If you are in the market for a road bike but are new to the world of cycling, the huge array of choices and options can seem daunting. Knowing which particular features are the most important and desirable makes the job of picking out your very first speed machine far less tricky.
Road bikes are designed with one thing in mind: speed. In order to allow the rider to travel as quickly as possible, road bikes have to be light but also strong so that all the power applied to the pedals travels straight to the back wheel rather than being absorbed by the bike itself.
The frame is the heart and soul of every racing bike and is usually available in a choice of four materials: steel, titanium, aluminium and carbon fibre. Regardless of what other components are fitted to road bikes, the frame holds the key to rider satisfaction. A cheap frame with expensive wheels, a high-end chainset and state-of-the-art brakes will struggle to match the performance of better frames with cheaper components.
Steel is the frame material most commonly used on all bikes and used to have a reputation for being on the heavy side. However, new manufacturing techniques now mean that steel frames can compare favourably to those made of lighter metals. The main advantage of steel is that it tends to be cheaper.
Titanium is a hugely popular choice among many riders. Light and strong, the metal lends itself well to the demands of road bike racing. It can, however, be on the expensive side. Aluminium, first used in the 1970s, has grown to become popular for its appealing blend of low weight and high strength.
Carbon fibre road bike frames are usually the most costly but offer a fast, comfortable ride. If you need convincing of the potential benefits one fact stands out: almost all the recent winners of the Tour de France have ridden on carbon fibre frames.
The actual design of the frame is also key. The specific proportions of the individual sections will dictate whether you are in a more upright riding position or have your head down to make the most of the aerodynamics. Although the latter is better for speed, it can be extremely uncomfortable on longer rides, especially for beginners. The best choice will depend on how often and how far you intend to travel and whether you are competing for fun or determined to lead the pack every time.
It is important to bear in mind that each manufacturer uses a different technique for putting their bike frames together. Because of this, an aluminium frame from one company may feel and perform very differently from an aluminium frame made by another. Test riding as many road bikes as possible is a great way of finding which one suits your shape and riding style and can then make it easier to choose the bike of your dreams.