Best cheap bikes: beginner road bikes and commute machines reviewed

What to expect for your money in the best cheap bike sector, plus your guide to choosing the right first road bike for you

The good news is, the best cheap road bikes can offer you miles of smiles without costing the earth. 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.

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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>>> Best road bikes: our pick of the best road bikes reviewed

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 favourite best cheap road bikes – but read further on the page for an explanation of what to expect at each price point from sub-£500 up to £1100.

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.

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The best cheap road bikes

Pinnacle Laterite 2 2020 Road Bike

best cheap road bikes

Pinnacle is the in-house brand at Evans Cycles, and though we’ve yet to test one of the new Laterite models, we’ve always been impressed with these utilitarian rides.

The Laterite range starts at £360, and tops out at £700. All models come with women’s versions featuring narrower bars and women’s saddles.

The frame is aluminium, and at this price point you get a carbon bladed fork and Shimano Sora shifting. Braking comes from Tektro and a size medium weighs in at 10kg.

The cable routing is internal, bottom bracket is threaded and this model comes specced with Schwalbe Lugano tyres in 25c.

Read more: Pinnacle Lithium 4 women’s hybrid bike 

Buy now: See the Pinnacle range at Evans Cycles

Triban RC 500 road bike

best cheap road bikes

Read more: Triban RC 520 road bike

Review score: 9/10

We last reviewed the Triban before Decathlon’s big rebrand, but many characteristics have been carried over.

An aluminium frame with carbon bladed forks and an alloy steerer, this model comes with Shimano Sora shifting and Promax disc brakes.

There’s lots of clearance for wider tyres – with 28c rubber fitted – which will be more comfortable and stable. There are eyelets for mudguards and pannier racks and the weight is 10.6kg.

Buy now: Triban 500 road bike at Decathlon for £599.99

Boardman SLR 8.6 Alloy

best cheap road bikes

Boardman SLR 8.6 Alloy

Read more: Boardman Road Sport review

Review score: 10/10

Boardman‘s entry level road bike, the SLR 8.6 Alloy has had a price drop for 2021 and now comes in at exactly £500.

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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 for the same price.

Buy it now at Halfords for £500

Specialized Allez Road Bike

best cheap road bikes

Read more: Specialized Allez 2020 road bike review 

The Allez from Specialized is one of the best selling bikes in the industry, and at last review we awarded this model a near perfect 9/10.

Designed with ‘wide ranging’ geometry, it’s comfortable enough but you can slam the stem for a more aggressive ride.

At this price point, you get an aluminium frame with the brand’s ‘SmoothWeld’ tech keeping the joins neat. The fork is carbon, shifting comes from Shimano Claris and the brakes are Tektro. A compact chainset comes with an 11-32 cassette, leaving plenty of options for the hills and internal cable routing is a quality touch.

Buy now: Specialized Allez E5 at Tredz for £949

Cube Axial WS road bike

best cheap road bikes

Read More: Cube Axial road bike

There are several models in this women’s specific road bike range, all providing excellent value for money.  The Axial kicks off the collection and comes with well respected Shimano Claris along with Cube specific components.

An alloy frame with carbon forks, we highly rated the race version, which just has the upgraded Shimano 105 groupset, and found it far from any compromise, demonstrating that it is possible to deliver a performance ride, without taking shortcuts.

Buy now: Cube Axial WS at Rutland Cycling for £699 or Wiggle US for $673.99

Triban 520 road bike

best cheap road bikes

Read more: Triban 540 road bike

Review score: Editor’s Choice 2016 & 2017 award winner (in previous model)

The Triban has won the Cycling Weekly Bike of the Year award in both 2016 and 2017, and sits well below the price of many models offering a similar spec.

Newly rebranded and redesigned, the aluminium frame comes with a carbon bladed fork and the Triban 520 offers Shimano 105 and TRP’s well regarded HY/RD mechanical disc brakes for only £749.99.

Don’t be put off by not having a carbon frame, as the aluminium Triban frame offers impressive performance and comfort.

Buy now at Decathlon now £749.99

Giant Contend AR2

best cheap road bikes

Read more: Giant Contend SL1 review 

Review score: 9/10

If you can stretch your budget a little further then you won’t be disappointed with the Giant Contend SL and AR ranges, in fact we liked the SL 1 so much we gave it an Editor’s Choice Award. The whole package excels, from its amazing handling to its great spec for the budget.

The endurance alloy bike is teamed with carbon forks, and thanks to its long wheelbase and 28c tyres manages to balance predictable handling and comfort with surprising agility.

>>> Giant bikes 2020 road range: which model is right for you? 

It comes complete with the highly regarded Shimano 105 groupset, with just a FC-RS510 chainset slotted in to meet this super-competitive price point.

The Giant Contend SL 1 is a superb bike for its price, especially if you take advantage of the Cycle To Work scheme. It’s not the prettiest or lightest of bikes but you can’t really argue with that performance at this price point.

Buy now: Giant Contend AR2 at Westbrook Cycles for £1199  

Van Rysel Ultra CF road bike

best cheap road bikes

Read more: B’Twin Ultra CF  review

Review score: 10/10

The Van Rysel Ultra CF (a redesign on the  B’Twin’s Ultra AF) from Decathlon has been created to suit riders seeking a bike for sportives, commutes, or even races. This model sports an carbon frame with a carbon fork – and impressively at this price point you also get a Shimano 105 groupset.

The Van Rysel Ultra CF road bike delivers in both performance and price. From sprints to mountain climbs, the bike delivers in spades. Confidence inspiring, lightweight and comfortable all for just over the £1k mark.  A very impressive package.

Read our review of the Van Rysel Ultra CF women’s road bike

Buy now: Van Rysel Ultra CF 105 at Decathlon for £1499

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, putting them in the hybrid bike category. However, if you’re looking for a speedy commuter or a bike that will be fast on the road whilst still handling some rougher surfaces and which gives you a more upright ride position, a hybrid bike might be right up your street. Follow the link for advice on hybrids.

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 rim brakes or Tektro products on higher-quality bikes
  • Own brand bars, stem and saddle
  • Steel, aluminium or sometimes a part-carbon fork

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, Boardman or Vitus, begin to offer very capable all-year bikes or winter training bikes, 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 £600), Sora (c. £750) and Tiagra (c. £850) 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

best cheap road bike

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 a growing trend among manufacturers to fit mechanical disc brakes at this price point, too.

>>> Best road bikes under £1000

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 fulfil 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 a 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
  • More and more disc brake models are coming in at this price point

If your budget will stretch a bit further, we’ve got our pick of best road bikes under £1500 too, or take a look at our pick of the best road bikes whatever your budget.

But above all, get out there and ride. You’ll up your fitness level and find out what works for you, so you can consider upgrades or maybe another new bike in a couple of years.