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Road cycling

Road cycling is cycling on roads, as opposed to rough terrain. Road cycling actually encompasses a variety of different activities, each engaged in for a different purpose and using different equipment. Road bikes are larger, longer, and lighter than mountain or BMX bikes. They are not expected to take the heavy beating a mountain bike would, and thus are not constructed to handle extreme "off-road" conditions.

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Types of Road Bikes

Typical Road Bicycle

Road bikes today are constructed from a variety of materials, ranging from the traditional steel alloy to aluminum, titanium, magnesium and carbon-fiber composites, to combinations of the materials. Each of these materials has its own favorable aspect. Steel alloys are known to produce pliable frames that can be "tuned" for a particular type of riding. Aluminum frames are among the stiffer frames and are thus suitable for heavier riders or those that engage in high-energy pedaling. Titanium and carbon-fiber frames are more exotic, with better strength-to-weight ratios than steel or aluminum, but are higher in cost. The current trend among high-end frames is to use a combination of materials, such as aluminum or titanium for the main part of the frame and using carbon-fiber for the front and rear portions of the frame. In the hands of a skilled framebuilder, lightweight frames can be made out of any of these materials.

Road bikes can be divided into several categories, each category of bike designed for a specific type of activity. In reality, bikes come in a spectrum of designs, ranging from racing bikes on one end to mountain bikes on the other. At the racing end, bikes are lightweight and have higher gearing. At the opposite end, bikes are small and sturdy, with low gearing appropriate for hills and off-road riding.

Racing Bicycle

The two most important things about a racing bike are its weight and low aerodynamic drag. Everything else in the design is sacrificed for these properties. In order to reduce wheel weight and improve aerodynamic efficiency, racing bikes have fewer spokes; a typical number is 24. The resulting weaker wheel is not suitable for carrying heavy loads, landing jumps, etc., since this could cause spokes to break. To reduce both air resistance and friction on the road, tires are thin and smooth. Drop handlebars and optional handlebar extensions are combined with a raised seat stem in order to put the rider in a more aerodynamic posture. Even more extreme in the search for speed, however, is the track bike. These bikes, designed specifically for racing on a circular track, are not considered appropriate for use on the road. As such, they will not be covered any further here.

Road Bicycling is one of the most popular sports in a number of European countries. The top countries in this sport are Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the United States and Switzerland (not necessarily in the order of interest).

Races can be categorized by length and types:


  • Single-day races: The competitor to cross the finish line first is declared the winner.
  • Multi-stage races: Consists of several one-day races, often consecutively. The competitor with the lowest cumulative time to complete all the stages is declared the winner.


  • Open road race: Generally going from point A to point B; can include multi-laps.
  • Criterium: Generally a circuit race with multiple laps and some sort of elimination scheme (for example, last 5 competitors of each lap are eliminated).
  • Individual time trial: Every rider starts apart, and the rider with the fastest time wins.
  • Team time trials: Riders start in groups or teams, usually of a fixed size. The time of the nth rider of a team counts for the classification.

The most famous cycling race is the Tour de France, a multi-stage tour over three weeks through France, traditionally ending in Paris. Similar long multi-stage tours are held in Italy (the Giro d'Italia) and Spain (the Vuelta a España[?]). The most important one-day races form the World Cup: Milan-Sanremo (Italy), Tour of Flanders (Belgium), Paris-Roubaix (France), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Belgium) and Amstel Gold Race (Netherlands) in Spring, Clasica San Sebastian (Spain), HEW-Cyclassics Cup (Germany), Championship of Zürich (Switzerland), Paris-Tours (France) and Giro di Lombardia (Italy) in Autumn.

Touring Bicycle

This form of road cycling can be thought of as backpacking on a bicycle. Bicycle touring is popular with a certain core set of riders, who think it's the best thing in the world. Touring clubs are fairly rare, due to lack of popular interest, but local cycling clubs will often sponsor at least one short touring event annually. For those interested in longer touring trips, a number of private companies organize tours around the world, ranging from a week in length up to several months.

In touring, speed is no longer critical as it is in racing. Instead, the ability to haul cargo is key. Touring bikes are thus designed to have stronger frames and wheels, lower gearing (useful for taking all that weight up a big hill), and better brakes (useful for taking all that weight down a big hill). In addition, the frame is designed to allow for easy mounting of panniers and fenders. Steel and aluminum are the metals of choice for the frame. Wheels have more spokes: 36 is a typical number. Racing tires are sometimes used, but often the tire is slightly thicker with more tread for improved traction on wet or poor roads.

Thus, touring bikes trade off some speed for extra utility and ruggedness. This combination of features turns out to be very popular with commuters and couriers as well.

Hybrid Bicycle

A bicycle consisting of a road or touring type of frame and wheels but is usually geared low and has a straight handle bar for a more upright riding position. Tires tend to be wider to handle light off-road duty. This bicycle is a favorite of the day cyclist and some commuters.

Cyclo-Cross Bicycle

Cyclo-Cross refers to a particular type of on and off-road racing and the bikes can sometimes be confused with a Hybrid bicycle. Cyclo-cross bikes traditionally are modified touring bikes with wider drop outs for even wider tires and even more sturdy frames so they can handle terrain like that a mountain bike would deal with. Tires are usually cross specific as they must deal with mud well, but still have low drag for paved sections of the race. Racers also must dismount and carry their bicycles over barriers or up hills for part of the race.

Mountain Bicycle

While Mountain bicycling is an off-road event, the popularity and low cost of the Mountain Bicycle has found them a niche with the general biking public. Mountain bikes varieties are broad with various shocks ahd gearing but for the most part they are very rigid bikes that can take a lot of abuse.


Think 1950s Schwinn and you've got a cruiser. These bikes are becoming increasingly popular today as a faster-than-walking way to get around town. Unlike the other categories of road bike, these aren't designed for performance at all. They are designed for comfort. Handlebars are straight (or slightly curved back, rather than down) facilitating an upright riding position. Large, padded seats are the norm. Shocks are common, both on the wheels and on the seat post. Cruisers typically have simple and minimal gearing, at least compared to the 27 speeds found on most other types of road bike today.

A couple of interesting variations on cruisers popular right now (at least on the San Francisco Peninsula) are the retro Schwinns, which are designed to look like they came straight out of the 1950s, and weird little fixed-gear bikes with tiny wheels and very long posts.

Utillity Bicycle

A utillity bicycle is a bicycle designed for practical purposes such as shopping, commuting and short trips around town. Utillity bicycles are the most common type of bicycle in countries such as the Netherlands where utillity cycling is common.

Typically a utillity bicycle is designed for comfort, practicallity and minimal maintenance rather than speed, for instance utillity bicycles usually use low maintenance Hub gears rather than Derailleur gears, and often use Hub brakes rather than rim brakes.

Utillity bicycles often come ready equiped with features such as a lugguage rack or basket, and Dynamo (generator) lighting systems. Utillity bikes often have frames with a low crossbar, or no crossbar at all, to allow women wearing skirts to use them freely.

Other Bicycles

There are may other types of bicycles including the tandem bicycle and the recumbent bicycle.

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