With summer now in full swing, with the first of the major tours out of the way and Le Tour de France just around the corner, cyclists of all dedication levels are donning their gear and making the most of bike ‘life’ in the sunshine. As we are all aware cycling is still enjoying a major boom in popularity, especially in an urban or road riding context, so let’s take a look at exactly what it is that makes a road bike the choice of thousands the world over from the newbies through to the guys who will be cruising down the Champs-Elysees after twenty-one gruelling days in the saddle.
The modern-day road bike possesses all of the basic characteristics of a traditional bike; it features a frame, two wheels, handlebars and pedals, however once you look beyond the basics, it’s clear a road bike’s key components are designed to work together to provide speed and efficiency and a road bike constructed with these aims foremost.
One of the main differences between a road bike and other types of bike is the frame. On a road bike, the frame is made up of ultra-lightweight materials and any unnecessary components are stripped; suspension is abandoned meaning the frame is as stiff and as light as possible. Not only does the lack of suspension help save weight, it also allows for the entirety of the power generated by the rider to go through the pedals, rather than being lost in suspension dampening. The stiffer the materials used in the frame, the more the rider’s power is accentuated; rather than being lost in the flex of the frame, the energy is used to power the bike. Therefore, the lighter and stiffer the frame, the higher the performance, although in practical terms you might need to accept a balance between performance and price as lighter and stiffer tends to come with a higher price tag.
Frame shapes will vary between bikes, depending on the rider’s ability, style and discipline. For those elite riders who are really pushing to eek every second out of their ride, frames are designed to be super aggressive with a steep seat angle and shorter head tubes. When in the right hands, these bikes will provide startling performance, however for less experienced riders a more relaxed frame increases handling and offers better stability and comfort. Finding the right balance between setup, stiffness and cost to suit your ability, ride style and discipline is imperative.
Often the defining feature which people look for to determine a road bike is the drop bar handlebars. Different to the conventional flat handle bars seen on mountain bikes and hybrid/commuter bikes, the drop bars provide an extra dimension. Often regarded as a more comfortable option, the bars offer three separate grips, each suited to a different situation. The drop bars offer the opportunity to hunch down and create a faster, more aerodynamic shape when on the bike for when the speed really picks up. When it comes to the hills, riders often move to the top of the bars to grind out the long drags in a more upright position.
The design of the bars provides a natural hand position with modern designs incorporating flat sections to offer a more comfortable ride. With road cyclists often spending hours in the saddle, taking on agonising climbs, exhilarating descents and rousing sprints, the versatility of the drop bars provides as much comfort and speed as possible for each section of the race.
A pretty vital part of the bike but often dismissed as having too much of an influence on performance by the amateur rider. Designed to be much thinner and lighter than any other cycling discipline, road wheels have a much thinner profile and often boast a deeper ‘V’ inside the rim to aid with aerodynamics and improve how the clean air passes over the wheels.
Most importantly for a set of wheels is their balance and ensuring that they’re consistent in weight and shape the whole way round. Any inconsistencies will cause the wheels to spin in an un-even fashion and as the speed picks up, any blemishes in the construction will be emphasised leaving the bike very unstable to ride. Naturally, higher performance wheels are much lighter, making it easier for the rider to spin the wheels and creating a more efficient, easier bike to ride. It’s said that weight saved on wheels is three times more influential than weight saved anywhere else on the bike, therefore investing in a good set of wheels could be the piece in the puzzle to knock a couple of seconds off your regular route.
One of the most noticeable differences to someone new to a road bike will be the thickness of the tyres, or rather the lack of. Road tyres differ dramatically to your regular hybrid or mountain bike firstly by the thickness followed by the lack of tread on the tyre. Designed in order to reduce the drag and resistance on the road, the tyres are almost smooth, to allow for a minimal amount of contact and friction with the road surface to provide the smoothest of rides. As your only point of contact with the road, it’s important you get your tyre choice and set up correct. If the weather conditions are far from favourable, opting for a tyre with a bit of tread is recommended to give you that bit of extra grip when the surface gets greasy. Also, if you know the road surface isn’t the best for your upcoming ride, reducing your tyre pressure could save not only your arms from bone jangling vibrations, but also some vital minutes to repair a puncture or change an inner tube.
Designed for speed, the tyres require high air pressure to work at their optimum. The high pressure reduces friction and keeps resistance as minimal as possible; however due to the nature of the tyres, they’re especially prone to a puncture. The thin rubber walls and high pressures that they’re inflated to is the perfect recipe for a puncture, therefore when choosing your tyres, establishing a balance of performance and durability is a must in order to create the best set up for your type of ride.
Modern road bikes are usually fitted with two or three chainrings with a large cassette at the rear offering approximately ten sprockets. This setup offers the rider a range of gears in order to take on the terrain that they face on a ride. Creating the right setup could be the difference between you powering up the hills, or demounting for a long trudge . Racing requires you to be at your fastest the whole way round and road bikes are designed for exactly that and the gearing is what helps power you to your best.
Not only is it the gears themselves that set a road bike apart, the levers and wires are specifically designed and positioned to make things quicker. The changers are most commonly located on the brake levers, allowing a flick of a finger to change a gear almost instantly. The wiring for the gears is often embedded into the frame in order to keep the bike as aerodynamic as possible and with electric gears on the rise, everything is being done to make the gear changes quicker and the bikes lighter and more aerodynamic.
The key features of a road bike all point towards one overall aim, to make the bike faster. Designed to be lighter, slicker and more efficient, the modern road bike is an elite, highly-tuned piece of equipment which when managed properly will have even the most inexperienced rider happily cruising up big hills and smashing descents for hours at a time.
LOOK GREAT ON YOUR BIKE…
For women cyclists, Odlo has developed the FUJIN CYCLING JERSEY that provides the ultimate performance package to match your bike tech. Developed from a diamond pro mesh fabric, the superior breathability and ability to wick away moisture establishes this jersey’s elite credentials. Designed with back pockets for great practicality and married to a fashionable, bold design ensures your on-bike style creds. Pair with FLASH X CYCLING SHORTS that are designed to complement the stylish design of the jersey as well as provide optimum protection and comfort due to the high elastic and extremely tough, ultra-lightweight fabric construction. Both garments use ‘Effect by Odlo’ technology to banish any unwanted odours, however long your shift in the saddle. The finishing touches to your go -to cycle outfit should be IRON GLOVES and BIKE MID SOCKS, both ergonomically designed to offer support and comfort when you’re in the saddle.
For men, the Odlo FUJIN CYCLING JERSEY delivers on style, performance and practicality. It’s the embodiment of Odlo’s 70 years of product and materials innovation and has been designed to super-efficiently wick away moisturising order to create the ultimate comfortable environment for the rider. Its contoured construction creates an unrivalled fit which has been ergonomically designed to feature three back panel pockets to store what you need on your ride. Match the minimalist style of the jersey with FLASH X BIB SHORTS where discreet detailing prevails and quality elements mesh seamlessly with Odlo’s design and understated style mastery. With Veloce +70 padding and 50+ UV protection, the shorts have all the protection bases covered. Made from highly elastic material, the range of movement is exceptional to provide optimum comfort when in the saddle. Finish your look with great performance accessories, Odlo GLOVES SHORT and BIKE MID SOCKS, designed to make your cycling experience the most competitive it has been.