Road bikes & kit

Road bikes & kit

The following article describes the key features of bikes used on the road, both for racing and for touring, in terms of frame design and componentry. It also touches on some basic items of kit you'll need to start racing.

Road bikes have drop handlebars and relatively skinny, smooth tyres. The sleekest are used for racing, with specialist models being built for time trialling and at the other extreme there are touring bikes designed to carry luggage and rider over continents without trouble. In between there is now a popular breed of 'fast touring' bikes. Not quite racing, nor the sedate machines of the loaded tourists.

Racing bikes have an almost universal specification:

  • Lightweight frame (often aluminium these days, although steel still has it's place and riders with deeper pockets may buy carbon fibre or titanium frames to save a few grams).
  • Double chainset - probably with chainrings of 53 & 39 teeth
  • 9 or 10-speed rear cassette - with sprockets ranging from 12-21 or 23 teeth
  • Narrow, lightweight wheels - with 32 spokes a piece if 'standard', less if the rider chooses one of the newer designs
  • Gear shifters incorporated in the brake levers and 'indexed to the gear mechanisms'
  • Brakes are of a 'dual pivot' design for better control and power.
  • Clipless pedals
  • The frame design is 'tight' and responsive, but still comfortable enough to race for up to six or seven hours
  • The whole bike will weigh about 8-9kg
Touring bikes are more robust
Touring bikeAt the other end of the spectrum are touring bikes:
  • More robust frame - usually steel, to cope with heavy luggage loads and ease of repair (anywhere in the world!)
  • Triple chainset for wider gear range, inner ring as small as 24 teeth
  • 8 or 9-speed rear cassette ranging from 13 to 28 teeth (or wider)
  • Heavy duty wheels with at least 36 spokes, and wider tyres for better comfort and load carrying
  • Cantilever or V-brakes brazed onto the frame to allow any size tyre
  • Double sided clipless pedals (like mountain bikes)
  • Relaxed frame geometry
  • Fittings for pannier carriers and mudguards
  • The whole bike is likely to weigh 10-12kg
The design of the bike has been refined over the years but it still basically the same diamond shape first introduced in Victorian times. Wheels too have remained almost the same size for nearly 100 years but the technology of both wheel and tyre production has improved amazingly. The standard race bike wheel is a size known as 700c - a throwback many years to when European wheel and tyre sizes were standardised and given a set of designations: 600a, 600b, 600c; 650a, 650b, 650c; 700a, 700b, 700c.

The 700c rim was originally for a balloon section tyre and was the size that became standard for 'tubular' tyres. Tubular tyres have the casing sewn together around the tube and are stuck onto the rim. They are lighter, able to withstand a higher inflation pressures, and in case of a puncture can be quicker to change than conventional tyres.
 
 
Pedals have changed a lot over the years
SDPUntil very recently all racing bikes used tubulars, or 'tubs' as they were universally known. Nowadays, conventional tyres dominate the market - and are even in used in some top echelons - partly due to advances in rubber technologies and tyre construction methods with materials such as Kevlar for improved puncture resistance - but largely it is due to the new tyres similar riding qualities but being much easier to repair.

Another component that has changed significantly is the pedals. Gone are the toeclips and straps of 20 years ago, now replaced with a myriad of 'clipless' systems where the shoe has a 'cleat' which locks into the pedal with a spring loaded clip and release is effected by twisting the foot out, similar to a ski-binding. Road pedals have the clip mechanism on just one side, to save a bit of weight and for the manufacturers to play with a more aerodynamic profile, though many tourists like the convenience of double-sided pedals from the mountain bike world.

As for kit, the main items you'll need to begin racing are:
  • A helmet (although strictly speaking this isn't compulsory for time trialling, it is a good idea to wear one especially when racing or training).
  • A good pair of cycling shorts. Well, two pairs actually. So that you can wear one pair while the pair is being washed.
  • Cycling shoes - to go with your clipless pedals. You don't have to spend a fortune. You can pick up a good pair of shoes for around £40, but there are plenty of shoes available costing over £100 (not unlike street shoes, really)
  • Club jersey - if you're riding BCF events (road races or track events) you are obliged to wear your club colours.
  • You'll also need to take out a racing licence - Contact your club or the BCF for details.

Search advice