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Getting your first road bike is one of the biggest steps that you can take to enhance your enjoyment and performance when cycling.
Written by: Ian Buchanan
Q: I have been riding a mountain bike for a year, and I’m ready to get my first road-specific bike. What should I look for? — Pamela
In order of importance, here’s a foolproof way to get a great bike the first time around:
1. Fit, fit, fit! Fit affects everything from handling and stability to comfort and efficiency, and it is the most crucial step of proper bike selection. Many riders make the mistake of choosing a bike first and then having it “fit” after. Completing a proper fit before buying a bike allows you to find the frame geometry and component options that match your needs and can also help you choose whether a road or tri bike makes the most sense for you.
2. Frame: When it comes to how your bike fits, rides, handles and reacts, the frame is the most important physical part of the bike. You need a bike that has the stiffness, comfort and handling traits that suit you well as an individual. When selecting a frame, make sure the geometry allows for plenty of adjustment so that it can adapt now and as you grow as a cyclist. You do not want to end up on a bike that compromises stability and handling to achieve your riding position.
3. Contact points: The three contact points—saddle, handlebars and pedal/shoe combo—are critical. Making sure that you have contact points that you are happy with can go a long way toward making riding more comfortable and fun. These are personalized parts, and your dealer should work with you to exchange standard parts toward others as needed.
4. Wheels: Good wheels can make a basic bike faster, while subpar wheels can make an otherwise exceptional bike feel mediocre—they matter. After the frame, the wheels are the next most expensive part on the bike, yet most bike companies spec wheels that are below the level of the rest of the bike in order to hit a certain price point. From a performance perspective, wheels are often an important place to consider upgrading at the time of purchase or soon after.
5. Components: Bike companies frequently upgrade and downgrade parts to give the impression of a certain level of componentry and to hit specific price targets. There is not much difference in rider comfort, rider speed or reliability between entry- and high-level components. So, make sure you get good components that are designed to be ridden regularly, but allocate your money to other areas before upgrading to the next component level.
One big intangible in the bike buying equation is your bike dealer. A good dealer can provide assistance with fit, mechanical setup and the decision-making process. A rider on a less well-known bike brand that was fit and assembled well will always be faster than on a big-brand bike that was not.
Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx (Fitwerx.com) and is a founding member of Master Bike Fitters Association (MBFA).