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Road Bike Gear Essentials for Beginner Cyclists

Zach Nehr

Whether you're a total beginner or an experienced racer, there's probably a piece of road bike gear essentials that you've been thinking about getting. It could be a new water bottle, a set of race wheels, an aerodynamic helmet, or more. 

Even if you have all the cycling gear, new pieces of kit are being released every year. Is this year's aero jersey that much better than last year's? 

In this post, we're going to run through beginner road bike gear. We're going to start with the absolute essentials, and by the end of this essential cycling gear guide, we'll have time to run through some luxury items. We'll cover everything from the must-haves to the "I'll add that to my Christmas list." 

All the Gear You Need to Start Riding a Road Bike

There's no question that a road bike is a serious purchase. Even the basic and most affordable models cost nearly a thousand dollars. As for the carbon fiber machines they race at the Tour de Fran, those cost at least $15,000. 

Don't get overwhelmed by all the options – that's what we're here for! Most road cyclists and triathletes can perform at their best on an affordable road bike. 

We'll also tell you about the best purchases you can make for your road bike. These are the cheapest items that make the most significant impact. Hint: $1,500 carbon race wheels are not at the top of the list. 

This post will cover essential road bike gear for beginners, some nice upgrades, and finally, a grouping of luxury items to help you go fast and look cool. Here’s the full list of upgrades for road bikes:

Beginner Road Bike Gear

  • Cost-to-speed-gained ratio
  • Bare Minimum Bike Gear
  • Beginner Road Bike $500-$1,000
  • How to Buy a Road Bike For Your First Race

Basic Road Bike Upgrades

  • Aero Bars $100-$200
  • Clipless Pedals and Cycling Shoes $200-$300
  • Bike Fit $200-$300
  • Cycling Kit $100-$500
  • Repair Kit $50-$100

Affordable Upgrades for Beginner Cyclists

  • Aero Helmets $150-$350
  • How to Clean Your Bike Properly $100-$300

Luxury Upgrades for Serious Road Cyclists

  • Power Meters and Heart Rate Monitors $300-$1000
  • Aero Wheels $1,000-$4,000
  • Indoor Trainer $300-$2,000

Get Yourself Race Ready With Essential Bike Gear

Beginner Road Bike Gear

man in red long sleeve shirt riding on black bicycle during daytime

Starting with the basics, you will, of course, need a bike. On top of that, you will also need a few basic pieces of equipment that we will run through here. 

Cost-to-speed-gained Ratio

Throughout this article, remember that some purchases will make you faster while others will not. Every piece of cycling gear has a cost-to-speed-gained ratio, and we'll be pointing out which are the best (as well as which are the worst). 

You don't need the best equipment in the business for your first triathlon, group ride, or bike race. Far from it. You could even show up to a group ride on a Walmart bike or your friend's old single-speed. It might not be the fastest bike in the group, but imagine the look on everyone's faces if you can drop them. 

Bare Minimum Bike Gear

Here's what you'll need to get started on your very first ride:

  • Bike
  • Riding kit (i.e., clothing)
  • Basic accessories such as clipless pedals, cycling shoes, and a helmet

Beginner Road Bike $500-$1,000

A bike is the only thing you'll need to get started. However, if you're reading a 'road bike gear' guide, you're probably past the most basic phase, and you want to look like a cyclist who knows what they're doing. 

Starting with the bike, you'll need a basic road bike that works. This may seem obvious, but we've heard too many stories of people buying a bike secondhand when it turned out that the bike didn't come with wheels, tires, or pedals. 

A functioning road bike has the following components: 

  • Wheels
  • Tires
  • Tubes
  • Handlebars
  • Shifters and derailleurs
  • Brakes and brake levers
  • Pedals

For triathletes, we highly recommend starting with a road bike until you're very comfortable on the bike. While triathlon bikes are faster in the wind tunnel, they are not always faster than road bikes. If you're not used to the aero position and struggling in the aero bars, a triathlon bike will actually be slower than a road bike

Road bikes are also easier to handle than triathlon bikes, which makes them safer on open roads and group rides. 

A bonus is that road bikes are easier to resell than triathlon bikes, which makes road bikes a safe investment, especially as cycling continues to increase in worldwide popularity.

Look for modern road bikes with 11-speed shifting and disc brakes. If you're buying a bike secondhand, give the groupset and chain a close inspection before purchasing. They should be close to shiny and clean – if they're nearly black, the previous owner has not been taking good care of them, and you might need to replace them soon. You might as well add a few hundred dollars to the purchase price.  

How to Buy a Road Bike For Your First Race

If you're looking to get into racing or competitive group rides, then you will want more than a basic road bike. Most likely, you're going to want a carbon road bike that is fast and lightweight, quick in the corners, a feather on the uphills, and a speed machine in sprints. A bike like that will cost you more than $1,000, but it will undoubtedly be worth it for the improved performance. 

When you're looking for a race-ready road bike, there is an inflection point around $2,500. Under that budget, you can get a decent road bike with decent components—nothing special, but nothing bad. 

But if you are willing to spend $2,500-$5,000, you can find a fast and lightweight road bike with mid-range components such as Shimano Ultegra, Dura Ace, or SRAM Red. 

You can find most bikes online, at outlets such as Pink Bike, Craiglist, and eBay.

But if you can't find your perfect bike online, where else can you find them? Check out your local bike shop and they should have some options for you to look at. They will probably let you test them out, too, so that you can feel the differences for yourself. 

Local bike shops are great for more than just inventory. They can give you tips and tricks on bike buying and bike maintenance, and you can always count on them for a quick fix if you have any mechanical issues. 

Basic Road Bike Upgrades 

man in red shirt riding on bicycle during daytime

Once you have a road bike, there are several affordable upgrades that you can make to gain speed on the bike.  These are the best purchases to make if you don't want to spend more than $500.

Aero Bars $100-$200

Aero bars aren't required for typical road riding but are an important addition for time trial cyclists and triathletes. Aero bars have the best cost-to-speed-gained ratio out of every item on this list. For less than $200, you can gain 2-3mph on your time trialing speed, if not more. 

When cycling, the drag on our body accounts for 80-85% of our speed loss. That means that aero gains are much more critical than power gains. They're also much easier and less painful. 

With aero bars, you will lower your frontal area, reducing your drag and increasing your speed at the same power output. It can take some time to get used to the aero position, so don't be surprised if the position is difficult at first. Start with just 1-2 minutes at a time in the aero position, with rest periods in your normal road cycling position. After a couple of weeks, you should be able to ride in the aero bars for upwards of 20 minutes at a time. 

When shopping for a pair of aero bars, go for a pair with a slight upward bend. This will allow you to keep your arms relatively flat rather than reaching down to grip the aero bars. Your main goal in the aero bars should be to keep your upper body relaxed and comfortable while focusing on staying aero and putting power into the pedals. 

Clipless Pedals and Cycling Shoes $200-$300

The term "clipless pedals" is quite confusing. I've written entire articles on the topic before, but all you need to know is that "clipless pedals" are the same as "clip-in pedals." 

Clipless pedals attach to a cycling shoe that has a cleat specific to the pedal. There are many different makers of clipless pedals, with the most popular being Shimano, Look, and Speedplay. These pedals plus cycling-specific shoes can cost as little as $200, making them a great addition to your basic cycling kit. 

Clipless pedals improve your pedaling efficiency, power transfer, and stability on the bike. You'll have to learn how to use them so that you might fall over in your first few rides. But do not fear. It happens to everyone, even professionals!

Bike Fit $200-$300

Arguably, the best purchase you can make after a bicycle is a professional bike fit. You can improve just about everything relating to your body and your bike for just a few hundred dollars. You can improve your aerodynamics, increase your comfort, improve your power transfer, and more with a proper bike fit. 

Bike fitters are everywhere, so you should be able to find one nearby with a quick web search. When you go in for your visit, make sure that the bike fitter knows your cycling history and goals. Your position should look significantly different if you are training for criteriums, long rides, time trials, or triathlons. 

Go in with an open mind and trust the fitter. They are a professional, after all. It may take a few rides to get used to the changes, but you'll soon feel the difference. The fitter might adjust your bike saddle, handlebars, or cleats based on what they see. The best part is that not only will your new position be faster and more comfortable, but it will also help you avoid injury. It's a win-win!

Cycling Kit $100-$500

Cycling-specific kit is the skintight Lycra suits that result in the most interesting tan lines. There are many types of cycling kits you can wear, including skit suits, club fit jerseys, and everything in between. 

Depending on where you live, it's a good idea to look into cold-weather or wet-weather gear. This includes gloves, leg warmers, arm warmers, vests, rain jackets, shoe covers, balaclavas, and more. 

A basic cycling kit consists of bib shorts (or bike shorts) and a cycling jersey for beginners. Cycling-specific socks are unnecessary, but they are much more comfortable than regular socks and much better in hot-weather conditions. 

Bib shorts are cycling-specific shorts with chamois and bib straps that go up and over your shoulders. A chamois is a fitted pad inside bib shorts that sits between your bum and the saddle. It makes cycling much more comfortable, especially for longer rides or in the aero position. 

A cycling-specific jersey is generally made of Lycra. It is lightweight and breathable, with short sleeves, a full-length zipper in the front, and three rear pockets. Beginner riders should get a club-fit cycling jersey, which means the jersey fits slightly looser than a race-fit jersey. 

A skinsuit is always faster for racing than the jersey and bib shorts combo. 

Repair Kit $50-$100

While a bike repair kit won't necessarily make you faster, it is an essential piece of gear for most riders. A repair kit can save you from getting stranded on the side of the road, or having to hitch a ride home.

There are a few key pieces of gear you should keep in your bicycle repair kit, which most riders keep in a saddle bag:

  • Extra tube
  • CO2 cartridge (for clincher tires)
  • Tire plugs (for tubeless tires)
  • Multi tool
  • Tire levers
  • Bonus: carrying a spare pump in your jersey pocket

An extra tube and CO2 cartridge will help you reinflate your clincher tire in the case of a flat, while tire plugs can help you repair a puncture in a tubeless tire.

It is best to pack all of these items into a saddle bag, but you can also carry them in your jersey pocket, a bike bento box, or a handlebar bag.

Affordable Upgrades for Beginner Cyclists

Next, we're going to look at a few things that will make you faster, but they're not necessary for beginners. So far, we've looked at items that give you the biggest bang for your buck. In our words, the best cost-to-speed-gained ratio. 

Aero Helmets $150-$350

woman biking during daytime

If you've started cycling, you already have a basic bike helmet. But chances are the helmet that you have isn't a race-ready helmet. It's not very light, and it's not very aero. There are some serious gains to be had here. 

Of all the items on this list, an aero helmet is in our Top 3 for the best cost-to-speed-gained ratio. Some helmets are more than 1kph faster than others, which is a massive difference if you are getting into racing, time trialing, or triathlon. 

We've covered this topic on YouTube, and you don't need to spend a fortune for a good aero helmet. 

Before buying a new helmet, consider where you live and your typical riding conditions. Some aero helmets can get hot, although modern aero helmets are better-ventilated than previous generations from years ago.

Aero helmets can also be significantly heavier than other road cycling helmets, so this may not be the best upgrade if your training roads are mostly mountains. 

How to Clean Your Bike Properly $100-$300

selective focus photo of bicycle part

One of the easiest ways to gain speed is to clean your bike properly. Actually, you're not gaining speed, but you're losing less of it. 

A dirty drivetrain can cost you more than 20 Watts, which is a huge loss for racing and time trialing. The cost can be even greater on a mountain bike when your gears become caked in mud. You shouldn't need to make any huge purchases in order to clean your bike, just a few tools and cleaning supplies that should last many months. 

Here is a basic cleaning checklist that you can do before race day, or once a week for maintenance: 

  • Clean your front chain rings
  • Clean and lube your chain
  • Check your chain to make sure it is not stretched (i.e., overly worn out)
  • Clean and lube your cassette

In addition to cleaning and lubing, you can also do a few things to your road bike to make it more aerodynamic. And you know what that means: more aero equals more speed.

  • Zip tie stray cables together (without impairing their function)
  • Remove an excess bottle cage for short (<1 hour) races
  • Remove anything unnecessary for a race (e.g., saddlebag or repair kit, spare tube, tire levers, lights, bike bento box, etc.)

Luxury Upgrades for Serious Road Cyclists

That's not all! There are even more upgrades that you can make to your road bike. All of these items will make you faster, but some will cost a lot more than others. Some of these items will have a direct impact on your speed, while others have more of a long-term effect. You'll quickly see what I mean.

Power Meters and Heart Rate Monitors $300-$1000

Power meters and heart rate monitors won't necessarily make you faster right now, but they will certainly help you train. The best way to improve your fitness is through structured training, and there's no better way to track your bike training than with a power meter or heart rate monitor. 

Thankfully, power meters are no longer a luxury item that will cost you over a thousand dollars. Nowadays, you can find a basic power meter for $300-$400, whereas a heart rate monitor will only cost $50-$100. 

Power meters and heart rate monitors help you track your training by establishing your specific training zones to use in every workout. You can find a Complete Guide to Heart Rate Training Zones here

Aero Wheels $1,000-$4,000

man and woman riding road bikes at the road near shore

For some reason, road cyclists love upgrading their carbon race wheels for "free speed." However, aero wheels are the most expensive upgrade that you could possibly make to your bike!

Yes, aero wheels are faster than basic aluminum training wheels, but a decent pair of race wheels will cost you at least $1,000. The best carbon race wheels cost nearly as much as a carbon road bike at $4,000. 

Aero wheels work. Deep-sectioned wheels can be over 1kph faster on the flats, while lightweight climbing wheels can be 5-10% faster on steep gradients. If you have the cash, aero wheels are a great upgrade to make. However, you could probably gain a lot more speed from better training, a better helmet, and a more aero position. 

Indoor Trainer $300-$2,000

person in black shorts sitting on black and red stationary bike

The last item on our extensive list is the indoor trainer. A source of fiery debate in the cycling world, some hate indoor trainers while others love them. Since the global pandemic, there are more cyclists than ever on indoor trainers. Or at least, they were forced to ride the indoor trainer for a while. 

A good indoor trainer can make or break your indoor training experience. For example, a basic wheel-on trainer could bore you out of your mind, whereas a high-quality direct drive smart trainer could keep you entertained for hours on indoor training apps such as Zwift. 

For many of us, indoor training is a necessity for at least a few months each winter. This is a crucial time of year for many competitive riders. Yet it is the hardest time to ride if you hate the indoor trainer. If a high-quality indoor trainer could help you stay motivated during the winter, it is well worth the cost. 

Get Yourself Race Ready With Essential Bike Gear

Once you've got the basics down, you can start thinking about those affordable upgrades as you prepare for your first bike race. With a structured training plan and some basic upgrades, you can gain some serious speed on race day. 

Remember that aero gains outweigh everything else in cycling. When looking for speed, focus on your position and reduce your aerodynamic drag as much as you can. Once you're happy with your position, you can think about making some more purchases to gain a few extra watts. 

Start with the basics first, and remember that you don't need to spend thousands of dollars to start road cycling! All it takes is a bike to get you started. After that, it's all up to you. 

Read More

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Zach Nehr
Zach Nehr

Zach has a degree in Exercise Science and Psychology. He is a certified coach, Cat 1 cyclist, and is a freelance writer having been published in many of the worlds largest endurance sports publications.

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