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A road bike is a road bike, yes?  No.  Actually there are some big differences I had to consider and some subtle differences I had to consider.  Lets begin with the less important, more subtle one:  what it is made of.

Yes, one might put the material that the bike is made of, and of course I am speaking of the frame here, as a truly significant difference, and it is and it is not.  Here is why I say that.  Any material, and the bike frame that results from it, is more about the intent of the designer/engineer than it is the actual material.  It can be stiff, harsh, compliant, light, heavy, nimble, stable or whatever, whether it is carbon, steel, Ti, or aluminum.   And this has been hashed and rehashed (insert beating a dead horse animated GIF here!) on bike forums across the internet.  So, let me sum up what I think about each major choice in materials and not spend too much time on this.

colnago carbonCarbon is everywhere and no more so than in the road bike market.  It came in and pretty much crushed steel, Ti, and aluminum as a material of choice for most of the road cycling population and with good reason.  It is highly tunable and makes for a light, stiff bike that is also durable.  Carbon is hard to beat and is the finest material there is today to make a performance bike frame from.  But good carbon is costly.  And great carbon is really costly.  On the other end of the spectrum, average carbon is just that…average.  And bad carbon is scary and it all looks pretty much the same from the outside.  The cost of manufacturing a carbon frame means that, for a given price point, you can expect a lower spec of parts compared to say, an aluminum framed bike at that same price point.

SmartWeldGallerySneakPeakAluminum has been seeing a resurgence of late as manufacturing techniques have been refined allowing for a good riding, long lasting, lightweight and less expensive option to carbon.  Bikes like the Cannondale CAAD series, which has a significant fan base, and the new Specialized Allez Smartweld, are examples of aluminum as a great choice whether you are on a fixed budget or not.

ti pic


Ti remains a bit of an esoteric material, as the cost remains quite high for most Ti frames/bikes on the market.  There are exceptions, but expect to find Ti still up there in price.  However, it also stands out as a material that many consider to be the epitome of ride quality, durability, and more than a little bit of exclusivity.  Ti still has that ‘Dentist’s Bike’ label hanging around it, but for many it is the pinnacle of what a bike frame should be made from and companies like Eriksen, Moots, and Seven are busy filling orders.

pegorettiSteel is still real, but is hardly what most riders look at when shopping for a new bike.  It is sure not flashy and it likely is heavier than the other options.  But the reason so few steel road bikes are sold is mostly that they are just not seen in showroom floors as an option to carbon and aluminum and consumers will buy what is on display.  There are cheap steel bikes made in China and really expensive ones made by hand in Italy by a third generation bike builder.  Steel is actually preferred for a lot of road use, especially if you live where the roads are way less than smooth or even barely paved at all.  It is easy to live with, really tough, repairable, typically resilient, and has great value.  It just is not sexy to the eye of the consumer at large.

But what really matters is what the bike was intended to do, and how it fits you and your needs.  Get that right and 90% of the time you will be happier than if you succumbed to the glossy ad copy and bought a bike that is stunning looking, light as a feather, fast as greased lightning and totally wrong for you.

So what style of road bike you need is really the key issue here.  There are a few types of bikes that represent road riding at large.  And in these types are some sub-types.  I will ignore Tri bikes/TT bikes and aero bikes in general along with touring bikes.  If you want/need one of these you already know it.

  •  Modern Road Racing Bike:  By this I mean a bike that would be running a 700x23c or maybe a 700x25c tire, have short-ish chain stays in the 405mm range, a long top tube, a shorter head tube for a low riding position, and geometry/frame angles and overall construction that allows for a sporting, aggressive riding style.  Think Specialized Tarmac.


  • Modern Road Endurance Bike:  What has arisen lately is a genre called ‘Endurance Geometry’.  This has a more relaxed geometry, a longer wheelbase, taller head tube for a more upright riding position, and most likely will have a more compliant ride quality. To stay within a brand here, think Specialized Roubaix.


  •  Classic Road Bike:  This is a rare beast today.  To my thinking this bike has pretty much vanished from the showroom floor, but maybe something like a Ritchey Road Logic 2 or certainly a Salsa Colossal or an All City Mr. Pink fits in this category.  Rivendell Bikes is there on the high end.  It will have a bit longer wheelbase for stability as well to make room for at least a 700x28c tire and will likely be steel or Ti.  In some ways, this is what everyone rode ‘back in the day’…a bike that was more comfortable and could go beyond where the pavement ended and be OK about it.  Left to right:  Ritchey, Salsa, All City.

ritchey road logic 2salsa colossalall city Mr Pink

  •  All Road…Any Road…Cross Bike…Gravel Bike:  If there is anything in search of a definition right now it is the resurgence of a ‘road bike’ that truly can go pretty much anywhere that is not a bonafide, technical single track and be OK.  With relaxed geometry, clearance for 700x38c or even bigger tires, cantilever (or disc) brakes, and burlier wheels, it has an interesting appeal.  But it is not that new either as cyclocross bikes have been filling that need for a long time, even if they are not a perfect fit (lack of rack mounts, higher bottom bracket, etc).  But the upswell of ‘gravel grinding’ or gravel road riding/events across the country has perked up the ears of the marketing forces within mainline cycling and they smell money.  So now we have bikes like the Raleigh Tamland and the Giant Anyroad on top of all the cyclocross bikes on the market.  Bruce Gordon has been doing this forever with the Rock and Road.

raleigh tamlandgiant anyroad

So it falls to the end user…you, to figure out where you fall in line.  Guitar Ted thinks, and he has good sound logic behind it, that most people buying a road bike buy the wrong thing.  They end up with a Trek Madone (Modern Road Racing Bike) when they really should be on a longer, more upright, more comfy, more versatile bike.  He is a big proponent of the ‘All Road’ approach and that is an interesting take on things, especially in areas that have poor road conditions from harsh winters, lots of rural roads that may not even be paved, and a need for commuting or city riding.  That is not true of where I live.  Out in SO Cal we have hardly any rural, unpaved roads through the country and the road surfaces, by and large, are quite good.  What we do have are lots of mountain and country roads that go on for miles in big loops through the surrounding counties with a great deal of climbing and fast traffic.  An ‘All Road’ bike out here makes less sense.

In my opinion and for my local conditions, what does make sense for most riders is the Endurance Geometry approach to the Modern Road Bike.  It allows for a more upright position, is more stable and usually more compliant too, and still can be light and fast.  But there are a lot of choices in what you can ride today as far as a road bike and there are some nuances here that allow you to tweak things quite a bit.  The trick is in knowing what you want, what you will do with it, and what you are willing to give up.  You cannot have it all in one bike, but you can tilt the needle to the part of the scale that matters to you the most.

I might as well be the poster child for the Endurance Road geometry approach.  Age and lack of flexibility call out for a higher bar position.  I am not mixing it up on a fast paced club ride as much as I am rolling out for long rides over hill and dale.  Yet, I covet a sporty bike and some of the Endurance Bikes are a bit stodgy and too far towards the rolling road couch approach for me.  One word:  MAMIL.  Oh my.  I am not there quite yet. I wanted to get somewhere in the middle.  The Cannondale Synapse line of bikes hits that right on center target in my opinion.  So I was facing two tasks going forward.  I needed to find a bike that hit the middle ground, was in my limited budget, and I needed to figure out how to get the bike to fit me.

Next up, the end of this journey:  The fit, the bike, the gear.  Time to get in the water.