10 years ago you would have struggled to find a good range of road bikes. Most shops in the UK were full of Mountain Bikes. After a couple of British Tour De France winners and a sack full of medals in the London Olympics the road bike is the first choice for many. A Road Bike has many names and can also be referred to as a Racer, Racing Bike, Road Racer or Sports Bike to name a few. Road Bikes are primarily designed for riding on tarmac and other similar smooth surfaces. Road Bikes have larger wheels (700c size) than a Mountain Bike for example, much narrower and smoother tyres for lower rolling resistance and faster speeds. Road Bikes have drop handlebars, offering numerous hand positions for improved comfort and aerodynamics. The drop handlebar of a Road Bike is probably the most distinguishing feature of this type of bike and make it easy to identify a Road Bike compared to other types of bikes.
The benefits of a Road Bike:
As used in professional cycling races such as Le Tour de France, Road Bikes offer efficiency and speed. They are much lighter and therefore easier to pedal compared to an equivalent Mountain or Hybrid Bike. The gear ratios are often bigger, meaning higher top speeds are achievable. Whether you are riding for fun on the roads, commuting, training for a charity bike ride, completing sportive events or racing, a Road Bike is the perfect choice. Road Bikes have been designed with geometry that makes pedalling more efficient on road surfaces, consequently a Road Bike may initially feel unusual compared to the more upright position of a commuter specific or Mountain Bike. That said, many people choose a Road Bike to commute on, it is all down to personal preference. At the upper end of the market, Road Bikes tend to be very aerodynamic and very light. Road Bikes designed specifically with racing in mind are usually stiffer to allow for better power transfer, Sportive and Grand Tour bikes are the best all-rounders with weight, strength and aerodynamics all taken in to account. Gear shifters are commonly integrated in the brake levers on Road Bikes, although on lower priced machines these may be thumb shifters on the handlebars or down tubes.
An entry level Road Bike will allow you to try road cycling without costing a lot of money, perhaps you are wishing to give road cycling a try after another discipline, such as Mountain Biking. These bikes will be manufactured to a price point and as such will have lower end components fitted, but will allow you to affordably see if road riding is for you. These bikes still represent a very competent machine for the money. Be aware though that spending £400-£500 on a road bike will give you a far nicer experience than one costing £200. This is due to heavier materials being used older style componentry and un-tested geometries.
As you step up to the £500 to £1000 mark the quality of all parts of the road bike improve. These improvements are designed to offer more comfort, compliance and speed. Forks will be made of carbon, offering vibration absorption for the rider. Higher grade alloy frames make a bike that is now lbs lighter than the £200 entry models. Less weight equals greater acceleration and better braking. Gears will all move onto a combined brake and gear shift unit known as an STI lever. This type of lever is far more comfortable for your hands and allows you to reach both brakes and gears from the same position. Most importantly you get a geometry that has had vigorous testing by the brand. Many bikes at this price point mimic the bikes over £2000 and the technology trickles after a couple of years onto these more affordable price points.
Once over £1000 you can start to consider carbon frames. Not only are these made for weight reduction but the manufacturers are able to construct a frame where every tube has a specific build quality. As carbon can be strong, stiff and light they are able to make axle points stiffer so they don't flex as much. Bottom bracket areas of tubing are made so there is a controlled level of flex as you pedal hard. All of this directs you pedal power into moving forward rather than flexing the bike from side to side. Gearing steps up to an 11 speed right hand shifter with a double shifter on the left. This gives you 22 gears to make use of and keep your pedalling at an efficient pace. Higher quality wheelsets are now fitted as standard, this helps again with weight reduction and acceleration. All added together you should have a faster more compliant bike beneath you allowing you to ride faster for longer in more comfort.
Triathlon bikes takes the stiffness abilities to the Nth degree. At this level of Racing comfort takes a back seat and as you are at higher speeds as an average some of the componentry becomes a little more basic. This allows the manufacturers to concentrate on making the frame and wheels as stiff and as aerodynamic as possible. Hour after hour is spent testing the smallest of tweaks in wind tunnels to enable the end user get all their power through the bike and into the tarmac with as little momentum loss as possible. This type of bike is what enable top time trailers to complete a 10-mile time trial in under 18 minutes.