Road bikes are often very lightweight which makes them efficient, with narrow tyres and wheels which help with speed. Most road bikes also feature a drop handlebar for a more aero efficient position.
These features make road bikes ideal for both cycling enthusiasts and competitive cyclists. However, they can also be a great option for commuters, particularly those living in a city. This is because road bikes are intended to be used entirely on paved surfaces, so they naturally suit urban areas.
Why buy a road bike?
There are many different approaches to cycle commutes. Whether you use the opportunity to fit in a high intensity workout, or enjoy a more leisurely ride, a road bike will get the job done.
Cycling at a leisurely pace is a relaxing way to get to work, and means you’ll need less specialist gear. You’re also free to ride a heavier, sturdier bike. On the other hand, if you treat your cycle to work like a workout, or you have a long distance to cover over a limited time, you’ll appreciate the speed and efficiency of a road bike.
If you live in an urban area and don’t have plans to use your bike off-road, then a road bike could be the perfect fit. The road bike’s weight and narrow frame make pedalling easier, and you can reach high speeds with minimal effort.
Road bikes are hands down the best option for speed, weight and urban living. But if you’re looking to ride off-road, you may want to consider other types of bikes.
Types of road bikes
Racing road bikes
Often used in competitive events, racing road bikes also go by the term ‘aero road bikes’. These bikes can also be used for commutes - if your cycle commute doubles as a daily workout or if you’ve got a great distance to cover, then a racing road bike is a solid choice. Being able to ratchet up a good amount of speed is motivating and encouraging. It’s also plenty of fun and allows you to cycle further without burning as much energy as you might with a heavier bike.
Beginner racing road bikes can come in below £1,000. Beyond this price point you’ll find more specialist models geared towards competitive riders. Entry-level road race bikes will often come with what are referred to as ‘training tyres’. These are generally heavier and more durable than racing tyres and as such, are better suited to a morning commute. Road race bikes tend to encourage an athletic riding position, meaning you’re leaning forward. This improves aerodynamics and concentrates more of the power being generated from your legs into the bike. This is something to consider if you have pre-existing conditions such as back pain.
Flat bar road bikes
Whilst standard road bikes usually force an athletic position, with dropped handlebars, not all cyclists will get along with this set-up. Flat handlebars allow you to ride in an upright position, meaning a more comfortable ride and increased visibility. There’s a slight trade off in speed, but for most commuters and casual riders it won’t be too noticeable.
Road bikes with disc brakes
Disc brakes first featured on mountain bikes, but now appear on many different types, including the road bike. Instead of operating at the rim, disc brakes work in the centre of your bike wheel. This makes them much more resilient against mud, snow and rain.
Bikes with disc brakes are more reliable in extreme weather conditions and allow room for mudguards and wider tyres. They also last longer than rim brakes, making them a good all round choice for commuters. If you’re riding in a built-up area, then the difference between rim and disc brakes will be minimal, more so a question of preference.
The main disadvantage to disc brakes is that they aren’t as aerodynamic as some other brake types and they can take a little longer to change. This is important to note if you’re a competitive cyclist, but it shouldn’t impact commuters.
Whilst you can improve the comfort of a bike by opting for the flat bar variety, the alternative option for those seeking a comfortable riding position is the sportive bike.
These bikes offer a comfortable riding position, more gears, and are designed to make fitting mudguards and panniers as simple as possible. These are all extremely useful features for cycle commuters.
Sportive road bikes are also known as endurance bikes. They’re ideal if you’re faced with a particularly long commute. Though a 10+ mile cycle to work might sound scary, an endurance bike can make all the difference, transforming a long journey into an easy ride.
You don’t need to have a long commute to make the most of a sportive road bike, they’re also perfect for long leisure rides.
Women’s road bikes
These road bikes are specifically designed for female riders. A few subtle differences like narrowed handlebars, shorter cranks and a shallower drop mean improved comfort for women. These features will be particularly appreciated by shorter women who can sometimes struggle to use standard bikes.
This does not mean women have to buy specific bikes. Bikes are unisex, but you might benefit from the slight differences in size. The best way to figure out what type of road bike is right for you is by going for test rides to see which design is the most comfortable.
Is a road bike right for you?
If your commute is likely to take you off the beaten track, onto rougher surfaces, then a road bike might not suit your needs. The narrow wheels and tyres of a road bike won’t fare as well as off-road, and you’ll feel the lack of suspension.
If you’ll be sticking to roads and cycle paths, then a road bike could be the perfect fit for your commute.
For those interested in cycling for fitness or leisure outside of work, then a road bike is still a good option. A cycle on an aero bike or sportive race bike can be an effective and relaxing way to get a great workout and cover distances with speed.