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How to Buy a Road Bike

by Coach Seiji

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Motocross and road cycling have a lot in common. Two of our sports top trainers are ex-Olympic cycling athletes, another has trained with Tour De-France winner Lance Armstrong, and countless professional riders prefer cycling as their main source of cardio training. Most of the top bicycle manufacturers like Specialized, Trek, Scott, and Giant sponsor top riders like Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed, Broc Tickle, Andrew Short, Justin Brayton, and James Strewart just to name a few. How is that for involvement? Road racing is a huge sport all across the globe and like motocross there are several major magazines, countless internet sites, and bike shops galore offering mountains of information for the cycling enthusiast. But what if you’re not a cycling enthusiast and just want to learn the basics so you can buy a bike and get started with your training? The following article will get you started in choosing the right ride. – Virtual Trainer

Where to Start?
Choosing the right road bicycle for training is probably just as hard as picking your new steed for the motocross track. There are no less than four popular frame materials, several component groups, and an unimaginable amount of wheelsets available to cloud your decision-making: Yet more toys and accessories to fill the garage!


Frame dimensions for a road bike

The very first and most important thing to consider is frame sizing and geometry. Frames are sized by seat tube length (A) by convention. This is the vertical dimension of a frame. Equally important is the top tube length (B) or virtual top tube on frames with a non-horizontal top tube. This is the horizontal dimension of a frame. A "square" frame has a seat tube length that is equal to the top tube length. This is a "standard" size. This means that a 56 cm frame has a top tube (or virtual top tube) that is also 56 cm. These frames work fine if you have a "normal" torso and leg length proportions. It gets more complicated if your torso is relatively long compared to your legs or vice versa. This is when you have to really look at frame specifications. For instance, a 6 foot tall male that has only a 32 inch inseam cannot use a standard "square" frame comfortably. He will actually require a 54 cm frame with a 56 cm or so top tube. This frame matches his body: the top tube is longer than the seat tube to better fit his long torso. The opposite can happen as well: a person with long legs compared to the torso length will require a frame with a relatively longer seat tube compared to the top tube. These "non-square" frames also require compensatory changes in "normal" frame geometry such as shorter or taller head tube, differing fork rakes, changes in seat tube angle, etc. to make the frame handle correctly.

Frame Materials
The next thing to consider is frame material. The big four are titanium, carbon, aluminum, and steel. These materials vary greatly in characteristics from cost, weight, stiffness, and how they dampen different kinds of vibration. Their relative characteristics are listed in the chart below.

Material Cost Weight Stiffness Vibration Dampening
Titanium $$$$$ Very Light Medium Excellent/High Frequency
Excellent/Low Frequency
Carbon $$$$$ Super Light Med./High Excellent/High Frequency
Good/Low Frequency
Aluminum $$-$$$ Vey Light High OK/High Frequency
Poor/Low Frequency
Steel $-$$ Vey Light Low-Med. Good/High Frequency
Good/Low Frequency

Many of the listed characteristics can also vary depending on tubing and lug (joints where tubes meet and connect together) design. Carbon fiber can be manipulated in tubing thickness, shape, resin/air amount (non carbon components) and even fiber orientation. This allows engineers to build in flex and stiffness where they want, better incorporation of aerodynamic shapes and even change the frequencies of vibration that the frame will absorb most effectively. The other materials can do the same but to a much lesser extent by utilizing changes in tubing wall thicknesses, shapes and diameters and the extent of materials overlap at their connections (lugs, lugless, internal lugs, etc.) It used to be that carbon frames were much more expensive than the other materials but modern production methods overseas have made the costs of carbon plummet. Nowadays a hand built steel or titanium frame will cost more than a mass produced carbon frame.

Almost all the bikes, no matter what the frame material, will now come with a carbon fork due to the above advantages. Since the manufacturing of carbon doesn’t limit the designer to tube sets, forks can have the optimal lateral stiffness while also possessing great vibration dampening characteristics, which greatly improves handling and comfort.

Component Group
The next step will be to choose which component group will be hanging off your new frame. There are two major manufacturers: Shimano and Campagnolo. There are some minor players like SRAM, Sachs and others but you will usually be dealing for the most part with the big two. Both Shimano and Campagnolo offer component groups at several price points. You pretty much get what you pay for: with each step up the component group ladder for each manufacturer, you gain a fairly big advantage in functionality, weight and durability. This holds true for each component group except for the premier offering from each company. At the very top of the manufacturer’s component families lies a premier line: Shimano’s Dura-Ace and Campagnolo’s Record. These component groups cost substantially more than the level just below and offer only a slight gain in functionality, weight, and durability. For the motocross racer it would be very hard to justify the big cost difference for this small gain. Think of these premier groups the same as you would a Titanium bolt kit for your MX bike: yeah, you do get a slight weight savings, it costs a lot, it looks trick, and man is it cool but what about actual performance gain? It is hard to deny how cool and how trick Dura Ace and Record are but…

Motocross has nothing on cycling when it comes to exotic (and expensive) components.

Wheelsets
Now you will have to choose a wheelset. Over the last 10 years the gains made in this department are huge. Wheels have lost a lot of weight and gained durability at the same time. Cost is still an issue here and again, a lot of what you get is directly related to how much you are willing to empty your wallet. If there is one place to splurge a bit, it would be here. A big reason is weight: any rotating mass has to be lifted against gravity just like anywhere else on the bike but you also have to work to accelerate it around in a circle. "One ounce off the wheel is like one pound off the frame" is an old saying. Spending a little more on wheels to save a few ounces is worth tons more than the same money spent to save the same weight anywhere else on the bike. There is also aerodynamics to consider. Now you can go crazy and get ultra light climbing specific wheelsets with very few spokes and shallow carbon fiber rims or a very aero wheelset like carbon fiber deep dish rims or even a rear disc but that is going too far. For the motocross athlete that will train and maybe occasionally hit a race or two, going for the "middle of the road" may be the best advice. You can get a very light wheelset that will also be very durable and fairly aerodynamic. The Ksyrium line from Mavic is a good example of this type of wheelset.

Local Dealer vs. Internet Dealer
One final thing to contemplate is where to purchase your new bike. You can scour the internet and get a super raging deal for sure but there is a lot of value in purchasing form your local bicycle dealer. How many times have you been to your local motorcycle dealer for advice and information? Well it’s the same for your bicycle dealer. You may spend a tad more but your return on service can be immeasurable. Not only can the dealer help ensure that you get the right size frame, but they can also switch out other parts like stems, handlebars and saddles at the time of purchase to make sure the bike fits perfectly, oftentimes without any extra charge. An internet dealer is not going to do that. When something goes wrong on the bike the dealer will be there to guide you through the problem and make sure you use the correct tools and parts or they can do it for you. The internet dealer cannot provide services in this manner. The local dealer will always prefer to work on bikes that they sold you and understandably so. These are issues you will want to consider before making your final purchasing decision.

Now you are armed with the basic information necessary to make an intelligent bicycle purchase. A carefully chosen ride will not only provide valuable cardiovascular training but also another avenue of enjoyment, camaraderie, and learning. You are delving into a whole other sport with all its own techniques, goals, social quirks, and mechanical issues just like motocross! Now get out on the road and enjoy!

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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Discussion

  1. Gravatar
    Chow September 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Does the bike come with a year supply of P.E.D.s?

  2. Gravatar
    billyclub September 16, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    SRAM is a minor player? When was this article written? 2000?
    BTW, was Spencer subpoenad by USADA?

  3. Gravatar
    Gazza Downunder September 17, 2012 at 2:58 am

    Tell me if I am wrong but choosing a road bike for fitness in MX maybe about the ergos and not injuring your back and other joints in your body but having a light weight super trick looking machine is of no use for getting stronger and fitter. Unless your racing it, all that other crap is just a waste of money best spent on your MX bike.

  4. Gravatar
    Dubonesix September 17, 2012 at 7:20 am

    There are several things that "can" be said about this article, however overall I think the author made some great points. It must be remembered that the vast majority of MX athletes are still very unfamiliar with modern training (other than what they read on the internet). Also, 95% of all MX athletes are amateur riders that may be looking at the pro's off bike routines which includes cycling, and rightfully so. Cycling is very low impact, great for building base fitness, expanding cardio vascular capacity, and even offering some mild mind calming effects. While some of us that are cyclists will disagree with the authors mention of SRAM, or even feel as though another wheel would be a better option (say DT Swiss or Enve instead of Mavic), the bottom line is it is a great start to get people on the bike.

  5. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer September 17, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Gazza - When I first started cycling and MTB'ing (for fitness only), I too had the same thought. Make the the darn bike as heavy as possible to get a better workout. But I soon realized that often times, lighter bikes handle better and therefore give me a better workout because I can concentrate on riding and not on the clunky handling characteristics of my bike. I'm not advocating for guys who just want to use a road bike or MTB to train for MX go out and buy the most expensive/exotic bike in the shop. BUT, just like MX, you get what you pay for and in cycling, the key to a good workout is comfort on the bike.

  6. Gravatar
    Dave C September 17, 2012 at 9:00 am

    I have been cycling and motoing for many years. And one thing I can say about cycling is, it balances my life and keeps me in shape.I use the Shimano Ultegra components on my Rd bike. I can moto for much longer because of cycling and a after work pedal takes stress away. I will moto and pedal up hills till the day I die!

  7. Gravatar
    Kyle Nettleton September 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Hey what is a solid stationary bike to get in referance to training for motcross?

  8. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer September 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Kyle - you can use your current road bike (I recommend a Kurt Kinetic trainer), a Schwinn Airdyne, or a Trixter.

  9. Gravatar
    ken September 28, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I own a bicycle shop, and I still race moto at age 50. I will not bore you with how great road is for moto, but I will boil this bike selection stuff down.
    Spend 1500-2300. Get FULL carbon frame, not carbon COMPOSITE.
    (carbon composite is carbon fake aluminum) Sram and Shimano are the best. Campagnolo is the 80's. All the different bike brand choices are very close to the same bike at the same price. Look into Felt bikes. Felt is the best bike, and company I have seen in my 30 years in business. My worst line of bikes has been Trek. yes, Trek is overpriced crap, like Nike.

  10. Gravatar
    ken September 28, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Oh, one more thing. Fitting is a big scam many shops push for you to buy. It is 90% bullshit. I never push it, but we offer it. Do not waste your money on it unless you are ordering a custom built frame. ( another waste)
    Here is your fit...Reach around and grab your tee shit tag. Almost always, the bike frame will be the same as your tee shirt size. 50c -small 54c- med 57c-large 60c-XL

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