Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
I’d like to give a shout out to all the experts who shared their advice to help new road-bike buyers get the perfect new ride. We kicked off this theme last week in part one of A Few Tips for New Road Bike Buyers. Today we’ll cover your tips with my thoughts, and in part three next week, we’ll conclude with guideline for those in the market for a used road bike.
Wires Versus Cables
Let’s start off with a fun exchange between roadies “Odal” and “Jeff vdD,” who have some fun with the pros and cons of electric shifting.
Odal, opened with, “For me, the compelling argument for electronic shifters is zero risk of snapping a shifter cable and being stuck in the 11. That’s happened to me multiple times on century-plus events, and it was worth the extra cost to eliminate that risk.”
To which, Jeff quipped, “On the other hand, with mechanical shifters, there is zero risk of having a battery die and being stuck in the 11! [grin].”
I agree with both points and would only add that modern shift cables shouldn’t break very often. Because they’ve improved a lot in recent years. I find that the most common cause is improper installation or that someone replaced the brand-name (such as Shimano, Sram, Campagnolo) with a budget alternative.
I recommend that if you break a shift cable more than once a year, you probably need to have quality cables installed by someone who knows how to do it properly. You might need to have your housing sections replaced, too.
Regarding the battery dying on an electric drivetrain, the makers usually design them so that the front derailleur is the one that dies first. This means that you get a signal that the battery is low when it’s only able to make rear shifts. In theory, at that point the battery will provide enough more shifts to get you a lot closer if not completely back home.
I wonder if adding a solar charger on e-shifting bikes might help prevent dead batteries?
Wheel and Tire Tips
Jeff vdD also offered this great advice that when looking for a new road bike, shoppers “Should check what size tire the frame accommodates? With the trend toward more mixed terrain riding, being able to fit a 35mm or even 40mm tire makes a bike a lot more versatile (and paired with disc brakes, provides better stopping and flexibility to run a 650b wheel). Plus, if you have two wheelsets, it’s easy to go from a pure road ride to something that includes a lot of dirt, even mild singletrack.”
Tom in Minnesota concurs, “I would also check the maximum tire width because, you can always put on narrower tires but not wider.”
Jeff vdD added a helpful tip for disc brake road bikes. I wrote that disc brake road bikes often come with through axles and this can mean having to carry a wrench to remove the wheels. Jeff pointed out that “through-axles don’t necessarily require a tool to remove the wheels. Two of my three through-axle bikes allow the axles to be removed by hand.”
Please see the photo, which shows a through axle with a handle on the end for removing it by hand. Note though that some through axles with handles like this still require a tool to remove. So, rather than assuming anything when shopping, ask the store if tools are required to remove the wheels. Better yet, ask them to demonstrate removing the wheels.
As usual when the discussion of new road bikes comes up, we received some interesting opinions about bicycle and component materials.
“Larry said, “IMO, there is no such thing as a good aluminum road bike. The other materials mentioned all have their pros and cons.”
“Avoid carbon clincher rims that use rim brakes. You are asking too much of the rim, and the penalty for rim failure is huge.”
Meanwhile, Will Haltiwanger said, “I love titanium. Steel will corrode and anything with paint is easily scraped up. After a recent trip where my wife’s new Trek 720 and my old Salsa Fargo Titanium were handled by various shuttles, her new bike looked like it had been in battle and mine looked just as good as before the trip.
Also, having ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway several times with rim brakes I would definitely go for disc brakes.”
I have to disagree about aluminum bicycles and carbon clincher rims. There are plenty of awesome-riding aluminum bikes and carbon rims work fine. However, you do need to take care of both materials.
Some aluminum can dent more easily than other frame materials. And, some carbon rims require carbon-specific brake pads. As long as you “follow the rules,” you will be fine in my experience.
Know the Geometry
Tom in Minnesota, who weighed in earlier on tire compatibility, also suggested checking any new road bike’s geometry. He said, “It’s a lot less of an issue if you use a local bike shop who can explain, but you still should have an idea of what you are looking for in the geometry of that new bike. It’s good to understand how racing compares to endurance or even touring geometry. And the gravel category in particular covers a very wide range of geometry.”
Tom actually raises two great points. The first is that you want to know which type or category of road bike you’re shopping for. Usually, you’ll have some idea from who you plan to ride with, what type of bike they ride and/or where you plan to ride. You can also learn about the choices visiting bicycle shops or bike company websites where bikes are almost always organized by category.
Once you’ve found the bike category you’re interested in, you can then compare the geometry of several bikes of interest to you by looking carefully at their geometry charts. You can find these on the bikes’ webpages by clicking on the geometry or geo chart tab. Usually, it will include a diagram showing the dimensions and angles of the frame tubes and other things.
There’s a lot to know about bicycle geometry, though. And even professional framebuilder don’t necessarily agree on what’s best. But, it is helpful to look at the geometry chart of a bike that you test rode and loved. You can then try to find something similar in other bikes you want to compare as a way to try to find a similar performing bike.
Geometry charts also provide measurements of the frame tubes, which is helpful for finding the optimum fitting bicycle.
More Votes for eTap and Electric Shifting
Fred Goss wrote, “After 35 years riding Campy, I have switched to Sram eTap. I had crashed my bike which crunched my nine-speed brake levers (specifically, I came around a curve too fast and hit the side of cliff; nine fractures) so I decided it was time to upgrade my Merlin Extralight (2001). The shifting is incredible and the bike looks very nice. When I went to the shop to pick it up, people were gathered around it admiring the clean lines and bare titanium frame.”
And, Mark Barrilleaux agrees so much he wrote a blog post about it, “Electronic shifters are definitely a non-essential luxury, but they sure are cool. I got eTap five months ago, and I’ve been loving it more every day. I wrote up my observations in my Killa’s Garage blog.
Yet, the biggest electric shifting fan may be Andrew Kundrat who said, “Upgrading to electronic shifting three years ago did more to rejuvenate my enjoyment of cycling than any other consideration. I have Shimano Di2. The inconvenience and time involvement of attention and adjustments to cables and derailleurs for this individual who just wants to enjoy cycling was markedly reduced (if not eliminated) by this technology.
I would argue it is a greater benefit, and money well spent, for the individual who is less than an avid cyclist, allowing one to focus on the ride rather than the mechanical.”
Let’s give the last word to reader “Steve,” who pointed out, “Advice to take a test ride on any bicycle that you want to buy is good, but generally cannot be done. It is impossible for shops to carry every bicycle in every size and as most shops go to a limited inventory it is impossible to actually take a test ride on high-end bikes. You have to trust the shop and the brand name and do a lot of reading of reviews then order the bicycle that you think will be for you and hope that all works out.”
Yes, it can be difficult to test ride the exact bicycle you are thinking of buying from some bicycle shops. Yet, I still advise not buying a road bicycle unless you love the ride of that bike and the only way to find out is to ride that bike.
If your local bike shop doesn’t have or can’t get you a bicycle to test ride, find a bicycle shop that can. If that means driving all day to ride the bike, I would do it. Granted, it would have to be a bicycle I was fairly sure was the right bike, but I would find a way to test ride it for sure – or I wouldn’t buy it. You don’t want to buy a new bike that you end up being unhappy on.
For finding shops out of your area, visit the bike brand websites and use their dealer locator. Try calling a few shops to see if they have what you want in stock for a test ride. Another possibility is finding someone who owns the bike you’re interested in and asking if you can try it. Joining a friendly cycling club is a good way to meet riders who might let you try their bike.
Thanks for all the tips! Tune in next week for some advice for used bike shoppers.
Ride total: 8,912
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.