Hit the Road, Jack: Choosing a Road Bike

Key Points

  • There are many differences between road bikes and mountain bikes.

  • Choose a quality road bike by considering a few factors.

  • When choosing a road bike, check out the various brands like Specialized and Giant.

  • Learning to ride a bike is always possible, no matter how old you are.

Time to hit the asphalt. The joys of road biking are aplenty, with stretches of miles to conquer, steadfast tailwinds pushing you along, and the easy riding provided by roads. Before attaining these thrills, you must first choose a road bike.

Humans come in various shapes and sizes. Nothing in this world is "one size fits all." A hat ideally suited to someone's dome might be too small for others. A cozy pair of shoes for you is going to be a straight jacket for Shaquille O'Neal's gargantuan size 22 feet. Things must fit the people using them. Failure to choose a road bike suited for you leads to wasted money, painful rides, and dangerous situations. Cut out the hassle by abiding by the first tenet of biking: get one that fits you.

Mountain Bikes vs. Road Bikes

Broad brushstroke differences between road bikes and mountain bikes are obvious.

Mountain bikes are for — drum roll, please — the mountains!

Road bikes are for the bikers hitting the tarmac.

These are “well, duh” differences. Open up the hood, and there are many more contrasts to unpack.


Road bikes excel on smooth, paved surfaces. They're perfect for long hauls along the interstate and twisting, turning roads in the countryside. Road bikers usually travel in flocks. More than one driver in history has found themselves stuck behind a gaggle of bikers.

Mountain bikes shine on rough terrain and off-road environments. Rocky trails and uneven surfaces are nothing for a good mountain bike. They handle steep inclines like a champ, thus the “mountain” in “mountain bike.”


Road bike tires are narrow and high-pressured. Optimized for speed and efficiency, a road bike tire has less rolling resistance, which makes coasting easier. Think of the Tour de France and the skinny tires the pros rock on their bikes.

Mountain bike tires are wider with deeper, grippy treads. You get traction and control with more rolling resistance. This makes them slower on paved surfaces.

Riding a road bike


Aluminum, carbon, titanium, or steel go into making a road bike frame. These materials are light yet strong, allowing an easy power transfer from the rider to the bike. They're also aerodynamic, which decreases wind resistance and increases speed.

Mountain bike frames come from a sturdier stock. They're incredibly durable, which is necessary for the rough terrain mountain bikers frequent. The frames provide an upright sitting position, giving you better bike control.


Road bikes come with little to no suspension. They're made for smooth terrain, so major bumps aren't a concern.

Mountain bikes have full suspension. Bumps and shocks are the norm in rough terrain, and suspension gives you a smoother ride in these turbulent terrains.


Road bikes have drop handlebars, allowing you to duck close to the bike and reduce wind resistance.

Mountain bikes have flat or riser handlebars, which give you control over the cycle. Flat handlebars come most often with cross-country mountain bikes. Riser handlebars are for downhill or trail riders.

Equipped with this knowledge, it's time to venture off and choose your road bike.

Types of Road Bikes

There are various kinds of road bikes designed for multiple purposes. First things first, ask yourself: What type of riding do you want to do?

Racing Bikes

These give you speed and top performance. It has a lightweight frame, narrow tires, and an aggressive riding position, so you're poised to slay the corners.

Endurance Bikes

Endurance bikes are similar to racing bikes but emphasize comfort more. When you're biking long stretches, you're going to thank the biking gods you invested in an endurance bike.

They feature more relaxed riding positions, aerodynamic frames, clearance for wide tires, and road disc brakes.

If you're biking far, get an endurance bike.

Aero Bikes

Aero bikes inject an extra shot of speed into your biking. They are incredibly aerodynamic, with wind-cheating profiles allowing you to float through the air like a phantom.

Wind drag is the number one killer of speed. Evolve from prey to predator and abolish drag by getting an aero bike.

Cyclocross Bikes

Cyclocross racing takes place on long stretches of anything that isn't road: dirt, grass, mud, and snow, to name a few.

It's a wild sport, taking place in the autumn and winter. It fuses biking with obstacles. Cyclocross bikers cross sharp turns, hurdles, muddy pits, steep banks, and tree roots. Bikers often bail and carry their bike with them. Talk about hardcore.

Cyclocross bikes must be light with a more aggressive riding position. You're going on and off the road, so a cyclocross bike must handle both.

Time Trial Bikes

Time trial bikes help you get from here to there as quickly as your legs allow.

Riders either increase their power or reduce wind resistance to get faster in time trial races. When you're going really fast, the main problem is wind resistance.

Two men riding road bikes

Time trial bikes specialize in quickness on straight, flat roads. Riders are more aerodynamic, thus significantly reducing drag.

Their handlebars allow riders to prioritize speed over handling, so there isn't a lot of maneuverability on a time-trial bike. Every component of this bike type adds to your speed.

Choose a time trial bike if you want to compete in timed races.

Choosing a Good Road Bike

It's a daunting task: Walking into a bike shop with humble wishes to join the legions of other bikers.

Before starting on this murky but worthwhile venture, consider the components of a good road bike.

Whether you're a beginner or a veteran, a good road bike is essential.

Frame Material

Cheaper frames come in aluminum and steel. Cheap doesn't mean bad. It just means it's not as good as Lance Armstrong's bike, which is probably made of carbon fiber or titanium — much more expensive.


Every bike needs gizmos and gadgets. This isn't the Flintstones where you stop and go with your feet. You need breaks and reliable shifting. Look for bikes with components from reputable brands like Shimano.

Entry-level bikes contain lower-end components, but they still need to provide the basic functions of a bike.


Prices range in the road bike market. Expect anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

The most expensive road bike is the Cervelo R5. Lamborghini made it. That's right, the manufacturer of ridiculously expensive cars also makes a $20,000 bike.

The minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25. Minimum wage earners must work 2,758 hours before they are able to purchase this Lamborghini bike. That's only 115 days of working non-stop — pull yourself up by your bootstraps!

For non-trust-fund babies, a reasonably priced bike is attainable.

500 bucks get you a pretty good road bike. No, it's not high-end, but it gets the job done.

Expect a basic aluminum frame, entry-level components, and standard wheels at this price point. Reliable and durable: For 500 bucks, it's a good investment for those just entering the world of cycling.


Choose a reputable brand known for its high-quality road bikes. Check out reviews and ratings.


A properly fitted bike is the most important factor. Even with top-notch components and new tires, a new road bike quickly sours if you don't fit on it.

Getting a good fit is so vital it deserves its own section.

Getting a Properly Sized Road Bike

Choosing a road bike doesn't entail selecting the prettiest one. It must be properly fitted and comfortable.

Determine Your Measurements

Pop on down to a bike shop to get measured. They figure out the metrics of your body, which paint a picture of your ideal frame size.

The pros measure your height, inseam, and arm length. It's possible to do this by yourself, but not recommended. You don't perform your own root canals. Of course not; you leave it to the dental experts. Follow the same protocol with bikes.

Biking on the road

Test Ride Different Bikes

You've got your measurements. Great! Time to take some bikes for a spin. Test out several. Try different models and sizes to determine what fits you best. Comfort matters most.

Once you find your perfect match, get to know it a little bit. Figure out what it comes with.

Adjust the Saddle Height

Yee-haw, cowboy!

Adjust the saddle of your steed to ensure your leg is almost fully extended when the petal is close to the ground.

Well-adjusted saddles prevent knee pain and enhance your pedaling.

Adjust the Saddle Position

With the heights adjusted correctly, adjust the saddle to position it perfectly with the handlebars. Height, tilt, and fore/aft position affect your comfort and how much power you're able to churn out.

Adjust the Handlebars

Tweak the handlebars so they're aligned correctly.

Loosen, but don't remove the stem bolts. The stem connects the handlebars to the fork of the bike. Use an Allen wrench.

Adjust the angle of the handlebars until it's comfortable and easy for you to grab. Loosen the faceplate bolts that hold the handlebars in place. Get the handlebars straightened out and put them at your desired angle.

With everything aligned, tighten the bolts until they're snug but not impossible to unscrew. Test your bike to see how the adjustments feel.

Fine-Tune the Fit

With everything adjusted, take your bike for a longer trip. Feel for anything that doesn't quite feel right.

Is the saddle slightly too high? Bring it down a little.

Handlebars hard to grasp? Adjust the angle.

Fine-tune the fit by making small changes where needed. A professional bike fitter is an excellent resource for this.

To Size Up or Size Down?

In an ideal world, your new road bike fits you to a T. Bike shops get you as close as possible to the right-sized bike.

Given your uniqueness, you might fall between two different bike sizes. One is slightly small, and one is somewhat big.

No problem.

Opt for the slightly smaller one. The advantage of a smaller frame is it's easier to adjust up. With the larger frame, you might be too small for the frame, so there's less space for adjustment.

Best Road Bike Brands

You've got the know-how to choose a road bike. Now comes a deep dive into the brands selling road bikes.


Specialized is an American company with four decades of road bike production under its belt. They sell an array of products for every type of biker, from kids to professional riders.

The three principles of their brand ensure each bike provides the ultimate riding experience.

The Rider-First Engineered philosophy ensures each bike frame performs flawlessly.

The Aero is Everything ethos keeps their bikes light and aerodynamic. Wind resistance is nil with a Specialized bike, yet the bike frame is sturdy. Biking technology has come far.

Woman on road bike

Their Before Future Shock suspension makes it feel like you're riding on a cloud. No matter where you ride, it's smooth sailing.

Specialized Bikes range in price from a cool $500 to an oh-my-god-that's-expensive $14,000.

If you're looking to redefine your biking limits, check out Specialized.


Giant is a Taiwanese bike manufacturer and the largest in the world.

Yes, their bikes are superb. High-quality and affordable bikes are the main entrée of their offerings, but not the whole course.

They also sell gloves, headgear, helmets, jackets, vests, jerseys, shoes, socks, base layers, and arm and leg coolers — tons of good stuff.

They continue to innovate. Every generation of road bikes is lighter, stronger, and faster.

The most basic bikes Giant sells are a bit pricey, at $950. A significant investment for entry-level bikers but one well worth making for those interested in the sport.


Ami andare in bicicletta?

Don't worry about what this says because the answer is yes! You most definitely love biking.

If you're also an Italophile, then check out Bianchi. It's an Italian bike company with a whopping 130 years in the biking business.

Their products are for everyone. If you want to meander down side lanes in the countryside, there's a bike for you. If you're looking to bob and weave through traffic, there's a bike for you.

Bianchi offers bikes for every type of rider.

Their mission is a beautiful one: "A commitment to building products as artisans."

The selection of road bikes embodies this artisanal spirit. Their racing, cyclocross, endurance, and time trial bikes aren't just bipedal devices but works of art.


Scott is a Swish brand.

The frames of their road bikes contain lightweight carbon fiber. Their cutting-edge suspension systems have a “TwinLoc” technology, allowing riders to adjust the suspension on the go.

Scott cares about the environment. They use recycled material in their bike frames and packaging. It's a win for bikers and the planet.


Trek is another American brand with a boatload of bikes in its catalog.

They offer entry-level models and high-end racing bikes used in the Tour de France. Your local bike shop probably stocks some Trek bikes. If they don't, no worries.

Head over to their website and shop online. A certified bike technician sets up your new ride and then ships it to you. If you're not head over heels, Trek gives you a generous 30 days to test it out. If it still doesn't feel right, return it for a full refund.

Local bike shops are ready, willing, and able to offer your service and support with your new Trek bike.

Learning To Ride a Bike as an Adult

Most people learn to ride a bike when they're young and half-created. However, some folks seep through the cracks and miss out on this experience. If that's you, don't feel embarrassed! There's no right way to go through life. If you're pushing 37 and still don't know how to ride a bike, you've still got time.

Learn right now!

Road biking

Start With the Basics

Get a firm grasp on how to control the movements of your own body. Being physically aware of yourself makes it easier to hop on a bike and take off.

Practice hopping from one foot to another. Once comfortable, walk around with the bike between your legs.

Choose the Right Bike

You're just learning, so don't get something too hardcore.

Make sure it's comfortable and fits you. Get a cheap hybrid bike. These combine road and mountain bikes, allowing you to dabble in different terrain as you improve.

Find a Safe Place To Practice

Go to a quiet, flat area with no traffic (or spectators). Try out a parking lot or a park.

Start With Training Wheels or a Balance Bike

If you're nervous, add some training wheels or get a balance bike. You might feel silly riding a bike with training wheels when you're over 500 months old but just remember: the thing people care most about is themselves. Seeing another adult learning to ride a bike is but a blip in the solipsistic minds of others.

Practice Pedaling

Start with short bursts of pedaling, then work up to longer rides as you improve.

Don't be afraid to take a few tumbles. Every biker endures bruises, bumps, and scratches.

A massive part of improving is confidence. If you feel like you have what it takes to ride a bike, that confidence might be enough to make it a reality. Believe in yourself.

Practice Turning and Stopping

Use your breaks to slow down. Come to a complete stop and start again. Slow down without stopping and speed up. Turn your bike left and right.

Get a feel for what's possible on the bike. As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect, so keep on trucking.

Remember to wear a helmet and other protective gear, follow the rules of the road, and have fun. If you have kids, get them a bike and learn together.

Bike Insurance

Get some bike insurance if you just spent an arm and a leg on a road bike.

Bike insurance provides coverage for a bicycle. It protects the owner financially in case of theft, damage, or loss of the bike. Policies differ. Each covers different incidents like vandalism, personal injury, or accidental damage. Review the terms and conditions of your policy carefully. Read the fine print, and call the provider with any questions.

There are two types of coverage: comprehensive coverage and third-party liability. Third-party liability covers damage or injury to other people or their property caused by your bike. Comprehensive coverage includes damage to your bike as well.

Costs vary depending on the value of your bike and other factors like the coverage level.

The Road Never Stops

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

This lovely poem comes from The Lord of the Rings. Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry sing this tune as they journey toward Mordor. It's a shame they didn't have a bike. Those Nazgûl wouldn't stand a chance against a Specialized or Bianchi road bike.

Bike ride

These hobbits trekked through Middle Earth on foot, but you have the power of a bike. A road bike gives you the freedom to travel over miles of roads, speed through time trials, journey over a variety of terrains, and experience liberating exhilaration as the wind whips across your face.

Choose a good road bike. It's the first thing to do. This trusty steed shall carry you through all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of road biking. The road never stops. It goes on and on, patiently waiting for you to begin.

Think you've got what it takes?

Then go out and get yourself a road bike!

Venture to MyOutdoorGear for even more articles on all things related to the outdoors.

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