More and more people opt for biking as a form of leisure, to enjoy nature, to get some exercise, or to avoid traffic congestion when commuting. But, if you want to get faster on the bike, you might be interested in getting a road bike.
For beginners, it is best to start with an entry-level road bike that doesn’t cost too much. Choosing an entry-level road bike can be daunting as you want a versatile, comfortable, and affordable bike.
Here are the most important criteria when choosing an entry-level road bike for beginners.
The first thing you want to consider is the frame geometry. You want a road bike with a relaxed riding position that will be comfortable for a beginner’s body who has not adapted to a bicycle yet.
Good entry-level road bikes should be endurance-oriented and have a longer wheelbase than typical race bikes and a higher handlebar stack.
When possible, choose a frame with a carbon fork. Carbon as a material is lighter and will absorb vibrations better than steel or aluminum, making your bike more comfortable.
You shouldn’t spend all your bike budget on your first bike. Your first bike will not be your last, and you might make some mistakes when choosing the first bike, so it’s better to make a cheap mistake than an expensive one.
Plus, once you start riding, you will need to buy essential accessories like bike lights, bottle cages, bidons, jerseys and bibs, and probably cycling shoes.
You should be able to find an entry-level road bike for between $500 and $1,200.
The groupset is the collection of components that make up the drivetrain of the bicycle. It includes shifters, derailleurs, a crankset, a chain, and a cassette.
The best entry-level groupsets are Shimano Claris and Sora. They have 8 or 9-speed cassettes and 2 chainrings. They are good for beginner cyclists as they are easy to use and have a wide gear range that will help you up hills and make it easier to spin the pedals faster on flat terrain.
There’s the brake to consider too. Most entry-level bikes use rim brakes to save some cost. At this price level, (mechanical) disc brakes don’t offer an advantage in braking power but it does allow for wider tire clearance. If you want hydraulic disc brakes that do feel better than rim brakes, you will need to get a bike with Shimano Tiagra or higher which costs significantly more than Claris and Sora.
Cheaper bikes usually come in stock with a Microshift groupset. In our opinion, it’s not the best groupset for the price compared to Sensah or LTWOO, but we don’t recommend you buy a separate groupset just yet at this price level.
Bike sizing is important to get right because the best bike is a bike that fits you. You want a bike that is the right size for your height and inseam (the distance from your crotch to the floor). If the bike is too big, your body will be in a lot of pain, and if it’s too small, you will be too cramped.
Good road bikes come in five sizes or more. The more sizes it has, the more likely you will find one that fits you.
There are also women’s-specific road bikes that have a lower stand-over height and shorter reach to make them more comfortable for female riders. But, most bikes are unisex and the fit can be altered slightly with a change of stem and handlebar.
The best way to see if a bike is for you is to test-ride it. You can go to your local bike shop and ask to test ride some bikes.
Availability in Your Local Bike Shop
It’s hard to find good bikes in stock in local bike shops nowadays, but the best way to buy a bike is still in person from a good bike shop. This way you can test-ride the bike, get help with choosing the right size and model, and get professional advice on accessories.
It’s also easier to return or exchange a bike if there are any problems. And, if anything breaks on your bike, it will be easier to get it fixed quickly.
Buying a bike online can be cheaper and there is a wider range of models to choose from, but you will have to assemble the bike yourself, and if anything goes wrong, you might have to fix it yourself.
Less important criteria
When shopping for high-end carbon bikes, there are several more important criteria to consider such as the wheels, saddle, stem, tires, and handlebars. Also, a lot of people will care about the overall weight and the aerodynamic drag.
For entry-level bikes, these are less important because all the small components and wheels that you will get from them are pretty basic and there won’t be much of a difference between brands.
Now that you know what to look for in an entry-level road bike, it’s time to start looking at some specific bikes. Here are 6 of the best entry-level road bikes for beginners.
1. Triban RC120
The Triban RC120 comes with an aluminum frame with a comfortable geometry that puts the rider in an upright position, giving less strain on a rider’s lowers back.
Triban RC120 is equipped with a 2×8 Microshift groupset and mechanical disc brakes. There’s no significant advantage when comparing mechanical disc brakes and rim brakes, but disc brake wheels are more common nowadays in case you want to replace your wheels later.
At $700, the Triban RC120 is one of the cheapest road bikes for new entrants. The price may fool you into thinking that the bike is not exceptional, but that is not true. It has everything one would a road bike entrant will need, and Triban as a brand has a proven track record.
- Affordable price
- Comfortable geometry
- Mudguard mounting points
- No Shimano groupset (but it is expected at this price range)
2. Giant Contend 3
Giant Contend 3 is an entry-level aluminum endurance bike for beginners from the biggest bike brand in the world. It is designed to take a new beginner from pavements to bumpy back roads with maximum control and confidence. The Giant Contend 3 frame is made from 6061 alloys, which makes the bike a bit lighter than the rest at this price level.
The Giant Contend 3 comes in stock with the Shimano Claris groupset, albeit with Tektro brakes and an FSA crankset. It is priced just below $1000. The Giants Contend 3 might be one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to road bikes.
- D-shaped seatpost should be more comfortable than standard rounded posts (but you can’t upgrade it)
- Maximum tire size up to 30mm vs the more common 28mm on a road bike
- OverDrive steerer is not a commonly used size, you will have a hard time finding aftermarket stems
If you prefer a disc brake version with wider tire clearance for going off-road, check out the Giant Contend AR 4 instead. It’s around $200 more expensive, but the difference is worth it if you want to ride gravel too, instead of buying a separate bike.
3. Specialized Allez
The Specialized Allez promises better handling, smoother riding, and lower weight than its competitors. Equipped with a Shimano Claris 2×8 groupset and Tektro rim brakes, it’s a great choice for a beginner. The price of this bike is just below $1000, so it’s pretty much comparable with Giant Contend 3. You can’t go wrong with either.
- Local Specialized dealers are easy to find
- Mudguard mounting points
- The dropped seat stays look more modern
- Non-Shimano cassette might cause shifting performance to be less than ideal
4. Polygon Strattos S2
The Polygon Strattos S2 is a lightweight road bike with an alloy frame and a carbon fork. It has a race geometry, so not the best for beginners who are not used to riding bikes. However, it can be an advantage for competitive-minded people who want to get used to aggressive bikes early.
The Strattos S2 is equipped with the Shimano Claris 2×8 and costs $700, which is significantly lower than Specialized and Giant’s offering, making it the best value entry-level road bike on the market currently.
- Great value for the money
- Race geometry, which is uncommon for bikes at this price level
- Clean welding
- The geometry is not for total beginners
- Not many dealers in western countries
- Only available in 4 sizes
5. Cannondale CAAD Optimo 4
Cannondale CAAD Optimo 4 is another entry-level road bike with race geometry. Although not as aggressive as the Polygon Strattos, CAAD Optimo also has a lower front end that puts the rider in an aerodynamic position. It’s something worth considering if you’re a beginner with a plan in racing someday.
With the Shimano Claris 2×8 groupset and an asking price shy above $1000, it’s not the best value on the market, but what it offers is unique compared to its competitors.
- A beginner-friendly race geometry
- More popular than the Polygon, easier to buy locally
- Vittoria Zaffiro tires are nice for a bike at this price
- External cable routing on the top tube
6. Trek Domane AL 2 Disc
At the first sight, Trek Domane AL 2 might not seem like a good deal at all because it’s priced higher than its competitors with the same groupset. However, it is a disc brake bike, so the price difference is normal. The Domane AL 2 is one of the few entry-level bikes with Shimano Claris that’s available in a disc brake model, it also has lots of mounting points and generous tire clearance, making it a true all-roader.
- Fender and rack mounts, and top tube mounting points
- 35mm tire clearance in the disc brake model, can easily be used for gravel riding. Also available in rim brake for a cheaper price if you don’t care about the tire clearance
- On the expensive side if you don’t need the disc brake
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