride any bike on the road, so isn’t every bike a road bike?” Well, yeah. Kind of. You can indeed ride any bike on the road, but true road bikes have specific design features that help them perform best on road surfaces and separate them from bikes in other categories.

Common Features

Features will vary among the different kinds of road bikes based on their primary purpose, but there are some common traits road bikes share vs. other types of bikes.

Drop bars

One such feature is the handlebars, which are called drop bars. This downward-swooping design gives you a lot of flexibility in where you put your hands and how you position your body, which is great for longer rides because you can switch positions to get more comfort or leverage for extra speed.

Skinny(ish) tires

Historically, road bikes have had skinny tires, but more modern road bikes range from skinny 25mm tires up to 45mm knobby tires for venturing on surfaces that can only charitably be described as roads.

Types of Road Bikes

There are four main categories of road bikes, with several model options in each family. So, how do you know which kind of road bike is best for you?

First, consider your riding goals: How do you want to ride and where do you want to ride?

Do you see yourself riding for speed and even racing? Do you imagine climbing paved mountain switchbacks on epic all-day adventures? Or is your vision more like rustic gravel roads with no one else in sight for miles?

Now, keep that picture of your ideal ride in your mind as you read through each of the road bike categories below. Each category is tailored for a specific kind of road riding, so choosing your perfect road bike is about matching the vision of your ideal ride to the design purpose of each type of road bike below.

Aero Road Bikes

Aero road bike models like Trek Madone are designed to slice through the wind and give you every possible advantage in speed. They’re often the bike of choice for racers because they’re so fast. While a bike’s weight is the easiest characteristic to feel, if you’re averaging over 12 mph, aerodynamics is the largest force working to slow you down. If speed and performance are your main considerations, an aero road bike is best for you.

Lightweight Road Bikes

Climbing road bike models like Trek Émonda, which are also sometimes known as “all-around” road bikes, have historically been made to be ultra-light so there’s less you have to carry up a climb. As we’ve come to understand even more about tube shapes, we’ve been able to make these bikes both lightweight and aerodynamic.

If you want to maximize your performance on hilly courses or want a more traditional all-around road bike, check out the models in this category.

Endurance Road Bikes

Endurance road bike models like Trek Domane are designed to let you ride farther and over a wider variety of road surfaces. They’re great for new road riders and seasoned riders alike, and built with a stable and comfortable geometry that keeps you smooth and confident.

If you want to ride fast and stay comfortable for anywhere between 10 miles or 10 hours, an Endurance road bike is a great choice.

Gravel Bikes

Roads don’t have to be paved to be fun! Gravel bike models like Trek Checkpoint are built for venturing off-pavement to dirt and gravel roads. These bikes can often accommodate wider, more stable tires and a wide range of accessories like bags, racks, and fenders for any kind of adventure. This makes them ideal for riders who want a jack-of-all-trades bike.

If you’re looking for adventure on more challenging terrain like gravel and dirt roads, you should explore these models.

Introducing A 5th Category of Road Bikes - Electric Road Bikes!

Electric road bikes are just like road bikes, but use a hidden electric motor and battery to give you a little help keeping up with faster riding companions, harder climbs, or longer rides. They respond to your pedaling power and amplify it.

They're perfect for riders who just want to do more.

Things To Consider When Choosing Your Road Bike

Once you know which kind of bike you want, you’re closer to finding your perfect bike. However, manufacturers offer different platforms within a given family that all share a common frameset, and then subdivides further to certain models.

Frame Material: Carbon vs. Aluminum

Carbon fiber is a composite material that allows bike designers the flexibility to make super-light and efficient structures that can be made into any imaginable shape, allowing for aerodynamics or ride quality to be further emphasized. This means that carbon fiber bikes generally are lighter and make fewer compromises on performance qualities. However, carbon bikes take a lot of precision craftsmanship to make and tend to be more expensive than their aluminum counterparts.

Aluminum alloys are another great choice for a frame material. Still packed with performance, alloy bikes allow a little more value into the equation. Aluminum bikes of the past got a bad wrap for riding harshly, but modern aluminum bikes are significantly more advanced and have a good portion of the performance characteristics of carbon at a fraction of the price.

Drive Systems: Electronic vs. Mechanical Shifting

Electronic shifting relies on powerful motors to do the work usually done by cables and linkages. It’s much faster and more precise than mechanical shifting. The debate between these two styles of shifting has mostly been resolved, with the higher-end of the market gravitating to electronic shifting.

Mechanical shifting is still primarily featured on more entry-level bikes for its proven value.

Braking Systems: Disc Brakes vs. Rim Brakes

In the past, this section would be longer. Disc brakes work better than other types of brakes and are now the standard for road bikes.

Rim brakes can still be found on the most affordable road bikes, but riders universally agree: discs are best.

Bike Fit

You wouldn’t walk around in a low squat with a 90-degree bend in your knees, would you? A bike’s adjustment is key to keep you from doing the equivalent while on a ride. Getting your bike fit is essentially getting the handlebars and saddle in the right positions in space relative to your pedals to allow you to be your strongest, most resilient, most powerful self.

Getting a fit from a professional is probably the most important thing you can do to make riding faster and more fun. But if you aren't ready to spring for a professional fit yet, we can help you find the right size and a comfortable basic riding position.

Bikes for everybody and every body

No two riders are exactly the same, and that's why we have options. But every rider deserves a bike that fits and feels great, no matter their gender, body type, style of riding, or level of experience. Aero Road Bikes, Lightweight Road Bikes, Endurance Road Bikes, Gravel Bikes, or Electric Road Bikes - we have the perfect road bike for YOUR style of riding!

Need More Help?

Call or stop into any of our locations and let our factory trained staff help you find the perfect road bike!

Original information courtesy by Trek Bicycle Corporation. All rights reserved.

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