Road bikes have been around for over a century. From racing over the Alps and commuting in the city to family rides in the park and touring across country, skinny-tired road bikes have served a multitude of purposes and provided an abundance of adventure. Best of all, over 100 years later they retain much of the same efficient profile that they were born with.
THE PRICE WAR
Let’s start off by acknowledging a simple (and somewhat unexplainable) fact—yes, many minimalist road bikes can cost as much as a shiny new motorcycle or a used car in good condition. Hey, don’t blame us, we’re just the messengers!
While there are a lot of great new bike options out there, and, at a wide variety of price points, there are also a lot of opinions out there (and everybody will claim they know more than anyone else). So, first and foremost, think about how the bike will be used and how often, set a realistic budget, stick to it and don’t let other people influence you based on their own biases.
In our opinion, $1200–$1800 is a realistic entry-level price point for a road bike that can get you started with room for later upgrades. For more serious riders, bikes starting at $2500 can be ridden hard and plenty. At the same time, be realistic on expectations, because with supply levels at an all-time low, there are almost no discounts to be found.
If you are having a hard time finding something in your budget, buy below and save your money for upgrades later. We also say this because many stock bikes that are available now made compromises so they could get delivered. This might be in wheels, drivetrain components and lots of the small parts. At the end of the day, it just leaves you room to make it your own.
As the road category evolved in the last decade, the industry continued to splinter the segment in an effort to target the appropriate niche audience. These days the two dominant segments are simply road and gravel.
Although they’ve lost favor in the marketing wars (due to the arrival of gravel bikes), the all-road category of road bikes has sat between a pure, paved road bike and a gravel bike. The all-road bike was meant to run with larger tires without as many compromises on the road as a true gravel bike. All-road bikes may come with traditional road drivetrains or speed-oriented gravel drivetrains, but have less emphasis on low-speed gearing.
FRAMING THE CHOICES
Deciding what frame material to choose has always been an important decision. Your choices include carbon fiber, steel, aluminum, titanium and, yes, even wood/bamboo. Each material requires its own construction process and produces its own type of ride quality. While the ride quality on the frames with the same material might be similar, it’s how the frame is made that will ultimately dictate how it will ride.
Without a doubt, carbon fiber is definitely the most popular material of the day and enjoys the largest market share due to its performance, weight, ride quality and price, which are all easily alterable. Carbon frames can be found at price points just below the $2000 mark and rise sky-high from there. If anyone tells you to shy away from carbon due to how fragile the material is, they simply don’t know what they are talking about.
The second-most popular frame material would be aluminum, which replaced steel as the go-to frame material following the mountain bike boom in the early ’90s. Aluminum frames will be found at price points from the low hundreds to the low thousands of dollars.
Steel and titanium are both great options, with steel spanning across the entire market from entry-level to premium price points. Titanium is a top choice for custom boutique brands because of its strength-to-weight and durability. While titanium has maintained a certain level of prestige in the marketplace, the ride quality of a good steel frame should not be ignored. Assuredly, steel frames will always pay a weight penalty to all the others, but we’ve often heard people say that a well-built steel frame can have a better ride quality than a poorly built carbon frame.
Although carbon frames are not the sole domain of integration, they will be the bikes most often found with hidden hoses, cables/wires and even hidden compartments. Be forewarned that while all the integration is aesthetically pleasing, it can also bring a level of complexity with maintenance.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
This is where the bridge from old school to new has become a bit of a flashpoint (don’t even get us started on e-bikes!). Going into 2022, more bikes spec’d with electronic shifting and especially disc brakes have started to force out their mechanical-shifting and rim-brake predecessors on the dealer floor. We’re not saying that either of the old-style components were bad, but then rotary dial phones (kids, ask your parents) always worked well, too!
As we’ve discussed before, disc brakes have become nearly ubiquitous on road bikes—and for good reason. If you’re looking at a bike with disc brakes, then it should also be equipped with thru-axles. At this stage of the game, that might seem like a given, but we’ve still seen entry-level models with older quick-release skewers that could limit future wheel upgrades.
MAKE THE SHIFT
Drivetrains have been one of the key component categories that have enjoyed plenty of upgrades across the board. The main players in the gear-shifting market are Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. All three brands enjoy a legacy of designing race-winning components that epitomize the height of modern drivetrain technology.
Even though each of the three brands has their own unique—and very proprietary—designs in both mechanical and electronic versions, what they have in common is providing a range of platforms to meet varying price points.
Shimano: Dura-Ace, Ultegra, 105, Sora.
Campagnolo: Super Record, Record, Chorus, Centaur.
SRAM: Red, Force, Rival, Apex.
For 2022, we can finally say that all drivetrain brands now offer a 12-speed kit. Does it make any difference to have one or two extra gears on the rear cassette? Unless you’re the real racy type who needs to ensure that there’s a gear waiting for every possible race moment, we’d say no. Lower-priced bikes are the place to find 10- or 11-speed drivetrains, and when coupled with a 2x crank, they provide adequate gearing.
THE HOOP GAME
While we think wheels are the number-one upgrade, they are also a component that can affect the price of a new bike significantly. As such, wheels are an easy place to save money when looking for a new bike.
Just as it is true with frames, carbon fiber wheels have also become far more common across price points than ever imagined. Are they a necessity? No, and alloy rims are a perfectly good option that offers you the ability to save a bit of up-front cash and later choose a wheelset that fits your specific needs.
Wheels and tires are among the fastest-evolving segments of road cycling. If you’re an old-timer getting back into the sport, don’t bother looking for tubular wheel/tire combos anymore. These days, 99 percent of all the bikes made run clincher wheels that use inner tubes or are tubeless. While tubeless wheels are the wave of the future for their flat-fighting abilities, new bikes will always start off with inner tubes, but check to see if the rims are tubeless-ready.
With all that said, you should now have enough information to at least get you started in the right direction. As noted earlier, road bikes have been around for over 100 years, and we can guarantee they will be around for another 100 for the simple reason that the joy, adventure and fitness that they provide is timeless.
The story is well told and for good reason. Ever since Eduardo Bianchi opened his first shop in 1885, the world’s oldest bike brand stayed true to their mission of building bikes that perform with the style. The Sprint is available in seven sizes and runs with an 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain and 25mm Vittoria tires.
BIANCHI OLTRE XR4
When it comes to top-flight racing bikes, Bianchi has a stable of performers that include the shapely Oltre XR4. With a 12-speed Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, there’s also a one-piece Vision Metron handlebar/stem and an Italian wheel package of Fulcrum hoops wrapped with Pirelli rubber.
Talk about a legacy carbon frame builder, Craig Calfee built the first all-carbon bike ever raced in the Tour de France (under Greg LeMond in 1991), and his expertise extends today with a range of road and gravel bikes all handmade in his California frame factory.
KHS FLITE 750
Preceded by a three-bike line of “Performance” bikes, the Flite 750 is the entry-level model for KHS’ three-bike line of “Racing” bikes. The carbon frame is available in five sizes and is spec’d with an 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain with hydraulic disc brakes.
CIPOLLINI RB1K AD.ONE
This is the top-of-the-line model from the legacy pro rider’s stable of Italian-made road bikes. The Ad.One’s design impetus was to integrate true time-trial aerodynamics into the original RB1K aero bike to make it even faster. Big tubes to maximize stiffness and titanium thru-axles are a nice touch.
Price: $6390 (frameset)
Handmade in Bozeman, Montana, the Pursuit Road epitomizes the type of design and fabrication that you’d expect from a truly artisan approach to bike building. The carbon frames are split between the Pure, Supple and All-Road models and include a Chris King headset and bottom bracket.
Few brands epitomize the embrace of art and detail as well as Firefly. Famous for their beautifully anodized titanium frames, each Firefly frame is meticulously built to create the road or gravel bike of your dreams.
Price: All custom
QUINTANA ROO SRFIVE
Forget that QR is best known as a triathlon brand, because the SRFive was one of the more impressive road bikes we tested in 2021. Each frame is painted and assembled in Tennessee with a menu of options.
ENVE CUSTOM ROAD
It was midway through 2021 when the American wheel builder announced that they had entered the carbon frame business as well. Both the Race and All-Road models are custom built in their Utah factory with a choice of 38 colors. Choose between a wide variety of frame and complete bike options. A Scicon bike bag is included.
As famous as this family run frame shop is for their steel and carbon bikes, the PRP2 uses custom Dedacciai Aegis aluminum tubing drawn in proprietary shapes with a special heat-treatment process. Custom geometry and custom colors available at no extra charge. Like all Tommasini bikes, the PRP2 is handmade in Italy.
RIBBLE ULTRA SL R
Ribble is a consumer-direct brand out of England and the Ultra Road is their latest aero road bike that is available in two models—Ultra SLand Ultra SL R. The bike’s design was overseen by former pro Jamie Burrows, and a whole range of personalized spec and color options are available.
VIELO R+1 ALTO
Easily one of the more unique bikes on the road today, the Vielo that comes to us from a father/son bike team in London. The aero-enhanced frame has room for 32mm tires and is 1x-dedicated—a truly modernist interpretation of a road bike.
So French and so elegant, that’s the best way to define the carbon Huez RS, which is the legacy brand’s designated climbing model. Available in five sizes as a frame and fork or complete models that range from $4200 to the Pro Team $12,800 model that has a Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain and the super-light MCC DX carbon hoops.
OFFICINE MATTIO OM 1S
Handmade in Cuneo, Italy, this monocoque carbon race bike is intended to be ridden hard and fast. Frames are available in five sizes with a claimed frame weight of 920 grams, and the bike is also available in eight different
BASSO DIAMANTE SV
Born from a world championship-winning bloodline, the family-run Basso bike brand retains its Italian production and always with an eye towards performance. Sultry frame shapes with internal routing and racing geometry defines Diamante SV.
Price: $6450 (frameset)
If you’re looking for an American-made titanium bike with a choice of stock or custom geometry and choice of paint, the Haley could be for you. The $4499 model includes an Enve fork and oversized, round-profile straight-gauge tubing. An extra $500 will get you oversized round or bi-ovalized butted tubing. Complete bikes are also available.
Price: $4999 (frameset)
ORBEA ORCA M20LTD
When it comes to a family of good-looking, well-engineered road bikes, Orbea’s 12-model Orca line is easily one the most abundant. Priced from $2399 to $9999, each model has svelte frame shapes and impressive color choices. The M20 Ltd features a Shimano 12-speed Ultegra drivetrain.
BMC TEAMMACHINE ALR ONE
From the famed Swiss brand BMC comes a new line of aluminum road bikes. The Teammachine is available in five sizes and three price points starting at $1999. Look for a Shimano Ultegra drivetrain and Mavic wheels on this top-line model.