Buying a Road Bike or just Upgrading

Road Bike - Racing Road Bike - Racing
Get some tips and advice before you buy a new road bike or upgrade your road bike. These are expensive pieces of equipment and the wrong decision can cost you more.

So you want to ride? Injuries stopping you from running? Mates are starting to ride? Just seems like a good way to get fit?

Ever seen any fat cyclists? I rest my case.

Or you have a bike, have started the journey and now want to upgrade to be less awkward at the group coffee afterward.

So you might have gone to the local push bike shop and realised that this is a far more complex outing than you had previously thought and also involves some serious dollars. Having bought 5 bikes in recent years, here are my tips, things I wish someone had told me prior to starting this journey.

Some General Points

  1. Bikes are upgraded every year. Componentry levels are dependent on the $ exchange rate. Prior year models generally go on sale around September/ October each year. Compare both models and decide if the saving is worth it against the changes in spec.
  2. If the bike shop says, buy a cheaper bike and you can upgrade later if you enjoy it. This might make logical sense but it is actually code for I'm going to sell you 2 bikes. A cheaper one now and more expensive one later, given I am now your trusted advisor.
  3. Spending $2,500 up, ideally around $3,000 is a good rule of thumb and you will get a bike that will last you a long time and be of reasonable quality. Entry level road bikes start at around $1k and generally work well but will start to take punishment as the km's grow. Apart from weight, handling and smoothness are a big deal the lower you go. 
  4. There is a trade off on everything. Cheaper aluminium frame = better components, composite or carbon fibre frame = cheaper components. Great rear deraileur = cheaper brakes and so on. You want a balance across them all
  5. Get a great frame and update later? We think that is a bad idea unless it is  serious frame with serious investment, in which case you would not be reading this article. Components are expensive if you buy them without a bike attached and remember there is a also a labour cost for fitment later unless you are a DIYer. Given the rate of change and development, might want a new bike after 3-5 years anyway.
  6. Don't get too stressed about weight, unless of course you are an elite athlete. That 200 gram saving is of no importance when you have eaten 2 burgers and chips the day before. Focus on getting stronger and losing your tummy first. Having said that, light bikes are cool and responsive. Try picking up the various bikes and you will see a significant different between say a $1,500 and a $3,000 bike. Over long distances this does help. Less to haul up the hill.
  7. Get a reasonable rear and front deraileur or gear set. Cheaper ones require more servicing and resetting in our experience. Smooth gears are a pleasure. Shimano run Tiagra, 105, Ultegra and then Dura Ace at the top end for example. We suggest going for a bike with 105+ level components and ensure this includes the crank as well. Great Shimano component comparison article here by Chain Reaction Hub. Read about all the components and also whats available from SRAM and Campagnolo here, from Bike Radar.  
  8. Get discs if you can. These bikes get up to speeds of 50km+ per hour downhill without a sweat. Really want to chance not being able to stop as best you can. If you have ridden a mountain bike you will understand. BUT, and there is always a but! Keep in mind you cannot currently race with disc brakes. Main reasons as we understand it being you can't have different stopping powers in a large closely packed pelaton. Also if discs heat up from lots of stopping, there is the risk they could burn riders in an accident scenario, On long decents, the fluid has boiled and certain can be corosive, so do your research if you are going hydraulic disc. On that note you will need to decide between hydraulic and mechanical discs if you decide on discs. Great article comparing the 2 here.
  9. Expensive bikes don't come with pedals. these are extra and will set up back for a reasonbale pair at least $140+. Also decide on clipless and what type of clip on. I mountain bike so use MTB clips on on my road bike. Bit unsophisticated, but then work.
  10. Get the bike set up properly. Should be free from the shop and is critical. This will make or break your enjoyment of the bike.


Buying Tips

Be clear on your budget and minimal requirements based on what you want the bike for, before you go to the shop. 

We would argue the following as our general preferences:

  • Components:
    • 105 components as minimum (See links to articles above) - note crankset are often different, read reviews if this is the case
  • Brakes
    • Discs - mechanical - TRP Spyre Disc 160mm or better
    • Discs - mechanical - Shimani RS 685 140mm or SRAM equivalent
    • Rim brakes - Ideally Calipers and read any reviews about the specific model. There are many. Most are good. Read reviews on the brake pads and change if necessary, can make the world of difference having a good quality brake pad in place of the OEM pad.
  • Negotiate the pedals or a discount at least as part of the bike. Also make sure you have some good lights. I have too many lights on my bike said noone ever
  • Get a bottle holder that fits the bike, try get this included for free. Make sure the colour matches.
  • Test ride the bike. See if the style suits your physique. If its uncomfortable, try another. Also see if the saddle suits your bum. Not a big deal to change buit can add a couple of hundred dollars to the deal. Body length is a key part of this and hard to adjust the bike for.
  • Look at yourself in the mirror on the bike. if you look like a dork you may have the wrong size, or you may just look like a dork! Size is important, check out the manufacturer website for guidance, don't trust the shop assistant, often size can depend on stock at some unreputable bike shops.
  • Internal cabling, i.e. cables are not visible. Easier when the bike is on a bike rack, and if you live near the coast, less chance of rust or dmage from contact
  • Bike set-up should be included and free. Ask who does this and how long it takes. Should be at least 45 minutes and whoever does it should have experience.
  • Free first service. usually this is offered within 3 months, try get that to 6 months if you don't ride a lot. Cables will stretch as the bike settles
  • Has the bike shop been around for awhile? Does the owner work there. Read reviews, only deal with reputable bike shops.
  • Negotiate ongoing discounts on stuff if you buy the bike. Many bike shops will give you 10% as a past customer.


What you will need:

  • Good helmet, that lets your head breathe (Good air flow)
  • Gloves, fingerless is fine for summer, gel is good
  • Sunnies, Oakleys have great ones. Often little bugs or other things in the air you need protection from
  • If you buy a cycling top, get a bright coloured one, don't try look like a Ninja. The are designed for cycling and make sense.
  • Tights as a minium. Padding is up to you, lycra is common. We make no suggestions here.
  • Water bottle
  • Clip on shoes to match the clip on pedals. Think about how far you plan or have to walk in them with or without the bicycle and why?
  • If you plan to ride long distances, get some tools, inner tubes or gas refillers. Really a personal preference here. I carry nothing but a phone and some money.
  • Cycle computer. Even if you dont think so initially. Garmin also do a watch holder which is neat. We like the Garmin stuff, but that is up to you.


Good luck. Image courtesy of Giant. We ride Giants and have for many years but have no official affiliation with them.