Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley I don’t know if it’s the fact that the grand tour season kicked off last week with the Giro d’Italia, or if it was the arrival of Bike Month (Colorado’s isn’t until June), or if the weather suddenly improved. Whatever the reason, I’ve been fielding lots of questions from folks shopping for new road bikes.
This season is a great time to shop for a new road machine because you have more choices than ever. But more choices can mean more confusion. So, I thought I’d try to help by sharing some very basic buying advice I’ve been doling out for the questions I hear the most.
If you’re the expert in your riding group and enjoy providing shopping advice, please weigh in with your tips by sharing your comments below this article.
To start off, my most important advice for new road bike buyers is following these three rules.
- In order to ensure you get a quality road bike, thoroughly vet the place you plan to buy from, whether it’s a retail bicycle store, chain or online supplier. Their are counterfeit bicycles out there, poor quality copies and many other scams. I always recommend buying from a local bicycle store you know and trust, or one that someone you know and trust told you to buy from. That way you’ll get a great bike and have a reliable place to bring it when you need service and support.
- Make sure that the new bike fits you properly – and this includes the frame, saddle, handlebars and stem. This is another reason to buy from a bicycle shop with the knowledge to set you up right.
- And, thoroughly test ride every new bike you’re thinking of purchasing. Only buy a new road bike if you love how it rides as soon as you start riding it. There are huge differences in ride quality and you want a new rig that feels fantastic from the first pedal stroke. If a bike feels meh, move on until you find the one that feels like it could sail down the road without any help from you. (A bad riding bike isn’t going to ride better with use.)
Questions And Answers
Should I Buy a Carbon, Titanium, Aluminum or Steel Bicycle?
As I said in my opening rules, a proper fit and a fantastic ride trump any specific frame material. So, keep that in mind when shopping and don’t buy a bike no matter how great the frame material sounds or how sweet a deal you can get on it unless it fits and rides like a dream.
But, let’s say that you find bikes in different frame materials that fit perfectly and ride wonderfully, too. How to choose? At that point it comes down to the details, things that only you can decide, such as the appearance, price point or the components on the bike.
The bottom line is that there are great road bikes in all of these frame materials. And, all the frame materials keep improving, too, so it’s not like there’s a risk of buying a “bad” frame.
Should I Get Carbon Or Aluminum Rim Wheels?
After the frame, wheels make the biggest difference in ride quality. But, it’s not the material the wheels are made of that matters, it’s the design of the wheels.
To get the best ride quality, what you want are wheels that feature reliable and light rims. Wheels with 400 gram aluminum rims will feel livelier than wheels with 600 gram carbon rims, for example. So, you have to do a little homework and look at wheels closely.
If the bicycle specifications don’t list the rim weight, try to find the brand and model of rim and see if you can look the weight up on the company that made the rim’s website. Knowledgeable salespeople should be able to tell you, too.
Note that one advantage of disc brake road bikes is that their wheels don’t require braking surfaces on the rims. This allows companies to spec thinner and lighter rims on these bikes. But don’t take it for granted that the wheels are light and lively. Check the specs and make sure.
How Important Are Road Tubeless Tires?
Many road bikes today come with “tubeless-ready” road tires. The salesperson might tell you this or you might see it in the catalog specs or even read it on the sides of the tires on the bike.
What tubeless-ready means is that if you wish, you can run the tires on the bikes without tubes inside the tires. To do this, the tire is removed, a special valve stem is placed in the wheel, a sealing liquid is put inside the tire and it’s reinstalled.
Trading sealant for a tube like this helps prevent flat tires, because the sealant will rush to and plug small punctures before much air escapes. It also allows running slightly lower tire pressures for a softer, more comfortable ride.
While they cost more than non-tubeless rubber, some riders love tubeless tires. Others say they feel no difference in ride quality. Recently, none other than Goodyear entered the bicycle tire market and announced their new Tubeless Complete road tires, which do not require sealant or special rims.
Because they cost more and give you the option of trying riding tubeless, I think it’s worth it to look for tubeless tires on your new bike. Other considerations are that most mountain bikers ride tubeless and all car tires are tubeless. I think road tubeless will be here to stay eventually.
Which Are Better, Rim or Disc Brakes?
There are pros and cons to both types of road bike brakes and in my judgment, which to buy comes down to where and how you ride. Road disc brakes have improved significantly already in the short time since they first appeared. The feel at the lever, modulation and reliability of the best discs will amaze you. And, it’s impressive how manufacturers are neatly attaching the brakes to frames and hiding the hoses, too.
However, longtime roadies may not like the look of the rotors on the hubs and beefy forks and rear stays that have to be reinforced to withstand the new braking forces there. Most discs are moving to through axles, too, which look streamlined and cool to some but annoy others because they require carrying a wrench and make wheels less quick release.
In my opinion, this decision should be based on your riding and skill level. Anyone timid on descents will love disc brakes. Ditto for those who ride in the rain a lot, or especially for gravel riding.
Note that there are signs that the industry is moving away from rim brakes, or just making fewer bikes with them. So, if you’re a traditionalist, you may want to buy that new rim brake road bike sometime soon.
It Costs More, But Is It Worth It To Get Electric Shifting?
This is difficult to answer and in my opinion, like the other choices only the buyer can decide. If you’re interested, I recommend trying some different electric shifting systems.
Having ridden a lot on several different electric shifting bikes, I highly appreciate the advantages. For example, your hands never tire because you just press a button, the motor does the shifting. Also, the derailleurs remain in adjustment. You never need to make a cable tension adjustment. And, front derailleur shifts are super fast and precise.
But, maybe the best part is showing friends who have no idea bicycles have gone robotic and marvel at the little chirp sound as the derailleurs seemingly move on their own. And, few experts would argue that the sweetest looking road bicycles today are those set up with Sram’s eTap electric drivetrain because there are no wires or cables. It’s possible because wireless technology is used to send the shift signal from levers to motorized derailleurs.
However, even with the gee whiz technology, it’s tough to beat good old cable shifting. Because you can shift with as much aggression as you want, you can still make rear shifts more quickly. Plus, you never have to charge a battery before a ride as can happen with electric bikes – always annoys me like heading out and noticing that my iPhone is about to die.
And, old fashioned cable shifting systems don’t change much year to year. Electric shifting so far has been a little like cell phone technology in that it changes – which might mean difficulty fixing a system a few years down the road.
Hopefully, my answers here help with your all important buying decision. Thanks for tuning in and please share your advice with a comment.
Ride total: 8,905
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Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.