Buyers Guide: Entry Level Road Bikes

It can be difficult buying your first road bike. Walk into any well-stocked shop and the choice of bikes is bewildering, from hybrids to cutting-edge carbon (is carbon still cutting-edge?). In this article we’ll take a look at entry-level road bikes, often the choice of first time riders, returning riders or increasingly mountain bikers swapping knobblies for slicks.

£400-500 is the price that many companies begin their range at, and for this price you commonly get an Aluminium frame (expect plain gauge, or double butting if you’re lucky), and most will have a carbon fork. At this end of the market Shimano dominate with their Sora groupset, but Tiagra will make an appearance on better specced bikes. Although many of the bikes you will see here feature Shimano exclusively, some companies use Campagnolo’s Xenon 9-speed groupset.


Groupset Info:
Shimano
Sora groupset is the entry level with an 8-speed setup with STI shifters, and does the job.
Moving up the range, the Tiagra groupset gets 9-speed, making it compatible with 105 and old 9 speed Ultegra/Dura-Ace.
10 speed will be available in 105 sooner or later but Ultegra and Dura Ace is all 10 speed from now on.

Campagnolo
The Italian firm started the 10 speed gear set up and have their 4 top groups in this now (Record, Chorus, Centaur and Veloce)
At the budget end Xenon and Mirage are 9 speed and cheap as chips.

So, where to start
Looking for your first road bike can be a difficult thing. The available choice is bewildering and your local bike shop will likely have several brands on offer. This can make choosing a bike a tricky task.

To help, we’ve taken a look at five entry-level bikes which all represent fantastic value for money and long-term investments. We haven’t tested these bikes so we can’t comment on how well they ride and compare, but we’ll be looking to test some of them in the future, so watch out for that.

Specialized Allez – £499.99

First up, a bike that is very popular on the streets and country lanes, the Specialized Allez, at £499.99. The frame uses their proprietary A1 premium, and, even at this price, a carbon fork is fitted. It is worth looking for a bike with a carbon fork as it really does take the sting out of road chatter. The frame is available in sizes from 50cm up to 62cm.

Specialized have used Sora components throughout, although the rear mech gets up rated to Tiagra spec. Usefully, and something else to look out for in you first bike, is the option of either a double or triple chainset. If you live somewhere hilly or are planning on tackling some of the Grand Cols of France, you’ll want a triple.

Finishing components (stem, handlebars, seat post, saddle and tyres) come from the Specialized stable. The Specialized tyres are fitted onto Alex DA-16 rims, which in turn are laced to Specialized hubs.

Read the Allez Member Reviews – here

Trek 1000 D T – £499.99

Next up the Trek 1000 at a penny under £500. We imagine this is a popular bike with fledging racers and those looking to ride the same bike (almost) as a certain Texan.

The frame uses Trek’s Alpha SL aluminium frame, with a Bontrager carbon fork. Again, the option of a double or triple chainset is available, which is nice to see. Not breaking a trend, Sora with a sprinkling of Tiagra for highlights fills the drivetrain. Like Specialized, Trek uses their own brand, in this case Bontrager, for all the finishing kit. Wheels consist of Alex rims and Bontrager hubs.

Trek is one of the few companies to make bikes small enough for women (and some women’s bikes). Choose from 43cm up to 63.

Read the Member Reviews – here

Giant OCR 3 and 2 – £425 and £550

Giant don’t have a £500 bike like Trek and Specialized, instead their range begins at £425, then moves up to £550. They both feature the same aluminium compact frame, with a semi-sloping top tube and available in three sizes, S, M and L (51, 54 and 57cm). They both come fitted with a carbon fork, even the £425 bike, which is impressive.

Obviously the components on the £425 OCR 3 will suffer to accommodate the carbon fork, and this shows with a Shimano FC triple chainset (no double option), some Sora components, Alex rims, Formula hub and Giant branded parts for the rest of the kit. The OCR 2 gets some more Sora and Tiagra components, better wheels for the extra £125. We tested the OCR 1. You can read what we thought of it here.

OCR 3 Member Review – here

OCR 2 Member Review – here

Dawes Giro 300 – £399.99

Enough of the American/Taiwan invasion, it’s time for something more home-brewed. Dawes, a company with 120-year history etched on the UK cycling conscience, has the Giro 300. At £399.99 the Giro 300 is a whole 100 notes cheaper the three bikes above.

You might think the groupset will suffer to accommodate the lower price, but Dawes still manage to hang a Sora groupset of the compact Aluminium frame, available in three sizes (45, 50 and 55cm). Unfortunately, a carbon fork didn’t make the budget, but Continental Ultrasport tyres did, and the no-name rims are built around Shimano hubs.

Read or add a Member Review – here

Bianchi Nirone 7 – £549.99

Our final bike comes from Italian manufacturer Bianchi, and we’ve tested this one. A company with 120 years of racing history, and our most expensive here at £550. In a departure from the norm Bianchi have chosen Campagnolo’s entry-level groupset, Xenon, in a 9-speed flavour, instead of Shimano.

Maybe there aren’t any hills in Italy, a triple chainset isn’t offered. This is something to be aware of if you live somewhere hilly.

An Aluminium frame with Bianchi’s own carbon fork up front, with much of the finishing kit coming from the Bianchi stable. ITM supply the handlebar, FSA the headset and Selle Italia the saddle. And, although a very personal thing, we think the Bianchi looks the best here.

Sizes
Get the right size – a road bike that fits is the most important part of buying a bike. Ensure that you get some good advice on sizing your bike. Road bikes are usually measured in cm increments and come in standard (horizontal top tube) and compact (sloping top tube) geometry.

Summary
This is really just a snapshot of some of the road bikes available on a low budget. We haven’t tested all of them yet so can’t judge their actual performance. Instead, it’s a guide intended to help you help you when you’re browsing the web and local bikeshops.

Shopping around is the best advice, it is amazing the different opinions you’ll get from different people, so make sure you take your time and consider all the advice you get. The member reviews database is a great place to find out what other people think of a bike you might be considering, so make sure you use it.

And finally, try and get a test ride. This can be difficult to arrange, but any time spent on the bike will add vital backing to your final decision. A ride around the back of the shop – often the most you can expect – is not perfect but is better then waiting until you get home to try out your new bike.

Further reading
The main issues to be aware of and what to look out for when buying your first bike, from sizing, frame material, buying second and more, read this article – bike buying

In the next part of our buyers guide we’ll take a look at bikes designed for commuting, or often-called street bikes. Should you go for something low and racy or opt for comfort, with an upright position, fatter tyres and even suspension?

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