Unsurprisingly, given the name, road bikes are designed specifically for cycling on roads and are the type used by pro road cyclists. For covering long distances at high speeds, road bikes are what you need.
Of course, second hand road bikes will come in all sorts of sizes but are instantly recognisable because of the curved 'drop' handlebars which provide comfort over long distance cycling, and they are also aerodynamic which allows for greater speeds. Typically, road bikes are designed to go further and faster, so the gears are bigger and the riding position is such that the joints of the body are protected.
Used road bikes are likely to be constructed from one of four materials, or a mixture of them. Steel frames, usually the cheapest option, offer a degree of flex for comfort and are durable. Aluminium or alloy frames are lighter and stiffer than steel. Carbon bike frames are often seen as the most desirable material. They offer a greater match to the different needs of riders and can be flexible and stiff at the same time - stiff to assist with the force of pedalling and flexible to counteract bumps. Titanium road bikes are extremely light and strong and the most durable type you will find.
In general terms, the more money you pay, the lighter you can expect a second hand road bike's components to be. Often, differences can also be seen in the gear systems of pricier models. With more gears (usually up to 11), it is possible to have smaller increments between gears, even though the total range of gears is the same. Similarly, combined brake and gear levers can be useful as this allows to brake and gear change without moving your hands from the brake levers, making the process of changing gear quick, smooth and easy.
Something to look for on a used road bike is a carbon fork upgrade. This reduces the buzz of the road to the handlebars and also saves a considerable amount of weight overall.
The type of used road bike you look for will be dependent on whether you want racing features or endurance features, primarily. A bike which is stiffer, has a lower front end, short wheelbase and thinner tyres will be excellent for racing. For endurance, second hand road bikes will offer more flex, the rider will sit in a more upright position and the machine will have a longer wheelbase and wider tyres.
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