Buying a road bike

What to think about before buying your first very own road bike

Slick, effortless and fast. You’ve seen them overtake you on a hill or fly gracefully past you on a commute.  Whether it’s leading the bunch or out for a solo spin, these women own the road and they make road riding look easy. 

They’ve got the bike, the gear and the attitude.

So, you'd like to be one of them. You’re ready to speak their language, be part of their squad and to venture into the world of road cycling but ... you don't have a bike and you're not sure how to go about getting one.

Don't worry, The RACV Ascent is here to help. 

Buying your first road bike

When it comes to buying your first road bike, advice will come in thick and fast. Whether it’s from your partner, colleague or family member, chances are you’ll be overwhelmed with the well-meaning tips, suggestions and spec-heavy information. 

So let us simplify it for you. 

1. Do your homework

When you’re buying a bike, the range of types, brands, materials and component options can be bewildering. It’s easy to go with the first thing a sales assistant tries to sell you. 

However, it’s important that you do your own research. Bike brands should provide all the relevant specifications for each model on their websites, and it’s a good idea to read reviews and see what people are saying on bike forums about the models you’re interested in. 

Some major women road bike brands to consider are Trek, Giant, Focus, Cannondale, Specialized, Fuji and Merida.

2. Weigh up the pros and cons of where to buy

Where you buy your bike is probably more important than you think, and a lower price tag doesn’t necessarily ensure a better buy.

The local bike shop

Buying a bike from your local bike shop provides you with valuable ongoing access to service and expertise. Because you’re likely to make repeat visits to the shop, it’s a good idea to find somewhere close to home, so help is conveniently at hand in an event of an issue. That said, it does pay to shop around.

Picking the right bike shop is more important than many people may think, particularly if you’re not into DIY maintenance. The shop that sold you your bike should have ready access to any replacement parts that may be required in the future. 

Bikes come in all shapes and sizes, and a bike shop will measure you to ensure you’re getting the right sized frame. They should also fit you on the bike before you roll out the store. 

Most importantly, when it comes to buying a road bike, you should feel like a kid on Christmas morning, and if sales staff don’t make you feel like this – keep shopping around because you haven’t found the right store.

Be wary of sales assistants who ask you how much you want to spend before they ask what kind of bike you’re after. Whilst it’s important to qualify your budget, this question can also betray an interest in making a quick sale, rather than a real attempt to match you to the perfect bike.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the whole process, bring a friend with you to the shop who knows bikes to act as translator of sorts. Also be clear on what the conditions of the sale are, by considering such questions as:

  • What is the shop’s returns policy?
  • Does the bike come with a warranty?
  • Is servicing included in the cost of the bike? (Often the initial service, and increasingly, a year’s worth of servicing may be included)

Online:

The obvious advantage of buying online is purchases tend to be cheaper compared to your local bike store. However, it is important to be aware that you may not be getting quite the deal you think you are. 

For a start, you’re skimping on the personal service and advice you receive in a bike shop. You'll have to wait on shipping and you'll be setting up the bike and/or installing new parts yourself.

Unless you have a specific idea of what you’re after, there is the risk of buying a bike you end up not being happy with. A road bike has subtle nuances of handling and ride quality that are almost impossible to appreciate from a photo, description and a list of specs.  Taking a bike for a test ride and to compare brands or models is an enormous advantage of shopping in a physical store.

Buying second hand:

Opting for a pre-loved bike can be a feasible way to save money when buying your first road bike. However, there are a few things to be wary of when buying second hand. First, you will need to inspect the bike carefully for wear and damage as the real cost may be considerably higher if you need to replace key parts. Second, if the bike is more than a few years old, consider whether replacement parts are still available and easily sourced.

Finally, bike theft is reasonably common and many thieves will resell bikes—often for well below what they are worth—to make a quick buck. If you purchase a stolen bike, knowingly or not, you can be charged with possessing stolen goods. If you purchase a second hand bike, we strongly recommend you do so through a licensed dealer or another trusted source and retain proof of purchase. If you come across a deal that seems too good to be true, chances are it probably is.

3. Styles of road bikes

Women’s road bikes can be broadly divided into two styles:

  • Endurance road bikes: These have a more relaxed and upright geometry and, as the name suggests, are ideal for longer rides. They are also a good option for those new to riding and may be more convenient for those swapping between commuter to road rides. 
  • Road race bikes: These are designed for speed, with aggressive geometry and responsive handling, you’ll sit much lower to the ground.  

For more on the comfort and geometry of buying a road bike, check out this article by our media partner Ella CyclingTips - A women’s guide to buying a road bike.

The main difference in a women’s specific bike is a shorter top tube (the top part of the frame). They usually feature narrower handlebars and a raised stem as women tend to opt for a higher saddle position.

4. Test ride

Unless you’re buying online you should be able to take a bike for a test ride. Every bike shop will have its own test ride policy but most shops will happily let you go for a spin to get a feel for the bike.

When test riding a bike - focus on the big things and don’t sweat the small stuff. Chances are that you will feel awkward trying any new bike. The bike may be lighter than what you’re used to or you may feel uncomfortable positioned lower to the ground. There are many small ways to help the bike fit you better such as gears can be adjusted and handlebar tape, grips, saddle and tyres are all easily replaced. 

It’s more important to make sure that the frame size and geometry are a good fit, and that the overall ‘feel’ of the bike is right for you. 

There is also an emotional side to choosing a new bike. You’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so trust your gut over how the bike appears on paper.