How to Choose and Buy the Best Road Bike Under $1500
by Owen Jesse - updated April 20th, 2021
How Are Road Bikes Unique?
Road cycling and road bikes have remained close to their roots for over a hundred years. Sure, bike tech and road surfaces have improved. But it’s always been about riding fast on paved roads. For this reason, the road bike has evolved to a point where all models incorporate similar characteristics.
Road bikes are known for using drop handlebars and frame geometry that results in the rider leaning forward in a racy and athletic ride position that aids aerodynamic efficiency.
Curved drop bars allow road cyclists to move into different positions when descending, climbing or spinning on flat roads.
In the drops
Road bike tires are relatively skinny. For a number of decades, they have measured between 23mm and 25mm wide on 700c wheels. Recently, wider options have come into vogue. These days, a 28mm tire is not outrageous. For some endurance riders, rubber up to 33mm is preferred.
Plumper tires can provide low levels of on-road suspension. Some road bikes use flexible frame materials and tubing that aids compliance over bumps and chatter.
Narrower and wider road tires
Traditionally, road bikes don’t use a technical suspension system, as they add weight and are usually unnecessary on paved roads. Even so, recent innovations have resulted in the emergence of ‘micro-suspension' systems on a few new production road bikes.
Ideally, road bike gearing provides numerous gears at close intervals, to allow for smooth shifting over varied terrain. The current standard sits at 22 or 24 speeds, using two chainrings and a cassette with 11 or 12 cogs.
The lowest-priced entry-level road bikes compromise by using 6 to 10 cog cassettes and/or a heavier triple-chainring. There should be appropriate gears for climbing, fast flats, and descents.
2x11 road drivetrain
Road bike manufacturers and buyers strive for the lightest possible bike weight, within a given budget.
In the sub-$1500 range, there are a number of aluminum frame options available, while carbon fiber options are scarcer.
‘Stiffness’ is a quality that is universally sought after in a road bike. A stiff bike delivers pedal power efficiently.
Some aluminum bikes can be too stiff, resulting in a lack of ‘vertical compliance’. This means that bumpy surfaces will transmit uncomfortable vibration through the bike’s frame to the rider.
A compromise between these two qualities is ideal.
Another consistent feature of road bikes is the tendency toward stripped-back minimalism. Unneeded extras and accessories only increase weight. Hardcore road bikes will not have any eyelets available for racks or fenders. Baskets and streamers are also rarely seen.
Less is more in road bike minimalism
Not all road bikes use aerodynamic shaping, but it’s something that is incredibly rare to see on bikes outside of the road cycling world. The same goes for the inclusion of ‘integrated componentry’, which combines one or more bike parts into one piece, in order to save weight and increase aerodynamic efficiency. In the sub-$1500 field, you probably won’t run into integrated components.
In this price range, many road bikes are all-rounders, without being dedicated to a specific style of riding. Numerous endurance models are available but aero road bikes are rare under $2000.
Endurance or Race?
Above around $1200, road bikes are usually split into either of the endurance or race categories.
As the name suggests, endurance bikes are all about long distances. For this reason, comfort and stability are important. The geometry of endurance bikes is more relaxed than that of race bikes, resulting in a more upright position.
In contrast, race bike geometry is more aggressive, because speed is the priority. The rider leans further forward for a lower, more aerodynamic profile. All aero bikes are geared toward racing. Although, some race bikes still use tubular tubing.
If you’re looking for a bike in this price range, chances are that you’ll be happy to opt for an all-rounder that can attain and maintain speed, while still being comfortable on longer rides.
Nevertheless, with a shrewd eye on sales, bargains, and leftover stock from recent years, you can nab a dedicated endurance or race bike. There are even a couple of aero bikes available within this budget.
Road Bike Types
Budget road bikes can perform ‘decently’ for all needs. They should have a wide enough gear range that they can climb steep hills. When it comes to distinct types, most road bikes fall into the endurance or race categories. For distance, choose endurance. For speed, aim for a race bike (with or without aero styling and tech).
Almost race but almost endurance too. Another all-rounder
It’s important to realistically consider what level you’ll be riding at. If you want to race, get a race bike. If you’re aiming for top speeds, consider an aero model (and maybe a higher price bracket for more options). Aero bikes aren’t the top choice for frequent climbers in hilly areas. If you just want to get out onto the open road and ride fast regularly, an endurance bike is a wiser choice.
For a fast commuter bike, you might consider a flat-bar road bike. At higher prices, ultra-lightweight and dedicated climbing bikes enter the fray. Let’s look at the road bike types that are available to you in the sub-$1500 price range.
Endurance bikes employ relatively relaxed geometry for long-distance comfort. With hands on the flats of the handlebars, riding positions are more upright than on race bikes. Steering is more laid-back and less ‘twitchy’ than it is for race machines.
Endurance bikes enjoy increased stability over race bikes, as they employ a longer wheelbase.
In the last few years, disc brakes have become very common. To find a high-quality bike for a lower price, you might aim for an option that’s equipped with rim brakes.
Endurance bike tires are often wider than those on race bikes, which adds to comfort on imperfect roads, over longer distances. While 25-28mm tire widths weren’t uncommon in the last few decades, they can now reach 30-33mm.
As far as gearing goes, most endurance bikes are furnished with a compact crankset (more on that later).
Endurance bikes are more common in lower price brackets, but high-end models can also be found for top dollar.
Race and Aero
Affordable, carbon, almost aero
Not all race bikes are ‘aero bikes’, but high-end race bikes usually employ aerodynamic shaping. Compared to other types of bikes, all road bikes should be lightweight. But aero road bikes value speed and efficiency over the need to break weight records.
Carbon fiber lends itself to narrow, smooth and irregular tubing shapes that aid aerodynamic efficiency and reduce drag. But carbon fiber aero bikes are few and far between in this price range. When you find one, you might like to deepen your research on the integrity of the manufacturer and the type of carbon fiber that they’re using. Aluminum aero bikes are less common but ask much lower prices.
This alloy race bike uses a carbon fiber fork
Deep-section, aerodynamic rims are standard on aero bike wheels. These help to streamline a bike when heading into headwinds but can catch crosswinds and increase lateral movement. In this price range, carbon rims are out of the question.
Comfort is not of the utmost priority to race bike designers and riders. Flattened tubing makes for a stiff ride that’s efficient but not the best at resisting vibration.
Race bike geometry lays the rider low over their frame, resulting in minimal wind resistance. Steep head angles result in sharp and responsive handling.
To further decrease wind resistance, brake and gear cables are often routed internally. On more expensive models, lightweight integrated componentry may be specced. Both of these features have a practical application, while also making your bike look cooler.
For those that feel the need for speed, an aero/race bike is really the only choice.
True aero in alloy for under $1500
If flat-out racing isn’t your priority, you might want to take pause. Sure, they’re impressive in both function and appearance. But if you aim to ride longer distances, this is the less comfortable choice.
Aero bikes are designed and tested with the use of wind tunnels. With all the research and engineering that’s injected into the creation of an aero bike, you can bet that they usually ask a high price. Models under $1500 exist but are rare.
Climbing and Lightweight Bikes
Reviewers say this affordable alloy bike performs well on climbs
Dedicated climbing bikes are lightweight. They are designed to be stiff, in order to preserve efficiency and to contribute the maximum amount of energy from pedal input, on climbs. They have short wheelbases (to aid acceleration) and short headtubes (to place the rider further over the front wheel).
Lightweight and dedicated climbing bikes don’t often come into play for under $3000. Nevertheless, if you scour reviews you’ll find that some cheaper ‘all-rounder’ models share some of the attributes of more expensive bikes and receive glowing reports relating to their climbing abilities.
Flat-Bar Road Bikes
Flat-bar road bikes are road bikes with flat handlebars, like those used on hybrid and mountain bikes. You can find new models, but you can also just add flat handlebars to the road bike of your choice.
Obviously, your riding profile is not as aerodynamic on flat bars as it would be down in the drops.
On the upside, a flat-bar bike gives you excellent visibility in heavy traffic.
Messengers pioneered the
1x flat-bar road bike
With flat bars, it’s much easier to lift your front wheel to hop curbs and potholes. In this upright position, you can probably ride for longer in greater comfort. It’s no wonder that, for some bicycle messengers who favor gears, a road bike customized to use flat bars is their bike of choice.
For all the above reasons, a flat-bar road bike makes an excellent high-speed commuter.
The best road bikes under $1500 use aluminum frames, but there are also some carbon fiber bikes available within this budget. Within this price range, it's rare to find quality steel frames of a manageable weight.
Some critics resort to making generalizations about frame materials.
Aluminum is said to be stiff, uncomfortable and prone to vibration. Some folk see all carbon fiber frames as superior. Others fear they may suddenly crack.
The truth is that there are a number of different aluminum alloys that can be used to create tubing. Each of them possesses different qualities.
Carbon fiber can be ‘weaved’ or laid down using many different methods, resulting in materials that vary widely in quality, stiffness and ride feel.
Besides the main two types of steel, there are multiple chromoly ‘recipes’, some that are heat treated.
The best entry-level and low-cost road bikes are built with aluminum frames.
At the bottom end of the range, aluminum alloys will be less compliant than those available at higher prices. As you pay more, weights drop. Tubing is refined by shaving joins to reduce vibration.
Cheaper aluminum bikes may use a chromoly steel fork to increase compliance. Spend more and you’ll receive a carbon fiber fork.
Be aware that all frames are not created equally. As alloys vary, so do their characteristics. But generally, aluminum is affordable due to the fact that it is relatively easy for framebuilders to work with.
However, in the instance that it cracks, it is not cost-effective to have it repaired.
Within this budget, you can afford either a bike with an aluminum frame and higher-quality components or a carbon fiber frame with lower quality components.
A low-cost 4130 chromoly steel bike
Very low-cost bikes are often made of hi-tensile steel. This steel must be drawn into thick tubing that is heavy and rigid while delivering a dull ride quality. You may find super-cheap drop-bar bikes made of hi-tensile steel. They don’t suit racing, high speeds or endurance riding.
At a higher price range, you may find road bikes made from affordable chromoly tubing. These bikes will be more supple, more comfortable and much lighter than hi-tensile options.
Columbus tubing and a carbon fork
Examples of low-cost chromoly road bikes are scarce these days, as they are significantly heavier than aluminum options.
The most desirable steel tubing is stronger than aluminum options, but of similar weight, while possessing superior vibration-dampening properties. Numbered standards are attributed to the different tubing types.
Some of these (e.g., Reynolds 725 and 853) are heat-treated for extra strength. This allows them to be drawn into thinner tubes. It is almost impossible to find examples for less than $2500-$3000 at standard retail prices.
Steel frames can be repaired at affordable prices.
Quality carbon fiber frames are on the outer limit of your budget but can be found if you shop shrewdly. Carbon fiber is coveted for achieving the holy trifecta of low weight, high strength and maximum stiffness. If only it could be cheap too!
There is a multiplicity of construction methods used to create carbon fiber frames.
On high-end bikes, manufacturers are able to fine-tune ride characteristics by selecting weaves and manipulating the lay-up of carbon sheets. Using these construction methods, carbon fiber can be drawn into unorthodox shapes that make it favorable for the construction of aerodynamic bikes.
It’s advisable to be cautious when considering lower-end carbon fiber bikes sold by unknown brands. Although it’s unlikely, failure can lead to cracks that can be sudden, fatal (to your bike) and potentially dangerous. Repairs are difficult and expensive.
Keep in mind that, within this price range, a lot of your dollar is spent on the frame. As such, you will receive lower quality components with a carbon fiber frame, than those you would receive if you spent the same amount of money on an aluminum bike.
2 chainrings and an 11-speed cassette
The term ‘groupset’ refers to the brakes and components that make up the drivetrain of a bike.
In the sub-$1500 market, there are two basic tiers of drivetrain. Closer to the $1500 mark, bikes will use the very common road bike standard of a double chainring and an 11-speed cassette (giving 22 total speeds). At the bottom end, cheaper bikes will cut costs by using a 7,8,9 or 10-speed cassette. This may be mated to a double chainring. But sometimes, an outdated and heavier triple chainring is used to give a widespread gear range.
The Shimano and SRAM brands are reliable names when it comes to this price range. Microshift is a lesser-known name that also offers affordable alternatives.
3 chainrings and an 8-speed cassette
Most road bikes use a double chainring. Triple chainrings are still used widely on touring bikes, to provide a gear for every hill, hauling massive loads. But for road bikes, they’re almost completely obsolete.
Newer double-chainring setups are able to offer a similar range to older road triple chainrings. This is because newer cassettes are able to sandwich in more cogs on the same width hub.
When you’re looking for a new bike in this price range, you’ll probably come across some triple chainring models.
2 chainrings and an 8-speed cassette
If you have a lower budget and the drivetrain is high quality (without being impractically heavy), you might consider triple chainring options. They give you a wide gear range and can always be updated with a more modern setup, down the road.
Gravel bikes have popularized the use of single chainrings (referred to as ‘one-by’ or ‘1x’). These systems keep drivetrains simple by having a widespread gear range across the cassette. No front derailleur is needed.
1 chainring and an 11-speed cassette
So far, 1x setups are still rare on true road bikes and ask higher prices than 2x and 3x setups. They can be found on cyclocross, gravel and 'all-road' bikes which may also serve as your road ride. There are a couple of options in this price range, but they may have a narrower spread than on an affordable 2x setup.
Higher priced bikes should use higher quality drivetrains. On entry-level road bikes, most groupsets are machined from lower-end aluminum alloys or weighty steel. Higher-grade alloys are used on mid-range bikes.
This 2x8 setup uses an 11-34t cassette
Gearing ranges and available ratios do vary between road bike types and between individual models. This is dependent on the specified sizes and numbers of chainrings and cassette cogs. But there are some standards across the discipline. The most common setup on road bikes is comprised of two chainrings and an 11-speed cassette, giving 22 ‘speeds’.
Cheaper bikes may use as few as 7 cogs on a rear cassette. More expensive bikes can use 12 or even 13 (with bleeding-edge tech).
A crankset is comprised of chainrings and cranks. The terms ‘semi-compact’, ‘compact’ and ‘standard’ refer to different size combinations of chainrings in a two-chainring crankset. In Britain, a crankset is sometimes referred to as a ‘chainset’.
This is the most manageable crankset for a large number of road riders. They use a 52 tooth large chainring and a small 36 tooth chainring, which offers a wide spread to cope with both climbs and faster speeds on flats.
You may need to stand and work harder on the steepest climbs. On flats, faster riders may be searching for a higher top gear.
Compact cranksets use a 50 and 34 tooth chainring, which offers closer ratios on lower gears.
This is the choice for climbing enthusiasts.
You may be content with a compact crankset if you like spinning at high cadences.
It's most likely that flatland speed freaks will find themselves spinning out when looking for a faster, higher gear.
‘Standard’ is a bit of a misnomer. These setups usually use a 53/39 combination, which used to be the ‘standard’. In modern times, the offering of higher gears with faster ratios is favored by competitive riders and race enthusiasts.
Single Chainring Cranksets
These are mostly unaffordable in this price range, but not impossible to find. 1x chainrings are most common in 40 or 42 tooth sizes, with a general range from 36 to 44.
This crankset comes with 36 to 44t chainrings
You might opt for a 1x 'all-road', cyclocross or gravel bike that you can also use on the road.
From new, most of these 'non-road' bikes are geared lower than road bikes, to cope with dirt roads, extra weight and increased traction. You might spin out on-road.
1x chainrings do not require a front derailleur. This means less complication, maintenance and adjustment.
Triple Chainring Cranksets
These are now rare on new road bikes.
A compact triple crankset
Triple chainrings can offer a very wide gear range that goes easy on older knees, but they weigh more than double and single chainring options.
The multiple chainring to cassette-cog combinations can result in repeated ratios. This can equate to an inefficient use of weight and space.
An average setup might consist of a 50-tooth large chainring, 39-tooth middle chainring and 30-tooth small chainring.
An 11-32 tooth cassette using 11 cogs
Cassettes are usually described by the number of teeth on the smallest and biggest cogs. For example, ‘11-28 teeth’ or ‘11-34 teeth’. This describes the available gear range, which could be the same on a cassette using 8, 9, 10 or 11 cogs.
Often, manufacturers will not mention the number of cogs on a cassette.
The ‘spread’ of gears varies, depending on what these bikes are used for. On a regular 2x11 drivetrain, it’s common for the smallest cog to feature 11 teeth. On race bikes, the largest gear will frequently use 28 teeth. On endurance bikes, a large cog may use as many as 34 teeth, allowing for a higher gear on climbs.
An 11-34 tooth cassette using 8 cogs
The advantage of having more cogs (say 11, rather than 7) on the rear cassette, is that the ‘steps’ between gears are closer. This can contribute to a smoother and more persistent cadence when shifting between gears.
Compact cranksets use smaller chainrings that offer higher, easier-to-pedal gears. Larger chainrings on standard cranksets are more difficult to propel. They allow the rider to attain higher top speeds.
Many bikes under $700 will have a triple or double chainring combined with a 7 or 8 tooth cassette (giving a total of 14 to 24 speeds).
A 2x9 (50-34 / 11-34 setup) toward the top end of this price range
Triple chainring setups offer a wide spread of gears but are heavier. A 2x7 or 2x8 (14 or 16-speed) configuration will have a reduced range or large steps between gears. Often, it’s both.
Between $700 and $1200, you’ll confront a mixed bag of drivetrains, including 2x9 and 2x10 setups, along with more of the aforementioned 2x and 3x configurations. Above roughly $800, you’ll start to find some 2x11 options.
Above $1200, the 2x11 drivetrain is common.
Rim and disc brakes are both available on new road bikes. For the most part, the cheapest bikes still use caliper rim brakes.
Rim or disc? These bikes are being sold for an identical price, from one retailer
Disc brakes are becoming lighter and increasingly popular for road cyclists. Subsequently, they have become more affordable and can even be found on new sub-$1000 bikes.
When it comes to road bikes, caliper brakes are the standard. Caliper brakes are actuated by a cable that’s pulled by a lever. When a brake lever pulls a brake cable, the brake caliper’s arms squeeze rubber pads onto the wheel rim, stopping or slowing your road bike.
Rim brakes on a sub-$1500 bike
Rim brakes on a bike worth over $11k
To use rim brakes, your bike must be fitted with appropriate wheels that have machined rim surfaces. These rims are prepared in such a way that they are rough and unpainted, increasing traction upon contact with rubber brake pads.
Rim brakes are simple to maintain and adjust at home, using only a few tools. They are lightweight and aesthetically low-profile. Caliper brakes are less powerful than disc brakes. This is particularly so in wet and wintery conditions.
Many riders remain steadfast in their support of the rim brake, regardless of their budget. These brakes are also offered on some incredibly high-end bikes, as they are lightweight.
On the modern road bike, disc brakes are not out of place. It wasn’t so long ago that they were exclusive to off-road bikes.
Initially, purists found that they were heavy and hampered aerodynamics. Riders found that they delivered a harsh ‘binary’ feel that resulted in sudden braking. But the weight of quality disc options has decreased, while the quality of brake modulation has improved.
In the end, road cyclists could no longer deny their power.
All disc brakes are more powerful than rim brakes. Hydraulic brakes, most of all. Disc brakes keep delivering dependable performance in wet conditions. Because they don’t come in contact with your wheel rims, they don’t wear them down. Without brake calipers, disc brakes allow you to fit a wider tire to your bike.
Many bike frames are only designed to accommodate one kind of brake (either rim or disc). Choose carefully, as you’ll probably be stuck with your choice as long as you’re using that frame.
There are two types of disc brake; mechanical and hydraulic.
Mechanical Disc Brakes
Like rim-brakes, mechanical disc brakes use cables to clamp brake pads onto a rotor.
While they're less powerful than hydraulic options, they are significantly cheaper. They're also a lot easier to adjust and maintain.
You can now find mechanical disc brakes on road bikes for under $1500.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
In place of a cable, hydraulic brakes push fluid through hoses onto a brake caliper, operating pistons in the caliper to clamp pads onto the disc rotor. This enclosed fluid system is powerful. Moreso than any mechanical system.
You’ll need a ‘bleed kit’ and some technical know-how, in order to maintain hydraulic brakes.
Hydraulic brakes are very rare in this price bracket, but a couple of models just manage to sneak in around the $1500 mark.
This affordable alloy wheelset uses hybrid sealed / cup and cone bearings
Road cyclists seek stiff, light, reasonably tough wheels. Under $1500, you’re looking at aluminum. Carbon fiber is unthinkable. A stiff wheel helps to transfer the greatest proportion of rider input.
Sealed bearings are preferred but you can cut costs with good quality cup and cone options.
Wheel rims should not show prominent joins or seams. For caliper brakes, machined braking surfaces should be resilient.
On a modern road bike, you’ll want rims wide enough to fit 25 to 28mm tires. These are wider than the 19-23mm tires that have been popular for a number of decades.
Affordable alloy aero wheels
Modern rims should have a 19 to 21mm internal rim width. Wider rims and tires have better rollover on uneven roads, while purportedly performing better in assessments of aerodynamic performance.
For aero bikes, deep-section / high-profile rims are preferred. While these are more aerodynamic in a headwind, they tend to catch crosswinds, which could lead to the unwary rider being blown off a bridge at a high altitude. That’s a joke. But you wouldn’t use disc wheels in an outdoor setting.
Under $1500 gets you carbon fiber and a Shimano 105 groupset, but with heavy wheels
In this price bracket, you’re looking at aluminum aero wheels. Compared to their carbon cousins, alloy wheels are a much rarer sight on a new bike.
Wheels can have a massive impact on the overall price of a new bike. A wise cyclist once said that your wheels can only be two of these:
Pick any two.
For under $700, wheels will be relatively heavy. Hopefully, this weight translates to strength. If you find that you’re enjoying road cycling and you crave a lighter rig, you can always upgrade to lighter wheels.
As prices rise, lighter wheels will be fit to new bikes. Bearings will be of higher quality. You may find high-profile rims. Carbon fiber is not an option at this price point.
This bike comes fitted with 28mm tires
Road tires are getting wider. 25mm is considered fairly standard now, with 28mm tires also being popular. Some endurance cyclists like to roll on tires between 30 and 33mm. In the past, 23mm was the standard. 19mm was the minimum.
Lower pressures and wider tires were avoided because they were seen to add weight and reduce speed. Newer attitudes see the lower rolling resistance of wider tires as an advantage.
This rig arrives shod with 32mm tires
Wider, lower pressure tires act as a form of subtle suspension on rougher roads. Whereas caliper brakes limited road tire width, disc brakes have opened up tire options. However, you can only fit tires as wide as those allowed by your frame. When reviewing your prospective bike choices, look at the manufacturer page to ascertain the maximum tire clearance allowed.
26mm tires on this beginners' race bike
Minimal tread is the standard on slick road bike tires. This reduces traction as another barrier to maximum speed.
Generally, aero tires are slightly narrower than those fitted to endurance bikes. But even new aero bikes are now being sold with 25mm and 28mm tires.
New endurance bikes may be fit with tires from 28mm to 32mm, for increased comfort on uneven surfaces over long distances.
Types of Tires
With and without a tube
- on a tubeless ready tire
Most bikes in this price range will be fitted with clincher rims and use clincher tires. These are the standard tires you know and love. They use a replaceable tube with a valve that fits through a hole in the bike’s rim.
Clincher tires can’t be run at pressures as low as those on a tubeless system. They’re also more likely to be punctured.
Some new road bikes come with tubeless-ready rims that allow you to run tubeless tires (or not).
Tubeless tires have been popular on mountain bikes for decades. As the name suggests, they don’t use an internal tube. Tubeless tires are fixed directly to the wheel rim and use
use a liquid sealant to create an airtight seal.
They save weight over traditional tubed tires and are much less likely to be punctured. However, if they do puncture, repairs can be messy. You won’t find many tubeless-ready options under $1500.
A saddle designed specifically for women
Saddle choice is personal. Higher-end bikes often have high-quality saddles that appeal to a wider range of riders.
On bikes in this price range, you may find yourself quickly swapping out your saddle for something that suits you better. It’s a common occurrence.
Reproductive health can be a serious consideration, especially for male riders.
This lightweight saddle is designed with perineal health in mind
Cyclists of both genders may seek a saddle with a central channel and a dropped or shortened nose. These saddles help to preserve prostate health for men while reducing impact and improving airflow for women.
Every rider has a different body type. Most men have a narrower sit-bone width than most women. Subsequently, female-specific saddles tend to be wider. Even so, some slimmer women prefer a men’s saddle.
The cheapest road bikes come fitted with disposable or low-quality pedals. You’ll probably want to replace them.
Most quality road bikes come with no pedals at all. This allows you to choose from your preferred pedal-type; clipless for use with bike shoes, platform or toe-clips for use with casual shoes.
Some innovative brands are incorporating suspension systems into their road bikes. These remain rare. Some of these are quite complicated and incorporate hydraulic dampers or pivoting frames. Others use tubing that’s intentionally flexible and narrow at certain key points.
In this price bracket, the only suspension you’ll encounter will use elastomers in the seat tube or head tube. These systems are more common on all-road bikes that are also intended for some gentle gravel or hardpack dirt-road riding.
Due to the potential strain induced by the hunched-over riding position that is synonymous with road cycling, it is of utmost importance to achieve a good fit. It’s easy to become uncomfortable on long rides or after an intense race. A good fit might give you the edge you need to win a race.
A professional fit is usually only available when buying in-store. Even then, it is a service that is only offered complimentarily by high-end vendors, as part of the purchase of an expensive bike.
If you’re buying online, you may want to pay a local bike shop their asking fee for a professional fit. If this extra expense is out of the question, it’s important to measure yourself accurately while paying close attention to manufacturer geometry charts.
It’s advisable to arrive at your prospective purchase fully armed with research and measurements. Manufacturer sizing charts don’t relate to the idiosyncrasies of your body and shouldn’t be depended upon in isolation.
Once you narrow down your options to those bikes that fit you, this will help you to hone in on your appropriate available choices.
For less than $700
Road bikes that cost less than $700 will be suited to casual road riding or commuting. If parts are reliable, they will probably be too heavy to allow a bike to be seriously raced.
You can buy a bike with narrow tubing, narrow tires and drop bars for as little as $150. But these bikes will have heavy components, a heavy frame and heavy wheels. Quality will be noticeably low and may lead to prompt technical issues and failures.
Performance bikes with race geometry are usually available over the $1500 mark. But with some shrewd shopping, you can find a race-worthy bargain from around $1200. If you’re fit and young, a decent bike above $800 may allow you to keep up in group rides. You can always upgrade with lighter parts and wheels, to make your bike perform better on climbs and in competition.
Between $1000 and $1500
Generalizations can be made in relation to some features that affect the cost of a road bike. An aluminum bike with an aluminum fork will be less comfortable and cheaper than one with a carbon fiber fork. Lightweight components and wheels add significantly to the overall cost of a bike.
Direct Sales vs. Local Bike Store
If you buy your bike online, it’s going to cost less than buying it in-store. There are good reasons for this. If you’re buying directly from the manufacturer, you’re cutting out the middleman. There is no retailer involved.
If you are buying from an online retailer, you don't pay for the rent of a physical storefront, the services of a professional mechanic or an in-store fit.
Good online bike retailers will pre-assemble as much as 90% to 95% of your bike before shipping and will provide the tools required for the remaining adjustments.
Local Bike Store
Local bike stores will professionally assemble, fit and tune your bike.
They may also offer a free service within the first few weeks of your purchase. A warranty deal may also be included in the package when you buy your bike in-store.
Whichever route you choose to go, there are advantages and disadvantages.
Supply and Demand
Bikes are currently in high demand, due to their reliability as a safe form of socially distanced exercise. Bike shops are often sold out of stock before it appears in-store. This has resulted in manufacturers struggling to keep up. If you can't find the right bike in the right size in-store, it might be easier to source one online.
Finding Your Ideal Bike
A 4-speed racer with wooden rims, c. 1935
There are many great sources for information on the bikes you might want to buy.
Online reviews are available from professional bike reviewers at reputable online magazines. These can be written articles or videos that allow you to get an excellent visual impression of a bike and its performance.
A 12-speed, steel-framed bike c.1970's
Opinions from experienced buyers can also be found in the comments sections of these reviews, where users often chip in with their own opinion.
On seller pages, you can find reviews from other buyers. Reputable retailers will feature trustworthy reviews and ratings from cyclists who have actually bought the bike. Other sources include blogs, forums and print magazines.
A '90s steel racer using a 52-39t crankset
and a 13-26t cassette.
It isn’t advisable to rely solely on promotional material provided by the manufacturer.
Try to stick to your set budget and don’t be lured in by manufacturers that prioritize appearance over function.
Don’t be chained to the current fashions as they change quickly, even in the cycling world (and they often circle back around too).
After all, a reliable road bike could see you through decades of changing trends.
Drop Everything and Hit the Road Riding
It’s easy to enter the world of cycling at a beginner’s level. Commuter and hybrid bikes are affordable, casual and comfortable. But the road cycling scene is a whole different deal. For some people just starting out, it can seem daunting. Do I have to spend many thousands of dollars, straight away? Do I have to wear lycra and shave my legs? Will I be welcomed into the coffee shop throng?
It is possible to find an affordable option that won’t weigh you down. When you rock up equipped with the necessary knowledge, it is possible to find that balance between a bargain and a bike that could become a literal drag. Once you’ve got the tech behind (and beneath you), you can move onto what it’s really all about… The ride! Choose wisely and roll on.
Owen JesseOwen has spent decades building and riding bikes; as a messenger, photographer and for an environmental non profit. He’s volunteered teaching others to fix their bikes and loves a genre busting bike build.