What road bike should I buy: the Grimpeur considers the options

Which road bike
My bike (in a compromising position)

I have a very warm regard for my bike. As a Yorkshireman, that’s about as close a declaration of undying love you’re going to get. But it’s time to consider an upgrade (it’s always time to consider an upgrade!).

My bike has been with me for more than 8 years, since I snap-purchased it whilst my then-girlfriend (now wife) sought a heavy hybrid on which to commute (she still has it, but does not seem to have developed an emotional attachment).

Despite not knowing a thing about bikes (beyond what i had learnt as the proud owner of a Raleigh Mini Burner in the 1980s – red and black, since you ask), I made a wise lucky choice.

There goes my first love

It turned out that my unassuming Dawes Giro 400, with its mishmash of Miche and Campagnolo components, would be a sturdy workhorse, carrying me safely (and sometimes quickly) across London’s potholed and white-van-stained streets. The wheels have had to be be trued countless times. The carbon front fork was replaced after an altercation with a bonnet on the Kilburn High Road. A misguided attempt to replace the rear cassette (which turned out to be a strange Campy/Shimano lovechild) has resulted in the Giro now possessing a proud set of new Campagnolo wheels.

We’ve ridden sportives together. We’ve completed London-to-Brighton. We’ve even done a couple of triathlons (he whispers). It has been a trooper.

You’re more than a number in my little red book

But times change. I am looking for a new amor (and a new bike). At this point I planned to list the reasons why I needed a new road bike. Given that I’m an adherent to the bike ownership formula (B = n +1, where B = bikes required and n = current number of bikes owned), you would think I’d simply rattle them off. But the fact is, I don’t NEED a new bike (sharp intake of breath from cyclists everywhere).

However, being now based in Derbyshire, with the Peak District starting just a couple of kilometers north from where I sit, the image in my mind’s eye of powering up (ha!) the region’s many sharp climbs does not feature the gallant Dawes.

It’s not her/him/it/you, it’s me.

I plan to keep my trusty Dawes. It will continue to do its duty as a winter bike. So my new mistress bike will be my summer and events bike.

Which road bike to buy?

I believe my requirements (which I reserve the right to change, volte-face, disregard as and when the mood takes me) are as follows:

Looks cool

Canyon road bike Rodriguez
The ‘ladies bike’….

Yes, I know, I should be primarily focused on finding the bike that serves my particular needs. But since we have established that I don’t need a new bike at all, one of my particular needs is to satisfy my vanity (and, as we’re on the topic of deadly sins, avarice). But ‘looking cool’ isn’t just visual. Being able to do the job, in my mind, contributes to looking cool.

History and race credibility are also a part of my definition (though why I’m allowing myself to define cool I do not know). For some reason, I deem Canyon (probably due to the association with Purito) and Willier (probably not due to the association with Lampre) to be cool. This might be deemed heresy, but Pinarello don’t do it for me at all.

Steel or carbon

Steel framed bike
Steel looks good – I would probably get one with a few more gears

And possibly in that order. I refer the right honourable member to my earlier comments re: looking cool. A clean, thin-tubed steel frame can just look the business.

Whilst one of the attractions of steel is that you can claim some (moral?) superiority over the carbon brigade, I am not totally against going for a carbon frame. I’m sure I’ll appreciate the reduction in weight and some of the frame designs do look nice.

I would include titanium in the list of potential frame materials but when we move onto budget, it’ll be obvious that doing so would simply not be realistic.

Comfort and performance

The fact is, I’m unlikely ever to enter a formal bike race. For most events in which I participate, the priority will be getting to the finish. I want the bike to feel (and look) fast but the most important factor will be comfort.


I have not discussed this with my wife. In fact, until I sat down to write this post, I did not know I was in the market for a new bike.

I think we’re talking £1,500 – £2,000. As the owner of a £500 bike for so long, that’s the range that I’ve always thought I would step up to.

How about a curve ball?

As I admitted above, this is the first time in a while that I’ve thought in detail about getting a new bike. In part it was prompted by seeing an attractive Ritchey steel-framed bike in a recent Cycling Weekly. But then I read the comments below the linked article, talking about Mercian Cycles and Brian Rourke frames.

Thunder crack. Thor descends from thick clouds to strike me with his custom steel hammer.

I live almost equidistant between Mercian in Derby and Rourke in Stoke-on-Trent.

Given all that I have written above (steel, credibility, history, comfort), surely I should at least investigate the possibility of having a custom steel bike. Surely I should be supporting British craftsmanship and buying local.

Surely… (echo, tumbleweed, the crushing silence of my wife’s displeasure).

Help me get my feet back on the ground

So dear readers (reader?), I seek your guidance. Can you recommend the perfect new road bike for me?

Or maybe you want to encourage me to pursue the custom route?

Does anyone have a feel for how much a fully-built custom steel frame road bike will cost? Will my stated budget just mean that I’ll have to make too many compromises on the component front?

Any and all advice gratefully received.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

23 thoughts on “What road bike should I buy: the Grimpeur considers the options”

  1. Whichever bike you get, put a Brooks saddle on it; they’re wonderfully retro, comfortable (eventually) and almost a living creature requiring nurturing and love.

    I went for the ironic gesture of putting my new saddle on my new carbon bike – Giant Composite for £1,900; that should use up your budget nicely, there’s no point in having any budget left over. Spend to the max before domestic management finds out what you’re doing !

  2. Componentry? I really like the Cannondales and they sound like their from Yorkshire anyway. Cannondale Super Six with ultegra Di2 …

    • I don’t know… Cannondale fall a bit into the Pinarello uncool camp. Not sure I like Sagan but then I can’t help liking Basso (despite his history). These are relevant considerations when choosing a bike… Do you have electronic gears then John?

    • Thanks Matt. Yes, saw Feather Cycles in a magazine. They do look good. If I do go down the custom route, it probably makes sense to go with someone closer to where we live. The pull of riding a Yorkshire bike is strong though.

      Didn’t know that you were a road cyclist as well as MTB. You must be getting old…

  3. I think the fundamental question remains whether to [1] buy British (in which case, we’re (you’re) really looking at those homespun individual framebuilders that have contributed to some of the few iconic ‘old-fashioned’ British cycling moments), or [2] to choose a famous Italian/French bike riding company (let’s be honest, they do trump us when it comes to cycling history, and this option does then allow you to buy a more-affordable frame), or finally [3] to say ‘money talks’ and buy from a corporate Giant like, er, Giant, or Trek. But, seeing as you’re moving to the Peak District to find your soul I think the latter option is not for you. Instead, I think a Yorkshire frame builder with a nice French name (like Bob Jackson, Dave Yates or Ellis Briggs) is surely the answer. There, sorted.

  4. Hey Grimpeur
    Like you, I have also been riding a £500 second-hand e-bay bike for the last 6 years and have had various affairs with new bikes, but they were all one-night stands. I am lucky that in my “clueless” days, I made a great decision when buying that bike, because it is a beauty (it’s a Pinarello Prince Fassa Bartolo edition). What I have done over the years is upgrade all the parts and now it’s pretty much perfect. In my opinion, to get the most pleasure out of building a bike, build it over time. End of season sales are fantastic. Buy a great frame and top spec groupset at 50% and use the other parts from your existing bikes. Keep shopping around and one day you will find that perfect saddle, handlebars and wheels (at the perfect price). There is nothing better for the motivation then to upgrade the bike bit by bit.

    • Thanks Yves. Good advice. Getting a nice frame and upgrading components as and when does appeal to me (the whole Zen and the Art of Bicyle Repair mindset). In addition to the benefits you mention, you also get to learn a lot more about how the components work, how they impact the ride and how to maintain them.

      I doubt the components that came with (and are still on) my current bike were up to the quality of those that came with yours. They’ll probably stay on the Dawes.

      Your comments do make me think that I would like to focus on getting the right frame first and foremost, with some sensible components (105 level) then upgrade as the mood / cash takes me.

  5. If you are tempted by a shiny steel custom, then you have an option close-to-home in the form of Tim Leicester of Sword Cycles, based in Ashbourne. The cream cyclocross bike featured at swordcycles.co.uk is my bike – fillet brazed Reynolds 725 – and is a lovely thing to ride or just look at!

  6. You may have acquired the steed by now, but if you want stylish steel from yorkshire then you could do far worse than visiting Bob Jackson in Stanningley. The off the peg Audax End to End would be my choice, but they have a range of frames. I’m building my wife a ladies open frame that Donald customised for me with a longer head tube, 132mm spaced rear track dropouts and fittings for hub gears. The frame is beautiful and the service was great. An Audax End to End could be beautiful to look at and ride – google images is your friend.

    I’ve also just built myself a Spa Cycles steel audax with my choice of kit (mix of duraace, ultegra and stronglight, with shimano BR650 brakes). It’s great to ride, weights about 22lbs naked and 25 with guards and carradice bagman and bag. The wheels are relatively heavy handbuilt Rigida Chrina on 105 hubs and the total cost was within your budget.



  7. Hi, as someone else suggested I’m looking into a custom Feather cycles build. A custom build will probably set you back at least £2k just for the frame. There may be some sniggers but I love my Boardman carbon. You get a lot of bike for your money – downside is you buy from Halfords (not cool). I got mine through cycle to work and a £1200 bike has cost me no more than £600. Happy hunting.

    • Thanks David. I’m sure I’d be happy with a Boardman as well. For those that want a Boardman but don’t want to buy one from Halfords, I was told by a Wiggle employee at one of their stands at a triathlon I did that they supply Boardman bikes in Australia (I think). I think he said that we Brits could call their (UK) customer service department and arrange to purchase a Boardman bike that way, at Wiggle prices.

  8. Having been wisely advised 12 months ago by WF Holdsworth’s (near home), my Bianchi via Nirone7 and I have been inseparable, doing all manner of stuff (including RideLondon) together. She has a lovely line, European good looks and yet is tough and easy to maintain.
    My problem with Boardman, Specialised etc is whilst I’m sure they’re great bikes (Boardman especially for the price) you see soooooo many of them that they’re a bit dull.
    I reguarly pull alongside a fellow Bianchi rider and have a chat about OUR bike, that I’m not sure you’d have on others.

    • The issue with Boardman, particularly for his performance bikes (AiR and whatever) is that the geometry is very aggressive. People have to compromise their position in order to get the bike they want. Maybe he’ll do a sportive-oriented one.

      I do like to see a Bianchi – in fact I saw one today (sadly I was in a car) and remarked (in my head) how attractive it was.

  9. I have a custom built Steve Goff frame, superb craftsmanship, fantastic fillet brazing. He also built my wheels and assembled the bike with the (mostly Campag ) components that I supplied. His prices are extremely reasonable compared to other British frame builders, he gives good solid advice and does not believe in the hard sell approach. As with many of the other frame builders delivery is in weeks / months as opposed to buying in an off the peg frame. The hardest decision was deciding what colour / paint finish to have.
    IMHO he is definitely worth a call (he is in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, contact details on his website but may be too far away from you? )

  10. I dont know if youve taken the plunge yet but ive currently got a Rourke 853 frame on order, less than £1300 including carbon forks and custom paint job, leaves you plenty to add components and come within budget. Like you my ‘needs’ were comfort and cool.


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