Road Bike FAQs
Road bikes are best suited for racing and long distance riding, but they also make excellent workout bikes for those that want to add cycling to their exercise program.
Road bikes have drop bars for three good reasons. First, they offer multiple hand positions. This enables you to change your body position on the bike, which is important for comfort on longer rides. Second, the leaned-over riding position they create makes it easier to breathe. (Have you ever noticed when you get winded that you lean over and put your hands on your knees?) Leaning over also facilitates the use of your quads and gutes where your power is. And third, the drop bars make you more aerodynmic for speed.
Road bikes have narrow seats to allow more freedom of movement when coming on and off the saddle. A more narrow saddle is also necessary for the leaned-over riding position of a road bike. If the seat is too wide, it will rub the inside of your thighs. A narrow saddle can be quite comfortable, however, when you find the one shaped just right for your particular anatomy.
Road bikes have narrow tires because they make the bike faster and more efficient. Narrower tires are lighter weight and have less rolling resistance, which makes for higher speed and quicker acceleration.
Unfortunately, yes. As a rule, the more narrow the tire, the more likely you are to have a flat. Narrower tires have thinner tread AND require higher air pressures to carry the weight of the rider. The combination of these two factors result in a higher risk of flat tires. There's always a tradeoff between performance and reliability.
Road bikes cost more because manufacturers gear them toward the enthusiast, who are more likely to ride this kind of bike. In the seventies and eighties, before the advent of hybrids and mountain bikes, all of the entry-level bikes were road bikes. Even for more casual bikers, that was about all there was to buy. Now casual bikers have more of a choice and tend to prefer more comfortable, less expensive, kinds of bikes.
Road bikes are measured in centimeters by their seat tube length. (frame diagram) They come in two centimeter increments. Some manufacturers make odd numbered sizes, some even. However, the size of the bike varies from brand to brand, depending on how the maker measures the seat tube length. All frame measurement start at the bottom bracket and end at the intersection of the seat and top tube, however, some manufacturers measure to the top of the top tube, and some to the center of the top tube. Thus, two bikes that are nominally the same size, may actually not be the same size.
You determine what size bike you need by standing over it. On a road bike, you should clear the top bar by an inch to an inch and a half with your shoes on. You may ride a different size bike in a different brand, given that manufacturers measure their bikes differently, but that's OK. The other critical dimension to be aware of is the reach from the seat to bars. This distance greatly effects your fit, and thus your comfort on the bike. It too will vary from brand to brand.
Basically, you know you have a good fit when you're comfortable on the bike. Many bike shops have elaborate fitting machines and computer programs to access your fit. These systems certainly have their place. However, a few rules of thumb and an experienced eye will go a long way in getting a proper fit. That's where we come in.
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