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.
The best cheap road bikes
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.
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.
Triban 540 road bike, £679
Read more: 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.
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 – £884
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 £1000 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