Practical Advice for Transportation Cycling

Sometimes, all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible. You don't need a fast bike, you don't need a pretty bike, and most of all you don't need an expensive bike, you just need one that works.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Choosing a Bike: Road Bikes

Before launching into today's discussion of bicycle types, I thought I'd give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the media miracle that is Broke Bicyclist.

Here it is

I've got a label maker, and I'm not afraid to use it
And here

My bicycle repair skills are better than my handwriting, trust me

As you can see, I've got a lot of commuting-related topics jotted down (there's a couple more pages like that). In fact, I'd originally thought of collecting all this into single document and releasing it as an e-book, but came to the realization that that would actually require me to write it all first, and then proof read it, and then it's just too much like work.

So, on to the next category of bicycle: the Road Bike

My own bike shown here ready for an overnight trip.
Road Bikes are the sportscars of the cycling world. If you're interested in covering the most ground at the fastest speed with the least effort, this is the machine. The bike is built to be light but strong, with narrow tires to minimize road friction and air resistance, geometry designed to get as much of your muscle power to the pedals as possible, and curved handlebars that let you adapt your riding position to varying conditions and long hours in the saddle.

Despite their overall efficiency, Road Bikes have a few disadvantages as commuter machines. First and foremost, is their cost. Unlike Mountain Bikes, which have pricing starting in the $3-400 range, Road Bike prices usually start in the $8-900 range. Part of this is due to the fact that they're less popular than Mountain Bikes (which is in part because they're more expensive, which in part is because they're less popular, get it), and part of it is the technology used on the modern Road Bike. While the main frame of the bike made out of a variety of materials, including steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium or bamboo (seriously), the fork of even entry-level Road Bikes is usually made of carbon fiber, which is generally more expensive than metal. Additionally, rather than having separate levers for brakes and gear shifting, Road Bikes usually use integrated shift/brake levers, a set of which can cost a couple hundred dollars at the low end and over $1,000 at the high end.

The majority of Road Bikes on the market are also based on the designs of professional racing bikes, or may  even be identical to the models ridden by pro racers. While this makes them great for racing, a lot of them are made with just enough clearance for the narrowest of tires, and even then leave no room for fenders. While narrow tires roll fast over smooth pavement, they generally provide less traction, cushion and flat-resistance than fatter tires.

Road Bikes also do not always have mounting points for racks and fenders (if there is room for them), meaning it's more difficult to carry stuff, and if you do rig up an attachment system, carrying too much extra weight might adversely affect the performance-oriented handling of the bike.

None of these things are necessarily deal-breakers. For one, experienced cyclists can and do guide those skinny tires through some pretty rough conditions on a regular basis, and there are a number of fender and rack systems meant to compensate for the lack of accommodation on sportier machines (on my bike pictured above, for example, I just used a large saddlebag to carry a change of clothes and gear, along with a small handlebar bag, the same setup that worked for a weekend tour has worked fine for longer commutes).

Additionally, as Road Bikes have once again become more popular, bike makers are offering models designed to appeal to folks who want to ride far and (relatively) fast, but are not interested in speed-at-all-costs racing machines. Bikes like the Cannondale Synapse or the Specialized Roubaix hark back to the old school "club rider" bikes and give you most of the speed of a racing bike, but with room for fatter tires, a more relaxed riding position and options for fenders and rack mounts. There are even companies such as Rivendell which specialize in versatile non-racing Road Bikes which will carry you and your gear over dirt, gravel or pavement without complaint (they're not cheap though).

Still, the cost of Road Bikes makes them less-than-ideal for the commuter on a budget, and there are really only two good reasons to look at one as your main commuter bike. First, you already have one, and don't want to buy another bike. Second, you have a regular commute of over 15 miles and you want to get there relatively quickly.

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