What to expect for your money in the best-value road bike sector, plus your guide to the best bikes for under £500, under £800 and under £1,000
Looking for a cheap road bike? You don’t have to spend a small fortune to get a good road bike – in fact there are many cheaper options that can serve as a perfect introduction to cycling, and upgrades along the way can ensure the same bike keeps you smiling for years.
One of the great strengths of the bike trade is ‘trickle down’ technology: the idea that what might be currently found on only premium products will one day be available on even entry-level bikes.
History has proven this idea again and again — relatively low-cost road bikes today include technology that would once have been unthinkable at that price.
Component brands are particularly adept at this – passing innovations down through the road bike groupsets in following seasons. Take Shimano, for example. Whenever the Japanese giant brings out a new version of the Tiagra groupset it tends to bear an uncanny likeness to the older version of the higher-end 105 groupset.
Meanwhile, public demand for carbon-fibre bikes has pushed down aluminium in people’s estimations. This means that some extraordinarily well-engineered and beautifully designed aluminium frames are now on sale at staggeringly low prices.
>>> Thought about trying MTB? mbr: Hardtail of the Year
That all combines to produce a great situation for the canny bike buyer: if you’re not obsessed with composite frames, brand names, or posing, there are a huge number of incredibly able, high-performing bikes available below £1,000.
Read on for a description of what to expect at each price point. There’s some bike suggestions, too. 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.
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
The best bikes under £500 for 2019
B’Twin Triban 520 road bike (£499)
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.
Read more: B’Twin Triban 520 road bike
Vitus Razor Claris road bike (£499.99)
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.
Read more: Vitus Razor road bike review
Boardman SLR 8.6 Alloy (£550)
Read more: Boardman Road Sport review
Boardman’s newest entry level road bike, the SLR 8.6 Alloy is a smidge over the budget 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.
There’s a women’s version with narrower handlebars, and a women’s saddle.
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
Our pick of the best road bikes for under £800
Specialized Dolce 2019 women’s road bike (£599)
Read more: Specialized Dolce women’s road bike review
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.
B’Twin Ultra 900 AF road bike (£799)
Read more: B’Twin Ultra 700 AF 105 review
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, which would suit racers with a wheel upgrade.
Ribble Endurance AL Tiagra road bike (£799)
Read more: Ribble 7005 Sportive road bike review
Ribble’s AL offers Shimano Tiagra shifting aboard an endurance ready frame that’s been designed to be comfortable over all-day adventures.
Ribble lets you use its ‘bike builder’ to spec the bike with the components of your choice, so you can make it more or less expensive as you wish. This suggested build gives you Tiagra shifting and Tektro brakes with Mavic Aksium wheels – a good quality set that will be robust and smooth rolling.
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
Our pick of the best road bikes from £800
Canyon Endurace AL 7.0
Read more: Canyon Endurace AL 7.0 endurance road bike
At this price point, you can sneak into carbon, or you can stick with aluminum and enjoy higher spec.
This model from Canyon opts for the second of the two, with an aluminum frame, carbon bork and Shimano 105 shifting.
Aluminium, done well, doesn’t need to be heavy – this one weighs in at 8.2kg in a size medium. Alternatively, carbon models start at £1,249 with the same groupset.
Boardman 8.9 Carbon
Read more: Boardman Team Carbon review
Boardman has changed some of its naming conventions recently, but its £1000 model (previously the Team Carbon) has always impressed us for offering a carbon frame with a lively ride quality at an impressive price point.
The new 8.9 carbon road bike comes with aero tube profiles which go hand-in-hand with Boardman’s focus on wind-cheating tech, as exemplified by the brand’s new Performance Centre, with wind tunnel.
The frame is built up with a Shimano Tiagra groupset, Tektro brakes and Boardman’s own wheels – it tips the scales at 9.05kg.
Specialized Allez E5 Elite 2019 road bike (£999)
Read more: Specialized Allez road bike review
The Specialized Allez had a major overhaul in 2018, with a geometry shift that made it equally suitable for commute and sportives as the original racing remit and a new, lightweight chassis.
Models start at £599 but this one, at £999, comes with Shimano 105 whilst the brakes are still Tektro and the wheels DT R460.
>>> Planet X RT-58 Alloy SRAM Rival 11 – £750
>>> B’Twin Ultra 700 AF 105 – £750
>>> Raleigh Criterium Sport – £750
>>> Trek 1.5 – £750
>>> Raleigh Revenio 2 – £750
>>> Ribble 7005 Sportive – £758.92
>>> Mango Bikes Point R – £759.99
>>> Dawes Clubman – £849.99
>>> Merida Scultura 903 – £849.99
>>> Vitus Venon – £879.99
>>> KTM Strada 1000 CD – £929.99
>>> Tifosi CK7 Gran Fondo Campagnolo Veloce – £999.99
>>> Verenti Insight 0.4 – £950
>>> Ribble Evo-Pro Carbon – £999
>>> Giant Revolt 1 – £999
>>> Kinesis Racelight T2 – £999.99
>>> Radial Revere 1.1 Apex – £999.99
>>> Planet X London Road – £999.99
>>> Trek Madone 2.1 – £1000
>>> Pinnacle Dolomite 5 – £1000
>>> Marin Gesalt 2 – £1000
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.