Help me buy a road bike!
May 30, 2016 3:45 AM   Subscribe

I've been doing road cycling on a mountain bike and it's time to get a road bike. I'd like to spend around $1000. I'd appreciate any tips on searching for one. Assume I know nothing about getting a road bike. I'm riding in LA County, if that matters. Thanks!
posted by persona au gratin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
it might help to give some idea of what you plan to do with the bike. are you thinking of racing in crits? short rides? longer rides? tours?
posted by andrewcooke at 6:05 AM on May 30, 2016

If you're part of any cycling groups, you should poke around for a used bike. People are always upgrading, and $1000 is a tough price point for new.
posted by hollyholly at 6:23 AM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

You might see if any cycling shops near you have access to older models through the manufacturer. I managed to snag an unused, couple year old Jamis Quest for just about $1000 (normally $1800). Bonus: the model year I got had higher end components than the newer one.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 6:31 AM on May 30, 2016

You need to figure out what size road bike you need. Check out this table for a general idea of bike size. If you are very tall, very short, very skinny, very heavy, short legs long arms, etc. it probably makes sense to go to a bike shop and have them measure you and suggest what kind of bike you should buy.

Road bike frames come in a few materials:
  • steel - reasonably heavy, very durable, cheap
  • aluminum - reasonably light, reasonably durable, cheapish
  • carbon fiber - very light, not so durable, expensive
  • titanium - almost as light as carbon fiber, very durable, expensive
In your price range you probably want to get aluminum, but if it were me and I had $1000 to spend on a bike, I might look around for an used bike with a titanium frame, and then plan on upgrading the bike's components over the next few years. If you're in a big city it should be pretty easy to find a nice used titanium frame.

If you want a new bike, I don't think the brand of the bike frame matters too much (in this price range), but the brand of the shifters, etc does matter. I would try and get higher end Shimano; check out this hierarchy of Shimano parts.

Bikes Direct is pretty hard to beat in terms of price to component quality. There are a few bikes on that page that have aluminum frames, with the second highest end Shimano components (Ultegra) for about $1000.
posted by gregr at 7:28 AM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I agree with the above posters that a) you can save a good deal of money if you buy a previous year's model. There's going to zero practical difference between a 2015 Giant whatever and a 2016 Giant whatever. Also I agree that b) at the margins, you'll be happier with better components than a better frame. About seven years ago, I upgraded from my bottom of the line aluminum Sora-equipped road bike to a ~$1500 carbon 105-equipped bike and I got WAY more utility from getting shifters that needed way less maintenance and which shifted a lot more smoothly and reliably than getting a different material frame that maybe possibly was just a bit slightly smoother going downhill. But of course your biggest concern should be finding a bike that fits you. You'll have way more fun riding a $800 bottom of the line bike that fits than riding a $8000 bike that's a cm or two too big or small.
posted by alidarbac at 7:58 AM on May 30, 2016

Agreeing with everyone above: the brand doesn't really matter, but the components do. Most importantly, you want high quality shifters and derailleurs. If you can find a bike with 105 shifters and derailleurs (or even Ultegra), you will be happy. Don't worry about things like the chain, tires, etc. as you'll be replacing them soon enough.

Otherwise, fit is the most important criteria.
posted by ssg at 8:13 AM on May 30, 2016

Do you have any plans to use this bike for transportation/commuting?

Like how spandexed out of a rider do you want to be?

If you will be riding on city Los Angeles roads (which can be busted as hell), you might want to consider a steel frame.

I'm really happy with my Surly Cross Check. I'm someone who favors comfort over weight. I use it both for going on day rides and for commuting to work, the grocery store, etc. It has a rack. It has 700x35 tires. It allows me to do longer rides that are a mix of pavement and dirt. I can also use it for light touring. The geometry is comfortable.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:55 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this obviously dependent on what you want to do with the bike, but like mandymanwasregistered above I have a ~$1000 steel touring bike and find it works great for getting around the city, bike camping, and long weekend rides. You're obviously sacrificing speed, but for me the versatility is well worth it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:03 AM on May 30, 2016

I ride quite a bit and haven't owned a car for a decade. I also think which direction you go here depends on what you want to do. My default advice to people in your position is to get a steel touring bike or a cyclocross bike, because that is the most flexible option. Great for commuting, long distance, touring, exploring roads, mixed terrain rides, etc. It's a very do-anything style bike that will run any kind of tires (skinny, wide, knobby, whatever), hold any kind of rack, tends to use only the most universal/standard replacement parts (cheaper), and most importantly, once you've ridden it and maybe decided you need something more specialized or nicer a few years down the road, the touring bike will still be useful to you. If you buy last year's entry level "racing" bike it's going to be both useless and worthless after you've put some miles on it.

Anything is going to feel "faster" than your MTB so I would just completely ignore any advice you get about weight, especially with your budget, it is really not important at all unless you are planning to sign up for some kind of racing event or you have friends who are into fast club rides. I would lean more toward a pure touring bike (ie Surly Long Haul Trucker, basic one easily found for ~$1000) if you plan to commute as well as start road riding, and something more like a "sport touring" or cyclocross bike if you are thinking more like spandex-weekend-fun rides in the hills.

FWIW I personally prefer steel over everything else, would never buy an aluminum bike (too stiff, very harsh ride), and would be very careful about buying a used carbon bike (check for frame damage).
posted by bradbane at 12:58 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

The one thing I wish I had done before buying my first road bike is test riding a bunch of bikes. You want to try a dozen bikes or so to get understand what a bike that is too short or too long feels like. Get a bike that feels good today. Don't try to convince yourself you have to get used to it. When fitting a modern road bike, it should feel great with your hands on the hoods of the brake levers.
posted by advicepig at 1:11 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was in this position last year, and I max'd my budget out and brought a really lovely road racing bike. Now, just over six months later, I'm fixing up an old steel frame because I want something a bit more flexible.

After a few months reading cycling blogs and hanging out on a few forums, I'm a bit more savvy about what I might want, and I've found a few good shops in my area that are on my wavelength. I could have saved half my money and brought a pretty good second hand bike if I'd known what I know now - which is why I'd say spend at the low end of your budget. Bikes ain't laptops, so you don't have to buy the latest and greatest right now.
posted by The River Ivel at 1:42 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks all! I'll keep the mountain bike for running errands and the like around town. I will definitely test many bikes, and I'll shoot for higher-end Shimano parts. And last year's model. I'm grateful for the advice!
posted by persona au gratin at 11:36 PM on May 30, 2016

And I won't race--just 10-30 mile rides around SoCal.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:40 PM on May 30, 2016

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