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When you search online, you typically find reviews for the most expensive bikes saying that they are the best bikes out there and they make it seem like you must have the most expensive bike out there to be a good cyclist. This is not the case.
Yes, it is true that some of the nicer road bikes are lighter, have better aerodynamics, better shifting, etc and these components will make you a bit faster, but the largest factor in being faster on your bike is how often you ride your bike and how many miles you have under your belt. If your legs and cardio can’t keep up, it doesn’t matter what kind of bike you’re on.
The more you enjoy riding and the more it becomes a hobby that you enjoy doing on a regular basis, the faster you’ll get. Riding regular will also get you in better shape to ride further.
It’s just like working out/lifting weights, you can’t go to the gym once a month or once a year and expect to be able to bench press 300 lbs. It takes time to gradually work your way up to that amount.
It’s the same for cycling you don’t start out riding 100 miles at record speeds, you ride a little more each time and work your way up to long rides. As you ride more and more you’ll be able to maintain faster speeds longer throughout your ride. After years of riding, the times you were doing when you started will be easy now.
If you do have the legs, conditioning, cardio, etc. Then, yes, having a better bike will make you faster. However, you’re going to find the biggest time difference between a couple of hundred-dollar road bikes from Walmart and a couple of thousand-dollar road bikes from a cycling company.
Once you get into real road bikes from good cycling companies, unless you’re competing, there’s probably not going to be enough of a noticeable difference between a $1-4,000 and a $5-10,000 bike to warrant the price difference. The more expensive bike will shave a few seconds off your time or a few mins on longer routes but the question is is it worth thousands of dollars.
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Aerodynamics is basically how an item is able to move through the atmosphere. In the case of bikes, it is how well the bike is able to cut through the wind/atmosphere. The better the aerodynamics of the bike the less drag you will feel from the wind and atmosphere as you ride. Having better aerodynamics is one of the big components of more expensive bikes.
Different tiers of bikes are going to have different levels of aerodynamics. More expensive bikes will typically have the most aero components. They put those bikes in wind tunnels and tweak every component to be as aero as possible.
It’s not only the components tho. They figure out the best bike geometry so that your ride positioning is also aero. With a good bike, the position you fall into on the bike will be a very aero position to help reduce your drag.
Another major component in terms of bicycle tiers is weight. The heavier you and your bike are, the more power you have to put out to go the same speed. For example, if 2 riders are riding 18 mph, the rider whose bike, combined with their weight, weighs more will have to work harder to maintain that speed.
With this in mind, losing weight can be a large component in getting faster on your bike. A person’s weight can typically fluctuate 10s of pounds, on the other hand, a bike can only vary by a few pounds. A cheap bike may weigh 20-30 lbs while an expensive carbon fiber bike can weigh 15 lbs.
However, a person who rides their bike consistently may go from 220 lbs to 170 lbs. The 50 lbs difference in body weight will make a bigger difference than the 5-15 lbs you can reduce by getting a more expensive bike.
The shifting on top-of-the-line road bikes is definitely a feature that makes a better road bike more appealing. This is mainly due to the new electronic shifting, sometimes called wireless shifting that is available.
Electronic shifting has a number of benefits and features compared to mechanical shifting, but it also has some drawbacks.
The main advantages are in terms of performance. Electronic shifting is able to shift perfectly under heavy load and stress due to the fact the shifting is powered by a battery. So, you don’t have to time your shifts to avoid your chain falling off or clunky shifting. In addition to smoother shifting, electronic shifting is stated to be faster than mechanical shifting and you can shift multiple gears at a time without messing up your gearing.
Another performance advantage that electric shifting has is the ability to synchronize your rear cassette and your chainring for you. You can set it up so that you only have to shift your rear cassette and the computer in your shifting mechanism will automatically shift your chainring at the perfect times to minimize the power difference from shifting your chainring.
If you’ve been riding for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve switched from your big chainring to your little chainring and had to pedal super fast or lost all resistance in your pedaling. This happens because you switched your chainring at the wrong time. Electronic shifting fixes this by shifting your chainring at the right time to minimize the power differential.
While in terms of performance wireless shifting can be a great addition to a top-of-the-line bike, it still has its drawbacks. The main drawbacks are that it is battery powered and the ease of maintenance. Having battery-powered shifters can be a drawback because they can die while you’re riding. Then you won’t be able to shift gears. On top of that maintenance may be harder since you can’t just fix everything yourself.
Last but not least we’re going to talk about brakes. Most high-end road bikes, come with disc brakes instead of rim brakes. Although there are many pro riders that still prefer rim brakes.
Rim brakes are reliable and require a lot less maintenance. While disc brakes can be easily damaged and require a lot more maintenance such as bleeding the brakes.
The stopping power of good disc brakes is better than rim brakes but rim brakes perform very well.
Overall, yes, a good road bike can make you faster but only up until a point. Also, there’s a starting point that you must reach before a better bike can truly help you. If you aren’t in good shape, a good bike won’t do much to make you a better cyclist. To become faster you need to work on your body and improve your muscles, cardio, and overall fitness.
Once your fitness reaches that base level, a good road bike may be what you need to get over your plateau. However, a $10,000 road bike may not give you as much of a power gain as you’re thinking. A $3,000 road bike may be all you need unless you plan on competing either in official races or just attacking Strava KOMs.