The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Trent's Tips: How to buy a road bike

From a letter to a friend. Some formatting is messed up in the paste.


The Trek 1500 would make a nice cousin to your 4500 mountain bike. I’d say it’s about the exact equivalent in quality. The algorithm I used to recommend that bike is isomorphic to the road case.

Here is the Felt bike I was telling you about on the phone: surely the best road bike under a grand. Here is the model I almost bought.

I came *very* close to replacing my current Lemond with this one.

Concerning Style
I do not recommend triathlon-specific bikes for triathletes who are not looking to podium or go to Kona. Since the Kona Iron Man is the mac-daddy goal of all podium-seeking triathletes most tri-specific bikes are designed with that course in mind (whether consciously or not). That means they are more aerodynamic but also heavier than their more nimble road-cousins. Most tri-specific bikes are made to keep your momentum going in long, straight, flat lines. Most racers just aren’t going to see courses like that. Most racers are going to be racing on more ad-hoc urban or suburban courses with plenty of turns and perhaps lots of hills (*all* the triathlons I’ve done in the last several years have been quite hilly, but that’s a geographic contingency as well). I firmly believe that a tri-specific bike would hurt my time, not help it in triathlons and they are less versatile.

Concerning Fit
You’re surely going to be a 56 (that’s roughly centimeters from center of crank to top of seat tube). I can’t exactly remember if you have legs that are especially long or short for your height (which is some evidence that they are not), but I would be very surprised if you weren’t a 56. Beware if a bikeshop doesn’t have a 56 in stock and tries to sell you a 54 or 58. You should ride a bike for a half-hour or more at least twice before buying.

The bike shop should not balk at you wanting to ride for half an hour on the bike. Before this, though you should ride the bike for five (clocked, not phenomenalogical) minutes while they adjust stem length and height (the step is the part that holds the handlebars onto the top of the steertube/head tube) and handlebar angle. A good shop (and I don’t mean a great shop) should be more than willing to change stems (and possibly even handlebars) several times to achieve best fit. (By the way as far as I can tell, this is the most complete guide to the parts of a bike on the web, though it leaves off the head tube and sub-parts of the fork, perhaps because the pictured bike doesn’t have much of a head tube. This image is better in some respects, worse in others.)

Concerning Quality
Good companies build bikes in a pretty rational way. They build excellent frames and then create different price-points based on the componentry with which the bike comes equipped. All bike manufacturers use the same stock of parts to put on the frame (with very few exceptions), so what makes a companies bike unique is the frame, that’s all. But they know that most people—unlike me—don’t want to just buy a frame and then buy all the parts to suit them and build them themselves.

It’s also cheaper for the company to buy the parts in bulk—or in the case of Trek to *buy* the parts company and bring it in house (Bontrager). So once you select the frame for your style of riding you just need to decide what componentry you need. In general, the most important item is the rear derailleur. This and the breaks get used the most (there’s less variability among breaks generally). So the rear derailleur is usually the best part on the bike with other parts just below it in a certain pattern. The pattern is sometimes complex and sometimes not—usually the front derailleur will be one grade lower than the rear, the hubs one grade lower than that, the shifters the same as the front derailleur, etc.—but the bottom line is that they are generally clustered quite rationally. So most price-points are dictated by the rear derailleur which makes it nice because you can darn near just pick from among the bikes with the derailleur that describes your budget.

Deraileurs from best on down (only including top quality, no junk on list) (I’m only going to do Shimano, because most of the non-Shimano options—like Compagnolo (“Campy” in biker slang)—are only for very high-end bikes or very low-end bikes.)


I think 105’s are the sweet-spot balance between quality and price.

I’ve run the Shimano 105 group for years (hard years) and had *no* (none, zip, zilch, nada) troubles.

I don’t think Ultegra would be overkill (though DuraAce or Campy would be). Tiagra wouldn’t be slumming though Sora would not, I think, be as good an investment.

Other good brands are Raleigh and Giant (though I think Raleigh are too fancy and Giant not enough (though there are some exceptions). Specialized makes a nice road bike which is what we got Fiona, though I think they’re a little too proud of it.

Hope this helps!



At Wednesday, August 15, 2007 11:06:00 PM, Blogger Sarah Dougherty said...

I learned how to streamline my road bike sales pitch and I've been selling bikes for 5 years!


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