So, you're keen to get into Cycling - be that for the commute to work, or for health, hobby, recreation or competitive reasons.
There are so many brands, options and specifications of bikes out there, it can be completely overwhelming! So we've asked our resident expert, pro-rider and Avenir Athlete, Samuel Wyatt-Haines, to run us through a comprehensive guide for choosing your bike, and what to look for... Over to Sam...
So, you have come to the decision that you want to buy your first road bike and join the brilliant world of cycling. It may be because you signed up to a charity event, you want to start commuting to work, or you just want to try and live a fitter, more active and healthier lifestyle. Whatever your reason, cycling is a highly accessible way of getting around and exploring your local area.
This guide on buying your first bike isn’t necessarily aimed at the skintight lycra wearing, shaven leg, data obsessed rider who remembers their FTP from 2013 instead of their mum’s birthday. This is all about getting into the sport and things to consider as a newbie.
Always remember the Golden Rule - whatever bike you have, just get out and RIDE! Bike Pictured: Giant TCR.
A Guide to choosing your first bike
There are a lot of things to consider when picking your first bike, below I've tackled the main questions you'll need to answer when choosing the right one for you, along with my top-picks for the best value and performing bikes and components.
Unfortunately cycling isn’t always the cheapest of sports, but that doesn’t mean it is only for the wealthiest of people! You can still get some incredible bang for your buck and hit up your local roads with some seriously good bikes. It will also be even more satisfying when you overtake someone riding a bike that costs 10 times the amount of yours! So do not despair that your first road bike doesn’t fall into the region of £10,000+.
A good starting point for an entry level bike is the £1000 to £1500 range. Now I appreciate this doesn’t sound very budget or entry level, but it does mark a really good level to get a whole lot of bike for your money. I will also discuss cheaper options later but for the purpose of this guide this is the range that I will focus on.
This price point will put you in the realm of either an aluminium frame or a carbon frame. What’s the difference though?
- Carbon - Usually lighter, more comfortable and can be made more aerodynamic
- Aluminium - Stronger material, but a little heavier
If you are using your bike for commuting and locking it up, it may be safer to have an aluminium frame as it will be less susceptible to cracking if someone knocks into you. Although carbon is very solid, there is a slightly increased risk of it breaking more easily. Aluminium frames are also more likely to come with mounts for mud guards or to carry luggage (these are called pannier racks) which may be more beneficial for commuting in the rain and carrying more stuff.
Carbon can be made into aerodynamic shapes. Aluminium is often more cylindrical. Bike pictured: Giant Propel Disc.
The reason carbon frames are more expensive is because they feel fast and responsive. Every pedal stroke goes into the frame and you can feel it propel you up the road. If speed is your thing then a carbon frame may be hard to look past. (For the lovers of the Specialized Allez Sprint I know that this is phenomenally good aluminium bike and would challenge all carbon bikes on the points I have made, but I am trying to make very general observations)
But, carbon costs more and so will use up more of the £1000-1500 that you have allotted your new bike. It is more likely that a carbon frame will have poorer gears, brakes and wheels - whereas an aluminium frame is cheaper to produce so you are more likely to get better components in the overall package.
Disc brakes. That is all you need to look at.
Yes I love rim brakes, and I think they work smoothly if they are set up well, but disc brakes just offer more solid braking in all conditions. They are not affected by the weather, generally last longer and offer more security to your riding.
There are two options for disc brakes - Cable pull disc brakes and hydraulic disc brakes. Again this is pretty simple, hydraulic brakes should always be the preferred option. Hydraulic brakes work better because they require less effort by the user to generate more braking force.
An example of hydraulic brakes on a Giant Propel Disc.
As you progress with your cycling you will become more confident and understand when and how to brake better. However at the start, having confidence that you can stop just by pulling your levers is absolutely key. It is for that reason that I believe having good quality brakes is one of the most important things to consider when buying your first bike.
An example of a cable pull disc brake.
The ability to change gears is fundamental to making cycling easier. Through pressing a lever with your hands you can make it easier or harder to ride. This means you have the ability to make it easier when you are going up hill and a harder gear when you go down hill.
On most bikes you have 10 or 11 gears that are found on the rear wheel and two gears at the front (where your pedals are attached). In order to change into easier or harder gears, your bike uses a device called a derailleur. There is a rear derailleur which changes gear on the rear wheel, and a front derailleur which changes the gear at the front. These derailleurs are moved by the user pressing the levers on the handlebars. Every time a lever is pressed, the tension in the cable between the lever and derailleur changes which in turns moves the derailleur. This means that the chain can then move to whichever gear you have selected, thus making your ride easier or harder.
The quality of the levers and derailleurs will make a difference to how smooth you can change gear. Think of it like a gearbox in a car. A cheaper car will not have gear changes that are quite as smooth as an expensive car because they use cheaper and less effective parts. This is the same for cycling.
The top two levels of Shimano gear components can also be electronic gears which are called di2. The photo above shows Shimano Ultegra di2 on a Giant TCR Disc.
There are varying levels of the quality of gears but most commonly you will find Shimano gears. The different type of Shimano gears working from the best down are:
- Dura Ace
The main difference between all of these is weight. Dura Ace is the very best money can buy and is made from carbon and therefore very light. Whereas, Sora is the heaviest and the cheapest as it is made from lowest cost metals. However, whatever level of Shimano gears you buy, they can be set up to work just as well as the level above it. With good maintenance you can make a Tiagra gear set up work like Dura Ace.
Shimano Ultegra Groupset on a Giant Propel Disc.
At the price point we are discussing, most bikes will have Tiagra gears and this is a brilliant option. This is a 10 speed set up which means there are 10 cogs on the rear wheel. This allows for a really big range of gears meaning you can ride, not push up the steepest of hills.
You may also find a mixture of Tiagra and Sora on the bike, but again this isn’t an issue - Shimano components will work together very well. As a general rule, the more of the higher level gear you can get, the better.
Wheels can make a huge difference to how a bike rides. However at the £1000 price point most wheels will be very similar, they will have a high spoke count, be relatively heavy (in cycling terms), but importantly will also be round, which will mean you can get out and ride. You may see some technical descriptions such as shallow rims. You can see the difference in the picture below against a more expensive deep rim wheel.
A deep rim v a shallow rim.
The only real difference between wheels at this price is if they are set up as tubeless or clincher.
- Clincher - This is the most common method and is where an inner tube fits inside the tyre.
- Tubeless - This is a system where the tyre is fitted to the wheel without an inner tube. Instead there is a sealant inside which fills any holes that may occur while on the road.
The Continental GP 5000TL are some of the very best tubeless tyres and will improve the quality of your riding significantly
Tubeless is a brilliant set up and reduces the risk of punctures. If you can have your new bike set up as tubeless then it is a great option and one that will only benefit your riding as punctures will seal themselves and your riding experience will not be interrupted. Additionally, you do not need as much air pumped into them making your journey much more comfortable.
Finish kit refers to saddles, seat post, handlebars, handlebar tape and so on. It is the little bits that top off the bike. These will be pretty much the same on all bikes of this price and will be made of aluminium. Again, the more expensive bikes use carbon parts due to the lightness. You may need to change your saddle, but this will be a personal preference thing and something you can decide once you have been riding for a while.
My Tops Picks
The Trek Domane AL 3 Disc 2021 Road Bike comes in at £900 and provides a brilliant all round package. With an aluminium frame, Shimano Sora gears, and a cable pull disc brakes. Trek use their own finishing kit which is a brand called Bontrager and this is very high quality.
For a little bit more money at £1350, the Domane AL 4 Disc 2021 is probably my stand out option with a slightly better Tiagra gear set up but importantly hydraulic brakes.
The Cannondale Synapse Al 105 2020 Road Bike is a little more at £1200. Again this is an aluminium frame but it comes with Shimano 105 gears and cable pull brakes. The Synapse frame is a very comfortable endurance frame and will be really enjoyable for all day riding.
The Giant Contend AR1 rivals the Domane AL 4 but instead uses Shimano 105 gears. However at an additional £249 it just goes just over the budget range. A very similar option is the Orbea Avant H-30 D and at £1499 it is a really good option.
I am very lucky to ride some incredible bikes, but as long the wheels are round and I can be out on the road then I am happy!
Finally, the Canyon Endurace AL Disc 6.0 is an aluminium frame, Tiagra groupset (brakes & gears) and hydraulic disc brake set up. At £1299 this also provides a very wise use of your money. However, you may need to consider customer service as Canyon is based in Germany and it can be make it difficult sourcing parts and follow up care if required.
I haven’t included a carbon frame as online they are very hard to find. However, you are more than likely to find a carbon framed bike in your local bike shop. They will also be able to help you get fitted and provide follow up services.
To try and complete the full range of options, the Triban RC 120 costs just £429.99. It does not use a Shimano gear system but instead gears called Microshift. As someone who has spent a huge amount of time on an older Triban 3, I cannot speak highly enough of these bikes. They are just brilliant value for money.
Whatever bike you decide to go for, if it means you can get out on the road then it is the best bike for you!
If having a pink bike means you want to ride more, then get a pink bike. If having Shimano Ultegra on your bike will get you on the road more, then get Shimano Ultegra. Whatever it is that means you enjoy this incredible sport more, then keep it simple and do that.
I would really strongly advise going into a local bike shop as they will have lots of models and options - some maybe from the previous season - which are likely to be a little cheaper and of better value. Additionally, the people that work in the shops will be able to help you out and offer guidance that will be much more specific to you than this article.
Alternatively, look on Facebook or eBay for second hand bikes. This can be a great way of picking up a bargain and I would really recommend this. But always be very careful when buying second hand.
For me, if I had £1000-£1500 for a new bike I would look for a carbon frame, with any sort of gears, but importantly disc brakes. I would go for a carbon frame because it would allow for upgrades in the future which offers more flexibility - and i'd ride it a lot longer before feeling the need to upgrade. This is because even if you end up being able to put Shimano Dura Ace on an aluminium frame the bike will hit its peak and this peak is lower than that of a carbon bike.
Finally, at this price point you will generally be looking at endurance frames. This means that the shape of the bike is slightly more relaxed making your riding experience more comfortable. However, if you are interested in speed then picking a more race orientated bike should be for you. A racing bike will put your body in a slightly more extreme position in an aim to make you more aerodynamic. Due to these differences, I would really recommend visiting your local bike ship to test ride different bikes and see what you are more comfortable on.
And always remember the Golden Rule - just get out and RIDE.
Samuel Wyatt-Haines is a professional Road Cyclist and Triathlete associated with Avenir Cycling, Absolute Black components, and Giant Bikes via Giant Twickenham, - all views are his own.
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