Different Types of Road Bikes Explained

Do you know your Aerobike from your Sportive bike? Or your Gravel Bike from your Time Trialer? Here’s how dropbar bikes differ.

With their big, 700c wheels, skinny tyres, drop bars and lightweight components make road bikes the best choice for going fast and covering long distances.

There are several different types of road bike with subtle variations designed to make the bike perform better at a certain discipline.

These days a lot more choice and you’ll hear words like sportive, gravel, commute, race and more describing road bikes. Although all have a similar look, certain bikes serve certain purposes better.

Race bikes

Lightweight, no fuss, stripped down. These bikes are designed to go fast so expect a low front end for an aerodynamic position (shorter head tube, flat stem, low handlebars)

Emphasis on speed than comfort. Expect a stiffer frame and super responsive handling.

Gearing tends to be higher for more speed. Wheels are either skinny lightweight models or carbon aero versions.

Finishing kit is all about efficiency as well so tends to be lighter with a nod to aero benefits to save rider energy as well as overall bike weight.

Buy  a race bike if you want light weight, no loss of power, a lively ride and you want to go fast all the time.

Good for: going fast, racing, speed thrills.

Not good for: touring, long rides in steep terrain, inflexible bodies.


Gravel bikes

One for the more recent developments in road bike genres is gravel bikes. Gravel bikes can tackle off road terrain such as tracks and trails whilst still retaining the ability to cover long rides relatively quickly. On first sight a gravel bike looks similar to a cyclocross bike, however the geometry of a gravel bike is more designed for comfort, rather than the more aggresive geometry of a cyclocross bike.

Gravel bikes combine the some of the comfort aspects of a sportive bike with some of the off road capabilities of a cyclo cross bike. The result is a bike which is comfy enough to be ridden all day and tackle all but the most extreme terrain, where mountain bikes still rule.

Most gravel bikes feature disc brakes and a strong well built frame which can handle the additional knocks and challenges these bikes are designed for. Larger clearances at the fork and rear stays allow for wider, more knobblier tyres and the debris which they can collect.

Entry – Mid range gravel bikes tend to feature an aluminium frame combined with a carbon fibre front fork. Higher specced gravel bikes feature a carbon fibre frame and fork. Regardless of their construction material, gravel frames tend to be built more solidly than regular road bike frames.

The drawback to all this extra in-built flexibility is a slight reduction in speed, however this can be marginal and a price worth paying for a ‘go anywhere bike’.

Good For: Venturing off road, general riding

Not Good For: High end road performance / Speed

Sportive / Endurance bikes

Sportives are long-distance mass participation cycling challenge events where the emphasis is on endurance rather than speed.

Sportive / Endurance bikes offer a lot of the lightweight benefits of a traditional race bike but with one crucial point in mind – comfort.

The riding position is more upright offering greater all-day comfort at the expense of aerodynamic efficiency.

The geometry of the frame is also tweaked to offer comfort and more stable/steadier handling over longer distances.

The material make-up of Sportive bikes tends to be different from pure race models. The tubes are designed to ‘give’ a little bit. Less stiff, more comfy.

Gearing is lower to help cope with big hills without the need for speed. Wheels are still lightweight but more robust and with little in terms of aerodynamic properties.

Disc brakes and larger clearances (for wider tyrers )are also becoming more popular in this type of bike.

Finishing kit is more about comfort but again still light enough to not affect overall weight.

In short, a sportive / endurance bike is a more comfortable race bike. Consider one if head down all out speed and super light weight isn’t a priority but comfort on longer rides is.

Good for: long distances / hilly terrain

Not good for: racing or short blast adrenaline rides.

Aero bikes

Aero road bikes take many of the aerodynamic features of a time trial (TT) bike and put them into a more of a regular road race frame.

This does tend to add a bit of weight compared to a race frame but the aero advantages can help save time on certain courses.

Most of these types of frame are carbon with the same geometry and material lay up as a race frame so expect a low and fast position. Cables tend to be hidden out of the air – running internally through the inside of the frame.

These bikes are ideal on longer flatter courses. Coupled with a set of deep section wheels they can offer impressive time savings.

The gearing is similar to race bikes ie. high for more speed and finishing kit is lightweight also.

Buy if you want an aerodynamically focussed race bike.

Good for: slicing through wind drag at mid- to high-end speeds.

Not good for: slower, relaxed rides.

Commuter bikes

The real workhorses of the bike world. Built with comfort and durability in mind as they will take a bashing day after day in all weathers.

Weight isn’t such an issue. Frame geometry offers a more upright position for greater comfort and in-traffic vision.

Frames have fittings for proper mudguards and racks to keep you dry and so you don’t have to carry any weight on your back.

Wheels are all about strength and longevity and coupled with sturdy tyres offer greater impact protection and increased comfort; just don’t expect supple handling or low weight.

Disc brakes are also popular as they offer hassle free stopping and the lack of rim brakes rub means slight wheel buckles are less of a problem.

Bars can be either drop or flat depending on your preference.

Good for: day-in day-out reliability and comfort.

Not good for: bike-handling thrills and flat-out speed.

Touring bikes

Touring bikes are built for comfort over long distances carrying heavy loads (such as clothing or camping stuff)

“Overbuilt” is a good description as the frame and components are built to last. Despite the weight they are very comfortable.

At first the gearing may seem unbelievably low when unladen but get some panniers on there and you’ll appreciate it.

The frame geometry is long and relatively upright for greater comfort and easier handling, again crucial when out on long rides with a heavy load.

Wheels are super tough, with more spokes than other road bikes. The rims are bombproof to cope with the loads and surfaces.

Disc brakes are becoming more and more popular as they offer better braking in all conditions especially when carrying heavy loads.

Components are strong and long lasting with more emphasis on comfort due to long periods riding.

If you are planning on carrying any kind of load in your pannier a long distance and heading off for a few days, get a touring bike.

Good for: touring, funnily enough!

Not good for: racing or any speed-work.

Time Trial (TT) / Triathlon

For out-and-out speed against the clock. These bikes are built with one thing in mind, to go as fast as possible and cheat the wind.

They are packed with aerodynamic features all designed to help the bike, and rider, pass through the air more cleanly. This means less power is needed to propel them forward at any given speed.

The frames are easily distinguishable with their large flat tubes, steep angles, with cables and brakes hidden away. The geometry puts the rider in a lower position, further forward over the bottom bracket which makes it more efficient.

Aero bars extend out the front which also makes the rider narrower and makes it easier to ride in this position as they have elbow pads to rest on. Gearing is similar to a race bike or even larger as the rider will need higher gears to go faster.

Wheels are usually deeper section carbon fibre rims, trispokes or even disc rear wheels. These cut through the air easier using less power. The finishing kit matches the aero theme with base bar handlebars, holding the extensions, with skinny brake levers and gear shifters at the end of the aero extensions.

Everything about these bikes screams speed and subtle features such as hidden cables or brakes and aero seat posts all add up when paired with a full aero frame and fork.

Good for: riding as fast as you can against the clock on your own.

Not good for: Popping to the shops!

Browse all of these different types of road bikes at Merlin Cycles

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