Some road bikes are intended specifically for sport. They have a stretched, athletic riding position that can strain your lower back if you're not very supple. You can use a bike like that for commuting, but you'll need to fit specific close-clearance mudguards and probably tougher tyres. Commuting gear will go on your back. A better option for most people is a road bike with a more upright riding position and the facility to fit conventional mudguards and maybe a rear rack. Such bikes go by various names: commuter road, endurance road, and winter training bike.
For £1,000, you can expect a well-built, lightweight aluminium frame. The frame tubes will be butted. That means there's more material at the tube ends, where they're welded together, and less along the length of the tubes. It saves weight. The head tube – the short tube above the front wheel – will be tapered. This improves headset bearing life, since the load-supporting lower headset race is bigger, and it gives a firmer feel to the steering.
The fork will be carbon fibre – most likely carbon fibre blades fixed to an aluminium alloy steerer tube. Carbon fibre is extremely strong for its weight and doesn't transmit vibration like aluminium can. Some bikes have forks with a carbon steerer tube too. This saves weight but requires additional care when you're tightening stem bolts. If you're a heavy rider cycling over bad roads, a metal steerer tube should offer better long-term durability.
Road bikes all used to have sidepull caliper brakes – long-reach ones if mudguards were to be accommodated. Disc brakes are now increasingly popular. They add a little weight but are great for commuting: they work uniformly well, irrespective of wet, dirty or damaged rims; and they don't cause rim wear. Road bikes under £1,000 will have mechanical (cable-operated) disc brakes. Top performers include Avid BB7 and TRP Spyre. Don't discount bikes with sidepull brakes, however. They're still effective, they're lighter, and they cost less, so a bike fitted with them may have better gearing or other components instead.
All road bikes at this price will have integrated brake and gear levers. The groupset hierarchies go like this: Shimano – Claris, Sora, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, Dura Ace; Sram – Apex, Rival, Force, Red; Campagnolo – Veloce, Athena, Chorus, Record, Super Record. The more expensive groupsets are lighter, slicker shifting, and have more sprockets on the rear cassette – 10 or 11 rather than 8 or 9. The number of gears is less important than the range, the difference between top gear and bottom. If you find hills hard work, look for the biggest rear sprocket you can find – probably 32 – and/or the smallest inner chainring – probably 30.
All road bikes have relatively lightweight wheels. Unless you're lightweight yourself, be wary of choosing a bike with few spokes; more is stronger, other things being equal. Tyres are generally 25mm or 28mm in width, with some puncture protection. For commuting on potholed urban roads, fatter is better. Riding comfort is also improved with a compact-drop handlebar, which doesn't demand you bend over so far, and a saddle that suits your bum. This may not be the saddle that comes with the bike.
Here are five road bikes that you can't go wrong with for commuting.
Kinesis Racelight T2
A classic UK winter bike, the Racelight T2 is suitable for all seasons; it uses long-reach sidepull brakes to make room for mudguards and it comes fitted with them. You can attach a rear rack too. The frame is lightweight, butted aluminium, the fork carbon fibre. (An aluminium fork is available for about £60 less.) Gears are Shimano Tiagra, with a compact double chainset and a 12-28 10-speed cassette. The Shimano 501 wheels are sturdier than their spoke count would suggest, and they're shod with 25mm tyres.
Cyclescheme Price: £750.87
Whyte Devon Women's
This is the women's version of the men's Whyte Dorset: sizing and fit are the main differences. It's commuter focused, with a butted aluminium frame and full carbon fibre fork that will accommodate mudguards, plus a rear rack. The disc brakes look bulky because the incoming cables operate hydraulic calipers, giving more powerful, progressive braking for less lever effort. Gearing is 'only' Sora, but the 11-32 9-speed cassette gives a good range with the compact double chainset. Strong-rimmed wheels are fitted with Maxxis Detonator tyres, in a 28mm width for improved comfort and grip.
Cyclescheme Price: £750.13
Cannondale Synapse 105 5 Disc
Cannondale's Synapse endurance road bike range is available in aluminium and carbon, for men and women, with rim or disc brakes. This is the top-end aluminium version, which packs in a quality, high-head-tubed frame, a carbon fork, disc brakes (Promax Render) and 11-speed Shimano 105 gearing for less than £1,000. The 11-32 cassette is suitable for non-racers. It's not obvious from the photo but you can fit conventional mudguards. The seatpost is narrow at just 25.4mm, so it can flex more than thicker seatposts, taking the edge of any road vibration that the 25mm tyres don't filter out.
Cyclescheme Price: £750.87
Pinnacle Dolomite Six
Pinnacle is the own-brand of Evans Cycles, and its Dolomite range rightly proclaims to be 'designed for UK road conditions'. It's built around long-reach sidepull brakes, so there's room for mudguards. There are also fittings for a rear rack. The butted aluminium frame is as good and as light as big-name brands', and the fork is full carbon. Shimano 105 gearing is a bonus at this price, although the cassette goes to only 28 teeth. The Shimano RS21 wheelset is similar to but a step up from that of the Kinesis. The nearest women's equivalent is the Dolomite Four Women's.
Cyclescheme Price: £713.33
Liv Invite 1
Nominally a cyclocross bike, Giant could just as easily have called this a commuter road bike like the Whyte Devon. It's meant more for tarmac than muddy fields, as it's slick, shock-absorbing 32mm tyres show. Its aluminium frame and carbon fibre fork do have bigger clearances, enabling you to combine fatter tyres with mudguards, which is great for urban use. The 9-speed Sora gearing uses a triple chainset up front, giving a usefully low 30/32 bottom gear. Brakes are Avid BB5 discs, and there are auxiliary levers on the bar tops so you don't have to change hand position to brake.
Cyclescheme Price: £637.50
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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