Types of Road Bikes
Light and fast, road bikes are designed specifically for cruising on paved roads. Unlike mountain bikes, road bikes aren't as good at handling potholes or navigating dirt trails. Generally, they fall into two main categories: endurance bikes and racing bikes. Endurance bikes are built to take riders long distances comfortably. They are slightly heavier and cheaper than racing bikes, and they typically offer a more stable ride. Racing bikes require aggressive pedaling in a very bent-over position to optimize aerodynamics, and comfort is secondary to the ability to sprint and accelerate quickly. They are also usually more expensive than endurance bikes.
Women's Road Bikes
More manufacturers now offer road bikes designed specifically for women's bodies. To bike makers, that means optimizing the bike for someone with a shorter torso, longer legs, narrower shoulders and smaller hands. The result is women's bikes with narrower handlebars, female-friendly seats, smaller frame sizes and shorter top tubes, meaning a shorter reach to the shifters. These modifications continue to trickle down into leisure and recreational bikes, but some of the best women's bikes remain in the mid-level range. It's important to note that experts recommend that women don't discount the broader range of unisex bikes, either – even a bike not marketed specifically for women may be a fine fit with a few tweaks.
Cheap Road Bikes
Entry-level bikes costing less than $1,500 typically have steel or aluminum frames instead of higher-end, lighter carbon or titanium, and they usually feature lower-quality components like triple rather than double or compact cranksets. Many serious cyclists dislike bikes with triple cranksets because they don't shift as precisely, but they do tend to make it easier for beginners to power up hills. Some manufacturers offer a choice between a triple or compact crankset on even entry-level road bikes.
If you have a pint-size rider who
needs a set of reliable wheels, be sure to check out our report on the best kids' bikes. And, to keep your pricey new bike safe and sound, you'll need a top bike lock as well, which we cover in their own report.
Finding The Best Road Bikes
"BikeRadar's Bike of the Year 2017 Awards"
"The Top Low-Budget Road Bikes"
To choose the best road bikes, we
looked at a variety of expert reviews from both U.S.- and U.K.-based specialty
publications and websites. These include sources such as BikeRadar.com, Road.cc
and Good Housekeeping UK, all of which include first-hand expert tests of road
bikes. Roundups from specialty publications including Bicycling Magazine and
DavesCheapBikes.com were helpful in winnowing the field. We also looked for
user reviews of road bikes, though these can be harder to find for higher-end
models. RoadBikeReview.com includes solid reviews of bikes at a wide range of
price points, while Amazon.com has a good number of reviews for lower-end bikes
that buyers can get online instead of buying through a local bike shop.
The best road
Tougher than the average road bike thanks to a top-notch suspension
system, the Specialized Roubaix Comp (Est. $3,400) still doesn't sacrifice smoothness
and speed – and that's why it's a top pick for any rider looking for a
higher-end endurance road bike, reviewers say. The Comp is the mid-range bike
in Specialized Roubaix line – buyers can spend as much as $10,000 on the S-Works Roubaix eTap (Est. $10,000)
or as little as $1,700 on the Roubaix SL4 (Est. $1,700),
depending on the quality of components.
The Roubaix Comp's claim to fame is its Future Shock front suspension system.
Experts with BikeRadar.com, who name this bike the best road bike of the year,
say it manages to smooth out bumps nearly as well as a mountain bike without
adding excess weight that would make for a slower ride. As for speed, you'll
still get plenty – this 11-speed bike boasts a FACT 10r carbon frame that
is among the lightest the manufacturer offers. The Roubaix Comp has hydraulic
disc brakes, which experts say are more responsive than rim brakes, especially
in less-than-ideal conditions such as wet weather.
BikeRadar.com's Warren Rossiter does find the saddle a little too
squishy, but as he points out, this is a matter of opinion – some riders
may appreciate the generous padding. And though this bike has aggressive
geometry that makes it speedier, David Arthur with Road.cc says it is also very
adjustable for riders who may prefer a more upright riding position. Riders
who've owned older versions of this bike say they've found it to be a great
blend of comfort and performance.
The Roubaix Comp should stand the test of time: The disc brakes mean
less wear and tear on the rim, and the tubeless wheels mean fewer flats.
Specialized offers a lifetime warranty on the bike's frames and forks, and a
one-year warranty on other components including suspension, wheels, drive
train, brakes and crankset. Customer service, available by phone and email,
receives few complaints, though as Specialized notes,
your best bet for any issues is to consult an expert at your local bike shop.
If you're looking for something that isn't quite as budget-busting as the Roubaix Comp, the Trek Emonda ALR 6 Pro (Est. $2,630)
offers a surprisingly fast, responsive ride for a road bike that swaps in an
aluminum frame for pricier carbon, experts say. This bike is the top model in
the Emonda line – if you want to save more money, the Emonda ALR 4 (Est. $1,310) and ALR 5 (Est. $1,680) are slightly heavier with lower-end components.
Greg Kaplan with Bicycling.com calls riding the Emonda ALR 6 "an
everyday race bike" that's "a blast to ride." He also says that its performance
rivals that of fully carbon models. BikeRadar.com's Rossiter notes a "real
willingness to accelerate" and says this bike is a particularly good performer
on steep climbs. Experts do warn that this bike has a compact chainset, which
can make very fast descents trickier – though that's probably only an
issue for buyers who want to race, not casual riders. Unlike the Roubaix Comp,
which has disc brakes, this bike has rim brakes, but Mat Brett of Road.cc says
they don't sacrifice performance, providing "strong and predictable power" when
necessary. The Emonda ALR 6 has tubeless tires that Kaplan says are ready to
take on trickier surfaces like cobblestones or gravel with ease.
As for comfort, riders won't get as silky-smooth a ride on the Emonda
ALR 6 as they would on the Roubaix Comp; CyclingWeekly.com's Henry Robertshaw
says wider tires would help provide a little more cushion. Other than that,
reviewers have few qualms, and they say the slightly more upright riding position
is likely to appeal to endurance riders who don't need every last bit of speed.
Road.cc's Brett says the saddle is plenty cushioned and flexible, too.
Trek is a well-known name in cycling with a solid reputation for
durability, and customer service is available via phone or online chat. It
warranties frames for the lifetime of the original owner, swing arms for five
years, forks and other components for two years, and paint for one year.