Want to save loads of time learning what to look for in your first road bike? This guide is for you! Why you can trust us? We have tested tens of entry-level bikes to find the best and compile a go-to reference of all features you need to consider before purchasing.
Here are some basic things to consider:
To learn more about our approach and methodology to choosing the optimal starter bike for you, read below.
Let us explain our approach in details. What we look for here, are models from either established and reputable manufacturers. Or, alternatively, new players who know what they’re doing. The most important thing we want to see in entry-level bikes are quality frames and forks.
Other components like wheels, tires and even transmission are important but not critical here. Because they wear out as you cycle more, you will eventually replace them anyways. With those that will suit your needs perfectly. As for the frame and fork (by the way, only two bikes from our list has a carbon fork – REI Co-op Cycles ARD 1.1 and Giordano Libero 2.0), they stay on the bike for its entire lifetime. Yes, you can replace the fork, but that’s a story for another time.
As you ride more, you get to know your bike better, you know your local terrain and what you use your bike for. Tires wear out, you replace them with those that match your conditions and style. Need stiffer wheels? No problem. Feel like a better group set will help you race uphill? Great, it’s time to replace the old one anyways. Remember, we consider a beginner bike as a platform for future improvements. We already have good frame and fork, that’s what matters.
Why the best bikes for beginners are not the cheapest bikes out there? That’s a very good question, and here’s our take on this. Nowadays you can find a new road bike for $200 or $300, and in case your budget is limited at that price point, such a bike is still better than no bike. However, we think that in starter road bikes it’s extremely important to find a sweet spot in terms of price and quality.
We also think that beginner cyclists should start with the right piece of equipment right away. In order to not become disappointed with cycling through buying a BSO (bicycle-shaped object) from local grocery or home improvement store, instead of a real bike. We don’t say a good entry-level bike should cost thousands, just the opposite. You can, and should buy a cheaper bike if you’re beginning your cycling journey, but you also have to make an informed choice and purchase the best bike for the money.
Contend 3 from Giant is what we call an ideal beginner’s bike. It has time-proven components and reliable, high-quality aluminium frame to match them.
This is the bike meant for exploring your local paths – hence the 28c wheels that are very forgiving to road quality (exactly what is needed for new-to-the-game cyclists.).
As in case with other beginner bikes, it features a Claris groupset, which is more than adequate for beginners and even beyond.
This bike would be great for beginners with some extra budget to spare, but not cross the $1000 range.
It has Shimano Sora groupset components (which is 1 level above Claris) and Tektro disc brakes.
Aluminium frame with Diamondback’s Enhanced Performance Geometry will put you in a slightly upright position, ideal for beginner cyclists.
This is what we can call the perfect beginner’s bike. However, only if you can spend a little extra.
The only bike in our list with a carbon fork. Combined with 700cc wheels, you can ride even bad-quality roads with great confidence.
Yes, the group set here is Claris, which is the most basic that Shimano has, and it’s one level lower than Sora. However, the difference is not by a huge margin.
If you choose to purchase it at REI, it will actually make sense to get their membership first (if you don’t have it already) and save a good amount you can spend on better shoes, helmet, etc.
In our opinion, Giordano Libero 2.0 is one of the best entry-level bikes for the money a beginner can buy. First of, it has Shimano Sora groupset, while other bikes at this price (and even more expensive) will have a Shimano Claris, which is lower-grade. Next, it has a Carbon (!) Fork, which no other bikes at this price have. Only these two facts should make you consider this one very seriously.
Add to this a handmade aluminium frame with universal geometry and you get a perfect allrounder. The quality of components used means that you will not worry about replacements and upgrades for quite some time.
Now, the downsides. First, it’s the color. In our opinion, white is not the perfect option for a road bike – so if you want to keep it clean, be ready to spend some time. White bar tapes make things even worse. Next, it’s the brakes. Of course, they will still stop you, but it’s something to keep in mind with this bike.
Even given the negatives this bike has, considering the components used here, we think it’s almost the perfect bike for a beginner. These bikes are now becoming increasingly harder to find as it looks the manufacturer, Giordano, is discontinuing this particular model.
Another amazing bike for those just starting out. Raleigh is a reputable British brand with impressive track record of creating affordable, yet very reliable and versatile bikes. Merit 1 is their basic model in road bikes lineup. But, nevertheless, it has everything an entry-level bike should have: Shimano Claris groupset, full aluminium frame and custom alloy work for better handling. Beginner cyclists will appreciate wider 700x28c tires for stability.
Thanks to classic geometry it’s not only usable on group rides around the city, but also as an urban and commuter bike.
It comes only partially assembled and you will likely need to bring it to a good mechanic for assembly and tune-up, otherwise it will take you a good 2 or 3 hours to get it prepared for the road.
It’s the best-selling model of Tommaso brand, and for a good reason. We think it provides amazing value for the price. It’s lightweight aluminium frame is extremely versatile and can be easily converted even to a touring or commuter bike. Endurance-type geometry will only support this by offering optimum comfort on longer distances.
Handlebar is another advantage of this bike since it features a relatively wide flat portion which will release a lot of pressure on your wrists.
It has very basic Shimano Claris groupset installed, but at its price it would be strange to expect something more advanced. Still, you can easily upgrade shifters or derailleurs later if you feel you have outgrown entry-level tech.
It’s important to set your expectations right. See, a $1000 bike is better than $500 bike, and $2000 is better than $1000 bike. We can continue that until we reach astronomical amounts you would never believe a bike can cost. However, road bikes costing more than a car are not rare in today’s reality. So even if you have cash, you need to understand where to stop and get optimum quality for lowest price possible. Want to see more categories? See our full guide first. Now, back to entry-level cycles, here are the main things you need to consider:
Even if you can afford carbon, we still suggest to choose aluminium as a frame material for your first bike. In case of crash (and for beginners, they’re almost inevitable) your bike made of aluminium will survive. Carbon is less resistant to cracks. Second reason – for the price difference between carbon and aluminium you can expect components of higher level, which consequently, will make it a better bike overall. Third reason, as a beginner you will hardly notice any difference, so why pay more?
This is a very important factor and you need to be extremely careful with. Some manufacturers can lower the price of a bike by installing low-grade details. When it comes to most brand, Shimano, we advise to look for Claris and more high-level Sora lineups of components. If there will be Tiagra or even 105 components – even better, but for a starter bike it’s not necessary. Most bikes on our list will have Claris components. Yes, Sora series is better, but not by a huge margin.
You will rarely find Campagnolo groupsets in bikes sold in the US, but Xenon lineup is a good start if you choose to order from abroad. Mirage and Veloce are even better. Another manufacturer, SRAM, has no entry-level comparable components, but at higher levels we’d like to see Apex series and probably (but not likely), Rival series.
The mentioned sets will be easy to maintain or replace, but still will give you a great performance, and more importantly, an understanding of what road cycling really is.
For beginners, we do not recommend to go with super-narrow ones as you need yet to learn where you want to ride. Wheels like 28c and 700cc would offer better versatility in all conditions.
NOTE: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. We may receive a small commission on purchases you make (at no extra cost to you).