Matthew Busche, a seven-year pro road cycling veteran with Radio Shack, Trek and UnitedHealthcare and two-time U.S. National Champion, is putting his experience and insight to work in a new column for Active Junky. To ask Matthew questions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
If I'm looking to buy a decent road bike, do I invest in the frame part of the build or spend my money on the bike's components?
Matthew Busche: Buying a bike is not a small decision. It is a big investment and much like anything, there is a price/quality relationship. You can’t go to a big box store, buy the cheapest bike, and expect that you’ll have a long lasting, loving relationship with cycling. Make sure to do a little research and try to test ride some bikes. A bike has three main parts: wheels, frame, and components. Unless you’re racing, most any wheel will do just fine, so it is probably best to focus more attention on the frame and components. With regard to the frame, a lot will probably be dictated by your budget. A carbon frame offers a lightweight, and stiff ride, yet it absorbs a good bit of road vibration, which increases its comfort. Aluminum is the only competition to carbon in terms of weight and stiffness, but it usually is not as forgiving on the road. These two materials are generally what race bikes are made of. Steel and titanium are the other two mainstream frame material choices. Both tend to provide very comfortable ride quality, however they are generally a little more flexible and heavier. They are not usually the choice of racers, however they are a great choice for those interested in a comfortable, often classic looking ride. The biggest and most important influence on a bike’s feel and ride will come from the components. This is the nuts and bolts of the bike and what makes it go. Most components are made pretty well these days, but if you have a little extra to invest, your priority should be making sure you have quality components. Nicer components will perform better, last longer, and require less maintenance, which will enhance your overall enjoyment of the bike.
How important is a bike's weight if I'm riding it for fitness and perhaps a fund-raising ride this coming season?
The weight of a bike for a recreational rider is not important at all. Of course a lead-weight bike won’t make riding easier for you, but any bike of reasonable quality will be of a sensible weight to get the job done. At this stage, don’t spend all your energy on trying to find the lightest, fastest bike out there. Instead, recreational riders should focus on figuring out what will make getting out on the bike enticing and fun. Maybe try to find a group to ride with, or put a little energy into trying to follow a training plan to help you arrive at your goal event in the best shape possible. If you have done good training and prepared well, the weight of a bike will not be the determining factor in how much enjoyment you have or how you will see yourself improve.
What part of a road bike is most likely to fail or wear out fastest – and is there anything I can do about it?
There are two parts of the bike that will need regular tune-ups. The first is your tires. There is a wide range of tire options on the market and they all perform differently, but a tire that is worn down will most certainly lead to punctures. There is no specific mileage or length of time that a tire will last, but a general rule of thumb for road and touring tires is about 2000 miles. High-end road tires built for racing might only last 1000 miles, while training tires might last 3000 miles or more. A road tire will become almost squared off when it’s nearing the end of its life. Mountain tires are a lot less predictable because of the variety of riding conditions they are exposed to. A mountain tire is similar to a car tire and will lose its treads (especially in the center) and begin to look “bald” when it is running close to the end of its life. Tire wear is inevitable, but keeping them properly inflated is the best way to get the most out of your tires. The other part of the bike that is most likely to wear out is your drivetrain: the chainrings, chain, and cassette (gears) of the bike. A chain that is meticulously cared for could last upwards of 5000 miles, but the average is more like 2000-3000 miles. Keeping your chain clean and lubed will extend its life, as well as the life of your chainrings and cassette. Over time, a chain will have to be replaced regardless, but if you have properly cared for your chain, you will hopefully not have to replace your cassette too. A tool designed to check the chain “stretch” (wear) is the most certain way to know what point in life your chain is at. They are very easy to use and a worthwhile investment to do some at-home checking.