Best Road Bikes 2016 – Reviews, Comparisons and Buying Guide
Why buy online? It’s a good question. The majority of big bike brands sell via dealerships and physical stores. This makes sense for a number of reasons including getting the perfect size, fit and color for your road bike, see it in person, get everything just right and maybe even form a relationship with your local bike shop, something that will likely come in handy when you need parts or service. So if this is your first bike, buying something from the likes of Trek, Specialized, Giant, Cannondale etc. in a physical store might make sense.
However, you may be missing out. It takes considerable resources to set up a dealership and manage a huge supply chain. Then there are manpower and marketing costs. It does not make sense for smaller brands to operate in this manner and so they sell direct-to-customer, utilizing the excellent logistics of companies such as Amazon.com.
This means that when you buy from these underdogs, more of your money is going towards the actual product rather than marketing and brand-name. Some of these lesser-known products offer value and performance that can give the big guys a run for their money. We’ll list some of them for you towards the end of this page.
Road biking is fun! Don’t believe us? Watch this video:-
Let’s first get you some important information that will help you get the best road bikes:-
Size & Fit
Road bikes are the pinnacle of bicycle technology and are built for performance. To get the most out of one, it needs to fit you like a well-tailored suit. Therefore, it is important to get the size right. The main measurements that will affect the size of frame suited to you is your height and the length of your inseam. This handy chart will help you nail the right one:-
It’s worth noting that these figures will vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. They should easily get you in the correct ball-park though. Another important consideration is that when in doubt, a frame too small is better than one too large. This is because there are a number of ways to compensate for a slightly smaller frame, but very few for a frame too large. With this in mind, we’re sure you won’t go wrong. Read the Steering components section further down for more information.
Steel, aluminum and carbon fiber are the most commonly used materials for building bike frames.
Steel is the heaviest of the three but makes up for it by being compliant. It offers a good degree of comfort by absorbing some of the bumps that may come up while riding. Steel is easy to work with and is still a very viable material if weight is not a concern. However, very few mass-manufactured bikes use steel frames these days.
Aluminum or aluminum alloys are lighter than steel and have an excellent strength-to-weight ratio and stiffness. This stiffness translates into efficient power transfer. This same property might also lead to a harsher ride. Aluminum frames are not as forgiving to ride as Steel but this might change depending on the specific alloy used and the overall design of the frame. Still, it is light and relatively inexpensive, making it one of the most popular frame materials.
Carbon fiber is a very versatile material. Depending on the requirement, it can be made as soft as a sponge or as hard as a rock by altering the weave and bonding materials. It has the best strength to weight ratio and is therefore suited to bikes that are designed with competitive or racing aspirations. Well-made frames are super light, incredibly strong and because they can be designed to flex in certain places and be rigid in others, it is possible to attain the perfect balance of stiffness and comfort. The complexity and high-tech nature of the material means that it is usually the most expensive.
Road bikes do not have suspensions and therefore have forks that are rigid. A fork is the part of the bicycle that holds the front wheel. A good road bike fork should assist with precise and accurate steering while absorbing some of the road-buzz that gets transmitted upwards.
As with frame materials, carbon fiber and steel should offer the most compliance and aluminum the least. When it comes to weight, carbon fiber would again be the lightest, followed by aluminum and lastly, steel. It’s important to note that the design of the fork may affect ride characteristics. For example, a curved aluminum fork should be more forgiving and absorbent in comparison to one that is straight. It might also make a lot of sense to have a fork material that differs from the frame. An example of this would be to pair an aluminum frame with a carbon fork, giving you the best of both worlds while also keeping overall cost in check. In most cases the extra dollars for the carbon fork option are worth it as this is not something you will normally change over the lifetime of the bike.
Drivetrain and Groupset
The brakes, gear shifters and pretty much all the mechanical parts on the bike are collectively referred to as the drivetrain or a ‘group set’. These are available in varying levels of trim depending on the intended usage and price. Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo are the major groupset manufacturers. Since Shimano is the most popular and the most likely to be included in a bike you buy online, we’ll focus on their parts. You could easily look up the others if need be as the product ranges are very similar. Here’s a handy chart to help you out:
As we go upwards from ‘Basic’ to ‘Pro’ level, the quality and price of the components increases and the weight decreases. To let you in on a secret though, the actual performance and reliability reaches a point of diminishing returns once you go past the ‘Mid-Range’ tier. Basically, apart from weight, you won’t see a difference going upwards of, say the Shimano Tiagra/105 groups. In-fact, even the entry level Sora is an admirable performer if you look after it. What we’re trying to say is that you don’t need to spend a lot here. More so, these parts are upgradable so you can swap them out for better ones in the future if you need to.
Wheels can determine things like the type of tires you can use and also the kind of brakes. For someone looking to train and improve their fitness, a strong wheel is preferable to a lighter one. Lighter wheels can make a significant difference to the overall performance of the bike since rotating weight counts more than static weight, something to keep in mind should you consider upgrading them later on. For the most part, the wheels that come with your bike should be good enough as long as they are straight and true.
Steering & Other Components
Steering is covered by all the components that let you, well, steer. So that includes the stem, handlebars and parts that connect them to the fork.
The Stem holds the handlebars at the center. It’s worthwhile pointing out that if your bike doesn’t fit perfectly even though you’ve got the right size, you can get a longer or shorter stem to quickly correct this. The stem is also often angled and an upwards slant has the effect of shortening it while a downwards slant will have the same effect as a longer stem. It is also possible to flip the stem and use it both ways, something that can save you a bit of coin if you need a longer reach (the reach Is the distance from the seat to your handlebar). Going too long or too short might affect the bike’s handling.
The Handlebar provides for 2 of the 3 static contact points on your bike (your hands). If you want to get this absolutely bang-on right, you can measure your shoulder width and get bars of the same length. However, the default bars that come with bikes are good enough for most people. Road bikes usually come with ‘drop bars’. These are curved handlebars that a lot of people mistakenly think are really uncomfortable, mainly because they think that their hands have to spend most of their time on the ‘Drops’ or the lower end of the bar that is vertically parallel to the ground.
The fact is that there are 3 possible hand positions, as illustrated in the picture above. Your hands will spend most of their time on the ‘Hoods’, which is a relatively comfortable place to be. The bars can themselves be angled up or down for a more upright or more aggressive position respectively. Being on the ‘Tops’ is the most comfortable and upright place to be, ideal for when you are climbing or going over bumpy terrain. The ‘Drops’ are only ever used when sprinting or descending.
The Saddle is your third, and arguably the most important contact point with your bike. This is what you actually sit on and can make-or-break your riding experience. Saddles that look plush may only be comfortable for a short distance as your body-weight should ideally be supported by your sit bones. So, while saddle preference can vary from person to person, flat and narrow saddles tend to be more comfortable for most people. The Fizik Arione is a particular favorite of ours. The saddle position can be altered forward or backward as needed, along with being able to adjust the height by using the seat-post.
Pedals are next and these are what let you transfer power to your bike. Modern pedals come with something called a cleat system that, when used with cycling-specific shoes will let you fix your legs to the pedal. This has a number of advantages such as improving your stability and letting you both push-down and pull-up on the pedals, letting you use more muscle groups and making you more efficient. If you do get these, remember to practice clipping in and out before heading out on the road. It is perfectly fine to use standard, flat/platform pedals if you prefer them or are just starting out.
That covers the important parts.
The Best Road Bikes We Recommend:
The Volare is an entry level flat-bar road bike for someone who wants a simple and efficient commuter, or someone looking to get fit while testing the waters before getting into serious road bike territory. This bike represents excellent value and makes it easy for just about anyone to get up and start riding. Schwinn is the oldest bike brand in the US and has this bike covered with their excellent lifetime warranty.
This is a bike that has it all and represents the best that the current trend of ‘adventure road bikes’ has to offer. It is well into serious territory based on its performance and speed on smooth roads but unlike conventional road bikes, it can handle rough streets and gravel roads with equal ease. The bike has excellent clearance for wider tires and the disc brakes give you plenty of stopping power no matter what the riding conditions are. The 6061-T6 aluminum alloy used for the frame is not far from aircraft grade stuff and the carbon fork compliments it perfectly by absorbing road vibrations. Shimano’s excellent 105 groupset is so good that anything better is almost unnecessary. This is truly an ‘Epic’ bike in every sense of the word.
If you want to race or have competitive aspirations, this is the bike for you. A full carbon road bike of this quality is unheard of at this price-point. The bike first came to our notice after the 2015 version received many rave reviews. The bike was still relatively unknown so we decided to get one and try it out. My god this thing is fast! Every pedal stroke is converted into effortless speed and the bike is very responsive to changes in direction. The bike’s aerodynamics really come into the picture once you go past 20 miles an hour. Shimano’s 105 is flawless as usual. Upgrade to some lightweight carbon wheels down the road and it will leave bikes that cost 10 times as much in the dust.
And yet, despite all its speed and performance, it manages to remain comfortable and soak up uneven roads. While the bike can easily be modified for Triathlons, if you compete in this disciple often or want a bike specifically for this purpose, there’s a Tri Version with clip-on aero bars and bar end shifters.
Make sure you get the right road bike and then watch a few YouTube videos on ‘bike fit’ before you start riding. Be safe, be visible and always wear a helmet, they look seriously cool these days!
Perhaps we’ll see you out on the open road. Don’t forget to wave!