Types of road bikes

How to determine the best road bike for your needs.

When looking for your next bike, the first question you should ask yourself is: 

WHERE (or on what surfaces) do I want to ride most of the time? 

If your answer is, “I want to ride my bike on roads or paved surfaces,” then, yes, you’re looking for a road bike! But, wait, what is a road bike anyway? Can’t I just ride a mountain bike on the road?

Sure, you can ride a mountain bike on the road, but it won’t be as efficient as using a road bike. The difference between a road bike and a mountain bike lies in a mountain bike’s specialized features – such as knobby tires, suspension, wider handlebars, larger disc brake rotors, and slacker head tube angles – that are designed to absorb impacts, enhance stability, and improve handling on rough terrain. Simply put, many of these features are unnecessary when riding on smoother surfaces. 

Bikes that are meant to be ridden on the road, bike paths, and greenways will share a few common traits: smoother tire tread patterns, narrower tire widths, and a rigid frame. But, that’s where the similarities end! There are many different types of road bikes, each meant to perform the best for specific uses.

An endurance road bike is made for comfort, efficiency, and performance over long rides or races (such as Gran Fondo events). Like most traditional road bikes, an endurance bike will have drop handlebars that provide multiple positions for your hands to increase comfort over long distances. These bikes also tend to have geometry and technologies that provide increased compliance to absorb road vibrations from bumpy “b roads” and impacts from the occasional pothole. Because endurance road bikes are made to go the distance, they can easily be loaded with bags, racks and fenders for multi-day rides in all weather conditions. But don’t be fooled by the word “comfort,” these bikes are made to go fast and perform at the highest levels! Lightweight frames and efficient gearing for hilly terrain make endurance road bikes a great option for all-around road riding and racing.

Shop Endurance Road Bikes

Aero road bikes are made for one thing: flat out speed. Meticulously tested for the lowest amount of drag in the wind tunnel, these bikes perform best in high-speed road races on flatter courses, in sprint finishes, sprint and olympic-distance triathlons, and criterium races. You can typically spot an aero road bike by the shape of the frame. Round tubing is replaced by flatter, angular or oblong shapes. Whew, an aero road bike just looks fast!

Wait, I thought you could race an endurance road bike and an aero road bike? Yes, you can! Those bikes are the best option for certain types of road races. If you’re looking for the best all around road racing bike, this is your category. With compact frame geometry for more compliance than an aero road bike, but more aero features and lighter weight than an endurance road bike, race bikes are what you see most often in events like the Tour de France Femmes. Are these bikes only for racing? Of course not! Although often called, "race bikes", they are for anyone who wants a lightweight, snappy bike that is super-efficient on climbs.

Triathlon-specific bikes are most often used for 70.3 and full Ironman-distance events, or anywhere drafting is not allowed. That means, you aren’t allowed to sit in the slipstream of another rider, you have to produce all of your own power – so, aerodynamics and efficiency are paramount. Triathlon bikes have extremely aerodynamic tubing and specialized aerodynamic handlebars for ideal body position. These bikes are also engineered with geometry to harness certain muscle groups while giving others a rest, because when a triathlete finishes racing her bike, she still has to run!

What if speed and performance is not at the top of your road bike “must have” list. Instead, you’re looking for a bike that will be reliable and practical. Maybe you want a bike that will help you tackle your fitness goals…but you want to steer clear of drop handlebars. Or you need a bike with more upright positioning that’s easier to ride in clothes you’re wearing to work or to meet up with friends. Hybrid, commuter, and fitness bikes typically have flat handlebars, more relaxed geometry, and they can be extremely versatile – think options for fenders, racks, water bottle cages, etc. You may notice these bikes have tires with a little more tread, which provides added traction if your commute takes you off road through sand or gravel.

A cruiser-style bike maximizes comfort, stability, and style over speed. Even more upright than a hybrid or fitness bike, these bikes can get you from “A” to “B”. Wider tires provide greater stability on rough roads, gravel, or sand, making cruisers your go-to bikes for a ride to the beach. With fun accessories like baskets, racks, and fenders, you can load up these bikes with anything you need for a Sunday cruise.

An E-bike is any bike that provides an added boost to your pedal stroke with the help of a motor, battery, and control unit. E-road bikes are pedal-assist bikes that are made to perform best on roads and other paved surfaces. Within the E-road bike category, you can find options to best suit the terrain and your riding goals – just like regular bikes, but supercharged!

E-bike curious? Learn more about E-bikes here!

What if I want to ride on gravel roads?

While you can ride short sections of gravel or unpaved surfaces on road bikes, there are some key differences between road bikes and gravel bikes. Gravel bikes are the all-terrain-vehicle of bikes. With wider knobby tires, longer wheelbase, extra mounts for added gear, and flared drop handlebars, gravel bikes specialize in keeping you comfortable when adventures or races take you off the beaten path.

Learn more about gravel bikes

What is a cyclocross bike?

Cyclocross bikes like the Liv Brava Advanced are specifically made for racing short, punchy off-road courses where you’ll likely have to carry your bike. Sure, you can ride a cyclocross bike on the road. Swap those knobby tires for some slick road tires, and it’ll get the job done. But, you may find that gearing and frame geometry are not ideal for longer road rides and climbing.

Learn more about cyclocross

What are some tips for riding a road bike?

From changing gears and body position to cornering fast and sprinting like a champion, there are a lot of skills to learn when it comes to road biking. We have guides on how to ride a road bike for all riding levels.

Road bike skills guides

What are the best road bikes for beginners?

If you’re a beginner, the best road bike for you all depends on your goals! If you want to get on your bike and ride far away from home, maybe an endurance road bike is the best for you. Want to start commuting? Grab a functional road bike with flat bars and options for racks and fenders.

Get more beginner biking tips