Road bikes can cost between a few hundred pounds and a few thousand pounds, and there are endless choices between frame manufacturers, wheels, group sets and finishing kits from thousands of bike shops and online sellers. Even for experienced riders it can be daunting to choose a bike to spend your money on.
To simplify matters, and to help get the most bang for your buck, let's break down the bike to see what we need to focus on when making a choice.
The heart of the bike is the frame.
Size importance: It is essential to get a frame that fits you, as a frame that is too big will feel like a farm gate and you will struggle to get it to fit properly. If a frame is too small you will also be at a disadvantage and have to use an extra long seat post, stem and spacers on the fork.
Frame material: most people race on carbon fibre these days, and it is becoming more affordable. The majority of aluminium frames on the market at the moment are not built for racing, and as such are not as light as aluminium frames were in the pre-carbon aluminium heyday. That being said, there are some decent aluminium frames available.
Frame geometry and weight are probably the main factors to take into consideration. Bikes that are marketed as race geometry are typically the more expensive ones, although there are expensive bikes labelled as sportive bikes too. The frustration is finding a bike with race geometry at a reasonable price.
With technology trickling down and all the main groupset manufacturers providing 11 speed groupsets at various price points, there is quite a bit to choose from.
Shimano is soon to release their 11 speed 105 groupset, which has a lot of characteristics taken from the Dura Ace and Ultegra offerings, including the new crankset. Although the 105 will be heavier than Ultegra or Dura Ace, the shifting will be good enough to race with and you can upgrade components as and when you can. Another major plus for the 105 groupset is the price. In my opinion it is the best value for money groupset on the market.
Most mid range bikes come standard with a compact chainset, that means the chainrings are typically 50 and 34 tooth options. The compact chainrings allow lower gear ratios, which make riding on hilly terrain a bit more comfortable as you can spin a higher cadence with less power. Coupled with a cassette that has an 11 tooth cog, you can still get quite a bit of speed, if you have the power to turn the gear at a high cadence.
Most racing is done on standard cranksets, with 53/39 tooth chainrings. This allows you to climb faster and go faster on flat and downhill sections, if you have sufficient power to turn the gear.
If you are planning on using your bike for racing I would strongly recommend using 53/39 chainrings, as that is what you will be racing against. Fitting a 12-27 cassette will give you a ratio that will allow you to get over pretty much any climb. That being said, a 12-25 or 11-25 will do you better on most British road races and circuit races.
If you are buying your bike from a bike shop they should be open to switching a compact chainset for a standard one, and also switching cassettes.
Bikes sold for £2000 or less usually cut the price by using slightly cheaper wheels, but you can usually find an option with decent wheels. There is no reason why you can't race on mid range wheels that many would consider training wheels.
If you can buy from a bike shop, ask if you can feel the smoothness of the wheel's bearings on the bike you are looking at You can do this by taking the wheel out, holding it on the outside locking nuts, and spinning the wheel. It should be nice and smooth. Also check if the spoke holes in the rim have "eyelets" or if they are just clean drilled. Better wheels have eyelets around the spoke nipples.
As a reference, Fulcrum 5's and Mavic Aksiums are a safe bet for sturdy training wheels that will do fine in racing until you can get lighter race wheels one day.
The minimum weight a bicycle can be to race legally is 6.8kg, according to the rules of the international cycling governing body (the UCI), which applies for races sanctioned by British Cycling.
Many bikes with mid range components hit the scales around 7.5kg to 8.5kg. So even if you have an 8.5kg bike, that's only 1.7kg more than the minimum. Think of this in the context of your combined weight of bike, body and water bottles. It is not much, especially considering you could be paying up to £2000 extra to rid yourself of that 1.7kg difference. Ideally you would have the lightest bike, but you can make do, if needs must.
Some good value bikes to look at
The Shimano 105 5800 (11 speed) is due out in July, so you might like to wait for the new models with 11 speed, or indeed pick up a bargin on a 10 speed bike when the 11 speed 105 is released. To give you an idea of what you can get for your money, have a look at the mid range bikes below, with links to their specifications. The Canyon offers the best value for money by far, although you will need to order it online and probably wait for a while before it gets to you.