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Road Bikes Explained

Road bikes come in many different shapes, sizes and specifications. Some road bikes are more orientated for racing whilst others are designed for cycling longer distances. You can also get road bikes that are designed for your daily commute. Manufacturers usually offer a range of road bikes starting with entry models that progress all the way up to performance specifications used by professional riders who race for a living.

No matter what type of road bike you choose, they will have all been designed with tarmac in mind. That means they will be equipped with fast rolling 700c wheels with thin tyres and probably classic drop handlebars. Generally speaking, a road bike is made up of the following parts:

  • Frame
  • Fork
  • Wheels
  • Groupset
  • Brakes
  • Finishing Kit

Frame Types

The bike frame is often the biggest difference between bikes. Frames can be made from a whole host of different materials including steel, aluminium, titanium and carbon. The material used to build the frame will affect how the bike feels to ride, it’s durability and how heavy the final bike is.

Carbon fibre is a really stiff and super lightweight. Generally this material is used to make high performance bike frames.

Aluminium is the most common material used to make road bike frames because it’s fairly lightweight, strong and much cheaper to use than carbon fibre

Legendary frame building material. Some riders believe that steel offer a slightly more subtle ride feel compared to aluminium but is slightly heavier.

Highly sought after material, only used on boutique / high end frames. It’s super strong but also very lightweight.

Forks Explained

Forks for road bikes will be designed in tandem with the frames geometry. Forks can be a mixture of different materials from full carbon, carbon forks with aluminium steerer, aluminium forks with carbon dropouts or they will have built in shock absorbers to minimise the impact from the road conditions.

Aluminium forks are the cheapest to make and are the most common material in entry level bikes and are often seen on the sportive bikes thanks to the lightweight attributes of aluminium. Aluminium forks can also be bonded with carbon dropouts to make the overall weight of the forks lighter than the full aluminium version. The steerer for aluminium will forks is exclusively made of aluminium to keep the forks lightweight.

Carbon is used in forks to reduce the weight further and to introduce a stiffer feel and response. More rigid than aluminium, carbon forks are found in the higher end road bikes and bikes of race specification. The stiffer forks will increase the feel from the wheels and ultimately the feel from the road. Carbon forks can have built in shock absorbers or deflectors and in the high end bikes the carbon will be weaved in such a way that it soaks up the bumps without any inserts or defining features being altered.

The addition of deflection technology is becoming more common especially in gravel and sportive bikes. The deflecting inserts or ‘Zertz’ which Specialized use is a simple rubber deflecting pad which is built into the fork and on the rear of the frame. Bianchi use very clever technology in the production of the forks and frames which absorbs the shocks of the road whilst still remaining stiff and the lightweight.

Disc brakes options are readily available in both aluminium and carbon. On entry level bikes the forks will have built in mudguard and rack mounts.

Do Bike Wheels Make A Difference

The wheels make a massive difference to the feel and handling of any bike. As with groupset the variations are quite large. Some wheels are Aluminium rimmed and others are Carbon rimmed. The spokes can also be either aluminium or carbon.

For real speed the wheels can be deep section or more standard looking with the TT or Track style wheels which can be either Disc or 3 – 5 spokes.

The wheels which come with a bike are generally ideal for the bike but upgrading wheels is considered to be the first option to improve the bike.

Groupsets Explained

The term groupset is the collective term for all the gears, levers, brakes and chainsets. Road bikes will have groupsets from 3 main components manufactures: Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo.


Road bike generally have calliper brakes, but with the introduction of disc brakes has thrown a different aspect into the mix. Calliper brakes offer better aerodynamic qualities than the disc brakes alternative, but disc brakes offer better stopping power and are less affected by the bad weather and the muck off the road. Calliper brakes are cable operated and disc brakes are either cable or hydraulic operated. Hydraulic systems are better than the cable operated system in both feel and performance.

Finishing Kits

A finishing kit is the collective term for the handlebars, stem and seatpost. Manufacturers are working to make their products the best, whether it is the most aero or the most comfortable.

Handlebars come in different widths, reach, drop height and overall dimension. There is a handlebar to suit every rider. Some handlebars will be more compact than others, whereas others will be more comfortable and will be ergonomically designed to remain comfortable.

Stems are available in different lengths and angles to suit any rider and can be made of either aluminium or carbon.

Seatposts can be made aluminium or carbon and can come with different saddle mounting angles. These can be offset by a couple of degrees, layback or have no offset. Offsetting the seatpost is where the saddle does not sit directly above the seatpost. Layback is where the mounting has been moved towards the rear of the bike and no offset is where the saddle is mounting directly above the seatpost. Impact and deflection solutions are available in seatposts but are found towards the higher end.