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Road Bike Beginner Guide

road bike beginner guide

Whether you are looking for a balance to hectic everyday life or just want to do some sport, we can only congratulate you on your wish to ride a road bike! Not only will you get to know your area in a completely different way, but you will also make new acquaintances, improve your fitness level considerably and become a happier person. After the first tours in the saddle, you will no longer want to do without your new passion.

Tips for Road bike beginners

As a beginner, the road bike market can be quite confusing: large price differences for bikes that are similar at first glance, unknown terms, incomprehensible names and promising advertising – you can quickly lose track of them. So that you can still get your dream bike and not spend too much money, we answer the most important questions here and give you valuable tips for a perfect start in cycling.

Find the right road bike

Road bikes are plentiful … but which one is right for you? You can choose from the categories Aero, Race, Tour and All-rounder, depending on how and on which terrain you want to use your bike. The more precisely you define the area of application, the better you can choose a bike according to your needs. If you are not sure about future use, we recommend a sporty and comfortable all-rounder from the touring segment.

Choose the right frame size

Would you buy a t-shirt that is too small? Of course not … and it is just as important that you find the right frame size for you. So that you sit optimally on your road bike and can develop your full performance, you should determine your stride length before buying a set frame height. Good advice on site also includes your other body measurements such as body, buttocks and arm length. Do not forego technical advice, especially at the start!

Material, components, prices

A good start doesn’t have to be expensive. A moderate $700 is enough to get started with road biking, but you get a simple aluminum frame, a mechanical gearshift and rim brakes. Well-made middle-class road bikes in the price range up to $1500 have a light aluminum frame and a solid shift group, some of them already have (hydraulic) disc brakes. Good carbon frames with mechanical gears start from $1500, braking is by rim brake or disc. Similarly expensive aluminum models are usually better equipped. In the price range up to $3000, you already have the full range of options between carbon and aluminum, mechanical and electronic gears, rim brakes or discs. At the beginning, it is better to pay attention to a low overall weight and a harmonious equipment – often you can get a previous year’s model at a bargain price at the turn of the season.

Choose the right gear ratio

Choosing the right gear ratio is essential for having fun cycling. So when choosing your bike, pay attention to the terrain in which it should be moved (even on vacation) and pay attention to the mounted gear ratio. The compact crank (50/34) in connection with a long rear derailleur and an 11-28 cassette is the best choice for everyday sports enthusiasts. In very mountainous areas, an 11-32 or even 11-34 cassette can be useful.

New or used

It often sounds tempting: a high-end road bike at an entry-level price – the internet with various marketplaces makes it possible. However, in order to be able to realistically assess a used bike, you should have very good technical knowledge and trained eyes. In addition to a good maintenance condition, an impeccable history and a serious seller, the road bike ideally has exactly the right size and desired look. Subsequent changes to add-on parts and wear parts to be replaced quickly cost money, and there is no model selection or advice available from specialists. Our tip for beginners: rather get a discounted model from the previous year than a used bike!

Basic equipment

In order to be safe on your road bike, you should value good basic equipment. You can plan an amount of at least $300 for the helmet and the typical bike clothing. Depending on your budget, there is a wide range of fashion and quality, in any case your sportswear should fit snugly but still comfortably in a racing bike position. A try-on is generally recommended here, especially for the core pieces of helmet, jersey, cycling shorts and cycling shoes.

To carry out the most necessary work on the racing bike and to be able to help you in the event of a puncture, you need the right accessories. For the saddle bag with spare tube and mini tool, a mini and a floor pump, water bottles and speedometer etc. you should plan an amount of $100.

Training and nutrition

If you manage to drive for 1.5 hours 2-3 times a week at the beginning, you are already on a very good path. Start with moderate basic runs in the range of 60-75% of your max. Heart rate and gently expand your tours with a noticeable increase in condition. Do not give up so much on mileage and average speeds at the beginning, rather pay attention to a good body feeling and keep the fun, for example when varying the tours.

Ideally, you will be supported by a balanced and nutritious diet, as well as sufficient hydration. Isotonic drinks should always be on board, energy bars or gels for units over 90 minutes.

In a group or alone?

At the beginning, it can make sense to ride the first tours alone to familiarize yourself with the road  bike and to train your body feeling under stress. When riding in a group, make sure you have the right level of performance and familiarize yourself with the general rules and hand signals when driving in a group.

Wash, maintenance, repair

A clean and maintained road bike not only looks better, it also rides much better! Special attention is paid to the regular maintenance of the drive chain and the careful cleansing of tires and brakes. At greater intervals, bearings also require appropriate maintenance. The basic equipment for the filigree work on the road bike includes a torque wrench in addition to clean and intact tools.

How do you find the right road bike?

Before buying, you should define the main purpose of your bike. Under the broad term “road bike” you will find bikes that focus on comfort, suitability for everyday use, weight and equipment.

Are you looking for a fast bike for the daily commute? Do you want to ride unpaved roads with your bike? Or are you ambitious in sports, would you like to join a cycling club and maybe even take part in a race? Perhaps you are also interested in a longer and eventful tour? You know best yourself why you want to start cycling. Whether everyday, tour, sport or enjoyment – we present the different road bike categories to you here, just look in which category you are most likely to find yourself.

Furthermore, we also clarify the question of the correct frame size, the frame material and the shifting and braking components.

Aero Road Bike

Everything on this road bike is optimized for aerodynamics. A frame with large and flat profiles, integrated components or individual solutions and a stretched sitting position help you fight the clock.

  • Character: very sporty sitting position with a clear goal of high speed, little comfort, only able to ride on the road, gear ratio designed for high speed.
  • Purpose: time trial, triathlons, races.
  • Terrain: flat route profile, asphalt.
  • Suitable for: Time trialists, triathletes, ambitious riders in the amateur area.

Road Bike for Races

These road bikes offer the greatest intersection of lightness, sportiness and speed. A light frame with slim and round tube shapes, group-related components and a sporty seating position characterize the classic racing bike with a wide range of uses.

  • Character: compact seating position with a clear goal of agility and directional stability, medium comfort, only able to ride on good routes. Broad gear ratio for both climbs and high speeds.
  • Purpose: Training trips, bike tour trips (RTFs), bike marathons.
  • Terrain: from flat to mountainous, asphalt.
  • Suitable for: Frequent drivers, everyday riders, ambitious riders in the amateur area

Touring Road Bike

Touring or so-called endurance racing bikes offer plenty of comfort and practical equipment. With a relaxed seating position and long wheelbase, you are fatigue-free and run smoothly. Mudguards and luggage solutions can often be installed for greater everyday usability.

  • Character: Relaxed seating position with a clear aim for comfort and directional stability, also mobile on poor surfaces. Very wide gear ratio for both steep climbs and high speeds.
  • Purpose: Training trips, bike tours (RTFs), bike marathons, commuter trips, bike trips.
  • Terrain: from flat to mountainous, asphalt, cobblestone, easy gravel paths.
  • Suitable for: Frequent cyclists, everyday cyclists, cyclists, marathon cyclists, commuters.

All-rounder Road Bike

Cyclocross and Gravel road bikes are designed for off-road use. You can even ride these robust bikes in the forest and on gravel, the wide and profiled tires run a little rougher and less agile on the road.

  • Character: Compact seating position with the aim of control and directional stability, also mobile on poor surfaces. Gear ratio designed for steep climbs and terrain rather than high speed.
  • Purpose: Training trips, off-road trips, cyclocross races, commuter trips, bike trips.
  • Terrain: from flat to mountainous, asphalt, cobblestone, gravel, forest and field paths.
  • Suitable for: Frequent cyclists, everyday cyclists, off-road cyclists, cyclists, marathon cyclists, commuters

Our recommendation: If you don’t find yourself in any category or you are still unsure how you want to use your racing bike, we recommend a bike from the touring or endurance category. These road bikes offer the largest overlap and are intended for a wide range of uses. With a moderate saddle elevation, a comfortable seating position, smooth running and suitability for everyday use, you are not overwhelmed even as a beginner and well equipped for most routes.

Choose the right frame size

Once you have chosen a category, it is now a matter of choosing the right frame size for you. For all decisions that need to be made when buying a new bike, the most important thing is to choose the right frame size. Even the most expensive and noble racing bike will not give you pleasure if it doesn’t fit you properly. A frame that is too small or too large can quickly lead to tension or pain, which also greatly reduces riding pleasure.

We therefore recommend professional advice to determine your frame size. A key parameter here is your inside leg length, or also called inseam length. 

With your stride length you can pretty much determine your seat height (middle bottom bracket to top edge of saddle): seat height in cm = 0.885 x stride length in cm. You should be able to adjust this seat height on your desired bike without any problems, ideally in the middle of the scale, so that you can still vary up and down. With the rule of thumb frame height in cm = 0.69 x step length in cm you can pre-select the frame size. Deviations up or down are possible depending on your physique.

In addition to the frame height, the frame length is another parameter that significantly influences the seating position. The frame length should fit your proportions, that is, how the height-to-stride ratio is for you. Logical that with a long upper body you also need a longer frame. The same applies here: if the frame length does not match your body dimensions, in the worst case there is a risk of physical discomfort and poor performance.

Good sellers know that and we can only recommend you not to do without professional advice, especially when buying a road bike for the first time. 

Of course, the subject of sitting position is even more complex when it comes to fine tuning the saddle, handlebars and pedals. If you want to optimize your seating position even further, take a look at our guide for cycling posture.

Which frame material is recommended for getting started?

Aluminum, steel and carbon are the frame materials available in the road bike sector.

In the entry-level, they range from $600 to $1200, aluminum frames are common and the first choice, the material simply offers the best compromise between weight, rigidity, suitability for everyday use and price. Even in the high-priced racing bike sector, aluminum is also often used, because modern manufacturing techniques enable high rigidity with low weight. As a beginner, you benefit from the insensitivity and durability, in addition, with regard to the total price of the racing bike, higher quality equipment can be expected than with comparable models with carbon frames.

Carbon has the advantage over other materials that it offers great freedom of design. Unfortunately, it is also more sensitive to falls and requires sensitive handling. Inexpensive carbon frames are usually no lighter than their aluminum counterparts and, as mentioned above, cheaper components are often installed with a similar overall price. A better vibration damping than with aluminum is noticeable for the experienced cyclist, but really good carbon frames with appropriate equipment start beyond the $2000 and are therefore not an option for most beginners.

Road bikes with steel frames or made of expensive titanium are more likely to be assigned to the enthusiast scene or to be found in the bespoke version. Classic enthusiasts swear by the unique feel and look and are happy to accept a higher overall weight. These materials are rather unsuitable for beginners, moreover there are hardly any road bikes of this material in the usual bike shops, and moreover with a budget suitable for beginners.

The choice of components

It is quite common among manufacturers to equip the same frame with different component quality levels. Whether a road bike has a Tiagra or an Ultegra equipment can quickly make a difference of several hundred dollars. Whether this additional financial effort is worthwhile for you is, in addition to the existing budget, also a question of the intended use and the desired prestige. Basically, in the road bike sector, the more expensive and high-quality the components, the lighter they are. This does not mean that cheap entry-level groups such as Shimano’s Tiagra work less well – they are just a little heavier than an Ultegra. You can expect a clean function and a long service life from all new components if you care for them properly.

Here, too, you should decide on the intended use: Do you use your (touring) road bike in mountainous terrain and are you out during any weather and with luggage? In this case, we recommend a solid shift group with a wide gear ratio for steep climbs and disc brakes for reliable braking performance regardless of the weather. If you are looking more at the total weight and at the start of every race with your road bike, the lighter rim brakes and a gear ratio with focus on high speed are the right choice.

When it comes to bikes, it always looks harmonious and well thought out when all the components of a group have been installed. If the brake / shift levers – also called STIs for short (the terminology originated from Shimano, but is now synonymous with the groups of all manufacturers) – granted the brake body, the rear derailleur, the derailleur, the cassette and the crank from the same group This not only functions smoothly when the parts work together, but is also a big plus when it comes to reselling.

The standard road bike gearshift currently has two chainrings at the front, 11 sprockets at the rear and is available in different grades. A typical equipment for recreational athletes is the so-called compact crank with 50/34 teeth and an 11-28 cassette. If you are traveling in a mountainous area, an 11-32 cassette for steep ramps can make more sense. If your focus is on high speed in a flat area, the so-called semi-compact crank 52/36 with an 11-25 or 11-28 cassette can be the right choice.

It is shifted mechanically or electronically, whereby the manufacturers differ in their operating logic in both cases. Here only a test drive helps to determine which operation suits you best. The market leader is undisputed Shimano, whereby SRAM is constantly catching up with its market shares and has innovative technology (1-speed drive, shifting by radio). Campagnolo is mainly found for enthusiasts and on Italian road bikes.

Buying a new or used road bike?

With the prices of road bikes, it is all too reasonable to take a look at the used market. If a high-quality bike is available for the price of a beginner’s bike, the temptation is often great, because after two years you can save 30 to 50% compared to the new price.

But be careful, buying used is not recommended for everyone. In addition to good technical know-how, you should be able to realistically assess the value and condition of the bike and be familiar with the issues of frame size and equipment.

You can quickly find out whether the used bike you found is really a bargain with the help of relevant portals such as Google or eBay: dealers often also offer surplus items from previous years at significantly reduced prices. The prices of large portals compared to local classified ads can also differ significantly. A visit to the local dealer can also be worthwhile, especially at the beginning and end of a season, there are discounted models that are not even offered on the Internet.

When it comes to the advantages of buying a used vehicle, only the financial advantage should be mentioned, the potential disadvantages are far more numerous. You are severely limited when it comes to choosing size, color and equipment; you also have to forego a guarantee when buying privately. If you have to adapt the used road bike to yourself with new parts or replace wearing parts right from the start, this can quickly put the supposedly attractive price into perspective.

If it should be a used bike, we strongly recommend a personal inspection and a waiver of (expensive) shipping solutions – especially from private. The risk of hidden defects or damage during transport is too great. In order to make the second-hand purchase a success, you should be able to answer the following questions exactly:

  • Is it a reputable seller? Purchase and maintenance documents available? Documents about the bike available? Do the frame number and proof of purchase match? Used bike yourself or seller for third parties?
  • Is the bike 100% my size? Frame size fits? Stem length, handlebar width fits? Has the steerer tube been shortened? Are there possibly original parts been replaced?
  • Is the bike in perfect condition? Is the bike in its original condition? Are traces of falls or repaired areas recognizable? Is wear on the brakes, chain, sprocket, sprockets, tires, handlebar tape, saddle, seat post recognizable? Has the previous owner treated his bike with care? Are all screw connections tight and the screw heads OK? Do the rims have flaps or flaps? Are all bearings running smoothly and noiselessly? Is the impression positive after a long test drive?
  • Is the bike worth the money? Do you like the color and features? Are investments or repairs required? Is the price called realistic? Is the bike, including any subsequent costs, still a good offer?

Wear parts in particular go into the budget afterwards. A set of new tires costs around $80, a new chain $20 to $40, a new cassette depending on the quality level $25 to $500 and a new handlebar tape between $10 and $50 – if you can’t change that yourself, the service fee will cost, too. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at the supposed bargain, perhaps with an experienced acquaintance.

How much money do I need to spend?

Of course, we cannot know how much money it is worth to start your new hobby. But we can tell you that you can get a new road bike for a moderate $600. Depending on your budget, you should leave yourself enough money for clothing and accessories, which we will go into in the following paragraph.

Good and affordable entry-level racing bikes are available in the price range of $600 to $1000, including both current models and discounted last year’s models.

As with many other hobbies, the same applies to road bikes: there is hardly any price limit. However, we recommend that you get a cheap entry-level bike right at the start to gain experience in driving and care and maintenance. After a while you will also find out more and more how you use your racing bike and which routes you prefer to ride. The bike that you will get once after your entry phase will then correspond even more to your ideas and habits. And if cycling remains your hobby, your entry-level bike can still serve as a training bike for winter, role training or going to work.

  • Compare exactly in this price range and also pay attention to the total weight, which can vary up to 2 kg depending on the manufacturer and model
  • No road bike should weigh more than 10 kg these days, cheap entry-level bikes weigh around 9.2 kg.
  • With a higher-quality frame, better attachments and components, you can get well under 9 kg in the price range of $1000.
  • In the price range around $1500, total weights under 8 kg are also possible.

Equipment you need for your road bike

Clothing

If we assume that you will start racing in spring / summer, you will need the appropriate clothing for both sporty and functional purposes. Tight-fitting clothing is common and sensible when racing, the standard equipment consists of:

  • Helmet, from $40, please never without! Ensures safety in the event of a fall and visibility in road traffic.
  • Glasses, from $20, to protect the eyes and against blinding sun.
  • Neckerchief, from $10, protects the neck from cold drafts at higher speeds, can also be pulled over the ears if necessary.
  • Bib shorts with seat pad, from $50, for a firm fit and a good feeling.
  • Base layer shirt, from $20, transports sweat away from the skin and keeps the upper body dry.
  • Cycling jersey, from $40, whether striking or subtle, classic jerseys with front zipper are extremely practical with their back pockets.
  • Wind vest, from $30, against drafts on descents or falling temperatures.
  • Rain jacket, from $30, keeps the upper body dry in an emergency.
  • Gloves, from $20, ensure a secure hold and offer comfort.
  • Sports socks, from $10, for quick sweat removal.
  • Cycling shoes, from $60, ensure optimal power transmission and take up the plates of your pedal system.

As you can see, the basic equipment quickly comes to an amount of over $300, which you should definitely include in your budget. Depending on taste and quality, higher prices are of course also possible here. We recommend that you try on the clothes on site and ideally test them for the correct fit in a road bike position.

As a basic principle that you can remember for the clothes: as tight as possible and as comfortable as necessary. Too loose clothing is more of a problem when racing and especially the seat pad of the pants should always be tight and in the same place. To clarify the question of what the racing cyclist wears “underneath”: nothing. The additional layer of fabric would only lead to annoying friction and collect sweat. Over time, you can add other useful parts to your outfit.

Cycling shoes and pedals

Of course you can also ride your racing bike with normal pedals, but we want to be honest: If you are serious about racing cycling, you should get so-called click pedals. New road bikes come without pedals anyway, so you can get the appropriate pedal system with the right footwear right at the start.

Clipless pedals ensure a firm connection between pedal and cycling shoe and thus create the conditions for a round and efficient kick with the typical push and pull phase of a racing bike.

Inexpensive pedal systems are available from $30. 

Additional Equipment

You, your bike and the right clothes – the initial equipment is almost complete. However, you should still purchase these parts so that you can carry out the most important settings and repairs both at home and on the go.

  • Small saddle bag, from $10, holds tubing, mini-tool, tire levers and small change on the tour.
  • Replacement tube, from $5, so that it can continue even after a puncture.
  • Mini-Tool, from $10, for the most necessary repairs on the go.
  • Tire levers, from $2, helps with changing the tube and protect the fingers.
  • Bottle holder, from $5, drinking is very important, better two holders than just one!
  • Drinking bottle, from $2, ideally with a volume from 500 ml.
  • Mini pump, from $10, is mounted on the bottle holder and helps in the event of a puncture.
  • Floor pump, from $25, conveniently ensures the necessary pressure of 6 to 8 bar in the road bike tire before the tour.
  • Repair kit, from $2, saves the tour in the event of slight tube defects.
  • Speedometer, from $20, shows you the most important data.
  • Lighting, from $20, not only ensures visibility at dusk and in the dark, but also in tunnels and on confusing streets.

Our sample list for the accessories comes to an amount of above $110 , whereby you can of course also quickly spend more money here. The classic speedometer is often replaced by multifunctional cycling computers with GPS, which are priced at $100 or more. Since this part can initially also be carried out by a smartphone app, you should invest in a good bike, well-fitting functional clothing and useful accessories with a limited budget.

Our recommendation

As you can see from our sample calculation, with a price-conscious approach, entry is already possible with a budget of $1000 (road bike $600, clothing $300, accessories $100).

If your budget is bigger, we recommend you choose the higher quality bike. In the price range up to $1500, stay with an aluminum frame and pay attention to the better shift / brake components or the lighter wheels. Good attachments such as an ergonomic saddle and handlebar or light seat posts and stems are also indications of a higher-quality racing bike.