If you want to get to work in a hurry, you can’t beat a road bike. Speed and efficiency on tarmac is what these sporty machines are all about. But unless you want to arrive with a stripe of dirty water up your back, you’ll want a bike that’s not just quick but practical. Such road bikes go by various names – training, audax, and endurance to name three – while some aren’t singled out as different from race bikes at all. Their common denominator is versatility, because they have features that racers lack.
Chief among these are frame eyelets for fitting full-length mudguards and maybe a pannier rack. Be careful, however: some bikes have the eyelets but don’t have enough room between tyre and frame or brake calliper for conventional mudguards to fit safely. Look for a bike with brakes described as ‘long reach’ or ‘deep drop’, which are 57mm long instead of the standard 49mm; that or plan to use special road bike mudguards (see the Specialized Secteur write up for more).
Since comfort is at least as important as aerodynamics for a road bike that isn’t intended for racing, it’s not uncommon to have a slightly shorter reach to the handlebar. The handlebar is generally a bit higher too, often with a shallower drop from the bar top to the curved ends. This eases the strain on your lower back, and the more head-up position is better for looking around in traffic. A bike with rack eyelets may have slightly longer chainstays but don’t count on it. Expect to use only small panniers on a road bike, or else an office pannier that’s angled away from your heel, and load any pannier lightly.
Gearing may well be the same on a training/endurance road bike as on a racer, since the 50-34 compact double chainset has largely replaced the 52-42 ‘racing double’. Nevertheless, you will likely need climbing gears more than high, closely-spaced racing gears. If you’ve got a hilly ride to work and want to get there with less sweat, look for a wider-ratio cassette, such as 11-28, or a triple chainset.
The advantage of a road bike for commuting is that it’s light and fast. The further you’re travelling, the more you’ll benefit. The more you can limit what you carry, the more enjoyable – and quicker – your ride to work will be.
Specialized Secteur Triple
The Secteur follows the design of Specialized’s more expensive, long-distance Roubaix road bikes. A taller head tube puts the shallow-drop handlebar higher, while a carbon fork slightly deadens the buzz of road vibration. Tyres are 25mm rather than 23mm, which also helps. Specialized are always good on contact point comfort and the Secteur is no exception: you get an anatomic Body Geometry saddle and gel-padded handlebar tape. At this price, the 24-speed gearing is necessarily entry-level, being Shimano 2300. But the triple chainset means that some of its gears are nice and low. The Secteur has mounts for a rear rack but not conventional mudguards. We would recommend SKS Raceblade Long or Crud Roadracer guards, as they’re designed for close-clearance road bikes without mudguard eyelets.
Trek don’t exactly trumpet it but the 1.2 comes with long-reach brakes as well as eyelets for mudguards – fenders, they call them in the US – and a rack. The head tube is higher too, which suits commuters and recreational riders more; Trek refer to this as ‘H2 Fit’. The 1.2 loses nothing to less practical rivals, having the lightweight aluminium frame and carbon-legged fork you’d expect at this price. Gearing is 18-speed Shimano Sora, with basic but effective STI levers and a Tiagra (next level up) rear derailleur. A compact 50-34 chainset drives a cassette that goes up to 28, so it should climb okay. It’s available in a huge range of sizes, from a tiny 43cm with smaller wheels, up to a giant’s 62cm.
Kona Honky Tonk
The Honky Tonk was designed specifically for a Kona-sponsored racing cyclist who rides every day in the – in US terms – rainy city of Portland. As such, it has the long-reach brakes and frame eyelets you want for fitting full mudguards, as well as seatstay eyelets for a rear rack. Frame and fork are both chromoly steel, which is heavier but more resilient than aluminium; it can offer a ride feel that many cyclists prefer. Tyres are 28mm wide, providing even more comfort, and the cork bar tape is a nice touch. Gearing is 18-speed Sora with a Tiagra rear derailleur, like the Trek, except that the cassette goes up to 25 instead of 28 so it’s missing one gear for climbs. It’s a good workhorse road bike nevertheless.
Kinesis Racelight T2
Designed in the UK by someone who clearly knows the conditions that UK cyclists have to cope with, the Racelight T2 is rightly described as a ‘Training/Commute’ bike. It comes factory-fitted with the full-length mudguards that commuters want underneath its long drop brakes, and it will take a rear rack too. Relatively lightweight, quality parts – butted aluminium frame, carbon fork, Shimano R500 wheels, FSA bar, stem and seatpost – mean that it’s sportier than its practicality suggests. The gearing is 20-speed Shimano Tiagra, with the same overall range as the Trek 1.2 but with smaller steps between gears. Sizing is from 48-63cm, and you can buy the same bike with an aluminium fork for £70 less.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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