Last updated 11/16/17
I can give you my reviews, but buying a road bike is ultimately a personal decision. To find the best beginner road bike, it’s important to consider more than just the cost. Choose a bike that fits you well, you enjoy riding and that has the most technology available at that price point.
Sounds a little intimidating, right? Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
I’ve included easy-to-navigate guides to help you understand the difference between component groups and frame materials, to figure out if you really need disc brakes and to discover if the bike’s a good fit for you.
Then I rounded up the best bikes for your budget and riding style.
Our Top Picks:
Road bike under $1,000 – GT Grade Alloy 105
Under $2,000 – Ridley Fenix SL 30
Top Women’s Entry Level Bike – Diamondback Airen 4
Below you’ll find our complete lists of top road bikes
Contents (jump to)
- 1 Beginner Road Bike Buyer’s Guide
- 2 What You’ll Get for the Money
- 3 A Quick Guide to Bicycle Frame Materials
- 4 Entry Level Road Bike Components
- 5 What’s the best beginner road bike?
- 6 Go fast for less: Top road bikes under $1,000
- 7 Best Road Bikes Under $2,000
- 8 The Top Entry Level Women’s Road Bikes
- 9 Best Cyclocross Bikes Under $1,500
Beginner Road Bike Buyer’s Guide
Why are you buying a bike anyway?
Is it a means to get to work? Or could you see yourself entering a race or riding a Gran Fondo at some point. Look down the road and plan for the future. Invest in a road bike that will grow with you as your fitness and interests evolve.
For example, starting out with a cheap, heavy bike won’t serve you well if you end up on day-long adventures that require lots of climbing. Why buy a bike in the first place if it’s uncomfortable or isn’t fun to ride? Do your research, compare prices and ultimately buy a bike that’s perfect for you.
Just starting out? Use these tips to navigate the bike shop and find the right kind of bike for your riding style.
What You’ll Get for the Money
Less than $1,000: An aluminum frame and a lower-end drivetrain, typically Shimano Sora.
$1,500: This is the starting point for a full-carbon frame. Carbon fiber offers a smoother ride and is generally lighter and more responsive. Expect a lower end drivetrain (Shimano Claris, Tiagra or possibly 105, or a mix of them).
$2,500: Carbon fiber frame and a Shimano Ultegra drivetrain. The shifting is considerably smoother and more reliable at this price point. Bikes at this price will be designed with a little more comfort and performance in mind.
A Quick Guide to Bicycle Frame Materials
For an endurance road bike, which is what you’ll find at the entry level, you’ll have a choice between aluminum and carbon fiber frames. Before you rush to jump on the carbon fiber bandwagon, consider the benefit and downside of both materials.
Ultimately, regardless of the frame material, I suggest taking the time to find the best-fitting frame. If you have a choice, I always recommend investing a little more in a quality frame over a component upgrade. You can always upgrade components down the road, but it’s more of a headache and expense to swap out the frame.
Frame materials, cost, ride feel and bike fit are all major considerations.
There is so much demand for carbon fiber, that it has pushed down the price of aluminum. As a result some very well engineered aluminum frames can now be found at low prices.
Aluminum has become stiffer and lighter and more comfortable.
When choosing an aluminum frame, consider the tubing. Double, triple or butted tubes will offer a better ride feel than non butted. Butted tubes have varying wall thickness and tube shapes to enhance comfort and reduce weight and are usually found on higher end bikes.
To increase comfort and reduce vibration, look for a carbon fork, which will also decrease the overall weight.
Bottom Line: For an ideal balance of performance and value, it’s hard to beat aluminum. However, aluminum doesn’t dampen vibration like carbon fiber, so I suggest upgrading to a carbon fork for a smoother ride.
Carbon is made from thin fibers of material that are then woven into sheets. A glue-like resin creates a composite material that can then be shaped into what looks more like a bike frame. You can read more about the process here. In most cases, carbon fiber is lighter and stiffer than aluminum, but also pricier.
When you hear a bike described as stiff, this refers to the direct power transfer between your body and the bike, so a stiffer frame will offer a more responsive power transfer. The bike’s overall comfort has more to do with the way the carbon fiber is laid up and the overall geometry.
Carbon fiber can be molded into a variety of shapes that greatly enhance the ride feel and aerodynamics. It’s also incredibly strong, yet light. Fortunately for entry level cyclists, high-end carbon fiber technology continues to trickle down, making carbon frames more affordable than ever.
One downside of carbon is that in the event of a crash, the integrity of carbon can be compromised, whereas aluminum can suffer more dents and dings without compromising the integrity of the entire structure. At this price point, cracked carbon fiber usually results in shopping for a new frame. With this in mind, I still recommend buying carbon fiber if your budget allows. Many manufacturers offer a crash warranty, so look into this before purchasing a bike, if you’re concerned.
Bottom line: If you can afford it, carbon fiber dampens road vibrations, while offering a stiff platform.
Other Materials: Steel and Titanium
In the past, steel was a commonly used in bike frames. Though it tends to be heavier than other frame materials, it’s comfortable, absorbs road vibration and is easily repaired.
Today most steel frames are reserved for custom builds, making them a pricier option.
Like steel, titanium is also a strong material that’s comfortable to ride. But it comes with a cost. The raw materials used to make titanium are expensive, as is the extra labor needed to produce the frames, making titanium another common choice for custom bikes built to order.
Entry Level Road Bike Components
Also known as groupsets and drivetrains, components are all the parts that work together to keep your bike moving along. They include:
- Front and rear derailleur
- Shifters (which have integrated brake levers)
- Rear cassette
Components vary greatly in ease of use, durability, weight and cost. On beginner road bikes, you’ll most likely find Shimano components. One important factor to keep in mind is that components can always be upgraded later on. Buy the best you can afford initially, ensuring that the bike shifts well and that the shifters are comfortable in your hands.
Brakes are another huge consideration, especially considering that disc brakes come stock on many entry level road bikes. While they’re still a topic of hot debate among the pro circuit, they do instill braking confidence in new riders and increased safety in wet weather. The downside? They are heavier than traditional rim brakes and require extra maintenance.
Endurance Road Bikes
Finally, most of the bikes listed below are designed as endurance road bikes. This means that the bike is designed more for comfort than aerodynamics. It won’t put you in an aggressive racing position, but thanks to a taller head tube and longer wheel base, you’ll have a comfortable ride that’s also stiff and performs well.
Endurance road bikes are great all-around, every day rides that will suite you well for beginner races and Gran Fondos. I included those best equipped for racing below.
What’s the best beginner road bike?
Now that you know what to look for, here are my top picks with in-depth reviews of each road bike.
Go fast for less: Top road bikes under $1,000
Here you’ll find aluminum frames and mainly Sora components, the GT Grade Alloy 105 being the exception with a solid 105 drivetrain: a lot of bike for the buck! If you’re new to cycling or don’t have a lot to spend, these are all solid first road bikes.
- GT Grade Alloy 105 Nice upgrades for the price: Shimano 105 11-speed
- Fuji’s Tread (2017) solid entry-level bike
- Diamondback Century Sport (2017)
- Fuji Tread 1.5 Disc Road Bike 9-speed entry level with disc brakes
- Giant Defy 3 (check dealer for prices)
- Specialized Allez E5 Sport (check dealer for prices)
Best Road Bikes Under $2,000
Have a little more cash to spend or looking to upgrade? Here you’ll find carbon fiber and generally a Tiagra or 105 drivetrain. These bikes are generally lighter than the $1,000 models and are designed with more performance and comfort considerations.
- Ridley Fenix SL 11-speed 105, carbon fiber frame/fork
- Fuji SL 2.5 11-speed with disc brakes
- Ridley Noah – A 2016 bike currently on sale at a smokin’ price!
- Diamondback Haanjo EXP Carbon Gravel Bike– carbon fiber, disc brakes, relaxed geometry and ready to crush any conditions. See more awesome gravel bikes
- Trek Domane 4.3 (for more info, visit your Trek dealer)
The Top Entry Level Women’s Road Bikes
Women’s bodies aren’t the same as men’s, so why should they ride the same bike? Women’s specific road bikes are designed with geometry that caters to a women’s unique build, improving comfort and power transfer on the bike.
- Fuji’s Finest 1.0 LE
- Diamondback Airen 4 (2017) – Carbon Frame, 11-speed, hydraulic discs, 105 drivetrain
- Scott Contessa Solace 35 (check dealer for prices)
- Liv Avail Advanced 1
- Specialized Dolce Sport
Best Cyclocross Bikes Under $1,500
Cyclocross is a growing sport in the US, but you don’t have to race to enjoy the benefits of a cross bike. Cross bikes have wide tires and the frame has more clearance, making them ideal for riding on gravel or hauling gear. If you’re looking for an all-purpose ride, this is it.
- Fuji Cross 3.0 LE
- Kona Jake
- Diamondback Haanjo Trail Ultegra
- Trek CrossRip Elite
- Cannondale CAADX Tiagra Disc
- Surly Cross-Check
- Women’s Specific: Raleigh RXW
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