[This article was last updated on November 7, 2017]
Road bikes are the fastest and most fun way of getting around under your own power, zooming you to the office during the week and taking you out to explore the lanes at the weekends.
What if you're dying to join the cycling revolution, but can't afford the four-figure price tags of those featherweight carbon creations in your local bike shop? We've combed the catalogues for a selection of decent bikes that'll get you started without breaking the bank.
Fortunately almost every bike out there meets what we'd consider the rock-bottom minimum spec for a bike to be safe and pleasant to ride. Horrors such as hard-to-repair cottered cranks and steel rims with useless wet-weather braking are things of the past. Most of these bikes have efficient, easy-to-use gears from Japanese firm Shimano, the world's biggest maker of bike components.
We've looked for bikes with drop handlebars — the defining feature of a road bike — indexed gears that click into place to make changing easier and at least 14 speeds so you get a decent range of gears for riding up and down hills.
All that said, in the last couple of years the pickings in the sub-£300 category have become slimmer. All bike prices have risen 10-20% since the Brexit vote crashed the pound, which has pushed quite a few bikes that were previously in this category out of reach. The survivors, as it were, mostly come from companies with huge buying power that get their own-brand bikes directly from bike factories: Halfords and Decathlon.
If you want to know more, we've an in-depth article about choosing and buying your first road bike. Go have a thorough read, we'll wait here.
£200 and under
If your budget is this tight looking for a second hand bargain is something you should seriously consider (see below for more), but if it has to be new if you shop around for discount bargains during the winter you might find something.
The Vitesse Sprint is typical of what you'll find for around £200, with an aluminium frame and 21-speed gears. You're not going to win any races on this (unless you're little short of superhuman) but it'll get you started, and the triple chainset gives you low gears for hills. We've seen this bike as cheap as £165; prices at Amazon vary automatically with demand, so it's worth keeping an eye on it.
Head to Amazon and you can get this Avenir Aspire for, well, anywhere between £190 and £300 thanks to Amazon's idiosyncratic approach to pricing. It's worth snapping up if you can find it at the lower end of the range.
Unlike some inexpensive road bikes, it's available in several sizes, which is immediately far more appealing, as getting the right size bike is so important to cycling happiness.
You'll have to do some assembly to get the Aspire on the road. If this is your first road bike and you're unfamiliar with setting up bikes, we suggest getting a mechanically inclined friend to help.
A new model for 2017 from French-based sports superstore chain Decathlon, the B'Twin Triban 100 has an aluminium frame and seven-speed gears with 32mm tyres so it can tackle the odd dirt track or towpath without any fuss. It'll take mudguards and a rack so will make a serviceable commuter that can take you pootling round the lanes at the weekend.
Wiggle's own-brand range of basic cycling gear includes this entry-level road bike, which looks pretty decent, on paper at least. It has an aluminium alloy frame with 14-speed Shimano gearing and combined brake/gear levers for easy shifting.
Unusually at this price its available in five sizes, so you should be able to get one that fits well unless you're very tall or short.
French-based international sport store chain Decathlon has a wide range of keenly-priced road bikes of which the Triban 500 SE stands out if you're strictly limited to £300.
You get a good quality aluminium alloy frame and lightweight components. Most significantly you get a really wide range of gears thanks to the triple chainset and eight rear sprockets, and the frame is available in five sizes.
On paper the gearing means you get 24 ratios, but in practice there is lots of overlap between ranges from the three chainrings. What matters isn't the number, but that the small ring gives you lower gears for easier hill-climbing.
There are plenty of bikes costing under £300 at Halfords, and pick of the bunch is this Carrera Zelos. It's usually £275, but it's worth keeping an eye on the price as it's often discounted to under £250. It features an aluminium frame built up with a 14-speed Shimano groupset and Tektro dual pivot brakes.
If you've got champagne — or maybe prosecco — tastes but only a beer budget, there are bargains to be had in the secondhand market.
Gumtree has a good guide to staying safe and not getting scammed or lumbered with a stolen bike, and eBay has a thorough guide to the intricacies of buying safely through its auction system.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.