Attaining the perfect road bike may seem, at first blush, a bit like attaining a chupacabra. If you’re light on your Latin lore, try Bigfoot. There are so many factors it may better to say it would be like trying to use Bigfoot as bait to catch the Loch Ness Monster.
My friends, it’s not quite that bad, if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, this is the post for you, because it’ll get bumpy in a hurry. Let’s look at some points that don’t require a tinfoil hat.
The most important question you’ll have to answer to build your perfect bike is, “What kind of rider do I want to be?” I realize most won’t have a clue – don’t be discouraged, it’s not a requirement. Yet. There’ll be a little more trial and error with the process at first if you don’t, but that can be worked around with the right amount of cash. If you like the idea of road cycling, what kind? Do you want to be fast, kinda fast, or do you just want to putter around the 40-mile block?
If you’re going to be very fast, if that suits you, then you’re going to want something very light, very aero, and very carbon fiber. If you’re going to be kinda fast, then the aero bit is nice, but not entirely necessary. The carbon fiber is a must, and the gearing will be slightly more important than weight. You just want to ride around the block at a fair clip? Well, in that case you can easily get away with aluminum if you’re running 25 or 28mm tires. In simple terms, the faster you want to go, the more narrow the gap to thread the needle.
The same will go for mountain bikes or gravel bikes – the faster you want to be, the more important the frame material and component class become – more on components later.
In order of importance, you’ll have frame size, stem length, saddle size/width and crank arm length. Those affect all of your big hitter pain centers. Too much reach, drop or rise in your stem and you hurt or your arms and hands go numb. Saddle too wide, oh dear God will you hurt. Frame too big or small, pain indeed. Stem too short or long? Take a guess. How about the crank arms? Too short, no power. Too long, pain, pain, pain, pain. Saddle too high? Ouch. Saddle too low? Guess!
You get the point. The numbers have to be very close to right. Don’t just go with any size, either. Even going with the internet frame size calculators is a little iffy, because a true pro will take the geometry of the whole frame into account before picking the right size for the rider. Using me as an example, the computer model showed I should be on a 58cm frame. For my Specialized, I knew better, though. I wanted something a little more low slung so I ordered a 56. Because it was a compact frame, I even could have been worked into a 54 but I thought that would be too much drop from saddle to bar, and the stem would have been really long.
You’ll also have to take frame style into account. The Specialized is a compact frame while the Trek two photos up is a standard. Standard frames are a little more finicky when it comes to size so it is wise for one to stick a little closer to the proper size. You can tell them by their top tube – it runs almost perfectly parallel to the ground. I could have fit myself on a 56cm standard frame, but it would have taken some creative part selection. The 56cm compact frame, it was no problem at all. 10mm longer stem, peg the saddle, slap it on the keister and call her a biscuit.
I’ll Take Mechanically Sound for $1,500, please…
This is going to be a very short paragraph because it’s very simple. Shimano 105, SRAM Rival, or Campagnolo Chorus are the minimum starting point for components. You don’t need top of the line for your perfect bike, but you have to start somewhere, and that’s where. I have two perfect bikes, one with 105 and one with Ultegra components (third and second from the top, respectively). Dura Ace would have been nice, yes, and another $1,000 per bike. Not necessary for my above average, but below hair on fire, pace.
Color Me Happy…
And that leads us to the all-important color selection. Look, unless you really like baby-$#!+ brown, don’t settle for a bike that looks like a baby $#@+ on it. For this point, and I can’t believe I can say this and mean it, I like my Trek over the Specialized. I built the Trek from the ground up. I picked the crankset, the chainrings, the pedals, the seat post… I picked the colors. I picked the stem and the quill stem adapter. And the headset. And the bottom bracket… and the bar tape. And the handlebar… Right down to my name on the top tube and the Punisher decal on the down tube, the Trek is my bike. I built (and for some parts, had it built) exactly how I wanted it, from the ground up.
Whoever tells you road cycling isn’t a bit of a fashion show, they’re either lying, they don’t know any better, or they truly don’t care. Either way, it’s a fashion show on two wheels. And let’s face it, if they’re in the “don’t care” camp, that puts you in the “ain’t listening to someone who doesn’t care” camp.
Finally, we come down to the little details. The decals, the style and color of the decals, and so forth. Too many decals and your steed won’t look flashy in the “flash me your boobs” way. No, boobs are wonderful. Bikes with too many decals are gaudy. Don’t go there. Just a few, here and there. Let the awesomeness of the bike speak for itself. Anyone who knows a 1999 Trek 5200 knows they were gaudy. So gaudy, I need only link to it (page 19). When I built mine, I could have had the original decal set put on the bike. You can see what I went with, “Trek”, a “Made in the USA” decal (because it literally was, twice), and a “Velocity Wheels” decal, because Velocity is awesome. Finally, I just added that Punisher decal.
There’s a big gap between a really good bike and a perfect bike. Really good will get the job done. It’ll get you where you want to go, as fast as you want to go, provided you’re willing to give it the effort.
You’ll give your perfect bike a double-take when you walk by and it’ll be a pleasure to ride. That’s when you know you’ve got it right.