Hey there! Hope you are having a great day so far!
If you’ve been following along here then you probably know that I recently purchased my first road bike. I’m kind of in love with it.
Even though I’ve ridden bikes my entire life- and even used one as my primary form of transportation to and from class when I was in college- the process of buying a road bike was very overwhelming to me. I knew absolutely nothing when I started looking. Now that I’ve been through the process, I thought I’d share some tips from my experience!
Decide why you want a road bike
This seems silly but really, think about why you want a road bike and what purpose it will serve. The answer to this question will steer you in the appropriate direction in terms of what you should be looking for in a bike and how much you should expect to spend.
For me personally, I wanted a road bike because I wanted something lighter and faster than my mountain bike that I would be happy with for group rides and a triathlon.
What is your Budget?
This will be one of the first questions a bike store will ask you so they can steer you in the right direction. This may vary depending on the area but I found road bikes to start ~$600 and go all the way up into the thousands… and tens of thousands!
When you set your budget, it’s important to understand what you’re paying for- frame material, components, tires, etc. I’d also recommend asking yourself what you *may* want to upgrade in the future and compare the cost of doing that (including labor) to what it would cost to just purchase a bike that already has those things. It may be worth it to pay a few hundred more dollars now to buy a bike that has those things than to pay double or triple to add them later on. Just my two cents!
Also, something very important to factor into your budget would be accessories. At the very least you will *need* a helmet, flat repair kit and tire pump. There are also other things that you may not need, but will probably really, really want: bottle cages, water bottles, pedals, shoes, padded bike shorts, gloves, chain lube, a jersey and/or a bike rack for your car.
When you buy your first road bike, you’re probably looking at anywhere from an extra $200-$500 in accessories. Don’t short yourself on your experience by buying more bike and none of the extras.
Be prepared to answer the following questions when you visit a bike store:
- Why do you want to purchase a road bike?
- Have you ever ridden one before?
- Do you own a bike now? If so, what do you like/dislike about it?
- What types of surfaces will you be riding on (streets, greenway, etc.)?
- What is your budget? <—again, this is an important one!
Visit all the stores. Ride all the bikes.
If there is *one* piece of advice I could give anyone when they are picking out their first road bike, it would be to ride everything.
No really, ride everything!
Even if you think you’ve found the perfect bike, ride others so you can be 100% sure.
It surprised me that bikes with the exact same frame size and components felt completely different to me. When I rode an Orbea, I could not wait to get off it because my arms and neck hurt so bad. And that was on a 2nd test ride after the store had adjusted the handlebar and seat. I’m sure someone else could say the same thing about the Madone that I ended up purchasing. Bikes have different geometries so take the time to find one that feels best to you.
I am really lucky to live in an area with lots of different local bike stores so I had many options to choose from. I ended up going to 6-7 different places and testing out as many brands as I could: Trek, Cannondale, Liv/Giant, Orbea, Specialized, etc. (and several models in each brand).
If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of stores then I would suggest exploring shops outside of your area as well. A road bike is a big investment and you don’t want to limit yourself.
If you’re not sure about which components you want then test them all out to compare them
If you honestly cannot tell a difference between components then consider going with the cheaper option. If you CAN tell a difference then it may be worth it to to go up to the nicer option.
The happier you are with your bike, the more you will ride
I rode several different Trek Lexa bikes to compare the Shimano Tiagra and 105 components. Not only could I tell a difference between the two but I couldn’t really see myself being happy with the Tiagra.
So that was that.
Another big decision I had to make was choosing between an aluminum and carbon frame. After riding different bikes made of both, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to go with carbon.
Was it absolutely necessary that I purchased a carbon frame on my first road bike? Of course not. But I knew I did not want a “starter” bike that I would want to turn around and trade in after a year or two.
Again, it’s important to know what you want / what will make you happy. Communicate this to your bike shop! I felt like bike shops around here were really great about listening to what I wanted and answering questions I had.
Test Riding Tips
Bring your helmet (if you have one). The store will want you to wear one, even if you’re just riding around in the parking lot.
Wear appropriate shoes, like tennis shoes. Not flip flops.
Dress…. You are going to be getting on and off of bikes a lot, and you may possibly be sitting up on a bike on the trainer while someone makes adjustments. I eventually started wearing my long running crops so I didn’t have to worry about flashing anyone, and I felt more comfortable It was hot and I got pretty sweaty when I riding, so I wore workout clothes (ie, moisture-wicking material + sports bra).
Be prepared for someone to be touching your feet/ankles/legs when you’re getting fitted for the bike. It’s not like someone will be feeling you up or anything, but they will be checking to make everything is adjusted properly.
Thoughts on Buying Used
When I first went into this, I was hoping buy a used bike to save on costs. However, after testing a ton of different bikes, I can’t imagine finding a used bike that would fit me as well as the bike I ended up purchasing.
I compare a good bike fit to the way your clothes and shoes fit you when you’re running. Maybe a part of your shoe rubs you funny or your sock is kind of bulky in one spot- you will probably feel that every single step you take and it will bug the living crap out of you. It’s kind of the same with a bike. Something minor could make a ride very uncomfortable.
So I think it would be great to find a good deal, but the chances coming across a used bike with a good fit in the appropriate frame size seem kind of slim to me.
Some other advice:
- Keep in mind that stores offer discounts and perks with a bike sale. It’s ideal to buy your bike from a store that you like and trust because you will probably be back there sometime in the future. I had a bad experience at one bike shop and I never wanted to go back there!
- Bikes are kind of like cars in that new models come out every year. You may be able to find a good deal on a previous year’s model over the summer. There are a few things with this, though- 1) you may have to take whatever the bike store has if they can’t order the old model anymore and 2) newer models could have upgrades that you would be missing out on. Just something to think about if you’re shopping for a deal.
- Take.your.time.shopping. Don’t expect to buy a bike on your first day of looking. I rode my bike 4 different times before I bought it.
- Once you think you’ve found *the one*, see if you can take it for a longer ride. There was a bike that I thought I loved after a short ride but I ended up disliking it after taking it out for a few miles. I’m so glad I didn’t impulsively purchase it after that first shorter ride!
Here are some other posts related to road bike shopping: