Road bikes have been around for a long time and they are excellent, fast machines. Their design has evolved a great deal even just in recent decades. They are lighter than before and are built for speed. If you own one or you would like to purchase a bike for commuting you may be wondering if it is the right choice.
Are road bikes good for commuting? Road bikes can be excellent commuters and since they are built with speed in mind first, they are going to be the fastest way to commute if you have a long ride mostly on paved roads. Despite their fragile appearance, they can take a lot of beating if maintained properly.
Walking into a bike shop you will find that road bikes are the most expensive type of bikes. For the price of the cheapest road bike you can buy a decent, well equipped hybrid bike. The cost is due to engineering and manufacturing costs so the weight of the bike can be kept low. A decent road bike usually starts around the 1000 dollars. Thankfully this also means that you will get a quality bike that can serve you for many years.
Advantages of Road Bikes
One of the main reasons people choose bike commuting is that they are frustrated sitting in traffic. Bike commuters in cities save a lot of time compared to those commuting by car. You may have seen some comparison videos on the internet about how much time a person can save by bike commuting, especially during rush hour.
Among bikes road bikes are the fastest type available. They are the Ferraris and the Lamborghinis of bikes. You can easily reach 25 mph and even more on a road bike and you can maintain high speed with relative ease.
The advantage of the road bike comes from the riding position it offers and its components, which are built for speed.
The rider sits in a forward leaning position, the most favorable from an aerodynamic point of view since it offers the least drag. Above 15 mph the aerodynamic drag starts to become significant and increases drastically as you go even faster. This means that you need to work extra hard to reach higher speeds. The more aero you get the faster you go with the same amount of energy.
The components of a road bike are also designed for speed. They offer a variety of gears and they are especially good when it comes to high gear ratios. You will never feel like you’re spinning out when you’re pedalling.
Road bike tires are slick and offer little rolling resistance, giving you higher returns in terms of speed for the energy put in. A typical road bike tire is between 23 and 28 mm in width. I would recommend the 28 mm wide ones for commuting, as their rolling resistance is still excellent, but they offer a little cushioning for a noticeably softer ride.
Road bikes are light. A typical road bike weighs 18-22 lbs. Even the more budget friendly road bikes are lighter than other bikes such as hybrids or MTBs, which typically start around 26 lbs. This has a twofold advantage. There is less weight to carry when it comes to climbing a hill and there is less weight to lift if you need to carry it on your shoulders.
Road bikes are very sturdy and reliable if maintained well and regularly. The bare minimum is the regular cleaning and lubing of the chain, chainrings and the cassette. This is especially important in rainy season when the drivetrain can collect a lot of gunk from the ground.Tire pressure matters very much when you’re riding narrow tires. Since the tire deflates at a rate of about 14 psi (1 bar) per week. It is wise to pump up the tires every week to avoid pinch flats.
Disadvantages of Road Bikes
Since road bikes are designed for speed instead of comfort, they can feel too spartan to some. The lack of suspension forks and wider tires means that you will feel every slight road imperfection whilst riding. The aerodynamic position also comes at a price tag. Since you’re in a forward leaning position, if you don’t have a strong core, your arms will support some of your body weight, which can cause numb hands. It’s also harder to turn around to be aware of traffic than on a bike that offers a more upright riding position.
They come barebones
When you buy a road bike you may be surprised (and even upset) at how little you get for your money in terms of the number of components. Most road bikes don’t even come with pedals, and you need to purchase them separately. Lights, fenders, bottle cage all come at additional costs to you. If you’re a first time buyer this can seem odd and frustrating. The real cost of getting the bike ready for the road therefore is higher than the price tag you see on the bike itself.
No mounting points for racks
Road bikes don’t have mounting points (aka eyelets). It means that you won’t be able to mount a regular rack or put normal fenders on your bike. There are some ways around this.
To protect your rear end from getting wet in the rain you can make a fender out of a plastic bottle. While practical, it will not look very stylish. If you prefer to ride like a boss even in the rain you can get an inexpensive ass saver from Amazon. This not only does the job, but also looks great and can be easily removed and stored in your backpack.
If you don’t fancy carrying a backpack because it causes you to sweat too much, you can invest in a seat post mounted rack like the Dirza Rear Bike Rack from Amazon. It can be mounted on most road bikes within seconds and you can easily take it off if you want to take your bike for a spin. I was surprised to see that you could pick one up for less than the price of a good quality regular rack. I wrote an in depth post about seatpost mounted racks and how they change how the bike handles, which you can read here.
Handling in heavy traffic
The rider’s position and the narrow handlebars make maneuvering at low speed a challenge. With bumper to bumper traffic you will find cruising among cars somewhat difficult.
If you purchase a set of clipless pedals for your bike you will need to learn and get used to clipping in and out. This can be a source of real frustration, even if you’re already good at it, in traffic jams and regular stops at red lights in the city.
A shiny new road bike draws in attention not only when you’re riding it, but also when it’s parked. This makes it more likely to be stolen. Investing in a good lock and learning best locking practices is essential. It will reduce the likelihood of theft.
Quick releases make it easy to remove the bike wheels. It is handy when you need to change a flat tire, but it makes stealing your wheel very easy too. When locking your bike you need to think about your frame, front and rear wheel too. Here is a good video that summarizes how to best lock your bike.
What kind of commuters are road bikes good for?
Road bikes can be excellent commuters, but they best suit riders with prior riding experience confident in the saddle. They shine on long straight stretches of paved roads, where you can take advantage of what they were built for.
What alternatives are there to road bikes?
If you like the idea of a fast bike, but you want added maneuverability, a little extra comfort and mounting points for fenders and racks, then a good alternative to a road bike is a flat bar road bike, also known as a fitness bike.
What road bikes are good for commuting?
All major brands make some excellent road bikes. Some of the best brands of road bikes are Giant, Scott, Specialized, Cannondale, Trek, Bianchi and Merida, just to name a few. They all have a wide range of bikes to choose from. Although they are among the best manufacturers there are quite a few models that are more affordable and don’t compromise on quality.
Weighing up the pros and cons you can decide whether a road bike is for you as your next commuter bike. Some cons may not even apply to your circumstances.
If your commute is on decently paved roads and has long straight segments, then a road bike could be a good commuter for you. It is best to have some prior riding experience before taking the plunge. You will sacrifice some comfort for speed, but it is a very rewarding experience to ride the fastest of bikes to work.