How to choose a road bike?

    Looking to buy your first road bike? This guide will help you find the best road bike for the type of riding you do, and the amount of money you have to spend


    Road bike buying guide image

    The good news is the current generation of Decathlon road bikes are the best ever in terms of performance and value. So whatever your budget, you’re going to get a bike that will help you enjoy your cycling to the full.

    How much to spend on your first road bike will obviously depend on how much you have to spend, but generally the more you spend on a bike, the better the bike you’ll get.

    So what does the extra money get you?

    Spending more should get you a higher quality and usually lighter frame plus lighter wheels and components too. The gears, brakes, tyres and wheels should offer a higher level of performance. Less weight means more speed and makes riding up hills easier, and all that shouldn’t come at the cost of durability. However, that doesn’t mean you have to spend big to get a good bike – far from it.

    Better still the technology and developments previously only seen on the most expensive bikes have now filtered down to pretty much every price point, so even the cheaper models offer a far greater level of performance than they would have even five years ago. That means you don’t need to spend the price of a small car on a bike to get into road cycling, and it can be very affordable activity once you’ve made the initial purchase of a bike. If you use your new road bike to commute on it’ll even save you money.

    To give a flavour of what different budgets get you, here are three examples from the B’Twin range that represent the choice and what difference spending more money makes.

    The B’Twin Triban 500 is an ideal first road bike for a new cyclist and comes in a wide range of sizes, with the three smaller frames using a smaller wheel size to optimise the fit for shorter and junior cyclists.

    The Triban 500 pairs an aluminium frame with a steel fork and it is equipped with 8-speed Microshift gearing and a triple ring chainset – so you’ve got three gears at the front and eight at the back to give you a wide spread of options, including plenty at the low-end for scaling steep hills.

    Spend a bit more and the B’Twin Ultra 700AF offers a lighter frame and gearing compared to the Triban 500. It has a more advanced and lighter aluminium frame with a carbon fibre fork which saves further weight and improves comfort and performance. The gearing is Shimano’s excellent 105 11 speed groupset, and the wheels are light. One clue to that is the number of spokes in each wheel – 20 at the front and 24 at the back – helping to reduce weight without sacrificing strength. Those wheels are fitted with high quality Hutchinson 25mm profile tyres.

    Going up the price bands still further the B’Twin Ultra 900 is a high performance road bike featuring a lightweight carbon fibre frame and fork that has been designed for fast riding and climbing. Like the Ultra 700AF, the frame is fitted with Shimano 105 gears with a 28 tooth bottom gear to help you in the hills. The Ultra 900 is equipped with high class Deda aluminium handlebars and B’Twin’s own wheels which are light and aerodynamic.

    It’s not all about the bike though. It’s worth putting aside some money for some important accessories to get your started. We’ve covered those in the road bike accessories section elsewhere in this guide, but look to get some lights, a lock, a helmet and some gloves.


    the Different types of road bikes explained image

    There are many different types of bicycle, from folding bikes to tandems, commuting bikes to racing bikes and lots in between. We’re focusing on road bikes in this guide, and road bikes generally fall into two categories; race bikes and sportive bikes, sometimes called endurance bikes.

    Road race bikes have a size and fit designed primarily for racing, and put you in a low, crouched position with the handlebars a lot lower than the saddle. The lower your position the more aerodynamic you are and the faster you’ll be able to ride. As well as being fast, road race bikes need to be agile with quick, sharp handling, but the stretched-out and low, flat-back position won’t suit everyone. If you’re new to cycling it can be a little intimidating. If you want to get into road racing, then choose a race bike, but if you don’t have any plans for racing, there may well be better choices.

    Sportive bikes take everything that is good about a road race bike in terms of speed and handling, but offer a more relaxed position that is less extreme than that of a full-on race bike, so they’re a lot more comfortable, especially over long distances. It’s no surprise then that sportive bikes are so popular with cyclists and are an ideal choice if you’re buying your first road bike. The other great plus is that the slightly more upright riding position and greater levels of comfort make sportive bikes an ideal choice for many different types of road cycling from tackling a sportive to riding to work or weekend blasts in the countryside.

    It’s not just the shape of the frame that distinguishes a race bike from its sportive cousin, there is also the matter of gearing.

    Race bikes are designed for speed and so the gearing is higher. Traditionally the two front chainrings on a race bike would have 53 and 39 teeth. These days though many race bikes have what is called a compact chainset at the front with a pairing of 50 and 34 tooth chainrings for easier climbing.

    Nowadays the big difference in gearing between race and sportive road bikes usually comes at the back. Race bikes have more high gears and fewer low gears. While more gear teeth on the front cogs equals a higher gear it’s the reverse at the back where the smaller the cog the bigger the gear. So an 11-tooth sprocket is used for the highest gear, and on a race bike a 23 or 25 tooth cog will offer the lowest gear.

    Sportive bikes are designed for hilly riding and for people who don’t necessarily have the fitness of a bike racer – that’s most of us – so the gearing is typically lower with a bottom gear of 28 or even 32 teeth at the back to get you up even the steepest hills without having to get off and walk. Sportive bikes also usually offer a wider spread of gears – so you won’t necessarily sacrifice that 11-tooth top gear.

    Most bikes have two chainrings at the front, but some entry-level road bikes have three chainrings, offering a low range of gears that’s ideal for beginners. The cassette, the cluster of sprockets fixed to the rear wheel, varies in number, from 11 on top-end bikes to 8 on entry-level bikes, but when it comes to riding your bike the thing to remember is that the number of gears is less important than the number of teeth on each sprocket.

    If you intend to ride in all weathers then it’s worth adding mudguards. Some road bikes, but not all, have small eyelets on the frame and fork that allow you to fit specific mudguards that wrap around the front wheel and keep you much drier when riding in the rain than without them. Even if the bike you want doesn’t have mudguard eyelets you should still be able to fit a clip on mudguard just so long as you have enough clearance between the frame and the wheel. That shouldn’t be an issue on a sportive bike but it could be on some race bikes.


    The different road bikes frame materials image

    Road bikes are made from a range of different frame materials and which you choose depends on personal taste and budget. Most road bikes are made from aluminium alloy. It’s the most common material on entry-level and affordable road bikes. It’s a good material for a road bike, because it is light and stiff. The more costly aluminium frames are made from fancier alloys supplied from highly regarded tubing manufacturers.

    Carbon fibre builds a lighter, stiffer and generally more comfortable frame than an aluminium one, but it commands a premium price. More of the budget on a carbon road bike goes into the frame, and this can result in downgraded components and wheels, so sometimes an aluminium bike with a better parts package can be more appealing because it’s lighter, potentially faster, and cheaper too.

    Carbon is very sought after by performance-minded cyclists but it is worth remembering that you might not always get the lightest or best kitted out bike if you go for carbon.

    Steel is a less common frame material, although up until relatively recently nearly every bike was made from it. There are few manufacturers mass producing steel frames these days which has meant smaller bespoke frame builders now specialise in steel. A high quality steel frame, despite being heavier than aluminium or carbon, is a very desirable choice. With a few exceptions you now only really see steel on the very cheapest road bikes.

    Titanium offers a similar performance to steel but is lighter. It’s a very expensive material and rivals carbon fibre for price. Many are drawn to the unique looks and longevity of a titanium frame and its particular ride characteristics. Titanium frames are generally noted for their comfort. It’s a material that in recent years has gradually become more affordable although titanium bikes are still not what you would call cheap. Titanium is popular with touring cyclists looking to build a comfortable long distance bike equipped with racks and mudguards.

    Different materials are used for the fork too. On entry-level bikes with an aluminium frame, steel and aluminium forks are common, but spend a bit more and get a bike with a carbon fibre fork and you’ll notice the bike is lighter. A carbon fork provides a slightly smoother ride with less vibrations coming from the road.


    Road bikes size guide image

    Bike types, gears, and frame materials are all important, but to get the most out of any bike it has to be the right size for you. Riding a bike that’s too big or too small is nowhere near as enjoyable as riding one that fits.

    Road bikes are available in a wide range of sizes for men and women so there’s something to suit the many different shapes and sizes that cyclists come in. It’s not difficult to get the right size.

    Like most major bike brands, B’Twin has a very accurate sizing guide on its website and in-store staff will help you find the right sized bike too.

    If you want to take things a stage further, many companies now offer professional bike fit services where they measure you and fit you onto the correct size bike and change components to ensure the bike fits you. The bike should fit you, not the other way around.

    Getting the right size frame for your height is key. The other components – saddle, seatpost, handlebar, and stem – can be adjusted easily for height and fore/aft position on the frame to get a good, comfortable fit. Handlebars come in many different shapes and widths to suit different cyclists. Stems come in a range of lengths and rises, and saddles can be adjusted forwards and backwards on the seatpost to get your bike to fit just right.


    Road bike accessories image

    An important consideration to make when buying your first road bike is to budget for some essential accessories. You don’t really need much to get started, but there are a few items you might want to consider.

    It’s important to have a few tools. The minimum would be a compact multi-tool for making adjustments and ensuring all the bolts on your bike are tightened up. A pump, tyre levers and spare inner tube are vital as well, as is knowing how to change an inner tube. We’ll cover that in the maintenance section lower down.

    Fitting a small saddle bag means you can carry these tools so they’re always on your bike when you need them. Punctures are a rare but unavoidable part of cycling and it pays to be prepared so you don’t get caught out 40 miles from home with no mobile phone reception.

    A helmet is something you might want to factor in, but it’s entirely down to personal choice whether you wear one or not. Helmets are available in many styles, colours and sizes. Choose one that provides a snug fit with a good range of adjustment for making sure it doesn’t easily move around on your head. It’s a piece of safety equipment so it needs to fit and stay in place all the time.

    If you intend to cycle to work, as a lot of new cyclists do because it’s a great way of staying fit, a set of good front and rear lights are a sound investment. Most cycling lights are inexpensive. With the latest LED technology, they’re extremely bright and have batteries with very long lives and can even be charged up using an USB cable. A high quality lock is another good purchase, especially if you have to keep your bike outside the office.

    Beyond that there’s not much more you need. You can cycle in any clothes and use a pair of trainers. There’s nothing wrong with that at all – many people do just fine in normal sporting attire. The more you get into cycling the more you might want to consider cycling-specific clothing like padded shorts to make sitting in the saddle on longer rides more comfortable, and a technical jersey that removes sweat much better than a cotton t-shirt.


    Modern road bikes require very little maintenance. Most will provide many happy hours of cycling between services. There really is very little to go wrong. The main advice is to keep your bike clean and rust-free and to lubricate the chain regularly. Parts such as brake pads, tyres and bearings do wear out but with a regular maintenance schedule you can easily keep on top of that. Alternatively, you take your bike for a regular service at your local bike shop or Decathlon store workshop.

    The most important maintenance lesson to learn when buying your first road bike is how to change an inner tube when you get a puncture (because one day you will). It can seem daunting having to change an inner tube, but it’s simple once you know how, so find a friend to show you, or watch a good online video guide. In fact, YouTube is a great source of advice for anything to do with bike maintenance.

    Now all you have to do is get that bike and enjoy the ride.