Buying a Road Bike for Everyday Use
Posted: 10th December 2009 | Eddie Allen
Road bikes have experienced a huge revival in recent years, recovering from near extinction in the mass market following the emergence of the mountain bike back in the eighties. Thankfully the ‘Lance effect', the rise of sportives and more recently the ‘Cav/Bradley effect' have re-stimulated the road bike market in the last ten years, meaning that skinny tyres and drop handlebars are emphatically back on the menu.
Above: Bikes like this classy Genesis Aether combine light weight, speed, agility and practicality thanks to clever clearances and functional frame fittings. Do these features make it any slower or less attractive to the average road bike buyer? I think not...
And it's not just in the realm of sporting and fitness riding that road bikes have experienced a renaissance. Road bikes are just as popular amongst the ranks of the everyday commuter as they are with the weekend warriors and it's not hard to see why. The appeal of riding a light, responsive bike in the city is an alluring one. But day in day out commuting on a pure sports bike can reveal limitations. Good news is that there are bikes out there that will give you all the thrills of a full on road bike, with some practical touches for the everyday rider.
What to look for
Tyre and Mudguard Clearance
Full-on ‘race-replica' road bikes have tight clearances between the tyres and the frame/brakes, meaning that tyres fitted as standard (usually 700x23c) are pretty much the widest you can fit. So if you want to fit a slightly wider (say 25-28mm) tyre, basically you're stuffed. And before you start, don't be tempted to try and fit a bigger tyre on a bike with a low brake bridge and shallow drop brakes - one small stone can jam the wheel, with potentially disastrous consequences.
However, bikes branded as ‘winter training' or 'audax' are a much better bet as fast, light exciting, all-rounders. These commonly have deep-drop brakes (with a brake drop of 47-57mm), which allows the brake bridge to be positioned further away from the tyre, meaning that a larger tyre, a mudguard, or both can be accommodated.
Mudguard and Rack Fittings
Your ‘winter' bike will also have fittings for mudguards and a rack, meaning that you can stay clean and dry on wet commutes and carry your gear in a pannier or rack-top bag rather than on a sweaty-back inducing rucksack. Look for small ‘eyelets' on the rear dropout and similar fittings on the seatstay, near the rear brake.
There are also winter bike specific carbon forks with mudguard eyelets on the dropout and enough clearance for commuter friendly tyres and ‘guards.
What's not to like?
Good news is that all this extra practicality comes with no downside. A standard aluminium frame/carbon fork combo will, within a few grams, weigh the same as a ‘winter' version but the former will never be as adaptable and practical. Stripped of its guards and rack, your ‘winter' bike is 99.9% road bike and more than capable of long weekend rides, sportives and, dare I say it, racing... And come the working week, a few minutes with the Allen key is all it takes to slap the guards back on.
Why aren't all road bikes made this way?
Beats me... Aside from pro-level bikes which will only ever be used in the white-heat of competition, surely all road bikes should be made like this - fast, fun, agile and practical. Tight clearances alone won't make a bike lighter or more aerodynamic - just less practical for all-round use.
Luckily, manufacturers are catching on, with Genesis releasing its Aether and Equilibrium range, featuring deep drop brakes (allowing clearance for 28mm tyres) plus eyelets for mudguards and racks. Perfect for the daily grind but ready for weekend hi-jinks.
Links to ‘everyday' road bikes: