The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: How to Read an Article that Gives You the Five Best Road Bikes Around £500 ($630) – From an Enthusiast’s Perspective
Okay, so you’re in the market for a road bike so you enter in your £500 budget in the search engine followed by “best road bike” and you get this article…
Or you’re simply tuning in for a laugh – and you picked a good post for that.
Let’s buckle up ladies and gentlemen, this $#!+ is gonna get bumpy. WOOHOO! And I hope to God someone doesn’t do this to me. Heh.
The actual article will be in black… my added comments I’ll distinguish with red lettering. Let’s begin:
The explosion in popularity of road cycling means there is now a speed-focused two-wheel machine to suit most budgets. Fair enough… I do like the explosion of popularity. A lot.
Of course, you could go out and blow the deposit for a home on a carbon, wind tunnel-tested rocket that wouldn’t look out of place in a professional peloton, but for most mere mortals, that’s simply unfeasible. I could comment here, but I’ll pass and keep the powder dry for later… Ahem.
The truth is, there are plenty of good bikes out there that can be picked up for under £500 but still boast a number of attributes that will ensure your cycling progresses from the occasional hack to the local shop to more serious rides. No, there are not. That whole paragraph is entirely bullshit. Now hear me out – it’s not just one thing that makes a budget bike slower than their high-end counterparts, it’s a whole mess of inadequacies. If you can keep up with the C guys at your local club ride on one of the bikes listed below, you would keep up with the B group and maybe even the A gang on a
real better quality bike. God’s honest truth. It’s not that the entry-level bikes are all that horrible, it’s that their cheaper components leave holes in the gearing so you’re never in the right gear for your speed and cadence (and this matters at 25-mph). If your club rides a fairly flat route, you could get a corncob cassette (very tight gearing, for a 9 speed (see Sora below) you’d be looking at a 12-23 cassette, you might get away with a 12-25, but that’s pushing it. Add to that the additional six or seven pounds (2.7 – 3 kg) – you can feel a pound’s difference going up a hill. Six or seven is huge. Finally, on the cheaper, entry-level steeds, they’ve got a relaxed geometry so the rider sits a little more upright so you’ll be fighting aerodynamics as well. You can’t have that riding with the A and B groups. You will absolutely need another bike to progress to the serious rides – or at the very least a new component set and a decent set of wheels that don’t weigh five pounds (a decent set weighs 3-1/2 pounds, a nice set is 3, a spectacular set is 2-1/2). In the end, you’re better off spending double that £500 and getting some decent wheels and components on that bike so it doesn’t so much resemble an anchor. This doesn’t mean the cheap bikes don’t have their place, they absolutely do, the average noob just needs to know up front; cheap bikes have their limitations.
Of course, there is some compromise (how about “there are compromises” because there are more than one?) when looking at the lower end of the budget scale, but all of the bicycles recommended here are absolutely perfect for road cycling beginners or those looking to jump on a sporty steed from a different ride. I’m cool with that – as long as your “different ride” happens to be a mountain bike. “Sporty” is going a little far.
Best bikes for under £500: what to look out for
Clearly there will be some compromise when looking at entry-level road bikes and these conciliations tend to come in the form of the groupset (the gearing, chain and crankset fitted to the bike) and the finishing kit, which are elements like the handlebars and saddle. As I wrote above, but I actually gave the details where this paragraph just leaves it up to the noob who is looking for a cheap road bike to figure everything out on their own.
On top of this, the frame is most probably going to be fashioned from aluminium, rather than high performance carbon fibre, which means it will be heavier than more expensive rivals. Not “most probably”. Absolutely. You don’t get into carbon fiber, not even with the cheap Chinese knock-offs, for £500 ($630)
But this is no bad thing, as carbon fibre (fiber) is very easily damaged and it takes a fairly tuned-in roadie to notice the benefits of using such an advanced material. Again, horse pucky. It doesn’t take a tuned-in roadie to notice the benefits. It takes someone with an ass (which is everybody) and sensation in that ass (which is then “pretty much everybody”) to know the difference. That difference is not small. Also, carbon fiber is not easily damaged – well, it is, but it isn’t. It’s incredibly strong and a carbon fiber frame’s service life is a lot longer than aluminum. Also, should one crack their carbon fiber frame, it can be fixed and fairly easily (though it isn’t always cheap). Should one crack their aluminum frame, throw it in the garbage. Look at the bright side, at least you’ll have a cheap drivetrain that won’t fit on another bike and isn’t worth selling on eBay.
Finally, bikes at the cheaper end of the spectrum probably haven’t spent hours in the wind tunnel, nor have they been aerodynamically fine tuned for peak performance, so responsiveness, handling and power transfer through the cranks isn’t going to be up there with pricier machines. “Probably haven’t spent hours in the wind tunnel”? Probably haven’t?! Try absolutely haven’t. Specialized does a little with their higher-end Allez, but they’re the exception. Now this is what’s interesting: “responsiveness, handling and power transfer through the cranks” will all be awesome on an aluminum bike. They’re stiff as hell. What they aren’t, at least with 23 or 25mm tires, is comfortable. With 28’s, well, they’re livable. I should know, I’ve got one (though my entry-level gravel bike was almost double the price used for the bikes in this post). It is reasonably comfortable, though, as long as I don’t pump the tires up to paved road specs (I ride with the tires at 60 psi on paved roads – any more and you can feel every
bump grain of sand in the road. And I’m a fairly heavy build for a cyclist at 175 pounds – any heavier and you’ll need more pressure in the tires to avoid pinch flats, but hopefully you get the point.
But that said, much of the high-end technology that was once pioneering on ludicrously expensive models is now slowly filtering down into more affordable bikes. I will never tire of people expounding the virtues, yet again, of trickle-down economics – that it works, is sound, and helps those at the lower end of whatever we’re talking about. Makes me chuckle every time. Because that’s what this is, folks. Also, it’s not slowly filtering down – every three years Shimano’s line filters up one level – So 2018’s Tiagra is the equivalent of 2015’s 105 line. 2018’s Sora is 2015’s Tiagra, and so on. The exception is Claris. That stuff is still crap – see further comments below.
Don’t be surprised if your £500 budget stretches to carbon fibre (fiber) forks, or disc brakes, for example. As well, don’t be surprised if those components don’t work all that well. Axis brakes, are a perfect example. The fork will work well, they’re cheap nowadays, but don’t expect that carbon fiber fork to be light, either. The fork prongs are carbon fiber, yes. The rest of the fork, that is half of the steering assembly, is aluminum and heavy as all get out. A true carbon fiber fork, where 95% of the fork is actually carbon fiber, is a fraction of the weight and only found on bikes four to six times the cost of the bikes used in this article.
The best road bikes under £500 in order of preference
1. B’Twin Triban 520
Hands down the best package for the money
Weight: 9.9kg | Frame: 6061 Alloy | Forks: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Sora R3000, Shimano brakes | Wheels: B’Twin Sport
Like Halfords, excellent all-round French sports store Decathlon takes advantages of its economies of scale (or should that be économies d’échelle?) and fully loads its entry-level cycles, while keeping costs down for the inquisitive road cyclist.
The Triban 520 is a superb machine for the money, boasting a solid 9-speed Shimano Sora groupset, lightweight carbon fibre forks and a thoughtfully crafted, short geometry aluminium frame (the angles of the frame’s tubes) that manages to offer a degree of responsiveness and performance that would shame more expensive cycles. Which more expensive bikes would that be? I don’t think so, bud. It’s a solid setup, sure, but let’s not get carried away. Also, the cockpit needs to be adjusted for anything better than a trip to the grocery store or office. Rolling the handlebar forward about 15° would be a great start.
Some will likely turn their noses up at the decals on the frame, but this is one extremely good looking bike, with touches like the branded white stem and razor sharp racing saddle lending it an air of the pro peloton. There’s no “air of the pro peloton”. Seriously, bro. “Air of the pro peloton” can’t be hit for under $2,000 (about £1,580)
At just £499, it just about hits budget, but this is pound-for-pound the best entry-level road bike we’ve seen in a long time. Give me an Allez for another $300 or so, but the B’Twin really isn’t all that bad.
2. Vitus Razor
Great value, great brand
Weight: 10.3kg | Frame: 6061 Alloy** | Forks: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Claris 8 Speed, Tektro brakes | Wheels: Jalco
The Razor from Vitus gives the B’Twin number above a run for its money, purely because the brand bases this extremely affordable bike around a brilliant aluminium frame, which is both light and extremely durable. That bike isn’t light in any way, shape, or form. That’s a period at the end of that sentence.
At just 10.3kg, it’s slightly heavier than the Triban 520, but it’s still no porker and that lack of heft will make things a lot easier when it comes to tackling the big climbs. Overall geometry is also fairly forgiving, placing comfort over all-out performance. Bu-u-u-l-l-l-shit! Every word in that paragraph is wrong – except the bike’s weight and that it’s heavier than the Triban 520. This is what I got into earlier – you’re not keeping up with the folks on the 15 pound (7 kg) bikes on that fat girl. The forgiving geometry is another item to look out for. Riding low on an aerodynamically designed frame isn’t bad at all. At 48 years-old, I don’t know why they make such a big deal about the saddle being a few inches higher than the bar top – unless you’re on the heavier side of the scale. You’ve gotta work off the gut because you can’t bend to reach the handlebar with a gut in the way. Ride a lot, push yourself away from the table a little earlier, and in no time you’ll be svelte enough to ride low without pain or discomfort – in my case, riding low fixed my back problems. I’m not kidding.
Granted, Shimano’s Claris 8-speed doesn’t offer the widest spread of gearing, but the technology is proven to be robust and reliable, which means maintenance should be fairly easy. Claris offers the least wide spread of gearing with the standard integrated shifters. It’s junk. On a stick. On the plus-side, and this is with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, you’ll become an expert at dialing in your derailleurs using the barrel adjusters. Sneeze wrong and the component line will need adjusting. I spend more time adjusting my wife’s Claris gravel bike that all of the rest of our bikes combined – and there’s a lot of them.
Perhaps the icing on the cake is that this road warrior comes with carbon fibre forks, which is extremely generous at this price point. Folks, I do ride with the fast gang and you couldn’t pay me to show up with that bike. I’m not being funny. There is no icing – and it’s not cake. It’s a crap sammich they’re calling a cake. With icing.
3. Carrera Vanquish Disc
Disc brakes at this price point are a rare sight EXACTLY, so the likelihood they suck is YUGE. Buyer beware – especially anywhere north of 35-mph.
Weight: 11kg | Frame: Alloy** | Forks: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Claris 16 Speed, mechanical disc brakes | Wheels: Carrera
Once again, Halfords manages to deliver on the bang-for-your-buck element, with the generously appointed Carrera Vanquish.
Unfortunately, a sub-£500 budget isn’t quite enough to stretch to something from the more lavishly appointed Boardman range, but the Vanquish comes with niceties that include carbon fibre forks, disc brakes and a 16-speed groupset that features some of Shimano’s most popular oily bits.
At £425, it’s an absolute steal and it doesn’t half look good, but we can’t help thinking more advanced technology, such as the disc brakes, aren’t going to be particularly impressive at this price. Look, for the price that’s a great bike, but let’s look back to that opening paragraph: It won’t get you from “local hack to the shop” (for we American’s, the ride is the ‘hack’, not the rider in that sentence) to “more serious rides”. It will get you to realize you need a better bike to get to those “more serious rides”.
4. Brand-X Road Bike
The Tesco Value of the road bike world
Weight: 12kg | Frame: 6061 Alloy** | Forks:
Alloy Steel | Groupset: Shimano 14 Speed, Tektro brakes | Wheels: Alloy QR
Here is proof that entry into the Lycra-clad roadie club needn’t be a drain on the wallet and this no-frills freedom machine is arguably one of the cheapest ways of getting out onto the blacktop. Friends, your winter cycling kit will cost more than this bike. At 26-1/2 pounds, it’s a behemoth that will drain your will to live as you try to ride up a speed bump. And Shimano Tourney, while still in the realm of the advanced integrated shifters, leaves a lot to be desired – and with only seven speeds, the chance you’ll be able to match cadence with the 11-speed gang is somewhere betwixt slim and none. Actually, no. It’s between none and none. So that’d be none.
Based around a solid 6061 alloy frame, the all-black Brand-X features a combination of groupset and finishing kit that have been selected for reliability, rather than fancy features. Now that’s a reasonable statement – but noobs likely wouldn’t see it for what it really means.
It’s a pretty basic set-up, but we think the black finish belies its generous price tag and the solid frame is likely to outlast many a hobbyist’s road cycling ‘phase’. Or ensure that, because of its cheapness, your hobby is as short-lived as possible because your bike sucks. Honest to God, another way to say what they just did is, “Hey, at that price, you’re lucky they painted the bike.”
5. Merlin PR7 Sora Alloy
A solid all-rounder for the price
Weight: N/A 10.47 kg or 23 pounds the weight is available, you just have to know where to look for it.| Frame: 6061 Alloy** | Forks: Carbon | Groupset: Shimano Sora R3000, Merlin brakes | Wheels: Mavic CXP-22
Wheels are an often-overlooked part of the bicycle-buying process, but they are the elements that connect the bike to the road and as such, it’s important to have a set that is both strong and rolls smoothly. Wheels are one of the most important parts of a bike build. A good set of wheels on a crappy bike will go a long way to making for a decent ride – even if the rest of the bike is junk.
The Merlin PR7 is the only bike on the list to feature a branded set of Mavic wheels, which are a little bit heavy, but they are extremely robust and won’t melt at the first sign of a pothole. At this price point, all wheels are heavy. You’re going to spend more than the cost of the whole bike for a decent set of wheels in the 1,600 gram range. Assume the Mavics are well north of 2,000 grams. The reviews on the wheels are fantastic, though, and from heavier riders (225 lbs.+). If you’ve got Clydesdales giving good reviews on a wheelset, pay attention. They’re solid (and cheap).
Thankfully, the rest of the offering is fairly tempting, with Shimano Sora gearing and the brand’s own brakes making for an enticing package. Actually, the brakes are not good, if you read a review or two – they’re bad enough I’d say they make the otherwise decent package unenticing. That’s just me, though. See, when I want to go fast, I want to go fast. So my stoppers better work! On the other hand, the Sora R3000 9sp component group isn’t all that bad – as I wrote earlier, I’ve got it on my gravel bike and am quite happy with it. Still, and again, I’d never try my gravel bike on Tuesday night – not unless I wanted to see just how hard I had to work at cycling to barf on the top tube of my bike.
In other words, these bikes won’t get you to the serious rides. You can ride it serious distances on them, but that’s something else entirely. However, if all’s you’ve got is the bare minimum, hey, get on your bike and ride. Just don’t think that entry-level bike will get you to the serious rides. Unless you’ve got the legs to be a pro. Which you don’t. More than likely.