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Road bikes are considered the thoroughbred within the cycling stable. Their manufacturers invest considerable resources into researching and developing the technologies and geometry that provide you with a platform to ride fast on smooth roads.
Companies who make road bikes support and finance the professional teams which race all around the world. Feedback obtained from their teams of researchers, scientists and elite riders trickles down to produce an expanded range of styles offered to you.
What Are Road Bikes For?
At the top end are copies of road bikes ridden by professionals. Aerodynamics and weight saving play a key role in one road bike riding faster than another. They are engineered to cheat the winds and forces intending to slow you down. They are designed to fit a weight limit of 6.8 kilogrammes, imposed by the sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale.
As you move down the price range, you compromise some weight via the choice of wheels and components. Frame materials change from carbon-fibre to heavier aluminium and steel. However, the essential geometry of the frame and dropped handlebars keep the focus on aerodynamics and speed.
Differences Between Expensive and Cheap Road Bikes
Entry-level road bikes, while keeping that same frame set up, will sacrifice the most weight, have a reduced range of gears and much heavier wheels and tyres. These are usually the first upgrade that road bikes users will consider. An entry-level road bike can weigh 10 kilogrammes or more.
Comfort and flexibility have been introduced to the roster in the last ten years with the advent of suspension technology at two of the contact points of your ride. Seat posts and headsets can be dampened to improve the quality of your ride over tougher road surfaces such as cobblestones and reduce the ‘buzz’ that can be felt through the stiff frame and forks of a road bike. This reduces the wear and tear on your limbs as you ride. Tyre widths of 25 millimetres are standard and most frames are now designed to take up to a 28 millimetre width without mudguards. More contact with the road surface means more comfort.
Road bikes have adapted beyond the boundary of being ridden on an asphalt surface. Comfort has been improved without significant impact on speed for most riders. Their further adaptation has created gravel bikes. You will not find mounts for pannier racks or mudguards / fenders on those road bikes shared by the professionals but they are common in the mid range and below.
Are Road Bikes Good for City Riding?
Road bikes are not designed for city riding. They are suited for use on smooth open roads unhindered by urban traffic necessities such as traffic signals, stop signs and multiple turns. They promote to you a fixed and rigid riding position to be maintained for kilometre after kilometre.
Elements of a lightweight road bike can be desirable for city riding. Before the advent of electric bikes, stylish bicycle couriers spent most of their working days delivering small packages within our cities riding on self-adapted road bikes. They appreciated the speed and manouverability that came with lightness. They reduced maintenance costs by converting them to a fixed wheel or fixed hub and sawing down the width of the drop handlebars.
Road bikes can certainly help you to progress quickly through the main thoroughfares of a city. Designated roads with wide cycle lanes are easy to navigate.
If you regularly criss-cross narrower alleys and accepted detours, the reduced field of vision created by the lower riding position and reliance on the lower part of the handlebars for braking will feel less safe for you and other road users. You adopt an unnatural and aggressive pose which makes you appear confrontational to other road users.
The gearing of a road bike is set at the higher end and favours consistent turning of the pedals without stopping and starting regularly. There are some unseen enhancements to bike control and awareness of other road users that come with city riding.
Most road bike advantages for commuting are clearer if your route takes you in and out of a city and prefer roads to shared lanes or trails. Fewer road users by volume will give you more chances to improve your bike handling at higher speeds. Some commuters rely on these weekday rides to improve their fitness if they know they cannot get out at the weekends or to train for longer weekend rides if they can.
Road bikes benefit from more straightforward components than off-road bikes or electric bikes and this should allow you to carry out many routine at-home servicing and maintenance jobs. An entry-level road bike used for commuting should only need to be serviced once a year by a professional.
Road bike tyres are adapting to the advantages of tubeless tyre technology. Converting your tyres to run on a tubeless set up will help prevent nicks from those small sharp objects which litter the city roads and could extend your day with a puncture repair.
A tubeless tyre contains no inner tube. A liquid sealant runs throughout the inside and acts by sealing up the hole then hardening to prevent air escaping; it should get you home. A tubeless ride is more comfortable too as you can ride with lower tyre pressures.
The dependability required of a commuting bike is compromised as you move through to the more expensive end of the market, as specialist tools are required for some repairs. Some road bikes have electronic or wireless components which require upgrades.
Road Bike for Commuter: Pros and Cons
|Road Bike for Commuter Pros||Road Bike for Commuter Cons|
|Light weight is easier to move around||Reduced comfort and flexibility|
|Adaptable if sticking to main roads||Stiffer design makes the ride harsh|
|Commuting as a form of training||Long-term maintenance costs|
|Simple components to maintain at entry level||Limited scope for accessories|
Road Bike vs Hybrid Bike for Commuting
|Road Bike||Hybrid Bike|
|Slim Tyres||Thick Tyres|
|No suspension||Front suspension (varies by model)|
|Leaning forward||Upright position|
|Limited vision||Good vision|
A road bike will reduce the time of your average commute as compared to a hybrid bike. You will also use less energy for the same speed due to its relative lightness. The higher gearing will give you more scope to ride consistently faster.
The hybrid bike relaxes much of the harshness associated with the road bike. The flat handlebars improve vision and comfort. The brakes are easier to grab from a more natural hand position. Wheels and tyres come in a more forgiving package as they come into contact with the road surface and can be run at a slightly lower pressure.
The hybrid is more adaptable than the road bike. If you need to negotiate busier bike lanes, or navigate dropped kerbs, or cut across a park or plaza, you shouldn’t think twice about being able to handle it with a hybrid bike. The slightly wider, more forgiving tyres and relaxed ride may allow you to plot a shorter route knowing that you can accommodate slightly rougher terrain.
The hybrid is more robust and able to cope with the wear and tear of commuting without upgrades or modification. It will blend in with other bikes in cycle racks and on trains if your commute takes in this form of transport.
What are the Best Road Bikes for Commuting (under £1,000)?
1. Triban RC 120 Disc Road Bike (£499.99)
- Gearing will help you tackle most climbs
- Wider 28c tyres will improve comfort
- Disc brakes improve consistency when stopping in the wet
An entry-level road bike with disc brakes and a wide gear ratio. Comfort levels are improved by a more relaxed frame design and robust 28 millimetre tyres. A solid if heavy starter bike for the road. The sturdy components contribute to a weight of over 11.25kg.
It would be sensible to practise changing the tyres and choosing the right tyre levers before your first commute.
It won’t win you the Tour de France but could be used for short to medium weekend training rides.
2. Trek Domane AL2 2021 (£625)
- Blends comfort with speed and efficiency
- Sloping fork reduces road vibrations
- Compatible with accessories which suit commuting
The Domane range from Trek is packaged to offer flexibility to road riding at any time you should need it. Their aim is to balance the ride position with control and freedom. It’s a reliable introduction to road cycling for those used to flat bars or off-road bikes.
The weight difference and handling improvements are noticeable. Trek utilises in house components that delay your upgrade decisions.
The pedals supplied suit commuting as they are double sided as you do not clip into them. This bike will cope with regular long training rides and shorter sportives.
3. Specialized Allez E5 2021 (£800)
- Gender neutral frame design
- Lighter tubing provides a respectable weight for this category
- Consistent Shimano components across most of the groupset
Specialized has been making the Allez range since the 1970s and the current range is one of the most popular and respected amongst riders entering the road bike community.
The Sport version is one above the Allez entry level and has a high specification carbon fork added to an aluminium frame to save weight and reduce vibrations. That frame shape was updated in 2018 to be more relaxed but still ably suited to road cycling.
Most of the components are from the trusted Shimano Claris range with indexed gear shifting providing reliability. There are integrated mounts for mudguards and racks.
And so, to conclude…
Is a Road Bike Good for Commuting?
While road bikes aren’t designed specifically for city riding, they can be great bikes for commuting if your route is relatively straight and over smooth terrain. For bumpier or curvier routes, a hybrid bike or a gravel bike may be more suitable for cycling to work.
READ MORE: What’s the Best Bike for Cycling to Work?