With all the options out there, how do you know what's right for you?
By Clint Latham – Get FREE updates on new posts here
You’ve dusted off your old road bike, you’ve been Riding to 75 and now you’re starting to see results. Now it's time to upgrade. If you’ve been out of the road biking scene for the last couple of years you might be a little confused as to what kind of road bike is right for you. Well I’m here to help. In this article we are going to take away the mystery and help you find the right bike for you. Lets start with the basics.
There are a couple of questions you should ask before you begin looking into which bike is right for you.
- Are you looking for a bike that will be more comfortable?
- Or are you looking for a bike that will get you across the finish line faster?
The Comfort Geometry
The geometry of the bike frame is where we see the biggest differences between the two options, comfort or speed\race. With comfort bikes you will have a 'taller' head tube. The head tube is where the fork threads through the frame and then connects the fork to the handlebars via the stem. When the head tube is 160mm or longer this will place you more upright or in a more comfortable position. On speed\race oriented bikes the head tube will be shorter 140mm or shorter. By sitting more upright this places less strain on your hands, wrists, shoulders,neck, spine and creates for a more relaxed position on the bike. This more upright position also creates more wind drag and slows you down.
With a longer head tube the fork steerer inside the head tube is longer. This additional length will be prone to flex when under load. Manufactures will also complement this by allowing for softer forks (allowing for more flex to eat up road vibrations) and thinning of the rear seat stays to allow for additional flex and comfort. All this built in flex will create for a more comfortable and forgiving ride, but also creates a significant loss in power to the wheels. As some of the power will be lost as you flex the frame under load. It also creates for a bike that is less responsive to rider input and can make it feel sluggish.
The upright rider position will also result in a shorter top tube. Comfort bikes will also come with slacker head tube angles in the 72 to 73 degree range and longer wheelbases. The longer wheel base creates for a more stable ride and keeping the bike rolling straight. Creating a more upright rider position, more flex in the frame to eat up road noise creates an ideal scenario for cruising comfortably for miles on end. Albeit not very fast.
In the race or speed category the geometry pushes the rider's weight low and forward for better aerodynamics and better front wheel traction. Manufactures accomplish this by creating shorter head tubes (140mm or shorter) and longer top tubes to stretch the rider out. This also flattens the rider's back creating a more aerodynamic position creating less drag for increased speed. This also places the riders center of gravity lower creating better traction, cornering and aggressive riding position.
Professional racers will enhance these features by installing longer stems, even as long as 140mm. (The standard road bike stem length is 90-110mm). Race bikes will also be built with head tube angles that allow for quicker steering, increased stiffness and tubes that are of a more aerodynamic shape. Further enhancing the aggressive aerodynamic build. The bikes will also be very very stiff. This is so that every watt of power that is delivered from your legs goes straight into the rear wheel. The purpose is to increase power delivery and speed. However this creates a bike that is not very forgiving on longer rides and rough roads, but is very fast.
There is a simple way to modify either of these genera's by simply changing the stem and stack height. For example, you could take a race oriented bike install a 90mm stem with a 20 degree rise, add a few steering tube spacers and this will create for a more upright stance on a race bike. Creating for a more comfortable ride while not fully sacrificing the speed qualities. The same is also true with the comfort category. Slam the stem onto the top tube, increase its length to 110 mm and now you created a more aerodynamic version of a comfort bike.
2 simple rules to help you decide which bike is right for you
- Buy the bike you’ve always dreamed of owning! Thats right buy the bike you’ve always dreamed of owning. If owning a bike makes you feel good, feel like a bad a$$ and will get you out on it. Then you should buy it. Tim Ferris is famous for saying that some of the things he buys, like his speed bike (motorcycle), he’s bought because it makes him feel ‘cool’. Don’t worry about not being good or skilled enough to own a bike of a certain caliber. Because if you love your bike, then you’ll ride it. The more you ride it, the more skilled you’ll become.
- Think of your long term goals. Do you think you'll ever want to enter your local criterium series? Is your goal to ride 35 miles one way to brunch and then back? Think of the rider you want to be and not the rider you are now. As this can become a costly mistake buying a more comfort oriented bike now to only want to start racing a year or two later.
At the end of the day, as it goes with most bikes the lines can get a little bit blurry as to what bike is built for what purpose. The best thing to do is to go out and ride a couple different bikes to see how each one feels. But again always keeping in mind the rider you want to be and not the rider you are now. You may feel great on a comfort built bike and until you start riding more and wished you had a more speed oriented bike. Always be forward looking when buying a new bike.
Have a question on a specific bike you need help with? Leave your question below.