Road Bikes

Time Trial and Triathlon Bikes, Road racers, Touring bikes, Audax and Randonneur. If it's built for the open road you'll find it here.

Categorised by low or 'dropped' handlebars every road bike is at its heart a road race bike just like those ridden on the Tour de France. At one end of the scale bikes have frame clearance for mudguards and larger tyres and a wider range of gears for loaded touring. At the other end morphed into super-aerodynamic time-trial bikes but those bars are key to understanding. Reach down into those drops and the single biggest force slowing you down -wind resistance- is reduced. You go faster.

Racing:

Cycle racing is fast, addictive, and as old as bikes themselves. And it's hard. Hard on the riders, hard on their machines. Cyclesport involves a mixture of brain-work, endurance, exciting speeds, and danger. But there's also the technology. Races are often won or lost by the matter of a few seconds. Riders know this, so an integral part of the sport is the relentless quest for new, and useful technological developments. Whether you are the manager of a pro team, or a young novice gazing through shop windows, having the best possible technology is an important aspect of your sport.

But racing can be on the receiving end of a spot of inverted snobbery nowadays. With the rebirth of cycling as a solution to all of humanity's ills, from congestion and pollution to alienation and crime, the whole 'Tour de France' side of things sometimes gets written off as a commercial sideshow. The cycle rights lobby has often had its work cut out to convince the powers that be that cycling is more than just a leisure pursuit. And the technological trickle-down from racing has not always benefited everyday cycling.

The great cycling events of the calendar have a colourful and heroic poetry of their own which takes them beyond the mundane and the showy. The Tour de France is one of the most testing of human endeavours. Finishing a single stage of the Tour demands the kind of physical fitness, stamina and psychological resilience to which most mere mortals can only aspire. Life in the peloton of riders is crowded and hectic with individuals riding as close as possible for aerodynamic benefit, with the constant danger of crashing at high speeds. And after 200 or more gruelling kilometres, they've got to do it all again the next day.

The effect on the rest of us is not always obvious. Heroic cycling feats mean more kids rushing out and emulating Lance Armstrong and Chris Hoy instead of Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button. At the same time more and more people realise that there is something special about that unique combination of human power and relatively simple machinery – and because the higher levels of cycle technology are reasonably accessible to most of us, we can go out and buy the kind of bikes and equipment which the top professionals use. And if it's good for them, it's equally good for the rest of us – especially when we want the thrill of speed!

Touring:

There is an old piece of Native American wisdom, which describes how our soul cannot travel faster than the speed at which the human body can propel itself. In our age of numbness most of us notice this only when we get jet-lag. But any journey undertaken by motor-vehicle leaves us temporarily displaced, unattached to the place we appear to have arrived at. However, we humans have, at the core of our psyche, the desire to roam. To get the best of both worlds, we sometimes need to travel at speed, but still under our own power. If you want to visit a region, really enter it, go by bike. Smell the countryside. Meet the people.

You can cycle-tour at many levels of sophistication. You can enjoy the autonomy of self-sufficiency by camping where you want, when you want. Some cycle tourists delight in devising the lightest load compatible with self sufficiency, choosing the most compact tents, the lightest sleeping bags and the tiniest portable cooking stove. Cyclists who go for the minimal often horrify their partners by suggesting that they share a toothbrush.

On your first trips you may prefer to float along, relatively unencumbered, knowing that a warm bath and a hot meal await you in the next village.

That there's no huge infrastructure for touring cyclists is part of the pleasure. But independence has its downside: imagine yourself sitting at the side of the road, your hands blackened with oil, as you curse your wretched machine for taking you so far from home, and for leaving you so far from your destination. From a seized rear mech to a broken frame, things can sometimes go wrong. But with a well-designed and carefully-equipped bike you can minimise the breakdowns, and make them much easier to deal with. Well built wheels will reduce the chance of spokes breaking, even under a touring load. And a good touring frame will shrug off the special strains placed on it, carrying you and your household for many thousands of miles. With a quality bike, a handful of tools, and a handful more of experience, roadside maintenance is just part of the trip.

As well as being reliable, a good touring bike will give you remarkable luggage-carrying capacity, relaxed handling and a comfortable ride. It will have racks designed to spread the luggage evenly on the machine whilst keeping the centre of gravity low so that your bicycle hugs the road, whatever precipitous challenges may come your way. Low gears will enable you carry your load smoothly, if slowly, over some remarkable hills. The mark of a fine touring bike with a well-distributed load is that you can forget about it: nothing wobbles or rattles, allowing you to devote your whole attention to your travels.

Cycling, on the edge of unaided travel, takes us as fast as it is possible to go, without leaving our spirit behind. Granted, we can whizz along in a train, a plane, or an automobile, but the experience lacks a certain something, that edge of reality which only self-powered travel provides. Whether the emphasis is on maximum human velocity, or simply pedalling steadily through the landscape, the road bike is still a machine which superbly combines the needs of the body and the spirit.