Author Topic: Should I buy a road bike?  (Read 3484 times)

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Offline Figaro

Should I buy a road bike?
« on: November 27, 2017, 09:14:19 pm »
I've never owned a nice road bike. Im 57 and in my younger days--prior to 40--I was mainly a distance runner everything from 5k to marathon. I did some biking, but never bought a nice bike. I did bike Lands End to John O'Groats in 1992 on an old steel frame bike that was way to big for me, but I was young and strong and didn't think anything of it.

In August of this year I bought the best, and most expensive, bike I've ever owned--a 2017 Trek 520 touring bike. I'm training on it and have put a little over 1,000 miles on it since September. I'm starting to really enjoy riding. I've lost 20 pounds since September and am beginning to feel fit again. I want to make this a lifestyle change and continue biking for a long time. I bought the Trek with the plan of doing the TransAmerica next year and am still on track to do that barring some major life event that keeps me from it.

I ride mostly along, but have done a few rides with a biking group and there are a lot of other bike riders on the trail where I ride. On my normal rides of 20 to 35 miles, I generally average between 13.5 to 14.5 mph. I know it's better to measure power or effort, but I'm more of an mph kind of guy.

Now to the point of my post and question. I seem to notice that when I ride with others, whether in a group or just passing them (or them passing me) on my rides, the other riders who are on carbon fiber road bikes--and most other riders I encounter are on road bikes--I seem to be working harder on my touring bike than some of them are on their road bikes. Now I know some are a lot fitter than I am and I'm not talking about those individuals. But some people who I think I am just as fit/strong as they are, or maybe even fitter/stronger, some of them (a lot of them) seem to have an easier time maintaining 15mph on their road bikes than I do on my 520.

So, I guess my question is, would I see a noticeable difference in the level of effort it takes to ride at a given speed, say 15 mph, on a carbon fiber road bike vs doing that on my Trek 520 steel frame touring bike? For example, in Oct I did a 20 mile ride with members of the local bike club and we averaged about 17 mph. I was on my Trek and was worn out when I finished. If I was on a carbon fiber road bike instead of the 520, would I have been able to do that same ride with noticeably less effort? I am thinking about investing in a relatively nice road bike--something in the price range of a Trek Domane SL6, but honestly, if riding it wouldn't be noticeably different than riding my 520, then there isn't much point. Regardless I'm keeping my 520 for touring and will be using it on the TA ride, but would be nice to have a "faster" bike for when I do more organized training rides with the bike club. I do know I can get faster and ride at a given mph with less effort by getting fitter and stronger--and I plan to keep building my fitness and strength. But, all else being equal, if a nice carbon fiber road bike would help I am up for the investment.   

Thanks in advance for any advice.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2017, 09:24:06 pm by Figaro »

Offline RussSeaton

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2017, 11:06:55 pm »
So, I guess my question is, would I see a noticeable difference in the level of effort it takes to ride at a given speed, say 15 mph, on a carbon fiber road bike vs doing that on my Trek 520 steel frame touring bike?

Good for you for buying a fine loaded touring bike.  I had a Trek 520 years ago and rode many thousands of miles on loaded tours.  Its a fine bike for loaded touring.  It will work fine on the Trans Am ride.

A loaded touring bike like your Trek  will be slower than a racing bike.  That's a fact.  Carbon fiber is meaningless.  Racing bikes can be made from carbon, titanium, aluminum, or steel.  The material is meaningless.  Your Trek 520 weighs about 28-30 pounds after you put both racks and fenders on it.  A racing bike with no racks or fenders will weigh about 15-20 pounds.  So about 10 pounds of difference just in bike weight.  Lighter is faster on bicycles.  We're not talking about twice as fast.  30 mph compared to 15 mph.  But maybe 1 or 2 mph maybe.  Probably the biggest reason for your slower speed compared to the racing bikes is your tires.  If you have the factory touring tires, then they are probably 32mm wide, heavy duty, roughish tread pattern.  They roll about like a boulder up a mountain.  The racing bikes you are riding with have smooth skinny tires that have much less rolling resistance.  Probably 1 or 2 mph difference in tires.

I'd recommend also getting a racing bike like the Trek Domane you mentioned.  Or any other racing type bike.  Ride it 99% of the time before the loaded tour.  It will be much more fun to ride and thus you will enjoy riding your bike more.  That is good.  But ride the Trek 520 on the Trans Am loaded tour.  I have a loaded touring bike.  It is only ridden on the loaded tour each year.  Otherwise it sits in the basement.  I have many other faster funner bikes to ride around town.  Touring bikes and racing bikes each have a purpose they are best suited for.  Use them for the purpose they are designed for.

Offline John Nelson

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2017, 12:13:10 am »
I ride both a Trek 520 and a carbon fiber bike. I would never consider taking the 520 on a club ride. There’s no way I could possibly keep up. But you don’t necessarily need carbon. A good aluminum road bike will be fine.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2017, 07:13:44 am »
I love my road bike.  It is very different to ride compared to my loaded touring bike even when the touring bike is unladen.  My suggestion is to find a nice local bike shop that will let you take a longish ride on a road bike to see what you think of it.  My guess is that you will most likely be hooked.

Just me, but I have never ridden my touring bike much unless actually doing loaded touring.  The road bike is just so much more fun to ride.  I even went so far as to switch to an older race bike for my last coast to coast tour and plan to ride my new road bike on the next tour.  I wouldn't do that if I wasn't packing super light these days, so unless you are inclined toward touring with minimal ultralight backpacking gear (or alternately credit card touring) you will still want to tour on your touring bike.

The bottom line is that not only are road bikes faster, they are just sportier and more fun to ride.

Some folks find their touring bikes more comfortable, so there is that.  On the other hand I find my road bikes supremely comfortable and actually tried to match my road bike riding position and posture on the touring bike as closely as I could.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2017, 09:36:10 am »
I'll argue the opposite position.  (Except for RussSeaton's position on tires; find yourself some nice 28s, light with flexible sidewalls; that'll give you 1-2 mph extra.)  A touring bike is fine for most any ride.  Yes, you'll have to work harder to climb hills and starting off from a stop sign or traffic light, but let's face it: most groups are clumsy coming off a stop, so if you accelerate smoothly, you'll fit into the paceline by the time it's rolling.  I ride a touring bike for 95% of my group rides.  I can stick with the 15-18 mph group, even when they average 20 mph.  (I can't hang with the 18-21 mph bunch that rides 24-27 mph, but I've got 25 years on most of them and frankly, I'm not in shape.)

The biggest problem you've got is that you're used to riding 14 +/- 0.5 mph.  The best way forward for you at this point is to incorporate intervals or "fartlek" into your riding to get in condition to ride faster.  Yes, a new, lighter bike(regardless of frame material) is fun to ride, so get one if you want.  You'll likely find most of the faster feeling turns out to be how twitchy the bike steers, and without additional speedwork you'll be riding an average of 14 mph on the new bike.

Offline Figaro

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2017, 09:57:42 am »
Thanks for the great input everyone. I was about 75% convinced that I need a road bike before posting this and now after reading your advice, I'm all the way there. I do intend to continue working out and trying to get stronger. For me it's not really about the speed, but in my 520 I just seem to be in the middle when it comes to the club rides--I have no interest in riding with the "A" group speedsters and the "C" group (12 or so mph) are a little too slow for me. The "B" group seems to be those who are about my age, but just seem to be a little fast for me, so am looking to pick up a couple more mph through training harder and, if it makes a difference, picking up a road bike. Sounds like a road bike would help a lot. Also, thanks for the info about carbon fiber not being as important as just a light weight, good road bike. I just assumed most everything built for speed these days was carbon fiber. I still like the idea of a Trek so will most likely stick with a nice carbon fiber Trek road bike, but one of the best bike shops in my area seems to primarily sell Cannondale bikes. Just walking around the showroom looking at the bikes they have on the floor, it seems like I could pick up one of those for about half the price of the Trek I'm looking at. So I guess now it's just a matter of which bike I opt for--the 3k Trek or 1 to 2k Cannondale. I do know there are all kinds of variables--type wheels, components, heck on one of the group rides I was on a couple of the riders spend half the ride talking about the super expensive carbon fork they were wanting to purchase for their bike. I have no interest in getting that far into the details--I just want to buy a good, around 3k or less bike of the shelf that will serve me well for the next 10 or so years.
Thanks

Offline staehpj1

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2017, 10:07:47 am »
I'll argue the opposite position.  (Except for RussSeaton's position on tires; find yourself some nice 28s, light with flexible sidewalls; that'll give you 1-2 mph extra.)  A touring bike is fine for most any ride.  Yes, you'll have to work harder to climb hills and starting off from a stop sign or traffic light, but let's face it: most groups are clumsy coming off a stop, so if you accelerate smoothly, you'll fit into the paceline by the time it's rolling.  I ride a touring bike for 95% of my group rides.  I can stick with the 15-18 mph group, even when they average 20 mph.  (I can't hang with the 18-21 mph bunch that rides 24-27 mph, but I've got 25 years on most of them and frankly, I'm not in shape.)

The biggest problem you've got is that you're used to riding 14 +/- 0.5 mph.  The best way forward for you at this point is to incorporate intervals or "fartlek" into your riding to get in condition to ride faster.  Yes, a new, lighter bike(regardless of frame material) is fun to ride, so get one if you want.  You'll likely find most of the faster feeling turns out to be how twitchy the bike steers, and without additional speedwork you'll be riding an average of 14 mph on the new bike.
Pat's points are good ones.  As he and Russ mentioned, tires are a big part of the performance difference.  If you are running heavier tires with stiff sidewalls it can make a big difference, especially some of the super heavy and super stiff ones that some folks choose for their flat resistance.  The weight of the wheels themselves is also a factor, but less so than the tires.  The frame probably does make less difference than wheels and tires in performance.

The quicker handling that Pat referred to as twitchiness, is as he says probably not a big help in actual speed, but IMO it is still a very positive factor in riding enjoyment to me.  I look at it this way...  It is kind of like the difference between a sports car and an F150 pickup truck.  Some people choose to drive the F150 even if they aren't hauling anything, but if I had a sports car and an F150 in the driveway I'd hop in the sports car if going out for a drive with no need to haul stuff.

So my touring bike has not been ridden since the last time I toured with a full load.  Given that I have in recent years found that I like to tour with a minimal amount very light camping gear, it may never be ridden again.

Some folks like to ride theirs all the time, just like some folks drive an F150 all the time.  Either way is doable, pick the one that is most fun for you.

A middle ground is, as was mentioned, using some sportier tires or better yet sportier wheels and tires.  With two sets of wheels the bike can be transformed pretty quickly from one mode to the other.

Offline Figaro

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2017, 10:21:56 am »

Pat's points are good ones.  As he and Russ mentioned, tires are a big part of the performance difference.  If you are running heavier tires with stiff sidewalls it can make a big difference, especially some of the super heavy and super stiff ones that some folks choose for their flat resistance.  The weight of the wheels themselves is also a factor, but less so than the tires.  The frame probably does make less difference than wheels and tires in performance.

Thanks. I am riding with the tires that came on the bike when I purchased it. They're Bontranger 32mm tires. I have also left the rear rack on and have added fenders. I put a Brooks seat on it and really like it. I get your point about the F150 vs sports car...I think I'm convinced to go with the sports car :-)
« Last Edit: November 28, 2017, 10:24:07 am by Figaro »

Offline paddleboy17

Re: Should I buy a road bike?
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2017, 12:52:23 pm »
I think all the attention to frame material is misplaced.  A steel frame is ~4 pounds, an aluminum frame is ~2.5 pounds, and a titanium frame is ~3 pounds.  I don't remember generalizations about carbon fiber frames.  So this fixation over a 1.5 pound spread strikes me as moronic.  Frame materials have other qualities that might dictate why you would choose one over the other.

Yes your steel 520 frame is a little heavier.  You also have touring rims and tires, which are beefier and wider, and you will work harder riding on them.

So pick out whatever zippy fast bike fits you and your budget, and it will be faster and less work to ride than your 520.  I would think any criterium bike over $1500 (US) would meet your needs.

My zippy fast bike is a '93 Paramount Series 3, with lugged and single butted steel tubing.  Swapping to a frame that is a pound or so lighter will make no difference in my performance on a club ride, as I already have light components and 700x23 tires.  She may weigh 23 pounds, but she rides like a dream!

I think we should all have several bikes to address the different kinds of riding that we do.  I have 4 bikes and I am on a wait list for Salsa Cutthroat, a drop bar mountain bike.  I live in south eastern Michigan, and we just don't have high quality roads any more, so I am running out of places to ride the Paramount.

The other bikes are a Waterford heavy touring bike, a VooDoo 26" mountain bike relegated to winter riding, and a Kona rigid fork 26" mountain bike that I put drop bars and 32MM wide tires on.  They all get ridden.
Danno