Three grand is clearly a lot of money to spend on a bike but it can get you a very good, well-equipped machine. At this price there’s a vast choice of brands offering very high-quality road bikes, whether it’s for racing or sportive riding.
In the under-£3,000 price band road bikes aren't quite at the featherweight pro-issue superbike level, but they're darn close without the price tag of a brand new medium-sized car.
The mainstream spec for an under-£3,000 road bike is a carbon fibre frame and Shimano's 105 or Ultegra groupset, but there are a few exceptions with steel, aluminium and even titanium frames.
Disc brakes are now practically universal; even an aero bike like the Giant Propel has them.
For under £3,000 (which here means £2,000-£3,000), road bikes cover a wide range of niches from out-and-out race bikes like the Giant Propel, through endurance bikes such as the Focus Paralane to rigs that'll cheerfully tackle a bit of dirt under their tyres.
Focus's Ultegra-equipped endurance rig offers a fast and comfortable ride with a healthy dose of practicality and versatility.
When it was first introduced the Paralane boasted all the latest technology and a host of interesting details, but what really matters is that they all come together to form a very cohesive package. Intended to meet a brief that includes being able to tackle both smooth and rough roads, cobbles and even dirt tracks, it's not a gravel bike, but with space for up to 35mm tyres it's can still handle a bit of the rough stuff.
On the road, the lightweight frame with its comfort-enhancing carbon layup and tube profiles, along with the skinny seatpost and 28mm tyres, provides a smooth ride that is up there with the best in this category. It isolates you from the worst road buzz but without completely detaching you from the road surface passing beneath the tyres. It's a really nice balance and rewards the cyclist that wants some involvement in the ride but without being shaken to pieces.
At £2,999 it's a decent value proposition against other contenders for the endurance bike throne such as the Canyon Endurace, Cervelo C5, Trek Domane and Specialized Roubaix, and with a full Ultegra groupset where other brands are now offering 105 it's both a great ride and a great package.
The Giant Propel Advanced Disc is an efficient, firm-feeling road bike with aerodynamics designed specifically with disc brakes in mind. It's not the lightest bike available for this kind of money but it's fast whether you're soloing off the front or sprinting for the line.
The Propel Advanced Disc might not lurch forward like some lightweights do when you accelerate out of a slow turn, but that's not what aero road bikes are all about. It's designed with efficiency in mind, both in terms of aerodynamics and stiffness. The aero side of things is difficult to discern but this bike certainly feels stiff when you stamp on the pedals, with very little flex to speak of even when you're standing up and giving it everything you have.
You'd have to say that the Propel Advanced Disc provides quite a firm ride, and that might or might not be to your taste. By that I don't mean that it's uncomfortable – it's not that – but it is, yeah, firm. This isn't a gran fondo or endurance bike, it's a race bike (even if you don't race it) and that comes through in the feel.
That said, we got on fine with Giant's Contact Forward saddle with a composite base that flexes enough to take the edge off things, and Giant's own 25mm Gavia Race 1 tyres are set up tubeless so you can run them at lower pressures than you otherwise would without the danger of pinch flatting if you hit a pothole.
The Langma range is Liv's lightweight climbing and general go-faster option, filling the gap between the endurance-focused Avail and the all-out aerodynamic machine, the Enviliv. Owned by cycling industry giant, Giant, Liv makes bikes specifically for women.
And Liv is about the only major manufacturer still making women-specific bikes, Specialized and Trek both having abandoned their women's lines. While there's an argument that there's little you can really do to tailor a frame for a women's body, there's plenty you can do with the contract points, and the Advanced Disc 1 nails them all, with a Liv Approach woman's saddle, narrower bars than Giant's men's bikes, shorter cranks and the rare but excellent Shimano Ultegra ST-8025 brake levers. These have a 4mm shorter reach and bulge a little more at the sides so your fingers don't need to reach round as far to grab a hold.
When she rode the 105 version of these levers on the Liv Langma Advanced Pro 2 Disc, tester Anna-Marie said "it felt like I had a lot more control over the braking action both when on the hoods and when in the drops, and with this added confidence I was able to take it a little faster on the descents … I felt a huge benefit from these levers.
"The shorter reach combined with the narrower handlebar meant it was more comfortable to ride in the aero-hoods position with my elbows bent at 90 degrees than with other bikes. I could ride the flatter sections faster than on a unisex bike with a more traditional cockpit, as I was able to get, and stay, in a low position."
The Attain GTC SL is part of Cube's endurance range and it delivers a very good combination of comfort, both from the frameset and the geometry, and performance. It's not a bad weight either, and certainly feels responsive to your input, making it fun to ride fast as well as comfortable for longer, more sedate jaunts. The mixture of Shimano Ultegra and 105 components is a little odd, though it does help keep the price down.
With an all-in build weight of 8.77kg, the Cube is in the right sort of ballpark for the money but it does feel much more sprightly than the scales suggest. A kick on the pedals away from the lights or when launching into a bit of a sprint sees the Attain respond well. There is plenty of stiffness around the lower section of the frame, especially around the bottom bracket area, and you feel like you are getting a decent return for your effort.
Cube has delivered a really good frameset that's relaxed enough in its geometry that you can really tap out the miles, but if you have one of those days when you really want to get out and just smash it about it'll also deliver the fun factor.
Fairlight Cycles' Strael is an absolutely stunning machine to ride, offering four-season adaptability and durability without sacrificing high speed or a racy performance. Intelligent tube choices coupled with a long and low geometry make for a bike you can blast about on all day long and the only muscles that'll ache at the end of it will be from grinning too much.
The CAAD13 is the latest in a long series of well-received bikes from Cannondale, most recently its predecessor, the fabled CAAD12. The CAAD13 is about the same weight as the CAAD12 (just over 1kg for a 56cm frame; there's probably no more weight loss to be extracted from aluminium) but it's been extensively tweaked to be smoother.
The CAAD12 was no slouch in that department, but that bike's back-end smoothness wasn't quite matched by the front end, which was a bit firm.
Cannondale has remedied that criticism and in the CAAD13 produced a bike that is wonderfully smooth all-round. Our Dave Arthur took a first ride on the CAAD13 in the Cotswolds and wrote: "the CAAD13 blew me away with its ability to not just provide a smooth and calm ride, but to really close the gap to a carbon fibre bike".
The Diverge is part of what Specialized call their Adventure range. It's a bike that's designed for the road less travelled and long, all-day rides over rough roads and that's something it does incredibly well, fast and with a silly grin on its face.
When he reviewed the original Diverge, Jo Burt liked it so much we thought he was going to propose to it. He wrote: "I bloody love it. I like my road bikes but I also like my cyclo-cross bikes and I like my mountain bikes, and because of this I often find myself on my road bike bouncing around on inappropriate terrain. The Diverge makes this stupidity a lot easier without your riding jollies being jeopardized by the bike being a tedious slug on the road. A friend who borrowed it said it's the sort of bike that makes you want to move house because it opens up a vast web of riding possibilities. Bit of Flanders, section of Strada Bianche, poxed tarmac, random 'where does that go' moments? Bring it on."
Since then, Specialized has completely revamped the Diverge in ways that make it even more capable and versatile. The frame now has room for 42mm tyres and up front gets the Future Shock impact-damping fork from the Roubaix line. Dave Arthur reviewed the top-of-the-line S-Works version and said: "It's a comfortable, long-distance cruising bike on the road, with fantastic poise and cornering ability. Off the smooth stuff and the combination of the big tyres and Future Shock let you attack any rough paths, gravel tracks and technical descents with relish. It's a very accomplished bike and more than most manages to be master of all terrain."
Delivering the aerodynamics, awesome handling and stiffness of the top-level STC, this Venturi Evo 105 model gives a more affordable route into Orro ownership. It's certainly a lot of bike for the money.
The Venturi has a race bike feel to it in terms of how it responds to power input. It's a proper point-and-shoot kind of bike that repays you for riding it hard. Point it at a hill and get out of the saddle and you aren't going to be faced with any flex around the bottom bracket area or the huge down tube section.
It's the same when it comes to sprinting. Out-of-the-saddle efforts while yanking on the bar sees this thing fly down the road – it really is great for just getting out for a blast.
The geometry is just backed off a bit from a full-on racer, especially at the front end with a slightly slacker head angle of 72.2 degrees which keeps the handling just the fun side of twitchy. This medium model gets a head tube of just 142mm in height, so you still get a low-slung position for high-speed work.
Although the Van Nicholas Ventus is classed as the company's entry-level option, the way it performs is anything but. This bike is simply great fun to ride. There is a surprising amount of stiffness in these slender tubes, though in no way does it lose that lovely springy titanium ride. It's a looker too, and quite the bargain.
Tester Stu writes: “The Ventus is designed for fast, competitive riding – so a bit of racing, some fast group riding, or just getting out for a blast on your own. What with lockdown and all that, it was the latter that I spent my time doing, but I found it very rewarding.
“I always felt like I was 'on it' when aboard the Ventus. It's got a zingy sort of character, it wants to be ridden pretty hard, to get a move on, and gives a lot of reward for your input. The more you give, the more you get back.”
The Cannondale SuperSix Evo Carbon Disc 105 is a stiff and efficient road bike that manages to offer loads of comfort and now aero features too.
The SuperSix Evo has always been known for its frame stiffness and that remains a key feature after a major redesign introduced to the world a little over a year ago. Stomp on the pedals and everything feels taut going on solid. Getting out of the saddle and chucking everything I have at a power climb, the bottom bracket remains steadfastly central. It's a feature you can't fail to notice.
The SuperSix Evo is an eager bike. It gets cracking when you put in the power, that rigidity giving you the firmest of platforms from which to launch your assaults. The handling is sharp. If you want to switch your line around other riders, the SuperSix Evo is about as precise as it gets, and cornering hard and fast feels perfectly composed, so you're inclined to lay off the brakes that fraction longer next time around. In terms of behaviour, there's very little to fault here.
The Orro Terra C 105 Hydro is a stable carbon bike that's quick on the road, with the strength and confident handling required for heading on to gravel and other hard-packed trails with the appropriate tyres. Mudguard and rack mounts make this a versatile option that can cope with everything from commuting to adventure biking.
The Terra C 105 Hydro that we have here is the same price as the Adventure model (£2,099.99) and it, too, is built up with a Shimano 105 groupset and Fulcrum R700 DB wheels. This time, though, you get a compact chainset (with 50-tooth and 34-tooth chainrings) and an 11-28t cassette (rather than 11-32), a Deda Zero 1 handlebar with a round drop, and smooth Continental Grand Sport Race tyres in a 32mm width.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Orro Terra C 5800 Hydro is its stability, and that's apparent whether you're tackling uneven roads or negotiating busy traffic. I've been riding it a lot in both environments – for blasts out in the sticks and for commuting to the office – and it has a settled, confident feel with enough agility to handle more technical situations.
The Orro Gold STC Ultegra is a gran fondo bike that's as lively and responsive as most road race bikes, with plenty of comfort thrown in.
This is an excellent bike for gran fondos, sportives, and other fast sports rides. It's quick and responsive, essentially a race bike in a slightly more relaxed geometry, and as such it has tons of appeal. The frame is superbly stiff and the Ultegra groupset doesn't lag far behind top-level Dura-Ace in terms of performance.
There's a version with 12-speed Ultegra Di2 and discs for £3,600 as well.
The Mason Definition2 is simply a superb machine, crafted with attention-to-detail to give a ride sensation that almost defies logic. It's lively yet relaxed, delicate yet you'd take it anywhere, and is just really fun to ride. Tester Jack was sure he'd never get bored of it, and found it put any other alloy bike he'd ridden firmly in the shade.
The Definition2 has seen some subtle alterations that bring it up to date with the latest and most popular disc brake standards, namely the flat-mount and thru-axle formation. This meant a change to the rear dropouts, which Mason worked hard to design itself with its Italian frame makers – rather than stick on a part from a third-party that might not work with the chainstay design.
The Definition2 is a real triumph and represents the pinnacle of what can be done to date with an aluminium frame. A massively responsive ride, the latest disc brake standards accommodated successfully, and plenty of tyre clearance with no discernible disadvantage other than some weight penalty and, of course, a price premium. But you are really getting the best of everything with the Definition2, so the outlay goes much further.
The Definition was previously our top pick in the under-£3,000 category, but while its price has crept over the threshold, we think it still deserves your consideration if you can find the extra £50.
Carbon fibre dominates frame materials at this level, and you’re looking at advanced high-quality carbon frames that benefit from technological trickle-down effect from the very top end. You'll also encounter titanium frames that bring that unique aesthetic and ride quality that only titanium can offer.
And don’t discount steel. While similarly uncommon, the latest Reynolds and Columbus tubesets build into splendid frames, especially if outright stiffness isn’t top of your list of priorities, and you value the traditional look of a skinny tubed steel bike.
Aluminium frames are now rare in this price bracket, but there are some very good ones out there, and choosing the cheaper frame material can pay dividends elsewhere in the spec. You may be able to go up a level in groupset quality or add a power meter without busting the budget.
While the frame still makes up a large chunk of the price, you can expect groupsets of the Shimano 105 and Ultegra levels. SRAM’s Force and Campagnolo Potenza are alternative choices.
As for finishing kit, you can expect branded components from well established brands that specialise in handlebars, stems, seatposts and saddles. Carbon starts to replace aluminium for items like handlebars and seatposts, but don’t automatically assume carbon is better — some aluminium components can actually be lighter than carbon.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.