Looking for your first road racing bike? We explain what to look for...

Buying your first road racing bike is a pivotal moment in any rider’s cycling life.

Getting down onto the drop handlebars, expect the sensation of speed when compared with a hybrid or mountain bike to be everything you dreamed of.

Just don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you need to be hunched over the drops at all times – because that immediately marks you out as a first timer (not that the cycling world isn’t incredibly friendly and poised to welcome newcomers).

You can expect to be spending a few hundred pounds, with plenty of models costing more than a perfectly decent car – so you want to be sure you’re making the right choice. Which is where this guide comes in.

What is a road racing bike?

First things first: whilst ‘racing bike’ was a popular term in the distant days of way-back-when, most modern brands and retailers stick with ‘road bike’.

A ‘road bike’ is very much an umbrella term describing a machine designed for riding on tarmac. These bikes have narrow tyres, a lightweight frame and (in the vast majority of cases) drop handlebars to allow for multiple hand positions.

road racing bikes

Road racing bikes feature drop handlebars and skinny tyres

What types of road bike are there?

Riders who choose to spend their time cycling on the tarmac are of course varied, with many different motivations. Some use their road bikes to commute, others enjoy long drawn out days exploring the countryside, whilst some want to push the boundaries of their bodies to travel as fast as they can. Then there are those who want to do a little bit of everything, for as little money as possible.

>>> How to cycle with clipless pedals 

As a result, there are many styles of road bike. Key differences are found in the geometry – the dimensions of various elements of the frame which position the rider in a way that runs on a scale of ‘relaxed’ to ‘head down/flat back’, as well as the components.

Here’s a look at some of the key road bike genres to help you narrow down your search:

Endurance/sportive bikes

Comfortable road bikes designed for all-day riding, with a slacker geometry which puts the rider in a more upright position, often with wider tyres and disc brakes which work better in the wet, examples include the Trek Domane and Giant Defy.

Aero road bikes

Designed to slice through the air, aero bikes are stiff and efficient race machines which offer little comfort – such as the Trek Madone. Expect an aggressive geometry, putting the rider in a long and low position, with a high level of integration, including an integrated stem, hidden brakes and internal cable routing.

Road race and lightweight road bikes

Bikes designed for all-round road racing will have an aggressive geometry, like an aero bike, but will often be lighter and able to provide greater compliance. Quick handling is a must-have, too – these bikes are the GC riders of the bike world, examples include the Specialized Tarmac or the Cannondale SuperSix. 

Specialized Tarmac

The Specialized Tarmac is the GC contender of the bike world

Entry level road bikes

You can pick up a road bike for just under £300 but you’ll get one that will keep you smiling for longer at the £1000 price point. The Specialized Allez is a popular entry level model, and Carerra and B’Twin bikes are also fast selling options.

Gravel and adventure road bikes

A lightweight frame and road handlebars combined with knobbly tyres, disc brakes and mud clearance mean gravel and adventure road bikes are ideal for mixed terrain riding, on and off-road.

Flat bar road bikes

Some popular road bike models are available with flat handlebars, like a hybrid bike, for those who don’t feel confident with or don’t feel they require a drop handlebar.

Women’s road bikes

All of the above are available in women’s specific designs – this sometimes involves tweaks to the geometry, or could mean that the key touch points are swapped to offer a better experience for female riders.


Useful links for road bike shoppers…

Brands/topics Model overviews and reviews 
BMC bikes BMC bike reviews
Boardman Boardman bike reviews 
Cannondale Bike reviewsSuperSix EvoCAAD12Synapse 
Canyon bikes  Canyon bike reviews 
Carrera bikes Carerra bike reviews
Cervelo bikes Cervelo bike reviews
Cube bikes Cube bike reviews 
Focus bikes Focus bike reviews
Genesis bikes Genesis bike reviews
Giant bikes Giant bike reviewsGiant DefyGiant PropelGiant TCR
Pinarello Pinarello bike reviews 
Raleigh bikes Raleigh bike reviews
Ribble bikes Ribble bike reviews 
Scott bikes Scott bike reviews
Specialized Bike reviewsAllezTarmacDiverge
Trek bikes Bike reviewsDomaneEmondaMadone
Price points Bikes under £500under £1000under £1500under £2000
Road bike styles Aero road bikesEndurance road bikesWomen’s road bikesCommuting bikesTouring bikesSinglespeed bikesTrack bikesTime trial bikes 
Other bike styles Adventure and gravel bikesCyclocross bikesElectric bikesHybrid bikes

Road bike frame material

The frame material used has a dramatic influence on the overall ride quality of a bike. The four most common options are carbon, aluminium, steel and titanium.

Quality carbon is by far the lightest, and most compliant (comfortable) material. Carbon can also be moulded into any shape – so it’s the most popular when it comes to aero bikes. The weakness of carbon is that it can be damaged in a crash, and that damage isn’t always immediately obvious.

A nice close up of Dassi’s Carbon fibre

Aluminium is usually mixed with another metal (such as silicon or magnesium) – to form an alloy. The combination of metals varies between alloy frames, and will be altered depending upon the level of comfort and stiffness required. Lighter frames will be butted – ideally triple butted – which means the material is thinner where it can be, to save weight, and stronger where it needs to be stiff.

Good aluminium can be lighter than bad carbon – but in most cases it’s heavier. However, it is generally stronger so a popular option amongst racers who want to rely upon their bike after a crash – the Cannondale CAAD12 is an example of an alloy crit racing steed.

Most alloy bikes will come with a carbon fork and seatpost, which will drop the weight of the bike and offer greater compliance – dampening out the bumps along the way.

Steel is a more traditional option. It’s generally heavier, but famous for its springy ride quality, and its pretty fail-safe in terms of longevity. Titanium, by contrast, is a hard-wearing metal that’s much lighter than steel.

Road bike components

So you know you want a comfortable endurance bike constructed with an aluminium frame, or an aero road bike with a carbon frame. Eventually (after some furious googling and hopefully a test ride or two) you’ll select a brand and a model family.

Most bike models are available at a variety of different price points. Generally, the frame remains largely the same, and the differences between the rungs on the price ladder relate to the groupset and other components.

The vast majority of built bikes come sporting Shimano groupsets, the hierarchy starting at Shimano Claris and topping out at Dura-Ace. The more you spend, the less likely you’ll need to upgrade at a later date.

Colnago C60

Dura Ace is top of the Shimano hierarchy, with Shimano Sora the entry level choice

Disc brakes are becoming more and more common. They offer more effective braking, especially in the wet when compared to rim brakes. Mechanical disc brakes are cheaper and still use a steel cable to move the pistons, whilst the more expensive hydraulic discs are even more reliable and use a sealed, fluid filled system.

>>> How to set your saddle height

Most built road bikes come with entry level wheelsets, and these are a very common early upgrade that can make a big difference to your ride.

The road bike tyres fitted also impact the ride. Traditionally, 23mm tyres were the most popular, but wider 25mm options have become the norm due to the better cornering they offer. Endurance focused machines may even feature tyres over 28mm, and you can expect a greater volume on gravel and adventure bikes.

Top tips for choosing your first road bike

You’re making a pretty big investment, and the bike you choose could be your companion for several years – so ensure you make the right selection.

Test ride

You can get some really great deals with direct only sellers, but you can rarely test ride these as they’re not often available in bricks and mortar bike shops. However, frame geometry, material and construction make a huge difference to a bike’s ride quality. Wherever possible, get down to a store where you can test ride a bike or look for a ‘demo-day’ near you.

Leave some cash left over

The wheels on most built bikes are perfectly adequate for training and general riding, but racers will want to upgrade – so if performance is your target then you might want to factor an upgrade into your spending plan. Most bikes come without pedals, so you can choose your own option. Other commonly swapped components are the saddle, stem and handlebars.

Buy a bike that fits

It doesn’t matter how good the deal, don’t buy a bike that’s too big or too small because it’s reduced. Ideally, buy your bike at a store where they can size you up and help you to change any components (stem/handlebars/saddle) required for a comfortable ride.