Road bikes are designed for riding fast on smooth tarmac. They provide a stretched out, aerodynamic riding position. They use efficient high-pressure tyres. The gears are high, forcing you to attack climbs standing up. And they're very lightweight. For commuting, a road bike makes more sense the further you'll be riding, because the time you'll save on the journey can then exceed the time it takes to get into and out of your cycling kit. It can also be used for fitness or fun at the weekends, for that 100-kilometre summer sportive you were thinking of, and even for racing. The downside to road bikes is that they're not very practical; they're more sports car than estate car. Most are not designed to carry luggage, so your commuting gear may have to go in a backpack.
Few have the clearance required for conventional mudguards, even if they have the frame fittings. Unless the bike has long-reach brake callipers – check the tech spec – expect to use specialist mudguards like the Crud Roadracer or SKS RaceBlade Long. They're not quite as effective as normal mudguards but they're pretty good. Unless you really are planning to race, get an 'endurance road bike' rather than an out-and-out racer. It will have a taller head tube, a compact-drop handlebar, and a shorter reach, thus giving a riding position that's easier on your lower back, neck, and hands. You'll still be plenty quick enough. Road bikes get lighter the more you spend. Most frames are aluminium, which saves weight compared to steel, and forks are commonly carbon fibre. A few brands offer carbon-framed bikes for less than €1,000.
All road bikes use integrated brake and gear levers, usually by Shimano but sometimes by SRAM or Campagnolo. (All three brands work fine but have very limited compatibility with each other.) You change gear by swiping the brake lever, a secondary paddle behind the brake lever, or by pressing a button on the brake hood. It varies from brand to brand and model to model. Spending more gets smoother gearshifts and more sprockets on the cassette; 8-speed is entry-level, 11-speed top of the range. Disc brakes are now appearing on performance road bikes and not just fatter-tyred, cyclocross-style commuters. Discs add weight and cost, especially hydraulics, so it's likely that sidepull calipers will dominate sub- €1,000 road bikes for a while yet. Road bike wheels are designed for speed rather than durability. For commuting it's worth fitting 25mm tyres, or 28mm if there's room. The extra volume will protect against impact punctures, and you can run them slightly softer than 23mm tyres for improved grip and comfort.
Marin Argenta Elite
Marin are best known for their mountain bikes, but this is a decent endurance road bike. The aluminium frame has a tall head tube so the handlebar isn't back-achingly low. The fork is carbon fibre to reduce road buzz. There are eyelets for a rear rack and mudguards, although clearance is tight under the brakes so road-bike-specific guards would fit best. The gearing is 10-speed Shimano Tiagra, with a compact double chain set and an 11-28 cassette. There's a Kevlar layer in the Schwalbe Lugano tyres to limit punctures. While the wheels have sturdy, semi-aero-profile rims, total bike weight is respectable at under 10kg.
Trek's least expensive road bike nevertheless comes with a carbon fork. The aluminium frame has what Trek call an H2 fi t, a taller head tube taking the strain off your back and neck. There are fittings for a rear rack and mudguards. Trek don't specify the brake, but it looks to be a long-reach caliper so guards should fit fine over these 25mm Bontrager tyres. Gearing is 8-speed Shimano Claris: budget but practical. A compact double chainset and 11-28 cassette give the same gear range as the Marin, albeit with fewer steps. It's available in lots of sizes and a women's equivalent, the Lexa.
Cannondale Synapse Alloy Tiagra Women's
Another endurance road bike, this Cannondale has a mouthful of a name that is at least descriptive: the frame is aluminium, the gearing is 10-speed Shimano Tiagra, and it is the women's version. It has a carbon fork and it's mudguard-ready, with both eyelets and clearance; the brakes are long-reach. Normally it comes with a compact double chain set and a 12-30 cassette. However, it's also available with a 50-39-30 triple chain set, which is a good option if you're still working on your fitness. Wheels have 32 spokes each, so should endure long-term commuting better, and they're fitted with the same Lugano tyres as the Marin.
- Tech spec The list of a bike's components that you see on websites and in magazine reviews. All bikes are built to a price, so manufacturers have to prioritise and make compromises. One bike might have a better rear derailleur, another better brakes. The quality of the tyres is often overlooked; changing them can transform your bike.
- Sidepull calipers lack the bite of disc brakes but they're cheaper, lighter and still stop you okay. These are short-reach calipers Shimano Tiagra shifters can be operated from the drops as well as the from the brake hoods, unlike shifters with thumb buttons
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