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Start Cycling Now: The Best Beginner Road Bikes of 2018

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best beginner road bike

 

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 

Beginner Road Bike Buyer’s Guide

Why are you buying a bike anyway?

You’re interested in a bike that will be fast, efficient, and fun on tarmac, but you’re not sure what to buy? “Road” is a surprisingly broad category of bicycles that all have one thing in common: they all rip on pavement. Narrowing down the right choice is just a matter of picking out the features that make a bike idea for you.

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. A bike that is not a joy to ride will just gather dust in your garage, so think of a new bike as a somewhat long-term investment in your health and happiness. 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 9-speed Shimano Sora.

$1,500: This is the starting point for a full-carbon frame. Carbon fiber generally 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-level 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. 

*When budgeting for a new bike, keep in mind that you may need a new saddle, stem or bars in order to achieve a comfortable fit. You’ll also need to pick up a pair of pedals and bottle cages.

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.

Aluminum

best road bike under 1000
The Cannondale CAAD consistently outperforms other aluminum bikes

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 frames have become more responsive and comfortable than their ancestors, which gave aluminum frames a reputation for having a “harsh” ride.

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 Fiber

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.

Some people just prefer the “classic” aesthetics of straight lines and round tubes found on a steel frame. Today most steel frames are “boutique” frames and 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.

The hidden costs (and dangers) of a cheap road bike.

Entry Level Road Bike Components

best 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:

  • Crankset
  • Front and rear derailleur
  • Shifters (which have integrated brake levers)
  • Brakes
  • Rear cassette
  • Chain

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.

Check out our complete guide to road bike components.

Brakes

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.

Need help deciding if disc brakes are for you? Discover the difference between disc and rim brakes.

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

top road bikes under 1000
 GT Grade Alloy 105

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.

Diamondback Century (men) or Airen (women) – Diamondback’s entry-level bikes always pack a lot of features into a small price tag: aluminum frame and fork, mechanical disc brakes, Shimano Sora 2×10 drivetrain. This can be your first-time time trial bike, charity ride bike, commuter (rack- and fender-friendly), or a go-fast social ride bike.

Giant Contend 1 (men) or Avail 1 (women) – Giant bikes have rich pedigree that extend to their sister company, Liv. The Content and Avail 1 bikes feature a Shimano Sora 2×9 drivetrain, tubeless tires, and a carbon fork.

Raleigh Grand Sport (men) and Super Course (women) – for those who prefer the classic look and ride quality of steel, Raleigh is keeping tradition alive with modern steel road bikes. Modern features like a tapered steerer tube and carbon fork, Shimano Claris drivetrain, and Clement tires are matched with shiny silver components and a Brooks saddle.

Cannondale Synapse Disc Sora (men) Synapse Disc Sora (women) – Cannondale pioneered lightweight aluminum construction from the beginning. The Synapse family is designed around Cannondale’s SAVE “micro suspension” technology, which smooths out imperfections in the tarmac. A Shimano Sora drivetrain with a huge range of gears, 28mm tires, and flat-mount disc brakes all make this is fast smoothie of a bike.

Read our in-depth reviews of our top road bikes for under $1,000

Best Road Bikes Under $2,000

best womens road bike 2018

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.

Fuji Gran Fondo 2.3 (men) and Brevet 2.3 (women) – Fuji brought their A-game to producing new endurance-oriented bikes to market with these models. They feature vibration-damping treatment in the carbon frames, full carbon forks, and 30mm tires, all to smooth out the ride so you can pedal further and faster with confidence. Modern flat-mount disc brakes, Shimano 105 11-speed components, and Praxis chainrings will keep operations trouble-free.

Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 7.0 – Canyon’s business is based on skipping the middleman and ships bikes directly to consumers. This means you generally get more bike for your buck, and this model gets you a carbon frame and fork, deep profile DT Swiss tubeless wheels, and an 11-speed Shimano 105 group. Canyon offers this bike in seven sizes to fit a just about any rider.

Trek Domane ALR 4 Disc (men) Domane ALR 4 Disc (women) – Trek’s Domane line defined the “endurance” road bike category when it hit shops a few years ago, and the current generation continues to specialize in fast, comfy road bikes. The aluminum frame is built with a Iso Speed coupler on the seat tube, which allows it to flex to absorb vibrations. The frame and fork will allow for 32 mm-wide tubeless tires, making this bike capable on pavement or gravel.

Specialized Roubaix (men) and Ruby (women) – named for the notorious cobblestones of the Paris-Roubaix race in northern France, the Roubaix/ Ruby models pack a lot of technical features to smooth out the course. Specialized Future Shock system provides and effective 20mm of travel to help preserve momentum and comfort. Components such as the TRP Spyre  mechanical disc brakes and thru-axle wheels keep things simple, light, and responsive.

Read more in-depth reviews of the top bikes under $2,000

The Top Entry Level Women’s Road Bikes

best womens road bikes
Liv Avail Advanced 1

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.

 

Related: The Best Bikes for Women (that aren’t pink-colored men’s frames!)

 

Unsure where to start? Use these tips to find a bike that’s your size and tweak it to fit you.

Want even more cycling hacks or to connect with a community of like-minded cyclists? Join us in our free Facebook Group.

 

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