I will be moving soon because of my work and the new area is not very "mountain bike friendly" as it is very flat and there aren't much hills or mountains around.

So I think of buying a road bike to keep practicing and maybe commuting to work. But I know nothing about road bikes and I have never ridden one before.

What are the main things I should be aware of when buying one that are fundamentaly different from a moutain bike ?

The bike I currently have is a Lapierre Zesty 414 with tubeless tyres. I'm also quite tall (1m95 or 6'4") so I'm wondering if it may cause any problems.

  • 2
    There is nothing stopping you putting slick tyres on your MTB and turning it into a Hybrid. It's likely the cheapest option and you are already familiar with your setup. – Gordon Copestake Jul 29 '15 at 10:51
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    If you've got a moutain bike already, you should tell us a little more about it. If you've got a hardtail with lock-out front suspension, just stick some more suitable tyres on it, but if you've got full suspension with no lock-out you might want something different – Chris H Jul 29 '15 at 11:26
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    @ChrisH have edited my post to answer your comment. – Tom Jul 29 '15 at 11:34
  • Roughly how far will you be commuting? – Pyritie Jul 29 '15 at 12:19
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    Don't overcomplicate it. A road bike is just a bike. The biggest difference will be the geometry and shifting gears. The geometry you'll get used to. The shifting you'll figure out in minutes. Beyond that, you should have no problems going from one bike to another. – Mohair Jul 29 '15 at 13:20
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You will find the differences are significant.

When you say a road bike, we understand a bike with drop handlebars. Drop bars give you a very different riding position compared to an MTB. Some people need time to adjust to the new position, and can have problems with weak or tired neck muscles.

An alternative would be a hybrid style of bike, with flat handlebars. This would be much closer to the riding position you are used to.

The thinner, smaller, slick tires will provide two more differences.

One is much less cushioning, so you'll feel bumps more. The other is they'll be much faster. So you'll ride faster and feel any bumps in the road more.

As a consequence, some people get sore hands or wrists.

The other main difference is how light the bike is. On any medium quality bike (or better) you'll feel like you suddenly got on an F1 bike :-)

When switching to road cycling, make sure you have well padded gloves to absorb road vibration. And the bigger the change in riding position from your MTB, the more gradually you should make the change. Keep the MTB and ride the new bike for a few days, then switch back. If you start feeling sore then give the new bike a break for a day or two.

It may sound like I'm talking road bikes down, but as a road-only cyclist I am keen for you to get the best out of the change. You'll quickly discover that each kind of cycling has it's own different pleasures.

There is not much to be aware of. The geometries range a bit between relaxed “training” geometries and more aggressive “racing” geometries. Get what fits you. Above 1000€ they are all solid quality with the main differences being weight and more or less aerodynamic wheels.

If you plan on commuting, a randonneur or cyclocross bike where you can fit fenders, wider tires, a rack and hub dynamo might be a better, more versatile choice.

If it’s flat, windy and mostly overland an aerodynamic time trial/triathlon bike might be an option.

  • Road bike often refers to a racing bike designed mainly for speed, and use drop bars. You might also want to look at hybrids, or flat bar road bikes. Both are a cross between mountain and road bikes. – Kim Ryan Jul 29 '15 at 10:18
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    I never quite understood those “fitness” bikes (road bikes with flat bar). Drop bars are great, why would anyone get a road bike with flat bar?! I think they only exist because people are irrationally insecure about switching to drop bars. – Michael Jul 29 '15 at 10:27
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    @Michael for urban commuting I'm used to being able to see over cars on a hybrid. Even on the top of drop bars I lose enough height that I can see over far fewer cars, while not being very near the brakes (interrupter levers would of course help with this). For steep hills (which my area has plenty of) a typical road bike might need custom gears, adding to the cost. Some people don't find riding on the hoods for long period very comfortable. That said, starting from a road frame I'd go for drop bars, just fairly high (think touring bike) and interrupter levers, rather than flat bars. – Chris H Jul 29 '15 at 11:06
  • +1 for CX bikes, they have more relax geometry, offroad+onroad uses, and good for commuting. – azer89 Jul 29 '15 at 11:11
  • Another +1 for CX. You can throw on CX tires to go on easy offroad trails, or road tires for more efficient pavement riding. And as you say, usually they accept fenders and racks. I don't want the fastest bike, I want a fast enough one with versatility. – jpkotta Jul 29 '15 at 16:51

Road bikes typically:

  1. don't have suspension
  2. are stiffer (frame doesn't flex as much)
  3. are intended for seated high cadence stroking with even power throughout the stroke (vs mountain bikes that expect and withstand very powerful downstrokes while standing)
  4. have higher gearing ratios that allow greater speeds
  5. use thinner tires with higher pressure for less rolling resistance
  6. provide many more hand positions so you can switch frequently to avoid fatigue and numbness
  7. have a much more forward facing position to reduce wind resistance

The consequences of these design decisions are many. For instance, due to 1, 2, and 5 you'll find that when on very flat surfaces you can go very fast with very little (relative) effort. However, this also means that on even good roads you'll feel road vibration and every single bump.

Due to 7 you'll be putting a lot more pressure on your hands as they support more of your upper body. This puts you in a position to provide powerful strokes without having to stand up, but means you may have to deal with more hand issues - which is one reason road bikes typically have 6. On the standard drop bars there are at least four positions which put pressure on your hands and wrists differently, and switching between them while riding will be important.

Number 3 above means that if you consistently use a standing position, or prefer to stand to accelerate away from stops, you may eventually place too much stress on parts of the frame, including the bottom bracket. If you change to a road frame, you will really need to practice pedaling faster in lieu of pedaling stronger. The frames are simply not designed for strong standing stroking techniques, and the larger you are the more destructive those techniques are to the frame. Shift down to a slower gear when you're about to stop, and get up to a cadence of 90 before shifting to a faster gear.

You might instead want to consider a hybrid bike, such as a touring bike. Alternately, many people simply put tires with no tread pattern, or a light road pattern on their mountain bikes. It would be much less expensive, but you may find that you quickly reach the highest gearing and want to go faster than the mountain bike is designed for. This is certainly much less expensive to try out, though, and provides a transition time to determine what your needs really are after you move.

After I made the same switch, I found I needed to check the tire pressure much more frequently, otherwise I'd get "pinch flats" all the time. Find the recommended pressure on the side of the tire and inflate to that every day you ride. Because of this, you'll need a pump with a gauge. But I'm happy I switched!

  • Yes, 23mm wide tires lose pressure very fast. After 2 or 3 days I’m down from 8.5bar to 7bar. So I usually re-inflate every second day or so. – Michael Jul 29 '15 at 21:55

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