Thoughts on buying first road bike.

opwle

Retro Newbie
Lots of people are interested in taking up cycling these days, and many come here seeking advice on buying their first road bike. I've ridden for 40+ years, and thought I'd try and start a thread to share thoughts and possibly help.

The most important single piece of info I can offer road bike shoppers is to adjust your mindset as follows: this is your FIRST road bike, not "THE" road bike for all time. There is a huge amount of choice in bikes, for excellent reason: they're not at all the same.

When you're starting out, it's hard to appreciate the significance of (say) an endurance frame vs. a more race-oriented frame. If you're just learning to ride, you may not feel the differences between the 105 and Ultegra Shimano groupsets ... to say nothing of various flavors of Campagnolo.

And that's how it's supposed to be
applinked. Your first bike needs to be good enough to learn on, but it won't anticipate the rider you will be in 2, 5, 10 years as you accumulate experience. Which bike you 'should' get is about who you are as a rider, and as a noob, you really haven't had the chance to develop that.

In fact, it's highly likely that if you ride regularly (several times a week), after a few years you'll want a new bike. One that reflects your newfound experience and - most importantly - your personal preferences. Road bikes are like cars - they all sorta do the same thing (point A to point B) but in hugely different ways. As there is no "best car for everyone" there is no best bike.

Most of the posts about 'which bike of these three' are about components and/or features. These are important, and easy to post about (hence a popular discussion starter), but obscure the reality: you simply need a good bike. Most 'which bike?' posts I see have one thing in common: overspending on the first bike.

Purchasing a BMC Roadmachine or Giant TCR or Specialized Tarmac as a first bike means you are wagering on two unlikely things: that your inexperienced first choice is the best, and that you know exactly what kind of rider you'll be once you're more experienced.

So: your FIRST bike is your LEARNING bike. This does not mean you shouldn't have a GOOD bike - but you should be thinking along the lines that "in a few years, I'm likely to want another." Whether you keep the first bike or begin to develop the N+1 addiction is for another conversation. But foremost, it means this: DON'T OVERSPEND ON YOUR FIRST BIKE. Nothing could be worse than getting a $5k bike and realizing that you would've preferred a different type of frame geometry. Or that you just don't like riding.

So: how to put that mindset into action? Buy used, or try to obtain a more moderately spec'd bike. This is both pandemic-specific but also general advice. I'm not saying to dive into the seamy underbelly of Craig's List, but try your local bike shop or co-op, or a reputable dealer of used bikes like Pro's Closet (not an endorsement, but I do think they have good selection and do a great job).

Shimano's 105 groupset is more than adequate for learning; and personally I always think it's good to learn on caliper brakes but hey, I'm an old man. Let's not discuss frame materials - it leads to conversations as cheerful and sensible as political discussions at family holiday meals. Suffice to say: any frame you get from a reputable seller is almost certain to be adequate for the purpose of your learning.

The differences between a bike like that and a $5k, super-nice carbon-framed road machine with Ultegra Di2 and disc brakes ... is something you'd appreciate right away, but not really use. And let's face it: you want to save that money for your SECOND, "more serious" bike. (LOL - this is a definite progression, wait and see!). And then your THIRD. And fourth ...

DON'T get a crappy bike. And no matter what the bike is made of, do your best to ensure it's structurally safe. Make sure a good bike mechanic gives it a thorough look when you get it. And make sure you understand the importance of fit - simply learning how to fit yourself to a bike should be a HUGE part of your learning experience within the first thousand miles of riding.

Learn to ride. This does not mean "pedaling faster." At the risk of irritating a healthy segment of the sub, I'm going to say that Zwift / Peloton / etc. are wonderful, and do a great job of increasing cycling fitness levels ... but also omit parts of riding that are crucial: the experience of riding on the road.

Learn how to be safe. Hint: situational hyper-awareness is the key.

Learn how to maintain your bike. Not only will this make you more self-sufficient, but it will also speed your understanding of what you do and don't want in your "second, more serious" bike. Anyone who drives should know how to put gas in their car; anyone who rides should be able to change a tire, clean and lube a chain, adjust a limit screw ... and you will start to learn about the minute details of your and other bikes, and how they're actually quite different.

Finally, you will develop form. Your back may become more flexible, as you learn to 'get aero.' Or it may not! - and you will learn that you like a 'more relaxed geometry' for that "second, more serious" bike (hello, Specialized Roubaix). You will learn to use the entirety of the revolution of the pedal, not just stomp between 2 and 5 (if this sounds like gibberish, just wait). And you will learn how to alter your form and make micro-adjustments (to cadence, to body position) to meet the demands of your current environment.

That's a lot to cover, and it helps to not be learning these lessons on a bike that represents an investment equivalent to a down payment on a condo.

You're going to screw up a maintenance task. You will learn hard lessons about tires, pinch flats, Uber availability when it's raining, and oblivious drivers (FFS, please realize that it's better to be alive than 'right'). And just like most of us who've ridden forever, you'll begin a lifelong process of seeking The Perfect Saddle, which has been waiting for you like a princess in a castle, ready to nestle your tender nether parts so that you don't get hot spots in mile 38 of your 60 mile "fun ride." (Sorry, here: it doesn't exist, kind of like the princess)

You'll also figure out who you are on the bike. Competitive? Love to suffer on endless climbs? Can't stand that shit, and just want to get around town while staying heart-healthy? They're all viable choices, and far from mutually exclusive.

But the key is that until you gain riding experience, you're not going to learn the things that you need to know to appreciate the myriad differences in road bikes. You just need to start, and preferably on something affordable but good.

Cycling is an activity that can offer great emotional, physical and psychological benefits. Like most complex activities, there are no shortcuts: you must do it for a while to gain experience.

Rules for buying new/first road bike:

  1. No "projects." You need a bike that has no issues. Used bikes should not be beat-to-hell, and parts should be readily available.
  2. Solid groupset. 105/Rival are a great level to target.
  3. Sizing. Not going into the whole "professional fitting" trend - if you can afford/obtain, fine. Otherwise, do the research. Far and away the most important thing in obtaining your first road bike is to have one that is appropriately sized for you.
  4. Save the money you'd spend on a 'THE' road bike for the inevitable "SECOND, MORE SERIOUS" road bike. Set a goal for when you're going to buy it (after 5k miles?).
  5. Budget for a new saddle, tires, shoes, pedals, accessories. Cycling isn't cheap.
  6. Budget TIME for all of these things.
Hope this may help.
 
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trailstar82

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Great advice @opwle and I thank you for it. I’m a little curious what made you come to a retro bike forum to post this?

My first road bike was a alu trek 1200 from around 2006. It was traditional race geometry and had awful cheap wheels. I bought as a project fixer upper got it back in good mechanical shape and rode it for training purposes (RL100). I quickly found it too harsh a ride and started looking for more relaxed geometry (sloping top tube). I settled on a 2015 giant defy which I got sh from a keen local cyclist. It was in very good shape and needed nothing doing, the bar and stem had been upgraded which was a bonus over the generic offering. It’s my “road” bike and the only road bike I own now. It’s very comfortable and can eat the miles.
That first trek taught me a lot about things I had done wrong with bike setup/gearing and disproved many assumptions.
 

Peachy!

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There is a post 1998 section btw, it might be more useful if this information gets moved over.
 

pigman

Old School Grand Master
There is a post 1998 section btw, it might be more useful if this information gets moved over.
I'm not sure. It's as relevant for anyone wanting to start out with an older bike. The examples the OP uses with his carbon names could well be translated as full c record colnago masters, ie the ultimate in style and cost

The problem with moving it to the post 98 section is that it won't get read. Those looking for advice on purchasing a modern bike are likely to post their queries on bikeradar or roadcc. Those specifically posting on this site will have retro in mind and go to either the retro road or retro MTB to sections
Just my tuppence
 

JulieSimpsong

Retro Newbie
After riding MTBs for most of my life, I decided to get a bike that could cover longer distances on solid terrain with less effort. I opted for road bikes, and my main requirements were light-weight, stability, and comfortable ride. I analyzed what types of roads I’d be riding, and I figured that it’s not all tarmac in my area. I read a blog on bikemountain.me, and decided to go for a gravel touring bike. I chose one that has a more relaxed geometry and shorter wheelbase.
 
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averagebiker

Retro Guru
Hello and welcome. You may be better off starting your own thread.

Two early questions you will need to cover.....

Are you wanting a retro road/hybrid/gravel bike or are you looking at new?

What is your budget?

Cheers Rich.
 
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