Choosing a road bike: the Goldilocks approach

Flikr, Creative Commons. Image by violscraper, 2010.

When I started cycling, my partner (my gateway into cycling) gave me some (what turned out to be) excellent advice: if you buy a decent entry-level road bike, within a year you’ll want to upgrade. But if you get a decent bike you’ll have it for years.

Now, I guess the problem is when you’re starting out, you don’t know whether the cycling bug will stick. You’re riding around on a friend-or-partner’s bike, wearing your tracksuit pants, and you’re thinking: “Gee, this is pretty fun” and “Far out, this bike is SO MUCH LIGHTER than my heavy commuter, and going fast is THE BEST!”.

But commitment – financial commitment particularly – is needed to get to level up from commuter-who-likes-long-bike-rides-on-the-weekend to a chamois-shorts-wearing cyclist who goes home from Friday drinks at 9pm because you’re getting up at 5 the next morning to cycle to Timbuktu.

And you’re NEVER going to wear Lycra, right? Lycra is SO GROSS.

Just you wait.

As a very small (two-person) case study to illustrate what I’m talking about: a friend of mine and I both started cycling at the same time about 2 years ago. She bought an entry-level Liv road bike, for around $1200. She bought it off Gumtree from someone who was upgrading (and that’s another clue: how many entry-level bikes do you see in really good condition online because the person is upgrading? Why is that, do you think?).

I – on the other hand – went to a smallish bike store in the city. Found a frame that I liked that wasn’t built up (Liv Envie Advanced Pro 0, 2015), and spoke to the bike store owner and he said he’d build it with components based on my budget. I was with my partner who knows bikes, which was super valuable. If you can bring someone along to the store if you’re buying a bike this way, do it: they’ll know the questions you might not know to ask, and you’re probably more likely to get a better deal. My partner gave me his old wheels (which were really decent Shimano Ultegra wheels, maybe 5 years old but in really good condition) which saved me a heap of $ in the build. I ended up spending $2100.

My beauty bike.
Annoying behind-fork brake system on my bike.

Now – 2 years into our cycling lives – my friend has majorly outgrown her bike, and I’m still really happy with mine. There’re a few niggling things that I don’t like about my bike –mainly the behind-fork brake system which seems specific to Liv/Giant aero models and I think is badly designed (although, if it was good enough for Marianne Vos, I should probably stop complaining), particularly if you do a lot of descending in sketchy conditions – but on the whole it’s light, strong, handles well, the components are good (mainly Ultegra but with Dura-ace shifters), and I’ll be riding it for years to come – unless I win the lottery and can buy this beauty:

How pretty! Specialized S-Works Tarmac Disc – Sagan Collection Overexposed LTD. It’s $AUD14,000 though.

There are lots of bikes out there, and it can be really hard to make sense of it all when you first start out. But if you get a good frame, you’re most of the way there. Components can be upgraded, and you can build on what you’ve got.

The piece of advice I’d give for female cyclists: don’t worry too much about ‘female-specific’ frames and all that hoo-ha. There’s a great Cycling Weekly article that talks through this in more detail, but the main bits that will be important to get right is the bike fit, and to get a good saddle that works for you, so that your pelvic bones are supported and you’re not squashing your Very Important Vulva into a painful pulpy mess. I’m deadly serious. Read this as a cautionary tale.

And happy bike-buying!

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