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
Wire breakage? I’ve been riding for over 40 years which included 10 years of non professional racing and I’ve never broke a cable, nor did I know anyone who had; if you check your bike over and maintain it you should never have a cable break, and I only changed my cables once every 5 to 6 years even when I was racing! Now I think I change cables about once every 8 to 10 years. There was an issue with a particular model of Dura Ace brake levers that made the cable to a 90 degree bend and those cables broke quite frequently but I think that was only about a 2 year production which was then solved.
I think if someone is going to do some beginner racing aluminum bike is the only way to go because they’re cheap and amateur racers crash a lot which means it’s a lot cheaper to replace an aluminum frame then a carbon fiber frame, and the same is true for wheels.
I don’t think, read that as my opinion, a beginning cyclist or a entry level (cat 5) all the way up to cat 2 racer needs electronic shifting, too much complication and expense, again think crashes and which would be cheaper to replace in the event of damage.
The same is true for non racers, aluminum frame is cheaper to buy thus you can get better components, and cheap carbon fiber frames will weigh as much as a low cost aluminum frame so why bother? save your money and go with an aluminum frame. Also save money and go with mechanical components and not electric components.
Personally it a person is completely new to any type of riding and are starting a new hobby I wouldn’t spend more than $350 for a bicycle, why you ask? because 7 out of 10 new cyclists will ride the bike for about 3 to 6 months then it becomes expensive garage art for many years. So either find a real nice used bike, or a new bike, but a used bike would offer a lot more for the money, just make sure you either study up on bikes so you don’t buy some cheap retail store bike, or confer with someone who knows about older bikes; and stay away from used carbon fiber bikes, if its been crashed you may not know how to check it for damage and think it’s fine but it’s not, and when those break they so instantly which can cause severe injury, A $350 new bike won’t be a very good bike and if you get serious about riding it will cause you problems over the long haul, at leas a quality used bike in that price range will last a very long time if you had it checked out and appraised as far as the level of components and frame goes.
Bike Fitness Coach says
Great points. Going one step further, if anyone is interested in doing their first race, I HIGHLY recommend taking the 5 session BRP (Beginner Racer Program) sponsored by USA Cycling and offered at many of the racing venues. I agree about doing your first cat 5 races on a $350 bike. But, I think most of the readership doesnt race nor wants to race so I think it is fair to choose a better bike. Personally, I have never seen an Aluminum frame that has a stiffener bar behind the bottom bracket shell like virtually every Ti frame has. Without this extra stiffener, every Al frame I have ridden is like a wet noodle to the point of feeling like a low or flat rear tire. Ti and Steel are much stiffer and Carbon is hit/miss due to if the manufacturer is going for the lightest weight bike possible or going for a usable stable stiff frame. IMHO, the BEST all around stiff, compliant, handling, ride quality, value carbon road frames are Cervelo R5, R3, Giant TCR Advanced, Trek Madone and BH Ultralight for one of the best values.
For those thinking of a new bike, I highly recommend disc brakes. Everything lasts longer, especially the rims since you are braking on rotors instead of the rim’s surface. Electronic Shifting. It’s always less upfront cost getting everything on the new bike you are purchasing than after the fact. But, in support of mechanical shifting, the new Dura-Ace 9100, new Ultegra 8000 (almost as good as the 9100 but at half the cost), and now the 105 R7000 (an even better value than the Ultegra), these groupsets shift and brake as smooth as butter.
Focus on the frame first since the frame will usually outlast several groupsets.
Just my thoughts.
Bike Fitness Coach says
Last article you stated “a proper fit and a fantastic ride trump any specific frame material.”. I would fine tune this by saying “a proper fit EQUALS a fantastic ride regardless of any specific frame material.”
Bike Fitness Coaching
Jon Peck says
I have been riding Ultegra electric shifting for 5 years and am very happy with it, but in the first year, I hit a big bump. The electrical connection in the shift lever detached, so I had an arduous ride in my next to highest gear.
At the bike shop, the tech said, “Didn’t they give you the tool?” Now I carry a very small plastic tool that can reclose that connection, but I haven’t needed to use it since.
Kerry Irons says
RE: the “ride it before you buy it” argument, that puts the lie to the very idea of a custom frame, doesn’t it? Between my wife and I we bought two custom frames and two custom tandems and needless to say never rode any of them before we bought. I bought by Litespeed Vortex without ever having ridden one, but I knew that Eddy Merckx had input on the frame design and so was neither worried nor disappointed. My current Lynskey was likewise bought without a ride, but I knew the frame geometry was right and am completely satisfied.
Tom in MN says
I think you have to take the “Ride before buy” advice as for more inexperienced buyers. Clearly if you know the exact geometry that fits you, then the ride may not be necessary. I similarly just bought a semi-custom Ti frame and by matching the geometry of my current bike, knew I would be happy with it (you can nerd out and go as far as calculating your stem length and angle like I did if you want). This also brings up something else not mentioned: getting a bike fit. Once they get you dialed in, your LBS can tell you if a given bike will fit. I had done this for the bike I was matching with the new frame, so I was quite sure of what I needed. But then as mentioned above, a new cyclist who may not stick with it, shouldn’t pay for a fit either. So there are several levels of this.
Paul Ahart says
My comment on the “ride before you buy” issue:
I agree this is good advice for a novice who really doesn’t know exactly what kind of bike, components, and fit he/she needs.
A couple of years ago I wanted to purchase a lightweight steel 650b randonneuring bike, and as I couldn’t find just what I needed already built, decided to go the “custom” route. I’d read many reviews, and was especially impressed with one builder, who offered a “less expensive” version of his fully-custom frames. Using measurements from my other road bikes, I sent this info to the builder, telling him I wanted an ultralight 1″ top tube and lightwight 1-1/8″ downtube. Would be using Compass centerpull brakes, a triple crank, 130mm rear spacing, and specified the color I wanted. Sent in a deposit, and, 7 months later when the frame arrived, it not only looked knock-out great, but fit perfectly and rides like a dream. Had I insisted on test riding first, I’m sure I would not have been able to get such a fine machine. With my own experience and the 40 year experience of this builder, I got just the perfect bike.
Robert Brandenburg says
The jump to electronic shifting will add close to $1,000 to the cost of a bike. First time buyers should not have this on the list until they know they are going to really going to enjoy and use a road bike. For a maybe $100 extra, an electronic shifting group can be added later making that cost close to $1,100. I moved to electronic shifting three years ago and will not go back to mechanical, but I ride 6,000 to 8,000 miles a year.