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The remarkable Triban RC 500 is better than any £500 bike has any right to be. Unless you have serious go-faster ambitions, it's hard to see why you'd buy any other drop-handlebar bike in its price range.
The Triban RC 500 shares a frame with its £730 big brother, the RC 520, which we reviewed at the end of 2018 and rated very highly indeed. To shave £200 off the price Decathlon has dropped the groupset two levels to 9-speed Shimano Sora instead of 11-speed Shimano 105, used cable rather than semi-hydraulic disc brakes and fitted heavier wheels. But out on the road none of this matters very much because many of the components are the same, especially ones that determine ride feel.
The result is a bike that's just as reassuring, welcoming and accessible to ride as the RC 520, but cheaper. That's been a very appealing prospect for a lot of riders: Decathlon tells us that the UK's first shipment of RC 500s, which was expected to last six months, sold out in just three months.
For this review, I rode the Triban RC 500 and Triban RC 520 back-to-back. That was an interesting exercise as it brought home to me just how much the frame, tyres and tyre pressure determine how a bike feels to ride. That's fairly obvious, but it was nevertheless illuminating to swap between bikes with a 10psi difference in the tyres, for example.
Let's take a look at the differences between the RC 520 and RC 500.
For all practical purposes the ride of the two Triban RCs is indistinguishable. Like its big brother, the Triban RC 500 bowls merrily along when you feed it even relatively modest effort. There's a pleasant, floaty feeling to both bikes. They demand very little in the way of concentration even at significant downhill speeds, and they cruise uphill with aplomb.
The upright riding position inspires a generally unhurried attitude; this is very much a bike for sitting up and admiring the scenery. The position on the drops is deep enough to be useful for fighting a headwind or getting down to bomb a descent, but it's by no means a Mark Cavendish flat-back super-tuck, even with the stem slammed.
I usually like a stretched, go-fast position, but I enjoyed the upright stance of the Triban RCs. It forces you to relax and smell the spring flowers, and we could all do with a bit of that.
The ride of the two bikes is so similar because they're identical in two of the ways that matter most: frame and tyres. The frame dictates the riding position and handling, while the tyres contribute significantly to the bike's feel. With 80psi in them, the 28mm-wide Triban Resist+ tyres roll well for relatively inexpensive rubber, and their width cushions against crummy road surfaces and minor potholes.
I even did a bit of messing around on dirt roads on the RC 500, including losing my way while trying to follow a Roman road and getting an amiable telling off from a gamekeeper in a big twin-cab pick-up. I'd turned when I should have gone straight on, apparently, and put myself on a gravel road that was doable going up, but quite the challenge coming down. Decathlon now offers a gravel edition of the Triban RC 520, with 36mm tyres, which would have been handy. The RC 500's dirt road capabilities are seriously limited by its tyres, though on flatter trails its forgiving handling means it pootles along nicely.
Where the RC 520 has an 11-speed Shimano 105 R7000 transmission, the RC 500 gets Shimano's 9-speed Sora shifting. The Sora shifters have a slightly heavier feel than the 105; a tiny bit more effort is required to effect the shift, but it's a barely-perceptible difference and I could easily be suffering from confirmation bias.
Importantly, both bikes have 11-32 cassettes, so the gear range is the same. I think Decathlon missed a trick in not fitting 11-34 cassettes to these bikes. All bikes should have as low a bottom gear as possible; sooner or later you're going to be grateful for it.
One advantage the Triban RC 520 has over the Triban RC 500 is that the RC 520's Shimano 105 GS rear derailleur can be persuaded to work with an 11-40 cassette if you want super-low gearing. This involves bending Shimano's rules a bit but it works.
You can do something similar, but not quite as extreme with the RC 500. All Shimano 9-speed components are interchangeable, so if you want a lower bottom gear on your RC 500, you can fit a £14 12-36 cassette and a £26 Alivio rear mech.
The Triban RC 500 has cable-operated Promax DSK-300R disc brakes with semi-metallic pads, while the RC 520 has TRP HY RD disc brakes which are actuated by cables but have a hydraulic final stage. The TRP brakes are undeniably better, with a softer feel, better modulation and more out-and-out stopping power when you need it.
But you know what? The Promax DSK-300Rs aren't bad at all. They've a firm feel, plenty of power and a very decent ability to bring the bike's speed under control. They're not better than good rim brakes, but they are a whole lot better than many of the rim brakes on £500 bikes, especially if those bikes have room for wide tyres and mudguards. And they're completely silent: no rubbing, no brake noise.
Both Triban RCs come with tubeless-capable wheels. The RC 500's are heavier at a claimed 2,200g/pr versus the 2,000g wheels on the RC 520. Any reduction in the weight of a bike is a good thing, on paper at least, but you really can't detect the wheel weight difference while riding. However, the rim joints on the lighter wheels are welded rather than pinned so they should be more durable.
The two bikes differ in one small but irritating practical detail. On the RC 520 the cable to the rear brake runs inside the left-hand chainstay. On the RC 500 it sits on the outside. This is unavoidable because it's dictated by the location of the cable stop and lever on the brake itself, but it means your heels can occasionally catch the cable. Other than speccing a different brake, there's not much Decathlon can do about this.
Otherwise, the bar, stem, tape, saddle and seatpost are identical.
The RC 500 is a very, very good bike for £530. It has a welcoming, approachable ride, decent brakes, and a usefully wide gear range. What I like most about it is its versatility. Mounts for mudguards and racks, and plenty of room around the tyres mean it'll make a brilliant year-round commuter, and a great light tourer. It's an easy bike to cover distance on too, so if you're not in a screaming hurry it'll happily take you from your first long-ish rides to 100-milers and more.
There's little else at this price range that comes close to matching the Triban RC 500's level of equipment. You just don't find a Shimano 9-speed Sora transmission on £500 bikes. Cannondale's CAAD Optimo Sora is £750 as are the Norco Indie Drop A and Trek Domane AL 3; the Specialized Allez E5 Sport is £850. Some of those bikes have frames that are arguably better – or at least lighter – than the Triban RC 500's, but an extra £200 is a lot to save a few grams on a frame. The Pinnacle Laterite 2 is the only exception, but it lacks the stylish two-piece Sora chainset and is quite a bit more speed-orientated than the RC 500. Almost everything else in the price range, like the Boardman SLR 8.6 (£550), Trek Domane AL 2 (£595) and even the £649 Cube Attain, has 8-speed Claris gears.
Its spec makes the RC 500 superb value for money, but that wouldn't count for much if it was no fun to ride. Fortunately, that's far from the case. This is a deeply enjoyable bike, made more so by the fact that as you ride you can allow yourself a little frisson of smugness at how little you've spent on it.
Excellent commuter and all-day cruiser that's amazing value for money
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Triban RC 500 Disc Road Bike
Size tested: Large
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: New Triban Evo frame in 6061 T6 aluminium, comfort-oriented geometry with adapted sloping; 1780g in size M; can be fitted with a mudguard and pannier rack; compatible with tyres up to 36mm cross-section
Fork: New Triban Evo fork with carbon blades and aluminium 1 1/8in Aheadset steerer tube. This fork combines comfort, low weight, and precision; inserts on the blades for mounting a front pannier rack; mudguard mounts; compatible with tyres up to 36mm cross-section
Bar & stem: Ergonomic aluminium Triban handlebar; New Triban stem. Sizes vary with bike size
Shifters: Shimano Sora R3000
Front derailleur: Shimano Sora R3000
Rear derailleur: Shimano Sora R3000 GS 9-speed
Cassette: Microshift CS-H092 9-speed 11/13/15/17/19/21/24/28/32
Cranks: Shimano Sora R3000 50/34; crank length varies according to size of bike
Brakes: Promax DSK-300R disc brakes, 160mm rotors at front and rear; Jagwire anti-compression hosing; semi-metal pads
Wheels: Triban Tubeless ready, 6063 T6 aluminium, 622 x 17, 28mm high, 28 spokes front rear, sealed bearings, 2200g without cassette and quick release
Tyres: Triban Resist+ 28mm wide, 410g, skinwall, rigid bead, 1mm nylon anti-puncture protection, 55tpi carcass
Saddle: New Triban ErgoFit
Seat post: Aluminium Triban 27.2mm, 350mm in M/L/XL, 250mm in XS/S
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
It's an entry-level comfy road bike intended for commuting and Just Going Riding™
"This Triban RC500 disc brake road bike featuring Shimano's Sora groupset has been designed by our experts in house with comfort and reliability in mind. It's aimed at regular road cyclists and commuters, and allows you to cycle further and for longer. Cycle further and more often with the most comfortable road bike we've ever designed. Discover its disc braking, special geometry and Shimano Sora groupset
"Cycle further and more often with the most comfortable road bike we've ever designed. Discover its disc braking, special geometry and Shimano Sora groupset"
And they've nailed it. Really hard to imagine a better bike for the money.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
There are four bikes in the Triban RC range: the £420 Triban RC120; this bike for £530; the £730 Triban RC520 with Shimano 105, and the £850 Triban RC520 Gravel. All have the same frame and they share features like disc brakes and tubeless-ready wheels.
Decathlon offers more expensive road bikes, up to the £3,500 Van Rysel RR940 CF Dura-Ace, and cheaper bikes down to the B'Twin RC100 for just £250. The Triban RC 500 may sit toward the bottom of the price range, but this isn't a neglected end of Decathlon's offering. It's obvious that a lot of thought and effort has gone into making the Triban RC bikes as good as they can possibly be for the modest price.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Tidy, unfussy welding. More than acceptable for the frame of a £500 bike.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
6061 T6 aluminium for the frame - industry standard heat-treated aluminium alloy. It's not super-special in any way, but literally millions of frames and other bike parts demonstrate that it just works.
The fork has a non-tapered 1 1/8in aluminium steerer with carbon fibre fork legs.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry - and therefore the ride, which is what actually matters, geometry being just a set of numbers - is dominated by the long head tube and the upright riding position it engenders. That makes for a cruisy ride in both position and attitude.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It's tall and relatively short.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
There's a very pleasant floaty feeling to the Triban RC500's ride, really helped by the 28mm tyres.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
At a claimed 1,780g it's relatively heavy for a modern aluminium frame (I have a rim-braked Planet X from over a decade ago that's 1,420g). You might expect it to be overly stiff and harsh as a result, but it's not. Decathlon's designers have managed to get road buzz nicely dispersed by the frame, while the beefy down tube and chainstays resist pedalling forces well.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yep, no complaints in that department.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
Not with the wheel, but with mudguards fitted, very low speed manoeuvres require caution not to get my size nines tangled.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral; accurate. It goes where you point it.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Overall it's simply a very pleasant, relaxing ride. That's not faint praise. It's lovely to have a bike where you can forget about any handling quirks and just enjoy the scenery as you roll along.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The only way the 28mm tyres could be better is if they were fatter. The handlebar is nicely shaped, with a flat top for cruising comfort and a nicely shaped drop for when you need to get down.
Between the relatively fat tyres and upright riding position, it takes a while to get up to speed, but to complain about that would be to miss the point of this bike entirely.
This isn't a bike for the race to the line, but to criticise it for that is like complaining that a shire horse can't win the Derby.
It's surprisingly steady on fast descents.
Bowling along on a sunny day is what this bike was born to do.
Slowed a bit by its heft, but perfectly good at seated 'siege campaign' climbing.
Once the poor relation of Shimano's range, Sora in this incarnation is really surprisingly good.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
I'd have specced a 12-34 or even 12-36 cassette if such were possible.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
The wheels are beefy, and account for much of the bike's 11kg heft. You could take off the best part of a kilogram by fitting a pair of Mason/Hunt 4 Season wheels, and Schwalbe One 30mm tubeless tyres.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Nothing else on the market has this combination of Shimano Sora transmission and disc brakes at this price. Anything remotely similar would cost you another £150-£200, and if you're going to spend that much you might as well buy the Triban RC 520.
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's very tempting to give the Triban RC 500 a perfect score; it almost deserves 5/5 simply for its combination of friendly handling and terrific spec. But a few little details pull it down, in particular the slightly irritating rear brake cable routing and the lack of a 34-tooth largest sprocket.
About the tester
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking
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.