|Size||What it's good for|
|700 x 20c||thin, primarily for time trails and lighter riders|
|700 x 23c||normal, for most conditions, racing and training|
|700 x 25c||thicker, longer wearing, more shock absorption|
|700 x 28c||thick, longest lasting, ideal for touring, commuting and heavy riders|
About 650c Wheels
Some time-trial bikes, as well as some compact, smaller models come equipped with 650c wheels, which are smaller diameter than 700s. These are a little lighter and slightly stronger, and they accelerate faster than standard 700c wheels. But, 650c wheels sometimes ride a bit rougher (smaller, lighter riders can compensate by dropping tire pressure slightly), lose momentum a bit faster and cover less distance per revolution (strong riders will require taller gearing). So, if you're comparing bikes with both wheel sizes, be sure to test ride them to feel the differences for yourself. That's the best way to decide.
Tubeless And Tubular Tires
Most road bicycles today are equipped with tires called "clinchers," which contain tubes inside. These tires are held on the wheel with a mechanical fit. The tire beads "clinch" the rim.
There's another type of tire found on some road bicycles and available for wheelsets with rims made for them. It's called a "tubular" and also known as a "sew-up," (you'll see why in a second). Tubular tires are common in professional road racing because they have a true round profile, which offers a slightly smoother ride than standard tires, something favored by those who spend entire days in the saddle.
This round profile is due to the tubular's casing being sewn together at the bottom. There's a tube inside just like inside standard tires, but it's sewn inside, which means repairing flats requires a lot more work. (On the road, you simply replace the tire; to fix the tire, you must do minor surgery on it.) Besides the smoother ride, tubular wheels and tires are usually slightly lighter than standard models, too, because of the fact that tubular rims are simple box sections.
Tubulars aren't common on our road bikes because of the hassles involved in fixing flats and also the fact that to mount the tires, you must glue them on the rims. However, if you're racing, you might like to give them a try. And, if that's the case you'll want to learn about tubular tire gluing and tire repair.
The newest road tire type is "tubeless." Just like motorcycle and car tires, these are run without tubes, which eliminates pinch flats, saves a little weight and significantly improves ride quality. These, too, require a special rim, so bikes with wheels with tubeless-compatible rims will accept tubeless tires. This is because with tubeless tires the tire and rim fit together with an airtight bead lock. And, there are no holes inside the rim, and a special Presta valve that's installed in the rim. We expect to see tubeless on more road bikes in the future. Right now, they're only found on a few of our models.
The main companies making full lines of road components (sometimes called "groups" or "gruppos") are Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM. These makers offer different levels of components to suit the various rider levels from entry-level to pro racer. A group is typically comprised of brakes, hubs, chain, cassette, bottom bracket, crank, derailleurs, shifters and headset.
Keep in mind that many road bikes come equipped with wheelsets, which include hubs so you may or may not get hubs from the same manufacturer as the rest of the components on your new bike. Also, some bicycle manufacturers make or have made their own components, and you might see these on a bike instead of the brand found on most of the other parts. And, it's a common practice to upgrade certain components where the company feels it's beneficial. So, for example, you might get the next-level rear derailleur on a bike as a way for the bike company to add a little extra value.
The most recent advancement in drivetrain technology is electronic shifting. First introduced to the mass market by Shimano, these shifters and derailleurs use lightning-fast electrical impulses to change gears. This shifting is reliably precise and quick. The integrated computer unit ensures that shifting is perfect for both the front and rear derailleurs by monitoring their position without sacrificing any shifting speed. And because there are no cables involved, contamination and cable stretch are non-issues. Surprisingly this technology only tacks on a handful of grams of weight too.
As you spend more money, parts get lighter (with the use of less material; and carbon at the higher price points), and the bearing quality (bearings are what the hubs, headset, pedals and crankset spin on) improves. Higher-level components shift and brake slightly better, too — though even entry-level braking and shifting is exceptional on modern systems.
So, how do you decide what to buy? It comes down to your price range and which group offers the features you want (i.e. weight, number of gears, appearance, quality). Usually, you can narrow it down to a couple of groups. And, at that point, a great way to decide is to ride and compare. If you can feel a difference in braking and shifting, go with the bike you like better.
To help you understand what's what with modern parts packages, here's a brief overview (we're happy to go into detail so please contact us or visit if you'd like to learn more or have questions):
|entry||Campagnolo||Veloce||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||nice function and finish|
|enthusiast||Campagnolo||Centaur||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||almost Athena-quality function and finish|
|serious||Campagnolo||Athena||compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs||almost Chorus-quality function and finish|
|race||Campagnolo||Chorus||compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs||almost Record-quality function and finish|
|pro||Campagnolo||Record||compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs||almost Super Record-quality function and finish|
|pro||Campagnolo||Super Record||compact or standard double chainring w/11 cogs||among the world's lightest components|
|entry||Shimano||Sora||compact double or triple chainring w/9 cogs||sweet shifting, braking and reliability at a nice price|
|enthusiast||Shimano||Tiagra||compact double or triple chainring w/9 cogs||nice function and finish, lighter|
|serious||Shimano||105||compact double or triple chainring w/10 cogs||almost Ultegra-quality function and finish|
|race||Shimano||Ultegra||compact double or triple chainring w/10 cogs||almost Dura-Ace function and finish|
|pro||Shimano||Dura-Ace||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||among the world's lightest components|
|pro||Shimano||Dura-Ace Di2||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||Dura-Ace quality w/revolutionary electronic shifting|
|enthusiast||SRAM||Apex||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||almost Rival function and finish|
|serious||SRAM||Rival||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||almost Force function and finish|
|pro||SRAM||Force||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||almost Red function and finish|
|pro||SRAM||Red||compact or standard double chainring w/10 cogs||among the world's lightest components|
Regardless of what bike you choose it won't be much fun riding it if the gearing isn't appropriate for your fitness level and where and how you pedal. Fortunately, all component groups offer a variety of different gearing options. And we can also modify things if needed to suit your needs. Here's what's involved:
Chainrings and Cogs
There are sprockets on the front and back of the bike. The fronts are called "chainrings" and they're located on the crankset, the part that the pedals are attached to. The crankset comes with 2 (called a "double") or 3 chainrings (called a "triple"). Triple cranksets include a small inner chainring (sometimes called a "granny") that offers easier hill-climbing gears. There are also cranksets called "compact" that have only 2 chainrings but have a smaller small chainring for easier climbing. These are more common than triples today.
The sprockets on the rear of the bike are called "cogs," or, if you're referring to the entire cluster of gears, it's called a "cassette" or "freewheel." The cassette is attached to the rear wheel and drives the bike as you pedal. Depending on the components on the bike, there will usually be from 8 to 11 cogs on the rear cassette.
How Many Gears?
To figure out how many total gears are on a bike, simply multiply the number of chainrings by the number of cassette cogs. For example on a model with a triple crankset and a 10-cog cassette, you have 30 gears — quite an upgrade from the 10-speeds so popular years ago.
How many gears to get depends on how and where you ride. If you're reasonably fit and bike in flat to rolling terrain, you'll probably be fine with a double chainring and 9 to 11 rear cogs. If it's hilly and you're getting into shape, consider a compact crankset. They provide the simpler double-chainring shifting up front with a small enough small chainring for easier climbing, too. Triple cranksets are an option for those who climb high and aren't super strong, too. The third chainring (sometimes called the "granny gear") offers even easier climbing than the compact crankset's smallest chainring.
When considering how many rear cogs to get, keep in mind that you'll have plenty of gears even if you get a 9-cog cassette. If you go to a bike with more cogs (you can't increase the number of cogs unless the bicycle accepts that cassette), you can either choose a wider range of gears or more-closely spaced gears. The latter is excellent for racing and training because it makes it easier to fine-tune pedaling effort. Wider gearing offers easier low gears so it's ideal for mountain riding and for when you're not in tip-top shape.
How the Gears Feel
To figure out how easy it is to pedal the gears, you have to know a little more about the chainrings and cogs. They are referred to by the number of teeth on them. So, you might read in bike specifications about 39/53 chainrings and 12-23 cassettes. This means that the small chainring has 39 teeth and the large has 53 teeth and that the cassette has a small cog with 12 teeth on it and a large one with 23. Meanwhile, a compact drivetrain could have a crankset with 34- and 50-tooth chainrings and the cassette might be the same 12-23. To know the size of every cog and chainring, you usually have to count each one (cogs and chainrings are often marked but the marks can be hard to see).
Know Your Numbers
Don't let the numbers confuse you. The key thing to know is that for chainrings, larger numbers mean it's harder to pedal and vice versa. For cogs, it's the opposite: the larger the number, the easier it is to pedal and vice versa. By keeping these rules in mind, you can quickly see that a 30/42/52 triple crankset and a 12-30 cassette will offer much easier gearing than a 39/53 double with a 12-23 cassette.
Pondering A Compact Or A Triple
Many people wonder whether or not they need a compact crankset or a triple crankset. Our advice is that it depends a lot on how and where you ride. If you like the hills, ride fairly long distances, sometimes carry gear and aren't training all the time to be in optimum fitness, a compact is a nice way to go. You get the easy shifting of a double crankset with gears that make most climbs manageable.
A triple crankset gives you a third, even smaller chainring than what's on a compact crankset. So, it's great if you scale steep climbs, carry loads and travel long distances. Even if you don't use the small chainring all that much, it can be a lifesaver at the end of a long ride when a tough climb stands between you and home. Triple-chainring drivetrains shift slightly more slowly than doubles, which is a consideration if you're riding for a good time in a century, for example.
If you're not sure which is right for you, we recommend coming in and trying the various drivetrains to feel how they work for you. It's also helpful to talk to your friends who ride and see what they recommend since you'll likely be hitting the road with them and enjoying similar rides.
You also need to decide on the range of gears on your rear cassette. In the table to the right is a guide to some commonly available sizes and what they're designed for:
The Fun Part
Now that you have an idea how to decide what type of road machine to get, it's time to come into our store and do some tire kicking and test riding to see how the models compare in person. This will complete the picture and give you a chance to see what you get at the various price points. Here are a final few helpful tips: