5 things I wish had known before getting my first road bike

a woman riding a bike on a road surrounded by trees
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Road bikes are pretty awesome — designed with lightweight frames, narrow tires, and aerodynamic features, they allow you to achieve higher speeds with less effort compared to other types of bikes. If you love indoor cycling on one of the best exercise bikes but you also like to adventure then it's highly likely you'll enjoy the freedom of riding a road bike.

From the nuances of bike sizing to the intricacies of maintenance, there are a few things I wish I had known before buying my first road bike. Thankfully, it’s been two years now since I switched over from a mountain bike to a road bike and although I'm still learning new things about road bikes and road cycling I’ve picked up some valuable tips along the way. 

Here are five things I wish someone had briefed me on before buying my first road bike.

1) Bike size and fit

Getting a bike with the right frame size is paramount when buying a road bike, or any bike for that matter. While various components of a bike can be adjusted for a better fit you can still end up sitting uncomfortably on a bike if you begin with the wrong frame size. Road bikes aren’t overly cheap so you want to make sure you are investing in something that fits you right and that you can comfortably ride for many years to come.

I took a gamble when buying my first road bike second-hand and trusted it would feel right when I went to collect it from the seller. Luckily, the person I bought it off of was an avid cyclist and very friendly so they let me ride around on it a bit before buying and offered to adjust the seat for me. My bike feels fine but I wish I had gone into a bike shop and had them measure my height and inside leg so I knew for sure what is the perfect fit. 

If you do decide to buy online instead of in person, most bike manufacturers will have a sizing chart available with recommendations on bike sizes for varying heights.

2) Bike components

man adjusting the gears on a bike

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

As I mentioned before, my biking experience up until buying a road bike was all on a mountain bike. I grew up in the Scottish countryside riding a mountain bike on a mixture of bumpy roads and trails. So it was safe to say when I bought my first road bike in London and cycled home on it, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

First of all, I wasn’t used the narrower frame and slim tyres. so I had to be more cautious of my balance on the bike. Then, I realized that road bikes have totally different gears and brakes from mountain bikes and this affects your riding experience if you don’t take the time to figure them out. 

If you decide to buy second-hand, you will want to check when the bike was last serviced and if there are any issues you should be aware of such as stiff brakes or a rusted chain.

You will also want to consider whether you prefer platform pedals, toe clips, or clipless pedal systems. Clipless pedals offer a more efficient pedalling stroke and better power transfer but require compatible cycling shoes and you will need to take the time to practice clipping in and out of the pedals to become comfortable with the system.

3) Road safety

If you are looking to buy a road bike then it’s a given that you are going to be cycling on roads. Making sure you understand road rules and know what hand signals you should be giving as a cyclist on the road is crucial for your safety on the roads. 

Cyclists must follow the same traffic laws as cars, including stopping at red lights and stop signs, yielding to pedestrians, and signalling turns with your hands. You should wear brightly colored or reflective clothing, especially during low-light conditions, and use lights and reflectors on your bike to increase visibility to other vehicles.

Riding on busy roads for the first time can be daunting but there is lots of advice online. I went along to a local group ride session where the organizers taught basic road cycling etiquette and I would highly recommend all newbie riders to do this too.

4) Quality Gear

I used to look at road cyclists and think ‘You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing lycra on a bike’ but it turns out you would, and I’m not mad about it. I recently had a very cool experience of cycling the Al Wathba desert and felt such a difference wearing padded shorts for a more painless ride and a skintight top that didn’t flap around as I cycled thorugh the desert.

The lycra cycling uniform you see most road cyclists wearing isn’t essential for owning a road bike and I certainly don’t wear it when commuting or cycling to meet my friends for coffee. But there are basic items that can make a road bike ride 10 times more comfortable.

A good helmet is absolutely necessary. We cannot stress enough how important it is to own a helmet to protect your head in case of accidents. You should certainly check out our list of the best bike helmets if you're considering a purchase.

Additionally, cycling shorts with proper padding offer comfort and prevent chafing during long rides, while gloves provide cushioning, improve grip and protect hands from impacts. Those are some of the basics, but you will figure from your own riding experience what you personally require to make cycling more safe and comfortable.

5) Bike maintenance

a person's hands adjusting the inner tube on a bike wheel

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Sadly, your bike won’t take care of itself and like a car you will come across the occasional issue. Knowing how to perform basic maintenance tasks like cleaning, lubricating the chain, and fixing a flat tire can save you time and money in the long run. 

Despite buying my bike second-hand, it was in a good condition and had been serviced in the last six months of me buying it from the original owner. I then paid to have it serviced about a year in and didn't realize just how expensive this can be. This was a good kick up the bum for me to learn how to sort common bike issues out myself. 

However, this has meant blood (oil-covered hands), sweat and tears (while on FaceTime to my Dad) as I have tried to work out how to do various tasks like replace an inner tube and put a back wheel on. It can be risky fixing things on your own bike if you aren’t familiar with the bike’s mechanics, so make sure to consult a bike specialist first or create a little savings pot for bike repairs and instead pay your local bike shop to do the job.

More from Tom's Guide

Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.