Buying your first new racing bicycle is a very important moment. It could be the beginning of a love affair, or the start of a nightmare, depending on how the relationship progresses. We hope it will be the former, so here are some pointers to think about before you put your money on the table. (Btw, by ‘racing’ bicycle we mean any machine with dropped handlebars.)
LBS versus Online
If you’re planning on spending money on a new racing bike, there are a wide range of things to bear in mind. So many so that it can become confusing and difficult to decide what you want. Or need. You can begin by polling various people who know about bikes, but the next thing is to start searching yourself. This will, of course, begin on the Internet. Ideally there would be a Tinder-style app for bicycles, where you can start establishing with which machine you love affair might begin. But that, as far as we know, doesn’t exist yet.
So you begin a beauty contest between the big brands that have the slickest online presence. This is a great place to start. You just have to add your cycling ambitions into the mix. Will you be joining a club and starting to race for the first time? Or is long-distance bikepacking on tarmac and/or gravel your thing? Perhaps the daily commute to and from work? Or training for and riding long cyclosportives up and down mountains?
Despite all the beautiful photography and bling-bling that the major brands can seduce you with on the Internet, we still think a visit to your local bike shop (LBS) is the best place to start your search. We believe the knowledge, experience and insights that a good LBS can provide are certainly the best suited to get you orientated in today’s head-spinning, two-wheeled marketplace. One thing: if you find the bike of your dreams at your bicycle shop, please buy it there. The Prologue does not condone ‘showrooming’ of bikes or parts.
But if you are sure about what you want and what size it should be, then of course there’s nothing wrong with buying online. We cannot fault the service and range provided by Canyon bikes, for example. This is especially useful for people who are handy and can put a bike together themselves.
The fun factor
Don’t forget the fun factor. There is a world of difference between an aero road racer and a gravel bike. Furthermore, we would suggest you will have more fun on a gravel bike (which you can also use in a road race with the right wheels) than on a wind-slicing aero machine like you see in the peloton. You certainly would not be advised to take an expensive aero machine out onto gravel — you will not be able to fit wider, grippier tyres on the aero machine, for one. And the shorter wheelbase (the distance between the contact point of the two tyres on the road) of the aero racer will make it more difficult to handle off-road.
The relatively recent arrival of the gravel bike, with its hipster looks and multiple uses, make it a really interesting option for a first ‘racing’ bicycle. You can commute, backpack, race — both on and off-road — and do long-distance touring on this machine. It will not be as fast as a made-to-race aero bike. But riding at an average speed of over 40kph (the speed above which most aero bikes give the best aerodynamic advantage) may not be your thing anyway.
Racing bicycle fit
What size of bike do you need? In the past there was a huge range of bike sizes to choose from. Nowadays, with all major carbon-fibre manufacturing taking place in just a couple of Asian factories, you will probably end up settling for small, medium or large. Your choice will depend on a number of body measurements, and can also be determined to a certain extent by fashion. It is currently cooler to have a smaller frame than a larger one. But if you want to establish a more accurate fit, you can either visit an expert bike fitter, or use a tool, such as Canyon’s Perfect Positioning System. Is is essential you get a bike that fits you comfortably if this is indeed going to be the start of a love affair — so invest some time working out which fit is best for you.
Carbon, aluminium, steel or titanium?
The choice of frame material you decide you want, or can best afford, is crucial to the feel of the bike. An aero road racer will be solid as a rock, and even perhaps harsh over rough surfaces. A steel or titanium frame will be more whippy and responsive — some love this extra communication with your body and the ground, but others think it just shows you’re wasting energy that should be being put directly into the back-wheel. An aluminium frame with a carbon fork is often an economic choice, and mid-range aluminium is a perfectly good material, although it will weigh in a little heavier than carbon fibre.
Campagnolo, Shimano or Sram?
Groupset. This one word describes a large number of the parts on your bicycle: derailleurs, cassette, brakes and brake levers/shifters. Your groupset will also be a large percentage of the price of your bike. There are three main manufacturers: Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram. Each manufacturer has a wide range of groupsets from quite cheap to hugely expensive. They are all equally good, but each system has its own characteristics that are best discussed with people who know about these things. Be warned: there are Campagnolo people and Shimano people and they often do not agree. Ideally your first racing bike should have a mid-range groupset, such as Shimano 105, Campagnolo Centaur or Sram Rival. But it is worth researching this subject before parting with your cash.
Skinny or chubby tyres?
In the olden days, 20mm-wide tyres used to be the standard on all racing bikes, and touring bike tyres were perhaps 23mm wide. Nowadays the sky is the limit. Some gravel bikes will take tyres up to 35mm wide, and a lot of the newest racers can accommodate tyres up to 28mm wide. So it’s up to you. Comfort, grip, aerodynamics and even fashion (pale-walled tyres are currently hot) can all play a part. Again, this is something to discuss with your local bike shop, as you can make sure you get the size fitted before you take ownership of your brand new dream machine.
Having a brand new racing bicycle is like being a kid again. Kilometres of fun. Hours of delight through sunshine, wind and rain. But remember: one racing bicycle is often never enough.
Interested in buying more than one bike? Try: How many bikes do you need?