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Road Groupsets: How to Choose a Road Bike for Beginners

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How to choose a road bike for beginner? If you’re just getting into cycling, one of the biggest sources of confusion is the jargon around bike types. We’re here to help you tell the difference between road racers, sportive/endurance bikes, gravel and more, as well as different road groupset level.

Broadly, road bike types include: racing bikes, sportive/endurance bikes, cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes and triathlon bikes, even touring bikes. Technically, these categories are different, but the biggest differences are in the marketing. These similar machines trade out parts and tweak geometry, adding bigger tires or fender mounts, then christen it all as something new.

Essentially road and cyclocross bikes are the racy version of on- and off-road respectively, whereas “endurance” and “gravel/adventure” bikes are the comfort version.

Determine which type you want to ridden, then according to your budget choice right bike for you. Bicycle quality and value for money mainly reference to two factors — frame material and groupset.

Set your budget

For frame materials, carbon fibre is now the most coveted road bike frame material, available in over $1000, while less than $1000 tag often with a lightweight aluminum frame. Don’t be ashamed of spending more if you feel like it, though.

Decent road bikes start from about $300; the more you spend the lighter and better specified a bike will be and components rapidly improves, bikes get lighter, more reliable and more fun to ride. It’s very rare for anyone to regret buying a bike that was ‘too good’ for them.

There is no right price. There’s a great choice between $300 and $600, and from $600 to $1000 you’re entering the territory of very capable road bikes. Beyond that, well, you’re entering a world of choice to suit all tastes.

Most around $1000 road bikes will be aluminium framed road bicycles, and perhaps a carbon fibre fork, this provides a good balance between reliability and robustness of the alloy frame, but with vibration absorption provided by the more compliant carbon material in the fork.

groupset

A groupset is a collection of matching components used by a bike manufacturer to turn a frame into a bike. A modern groupset usually comprises brakes, brake/gear levers, chainset, derailleurs, chain and sprockets.

When buying a bike look at the components it comes with. It is common for bike manufacturers to supply a bike with a whole groupset, minus the brakes and chainset. These are sometimes (but not always) swapped out for cheaper parts to bring the overall price of the bike down.

Shimano is the largest and best known, while the other two of the “big three” are Campagnolo and SRAM. These are the brands you’ll see almost exclusively on the groupsets fitted to bikes. A new entrant we’ll almost certainly see in the near future is FSA.

Below table is just a rough guide to get you started. You can describe a groupset in these terms: Purpose, Quality and Cost.

Shimano groupset SRAM groupset Purpose Quality Cost
Claris (catalogue number 2400, 8-speed) Entry-level So-so $
Sora(3500, 9sp) Beginner Average $$
Tiagra(4700, 10sp) Apex Recreational Good $$$
105(5800, 11sp) Rival Enthusiast Better $$$+
Ultegra(6800, 11sp) Force Performance Very Good $$$$
Dura-Ace(9100, 11sp) Red Racing Best $$$$$

overall

Buying a new road bike often means deciding between groupsets and the groupset is where a lot of the money in a new bike goes. The metal treatments and high-strength alloys that make pivots and bearings more durable and that also make parts lighter are expensive, so better groupsets are pricier.

The more expensive groupsets are lighter and usually offer smoother gear shifting and superior braking performance. You won’t find any carbon fibre in entry-level groupset, but its top-end groupset is positively dripping with composites, as well as a fair amount of titanium.

If you ride 10,000 miles per year, the reliability of an expensive groupset is a decent investment. If you’re a 2,000 mile-a-year weekend warrior, perhaps not so much. Shimano’s 105 or Ultegra are the best bet for a serious, mile crunching rider because the cheaper systems will wear out quickly.

Cheaper systems don’t have longevity and the top end can just get too expensive to be worthwhile for many cyclists. 105 is considered Shimano’s first performance groupset, and for many people it is the best option in combining, performance, value and longevity. And it was a true revelation, offering essentially all the ability and performance of Ultegra with only a slight weight disadvantage justifying its lower place in Shimano’s groupset hierarchy.

Shimano hierarchy Who should buy?
Claris Beginners
Sora commuters/fitness riders/training
Tiagra Recreational cyclists/sportif riders
105 Club racers, sportif riders. Anyone getting serious about their cycling.
Ultegra Serious road cyclists/just plenty of training miles.
Dura-Ace Serious racing cyclists or if you just have to have the best!