Road Race: How to Choose a Road Bike for Racing Success
With drop handlebars and skinny wheels, road bikes are already built for speed. But when it comes to racing, not just any road bike will do. At Hargroves Cycles we’re here to help you work out what’s best for you.
Road bike racing is becoming increasingly accessible across all levels. British Cycling offer coached sessions to help you get started; and if you’re already stuck in and progressing through the ranks, there are more races than ever to choose from. Whatever stage you’re at, a machine built for purpose will help to reveal your maximum potential. Race-specific bikes look similar to more generalist road bikes, but with relatively aggressive geometry and aerodynamically shaped tubes.
First up, you need a fast and efficient frame to get ahead in the pack, and the most obvious variable is weight. Aluminium frames are light, and with high-grade alloy-framed models with decent spec available under £1,500, a great choice for racing on a budget.
Carbon fibre frames hold the edge over alloy in terms of lightness, and they’re stiffer too, generally delivering better power transfer, important for efficiency, speed and minimising unnecessary fatigue, and vital for performance when attacking and sprinting. Carbon also generally offers greater comfort by absorbing more road vibration, so – if you opt for alloy, your fork should be carbon at a minimum to stay smooth, as found on the £1,399 alloy Cannondale CAAD12.
The CAAD12’s quality alloy frame even rivals some carbon competitors in its lightness and stiffness. And, packing a Shimano 105 groupset and a Mavic Aksium wheelset, it’s a perfect starter race bike. We have highlighted the cantilever rim brake version, but most now have disc brake options which we also stock at Hargroves.
When it comes to maximising comfort, the carbon Cube Agree C:62 Pro, £2,099, is an endurance race bike, meaning it’s built to go fast – while serving up comfort over long stints in the saddle. The tapered head tube and integrated seat clamp encourage aerodynamics, and the frame is Di2 ready, so if you want, you can upgrade to electronic gears later. With excellent Shimano Ultegra components, including Ultegra rim brakes, and an aerodynamic Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset with bladed-spokes, this bike is not just speedy, but built with quality to stand the test of time, too.
GEOMETRY & AERODYNAMICS
Of course, your frame choice shouldn’t be determined on materials alone, but also by its shape and geometry. Aero road frames feature wind-cheating tapered tubes and rounded, tear-shaped contours; typically adopting technology and techniques from their time trial and triathlon-focused stablemates.
Cannondale’s CAAD12 Ultegra Black, £1,899 screams serious race appeal, twinning a full Ultegra groupset with an A1 alloy frame that’s light, stiff and smooth feel. The American brand’s been busy upgrading the aerodynamics on their ever-popular CAAD – the tubes for this year are sleeker than previous iterations; down and top tubes are more flowing, the top tube flattens out towards the rear and the carbon fork is slimmer, improving compliance and comfort. The geometry lends itself to an efficient, aero position while the frame stiffness responds well to putting down the power.
Its 700C Mavic Aksium wheels are popular for their strong, stiff and relative lightness at 1880g for the pair. Their anodized black finish suit this stealthy-looking machine – it’s got way more bang than it asks for in buck.
To achieve speed on a wider variety of budgets, Specialized’s Tarmac range, features signature arched top tubes, which flatten towards the seat tube. The Sport version offers a carbon frame and Shimano 105 groupset for £1,750, while a step up to the Specialized Tarmac Comp £2,600, delivers Shimano Ultegra, an aggressive 16cm head tube and excellent handling that’s built to succeed.
Our range features groupsets from all the leading manufacturers who offer race-quality parts at accessible price points. Shimano’s performance groupset is considered to start at 105, while SRAM’s Rival is their ready-to-race option. Electronic gears (Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap, Campagnolo EPS and the emerging FSA K-Force WE) are UCI legal, and, as long as you remember to charge them, serve up superbly smooth performance. These high level groupsets will help your performance, but you can still race on more basic, but still good quality, componentry (e.g. Shimano Tiagra or SRAM Apex), and heavier parts only serve to make you stronger.
When it comes to choosing your wheels, deeper rim options perform well for racing because they experience less drag, although it’s worth considering the fact that there is usually a small weight penalty. 30-40mm depth is often considered a good racing compromise, and more experienced racers often have multiple wheelsets to get the best advantage in different conditions.
However deep, or shallow, your rims, you need your wheels to be as light and aerodynamically efficient as possible. As with frames, alloy is a great choice for wheels on a budget while carbon wins on weight and power transfer. The great thing about wheels though, is that you can upgrade them at any time; so it’s a good idea to spend on the frame and groupset and follow up later with a wheel upgrade.
At Hargroves we have a variety of race bikes to suit any budget and taste. When choosing your next – or first – race bike, make sure your head rules your heart, but let them both a have a look in!