≡ Menu

How To Choose A Sportive Bike (And What Features You Don’t Need To Worry About)

Sportive bike vs road bike

A sportive bike (try to ignore the mess in the living room)

January is upon us. Not quite the traditional time to get into road cycling, at least in the northern hemisphere (what with the ice, snow, surprising new lake locations etc).

Still, you want to rid yourself of that pesky extra tyre. You want to get fit. You want to get out there and DO SOMETHING.

Let’s assume you have been inspired by Chris Froome, Laura Trott, Marianne Vos or Chris Horner (he says, trying to cover every potential ‘interest group’) and this year you’re going to complete your first cyclo sportive (or Gran Fondo). You’ll need a suitable bike and the Grimpeur is here to offer a few ‘words of wisdom’.

This is an (unedited!) excerpt from my forthcoming (and as yet unnamed) eBook, aimed at beginner cyclists that want to move rapidly from novice through to confident sportive finisher. It’ll be launching in early February. Sign up to my email list if you want me to let you know when it’s ready (plus, in the meantime, you’ll get my current free eBook).

UPDATE! The following post is an (unedited) excerpt from my new book, ‘Sportiveur: A Beginner’s Guide To Training For, Completing And Enjoying Your First Sportive’. If you’d like to find out more about the book, and download your copy, click here.

Right on with the show….

What Type Of Bike Do You Need To Ride A Sportive?

Any bike. Next question.

Whoa there, not so fast Tonto.

There is a line of argument that if you’re just trying out sportive riding for size, then don’t rush out to buy a road bike until you know you’ll stick with it.

This is sort of true.

If you’re already a cycle commuter (cyclo-muter – is that a word?), riding a hybrid, there’s no harm in having a go at a short-ish, flat-ish sportive on your regular steed. In this case, you’d be finding out whether sportive participation is something you enjoy. As a cyclo-muter (yes, it’s a word), I assume you’re already sold on the merits of cycling itself.

On the other hand, if your last significant cycling experience took place in childhood, and you either do not own a bike or your 2-tonne ‘full-suspension’ mountain bike lies rusting in your parents’ shed, I’d recommend taking a little more care over your choice of sportive bike.

Can’t I Just Borrow A Bike?

Yes. Providing you know someone that (i) has a bike that’s fit for sportive purpose; (ii) is prepared to lend it to you for the next 3–6 months; and (iii) is approximately the same size as you, with an equivalent level of flexibility.

It might be easier just to buy your own bike. Since it is my not-so-evil plan that the splendid endeavour of road cycling becomes a large part of your life until you pop your cleats, you’re going to need a bike (or twelve).

A Bike For Sportives

At it’s core, a bike is fundamentally a tool in the hands of a user (you, the rider). You select a tool based on the job you want it to do.

To my mind, the job of a sportive bike is to:

  • carry its rider, in reasonable comfort and with good speed, over a course of up to 100 miles (and maybe more) in a single day;
  • be able to deal with a riding surface that is paved but can, at times, be rough and pot-holed;
  • be light enough to be ridden uphill but robust enough to stand up to the repeated use required during training.

If you focus on the job you need the bike to do, then choosing the features you need (and spotting the ones that you don’t) becomes a lot easier.

What Are The Important Features Of A Sportive Bike?

It’s all well and dandy to describe the ideal sportive bike, but it is the search for the ‘ideal [whatever] bike’ that causes cyclists around the world to spend ever-increasing amounts of cash each year at bike shops and on the internet.

For your first sportive bike, you want to know what’s important and worth spending money on, and what can be allocated to the ‘nice to have’ list for your next bike (as you’ll find out, there’s always a ‘next bike’…).

My key sportive bike characteristics, listed by importance, are:

Type of Bike

You need to go for a road bike (i.e. one with drop handlebars, skinny tyres, no suspension). You will find hybrids or mountain bikes to be too slow or too heavy (or both).

Size

The dimensions of the bike frame are such that you can adopt a comfortable, efficient and powerful position on the bike.

I talk about bike fitting elsewhere in the book (headline message: I recommend you get a professional to fit you… er… professionally), but the two key dimensions are:

  • from where you sit on the saddle to where your hands rest on the handlebars; and
  • from where you sit on the saddle to where you feet attach to the pedals.

The former determines how far you have to reach and therefore the angle of your back as you lean forward. The latter determines the angle of your knees as you rotate the pedals.

Both dimensions are crucial (and why I rank ‘size’ so highly in this list). Riding in a comfortable position makes you more likely to persevere through the fatigue on event day in order to complete your sportive. It makes you more likely to complete that training ride in the driving wind and rain.

Riding position also determines how efficiently the energy that you put in to cycling is translated into forward motion on the road. You don’t need to worry about eking out every last watt of power (the units used and monitored by pro cyclists) but a good position on the bike will mean that you’re not wasting your hard-fought effort.

Most importantly, a suitable riding position reduces the chances of picking up an injury during training.

A Cautionary Tale

For most of my adult cycling ‘career’, I’ve ridden a cheap Dawes road bike. I bought it on whim when my then girlfriend (now wife, huzzah!) was buying a commuter bike. A quick test ride around the block and I deemed it good.

Seven years later, with numerous bouts of prolonged knee pain, both on and off the bike, it occurred to me to get a professional bike fit (actually I was forced to do it by readers of my blog).

It turns out that the bike was woefully mis-sized for me. The reach to the handlebars was so great that my back was angled as low as a professional cyclist.

I hadn’t even adjusted the saddle height! It was so low that my knees were almost knocking my chest at the top of the pedal stroke. No wonder I was having knee pain – my leg position was putting a huge amount of strain on the joint.

To cut a long story short (and use an unnecessary cliché), I was prescribed a new (correctly-sized) bike and a suitable riding position. Within a fortnight, virtually all my knee discomfort disappeared, both when riding and walking. It hasn’t returned.

Moral of the story: ride a bike that fits.

So the size of the frame, and the adjustments made to fit you and the bike together, are the first things you should be thinking of when buying a new bike (or borrowing from a trusting and similarly-sized friend).

Gears (And Specifically The Choice of Gear Ratios)

Bikes are sold with different combinations of chainrings and cassettes, in order to offer you a range of gears to choose from when riding.

For most people’s first road bike, the focus tends to be on cost, weight, how it looks, and the quality of the components (gears, brakes etc) rather than how the bike will do its job for the rider.

Understanding the job of the gears, and having the right selection fitted to your bike, is crucial to your enjoyment of cycling, particularly in the early stages of your training.

Why Are Gears Important For The Beginner Sportive Rider?

Sportives are endurance events. In order to complete that first 100 mile ride, you’ll be in the saddle for 6–7 hours or more. Assuming you’ve built up to a reasonable level of fitness, and you’re eating and drinking regularly through the ride, you’ll be able to maintain a steady and sustainable pace throughout.

The problems comes with the hills. Even a relatively flat sportive such as RideLondon, has two significant climbs. Some beginner cyclists are born with strong, muscular legs (or have otherwise acquired them) and are happy to grind up the hills in a high gear.

Most people, me included, would find that strategy causes their legs essentially to become useless for the rest of the ride. If your leg muscles start to cramp, (i) it’s very painful; (ii) it can require a potentially-dangerous emergency stop; and (iii) it’s possible that your day’s ride ends here.

A better option would be, where possible, to ride in as low a gear as makes sense (after all, you do want to maintain at least a sense of moving forward). This allows you to spin your pedals more rapidly, placing less strain on the muscles and instead relying on your aerobic fitness.

So my recommendation would be to go for a selection that is biased towards more lower gears than higher. Err on the side of caution when it comes to selecting your lowest gear – make attempting the steeper slopes as easy as possible for yourself.

I have lost count of how many times I’ve been delighted to have a very low gear available to me on a climb. In some cases it’s been the difference between being able to ride and having to get off an walk.

[Note From The Grimpeur: Because there are size constraints on how much information the internet can hold, let’s move on to what is less important when choosing your first sportive bike. In the book though, I deal with other important features to consider, e.g. pedals, saddle, bottle holders…]

Things Which Aren’t Important When Choosing Your First Sportive Bike

I assume you don’t have unlimited cash resources. You want to get maximum bang for your buck when buying your first sportive bike. You want the bike to work well for you, as you train for, participate in and enjoy your first sportive. For the budget-conscious cyclist, here are a few things that you shouldn’t worry too much about.

A Carbon Fibre Frame

As a novice road cyclist, I’ll assume you haven’t yet been absorbed into the church that worships handmade steel bikes.

Instead, you’re more likely to be choosing between a frame made out of aluminium alloy (which is used for most entry-level road bikes) and carbon fibre. You may be aware that the professional teams generally ride carbon fibre bikes. A bloke down the pub might have extolled the virtues of carbon because it ‘makes the bike lighter’ (what sort of pubs do you frequent?).

For the cyclist starting out on their sportive voyage, the choice of material for her first bike matters very little.

Carbon fibre frames tend to be more expensive – if you have a limited budget, you might not even be able to stretch that far. If you do find that you can afford a cheaper carbon bike, you’re likely to be comprising on more important features, such as the quality of the brakes and the gear components.

Cheaper carbon fibre, whilst marginally lighter than an equivalent alloy frame, may not be as strong or as durable. In any event, the weight of the frame comprises only a proportion of the overall weight of the bike (the wheels and components contribute a significant amount, as do you!).

Talking of weight…

Weight

Road cyclists are obsessed by weight. Particularly the weight of their bike(s).

A committed road cyclist will re-mortgage their beloved family pet if it means they can afford a new titanium bottle holder, shaving a mighty 5g off last year’s model.

For the first-time sportive rider, weight is a much lower priority concern. (Unless it’s your own weight that we’re talking about, but that’s a topic for another chapter)

You’re much better focusing on the fit of the bike and the appropriate choice of the gears. These factors will have a far greater impact on your ability to ride for longer and to be able to ride up hills than achieving a marginal reduction in weight.

Colour

You wouldn’t let the colour (or design) of a bike influence your choice of bike, would you?

(You would? Ah. Don’t worry. It happens to us all.)

Whatever your aesthetic sensibilities, let’s agree that the colour of the bike has little or no bearing on how well it performs.

But, irrespective of how far you let the look of a bike determine your buying decision, it’s worth remembering that for any new bike available now, there is likely to be a ‘last year’s version’ available for a much lower price.

You’ll want to compare the two versions carefully, but generally the frame and the components will be the same. All that will differ is the colour scheme. And we just agreed that you don’t care about that….

Grimpeur Ends Excerpt, Starts Promoting…

So there we have it. A (slightly unpolished) little bit of my eBook. If you’d like to read more, click here for information.

If you’d to receive more advice to help you prepare for and enjoy your next cyclosportive, do sign up for my email list. You’ll get free access to my Sportive Cyclists Toolbox, including my eBook: 4 Steps To Your First Long Distance Sportive.

Until next time, safe riding.

Are you struggling to find the time to ride? Trying to shift some of that middle age spread? Not sure whether you should climb in or out of the saddle?

Sportive Cyclist will help you be a better road cyclist and achieve your fitness objectives.

Enter your email address to subscribe to the blog and get:
  • Straightforward road cycling advice (without the bravado and the BS)
  • Each new Sportive Cyclist post direct to your inbox
  • FREE access to my Sportive Cyclist’s Toolbox (includes free ebook: 4 Steps To Your First Sportive)
Join over 3,800 happy sportiveurs and subscribe today
{ 22 comments… add one }
  • f32mark says:

    All good, common sense advice, I would add a few other points:
    Saddle. You are going to be sat on this for a long time on a 100 mile sportive. I won’t mention names, but a well-established, simple leather one will pay dividends, use your training rides to ‘break’ it in and by the time you are up and running it will have shaped itself to fit your sit-bones.
    Pedals: to cleat or not to cleat? Spinning along on the smooth bits it they probably don’t matter too much, but remember that all sportive planners will divert you up several of the local ‘cols’, on the basis that they have to ride up the sods, then so must you. Flat pedals are OK, but at least think about getting SPDs or something, or at least toe-clips of some kind – they will put your feet in the mechanically-best position when riding.
    Bottle-holders: Two. don’t argue, you need two.
    Kit-carrying. Saddle bags are old fashioned, and no Lycra Warrior would be seen dead with one. Now put your brain in gear – you need to carry at least two spare tubes (3 is better), a possible change of clothes, money, mobile, tools, food, emergency toilet-roll etc. Yes, you can shove *some* of this into your 3 back pockets on your expensive jersey, but stop trying to be a hero and become a realist. Silly bags that tuck-in beneath your seat look good in the bike shop, but wont carry all those essential items and I guarantee that you’ll need the things you left behind 60 miles in.

    • Thanks Mark. That’s great advice. I agree on the pedals and bottle holders. I’ve never tried a Brooks saddle but it sounds like you’re a fan. As to the saddle bags, you might need to spend a bit more time persuading me…

    • Jack says:

      If you plan to do a lot of riding, in and out fo the saddle, for more than 100 km, and want some comfort, spend some money on what is called “contact points”. Namely saddle, seatpost, handlebar and tires.

      Saddle
      Trekking saddle looks odd on a racing bike but most of the time it is going to be most comfortable. I tried many saddles in the past and always go back to the most comfortable one, Specialized Rival trekking/MTB saddle. I don’t care how it looks on my Spec Roubaix bike but all my buddies who ever tried it instantly start looking for it. It is also important to get correct width. Some bike shops have something called assometer which measures the width of your sit bones. For most men correct size will be 143mm.

      Seatpost
      Tests showed that some seatpost absorb road bumps better than others. They also showed that best ones for this purpose are carbon ones with some setback. Look for something like Specialized Pave or S-Works or FSA SB25. Ultimate, but expensive (150 Euro), comfort seatpost is called Specialied CG-R. Google for “seatpost dumping test” for more info.

      Drop (road) handlebar
      Most of the riders use alu handlebar bacause carbon handlebar should be replaced after each crash. It is important to get proper width, which should be roughly the same size as width of your shoulder blades. As for comfort, look for thick, gel, handlebar tape. It will add some comfort to your rides. Another thing to consider is to get a handlebar with proper reach and drop. For most middle-aged cyclist it will be shallow drop and short reach so you feel comfortable in the drops and don’t have to extend much to reach your brake levers. Next thing to consider is comfortable brake levers/hoods. If you have Shimano, anything lower that Shimano 105 is uncomfortable. Anything from SRAM and Campagnolo will be comfortable.

      Tires
      Most pro peleton changed their tire size to 700×25. Tests showed that it gives better comfort than smaller sized tires but has same, or sometimes lower, rolling resistance. Try to find optimum tire pressure for your comfort. Lowering tire pressure will add additional comfort but don’t go too low because you will get more pinch flats when hitting potholes. I weight 90 kg and I put 6 bars (90 psi) in front and 7 bars (100 psi) at the back. Also consider tires with some puncture resistance. I ride Specialized Roubaix Armadillo Elite and had one flat for last 20 thousand km.

      Pedals
      Get SPD. They clip and unclip easily and allow you to walk freely. Most popular road pedal systems, Shimano SPD SL and Look Keo, are not as easy to clip as they clip to only one side of the pedal platform (SPD clips to both sides) and are uncomfortable to walk off the bike, especially when walking down stairs.

      Water bottles
      Get two as mentioned. But get ones that don’t smell plastic and are easy to clean. Preferably with removable valve. I can recommend Specialized Watergate bottle. They are great. Also get some good water bottle holders that don’t rattle and allow easy bottle handling. I personally use Barbieri alu bottle holders in front and Specialized Zee Cage plastic bottle holder with side loading on seatpost tube.

      Kit carrying
      Lycra Warriot surely will not use saddle or handlebar bag. Screw it. I don’t care and you also shouldn’t. I use small Deuter top tupe energy bar bag where i carry my phone and some energy bars. I use clip-on (not velcro) small saddle bag where I carry some first aid kit, tire levers and chain tool. I never needed more than two tubes so I carry two in my pockets as well as some wind/rain jacket and arm warmers if necesessary. Also some small, flat pack of intimate wet wipes and some small multitool. One of best compact road multitools is Decathlon’s, strange called M&V Business Relati Multitool. Mostly identical to much more expensive Specialized EMT Pro Road but better and cheaper. My pump is fixed to my frame under water bottle cage. For all day rides with changing waether, I use extra large, 2.7 liter, waterproof Ortlieb saddle bag that I can recommend. If you need to carry even more stuff, consider Deuter Race EXP Air Backpack or some waist bag. Deuter and Ortlieb make great waist bags but here are many others to consider if you don’t like backpacks.

      Bib Shorts
      Invest in some comfortable and long lasting (are there any?) quality bib shorts. Decathlon has some great ones with gel chamois. Make sure chamois is thick, preferably triple density. I read good reviews about Specialized bib shorts with RBX triple density chamois and I’m going to buy them. Consider using some chamois cream (Decathlon sells it).

      Get a triple
      Compact cranksets are mostly useless. They are ok if you are in shape (but you could use 53-39 then, don’t you?) or young with plenty of energy or have relatively small climbs to ascend. But what if you are out of shape, overweight or simply exhausted after conquering few mountain passes and have one more to go? I personally ride Campagnolo Centaur triple on my Roubaix with 52-39-30 in front and 13-29 cassette at he back. My buddie who is very slim has Roubaix with Shimano 105 compact with 50-34 front and 12-30 cassette at he back but he still takes his old Decathlon B’twin bike with Campa Mirage triple when he has to hit the mountains. Alternatively you can get SRAM compact with their long cage Apex derailleur allowing you to use MTB casette with 32 teeth. Also consider getting shorter crank arms than usually. It will take some load off your knees when going uphill. I moved from 175 cm to 172,5 and my slight pain, I sometimes had in my knee ligament, went away.

      Shoes
      Get some good quality, comfortable bike shoes. There are dozens of manufacturers. Try before you buy. Get ones with some velcro straps. Get half size or one size bigger ones than you usually use. Some extra space will alow better ventilation and comfort and you can put extra socks in spring and autumn if necessary. I and most of my buddies use Specialized or Shimano shoes. Cheaper models like Specialized Sport MTB are relatively inexpensive and comfortable.

      • Andrew Montgomery says:

        Wow, Jack. That’s an amazing comment. Thanks so much. Perhaps you want to start your own cycling blog…?

  • Excellent advice as was also generously provided in your comment on my blogged plea for help!

    I am still at the dithering/looking at pictures of bikes in bed each night/trying to get my head around the jargon stage while I await the big moment when my endowment policy finally matures and I rush down to the bike shop.

    Really searching for something as beautiful as a Bianchi but with the gearing to get a middle aged woman up a steep hill. Or even a moderate incline.

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂
      My two pieces of advice would be:
      1) Set aside ~£200 out of your budget for a proper bike fit – for the level of investment you’re making in your bike, I think you’ll get a greater performance/comfort benefit over the long term doing this rather than, say, upgrading from Shimano 105 to Ultegra gears.
      2) Spend some time researching/testing out local bike shops – find one that you trust that you can use to choose and size the right bike for you. Magazines spend a lot of time looking at components, weight etc, without talking about the different geometry of each bike.

      1) and 2) can be integrated. If you find a shop that does the professional bike fit, have them size you and advise you on the purchase of the bike. Then the purchased bike will at least be close enough to what you need so that the bike fit can be effective.

      Oh yes, and enjoy the process!

  • EDthebike says:

    Help , I am also doing the research on what bike to go for. I’ve spent the last 2 months ‘sampling’ cycling on my hybrid and want to take the plunge.
    I need something that will allow an overweight 56 year old to get up a hill- last nights bike of choice, (it may change today if I see someone else in Lycra that recommends another), is the specialized roubaix sl4 sport but I’m waiting for the 2015 model as the gear set (shimano 105)is going to 11 (think that means 22 gears versus current 20). My worry is hills and do I need to wait or should I even go for something with a triple chain set rather than double for help on hills – or having never ridden a road bike, am I worrying about nothing? PS Just read the blog and will now check out the trek domaine……

  • Andrew Montgomery says:

    Hi EDthebike (Paul) – I’d go with a compact chain set. These have two rings, like a double, but each has fewer teeth than it’s ‘double’ counterpart. So the big ring is (from memory) 50 (as opposed to 53) and the small one is 34 (versus 39).

    I think the Roubaix comes with a 12-30 cassette, which means you have plenty of low geared options. 34 on the front and 30 on the back is almost a 1:1 gear, which will get you up all but the most nightmarish of slopes.

    Personally I wouldn’t wait for extra cog on next year’s model – it’ll come in the middle somewhere anyway (ie. of the range of available gears). If you are prepared to wait, better to see if you can get a good price on this year’s model as shops try to clear stock ahead of 2015 models coming in.

    There’s not a great deal in it between the Domane 4.3 and the Roubaix you mention. The Trek has more of a complete set of 105 components (the Specialized uses different cranks, brakes, front derailleur) but is probably £200 more expensive.

    Hope that helps,
    Monty

  • Jon Edwards says:

    Hi all, I was hoping someone would be able to share some advice for someone totally new to the sport. I have been looking to purchase a bike for a while and have narrowed it down to a handful but struggling to truly decide what is the best for me. I am looking for a bike that I can do long weekend cycles but also use for a big fitness focus.

    I have to purchase through Evans cycles for a number of financial reasons. I have also focussed on 2014 bikes (more bang for my buck)and have narrowed it down to these bikes ( I have divided by sora and tiara as my knowledge beyond gear sets is incredibly Limited)
    Sora
    Specialized Allez Sport C2 2014
    Scott speedster 40 compact 2014
    Specialized secret sport disc c2 2014
    Bianchi via nirone compact 2014

    Tiara
    Scott speedster 30 compact 2014

    My belief is the Scott speedster 30 would be the best bike due to the gear set, but with no reviews online. I don’t have a clue.

    Any advice on these bikes would be greatly appreciated. It would be great to get some insight before I go and try any.

    Thank you.

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Hi Jon –

      Thanks for your question. I’ve not ridden any of these bikes, but here are my thoughts (for what they’re worth!):

      – gear sets – the difference in quality and weight for all three levels of Shimano here (Tiagra, Sora, Claris (on the Bianchi)) are apparently very similar. i.e. they’re good.

      – the main thing to concern yourself with as a new rider is the gearings available (particularly how easy each one is to ride up hill). All of the bikes feature compact gears at the front, but they differ in terms of the cassettes at the back (in the product description, you’re looking at the line that reads something like “Shimano HG-50, 9-speed, 11-32” – the key number is the last one, that describes the number of teeth on the largest cog at the back).

      – all of the cassettes here are certainly reasonable, but the example I just mentioned (copied from the Secteur) has a really large ‘large cog’. This is a great insurance gear for even the steepest of climbs, and means you’ll be able to tackle almost any hill with confidence, knowing that whilst you might be riding at 3mph, you won’t have to stop.

      – I’d discount the Bianchi – it has the lowest spec for components, but isn’t the cheapest bike. You’re paying for the brand name.

      – the two Scotts and the Specialized Allez are described as having ‘race-proven’ geometry, whilst the Secteur is more of an endurance bike. There probably isn’t a huge amount in it, but the Secteur will have you in a slightly more comfortable body position, making sportives and other long rides more enjoyable (particularly if you’re not that flexible). My bike (Trek Domane 4.3) plus those of other readers have what you would describe as ‘Endurance geometry’.

      – that said, the Specialized Allez is a very popular first road bike. I doubt you’d go far wrong with that choice.

      – finally, the Secteur has disc brakes. Brakes are one area where you feel the difference being on lower range components. My Shimano 105 gears are far better than what I had on my previous bike. I’ve never used disc brakes, other than occasionally on a hired mountain bike but they should provide much better stopping power in the wet.

      So taking that all into account, I’ve talked myself into going for the Specialized Secteur…..

      I hope that helps in some way.

  • Jon Edwards says:

    Hi Monty, thAnks for getting back to me with your reply. It is really appreciated.

    I have been out And had a chance to look at the bikes. Not try any yet as I wanted to have a better idea of what I wanted. I think I have rounded it down to the specialised Secteur sport disc 2014 or the Allez Sport 2014. My understanding is that there isn’t much difference except for the disc brakes and the wide wheel gAp (not the right terminology). My feeling is the sect euro doesn’t offer that much improvement for the £200 price grade. Especially since specialised have delisted the secteur range. What are your thoughts?

    Jon

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Hi John,

      I think you need to try both of them and see how you feel whilst riding. I certainly wouldn’t worry about Specialized stopping making the Secteur. If anything it’s a good thing – there’s the potential to pick up a bargain. In addition to the disc brakes, the gears are higher spec on the Secteur (from memory) and the Secteur will have you in a more relaxed body position, which may make longer rides marginally more comfortable.

      Cheers
      Monty

  • Chwali says:

    Great article for novice riders. For most cyclists it’s common knowledge but for some these might be very helpful tips. As for the part with bike colour. I agree that it shouldn’t affect the final choice but it always does. Maybe not always but very often. I know that Cannondale Synapse Carbon 5 or Canyon Endurace CF 8.0 are better choice than Bianchi Intenso Veloce 10sp version. Better in terms of components, weight, money or even comfort. But the pedigree, the heritage of the oldest, big bike manufacturer and the celeste colour made me love the Bianchi more than the common sense. That’s why i chose Intenso Veloce in celeste colour and I’m perfectly happy with my choice. Have a great 2015 sportive year. 🙂

  • oblomov says:

    What do you mean “colour is not important”!? Mostly there is no or little choice and that is between a range of dull uninspiring greys… Someone would have taken my money for a new bike if “any” kind of colour choice had been given.

    Put joy back into the world, give us colourful bikes.

  • Harry Brett-Jones says:

    How much difference does a road bike make compared to a hybrid? I know they’re lighter, but the 15 or so kg weight saving seems relatively small compared to my 80 odd kg bulk on the bike. I also know that road bikes are stiffer etc in all the right places, but as a relative novice will I notice the difference, particularly when climbing?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m positively looking for reasons to justify buying a new bike, but once I’ve parted with my cash and had my first long ride I want to go…..”wow!”

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Hi Harry – it’s a very good question. I have both a road bike and a hybrid, and the road feels noticeably faster.

      I’m not a weight ‘weenie’ (agreeing with your general point that a 20g weight saving on a carbon set of spokey dokeys is neither here nor there versus the rider losing a couple of kilos) but the weight difference between a road bike and a hybrid is very welcome.

      The other main difference is your position on the bike. This is a surprisingly large contributor to your ability to go fast. Even when you’re not crouched over the dropped handlebars, you’ll tend to be in a more aerodynamic pose than you would be on a hybrid.

      Finally, you’re likely to be on narrower tyres on a road bike, versus a hybrid, so the rolling resistance will be lower, again helping you to ride faster.

      So, we’re decided then? You’re getting a new bike? 😉

  • Harry Brett-Jones says:

    Thanks Monty, really helpful. I’ve signed up for a charity space for next year’s RideLondon, and I don’t like the idea of doing it on my current bike.

  • f32mark January 15, 2014, 5:38 pm

    All good, common sense advice, I would add a few other points:
    Saddle. You are going to be sat on this for a long time on a 100 mile sportive. I won’t mention names, but a well-established, simple leather one will pay dividends, use your training rides to ‘break’ it in and by the time you are up and running it will have shaped itself to fit your sit-bones.
    Pedals: to cleat or not to cleat? Spinning along on the smooth bits it they probably don’t matter too much, but remember that all sportive planners will divert you up several of the local ‘cols’, on the basis that they have to ride up the sods, then so must you. Flat pedals are OK, but at least think about getting SPDs or something, or at least toe-clips of some kind – they will put your feet in the mechanically-best position when riding.
    Bottle-holders: Two. don’t argue, you need two.
    Kit-carrying. Saddle bags are old fashioned, and no Lycra Warrior would be seen dead with one. Now put your brain in gear – you need to carry at least two spare tubes (3 is better), a possible change of clothes, money, mobile, tools, food, emergency toilet-roll etc. Yes, you can shove *some* of this into your 3 back pockets on your expensive jersey, but stop trying to be a hero and become a realist. Silly bags that tuck-in beneath your seat look good in the bike shop, but wont carry all those essential items and I guarantee that you’ll need the things you left behind 60 miles in.

    • Andrew Montgomery January 25, 2014, 4:09 pm

      Thanks Mark. That’s great advice. I agree on the pedals and bottle holders. I’ve never tried a Brooks saddle but it sounds like you’re a fan. As to the saddle bags, you might need to spend a bit more time persuading me…

    • Jack July 26, 2015, 10:29 am

      If you plan to do a lot of riding, in and out fo the saddle, for more than 100 km, and want some comfort, spend some money on what is called “contact points”. Namely saddle, seatpost, handlebar and tires.

      Saddle
      Trekking saddle looks odd on a racing bike but most of the time it is going to be most comfortable. I tried many saddles in the past and always go back to the most comfortable one, Specialized Rival trekking/MTB saddle. I don’t care how it looks on my Spec Roubaix bike but all my buddies who ever tried it instantly start looking for it. It is also important to get correct width. Some bike shops have something called assometer which measures the width of your sit bones. For most men correct size will be 143mm.

      Seatpost
      Tests showed that some seatpost absorb road bumps better than others. They also showed that best ones for this purpose are carbon ones with some setback. Look for something like Specialized Pave or S-Works or FSA SB25. Ultimate, but expensive (150 Euro), comfort seatpost is called Specialied CG-R. Google for “seatpost dumping test” for more info.

      Drop (road) handlebar
      Most of the riders use alu handlebar bacause carbon handlebar should be replaced after each crash. It is important to get proper width, which should be roughly the same size as width of your shoulder blades. As for comfort, look for thick, gel, handlebar tape. It will add some comfort to your rides. Another thing to consider is to get a handlebar with proper reach and drop. For most middle-aged cyclist it will be shallow drop and short reach so you feel comfortable in the drops and don’t have to extend much to reach your brake levers. Next thing to consider is comfortable brake levers/hoods. If you have Shimano, anything lower that Shimano 105 is uncomfortable. Anything from SRAM and Campagnolo will be comfortable.

      Tires
      Most pro peleton changed their tire size to 700×25. Tests showed that it gives better comfort than smaller sized tires but has same, or sometimes lower, rolling resistance. Try to find optimum tire pressure for your comfort. Lowering tire pressure will add additional comfort but don’t go too low because you will get more pinch flats when hitting potholes. I weight 90 kg and I put 6 bars (90 psi) in front and 7 bars (100 psi) at the back. Also consider tires with some puncture resistance. I ride Specialized Roubaix Armadillo Elite and had one flat for last 20 thousand km.

      Pedals
      Get SPD. They clip and unclip easily and allow you to walk freely. Most popular road pedal systems, Shimano SPD SL and Look Keo, are not as easy to clip as they clip to only one side of the pedal platform (SPD clips to both sides) and are uncomfortable to walk off the bike, especially when walking down stairs.

      Water bottles
      Get two as mentioned. But get ones that don’t smell plastic and are easy to clean. Preferably with removable valve. I can recommend Specialized Watergate bottle. They are great. Also get some good water bottle holders that don’t rattle and allow easy bottle handling. I personally use Barbieri alu bottle holders in front and Specialized Zee Cage plastic bottle holder with side loading on seatpost tube.

      Kit carrying
      Lycra Warriot surely will not use saddle or handlebar bag. Screw it. I don’t care and you also shouldn’t. I use small Deuter top tupe energy bar bag where i carry my phone and some energy bars. I use clip-on (not velcro) small saddle bag where I carry some first aid kit, tire levers and chain tool. I never needed more than two tubes so I carry two in my pockets as well as some wind/rain jacket and arm warmers if necesessary. Also some small, flat pack of intimate wet wipes and some small multitool. One of best compact road multitools is Decathlon’s, strange called M&V Business Relati Multitool. Mostly identical to much more expensive Specialized EMT Pro Road but better and cheaper. My pump is fixed to my frame under water bottle cage. For all day rides with changing waether, I use extra large, 2.7 liter, waterproof Ortlieb saddle bag that I can recommend. If you need to carry even more stuff, consider Deuter Race EXP Air Backpack or some waist bag. Deuter and Ortlieb make great waist bags but here are many others to consider if you don’t like backpacks.

      Bib Shorts
      Invest in some comfortable and long lasting (are there any?) quality bib shorts. Decathlon has some great ones with gel chamois. Make sure chamois is thick, preferably triple density. I read good reviews about Specialized bib shorts with RBX triple density chamois and I’m going to buy them. Consider using some chamois cream (Decathlon sells it).

      Get a triple
      Compact cranksets are mostly useless. They are ok if you are in shape (but you could use 53-39 then, don’t you?) or young with plenty of energy or have relatively small climbs to ascend. But what if you are out of shape, overweight or simply exhausted after conquering few mountain passes and have one more to go? I personally ride Campagnolo Centaur triple on my Roubaix with 52-39-30 in front and 13-29 cassette at he back. My buddie who is very slim has Roubaix with Shimano 105 compact with 50-34 front and 12-30 cassette at he back but he still takes his old Decathlon B’twin bike with Campa Mirage triple when he has to hit the mountains. Alternatively you can get SRAM compact with their long cage Apex derailleur allowing you to use MTB casette with 32 teeth. Also consider getting shorter crank arms than usually. It will take some load off your knees when going uphill. I moved from 175 cm to 172,5 and my slight pain, I sometimes had in my knee ligament, went away.

      Shoes
      Get some good quality, comfortable bike shoes. There are dozens of manufacturers. Try before you buy. Get ones with some velcro straps. Get half size or one size bigger ones than you usually use. Some extra space will alow better ventilation and comfort and you can put extra socks in spring and autumn if necessary. I and most of my buddies use Specialized or Shimano shoes. Cheaper models like Specialized Sport MTB are relatively inexpensive and comfortable.

      • Andrew Montgomery August 30, 2015, 4:03 pm

        Wow, Jack. That’s an amazing comment. Thanks so much. Perhaps you want to start your own cycling blog…?

  • Theresherides March 30, 2014, 4:38 pm

    Excellent advice as was also generously provided in your comment on my blogged plea for help!

    I am still at the dithering/looking at pictures of bikes in bed each night/trying to get my head around the jargon stage while I await the big moment when my endowment policy finally matures and I rush down to the bike shop.

    Really searching for something as beautiful as a Bianchi but with the gearing to get a middle aged woman up a steep hill. Or even a moderate incline.

    • Andrew Montgomery March 31, 2014, 10:44 am

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂
      My two pieces of advice would be:
      1) Set aside ~£200 out of your budget for a proper bike fit – for the level of investment you’re making in your bike, I think you’ll get a greater performance/comfort benefit over the long term doing this rather than, say, upgrading from Shimano 105 to Ultegra gears.
      2) Spend some time researching/testing out local bike shops – find one that you trust that you can use to choose and size the right bike for you. Magazines spend a lot of time looking at components, weight etc, without talking about the different geometry of each bike.

      1) and 2) can be integrated. If you find a shop that does the professional bike fit, have them size you and advise you on the purchase of the bike. Then the purchased bike will at least be close enough to what you need so that the bike fit can be effective.

      Oh yes, and enjoy the process!

  • EDthebike September 14, 2014, 4:12 pm

    Help , I am also doing the research on what bike to go for. I’ve spent the last 2 months ‘sampling’ cycling on my hybrid and want to take the plunge.
    I need something that will allow an overweight 56 year old to get up a hill- last nights bike of choice, (it may change today if I see someone else in Lycra that recommends another), is the specialized roubaix sl4 sport but I’m waiting for the 2015 model as the gear set (shimano 105)is going to 11 (think that means 22 gears versus current 20). My worry is hills and do I need to wait or should I even go for something with a triple chain set rather than double for help on hills – or having never ridden a road bike, am I worrying about nothing? PS Just read the blog and will now check out the trek domaine……

  • Andrew Montgomery September 14, 2014, 5:05 pm

    Hi EDthebike (Paul) – I’d go with a compact chain set. These have two rings, like a double, but each has fewer teeth than it’s ‘double’ counterpart. So the big ring is (from memory) 50 (as opposed to 53) and the small one is 34 (versus 39).

    I think the Roubaix comes with a 12-30 cassette, which means you have plenty of low geared options. 34 on the front and 30 on the back is almost a 1:1 gear, which will get you up all but the most nightmarish of slopes.

    Personally I wouldn’t wait for extra cog on next year’s model – it’ll come in the middle somewhere anyway (ie. of the range of available gears). If you are prepared to wait, better to see if you can get a good price on this year’s model as shops try to clear stock ahead of 2015 models coming in.

    There’s not a great deal in it between the Domane 4.3 and the Roubaix you mention. The Trek has more of a complete set of 105 components (the Specialized uses different cranks, brakes, front derailleur) but is probably £200 more expensive.

    Hope that helps,
    Monty

    • Paul September 15, 2014, 8:04 pm

      Very helpful thanks

    • Mark FLAJSNER October 9, 2016, 6:26 am

      Roubaix Comp or Expert come with a 11/32 cassette – have not checked out the other models in this range

  • Jon Edwards October 7, 2014, 10:11 pm

    Hi all, I was hoping someone would be able to share some advice for someone totally new to the sport. I have been looking to purchase a bike for a while and have narrowed it down to a handful but struggling to truly decide what is the best for me. I am looking for a bike that I can do long weekend cycles but also use for a big fitness focus.

    I have to purchase through Evans cycles for a number of financial reasons. I have also focussed on 2014 bikes (more bang for my buck)and have narrowed it down to these bikes ( I have divided by sora and tiara as my knowledge beyond gear sets is incredibly Limited)
    Sora
    Specialized Allez Sport C2 2014
    Scott speedster 40 compact 2014
    Specialized secret sport disc c2 2014
    Bianchi via nirone compact 2014

    Tiara
    Scott speedster 30 compact 2014

    My belief is the Scott speedster 30 would be the best bike due to the gear set, but with no reviews online. I don’t have a clue.

    Any advice on these bikes would be greatly appreciated. It would be great to get some insight before I go and try any.

    Thank you.

    • Andrew Montgomery October 9, 2014, 10:32 am

      Hi Jon –

      Thanks for your question. I’ve not ridden any of these bikes, but here are my thoughts (for what they’re worth!):

      – gear sets – the difference in quality and weight for all three levels of Shimano here (Tiagra, Sora, Claris (on the Bianchi)) are apparently very similar. i.e. they’re good.

      – the main thing to concern yourself with as a new rider is the gearings available (particularly how easy each one is to ride up hill). All of the bikes feature compact gears at the front, but they differ in terms of the cassettes at the back (in the product description, you’re looking at the line that reads something like “Shimano HG-50, 9-speed, 11-32” – the key number is the last one, that describes the number of teeth on the largest cog at the back).

      – all of the cassettes here are certainly reasonable, but the example I just mentioned (copied from the Secteur) has a really large ‘large cog’. This is a great insurance gear for even the steepest of climbs, and means you’ll be able to tackle almost any hill with confidence, knowing that whilst you might be riding at 3mph, you won’t have to stop.

      – I’d discount the Bianchi – it has the lowest spec for components, but isn’t the cheapest bike. You’re paying for the brand name.

      – the two Scotts and the Specialized Allez are described as having ‘race-proven’ geometry, whilst the Secteur is more of an endurance bike. There probably isn’t a huge amount in it, but the Secteur will have you in a slightly more comfortable body position, making sportives and other long rides more enjoyable (particularly if you’re not that flexible). My bike (Trek Domane 4.3) plus those of other readers have what you would describe as ‘Endurance geometry’.

      – that said, the Specialized Allez is a very popular first road bike. I doubt you’d go far wrong with that choice.

      – finally, the Secteur has disc brakes. Brakes are one area where you feel the difference being on lower range components. My Shimano 105 gears are far better than what I had on my previous bike. I’ve never used disc brakes, other than occasionally on a hired mountain bike but they should provide much better stopping power in the wet.

      So taking that all into account, I’ve talked myself into going for the Specialized Secteur…..

      I hope that helps in some way.

  • Jon Edwards October 14, 2014, 2:24 pm

    Hi Monty, thAnks for getting back to me with your reply. It is really appreciated.

    I have been out And had a chance to look at the bikes. Not try any yet as I wanted to have a better idea of what I wanted. I think I have rounded it down to the specialised Secteur sport disc 2014 or the Allez Sport 2014. My understanding is that there isn’t much difference except for the disc brakes and the wide wheel gAp (not the right terminology). My feeling is the sect euro doesn’t offer that much improvement for the £200 price grade. Especially since specialised have delisted the secteur range. What are your thoughts?

    Jon

    • Andrew Montgomery October 16, 2014, 1:04 pm

      Hi John,

      I think you need to try both of them and see how you feel whilst riding. I certainly wouldn’t worry about Specialized stopping making the Secteur. If anything it’s a good thing – there’s the potential to pick up a bargain. In addition to the disc brakes, the gears are higher spec on the Secteur (from memory) and the Secteur will have you in a more relaxed body position, which may make longer rides marginally more comfortable.

      Cheers
      Monty

  • Chwali January 6, 2015, 8:15 pm

    Great article for novice riders. For most cyclists it’s common knowledge but for some these might be very helpful tips. As for the part with bike colour. I agree that it shouldn’t affect the final choice but it always does. Maybe not always but very often. I know that Cannondale Synapse Carbon 5 or Canyon Endurace CF 8.0 are better choice than Bianchi Intenso Veloce 10sp version. Better in terms of components, weight, money or even comfort. But the pedigree, the heritage of the oldest, big bike manufacturer and the celeste colour made me love the Bianchi more than the common sense. That’s why i chose Intenso Veloce in celeste colour and I’m perfectly happy with my choice. Have a great 2015 sportive year. 🙂

    • Andrew Montgomery February 15, 2015, 9:12 pm

      Thanks Chwali. Glad you’re enjoying the Bianchi (and pleased with your choice of colour!).

  • oblomov July 9, 2015, 11:48 am

    What do you mean “colour is not important”!? Mostly there is no or little choice and that is between a range of dull uninspiring greys… Someone would have taken my money for a new bike if “any” kind of colour choice had been given.

    Put joy back into the world, give us colourful bikes.

  • Harry Brett-Jones August 3, 2015, 7:15 pm

    How much difference does a road bike make compared to a hybrid? I know they’re lighter, but the 15 or so kg weight saving seems relatively small compared to my 80 odd kg bulk on the bike. I also know that road bikes are stiffer etc in all the right places, but as a relative novice will I notice the difference, particularly when climbing?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m positively looking for reasons to justify buying a new bike, but once I’ve parted with my cash and had my first long ride I want to go…..”wow!”

    • Andrew Montgomery August 30, 2015, 3:58 pm

      Hi Harry – it’s a very good question. I have both a road bike and a hybrid, and the road feels noticeably faster.

      I’m not a weight ‘weenie’ (agreeing with your general point that a 20g weight saving on a carbon set of spokey dokeys is neither here nor there versus the rider losing a couple of kilos) but the weight difference between a road bike and a hybrid is very welcome.

      The other main difference is your position on the bike. This is a surprisingly large contributor to your ability to go fast. Even when you’re not crouched over the dropped handlebars, you’ll tend to be in a more aerodynamic pose than you would be on a hybrid.

      Finally, you’re likely to be on narrower tyres on a road bike, versus a hybrid, so the rolling resistance will be lower, again helping you to ride faster.

      So, we’re decided then? You’re getting a new bike? 😉

  • Harry Brett-Jones September 2, 2015, 9:44 pm

    Thanks Monty, really helpful. I’ve signed up for a charity space for next year’s RideLondon, and I don’t like the idea of doing it on my current bike.

Leave a Reply