Cycling’s a great hobby to get invested in. It allows you to travel, keep fit and basically feel like a happy kid every time you hop on.
Plus, after the initial cost of buying the bike, it’s virtually free! Sweet.
But what do you do if you want a simple run around or are just starting out?
Well, don’t blow months of your hard-earned cash on something you don’t know if you’ll like – instead, test the waters first with a cheap road bike.
And good news – there are some excellent low-budget possibilities out there.
But with so many options, how do you find the best value bike to buy? Of course, you could spend hours – or days – traipsing around bike stores looking for that brilliant bargain. Or you could take a few minutes to read my guide.
All you need to do is check out the following bikes, compare your favourites and make the leap! (Not off your bike. That’d be dangerous.)
So here we go...my top 6 in ascending order by price.
Schwinn Phocus 1600
Tommaso Imola Compact
1. Merax Finiss Aluminum - [Do NOT Buy]
I’ve also put a big do not buy sign next to this bike. So why is it on the list?
Well, the Merax is here because it fits the requirements of being cheap (it’s the cheapest) and it has lots of good reviews online... but I wouldn’t buy it, and you shouldn’t either.
Wha… What… Why?!
Hear me out.
The bike has great reviews online and makes it near the top of every cycle bloggers “cheap” bike list, so on paper it’s all good.
But you shouldn’t get it because it’s heavy, slow and really, reallly poorly built.
I’m almost certain the Merax has inflated sales because blogs like mine have given it unjustified exposure in the past.
This exposure has created a vicious circle where a poor product has ended up being a best seller.
I’m not going to say it sucks completely. More that buying a brand new bike this cheap is risky. Costs have to be saved somewhere, right?
The bottom line.
As a general rule you can expect to get a decent used bike for this kind of money but not a new one.
if you’ve got your heart set on a new bike that’s in around price range. Then get something like the Vilano Aluminium it’s a tiny bit more cash but won’t fall apart as soon as you sit on it.
What I Like
In the act of fairness I’ve added a few things I like about this bike below.
1 - The Merax comes with a free pannier bag. Although I like free things, I don't really understand the reason for it.
If you install a back rack, then you can use the bag with it – but I don't know why they didn't just include a rack if that was the intention.
Umm yeah. Moving swiftly on.
2. GMC Denali - [Super Value]
Following on from above if you must get a brand new bike in this price range this is the only one I’d go for. It’s far from perfect but it’s the one I dislike this least for this amount.
Kent is a brilliant, family-run company. They have over 100 years of cycling and market experience, which they’ve tapped into to create some awesome discounted products.
Their number one goal is safety, meaning they put the customer (that’s you!) first. So it’s no surprise that one of my favourite bikes comes from them. And that bike is the Denali.
What I Like
With safety a priority, Kent has put Shimano Revo Shifters (“twist shifters” - more on these later), on the Denali’s handlebars.
Which has its pros and cons, the con being that brake-integrated shifters are normally classed as better and easier to use. The pro being that you don’t have to take your hand off the handlebar to change gear.
This can be useful if you’re a beginner who’s not used to the balance of a bike. By keeping the gear shifters on the handlebars, you can look ahead and keep yourself in control at all times. Phew.
So how many gears will you be shifting, exactly? Well, the Denali has 21.
With this range, you’ll be able to cycle through multiple conditions; lower gears are used for uphill climbs while higher gears will keep you pedaling – and therefore going faster – when flat out or on downward slopes. Somes bikes only come with 10 speeds or less.
There’s no comparison.
(For a breakdown on how to change gears effectively check out my “how to” guide).
Like most modestly priced road bikes, the Denali has an aluminum frame. We’ll talk about frames in more detail later but for now, all you need to know is that this bike is light.
Very light. 29.0lbs to be exact. And a lightweight road bike is always a good thing.
Why, I hear you ask? Well, a light road bike will go faster, turn easier, and give you fewer problems as you get a feel for its balance.
Plus, if you do happen to get a puncture or have to carry the bike over a bridge, it isn’t going to be too heavy to carry. Your shoulders will thank you for it.
It’s got 700c Vitesse rims too – again, I’ll cover this properly later but basically (Vitesse) is the brand and (700c) is the size of the tyre. They’re standard-sized rims that are ideal for road bikes and look great.
Finally, the Denali comes with a water bottle cage. It's a small thing but it means you won't need to install your own – for a DIY-avoider like me, that’s a nice touch.
Overall? The Denali isn't just a good starting bike; it’ll keep you going for years.
In all honesty it is the only bike I would want to recommend at this price. Keep reading to see a bike in this price range I would not want you to ride.
- Water bottle holder included.
- Safety comes first.
- Not as fast as some other road bikes.
- No drilling placements for other bike products to be installed.
What Reviewers Say
Let's start with the negatives. This reviewer feels that the brakes could do with some work (and other reviewers felt the same way).
He also has a few issues with the rims and inner tubes, but this could be due to packaging and delivery rather than a design flaw. When shipping bikes en masse via Amazon you can get the occasional one that’s a little defective.
That aside, he finds the ride smooth – he especially loves the number of gears and how easy it makes commuting uphill.
He also feels that this bike is definite value for the money. In his opinion, if you have a little bike knowledge, then you can give the bike a once-over before taking it out – and this should solve any of the issues he mentions.
3. Vilano Aluminum - [Under 300]
Vilano is a newer cycling company that makes every kind of bike you can think of, plus multiple accessories. They have plenty of road bikes to choose from, both on the lower and upper end of the cost curve – and the Vilano Aluminum is an inexpensive road bike that bears beginner cyclists in mind.
What I Like
It's another Shimano 21-speed and again, the gear shifters are handlebar-mounted. Actually, if you’re wondering if a road bike is aimed at beginners or not, this is a key indicator.
The description of this bike mentions a 700c fork – the same as the Denali’s rims.
This basically just means that it will fit 700c rims. Unless you plan on swapping out components you can rest assured everything standard will fit together.
(Psst...A ‘fork’ of a bike is simply where the front wheel connects. Now we’re learning.)
The frame is...well, aluminum. No shocker there, judging by the name. This one describes itself as double-butted. Which means that the frame is thicker where it connects to other parts (and not any other connotation you might’ve come up with).
Since it's double-butted it has two sizes of thickness; one for the joints and another for the rest of the frame, keeping it light.
The Vilano Aluminum comes with an ‘urban comfort’ saddle. That's a posh way of saying it's standard. It won't be leather (like the awesome Brooks), it won't have any special features, but it will be shock absorbent. Good news for bumpy journeys.
(Psst...Remember, one saddle might be comfortable for me but not for you. You’ll have to test it and see for yourself. In any case, saddles are pretty cheap to replace, so don’t let it affect your decision.) - I’ve written about my favourite saddles here.
Moving down from the bump-friendly saddle, we find an adjustable seat post. If it's too low you can raise it in seconds, and vice versa. So if you're buying this for a teenager it will grow with them.
(Unless they’ve had the kind of growth spurt where they shoot up 2ft over night, nothing can save you then).
This bike does not come with a pre-installed water bottle holder, but it does have mount points for one, and also for a rear rack if you want to carry some light bags. Bottle holders and racks are fairly simple to install and you don't have to be a mechanical genius to do so.
All in all, it's a great bike.
- Double-butted aluminum frame is sturdier than straight aluminum.
- Drilled placement for mounting an array of amenities.
- There may be some issues with the front brake placement, which could affect turning. (more on this below)
- Shifters are not integrated with the brake system. Some people may not like that.
What Reviewers Say
Great news – the Vilano Aluminum was this guy's first road bike, which means that his expectations could be very similar to yours now. It took him about 45 minutes to an hour to assemble.
That's not bad...but it ain’t quick, either.
From the sounds of things you’ll need your own basic tool set, consisting of allen keys, wrenches and grease.
The reviewer finds the bike to be very light, clean and sturdy.
It does what he needs it to do, but he finds the front left brake placement a little weird – apparently, it prevents the front fork from turning completely to the left. The shifters are also a little awkward to use due to their positioning in the center of the handlebar.
(Oh dear)... but it’s not the end of the world. You’d soon get used to the position of shifters and the front fork thing can be fixed by playing around with the set-up a little.
Aside from a few niggles he has no other problems and loves that this discount ride is helping him to get back into shape.
4 - Giordano Libero 1.6 Men's Road Bike-700c - [Sub 500]
This particular Merax is also made from aluminum (sensing a pattern here!).
And once again, the ride comes with Shimano shifters. Shimano SA050 trigger shifters if we’re getting specific - (more on these later).
The bike also comes with front and rear Shimano derailleurs for reliable gear shifting.
If you're not familiar with bikes you may not know what derailleurs are – don’t worry, you’re about to find out.
They’re part of the system that moves your bike chain from cog-to-cog on the cassette at the back of the bike and moves the chain onto different chainrings at the front of the bike.
In simple speak this basically means that the higher quality the derailleur componentry is the more silky smooth the gear changes are.
Get a good detailleur set-up gear changes will feel like a knife through butter. But get a poor set-up and your gear changes will feel more clunky than a new pair of school shoes.
Shimano is one of the biggest and best brands out there. If Shimano has made it, it’s reliable. So now you know.
Now, here's one key trait of this bike: It has a quick release front wheel. That means when it arrives in the packaging you won’t need to bolt the wheel onto the bike fork. It's simpler and easier.
Although something to bear in mind is this. If the wheel is easier to get on that mean’s it’s also easier to get off...
I’m looking at you bike thieves!
Fear not, I’ve written up some guides on decent bike locks which don’t break the bank. You can read them here and here.
And the pro of having an inexpensive bicycle is that it’s a little less desirable to people looking for a free ride.
(Psst...If you do buy this bike, be sure to check out the product description on the Amazon page – it talks you through the assembly.)
The Merax Finiss Aluminum comes in some wacky colours that you see on the product page. Whether this is a good or bad deal depends on whether you like this colour combo or not. 😉
Here's my favourite feature: It comes with a kickstand! Many road bikes don't include this feature. Of course, kickstands are easy to attach – but I like this no-nonsense approach (and it saves on the dreaded DIY, too).
If you’ve got your heart site on ride without a kickstand and want to attach one. Then just check out this guide. I’ve gone through the all the stands out at the moment and given a run down on the top four.
Once again, the tyres are 700c. As mentioned in the other descriptions, this is pretty standard and it’ll be easy to find replacement tyres when your current ones wear out.
Lastly, the Merax comes with a free pannier bag. Although I like free things, I don't really understand the reason for it. If you install a back rack, then you can use the bag with it – but I don't know why they didn't just include a rack if that was the intention. Hmm.
So that’s lucky number three of the affordable road rides
- Kickstand – easy to keep the bike upright.
- Front quick release wheel system.
- No drilled placements were mentioned – so you can’t attach any amenities to the bike without drilling your own.
What Reviewers Say
This is another cyclist who bought the Merax as their first-ever road bike. They commute about 18 miles a day and in general they enjoy using it, with only minor complaints.
The brakes are the main issue, but the reviewer points out that new brake pads are cheap and easy to buy. In addition to that, they had some issues putting the bike together after it arrived and took it to a bike store for assembly instead.
They love the bike’s colour – a nice green for this particular person – and think that for the price it’s a great bargain; much cheaper than many of the other bikes out there, but in need of some small upgrades.
5. Schwinn Phocus 1600 - [Under 500]
Schwinn is another one of those bike brands that has been around for well over a century. Founded in 1895 it's a business built not on the upper-end racing market, but on making cycling easy and enjoyable for the average Joe. (That’s us!)
As with many do-gooder companies these days, Schwinn is actively involved in the community, promoting fitness and cycling by supporting causes like People for Bikes and World Bicycle Relief. It's nice to know that when you spend money on a product, some of it’s going to a worthy cause.
What I Like
Warm, fuzzy and charitable feelings aside, there’s lots to like about the Schwinn Phocus 1600. Although it’s made from aluminum (surprise, surprise), its fork is made of carbon fiber. This means it’s slightly lighter and also absorbs shocks and bumps a whole lot better.
Technically, this kind of fork is a little more prone to breakage – but you'd have to hit something incredibly fast and hard to notice a difference. And if you're in a habit of doing that, you’ve a lot more to worry about than potentially breaking your carbon fork.
Now, here's a feature we haven’t seen on many of the other bikes (apart from the pricier Tommaso Imola Compact).
Amazon lists the Schwinn as having a "Shimano Claris 16-speed derailleur with Micro shift integrated shift/brake lever combo."
Again, I’ll translate to normal speak. The gear shifters, which you use manually, are attached to the brake levers. This makes it incredibly easy to shift gears, although this feature is generally more expensive than the other variety.
There’s another feature of the Phocus 1600 that the others don't have – but I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Its wheels have paired spoking.
What does this mean? Well, they’ll give you a little extra speed because they're more aerodynamic – but they come at the cost of making the wheel pretty much unrideable if a spoke breaks.
They’re also a pain to fix. So if you're just starting out, forget the aerodynamics.
The seat post on this bike comes with a quick release system, so it's easy to raise and lower as you need. The pedals come with toe straps and clips, keeping your feet in place as you pedal faster and help you to build up even more speed. Speed seems to be a key component of this bad boy – so if that’s your goal then go for this one.
- Quick release system on the saddle.
- Gearing system integrated with the brakes.
- 16 speed only – the lowest gear range of all the bikes we have here.
- Paired spoking – which can be good or bad.
What Reviewers Say
This individual is a heavier-set person but finds the Schwinn to be no problem for the extra weight. They found it easy to assemble but it’s clear that they’ve had past biking experience, so were at somewhat of an advantage.
This person does recommend replacing the brakes, but has been pretty happy with everything else. They commute to work daily and take the bike for longer rides on the weekends with no complaints. Finally, they find the saddle to be fairly comfortable and won’t be replacing it like they normally do.
6. Tommaso Imola Compact - [Less Than 1000]
Tommaso has offices in Colorado, which in some ways is the bike capital of the USA. The company used to import bikes from Italy, but now it designs and makes everything right there in Colorado.
And I just love folks who keep it local. 😉
Another cool thing about the company is that all employees there ride the bikes they sell. I like this because it means they know what they're talking about and that they trust the product.
Oh, and another thing. Tommaso believes that bikes should be affordable so that everyone can ride them. These guys, therefore, have a low price range of bikes – and it's one of these we’ll be looking at today.
What I Like
Once again, the Tommaso's frame is made of aluminum so it’s nice and light. Here's another great thing about Tommaso bikes: Their frames and forks come with a lifetime warranty. I told you these peeps believe in their product!
While the frame doesn't come with a water bottle holder, but similarly to the Vilano Aluminium it is drilled so that one can be installed, along with multiple other racks and fenders.
Why would you need them?
Well, if you use your bike for commuting you might want to take your laptop with you, or a packed lunch, or a change of clothes if you manage to work up a bit of a sweat on your way to the office.
I used to travel 10miles to work and back every day and wrote about it here. I include my morning routine and other stuff like keeping motivated. (Which can be tricky when cycling through the English winter!)
The gearing and drivetrain on the Tommaso Imola Compact is made up of a 3x8 Shimano Claris Groupset and STI shifters. In English, this means it has 24 gears, which is a wider variety than we've seen on other bikes so far.
Whether you’ll use all of these gears probably depends on where you live – if it’s somewhere scenic, or with differing terrain, then you’ll probably use them all at least once.
As far as the Claris groupset is concerned, it basically means that the gears and cogs are all part of the Shimano family – so they work smoothly together. Just like silky butter, remember!
One key difference between this bike and the others so far is that Tommaso expects a professional to put it together. This way, the company knows that everything is installed as properly (which makes that lifetime warranty all the more feasible).
If you’ve been equipped with DIY skills (not that I’m jealous), you might be able to put it together yourself. But it's probably best to ask your local bike shop to assemble it for you.
Note: This bike is a couple of hundred dollars more than the sub $500 rides so far; but it will likely last longer, and it uses higher quality componentry.
- Lifetime warranty on the frame and fork.
- Shimano Claris Groupset integrated into the braking system (more on this below).
- More expensive than the other cheap options on this list.
- Recommended professional assembly.
What Reviewers Say
This dude LOVES the Tommaso bike. I have to say, that’s the overwhelming feeling from nearly everyone who bought it.
He goes so far as to say that it exceeded his expectations – which isn’t heard very often in the cycling world. Now, he has done some cycling before but it was a long time ago and he still had to do some research before investing in the product.
He does mention that the box recommended professional assembly – but he put it together himself, then had a professional look at it. Both of them noted that the wheels required slight adjustment. But with a little tightening of the spokes, they were as finely balanced as you can expect from a bike in this price range.
Perhaps the best thing about this review is how it finishes: He says if he had to buy a bike again, he'd buy the same one!
There’s an incredible amount of features to consider when you looking for a bicycle. Regardless of cost. If you’re a beginner cyclist, you may not know what you’re looking for. While I can’t examine them all here (things to do, people to see etc.), I can explain a good deal of them.
Welcome to your Buyers’ Guide.
Things to Consider
Even budget bikes are a financial investment so you should make sure it's definitely the type of bike you need. If it's for commuting then think about the route you to take to work. Are you always on roads and are they well-surfaced or full of potholes? Do you have to cross differing terrain?
Road bikes aren’t great off-road – so if you need to ride a good deal across grass or over gravel then you might want to consider something like a mountain bike instead. On the other hand, if your commute or cycling trail is pretty standard and smooth, these will be great buys.
Where Else is Good to Buy Online?
The bikes in this article are from Amazon – but you don’t have to get one from there. Some of the best buys out there are secondhand.
If I was looking to buy a bike under $200 or even $100 I’d check out eBay, Gumtree and Craigslist.
Or perhaps you could pick up something cheap from the real world, like at a garage sale.
Another option I personally love and is a little lesser known is to get a bike through a recycle scheme.
I’ve actually volunteered at two now.
One in Italy and another in Malaysia I’m originally from Bristol in the UK so would highly recommend these guys.
The bikes you get from these schemes go to a good cause and can be high quality. In fact, I rode one on a 1250 mile tour across Europe. No joke! I wrote it up on Adventure Cycling if you fancy checking it out.
Even though the risk of buying a dud from these places is higher than getting a brand new bike, the rewards are much greater if you manage to find a proper bargain.
To make things a little easier I’ve recently put together a guide on buying a used bike on eBay so be sure to check that out if you’re interested in a secondhand cycle.
Bike Size Fitting
Listen up – I need to talk to you about fitting. Because when buying a bike, size definitely matters. After all, you wouldn’t buy clothes without making sure you feel great in them, would you? It's the same for biking. The overall comfort you’ll experience when cycling depends largely on getting the right fit from the start.
Road bikes come in different sizes, usually small, medium or large. Unfortunately, sizes often differ depending on brand (unlike mountain bike, which are pretty similar).
When standing over your bike, make sure you can straddle the frame with about 1" to spare. Obviously, this can be more difficult to find out when buying a bike online.
Measure your inside leg length and take note of the frame’s measurements, which should be listed in the bike’s description. With these numbers you'll be able to work out whether you can straddle it correctly.
Want more advice on getting a bike that fits? Check out my bike sizing article.
Or, if you’ve already researched online and think it’s important to check a bike out in person before buying, visit your local bike store. A good local store should give you impartial advice.
(Psst...Your local store is also a great place to meet other like-minded people and maybe even get out on some club rides!)
When out on your road bike, take careful note of your posture. If your cycling position is causing you aching or discomfort (such as knee pain), you should adjust your seat height or handlebar position a little at a time.
Just because your bike came one way doesn't mean it has to stay that way; in fact, cyclists constantly tweak their bike depending on their needs.
For instance, if your saddle is really uncomfortable and causing things like numbness, you can always change it.
Saddles come in all shapes and sizes, so don't be afraid to switch things up. Just give your current one a few weeks to make sure that the problem is your saddle and not just that you're new to cycling.
This section is a rundown of how far your cash will stretch and types of components you can expect to get for your money.
When something is “cheap” that can often mean lower quality but it doesn't have too.
You just need to know where to invest to get the best value.
For example is it better to buy a xxx or xxxx. You’re about to find out
At the start you’ll keep everything as standard and that’s exactly what you should do. But if in time to come you fancy upgrading you’ll know where to look for advice.
Lots of the bikes I’ve mentioned advertise a 700c tyre. The number 700 refers to the outside width of the diameter (in millimeters). The letter c refers to the rim size.
Now, these diameter measurements aren’t always accurate – but they're pretty close to 700mm. So anytime you see this marking, you’re talking about a standard-sized tyre. Nothing more special than that.
Since all of these bikes have aluminum frames – and one has a carbon-made fork – I want to explain what that means exactly, and what the benefits are when compared to say, steel or titanium. Here goes:
- Carbon frames are lighter than others, but they're not as durable. They'll do fine with potholes or bumpy roads, because their design lets them take force from a specific direction.
They will not do fine if you're unfortunate enough to be in a wreck, in which case your carbon bike would have a high risk of fracturing.
Still, these are the bikes whose frames can be formed into all kinds of interesting designs; the ones you'll see at the Olympics and World Championship events. Top-end carbon bikes cost a small fortune.
- Aluminum bikes won't fracture in a crash, but they might bend. Luckily, this means they can be bent back into shape!
They’re lighter than most other metal frames but cheaper than carbon fiber and more durable. Many affordable road bikes are made from aluminum because of this.
- Steel used to be the material behind all bikes. Incredibly tough and durable, a steel bike won’t be destroyed if you crash it – in fact, it’ll take multiple hits and still come out strong.
These days steel bikes are lighter than they used to be, but if you pick one up you'll notice the difference between that and an aluminum-made road bike straight away. Usually these bikes are for touring as well as being the metal of choice for custom frame builders.
- Titanium is just as durable as steel – and it’s lighter, too. Plus, it doesn't corrode like other metals so if the coat of paint peels or chips, there's no need to worry. The thing is though, it usually requires special machinery to make.
For this reason, it’s incredibly expensive – but you’ll only ever buy it once. Most cyclists who invest in titanium do so knowing that the bike they buy will last for life.
(Psst...for more info on frame types, check out this in-depth article by Road Cycling UK.)
The chainset is the part of the bike that provides power to move. Pedaling sends the chainset in a clockwise direction, which powers the wheel and moves you forward. Chainsets usually come in three types:
- The compact chainset has 34/36 'teeth' on the inside chainring and 50 on the outer. (Note: The chainring is the circle of cogs you see and the teeth are the spikes. FYI.) This means that you get a wide range of gearing options – so this set is best used on terrain that isn't flat but consistently moves up and down.
- The standard chainset has 39/42 teeth on the inner and 52/53 on the outer chainring. It has higher gear ratios and is therefore used by racers a lot as it lets them go flat out. Adrenalin junkies, take note.
- The triple chainset has three chainrings. The first two are similar to what the compact offers. But the advantage here is the small third chainset, which allows for very low gear settings. It’s great for mountains or for bikes hauling a lot of weight – like touring bikes that are loaded up with bags.
You generally wouldn’t want a triple chainset on a road bike. Instead, I’d recommend the compact option if you’ll be cycling through varied terrain, or the standard if you’re mainly on the flat.
There’s lots of different gear shifters in the cycling market, so make sure you get the right one. Most modern shifters use ‘index shifting’ – this means that one 'click' on the gears makes you shift one gear.
The main difference between road bike shifters and those of other bikes is where they’re mounted. For instance, on a mountain bike, the trigger shifter is common – and it’s usually positioned just below the handlebar. The cyclist uses their finger or thumb to rapidly click through the gears.
Twist shifters are also found on mountain bikes – but some people like them on their road bikes, too. They’re similar to what you’d find on a motorbike; like grips at the end of the handlebar, which you ‘twist’ back and forth to change gear as needed. Vroom vroom.
Most road bikes, however, use an integrated brake and shifter mechanic (like the Schwinn one I mentioned earlier). There are three primary styles, built by three of the big brands:
- The Shimano STi lets you move your brake sideways in order to shift upwards, with a small lever on the back of the brake for shifting down. It uses an indexed system, which means the number of gears on the shifter must match the number on the chainring size.
- The Campagnolo Ergopower has a lever on the back of the brake to shift upwards, and a small button to shift down. It isn’t indexed, so it can work with any chainring size.
- The SRAM Doubletap has one level, which is always tapped in one direction only. Short taps gear up, long sweeping movements gear down.
Still with me? I know, a lot to take in there! Basically, the main idea behind all three is that you never have to take your hands off the brakes. Which is clearly an advantage if you’re a nervous newbie, battling out the morning commute against a bunch of road ragers.
For beginners, my vote is with the Shimano. It's less confusing than the Doubletap, and the fact that it’s indexed makes it easy to tell what gear you're changing to (and what you’re currently in).
Still, all three of these integrated brake designs are better for a road bike than the two shifters that are attached to handlebars. Quick answer is they’re better for your posture.
There are two main types when it comes to cycling: disk brakes and rim brakes. Occasionally you may use a third type, called cantilever brakes. Here’s a breakdown (sorry, pun intended!):
- Rim brakes are lighter than disk brakes, plus easier to install and use. It's simple to take them off one bike and put them on another. They perform pretty well but are nowhere near as good as disc brakes when it comes to stopping in bad weather and road conditions.
- Disc brakes have really only entered the road bike scene in the last four years or so (maybe global warming and crazier weather played its part in that one). Before that, they were entirely mountain bike specific.
They stop you much faster and much more easily. They don't get clogged by mud and will perform well in any weather. Downside is it’s a bit tricky to change them out, or to install new ones.
Well, the wheels can’t be wobbly at all; also professionals will be more used to installing rim brakes. Maybe in a few years disc brakes will catch up.
- Cantilever brakes are mainly used to avoid mud clogging up the braking system, which is why you see them on Cyclocross bikes. Still, they’re more fiddly to use than disc brakes and heavier. Not a great choice for road bikes but still, I want to give you all your options! 😉
So right now, your choice is between a disc or rim brake. For starting out I'd recommend the rim, because it’s so easy to adjust them without any mechanical knowledge.
How about a 3-in-1?
Nope, I’m not talking about a takeaway. I’m talking about three of the features we’ve just learned about – chainsets, gear shifters and brakes – combined into one sweet package.
Shimano offers a range of groupset options, so you can save some cash instead of blowing it all on the separate components that make up your road bike.
Shimano Groupset Options
Most lower-end bikes will come with one product that’s created to shift gears, another for the brake levers, another for the callipers and yet another for the chainset. Ouch, says your wallet. When you buy a bike with the Shimano Claris, it’s all in one.
The Shimano Claris has a holistic and integrated design for gear shifting. If you remember from the bike descriptions above, the Tomasso bike has this product, while the Schwinn has gear shifters on the brakes. With the Claris, the gear shift is integrated with the brakes.
There’s a lever on the front and the back of the brake; to shift up you press the lever behind the right brake, to shift down you push both levers together.
Unfortunately, if any of these sets are damaged you'll need to buy the same product again – because things like the index system on the gearing have been designed specifically for the chainset, so the components can integrate properly etc. Clever thinking on Shimano’s part.
There is another downside. The Claris is at the lower end of the design scale, when compared to those used on the professional cycling circuit.
The cheaper the bike, the more chance that the different components we’ve been listing in these features are made by separate companies, and not integrated in the same way. The features will be more basic, such as gears mounted on the handlebars rather than as part of the brake system.
Many times the reason for increasing a bike’s cost is because they begin to have full systems installed like the Claris. Sometimes they can even have new electronic gear shifting. Not something I’ve tried yet, but just the thought of it makes my head spin.
Below is a rundown of the Shimano Groupset options available, from best to worse:
1 – Dura Ace
2 – Ultegra
3 – 105
4 – Tiagra
5 - Sora
6 - Claris (installed on two of the bikes included in this review)
7 - Tourney
Want me to narrow it down for you? Ok. I’d say that the Claris is a lot better than the Tourney. Then up from that, the Sora and the Tiagra are fairly similar but the 105 is much, much better.
I recently wrote a review comparing the Sora to the 105 – check it out if you want to learn more about these two groupsets.
Right, now that we’ve covered the main components involved in buying a bike, let’s move on to the extras...
Quick Release Wheels
When it comes to front wheels, you’ll usually need to choose between a quick release vs a through axel system. Although only one of my top five cheap road bikes says it has a quick release system – The Merax – I’d be surprised if the others don't. Still, it's worth checking with the manufacturer just to be sure.
The quick release system does what is says on the tin – it makes removing the wheel faster. So it's much easier to transport your bike in a car or to change a tyre. Yay.
The through axel design is really for use with disc brakes and right now, mainly professionally. A quick release system can come loose when used repeatedly with disc brakes. The through axel won’t.
For your road bike, do you need to worry about this? Short answer is no. I’d guess a quick release system is preferred by most new cyclists. None of these bikes use a disc brake system so the advantage of the through axel is nullified.
Drilling Placements for Accessories
It seems like a simple thing, but a bike with good drill placements is all about versatility.
Will you be collecting groceries with your brand spanking new road bike? Will you want to go on a cycling day out? Are you planning any long bike rides or travel adventures? Will you be carrying a bag to work and prefer it to be on your bike, not your back?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’ – then you’ll want some good drill placements on your bike so that racks and water bottles can be installed. The Denali already comes with a water bottle holder while the Tommaso comes with drill placements.
You’ll still need to install the bike racks yourself or get a mechanic to do it for you – but it's easier and faster if there's a place for the baskets, water bottle holders and panniers to be fitted.
In a nutshell, if you’re going to use your bike for everything, try and find one that has these placements. If you just want it to exercise and keep fit, a water bottle holder is nice but the rest won't matter.
Road Bike Alternatives
Not sure if a road bike is for you? That’s ok, I won’t take offence. There are plenty of other options out there for beginners, and they needn’t break the bank either. Here are some alternative options to cheap road bikes...
Raleigh Talus Mountain Bike
Not all bikes are made equally and not all bikes are meant to be ridden in the same conditions. If you find that a road bike isn't the right option for you then you might want to consider a mountain bike instead.
Some people frown at them being used for commuting but really, what’s the problem?! Their tyres are better in any off-road condition, their gear shifting is usually equal to that of any cheaper road bike and their frames are often more sturdy. Unfortunately though, while road bikes are lighter, mountain bikes such as the Raleigh Talus 2 are a good deal heavier. If you need to carry it, you may regret dissing that road bike.
Still, if your commute involves varied terrain or if it has lots of hills, a mountain bike might be worth the investment.
6KU fixed gear bike
A fixed gear bike is another option you can consider. Recently these bikes have surged in popularity – but they have their disadvantages.
Namely, the fixed gear bike can't free-wheel because the pedals are moving at all times. This makes it difficult to go downhill (because most fixed gear bikes don't have brakes; you slow down by slowly working against the rotation of the pedals, which is incredibly difficult to do when going downhill). Yikes.
It’s possible to bring the bike to a firmer halt by forcing the pedals to a standstill – but this locks up the back wheel and causes it to skid. All in all, not without its dangers.
You may have decided that you’d rather spend a bit more money. Hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it and all that. Still, as you can imagine, the top brands are not cheap – sometimes ranging into multiple thousands of dollars. Plus, the more you research you do, the more you’ll notice that all your money goes on the components.
The bikes listed here may not be the top brands – but they are some of the best you’ll find for a relatively small amount of money.
If your heart’s still set on those big brands, I’ve written about some of the highest-spec bikes you can buy here.
Unfortunately, a lot of these brands have signed special deals which stops them being from sold online. So the only way you’ll be able to get hold of them is to take a trip to your brick and mortar store.
Although in saying that, if you’re going to be spending thousands, it’s probably a good idea to test a few bikes out first!
Out of these beginners’ bikes, I’d probably go for the Denali. While the Tommaso and Schwinn are very beautiful, very good bikes, they are a little more expensive than the others.
The reason people are looking at these bikes to begin with is because they don’t want to make the full investment that some road bikes entail. While the Schwinn and Tommaso are cheaper than the really professional road bikes out there, they’re still a significant cost for a sport or hobby that you haven’t yet made up your mind about.
And although it’s not as fast as some of the others, the Denali is still light, looks sleek and has very few critical reviews. If, after using the Denali for a year or so, you decide that cycling is worth putting more money into, a Schwinn or a Tommaso is an excellent upgrade, as the next step on your biking journey.
That’s about all from me, folks. Happy cycling