• First and foremost, you want to find a bike that not only fits your needs but, more important, also fits you. Bikes, like the people who ride them, come in a variety of sizes. Some brands rely on old-school Euro (metric) frame measurements (46–61cm), while a growing number have come to rely on the less-specific sizing models like those used when ordering a cup of coffee—small, medium and large.
Adding more complexity to the frame-size question is that not that all brands rely on the same method of measuring their bikes. Yeah, it sounds complex, but don’t give up!
• Every responsible bike shop should take the time to explain the variations of frame sizes and spend time ensuring that the bike you’re considering fits you correctly.
• Beyond the actual fit, there is also your positioning to consider, which can best be answered when you consider the following question: What goals are you hoping to achieve as a cyclist? If you have no greater two-wheeled aspiration than to simply get outdoors and get some exercise, a $8000 pro-replica race bike is probably not the bike you need. As much as road riding has been popularly defined as a painful, hunched-over experience, and while it can be that, it doesn’t have to be.
Many bike brands offer bikes with taller head tubes that provide a more upright seating position, which is what we would encourage for most recreational cyclists. Despite the current fashion of non-adjustable, integrated handlebar/stem combos on high-end bikes, the feature has luckily not trickled down to lower-priced bikes.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
• Within the world of classic, drop-bar road bikes, there are a few recognized subcategories, which include aero, “climbing”, all road and, of course, the latest entry, gravel.
Aero road bikes are defined by their stylish aero-/foil-shaped tubes that are specifically designed to cut as narrow a hole in the wind as possible. Aero bikes tend to be both a bit heavier and less compliant due to the wind-cheating frame tubes and shapes.
Calling a bike a “climbing” bike is a bit of a misnomer, as any bike that’s pedaled up a hill will also be used to pedal back down. What the “climbing” designation usually refers to is any bike that weighs less than 16 pounds. Considerations of weight (of the bike or rider) have been a mainstay of the road world. Light bikes make for easier climbing, but they can also be a handful on fast descents due to the bike being less able to stay planted.
The distinct features of an all-road bike, aka an endurance bike, can include a slightly longer wheelbase for added stability, relaxed frame angles, lower gears, and room to run up to 32mm tires. The all-road bike marked the beginning of the industry’s acceptance of a wider world view of the road-riding experience beyond the race-inspired world in which it existed for decades.
As for gravel, well, no segment has proven as simultaneously divisive and enjoyable at the same time. And, the simple reason is that it brings with it the added attraction and challenge of dirt roads, something that most traditional roadies simply can’t fathom. Forgetting that for decades a majority of “roads” used in the Tour de France were gravel and not some sweet and smooth ribbon of blacktop, gravel’s detractors have found themselves a growing minority as the popularity of dual-purpose riding has exploded in popularity.
• Of course, in terms of finding a bike that fits your needs, there is always the one question you need to grapple with: What are you willing to spend for a new bike? Our best, unbiased advice is that you shouldn’t spend less than $1000 for a new bike. At prices below that, we would become suspect of the durability of the components that make up the bike.
• Don’t forget, too, if you’re an official first-timer, along with the bike, you’ll need to spend at least $200 more for the added necessities, such as a helmet, cycling-specific shorts and shoes, a saddle bag, spare tube, bottle cages, bottles and safety lights. And just in case, it’s helpful to have a ride-share app on your phone (if you ride with one) in case you break down and can’t reach a friend for a ride.
• And yes, we emphasized earlier and will do so again—the roads and highways we ride on didn’t earn the name “mean streets” for nothing. It’s not easy being a road rider with the car-dominated traffic we find ourselves captive to. As helpful as brightly colored clothing is in keeping you visible, never—we repeat, never—assume that a motorist sees you on your bike. It’s important to always ride defensively, and yes, at times, even offensively. In short, don’t worry about being courteous to a motorist if doing so puts you in an unsafe position. The bottom line? Ride often, ride safe and get home for dinner.
10 OF THE LATEST 2021 ROAD AND GRAVEL BIKES
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