If you're keen to get into road cycling, for the fun of zooming round the lanes, for fitness or as a quick and cheap way to get to work, it is possible to decent road bikes under £500. In fact, we've found a few bargains starting from around £250, proving you really don't need to spend a fortune to get a good road bike these days.
Features to look for include an aluminium frame and carbon fibre fork, wide-range gears and tyres at least 25mm wide
Steer clear of any bike you have to assemble yourself; get the dealer to do it
This is a price range where bike quality improves dramatically with price; a £400 is far more than twice as good as a £200 bike
The Covid-19 lockdown has caused a run on budget bikes, but we've found a few that are still available
It’s quite likely that if you’re reading this you’re looking at buying your first road bike. You’ll probably have a lot of questions. A good place to start is always a well stocked bike shop where you can view the bikes in your budget and get a good idea of what is offered.
Road bikes under £500 often feature light and stiff aluminium or steel frames with good quality gears and brakes. Japanese firm Shimano is the predominant component choice at this end of the market, and the good news is that a lot of the technology seen higher up the ladder eventually trickles down to the entry level.
Weight is the main area where entry-level bikes suffer. However, with compact or triple chainsets, and the wider range of gears they offer, getting up steep hills is made easier. As a general rule, the more you spend the lighter the bike will be. Closer to £500 and you can expect a carbon fibre fork which saves weight and offers improved performance over the steel and aluminium forks on cheaper bikes.
It's slim pickings out there at the moment though. The Covid-19 lockdown sent people scurrying to bikes as a way to exploit the quiet roads to get a bit of exercise. People who didn't have a bike in the shed — or discovered they'd neglected it to death — bought new ones. As a result the bike industry is running out of bikes, especially at the cheaper end.
You can get bikes cheaper than this, but they are — frankly — not very good. If your budget is so tight this is beyond your range then should seriously consider looking for a second hand bargain (head over to eBay or our own classifieds for a look), but if it has to be new you might find something if you shop around for discount bargains during the winter.
Spend just a bit more and you get a whole lot more bike. Lighter, better equipped, and we're willing to bet nicer to ride too. This is a price point where the big specialist retailers are really able to flex their buying muscle for your benefit, and combine it with design knowledge to deliver the maximum bang for your buck.
It's no coincidence that both Decathlon and Halfords in-house brands figure strongly here. This is also a price point at which you can pick up a really good discount bargain at the right time of the year, something we've reflected in our pick of bikes here.
Introduced back in 2017 by French-based sports superstore chain Decathlon, the Triban RC100 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.
Step up to this price bracket and the choice suddenly increases, with some of the bigger manufacturers now coming into contention, especially the more you approach the £500 mark. Most of the bikes at this price, though not all, will feature an aluminium frame, which makes for a lighter bike. Get closer to £500 and you can expect to see the fork upgraded to carbon fibre, saving weight and improving the ride.
A new model from Decathlon, this is the cheapest bike in the Triban RC range, with an easy-handling aluminium frame and wide-range Microshift 8-speed gears. You also get puncture-resistant tyres and a fork with carbon fibre legs that improves comfort.
Spend a little more on the £429.99 Triban RC120 Disc and you get the all-weather stopping reassurance of disc brakes.
A shade under 400 quid is a very good price for a sporty road bike with a good-quality aluminium frame, Shimano's very functional 8-speed Claris components and Mavic wheels.
The frame is the same as the Merlin PR7 Sora, below, and it wouldn't be silly to upgrade the components down the track
For this price you might expect a women's bike to be the men's frame with a shorter stem and a woman's saddle. That's not the case here. There's a female-specific frame at the heart of this version of the Laterite 1, with a shorter reach for any given size, and a size range that goes down further too. There's a men's version too and for just £360 the Laterite 0 is worth a look.
With fatter tyres than most of the bikes here, the Limba looks like a good entry to the gravel bike genre: a bike that can take you along dirt roads and easier trails as well as being comfortably pothole-proof for the office dash. As is common at this price range, it has Tektro brakes and Shimano's Claris gears. We've seen the Limba as low as £360, so it might be worth waiting to see if the price drops.
Merlin Cycles is always worth a look for great-value bikes, and for a shade under £500, this edition of the PR7 is amazing value with a Shimano Sora nine-speed groupset. For another £35 Merlin will throw in a pair of Shimano R540 clipless pedals and Diadora Phantom II shoes.
At its typical price of £250-£300 this is great value for a bike with a 14-speed Shimano transmission, aluminium frame and a choice of five sizes. Both Wiggle and Chain Reaction currently show it out of stock, but if it comes back it should show up at the link above, and given it's been a fixture of the range for three or four years now under a couple of different names, we'd be surprised if it doesn't return this summer.
There are plenty of bikes costing under £500 at Halfords, and pick of the bunch is this Carrera Zelos. It features an aluminium frame built up with a 14-speed Shimano groupset and Tektro dual pivot brakes. There's a women's version too, and it's still available.
Like the Brand X, the Zelos has been a range fixture for long enough that we'd be very surprised if it doesn't return when Halfords is able to get fresh stock.
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Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson 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 editor 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 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.