What to expect for your money in the best-value road bike sector, plus your guide to choosing the right first road bike for you
If you’re starting out on your cycling journey, or looking for a commuter to splash through the winter miles, then you probably don’t want to spend a fortune. The good news is, the best cheap road bikes can offer you miles of smiles without costing the earth.
If there’s one thing the bike trade loves, it’s a bit of ‘trickle down technology’. This simply means that features found on top end bikes will be available on mid-range models the next year, and eventually on cheap bikes.
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Cycling Weekly’s test team has had the opportunity to put hundreds of bikes through their paces – with price tags from £250 right up to £10,000+ – so we know a good, inexpensive bike when we ride one.
We’ve rounded up our favourites – but read further on the page for an explanation of what to expect at each price point.
With each bike you’ll find 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.
B’Twin Triban 520 road bike, £499
Read more: B’Twin Triban 520 road bike
Review score: 9/10
An aluminium frame with carbon bladed forks and an alloy steerer, this model comes with Shimano Sora shifting and Shimano brakes. There’s a flat bar version if the idea of drop bars puts you off.
There’s lots of clearance for wider tyres – up to 32c without mudguards – which will be more comfortable and stable. There’s eyelets for mudguards and pannier racks and the weight is 9.9kg.
There’s a women’s version with narrower handlebars, and a women’s saddle, which saves female cyclists spending money on touchpoints soon after purchasing a new bike.
Vitus Razor Claris road bike, £499.99
Read more: Vitus Razor road bike review
Review score: 9/10
An aluminium frame with a full carbon fork, plus Shimano Claris shifting. The brake set comes from Tektro, and the built weight is 10.3kg.
The geometry is designed to sit between endurance and race – so it’ll suit someone looking for a speedy ride, who doesn’t want to plunge straight into an agressive fit, or someone who wants to ride in comfort all day whilst still enjoying the nippy handling of a quick footed racer.
Buy now at Chain Reaction Cycles for £349.99
Boardman SLR 8.6 Alloy, £550
Read more: Boardman Road Sport review
Review score: 10/10
Boardman’s entry level road bike, the SLR 8.6 Alloy will be just a smidge over the budget for anyone aiming to hit £500, but we’ve always been impressed by Boardman’s framesets.
This one features a quality aluminium frame, carbon fork and steerer, Shimano Claris shifting with Tektro brakes and the built bike weighs around 10kg. Our tester reckoned that with a wheel upgrade later down the line, this model could even compete at the £1,000 price point.
There’s a women’s version with narrower handlebars, and a women’s saddle.
Buy it now at Halfords for £350
Specialized Dolce 2019 women’s road bike, £599
Read more: Specialized Dolce women’s road bike review
Review score: 9/10
The Dolce is a longstanding women’s specific bike and it comes at a range of price points.
The frame across the range is a high quality aluminum, with ‘Zertz inserts’ at the fork and seatstays, which are designed to smooth out the bumps.
It’s debatable if women benefit from female specific geometry, but women’s models will come with narrower handlebars and women’s saddles, cutting down on chances of riders needing to update components soon after purchase.
This model comes with Shimano Claris for £599, or there’s a Shimano Sora model at £799 – both use Tektro brakes with Axis sport wheels. You could get higher spec from an alternative brand, whilst here you’re paying for an excellent frame.
Buy now at Evans Cycles for £599
B’Twin Triban 540 road bike, £650
Read more: B’Twin Triban 540 road bike
Review score: Editor’s Choice 2017 award winner
Sitting at a significantly lower price point than most if the Cycling Weekly Bike of the Year for 2017. The Bike of the Year awards went to models that impressed us the most, after hundreds of test rides over the course of the year.
B’Twin took the same prize in 2016, and things got even better in 2017, with the Triban 540 offering Shimano 105 shifting for only £650.
Considering the bargain basement price, we were expecting a bargain basement frame and wheels too, but what you get is nothing of the sort.
Don’t be put off by not having a carbon frame, as the aluminium Triban frame offers impressive performance and comfort, and the Mavic Aksium wheels are more often seen on bikes costing twice as much.
Buy now at Decathlon, now £679
B’Twin Ultra 900 AF road bike, £799
Read more: B’Twin Ultra 700 AF 105 review
Review score: 10/10
B’Twin’s Ultra AF has been designed to suit riders seeking a bike for sportives, commutes, or even races. This model sports an aluminium frame with a carbon fork – and impressively at this price point you also get a Shimano 105 groupset with Mavic Aksium wheels.
When we tested the Ultra AF, we discovered a bike that was quick footed and fun to ride – we completely forgot it was an entry level road bike whilst bombing along the lanes – and it would suit racers with a wheel upgrade.
Bianchi Via Nirone 7 – £829
Read more: Bianchi Via Nirone 7 review
Review score: 8/10
Bianchi is not a brand typically associated with ‘entry level’ – but the Nirone is its aluminium starter. Unlike most you’ll see at this price point, it’s been built to race, and has tackled the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.
A hydroformed aluminium frame is triple butted – which means the weight is kept low where stiffness is less crucial. There’s a carbon fork, and kevlar inserts at the chainstays and seatstays help to cancel out buzz from the road.
The spec isn’t so top end – most of your budget is going into the frame. You get a Shimano Sora groupset, with Reparto Corse brakes and the wheels are Alex Rims with Vittoria Zaffiro Slicks.
Boardman Team Carbon – £1000
Read more: Boardman Team Carbon review
Review score: 9/10
We’re dipping into the £1,000 territory now – but if it’s a budget you can creep up to, then this is a bike we’d wholeheartedly recommend.
Boardman’s Team Carbon has sat exactly on the Cycle to Work voucher guideline of £1000 since it first arrived on the scene. The frame is constructed from C7 carbon, with the geometry based around the SLR Endurance model with a 100mm taller stack. This makes for a relaxed ride.
The fork is paired up with a full carbon fork, whilst the groupset is Shimano Tiagra with Tektro R540 brakes. A size small comes in at 8.56kg, which is light enough to feel good on the climbs.
Buy it at Boardman for £9000 here
What to expect from a cheap road bike for less than £500
While £500 might seem a lot of money for a road bike to non-cyclists, to more — ahem — ‘fussy’ and experienced riders it also seems far too little to buy anything with potential. Both trains of thought are utterly wrong — for less than £500 you can buy some fully-fledged drop-bar bicycles that are perfectly able to cope with everything from winter training, to commuting, to even sportive riding.
Some bikes in this bracket have flat bars, and could be described of as hybrid bikes. However, if you’re looking for a speedy commuter or a bike that will be fast on the road whilst still handling some roughter surfaces, a hybrid bike might be right up your street.
What to look for in a cheap road bike under £500…
- A total weight of around 10kg
- A modern aluminium frame
- Shimano Claris or Sora gears, although some brands fit Microshift components at this price
- Sturdy wheels
- Unbranded dual-caliper brakes or Tektro products on higher-quality bikes
- Own brand bars, stem and saddle
- Steel fork at low end; carbon fork nearer £500
What to expect: road bikes between £500 and £800
As we head past the £500 point, two significant things happen. First, the big household name brands such as Giant, Specialized, Trek, Scott and Cannondale enter the market with their entry-level aluminium road bikes, which normally offer slightly less exotic groupsets and components, but tend to feature very well-engineered frames. The second thing is that smaller specialist brands, such as Ribble, Verenti or Planet X, begin to offer very capable all-year bikes or winter training bikes, sometimes made of steel with excellent ride qualities. These machines may not have all the luxuries and speed of top-end models but do provide enough ride comfort and performance to satisfy even hardened, experienced road riders.
What to look for in road bikes between £500 and £800…
- A total weight of 9-10kg
- An aluminium frame with some design niceties such as internal cable routing, or even a mass-produced steel frame
- On big brand models expect Shimano Claris (on bikes circa £500), Sora (c. £650) and Tiagra (c. £750) components; with specialist value brands expect anything up to Shimano 105 or SRAM Apex parts
- Possibly Shimano groupset brakes, or more likely Tektro calipers
- Own-brand wheels or Alex rims on aluminium hubs
- Own brand bar, stem and saddle
- Carbon fork
What to expect: road bikes from £800
As we head towards the magic £1,000 mark, all bets are off. The dedicated bargain hunter can find almost any product in this price range, including carbon-fibre frames. Be careful with carbon bikes sub-£1k, though — there are some good composite frames available, but there are also some shockers. Conversely, aluminium bikes at this price can be extraordinarily good, and may also come fitted with mid to upper-range gears and brakes. There is also a growing trend among manufacturers to fit mechanical disc brakes at this price point, too.
We’d recommend you really do your homework and read our tests. It’s not a case of general product quality — at this area of the market most bikes are very decent. However, there is the matter of specialisation. By the £1,000 point manufacturers have started to tailor their bikes to fulfill certain specific abilities. So whether you want an all-day comfort machine, or a speedy rocketship, almost any requirements can be filled. Just make sure you know what you want and pick wisely.
What to look for in a road bike between £800 and £1,000…
- A total weight of 9kg or less
- A degree of model specialisation for particular ride criteria
- A top-quality aluminium frame with details such as internal cable routing, general tube manipulation, specific elements designed for comfort, strengthened bottom bracket for power delivery, tapered head tube for better handling
- Possibly even low-end carbon-fibre frame from specialist value brands (but be discerning when it comes to value carbon!)
- Mainly Shimano Tiagra or 105 components, although the occasional piece of super-plush Shimano Ultegra also appears. SRAM Apex or Rival, and even Campagnolo Veloce have also been spotted below £1,000
- Matching groupset caliper brakes or mechanical disc brakes
- Lighter, own-brand wheels or respected third-party wheelsets
- Mainly own-brand bar, stem and saddle — occasionally a third-party saddle
- Carbon fork
How to choose the best bike for you
Buying your first road bike is a pivotal moment in any rider’s cycling life.
You can expect to be spending a few hundred pounds, with plenty of models costing more than a perfectly decent car – so you want to be sure you’re making the right choice. Which is where this guide comes in.
Our product suggestions, and what to expect at each price point:
What is a road bike?
A ‘road bike’ is very much an umbrella term describing a machine designed for riding on tarmac. These bikes have narrow tyres, a lightweight frame and (in the vast majority of cases) drop handlebars to allow for multiple hand positions.
What types of road bike are there?
Riders who choose to spend their time cycling on the tarmac are of course varied, with many different motivations. Some use their road bikes to commute, others enjoy long drawn out days exploring the countryside, whilst some want to push the boundaries of their bodies to travel as fast as they can. Then there are those who want to do a little bit of everything, for as little money as possible.
As a result, there are many styles of road bike. Key differences are found in the geometry – the dimensions of various elements of the frame which position the rider in a way that runs on a scale of ‘relaxed’ to ‘head down/flat back’, as well as the components.
Here’s a look at some of the key road bike genres to help you narrow down your search:
Endurance/sportive road bikes
Comfortable road bikes designed for all-day riding, with a slacker geometry which puts the rider in a more upright position, often with wider tyres and disc brakes which work better in the wet, examples include the Trek Domane and Giant Defy.
Aero road bikes
Designed to slice through the air, aero bikes are stiff and efficient race machines which offer little comfort – such as the Trek Madone. Expect an aggressive geometry, putting the rider in a long and low position, with a high level of integration, including an integrated stem, hidden brakes and internal cable routing.
Road race and lightweight road bikes
Bikes designed for all-round road racing will have an aggressive geometry, like an aero bike, but will often be lighter and able to provide greater compliance. Quick handling is a must-have, too – these bikes are the GC riders of the bike world, examples include the Specialized Tarmac or the Cannondale SuperSix.
Entry level road bikes
You can pick up a road bike for just under £300 but you’ll get one that will keep you smiling for longer at the £1000 price point. The Specialized Allez is a popular entry level model, and Carerra and B’Twin bikes are also fast selling options.
Gravel and adventure road bikes
A lightweight frame and road handlebars combined with knobbly tyres, disc brakes and mud clearance mean gravel and adventure road bikes are ideal for mixed terrain riding, on and off-road.
Flat bar road bikes
Some popular road bike models are available with flat handlebars, like a hybrid bike, for those who don’t feel confident with or don’t feel they require a drop handlebar.
Women’s road bikes
All of the above are available in women’s specific designs – this sometimes involves tweaks to the geometry, or could mean that the key touch points are swapped to offer a better experience for female riders.
Useful links for road bike shoppers…
Road bike frame material
The frame material used has a dramatic influence on the overall ride quality of a bike. The four most common options are carbon, aluminium, steel and titanium.
Quality carbon is by far the lightest, and most compliant (comfortable) material. Carbon can also be moulded into any shape – so it’s the most popular when it comes to aero bikes. The weakness of carbon is that it can be damaged in a crash, and that damage isn’t always immediately obvious.
A nice close up of Dassi’s Carbon fibre
Aluminium is usually mixed with another metal (such as silicon or magnesium) – to form an alloy. The combination of metals varies between alloy frames, and will be altered depending upon the level of comfort and stiffness required. Lighter frames will be butted – ideally triple butted – which means the material is thinner where it can be, to save weight, and stronger where it needs to be stiff.
Good aluminium can be lighter than bad carbon – but in most cases it’s heavier. However, it is generally stronger so a popular option amongst racers who want to rely upon their bike after a crash – the Cannondale CAAD12 is an example of an alloy crit racing steed.
Most alloy bikes will come with a carbon fork and seatpost, which will drop the weight of the bike and offer greater compliance – dampening out the bumps along the way.
Steel is a more traditional option. It’s generally heavier, but famous for its springy ride quality, and its pretty fail-safe in terms of longevity. Titanium, by contrast, is a hard-wearing metal that’s much lighter than steel.
Road bike components
So you know you want a comfortable endurance bike constructed with an aluminium frame, or an aero road bike with a carbon frame. Eventually (after some furious googling and hopefully a test ride or two) you’ll select a brand and a model family.
Most bike models are available at a variety of different price points. Generally, the frame remains largely the same, and the differences between the rungs on the price ladder relate to the groupset and other components.
The vast majority of built bikes come sporting Shimano groupsets, the hierarchy starting at Shimano Claris and topping out at Dura-Ace. The more you spend, the less likely you’ll need to upgrade at a later date.
Disc brakes are becoming more and more common. They offer more effective braking, especially in the wet when compared to rim brakes. Mechanical disc brakes are cheaper and still use a steel cable to move the pistons, whilst the more expensive hydraulic discs are even more reliable and use a sealed, fluid filled system.
Most built road bikes come with entry level wheelsets, and these are a very common early upgrade that can make a big difference to your ride.
The road bike tyres fitted also impact the ride. Traditionally, 23mm tyres were the most popular, but wider 25mm options have become the norm due to the better cornering they offer. Endurance focused machines may even feature tyres over 28mm, and you can expect a greater volume on gravel and adventure bikes.
Top tips for choosing your first road bike
You’re making a pretty big investment, and the bike you choose could be your companion for several years – so ensure you make the right selection.
You can get some really great deals with direct only sellers, but you can rarely test ride these as they’re not often available in bricks and mortar bike shops. However, frame geometry, material and construction make a huge difference to a bike’s ride quality. Wherever possible, get down to a store where you can test ride a bike or look for a ‘demo-day’ near you.
Leave some in the bank
The wheels on most built bikes are perfectly adequate for training and general riding, but racers will want to upgrade – so if performance is your target then you might want to factor an upgrade into your spending plan. Most bikes come without pedals, so you can choose your own option. Other commonly swapped components are the saddle, stem and handlebars.
Buy a bike that fits
It doesn’t matter how good the deal, don’t buy a bike that’s too big or too small because it’s reduced. Ideally, buy your bike at a store where they can size you up and help you to change any components (stem/handlebars/saddle) required for a comfortable ride.