The past decade has seen a huge growth in the different bike options available to us as riders, allowing us to choose bikes that better fit our riding style and needs. An ever growing list of bike manufacturers now produce whole ranges of different bikes aimed at specific sub-disciplines of cycling. With so many options, which one do you choose and what’s the difference between them?
Race bike - In short, bikes built with the sole purpose of going quickly. These are the bikes you’ll see under the world’s top riders during the Grand Tours and are designed to be light and fast. Frames are typically made of carbon fibre or aluminium with a focus on stiffness. Frame geometries are aggressive, with steep angles and low front ends so that the bike has sharp handling and allows riders to get into low aerodynamic positions. Alongside the frames, race bikes have close ratio cassettes with double chainsets (53T and 39T chainrings) to allow for the higher speeds of riding in fast groups and skinny tyres (23 - 25mm) to reduce rolling resistance. Brakes have traditionally been rim calipers but recent UCI and British Cycling rule changes now sees a growing list of road bikes available with disc brakes too. Whilst these are the perfect bikes for taking to the line of your local crit or smashing the club chain gang, this can come at the slight compromise of some comfort and versatility.
Aerodynamic bikes - These bikes share many of the characteristics of race bikes but draw upon the aerodynamic technologies used by time trial bikes to create a road bike that can cut through the air with even less resistance. The aerodynamic features of these bikes providing some additional free speed in comparison to a traditional road bike, particularly at higher riding speeds. Similar to road bikes, they are designed with a focus on speed but are distinctive in their frame shape with specific tube profiles and components to improve aerodynamics.
Sportive/endurance - This popular subcategory is designed around a balance between speed and comfort which makes these bikes better suited for those interested in a long-distance riding or more relaxed road riding. The frame geometries feature shorter top tube lengths and higher front ends in comparison to race bikes, to give a more upright position and enable more confident handling. A number of offerings from major manufacturers also feature dampers built into the frames such as the ISO Speed Decoupler from Trek and the Specialized Future Shock system. They are typically equipped with wider gear options and large range cassettes (i.e 11 - 32T) and compact chainsets (50 - 34T). This allows for the slightly slower average speeds of endurance style rides and increases the ability to get up steep climbs on tired legs. Similarly, tyres and rims tend to be slightly wider (25 - 32mm) to allow for better grip and comfort over longer distances, with many bikes opting for tubeless compatibility. Unlike race bikes which often have minimal tyre clearance, these bikes often have sufficient clearance and provision for full mudguards, increasing the versatility for all year usage/commuting.
Time-Trial/Triathlon bike - TT bikes are designed to cheat the wind. Their major difference from an aero road bike is the handlebar, shifters and brakes configuration. Road bike drop bars are replaced with extensions handlebar extensions and forearm rests which allow riders to get into a low, tucked position, reducing frontal area, improving aerodynamics and subsequently increasing speed for the same effort. The handlebar position allows the rider a more aerodynamic position but this comes at the compromise of handling and often comfort making these bikes only really suitable for individual time trials or triathlons and inappropriate for riding in groups. Gearing also tends to be bigger with close ratio cassettes (11 - 23t) and large front chainrings (53 - 55t) for the higher speeds that are achieved with time trialling. For racers looking to set speed records, smash the bike leg of their local triathlon or shave some time off their 10 mile TT, these bikes are perfect.
Gravel bikes - A new and rapidly growing subgenre of road cycling is gravel with these bikes often referred to as adventure bikes. They are characterised by disc brakes, wider handlebars, mudguard/rack eyelets, easier gearing (often adopting 1x setups) and frame geometries with a focus on handling and comfort over speed. The rim and tyre figurations share many similarities with mountain bikes with tyres as wide at 2.0”. These features give gravel bike confident handling, robust components, greater damping, stopping power and comfort. This allows the bikes to stand up to the perils of bumpier tracks and poorly maintained roads, even whilst carrying heavy luggage. These features open up terrain where road bikes would be completely out of their depth. Gravel bikes are incredibly versatile and great all rounders, as there isn’t much terrain that they can’t cover. The comfort and versatility of these bikes comes at the compromise of out and out speed on the road but for anyone looking for a bike for everything from the commute, winter training to multi day off-road adventures, these are a great option.
Cyclocross bikes - These bikes are similar to gravel bikes in terms of disc brakes, greater tyre clearance, easier gearing (often 1x), and more robust wheels but have frame geometries that are more focused on racing. Many lower end cyclocross bikes, share similarities with gravel bikes in terms of versatility with additional features such as rack and mudguard mounts making them suitable for winter training, commuting and light touring. With the higher end bikes focused more on full gas racing with carbon framesets and lightweight components.
Track bikes - These are bikes designed solely for racing on a velodrome or outdoor track and are relatively simple in comparison to traditional road bikes with no brakes and a single fixed gear. Given the smooth nature of the velodrome surface and the importance of sprinting these bikes are incredibly stiff and aerodynamic. They typically feature deep section wheels or disc wheels with tubular tyres which are glued to the rim to further maximise speed.
Once you’ve decided on the type of bike you want, it’s time to nail down on your budget and specification. Here are a few tips on how to do it…