When it comes to the major types of bikes, the road bike stands out as perhaps the most used and utilized of them all.
Check out our complete guide to the best road bikes.
From long distance racers, to commuters, and pretty much everything in between, the road bike remains the most popular.
Road bikes haven’t really changed all that much over the years, and still maintain a similar look to bikes from several decades ago. While the technology has certainly changed, the general idea of a road bike is time-tested, and continues to be the preferred design for more than a few reasons.
This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about road bikes, from what they are in the first place, to different types, what to look for when buying one, and many other topics.
So, with that said, let’s first discuss what the actual definition of a road bicycle is.
At its core definition, a road bike is a bike designed for use on paved roads.
Some prefer to use the term “racing bicycle,” but this has become a bit outdated, as more genres have emerged within the road bike family that refer to more specific uses.
The overall intention of a road bike is a high rate of speed and maneuverability while also being as efficient as possible.
This means that the bike can achieve fast speeds without exerting an unreasonable amount of effort. Thus, the road bike design is perfect for fitness enthusiasts, long distance riders, and competitive riding.
Here is a breakdown of each component that is typically found with a road bike.
The frame of a road bike tends to fall on the skinnier side, and is often incredibly light, especially with higher-quality models.
Older road bike models usually have a flat top tube design that contains a short seatpost, while newer versions have a sloping top tube that is more compact.
Aside from that, there really isn't much variation.
Some of the very expensive road bikes used for professional racing may have a more exotic frame design, but the overall gist is the same.
Simplicity and low weight are the goals.
Road bike frames don’t have any kind of suspension built in. The front fork in modern road bikes is usually made from carbon fiber composite.
Road bike wheels are also on the lighter side, and skinny as well.
They usually contain the fewest amount of spokes possible, and certain models may have fiberglass or carbon spokes that look more like giant fan blades instead of thin spokes.
Aerodynamics and low weight are the reasons why road bike wheels are designed the way they are.
Tires are very skinny as well, which is one of the more recognizable traits of a road bike. These tires also have minimal tread, or no tread whatsoever. This gives them a better grip on pavement, and also helps with pedal efficiency.
Road bike tires are usually around 23mm wide, but some newer models are going a bit wider, as many have noted this actually helps provide a smoother ride with better speed.
These newer tires are 25mm or wider. Regardless, road bike tires are significantly skinnier than mountain bike or hybrid tires.
While this is ideal for pavement, this makes road bikes unsuitable for any type of off-road riding, except for lower speeds when it’s unavoidable. They are also not very adapt for handling obstacles in the road, whether it’s a small pothole, or any kind of debris.
The gear systems of most road bikes feature a vast amount speeds to choose from, giving you the ideal setting for everything from high speeds to climbing.
The chainset is the larger wheel that connects to the pedals, while the cassette is the collection of sprockets on the back wheel.
Older chainsets used to have two cogs, but newer models have three for a higher selection of gears.
To the naked eye, a road bike gear system is not all that different from other bike types, aside from the higher number of available gears.
A road bike’s handlebars are one of its most recognizable traits, perhaps even more than its skinny tires.
Road bike handlebars have a downward sloping design that is more conducive to learning forward when riding, achieving higher speeds due to decreased wind resistance.
The curved portion of the handlebars will typically have one hand brake on the right for the back tire.
The standard portion of the handlebars will have both brakes, and the gear shifters as well.
The saddle portion of the road bike may look a bit uncomfortable at first, but the design is actually better for long riding periods.
The saddle itself is very slender, and often has very limited padding. Road bike saddles depend on the overall shape, size, and angle when it comes to providing the most comfortable fit.
The seatpost is often at an angle, slightly leaning backwards. It takes a bit of fine tuning to get the right combination down between the seatpost and saddle, but once you do, you can expect a much more comfortable ride.
The vast majority of road bikes use dual-pivot brakes, which are positioned just above each side of the wheel rim. This allows for quick and precise braking, which is very crucial when riding at higher speeds.
While dual-pivot brakes have been the norm for many years, there are some road bike manufacturers who are starting to use a disc brake design that is more common with mountain bikes. Still, for the time being, dual-pivot brakes remain the standard.
Although there has been an influx of newer types of road bikes that have come out over the last few years, the six listed below are still the most common types that you’ll find on the road today.
The name is pretty explanatory.
Race road bikes are designed for racing and high speeds, so every aspect of the bike is designed to cater to this goal.
The frame of a race bike is going to be incredibly light, stiff, and provide a high amount of response. The bike’s gears are configured for higher speeds, with some middle gears suited for climbing. Wheels and tires are very skinny, and as lightweight as possible.
Additional features are kept to a minimum to ensure the weight remains as low as possible.
If you’re looking to go as fast as possible, a race bike is for you.
The majority of riders starting out will probably want to consider other types at first, and build to a race bike later on down the road.
Sportive bikes are similar to race bikes, but with a bigger emphasis on comfort.
This combination has made sportive bikes very popular for endurance events, and also as a general usage road bike. They still favor speed, but have some small tweaks that make a big difference in terms of posture and comfort.
The frame and seatpost are set up in a way that encourages a more upright riding position, rather than the forward-leaning position favored by traditional racing bikes. There is also more “give” in the frame’s construction, instead of the more rigid feel of a racing bike.
As for the gears, you still get a configuration that offers high speeds, but with expanded lower gears to help with climbing.
These lower gears allow you to climb without using as much energy. You may lose some speed, but again, the focus is on endurance and comfort. Disc brakes are also becoming more popular with sportive bikes.
If you prefer longer distance rides, or are looking for a faster bike that gives you more comfort, a sportive bike should be at the top of your list.
Time trial bikes are like racing bikes, only designed to have even less wind resistance and even more speed.
Commonly used for time racing and triathlons, these bikes are about as fast as you can get, but this comes at the expense of comfort.
The frame of a time trial bike has large, flat tubing, and most of the bike’s components are hidden away to decrease wind resistance. The rider sits a lot lower on one of these frames, and there are aero handlebars that extend in the middle so the rider can extend forward even more and ride with their head downwards while still maintaining control.
Gears are bigger on time trial bikes, giving the rider some extended gears that result in even more speed. Wheels are almost always carbon fiber, and tires are on the skinnier side of the spectrum. Every last detail is intended to be as light and aerodynamic as possible.
These bikes are not ideal for any kind of casual use, and should only be purchased if you’re serious about time trial racing, or any kind of triathlon competition.
Aero road bikes are very similar to time trial bikes, and share a lot of the same characteristics. They are basically racing road bikes that have been merged with many of the aerodynamic features found with a time trial bike, but without going full-on with it.
Most of the frames are made from carbon, and feature the same lowered stance on a time trial bike, but a bit scaled back. Wheels and tires are light and skinny, and the gearing is basically the same as your average road bike.
If you want the speed of a racing bike, but only want a few extra aerodynamic features instead of going all the way with a time trial bike, an aero bike is the best choice.
Like the name says, this bike type is for those that rely on a bike for transportation around town, often on a daily basis. They have a road bike build, but include numerous features and tweaks that are more focused on comfort and balance than on speed and weight.
The frame is more conducive to an upright position instead of leaning forward. This is both comfortable, and allows the rider to stay upright and focus on traffic rather than leaning forward.
Frames will also have fittings for mudflaps and luggage racks for you to place your personal belongings on, rather than carry them on your back.
The weight of the frame is higher than an average road bike, but commuter bikes are still relatively low weight, especially when compared to other kinds of bikes.
Commuter bike wheels are stronger and more sturdy than other road bike tires, which also adds some weight, but offers better resistance to bending and bumps. Tires are a little wider, and may have a slight tread on them as well.
Handlebars can be either flat or the drop style, and disc brakes are increasingly popular, as they are easier to operate in mud and rain, and allow for some minor irregularities in wheel rims that may occur from bumps and bending. Gears are more inline with a racing bike, but with not as many speeds.
If you are looking to use a road bike as transportation, and want to be as comfortable and efficient as possible, a commuter bike should be your first choice.
Touring road bikes are bikes designed for long distance rides, often for days at a time.
They have a more traditional racing bike build when compared to something like a commuter bike, but with additional features that are meant to make touring easier.
The frame is similar to a road bike, but has a more upright build that allows the rider to go back and forth between riding upright and leaning forward with ease. The frame is also a little thicker, and weighs a bit more than a racing bike.
There are almost always very skinny mud protectors on the front and back areas, that are positioned just above the tires. Wheels are tougher, and there are more spokes to provide better reinforcement against bumps and added stress from carrying loads for longer periods.
Gears are one of the biggest differences, as touring bikes aren’t built for speed.
The ratio is lower than a racing bike, with a wider range of mid-gears that give more choices when trying to pace yourself while remaining efficient. Tires are a little wider, and may have a slight tread for added toughness.
Touring bikes are for touring. If you plan on going for long distances while carrying luggage and belongings, a touring bike will make a huge distance in how your trip goes, and remains versatile enough for daily use as well, whether for fitness or commuting.
Here’s how a road bike stacks up against the other two.
As the name suggests, a hybrid bike is the combination of a road and mountain bike.
This means that you get the lighter weight and responsiveness of a road bike, but with the riding stance, gearing, and some measure of toughness that you would find in a mountain bike.
A hybrid bike’s frame is most similar to a road bike, and is generally as light as it can be given the circumstance. The frame’s shape is engineered to give the rider a higher stance, while also being more upright.
The wheels and tires are more similar to a mountain bike, including wider tires, and actual tread that is helpful for light off-roading or when encountering changing terrains in a city setting. While you can use a hybrid for light trail-riding, it’s best to use an actual mountain bike.
Gearing and seating are more in line with a mountain bike as well, as you’ll have a much more plush saddle, and higher gears that are helpful with climbing.
So, while a hybrid may have the slight appearance of a road bike, the only real similarities are the frame’s appearance, and if there are drops on the handlebar.
It’s basically a more fragile mountain bike that retains some of the speedier aspects of a road bike. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on the actual use.
If you'd like to learn what are the best hybrid bikes available today, click here.
Mountain bikes are almost the exact opposite from road bikes in nearly every way.
They are intended for light to heavy trail riding, and in some cases, actual downhilling.
Mountain bikes have a thicker framing that is more geared towards providing stability and absorbing shock. It’s also shaped in a way that provides a more upright ride, even when riding at higher speeds. The position is set higher, which gives the rider more control over the bike as a whole when navigating rough terrain and around obstacles, or even when in the air.
These frames almost always have some sort of shock absorption system, whether that includes a front fork shock, a rear suspension system, or even a built in shock absorber that is located at the top of the frame’s rear, allowing for the frame to “flex” up to nearly an inch. Downhill mountain bikes have complex shock absorption systems in the front and back, with several inches of travel.
The seating is a little more plush than a road bike, and provides a wider amount of coverage as well. Handlebars are straight, and rather than the downward drops on a road bike, these versions often have what’s known as “bull horns,” or upward facing handlebar ends that allow the rider to sit even more upright when coasting.
Gears have more range for everything from steep climbs to fast speeds during flatter sections. Brakes uses to be on the rims, but more and more mountain bikes have made the switch to disc brakes, which perform better in inclement conditions, and in case a rim bends.
Wheels are much more durable and strong when compared to a road bike, and tires are wide with knobby treading for better grip and added shock absorption.
Mountain bikes are made for off-roading.
They can be used for city riding and paved trails, but they are much less efficient than a road bike.
As the name suggests, flat bar road bikes are road bikes that opt for flat handlebars instead of the downward drop of a traditional road bike.
This is intended to give the bike a more comfortable feel when riding, at the expense of the aerodynamics a drop handlebar provides.
While any road bike can technically be made a flat bar model, bikes that are manufactured as flat bar bikes do have some slight differences, such as trigger gear systems commonly found on a mountain bike.
The frame is still basically the same as a standard road bike, and still encourages a forward lean.
Modern flat bar bikes are more or less the answer for those that aren’t satisfied with a hybrid in terms of speed and efficiency. Flat bar bikes are a little more comfortable and better suited for commuting and city use, but still very much a road bike.
A recumbent bike is a very different twist on a standard bike. While you still have two tires, handlebars, gears, pedals, and hand brakes, recumbent bikes allow the rider to literally recline back when riding.
Rather than a conventional frame design, the main part of the frame is usually one solid tube, with a full seat that sits towards the back in a reclined position.
As a result, the rider extends their legs all the way forwards, past where the handlebars are.
The pedals and crankshaft are actually located right above the front tire. Wheels, tires, and the derailer are essentially the same as a standard bike.
Recumbent bikes provide a lot of advantages. They allow the rider to sit in a much more comfortable and ergonomic way, and makes long traveling easier on the body, especially the back area. They are also much more aerodynamic due to the body’s positioning.
Recumbent road bikes use the same general ideas of a road bike, but with the obvious twist of the recumbent design as opposed to the traditional upright stance. They are still very lightweight, and have similar gear setups and tire widths.
Men and women have different anatomies and physical characteristics, so there are road bikes made specifically for men and women. This is due to the fact that women are generally shorter and not as wide as men, although this is certainly not true 100% of the time.
Women’s road bike frames will have some slight tweaks that are meant to be more conducive in terms of where the most pedal power is being generated from. They may also have smaller brake levers and smaller grips on handlebars. The drops may not be as low either. Saddle shapes will be a little different as well.
Most of the main differences in a woman’s fitting for a road bike is done when the bike is being sized for her, just as with a man’s.
So, the main differences, if any, will be in the shape and design of the frame. Still, this isn’t all that different from a men’s road bike.
Road bike frames may seem the same when giving them a quick glance, but there are some subtle differences that can have a noticeable impact on the type of ride you get, as well as the positioning of your body.
These are perhaps the most common road bike frame types. While they can definitely be used for competition and events, they are much more suited for recreational riding, whether it’s for fitness or just for the fun of it.
These frames encourage a more upright riding position, but not as much as a hybrid or mountain bike. Steering is a little more relaxed as well.
These frames are engineered with competitive racing in mind. The frame sits the rider lower than a recreational frame, and offers much more response and rigidity as well. They are typically lighter, and encourage the rider to lean forward when pedaling.
As mentioned earlier, these bikes have a flat handlebar, and usually a more casual riding position that is better suited for commuting and recreational riding as opposed to maximum speed and efficiency.
Road bike frame technology has been steadily improving for years, but you basically have just three main choices in regards to the actual frame material.
The size of a road bike frame makes all the difference when it comes to comfort, control, and pedaling efficiency. Achieving the correct distance in terms of the reach of your arms and legs is crucial.
The following chart is a good starting point for determining what your bike’s size should be.
After purchasing your bike, there are several adjustments you can make to fine-tune the fit for your reach.
These tweaks include adjusting the fore/aft position and tilt of your saddle, the angle of your handlebars, and the distance to the brake levers. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this on your own, you can always take it into a bike shop for professional assistance.
Purchasing a road bike for your child is a great way to encourage higher levels of cycling at a young age, and allow them to join you for more leisurely rides.
While the right fit is still important, you can actually purchase a bike that is a little bigger than needed so your kid can grow into it, and use it for longer.
Kid’s road bikes generally feature the same overall design as an adult road bike, but lack the fine-tuning and high-end components, as the bikes aren’t used for competition.
Carbon frames are still the newest material type in the word of road bikes, and many are wondering if they should either make the switch, or make their first road bike purchase a carbon frame.
These frames offer three distinct advantages. One is that they are incredibly lightweight, as they are made from literal threaded fibers instead of actual metal tubes. The second is that that are not nearly as stiff as standard metal frames, and are a lot more comfortable, especially on long rides.
Carbon frames also last the longest.
The downside is that these frames are also generally more expensive than other ones. So, if you want a quality carbon frame, you’re going to have to pay for it.
So should you get one?
If you are more into long rides rather than racing or top speeds, a carbon frame will be perfect for you, as the “give” in the frame can take away some of your pedal power. If you are looking for every edge in terms of speed, you might want to look at an aluminum or titanium frame instead.
There’s certainly no shortage of road bike brands in the world, but the following stand out as the best brands going today.
One of the most recognizable names in the biking industry, Trek began in Waterloo, Wisconsin in 1975 as just a few guys building handmade steel touring bike frames, aimed at competing with the mid and high-end frame market that was dominated by the Italians at the time.
In just a few short years, Trek expanded in grand fashion, and soon began incorporating new technology and designed not seen before. This caught the attention of Lance Armstrong, who would win the 1999 Tour de France on a Trek bike -- the first American to win on an American bike.
Trek would eventually go on to manufacture bikes under the Gary Fisher, Bontrager, and Diamant Bikes brand names as well, giving them an even larger presence in the industry.
GMC bikes are made and manufactured buy Kent, a longtime name in the industry. These bikes use the name and product names of GMC automobiles, mainly the GMC Denali. GMC bikes are actually one of the most popular in terms of sales in both stores and places like Amazon.
The allure is that GMC offers unisex road bikes for a very low price, while cramming in as much quality as they can. As a result, these bikes are perfect for casual and beginner road cyclists who are looking to get involved with road cycling, but don’t have the budget for mid and high-level bikes.
With over 40 years in the industry, Specialized is a respected and revered name when it comes to manufacturing high-end bikes for both mountain biking and road biking. Headquartered in Morgan Hills, CA, Specialized started off as a parts maker, but quickly moved to manufacturing entire bikes.
The company is also one of the most innovative, as they were pioneers in the early mountain biking movement, and later one of the first to embrace carbon frames. Many professional riders are sponsored by Specialized, and they continue to win awards each year for their product lines.
Cannondale is another example of a former parts company that later turned to the production of entire bikes. Headquartered in Wilton, Connecticut, and named after a nearby bus stop, Cannondale has been in business since 1971, and remains recognized for their pioneering of several new bike technologies.
Among their inventions. Cannondale was the first company to produce carbon frames, and have also experimented and implemented different types of suspension. They continue to favor aluminum frames as their main material, with carbon frames a close second.
Giant is the world’s largest bike manufacturer, and operates out of Taichung City in Taiwan. While they are now mostly known for their affordable bikes that are available in stores and online outlets all across the world, the company has been a key innovator for decades.
In the 1990s, Giant introduced the first road bicycle with a sloping top tube that featured a small rear triangle. This provided better stiffness and pedal response, while also cutting down on weight. Giant is also the first mass producer of carbon frame bikes, and continues to create new frame designs each year the further push the envelope.
Schwinn is a storied and widely-recognized bike brand that also served as the main manufacturer of bikes in the United States during the 1950s and 60s. The company actually started as a bike company in the early 1900s, later focusing on motorcycles. By the 1950s they reconfigured their focus, and quickly became the most popular bike brand in the country.
Today, Schwinn sells two different lines of bikes. One is a lower-end, budget-oriented line of bikes, and the second, referred to as the Signature Series, is sold online and in professional bike shops around the world.
Vilano is a manufacturer of budget road bikes, and is headquartered in Elkton, FL. The company has an expansive lineup of road bikes, and all are considered as solid options for those who are just getting into road cycling, but don’t have a lot of money to spend.
Originally established in Japan in the year 1899, Fuji takes their name from the iconic Mount Fuji. The company has shifted in their focuses since their inception, depending on the bike trends at the time. In the 1970s, they began to focus on road and touring bikes, and later developed the first mass-manufactured 12-speed bicycle.
Fuji continues to be a major name in road bike manufacturing, and sponsors several athletes in both cycling events and triathlons.
Headquartered in Givisiez, Switzerland, Scott is responsible for a large amount of outdoor gear and equipment, including skiing, snowboarding, and of course cycling products.
The company became very active with cycling in the 1980s, and were responsible for several new technologies and designs. Scott was one of the first to use suspension engineering on their bikes, and in 2001, they launched what was at the time the lightest road bike frame, weighing just 895 grams.
Scott is a partner and sponsor of U.S. Military Endurance Sports, and provides equipment to road racing and triathlon teams.
Bianchi holds the title as the world’s oldest bike manufacturer, and is well-known for their high-end road bikes that continue to be used by scores of professional racers to this day. They have a long list of “firsts” in the industry to boast of, including the use of rubber tires.
Headquartered in Milan, Italy, Bianchi sponsors riders for a variety of competitions around the world, and retains a reputation or their attention to detail and craftsmanship that many compare to high-end sportscars.
All of their bikes use their trademark powder blue color.
Kestrel was started by former Trek employees and aeronautical engineers in the mid-1980s. Since forming, the company has gone on to be a leader in innovation and new technology, and is largely responsible for influencing other large companies as well.
They were the first to develop an all-carbon bike frame, and continue to focus on carbon frame products, while also sponsoring many of the top event and triathlon teams in the world.
Shopping for a quality road bike can often be difficult if you don’t know what to look for. Here are 10 of the most important factors to be mindful of when looking for a good road bike, regardless of who or what it’s for.
The weight of a bike affects nearly every single aspect of your ride. From pedal efficiency, to the overall mobility, lower weight is always better. There is much to be said about what is considered a truly “lightweight” bike, but we can at least come up with some acceptable ranges.
Anything under 15 lbs of total weight, which includes the bike and all of its components, is what many would call a lightweight bike. While this weight range is usually only achievable in higher-end bikes, you may be able to do so after you upgrade some components. However, it all starts with the frame.
20 lbs or less is usually considered a decent weight range for a more affordably-priced bike.
We’ve gone over this a bit already, but it’s worth mentioning again.
With road bikes, you want to keep things limited to carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium. Steel is still used in lower-end bikes, but you are almost always better off with the other three.
Carbon fiber frames are going to cost more, but a road bike that uses this material is almost always a high-quality bike that you should give strong consideration to.
This may seem a bit petty, but it’s really not. For almost every rider, style still matters to an extent. Yes, you are much more concerned with how the bike functions, but everyone also wants a bike that looks good.
Fortunately, this is the most subjective factor when choosing a bike, so pick what’s best for your own preferences and style.
When buying a road bike, especially mid to high-level models, you want to be sure that you are covered if there happens to be a flaw or defect with the design. Many bike companies won’t cover every last component of the bike, as most are made by other manufacturers. However, there should be a long warranty on the actual frame.
This varies from company to company, but always check to make sure the warranty is fair, and long enough so that you feel comfortable with your purchase.
There is a lot to say about road bike prices, as they can range from $200 to over $6,000.
This covers a huge spectrum of models and quality, so it’s hard to say what the minimum or maximum price should be for a certain bike, or its components.
Still, you should always compare when you can. Many bikes will share the same gear components and brake components, along with tire and wheel brands. This often means that you are paying for the frame first, followed by whatever else is equipped in the bike.
Pick a price range, and look around to see what you can get for it. You’ll likely be surprised on both ends. Determine what aspects matter the most to you beforehand.
Gears may not be the first thing you think of when buying a road bike, but they are incredibly important for many reasons. You will be relying on these every second of the ride, so it’s crucial to select a bike that has the right amount of gears for you. Durability is important too.
Cranksets and cassettes vary from each bike, and the number and ratio of gears is a matter of preference for the most part. Look for bikes that have at least two chain rings in the front, a this guarantees a certain amount of gears from the outset.
A bike’s wheels can make a big difference in everything from weight, to comfort, to braking. There are more than a few types of wheels available these days, but look for wheelsets that are made from either carbon fiber or aluminum, and use a low amount of spokes. Flat spokes are preferred over round spokes for aerodynamic reasons.
Wider wheels are becoming more popular lately, as they can provide added stability and improve pedal efficiency. Deeper rims are also more aerodynamic, but are a bit harder to maneuver. Unless you are a serious racer, shallow rims will suit you just fine.
Tires are your first point of contact with the road, so special attention should be paid to them. While road bike tires will always be skinny, many are noting the benefits of going a bit wider, sometimes even as wide as 29mm. If you’re a beginner, you’ll be fine in the 23-25mm range.
The tubing style matters too. Look for “clincher” tires, as these are easier to change out, more resistant to road hazards, and are the most popular altogether.
Due to the higher levels of speed, quality braking systems are a must on a road bike. Look for bikes that use name-brand, widely-used brake models, as these are always the most dependable. This is true with disc brakes and dual-pivot brakes.
Extra features on a bike are especially important if you are using the bike for anything but serious racing. This includes things like mud guards, phone mounts, luggage racks, computers, mirrors, helmets, shoes, and a wide range of other features.
Most road bikes don’t come with that many extra features, if any, but they should be able to support them should you choose to add them on.
In some cases, you’ll find road bikes that already include some of the extra features you are wanting.
Now that you’re up to speed on all of the basics of road bike knowledge, it’s time to find the right bike to buy that is best suited for your needs and budget.
Be sure to look at our road bike buying guide to see our best picks from a wide range of bikes in numerous categories, such as the best entry-level road bike, the best road bike under $1,000, and several more.
This post was last updated on September 21st, 2018 at 10:35 am
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