Recently I’ve had the pleasure of buying a new road bike. With the number of brands available and the mind boggling array of components available, it’s all too easy put it into the “too hard” basket, particularly if you’re starting out. However, there are a few excellent ways of narrowing down your selection and finding the bike that is perfect for you.
I have purchased three road bikes and a time trial bike in the time that I’ve been riding. The first purchase was through a friend. I purchased the bike “sight unseen” as my friend and I are similar in height and stature. Despite the highly unscientific method of purchase, this bike worked very well for me in the first six months of riding. It gave me the opportunity to try cycling out for a very reasonable price and paved the way for my first ‘serious’ bike purchase.
The next bike I purchased was an Avanti Questa 3. It was the top of the line bike in the Avanti Women’s range at the time, and to ensure that I was getting independent bike fit advice, I had a bike fit done with a physiotherapist. He suggested a number of bikes that would fit the bill and listed out some specifications such as crank length. Unfortunately the bike shop where I purchased the bike from thought they knew better and it wasn’t until much later that I realised that I had walked out of the shop with the stock standard model, rather than a bike that was set up specifically for my body type – and I was sold a frame that was marginally too big.
I did, however, ride this bike nearly every day for 2 years or so and on my then coach’s recommendation had a Retul bike fit done. During a Retul fit, you’re positioned on a special frame which is fully adjustable and ‘adjusted’ until all your measurements fit within specified ranges. Based on my Retul fit, I purchased a Cervelo P3 time trial bike which turned out to be perfect for my measurements. What I learned is that a proper bike fit allows for ‘miles of smiles’.
Next I got down to the work of buying a road bike. After two years or so of riding, you begin to work out what you like and what you don’t like. I was finding that one disadvantage of buying a complete bike was that I couldn’t choose the components that I wanted. I would have to swap saddles, cranks, handlebars for what I did want and that was an expensive process. After speaking to the bike fitter, I decided to purchase a frame and have the bike built up. This is where having access to a good bike shop becomes key. I spoke to Shayne, the owner of Semi Racer in Brisbane. In their business, most bikes purchased are built up from the frameset. I was able to discuss my needs – I wanted to race, but I also wanted to have a bike that was comfortable on long rides – what frames were available? I ended up purchasing a Bianchi Infinito CV frameset which was almost an imprint of my measurements, and was able to add on a Dura Ace group set, Specialized Oura Saddle, 3T ergonova handlebars and some better than standard H+ son training wheels. “Bella” the Bianchi is in the photo above – she’s also a good looker – and yes, you have to be happy with how your bike looks!
I am delighted with my new bike. It’s the perfect blend of fast response, yet super comfortable on a long road ride. The best part about buying my new road bike this way was that it came in $1500 under my budget, which I’ll put towards the cost of new racing wheels when I get back to racing again (which is while off). However, the benefits of racing wheels will be covered in another post.
What can my experience teach you? Here are my top tips for purchasing your bike.
- A good bike fit is a marriage between your body shape (e.g. long torso, short legs, long arms etc) and your riding purpose.
- Determine your bike budget based on how much you are planning to, or already ride. Looking at a ‘cost per ride’ basis, investing in a better frameset and components is worth it if you are riding several days a week and it’s your main form of exercise.
- Determine the type of riding that you want to do. Racing bikes differ in their geometry and handling from bikes that are built for long distance riding. Get clear on how you want to ride before making your purchase.
- Get a bike fit done by either a physiotherapist or Retul bike fit specialist before you purchase. This will allow you to narrow down brands that will suit you. The other benefit of this is that you’ll purchase a bike that actually fits. This is a much better option than paying tons of money for something that’s not quite right. Once you have a list of brands that suit you, visit local bike shops and see if you can test ride the bike before purchase.
- Purchase the best groupset (gearing) that you can and the best wheels you can afford. These two items make the biggest noticeable difference to performance.
- Go to various manufacturers “Come and Try” events. By going to a Specialized event, I discovered that I loved their Women’s Oura saddle, which is by far, the most comfortable I’ve ever used. And I got to try out all of their women’s bikes.
- Look at buying a frameset and having the bike built by a reputable bike shop as opposed to an “off the rack” purchase. If the components are excellent on a full bicycle, then go for it. In the case of my time trial bike, it had the saddle I wanted, group set I wanted and “cockpit” (front end) I desired. Get to know all of your local bike stores and what they sell and what level of “bespoke” you can purchase.
- If you are really clear on what you want, then you can make massive savings purchasing second hand or previous year models.
- Don’t get hung up on buying a “Women’s Specific Design” if you’re a woman. Women’s Specific Design usually means that the bike is geared towards women that have a shorter torso and longer legs – if this isn’t how you’re built, you’ll end up being rather unhappy. Don’t worry about whether a bike is “men’s” or “women’s” – buy what fits you.
- If your key focus is triathlon and you’re a relative beginner at the sport, purchase a road bike, rather than a time trial bike, as part of your cycling training will often involve group rides. Time trial bikes are difficult to handle in a group and won’t corner as well as a road bike will. You can speak to your bike fitter about wanting to use your new bike in triathlons and he/she may recommend an ‘aero’ road bike or even the use of clip on time trial bars (but as these can change the handling of the bike dramatically, mention it before you buy a bike to minimise this)
I used (and highly recommend in Brisbane)
Bike Fitter: RETUL – Nick Formosa Cadence Cycling
Bike Store: Semi-Racer (Pip and Shayne Hendren)
Then the most important part is as Queen suggests, is to “get on your bike and ride….”.