Thursday, December 18, 2014

LRC Tip: Buying 1st Road Bike

Buying your first road bike

First off, I don’t sell bikes, hence my article here is meant to get a FIRST road bike that best fits you with consideration on cost vs performance. Save yourself money and get worthy purchases whenever possible..!!

During the course of writing this article I have considered to exclude aspects like weight, aerodynamics, saddle shape, damping characteristics, bottom bracket stiffness, handling response, wheelbase length, etc, as they only affect buyers looking for an upgrade, and doesn't mean anything to first time road bike buyers most of the time.

I’ll start off with bullet points, followed by detailed explanation further below so that readers can easily trace back the important points. 

Every word in bullet points is important and means something; they are not there to fill up the sentence. 
  • Spend around RM1.5k maximum for FIRST road bike. Usually will be a used aluminum frame bike with 10-speed 4600-Tiagra groupset. Usually Merida, Polygon and Fuji. Be patient, you’ll find it. 
  • Check, or, or from member-member and otai-otai.
  • How to determine frame size? There’s no definite answer if this is your first road bike. Start off by looking at height vs frame size chart from bike manufacturer website. Get 1 size smaller if in doubt.
  • Borrow from friends during group rides to test for frame size. 2km of experience here and there summed up is better than none at all.

What to do AFTER buying first road bike:
  1. Ride for 1-2 months, DON’T upgrade ANYTHING.
  2. After (1) above, get a bike fitting session done. Upgrade parts as recommended by bike fitter.
  3. After (2) above, ride for another 2-3 months, DON’T upgrade ANYTHING.
  4. After (3) above, get a fit update to know your latest bike fit settings.
  5. Now you can decide to sell off your RM1.5k bike without losing money and get the bling-bling brand new bike. Or keep using your properly fitted RM1.5k bike.

Now we go on to the explanation in detail. Long winded but highly packed with goodness. If you can’t digest all in one-shot, please come back and read it part-by-part.

A) Why I can’t find aluminum road bike with Tiagra groupset within RM1.5k? 

You didn’t look hard enough, or you didn’t open your mind to accept RM1.5k road bikes. My friends, customers and myself already have a few successful purchases done this way, most deals closed between RM1.1k-to-RM1.3k.

B) Why it must have at least 10-speed 4600-Tiagra groupset?

I service bikes. After servicing lot of bikes, I can safely recommend 10-speed 4600-Tiagra for a beginner bike on a cost vs performance basis. 4600-Tiagra with external shifter cables is very reliable, easy to tune, shifts easily and stays in tune for a very long time. 

This will save you a lot of headache from hearing chain-rubs or clicking noises when riding. You should be enjoying the ride, not get frustrated over an easily out-of-tune drivetrain.

Why avoid 9-speed 3500-Sora and lesser grade groupsets? They have “older” technology, don’t shift as smooth, get out of tune frequently and have stiff shifters and brakes. 

In comparison of used bikes on the market, 4600-Tiagra equipped bikes usually cost the same as 3500-Sora equipped bikes, why not go for the “free” upgrade. 

C) Why can’t I just buy an expensive bling-bling bike one-shot and be done with it?

The first road bike is usually the wrong bike with very high chance of it being of wrong SIZE or wrong TYPE. AND bike value will drop 20%-30% when you step out of the shop if you bought it new.

Choice of road bike frame SIZE and TYPE are greatly affected by a cyclist’s capability, flexibility, amount of training and rate of improvement.

Reasoning for wrong SIZE: Road biking is different from other cycling styles, we are meant to ride fast on road bikes, hence they call it racing bikes in the past. You’ll need to be consistently riding with some load on your legs even when cruising or else you’ll get pains and sores on upper body. You’re posture will be determined by how much load your legs can take. 

Stronger your legs are, more lean can be achieved (read more aero), the further your arms can reach out towards the front; hence handlebar can be placed further in front. 

Using SpeedRacer and WeekendWarrior as example and assume they are first time road bike buyers, have exactly the same body anatomy and functional characteristics. Both started with the “correctly” sized 52cm bike based on charts.

SpeedRacer loves to train hard and rides frequent, loves to score Strava personal bests on every ride. He improves very fast in strength, and very soon he’s able to lean much lower. Hence, he needs a new longer stem or a bigger frame in a short period of time.

On the contrary, WeekendWarrior loves to ride but don’t specifically train to improve, he rides average 22km/h this month, and six months later still rides at average 22km/h. His posture almost didn’t change at all. And yet, he always feels overly stretched out because his slow riding nature puts him in a more upright seating posture.

SpeedRacer progressed from 100mm stem to 130mm at end of 6 months.

WeekendWarrior will have no progress, staying at 100mm stem for the next 6 months of riding. And yet he always feel overly stretched out.

Using SpeedRacer as example again, he started off with 52cm frame and 100mm stem.

At 3 months, he’s riding with 52cm frame and 120mm stem. Or he can choose 53.5cm frame with 100mm stem. 

At 6 months, he’s riding a 52cm frame and 130mm stem, or he can choose 53.5cm frame with 120mm stem, or 55cm frame and 100mm stem.

Are you able to see the correlation between rider capability vs frame SIZE now?

Reasoning for wrong TYPE: in general there are two categories of road bike frame designs, ENDURANCE and RACE.

What’s the most notable difference between ENDURANCE and RACE bikes? 

From bike fitting point of view, it’s the Head-Tube Length. How does this affects a fit?

ENDURANCE frames generally have extra 20mm higher head-tube compared to RACE frames.

Because general population of cyclists are WeekendWarriors who do not train hard and frequent enough to achieve strength required to lean comfortably on a RACE bike. Hence the extra head-tube height helps keep the handlebar higher for weekend warriors to reach comfortably without over-stretching upper torso.

Using SpeedRacer and WeekendWarrior as example again. I mentioned they started off a 52cm bike right? But I didn’t mention the head-tube length.

As SpeedRacer improves, he doesn't only increase his reach, he has lowered his lean too. With this, he actually needs to lower the stem and handlebar too. If SpeedRacer started with ENDURANCE frame, he might not be able to lower the stem enough to suit his lean angle. Hence, he will feel the cockpit is too cramp when riding an ENDURANCE frame, that's when he needs to get a RACE frame.

How about vice versa, if WeekendWarrior started off with a RACE frame instead of ENDURANCE frame? He will have trouble getting the bike to properly fit him as WeekendWarrior is unable to lean comfortably to reach the low handlebar as the RACE frame head-tube is short. He’ll suffer back-aches and shoulder pains. UNLESS, he uses a high-rise stem which…you know…kind of looks ugly…but then it does give him a proper fit. Only thing is how long he can stand looking at the up-standing stem without thinking of buying a new frame every minute he sees his bike.

In short,

Endurance frame has taller head-tube, suits majority riding population (WeekendWarrior) who rides slightly more upright.

Race frame has short head-tube, suits low leaning Speedracer.

Are you able to see the correlation between rider capability vs frame TYPE now?

D) Conclusion:

Body HEIGHT only determines a RANGE of frame sizes a rider can choose from.

However, CAPABLITY determines riding POSTURE, which then determines the EXACT bike fitments (here means size and type of frame) suitable for the rider at that very given point of time.  

Bike fitments might (or might not) get outdated across time based on:
cycling habits: frequency, intensity and consistency.
- other sporting programs: yoga, gym, running, etc.
- fitness improvement/deterioration: stamina, flexibility, injuries, etc.


Scenario 1:

WeekendWarriorA buys a brand new RACE bike, spends RM7k. 

After 3 months, he thought he bought a bike sized too big because he was unable to lean to reach the bars comfortably having backaches and sore shoulders. The real problem is that he has a slow riding style which puts him in a more upright posture, reaching out to the handlebar is an over-stretch for him.

Assuming he needs a smaller bike, he sold off RACE bike at RM5.5k. 

Then he makes a mistake buying another new RACE Bike, only smaller in size this time thinking it will shorten the reach. Another RM7k spent. 

Now he faces problem with head-tube too short and handlebars too low. Then he decided to get a bike fit for RM420 to solve fitting issues.

After bike fitting session, he cannot stand the look of an up-standing stem which makes his race bike looks like a touring bike. He decided to sell off smaller RACE bike at RM5.5k.

Finally, based on fit dimensions from the bike fit session, he bought a correctly fitted ENDURANCE bike at RM7k. 

Total spent RM10.42k and ends up with RM7k bike.

Scenario 2:

WeekendWarriorB buys RM1.5k used bike roughly within his fit, rides it for two months with pains and sores, then got a RM420 bike fit which improved overall riding experience.

He continued to ride for another 2-3 months, he got a fit-update to sort out final fit dimensions. At this point he might be lucky for the used bike to fit him well, he can choose to keep riding it or sell off to get an upgrade. If bike fitter says the bike is way too big or too small for him, then he can proceed to upgrade safely with fitting dimensions provided by bike fitter.

Let's say he decided to sell off the bike at RM1.3k. 

Then he buys a new ENDURANCE bike at RM7k with the correct fit dimensions. 

Total spent RM7.62k and ends up with a RM7k bike.

Hope my article made sense. It does right?

----- END -----

To understand more about bike fitting, please visit:

For further information on pricing & contact, go here:

Contact: 012-232-4868 Chuah (Watsapp/SMS or call) .

Google/Waze Location: Jalan Hujan Bukit

Located in: Taman OUG, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (nearby Bukit Jalil & Sri Petaling)

Thanks very much. Ride safe and have fun..!!


  1. Not sure how the head tube length determines in bike fitting. Horizontal top tube length would be a better determination of bike fit.
    Bike manufacturers based their bike size and fitting on their cycling brand philosophy, like Colnago rides differently from a Pinarello given the same size frame. Of course this is touching on rider's experience. Its like riding a piece of history.

    Modern carbon frames are just a marketing ploy to sell bicycles. Then again what isn't, but it does take away the experience of experiencing the background of cycling.

    People should learn more about the history of cycling, how it came about and how it has progressed, where its heading before making their purchase decision. Experiencing the sport in this sense may bring more joy to owning a bicycle and riding it.

  2. Hello Kemosabe, yeap i did address the effective top tube sizing in Part C's "Reasoning for Wrong Size" of the article.

    As for Colnago vs Pinarello, the fit is caused by difference in head tube length (even when bike size is the same), as addressed in Part C's "Reasoning for Wrong Type" of the article.

    The article is created for cyclists who plans to get their first road bike, but are confused by the myths and incomplete information often gathered from the internet or through cycling buddies. These mis-information has caused for many starters to lose interest in cycling, especially when discomfort from ill-fitting bikes are brushed off as "this is normal lahhhh" by cycling buddies.

    Hence, i felt obliged to spread this knowledge to as many cyclists as possible, to let them know that road biking is fun and enjoyable ONLY when the bike is properly fitted to match their anatomy and cycling capability. And also to inform cyclists that these discomforts can be solved, and should not be such a pain to cycle of road bikes.

  3. Pardon my typos and grammar errors in few of the sentences above, my fingers were typing faster than i was thinking.

  4. Thank you so much for this article!
    It has really cleared things up for me and probably saved me a lot of discomfort and money!
    I'm relatively new to cycling and am looking to get my first bike, so I'm very glad I came across your article to clear up my doubts, keeping me from blowing about 6K this weekend!

    Keep up the amazing work!


  5. Thanks Chuah.. Well & Details Explaination For "Nubis" Like Me.. Now 1st Cancel To Purchase Bling2 Super RoadBike & Searching For Used Bike With At Least Tiagra Groupset.. Will Meet U For My First Bike Fit Soon.. Kipidap Bro

    Azmi - 0126564747