Buying a road bike...feeling confused?
When you don’t know anything about what you’re looking at the whole the whole bike shop experience can be daunting; so many bikes, so many components, so many different bits of advice and so much very cool looking bike bling to tempt! Buying a new bike can be super confusing!
But I need to be completely transparent on this first - I am a Specialized brand ambassador, so this review isn’t meant to be about every women’s road bike on the market. It’s about four of the key road bikes in the Specialized women’s stable…gosh, I wish I could review them all!
But let’s just stick to four: Ruby Comp, Amira Expert SL4, Dolce Comp Evo and Dolce Sport. Okay, so it isn’t exactly apples with apples here, but we have covered a pretty broad range of price points so there is pretty much something for everyone here…not to mention each model of bike comes in several variations based on components, so there are still plenty of choices beyond the actual models I’ve tested.
From top left, clockwise: Ruby Comp, Amira SL4 Expert, Dolce Sport, Dolce Comp Evo
What are our key ingredients when deciding?
So where do we start? Okay, let’s look at this the way we see it happen at Wheel Women. A rider decides they’d like a new road bike, so there are a few crucial questions we ask first:
Did you have a budget in mind?
Where do you think you will use the bike - do you want to ride more than you do already or just have something better than the heavy, department store clunker!
If you want to ride more, what are your aims with your riding…is there a goal?
Do you understand the concept that you get what you pay for when it comes to bikes?
Sounds kind of cruel asking someone that, but it’s the truth. Often we see women make a choice based on what they can get for the least amount of dollars. We are pretty good at spending money on our kids and husbands, but when it comes to ourselves we often fall short of treating ourselves with what will be the best bike for the job…we see it all the time at Wheel Women. It’s a sad truth that we see a lot of riders we feel are on the wrong bike, the incorrectly sized bike or something that just won’t last - and they aren't enjoying their riding as much as they could. Buying a road bike is a big decision because it can often be big dollars! But you sure do get what you pay for!
Once you’ve answered all the above questions it will give you a clearer picture of what kind of bike you need. For example, the person who will go out for a casual spin every second week or maybe fit in a few rides around work, but still wants something zippy and fun may go for the lower budget bike, while the rider looking at taking on their first 100km ride, or their first multi day ride may go for a bigger budget on their bike because they know they’ll be on it an awful lot. Likewise, the person who wants some adventure and deserted roads may not be looking at the race geometry bikes, which will be harsh and uncomfortable on rough roads.
The Bikes…what we looked at!
So, here’s the run down…we may not cover the typical elements of a bike review, but we do things differently at Wheel Women and we’ve tried to cut some of the mumbo-jumbo and give you the simple info that we think will help - what is the bike, what is it made of, who is the rider best suited to this bike….here goes!
There are plenty of Ruby’s in the Specialized stable and the comment we hear most often at Wheel Women is ‘Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t actually love their Ruby?’ We haven’t been able to answer that yet because our riders are having a total love affair with every Ruby in the range! We have a Ruby Double, a Ruby Sport, several Ruby Elite’s a Ruby Comp, a Ruby Pro Disc and several Ruby Comp discs! It’s our bike of choice without a doubt. So what makes us all love the Ruby?
The Ruby Comp: mine is the 2015 model in the gorgeous matt grey and pink...wouldn't have it any other way! She really is the love of my life...don't tell my husband!
The Ruby is a carbon-framed bike, and the quality of the carbon depends on the model. The carbon frame gives the bike a very smooth ride as it absorbs the bumps and vibrations of the road. Added to this is the inclusion of the Specialized ‘Zertz’ in the front fork and the rear seat stay…they act as little vibration dampeners and I can tell you they are no gimmick. Having come off a more race orientated road bike before my Ruby Comp I would often complain of ‘trembling hands’ after a long ride…it was just the after effect of road vibration and my nerves feeling the aftermath of it. Since riding the Ruby it just hasn’t ever been an issue…ever!
The Ruby also has a longer wheelbase than say the Amira, so it provides extra stability on the road…the longer the wheelbase the more stable the bike will be. It also has a ‘relaxed geometry’ meaning it positions to rider in a more upright position, which over a long ride provides a little less stress on the body.
I ride the Ruby Comp myself and it truly is the best bike I’ve ever owned. It’s light; it has an 11-32 cluster on the back…that means I’ll get up hills far more easily than some of the racier bikes such as the Amira models! I have Shimano Ultegra shifters which are super light to shift and it has an Ultegra rear derailleur which means the shifting is clean and crisp and there’s no mucking about on the changes - it’s smooth as can be and getting toward the top of the Shimano range! The brakes are Shimano 105 which means I have great stopping power, but not quite as good as the disc brake versions. But add disc brakes and you add a little extra weight…but sensational to have the discs in wet weather riding and long descents!
The Ruby’s also all come with the ‘cobble-gobbler’ on the seat post…that means it will eat up those bumps through the seat post and the ride suddenly becomes much smoother. When you are on the slightly older side like me…comfort is a big issue. I don’t always want a jolty, jarring bike…I want luxury! The Ruby totally does it for me…it’s smooth, graceful and a solid, road-hugging ride.
Cost: Ruby Comp $3499
Who is it for: the rider who spends hours in the saddle, still likes speed, wants to get up the hills but isn’t fussed about being the fastest rider out there, but the most comfortable on a long ride.
Down side: not as fast as the Amira, is a little heavier than racier bikes because it’s built for comfort. Down side on carbon frames mean that you really shouldn’t hang them off a rack on the back of the car so you may need a special rack on the roof or one that supports the bikes from the wheels, not the frame.
The Amira SL4 Expert
Oh gosh….what can I say! I took one of these beauties out of a spin one day and I didn’t want to give it back. Okay, I LOVE my Ruby, but the Amira SL4 Expert blew me away with the incredible responsiveness and transfer of energy into straight up power through the pedals. The Ruby reacts slower than the Amira so the first thing I noticed was the ‘explosiveness’ of the bike - it just took off as soon as that foot pressed down on the pedal. Don’t get me wrong, the Ruby is no slug and holds her own, but probably isn’t the bike you’d ever race on. The Amira would be the choice if you wanted straight out speed and power.
I tested the Boels Dolman team issue bike with the distinctive team paint work…it’s a gorgeous looking bike and that’s what made me fall for it as soon as I laid eyes on it. I knew I had to get my hands on one to test…it shimmers a deep pearlescent aubergine in the sun but is contrasted by the hot and fiery yellow and organs rainbows as highlights. It’s a stunner!
The Amira SL4 Expert sure is a stunner, I loved it so much I wasn't going to give it back!
But to the technical side of things, the Amira is a far more ‘flighty’ bike than the Ruby. The wheel base is shorter so it reacts faster and becomes what we’d say is ‘twitchy’ - you can really notice the fast response time in the front end of the bike and if you feel a little unsure about how steady you’ll be on a road bike, then I’d suggest the Amira may not be the wisest choice. The straight up fires in comparison to the Ruby mean the bike will react very quickly to any moves, or alternatively can make you feel unstable if you haven’t yet grasped the road bike position. It does jump around a bit, especially when you’ve been more familiar with a more stable bike such as the Ruby.
Again the Amira is a carbon-framed bike like the Ruby, so the ride is pretty smooth. However the absence of the ‘Zertz’ and the cobble-gobbler seat post means the ride suddenly becomes much harsher - you feel every bump in the road. Added to this is that the Amira’s come with an 11-28 cluster on the back, meaning that you have now lost a few extra teeth on that biggest cog on the back end. Instantly the climbing power is diminished by comparison to the Ruby, but it makes up for this with a faster gearing combination all over….it’s a bike built for speed.
The Amira SL4 Expert has won me…I LOVE it! It’s fast, it’s responsive, it looks like the coolest and prettiest bike EVER (aside from my gorgeous Ruby) and I’d have one for sure if my budget allowed. But I wouldn’t be using it as my everyday bike. No, I’d be reserving the Amira for the days when I knew it was a ‘fast’ day, or ‘fun’ day…the days I felt like just taking off on a bit of thrash fest ride on my own. Not for long ambling rides through the country, no. Not to race anyone, but to race myself and feel that rush of a fast bike ride. It’s a quick little bike!
Who is it for: the rider who likes speed but isn’t too fussed about sitting in the saddle for hours on end. The bike is race geometry so it is less ‘relaxed’ and will mean you really need to be comfortable with the more aggressive bent over position you’ll need to sit in. It’s also a race bike, so if that’s your thing and you want speed, it’s perfect!
Down side: I’m not so great on the hills and I tend to just spin away on them. The gearing on the Amira means it might be harder work and the ride a little harsher than I’m used to on my Ruby. The lack of Zertz and the cobble-gobbler seat post means the ride is rougher, but I’d put up with that just for the fun factor over shorter rides.
Dolce Comp Evo
I couldn’t believe this bike when I first saw it…it just ticked so many boxes for me. But I’ll admit, it has taken some getting used to! The Dolce range of bikes are all alloy framed so they are a little more robust on the ride and certainly the weight comes in heavier over all. But the alloy frame is a different ride…it feels like it’s solid and grippy to the ground. It’s built for touring and adventure!
The Evo is really the perfect bike for those who like a bit of gravel and mud and is classed as a ‘gravel’ bike, so it’s made to take the rough stuff. Like the Ruby its has Zertz front and rear as well as the cobble-gobbler seat post, which is topped by the incredibly comfortable Myth saddle (though saddle choice is a very subjective issue). The alloy frame coupled with disc brakes makes the bike heavier overall, but for the type of rides it’s made for it really isn’t an issue. I’d rather have the heavier bike on an expedition than worrying about the carbon Ruby.
The thing I love about the Evo is that it might be a little slow on the take-off, but once she’s rolling, she absolutely flies. This may be that the wheelbase is in fact shorter than my Ruby, but the Evo also has fatter 32mm tyres….they sound amazing when they are running fast and the hum off the road makes you feel like you will take off! In fact, I think I may even have clocked some faster times on the Evo than I ever have on the Ruby across the same Strava segments…it’s a rocket once she’s going!
The Dolce Comp Evo is really at home in the wild...she loves and adventure on the gravel and when she gets going she flies! The fluro highlights on the forks and the chain-stay are a head turner, but then so is my bar tape!
But the weight means she takes off slower, can feel a little harder up the hills despite being geared really well for the hills with a 48-32 combination. She just feels like a bigger bike…maybe it’s the stealth black frame that makes it seem bigger. The Evo also comes with hydraulic discs so the stopping power is pretty extreme after using my 105 brakes on the Ruby, but I’ve been in the wet with the Evo and I know I love discs in the wet. There is no mucking around - they stop! Quickly!
The Evo is also made for some longer adventure rides and has mount positions for racks to carry the panniers. It also comes with it’s own ‘rocket blaster’ on the seat: a little bracket that holds the tool kit inside the tool ‘keg’…that’s a neat little extra. I love the Evo…I don’t get her onto the gravel as much as I’d like to but even around the streets she feels so rock solid. Not to mention the eye popping floor highlights on the frame that turn heads wherever I take her!
Who is it for: the adventure seeker or the commuter who wants a robust road bike. It’s a sold bike so I think it would be an excellent commuter bike if you had the budget for it. But the adventure factor on this bike is a big winner for those who want a road bike position, aren’t keen on doing anything rough enough to need a mountain bike and who still want a bit of luxurious comfort.
Down side: it is a heavier bike so it can feel a bit sluggish on the take-off and up the hills. The components do make it heavier for sure, but the bonus is that it will handle the rough stuff really well!
We keep a Dolce Sport in our demo fleet at Wheel Women because it’s the perfect bike for the rider new to road bikes. It’s not too fancy, but definitely not cheap and nasty…it’s a super nice bike! The alloy frame isn’t as robust as the Dolce Evo, but more like standard frame and the weight is certainly lighter than the Evo overall. It’s a great choice for the first time road bike rider.
In fact, I wanted to refresh my memory on the Dolce Sport and took it out straight after a 50km ride on the Evo. I was excited at how fast this little baby is and how much lighter it felt in comparison to the Evo, but then it is running 25mm tyres which always makes a bike seem lighter on the road! But the whole geometry feels great and is so close to the Ruby it’s crazy…but the price point of the Dolce comes in far less than the Ruby range due to the alloy frame.
It takes of quickly, though not as fast as an Amira of course, and slower than the carbon Ruby, but definitely faster than the Dolce Comp Evo. It responds well but feels super balanced and that’s why I think it’s a great choice for the first time road bike rider…it has great stability and isn’t twitchy like the Amira and certainly less twitchy than the carbon Ruby, which just feels lighter all over.
The Dolce Sport is a no fuss road bike and perfect for the new road rider - it has a fabulous relaxed geometry alloy frame and comes with a matching saddle bag to hold all your tools.
I really like the Dolce Sport as a first choice for new road riders - it’s sensible, it gives a feel for what road riding is like without it being a slug or a cheap and nasty alloy bike. The Dolce Sport doesn’t come with Zertz front and rear, but just in the front end so the road vibration for a newer rider will be a pretty good experience I think. The seat post is also missing the cobble-gobbler, but the saddle is a more ‘comfort’ level saddle and perhaps a little softer so that adds to the overall comfort on the bike. The Dolce Sport comes with and 11-32 cluster, however it only has 9 cogs on the rear end, not 11 like the Ruby, so it isn’t quite as good up the climbs.
Sure, it’s allow so isn’t the lightweight like the Amira or the carbon Ruby’s, but Specialized do a fabulous alloy frame - there is no doubt about that! It’s light, has the stiffness it needs to feel stable, yet the comfort it needs for women who want a longer ride. All over, this is a fabulous road bike for the money and comes in super high on my list of recommendations.
Who is it for: the first time road rider who is a little unsure of whether road riding will be for them, the road rider on a lower budget who still wants some great comfort and a light bike. The Dolce is very similar geometry to the Ruby, so it’s built for comfort and not necessarily speed. Great bike for the rider who wants to build and progress their riding.
Down side: I find the Sora shifters a little clunky to move, and that can be tricky for smaller hands. But I have been spoilt having Ultegra on my Ruby Comp. The Sora group set isn’t as luxurious to shift as an Ultegra, but it does the job well and first time riders won’t be complaining.
Some final crucial factors to include!
So now you have it…time to make the choice! Once you have decided, here are my final bits of info that really are crucial to whe whole new bike experience:
Get a proper bike fit! That doesn’t just mean adjusting the saddle height either…ask at your Specialized bike shop because they do bike fits really well.
Look after your bike…love it, care for it, clean it and have it serviced. It’s an investment.
Ride it…ride like crazy, every chance you get. A bike in a shed gathering cobwebs is a very, very sad bike!
I make no apology that this review isn't as technical as some magazines or professional bike reviewers. It's not what we set out to do. The purpose of this review is to deliver something that goes some way to making the technical information a little less confusing and answers the questions we hear women at Wheel Women ask us...simple!
Big thank you to Cyclic Bicycles, Flemington for always providing me with excellent bikes to ride, great advice on what I should be riding and keeping me on the road. Not to mention, helping so many of our riders at Wheel Women!
Thanks to Beasley Cycles in Footscray for the fun loaner on the Amira...I'll be back to borrow it again because it's just so much damn fun! Thanks guys...you always look after us!
Thank you also to Specialized Australia for supplying us at Wheel Women with our fleet of demo bikes: the Dolce Sport, Vita Sport and the very cool Jynx mountain bike....we love your bikes!