Cycling worldwide is getting more popular each year, you only have to look at the number of recreational rides offered and the speed in which the entry numbers are obtained. Then there is racing and commuting. This article will focus on road bikes. The aim is to provide you with some guidance on what to look for when you next visit your local bike shop as it can be rather confusing for the new buyer.
The most important thing to ensure before purchasing a bike is ensuring that it is the right size. A good bike shop should offer a bike fit with your purchase. The most simple way to determine if the bike is the right size is to ensure that you are able to stand over the bike and be able to clear the top tube. You should be able to reach your brakes and gears when you are on the drops of the bars without stretching. Bike fitting is an art. To get the best performance from your bike a proper bike fit can be performed. This may cost up to $900 and be performed by a bike fitting specialist. Specific attention is given to optimize foot placement on the pedal, seat height and handlebar position. In some cases the bike fit specialist may recommend replacing your off the rack production bike with a customised bike that is specifically tailored to your size. Many pro racing cyclists take up this option.
There are various types of bikes on the market.
The road bike is the most common. It has gears and rounded drop bars. Most racing bikes are lighter than recreational bikes. The componentary tends to be a higher grade and the wheels are lighter, providing higher performance. These bikes range in price from the affordable to the extreme. The more expensive the more bling, kudos and carbon,
The next most common is the Time Trial bike. Used mostly for time trial events such as the road time trial, triathlon and ironman. Designed specifically for solo speed these bikes have a big aerodynamic emphasis. The bars are different from the drop bars found on road bikes, the gear levers are usually at the end of bars and the rider rides in a more aerodynamic position.
Finally the track bike. These are specifically built for riding on the velodrome. They have no brakes. They dont have a freewheel because the drive chain is directly coupled to the rear wheel. This is described as being a fixed wheel. The dimensions of the frame are geared up for agility and speed.
A track or road racing bike has drop bars. You cannot race in UCI road races with flat bars unless there is special physical consideration in which you will need authorisation by the UCI body. A time trial (TT) bike can be used in time trials or triathlons only, you cant race a criterium or road race on a TT bike.
The bike that you choose can be dependant on various factors. A lot of women are limited based on size and then tend to have a colour preference. Men, tend to want something that is better than their riding mates with a bit of bling!
Components there are 3 major brands, SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo. Commonly called a groupset. Most bikes come with Shimano or SRAM. Campagnolo is considered the top group set and is manufactured in Italy. The traditional old school riders tend to like the Italian built Campagnolo gear. Any expensive Italian bike should not be seen with anything less than an Italian Campagnolo groupset. The top end components include carbon levers and cranks.
When you buy your bike you want to ensure that you are going to be happy for awhile, as most people I know that have bought entry level bikes tend to be back at the shop within a few month looking for an upgrade. For bikes that have a bit of bling and that would be happy with check out the following:
Giant. They are one of the biggest bicycle manufactured in the world and have a range of excellent bikes at very competitive prices.
Colnago. They are considered the high end of bikes. They have a long history of being ridden by many great cyclists such as the great Eddy Merckx.
Like the Colnago the Pinarello is another well known Italian manufacturer with similar kudos as Colnago. Their Campagnolo equipped Dogma is one of the most expensive on the market.
BMC is another brand to consider. They are the sponsor of the BMC Racing Team that Australian Cadel Evans former World Road Champion rides for. He won his World Champion on a BMC bike.
Cervelo.. They make a beautiful looking road bike and Time Trial frame.
Look is a brand that is a bit more unique. They go by a numbering system, the higher the number the higher the specification on the frame, all frames are carbon. They tend to sell the frame and you then choose the components that you want on the bike and it gets built up specially for you. Again, Expensive and nice.
One of the most important items is your helmet. In the event of an accident the helmet could save your life or the quality of life.
In terms of cycling clothing as a minimum you will need knicks (shorts) and a jersey. Now these will be made of lycra and they are supposed to be a snug fit. If the clothing is baggy you will get bunching on the saddle and be awfully uncomfortable, or the jersey will flap about and catch the wind and will slow you down. Also a tip dont wear underwear under your knicks. Firstly its not a good look and secondly will cause chaffing in all the wrong places.
Its a good idea to wear gloves. These will provide protection to your hands if you have a fall and provide some grip on the bars if your hands get a bit sweaty. Full finger windtex or wind stopper gloves are excellent, as the weather gets cooler.
Depending on your cycling ability you may want to get into clipless pedals. This requires specific cycling shoes, cleats and the pedal. The cleat is attached to the base of the shoe and is what attaches to the pedal. Therefore the cleat needs to be compatible with the pedal. Similar to a ski binding. It locks you into the bike. This enables the best transmission of power to the pedals Some cycling shoes are made more for the triathlete and are quick entry and exit. Others tend to have Velcro and a rachet for tightening. The price of the shoe is usually dependant on the material used in the sole of the shoe. The stiffer the shoe the better, you dont want flex which means carbon fibre in the sole is best. Some popular shoes are Specialized, Shimano and Sidi. You can also get custom made shoes, Bont provide a quality custom shoe made in Australia. Several of the pro riders are now using Bont shoes including Michael Rogers and Simon Gerrans.
There are 3 main types of bike races on the road: criterium, time trial and road race. A criterium is a race over a short circuit where you race for a set time period. A time trial is an individual or teams race over a set distance against the clock. A road race is over a set distance and the group starts as a bunch unless its a handicap. Most major professional tours include time trials and road races.
In Australia if you are thinking about racing you need to get a licence. There are 2 cycling bodies, UCI (International Cycling Union) which Cycling Australia (CA) is a member and each state is an affiliate of CA. Under UCI you can have a junior, elite or masters licence. Then there is Australian Veteran Cycling Council (AVCC) which is racing organised only for veteran aged competitors who also has affiliates in all states and the ACT.
A great way to start racing is to find a local club via the Internet or talk to your local bike shop and get some recommendations. Then turn up and watch how they run the race. Most people standing about watching the race will be able to explain whats going on if you are not sure. When you have your first race let the club know you new to racing and often they will have someone in the bunch that can help you out.