Biking—especially competitive racing—is the epitome of an adrenaline rush: The surge of the wind as you fly down hills and along straightaways. The whirring of the wheels spinning as you pick up speed. The weightlessness of perfectly balancing on two wheels. Each year, millions of people reach for their helmets, put air in their tires, and hit the road with their bikes to enjoy the thrill and exhilaration of cycling for themselves. Not all bikes are created equal, however, and a rider who wants to move like the wind will need a very different bike from a rider who just wants some leisurely exercise.
In fact, there are many differences between road bikes and race bikes, but they mainly boil down to geometry, comfort, and tires. If you’re thinking about purchasing a new set of wheels but aren’t sure whether to go for a road bike or a race bike, take a look below for more details!
While the basic frame of both road and racing bikes is the same, race bikes are lighter and more aerodynamic so that they can achieve and maintain higher speeds. Conversely, road bikes are heavier and have slacker angles so that they can remain smooth while riding, unlike race bikes, which are notoriously sensitive and “twitchy” to help riders jockey for position.
Race bikes are built to be fast, and they sacrifice other characteristics—including the comfort of the rider—in order to achieve that goal. Geometry plays a part here: Due to the frame angle and the short length of the head tube, which supports the handlebars, race bikes often require riders to lean forward and practically lay flat across the top of the bike. Road bikes, on the other hand, tend to have longer head tubes, meaning that the rider can sit in a comfortable, upright position. Furthermore, road bikes tend to be more shock absorbent than their racing counterparts, adding to their comfort.
In their quest for speed, racing bikes use thinner tires that allow them to move faster at the cost of easier handling. Meanwhile, road bike tires are wider, which means that they have better grip and handling and are more equipped to handle rough terrain—like potholes or uneven surfaces—that might spell disaster for race bikes. However, these wider tires mean road bikes can’t move quite as fast as race bikes do.