We take a look at the best options if you're looking to spend in the region of £1500 on a new road bike
For a grand drop-bar bikes become reasonably lightweight and reasonably sporty, and this is often the maximum budget for a first road bike since it ties in nicely with the cycle-to-work scheme.
The £1000 category can be a real mixed bag since every manufacturer targets this highly popular price point.
However, if you can stretch to £500 more you’ll move well clear of the entry-level category and into trickle-down territory.
Looking for something else? Check out:
- The best road bikes under £500
- The best road bikes under £1000
- The best road bikes under £2000
- The best women’s road bikes
- Cycling Weekly Bike of the Year
While similar frames might be at the heart of bikes in both price brackets – though aluminium becomes less common and carbon more prevalent – for the extra £500 Shimano Ultegra rather than 105 or even Tiagra is likely to be specified.
The latest Ultegra R8000 is very similar in performance, aesthetics and weight to flagship Dura-Ace.
Heavy wheels often hold back a cheaper bike but for the extra budget manufacturers will spend a bit more on not only wheels but tyres too, meaning lower rolling resistance, better acceleration and a crisper ride feel overall.
The line up
One of the alu bikes, the Pinnacle Dolomite 4 from Evans Cycles’ in-house brand, has discs while the other, the Specialized Allez Sprint Comp, has traditional rim brakes.
However, as you’ll discover, they might have aluminium frames in common but they’re very different beasts.
Meanwhile, the carbon-framed, rim-braked Merlin Cordite and Ribble Sportive Racing are both Ultegra equipped and both come from British brands who allow you to configure your bike yourself online.
How the bikes were tested
We’ve ridden these bikes around our regular training loops, fast and slow, lumpy and flat, and tech ed Symon Lewis raced the Ribble at Hillingdon, his local closed circuit, last week.
So we reckon we’ve now got a fair idea of what works and what doesn’t, and we assess each bike based on its performance bearing in mind its target audience – they’re not all race bikes – and for value.
With each bike is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
We have tested plenty of other bikes in this price range, you can see a selection here.
The best £1500 bikes for 2018
Specialized Allez Sprint – £1600 (ok, we pushed the budget a bit)
Weight 8.28kg (size 56)
As a range known for its superb entry-level bikes, it might come as a surprise to see a Specialized Allez with a different, more aggressive shape.
But that’s because this is the Specialized Allez Sprint Comp, an aluminium bike designed for criterium racing – as used by Team Specialized/Rocket Espresso at the Red Hook Crits.
It’s aluminium like the rest of the Allez range, but Specialized has used its D’Aluisio Smartweld Sprint Technology. This reinforces the welds giving greater stiffness in areas of higher stress for when you’re pushing hard through corners or hammering on the pedals.
Smart welding isn’t the only thing that differentiates this from the other Allez bikes in Specialized’s range. There’s also an S-Works FACT carbon fork that helps reduce some weight and road chatter, although our size 56cm still came in at 8.28kg for the complete build.
Being a racing bike, its geometry packs a punch, especially compared to the rest of the Allez range. Its short 405mm chainstay length makes it a bike crying out to be pedalled through the corners and it has an aggressive 150mm head tube length. That’s 30mm lower than the Specialized Allez Elite and 10mm lower than the more aggressive Specialized Tarmac Elite SL4.
Specialized’s Body Geometry design means the bike gets a differently designed bottom bracket area, head tube and fork depending on the size of the bike so it should feel compact and punchy regardless of frame size.
Specialized says the bike would make a great everyday road bike, or alternatively, it could be raced. However, the Shimano 105 specification that the bike comes with puts it firmly in the former category, which isn’t a bad thing, and the DT Swiss R460 wheels are excellent training wheels, rolling far better than their boxy dimensions would suggest, and tough too.
The Specialized Turbo Pro tyres are not bad, but we would upgrade to a set of S-Works Turbo Cottons, which are faster and better looking
Despite the S-Works FACT carbon fork the brakes are not direct mount and are Tektro Axis rather than 105.
Of course, being a racing frame the Specialized Allez Sprint Comp is crying out for a pair of deep section carbon wheels. So we threw on a pair of Hunt Race Aero Wide wheels and the bike looked great. The carbon wheels added some more stiffness to the ride and shaved off some of the excess weight from the DT Swiss wheels.
It’s fair to say that the Allez Sprint Comp probably isn’t the best value bike on the market. For less than £1,600 you can get carbon-fibre Shimano Ultegra-equipped bikes, although they don’t have the same crit racing pedigree as the Allez.
Merlin Cordite – £1569
Weight 7.9kg (size 52)
Based at the site of a former ordnance factory in Chorley, Lancashire, Merlin acknowledges its heritage by naming its bikes after explosives, hence Cordite.
The Cordite is targeted at sportive and endurance riders. It has a carbon frameset with a sloping top tube and a longish 17.5cm head tube on the 52cm model that we’ve tested, giving you quite an upright riding position, which we found ideal for longer outings, although it’s not going to give you the aggressive position you might want for racing.
There’s a whole heap of spacers below the stem, but even with them reversed and the stem slammed, dropping the bars 4cm, the position is not overly aggressive.
The frame is predominantly mid-modulus 24-tonne carbon-fibre, with 25 per cent high-mod 30-tonne carbon thrown in.
Merlin quotes a size medium frame weight of 990g, with the fork adding another 385g, so it’s competitively light. It’s a frame designed for good power transfer with a wide down tube and chainstays coupled with thinner seatstays to add some extra compliance.
There’s a BSA threaded bottom bracket shell, which should help with maintenance and squeak-free operation. Along with the full Ultegra groupset our test bike comes with Fulcrum Racing Quattro LG wheels, which have a mid-section 35mm rim and weigh a claimed 1,725g.
They’re a £110 upgrade option from the standard Shimano RS010 or RS11 clinchers via Merlin’s online configurator. Although the stock Pro Falcon titanium-railed saddle is perfectly adequate, we were seated on a Fizik Aliante VS Kium – another £30 upgrade. And you can swap the 31.6mm diameter seatpost from alloy to carbon for an additional £60. The specified upgrades bring the retail price of the test bike up from £1399 to £1569.
The Cordite just feels ideal for its target audience of sportive and endurance riders, with a very comfortable ride and a slightly more upright position. The sloping top tube means that there’s quite a lot of seatpost exposed that adds comfort even with the 31.6mm stock alloy post.
The frame has the right feel of pedalling efficiency coupled with upper body comfort to work well on longer excursions too.
At under £1500 for a machine equipped with the latest version of Shimano Ultegra, the Cordite provides a high-value package.
The Cordite comes in frame sizes from 46cm up to 58cm, so there’s particularly good coverage for the shorter rider. There are also a couple of different colour options.
Pinnacle Dolomite 4 – £1450
Weight 9.2kg (size Medium)
For 2018 the Dolomite 4 keeps same matt-black aluminium frame as last year but the drivetrain has been upgraded from Tiagra to Ultegra (excluding the chainset, which is non-series and has forged rather than hollow cranks).
The price has also increased accordingly. The old bike was on the heavy side at just over 10kg on our scales, but the updated version is almost a kilo lighter.
The Dolomite 4 frame is made from 6061-T6 double and triple butted aluminium tubing and the welds are smoothed giving it a great deal of aesthetic appeal.
It’s a disc-specific frame and sports modern touches such as a tapered head tube. Internal cable routing is nice, but it does produce some largish loops of cable that, although they don’t catch your knees, will catch the wind when you’re trying to ride fast.
However, the Dolomite 4 is not aimed at racers: with its mudguard eyes, rack mounts, clearance for bigger tyres and bombproof wheels it’s what Evans calls a ‘mile cruncher, winter trainer or fast commuter.’
Racer or not, it will upset some people’s sense of symmetry to discover that the front wheel uses a bolt-thru axle while the rear wheel uses QR closure. However, the said QR held the rear wheel in place fine during our testing and the level of stiffness at the back was in line with that of the rest of the bike.
Despite the highish stack measurement it’s still possible to get a reasonably aggressive position. It’s also slightly longer than a race bike. It could be this extra centimetre or two of wheelbase that gives the Dolomite 4 a comfortable and stable feel: harshness is a criticism still frequently levelled at aluminium frames, but this one is anything but.
Even with 25mm tyres, which have become the new minimum, it absorbed both large and small bumps surprisingly well.
If we did have to criticise the Dolomite 4 for something it would be that it lacks the crispness of a decent carbon frame. Although it’s by no means flexible, it doesn’t quite reward rider effort with the same responsiveness. It is still possible to push it along at 20mph-plus, but there are bikes that are better suited to going fast.
The wheels are Alex Draw 1.9s 32-hole rims on Novatec hubs. They’re are solid looking but still reasonably lightweight and are tubeless ready.
An FSA Omega and Pinnacle alloy stem make for a dependable and comfortable cockpit. There’s a threaded bottom bracket shell – which is regarded as superior by many experienced cyclists since threaded cups are easier to install, remove and maintain and are less likely to emit the dreaded press-fit creak.
Ribble Sportive Racing Black Ultegra – £1499
Weight: 7.5kg (size 52)
The Sportive Racing Black is an endurance bike, although Ribble says it has a mix of both racing and endurance style geometry to offer comfortable yet fast paced riding: the size small has a long 539mm top tube length; a whopping head tube size of 150mm, yet it has a relatively normal wheelbase compared to other rival endurance bikes of 984mm.
The frame is made from Toray T700/T800 carbon-fibre, and is very overbuilt around the head tube where it meets the top tube, and the down tube is large and square also.
The top of the rear stay is a single piece with no traditional gaps or slender tubes to help with compliance. Riding through Richmond Park heading out into the Surrey hills the rutted roads really showed up the lack of compliance both front and rear, so much so that I could actually see everything rattling.
Ribble says that this bike is restricted to 25mm tyres, though I reckon you could squeeze at set of 28s in there. Most, if most if not all endurance bikes now come supplied with 28mm (think Cube Agree) and, equipped with discs, 32mm, there is no excuse for Ribble here.
I got constantly numb hands, even during a race at Hillingdon race circuit, which is not only flat, but very smooth too and something I haven’t experienced on any race bike on that circuit before.
I’ve also been testing this bike during some specific training session during my midweek rides. During standing start efforts the bike performed fairly well, though I did notice some flex through that press-fit bottom bracket causing some rub against the front mech and chain, so we are currently not getting the right balance of stiffness to comfort ratio.
I expected it to be a little more rigid than this in the BB area. Whilst on the climbs and during longer sustainable efforts the Ribble was nicely poised, cornering was assured and predictable and it wasn’t a chore to maintain speed.
The Mavic Aksium wheels are shod, surprisingly for the price, with a pair of Vittoria Corsa tyres. Not only do these tan-walled beauties look classic but they offer amazing rolling resistance and grip in the corners.
With this build you get a full Shimano mechanical Ultegra groupset with a very endurance-friendly compact chainset.
Best bike under £1500 for 2018: the verdict
The Merlin Cordite Ultegra R8000 provides a lot of bike for your money. It’s a competent long-distance performer with a comfortable ride and is light enough and has the gear range to tackle uphill sections with confidence. It’s nice to be able to choose your own spec – though with such a wide range of options on offer it’s very easy to blow the budget – and to be able to make the upgrades you want to create a bike well tuned to the needs of most riders after a fast endurance machine.
The Pinnacle Dolomite 4 is all about practicality and versatility rather than straight-out speed. If discs are your thing, the latest Ultegra brakeset is a great performer and something to be prized on a bike in the low to mid-range price bracket, though savings are made via a downgraded chainset and of course you get an aluminium rather than carbon frame.
As Evans says, the Dolomite 4 would make a great winter trainer and has commuting covered. However, with higher spec for 2018 and resulting price increase it has become expensive for a winter trainer, yet is a little on the sensible side to be the type of summer bike that likes to be ragged around the evening chaingang after work.
Ribble has been looking to move away from the cheap’n’cheerful image of the previous couple of decades and the Sportive Racing Black with its smart carbon frame and full Ultegra groupset epitomises the Preston brand’s new direction.
However, as for the bike itself, we found comfort levels were not quite what we’d expect for a model with ‘sportive’ in its name. You’d really need to squeeze in those 28mm tyres – despite Ribble saying 25s are the maximum – to cushion the ride here, and you’ll struggle to improve comfort with the handlebar, saddle and seatpost it comes with, so that is the main reason this bike doesn’t get full marks.
Although you might reasonably expect a carbon machine for £1500, the Specialized Allez Sprint Comp is an aluminum bike with a difference.
Racing in the Red Hook crits by Specialized’s own team and with gears on the road by the Pro Conti Hagens Berman Axeon team this is a high-performance, pro-level frame, but at this price point with this build it’s aimed more at those looking for an upgrade bike, and despite being equipped with Shimano 105 rather than Ultegra we’d be more than happy with it: it’s very versatile, gobbling up long days in the saddle and intensive interval sessions alike – and it’s our winner.
Road bikes under £1500 for 2018: what to consider when buying
The number one question to ask yourself is ‘what do I want this bike for?’
If you know that long distance sportives and all-day adventures are your thing, then look for a bike with a fairly relaxed geometry – a taller stack and a slightly shorter reach to help you stay on the bike in comfort for all the hours you’d like. If you’re thinking of racing, or simply love a fast and aggressive ride, then look closer to the race bike pedigree with a shorter stack and often a long reach.
If you’re just getting into cycling – then a happy medium is a sensible idea – giving you the opportunity to grow in either direction.
It’s always a very good idea to buy a bike from a reputable retailer, who will allow you to test ride the bike – unless you’re absolutely sure what size you need.
Most bike shops will offer to help you set up your saddle height and overall position. Being set up correctly has a huge impact upon your enjoyment of the ride, and a bike fit can cost upwards of £100 when purchased independently – so it’s a good idea to choose to buy from a shop that offers this.
Many retailers offer you the chance to return a bike after 30 days if it turns out not to be your cup of tea (though not if you’ve discovered this through a write-off inducing crash) – which is a nice-to-have feature to look out for.