Are you ready to become a “Roadie”?
Ok, so maybe you won’t be shaving your legs like the pros do, but you can still take advantage of the improved heart health, lowered joint pain, and weight loss benefits that come with riding a bike.
“But Road Bikes Are So Expensive!”
I hear you. You see somebody ride by — or your doc suggests you look at riding a bike — and you stop by your local shop. The cheapest bike is $850.
Now, those bikes are worth every penny. They are going to last for decades.
But you aren’t sure that you will still be riding 2 months from now.
I got into road riding as a teenager. My brother and I shopped online for hours before we found our first road bikes.
We loved them, riding 30 miles or more every morning.
Over time, we shelled out for nicer bikes. But, by then we knew what we wanted. And, we had abused those poor “starter” bikes with our poor shifting and lube tactics (learning curve!). Our next bikes received much better treatment.
I know what it is to shop with a limited budget. But I don’t want you to buy the first inexpensive bike you see.
I want you to get a bike that is not only in your budget — but that is also one that you will love riding.
Is this your first bike? Read my Best Road Bikes For Beginners article.
For this review, I go over some of the cheapest road bikes available. I explain the difference between each bike, so you can spend your money on those elements that are most important to you. And, I also touch on the importance of fit, and give you some sizing guidelines to go on to make sure you get a correctly-sized road bike.
#5 The Schwinn Prelude
The bike in the #5 spot has improved so much since I started keeping this list 3 years ago.
For 2014, I’m excited to put the Schwinn Prelude in this spot. I mean, everyone knows the Schwinn brand. You’ve probably even owned a Schwinn before.
Now, the downside to Schwinn is that the brand has been sold several times in the last few years, and is nowhere near the same company it was decades ago. The bikes it produces today are definitely at a lower price point, and if you are unlucky enough to buy one at Wal-Mart, it is Schwinn in emblem only.
That said, they make a pretty good introductory bike for a stellar price.
As one of the only road bikes under $300, the Prelude is a solid bike that fills a vital niche.
I’m actually impressed that they can offer this quality of bike at this price level .
With this setup you have what you need to get you riding. With this bike I would expect that you would be able train all summer and complete your first century. You’d probably need to visit your local shop 4-5 times to get the wheels re-trued, and you’ll want to upgrade the saddle, but you could do it.
And the next year, you’d want to upgrade to a better, lighter ride. (This one is 30 pounds) After awhile you get tired of being the last person over every hill.
The big downside of this bike is that it is only produced in one frame size. It’s going to fit riders in the 5’6″ – 5’10” range. If you are much larger or smaller than the one size that they make, you’ll be dealing with knee injuries, back pain, and numb fingers anytime you try to do any distance. It just isn’t worth it.
I’ve suffered through enough heavy bikes, that I think the enjoy-ability factor and incentive to keep riding is higher enough on the lighter bikes, that your money is well-spent if you can afford a lighter option.
However, if you are shopping for a road bike in the sub-$300 range, it’s hard to go wrong with this one.
#4 The Vilano
What should an affordable, entry-level road bike look like? If you are asking me, I’d say this is it. If I were to try to design a bike to get first-time riders and college students on a road bike, I think this is probably what I would design.
Wide Selection of sizes.
The 6061 aluminum frame is a better frame then you typically find at this price point. 6061 aluminum is a blend that is used on many $1,500 bikes. It’s is lightweight, yet strong. Including it on this bike — at this price point — is a refreshing change.
The Shimano, A050 trigger shifters are a good way to provide sound shifting without costing too much. It’s a much less expensive shifter than you find on more expensive road bikes — but they will get the job done and I’ve seen similar shifters survive 5+ years of heavy riding with minimal maintenance.
As a bonus, you get an extra, “super-low” gear that makes wall-climbing almost feasible — a favorite among new riders.
Altogether, this bike only weighs around 25 pounds, which is another advantage for hill-climbing.
Suggested Sizing Chart:
50 cm = 5’2″ – 5’4″
54 cm = 5’5″ – 5’10”
58 cm = 5’11” – 6’1
#3 The Vilano Shadow
You’ll see several Vilano’s on this list. The company has very smartly designed all of their frames identically, so that they can mass-produce an affordable frame, and then just add different components to match whatever price point you are shooting for.
Think of it like “Legos”.
So far, the two bikes reviewed so far are missing one major component that “real” road bikes have: STI Shifters.
STI Shifters are, well, the neatest thing since sliced bread.
Granted, cycling survived for 2 centuries without ’em.
But now, I don’t know what we’d do. You see, these shifters are fully integrated into the brake levers. This means that your brakes can also shift your bike.
In real life, it means that your hands never have to leave your brakes.
And it’s a lot of fun — like driving a space ship.
However, these shifters are not cheap. There’s a lot going on and a lot of engineering required to make ’em work. And you’ve got to pay more for them. But they are worth it, not only in ease of use, but also in resale value.
Everything else on this bike is pretty much identical to the 21 speed Vilano we just talked about. The STI shifters are worth the money for the upgrade and the double-walled wheels add the strength you need to trust this bike on long rides.
Suggested Sizing Chart:
Small = 5’2″ – 5’4″
Medium = 5’5″ – 5’10”
Large = 5’11” – 6’1
#2 You Are Probably Tired Of Hearing About The Vilano Bikes…
But the Vilano Forza 4.0 is a decent bike for the money. We’re still on the entry-level end of things, but the price is low enough that you aren’t going to faint from sticker shock.
The Forza 4.0 is a nice step-up from the other bikes on this list. It has a lot of value in the areas of durability. The double-walled wheels and the double-butted frame design are a nice re-assurance that the bike is built to last.
The Promax brakes are another nice touch. Frankly, I’d prefer better brakes than the Promax. But at least they seem less squishy to me than all of the no-name brakes I’ve tried. (Less squishy is typically a good thing when you are trying to stop.)
If you are still looking to complete your first century or want a daily cruiser, the Forza 4.0 is a great choice.
There are a lot of sizing options available at this price point. If you are right on the cusp between two sizes, I’d probably size down. They seem to include really long stems and that makes the bike fit a little more challenging.
That said, it’s only expected to swap out stems and saddles and pedals as you progress to customize the bike and create the comfort you are looking for.
Prices vary, but if you can pick this road bike up for under $500, you’ve done very well for yourself. Just don’t tell everyone how little you paid for it…
Some Suggested Sizing
50 cm = 5’2″-5’5″
52 cm = 5’3″-5’6″
54 cm = 5’7″ – 5’10”
56 cm = 5’8″ – 5’11”
58 cm = 5’10” – 6’2″
My #1 Pick: The Diamondback Century 1
There are a lot of people that tell new riders ” You must get a bike with 10-speeds in the back”. I understand why they say this. First of all, a 10-speed cassette (rear shifting cogs) shifts much more smoothly than the 8- and 9-speeds. And, you can upgrade them to higher quality parts with minimal costs since the highest end parts uses 10-speed systems.
However, I’m a little more lenient about this requirement. Bike gears are a little bit like blades on a razor. You’ll find that once you get past 8 or 9 gears, you have enough gears to get you riding and to outpace just about anyone. Beyond that, they are nice to have, but they are an expense that discourages new riders.
And that’s not what I want to do.
That said, what I love about the Diamondback brand of bikes is that they are not as well-known as some of the others (at least not their road bikes)… so it is often easier to find them “on sale”. And, they tend to slightly over-price them (in my opinion), which means that once a year they are absolutely desperate to unload their stock.
At the time I am writing this, you can get their Century 1 bike for super cheap. Last I checked, their price is about $300 less than the nearest competitor for the same quality of bike.
The first thing I like about this bike is its geometry. They have designed this bike to be the perfect blend of speed and comfort. The 73.5 degree seat-tube angle move the rider about 2 degrees more upright than most true race bikes. This relieves stress on the lower back and creates a more balanced riding position for all-day comfort.
The rest of the specifications are on-par. The Sora shifting components which dominate this ride is actually pretty responsive and has a very satisfying shift to it. The FSA front crank is one I’ve seen cover a lot of miles, and I’ve trusted those Tektro brakes with my life on many a downhill corner.
Plus, that snazzy red and black design makes you want to hop on it and get pedalling.
This Ride Is An Excellent Value.
On sale, it is the very best combination of price and value a beginner could hope for.
How To Inexpensively Assemble Your New Road Bike
These bikes ship partially-assembled in boxes.
The challenge with assembling your bike is that everything is cable activated. And these cables need to be tightened and loosened in order for the bike to shift and brake properly.
Outside of the cables, the bike should be fairly intuitive to put together. So it’s worth giving it a try.Use Youtube videos to learn anything you don’t know.
If you do everything but the brakes and shift cables, your shop should be able to do those for about $40.
However, the shift cables do stretch a decent amount over their first 100 miles of riding, or so. You may find that they need even more tweaking after you’ve ridden it awhile.
And that can be another $20-$40 to get those adjusted again.
So, just keep these costs in mind, and maybe call your local bike shop to double-check the costs in your area. You may find yourself paying $40-$140 for assembly and maintenance the first month.
After that, though, it really evens out.
My Video Review On These Road Bikes
How NOT To Ride a Road Bike
Other Bike Buying Guides You Might Like:
- Best Entry-Level Road Bikes For Beginners
- Best Road Bike Pedals
- Best Road Bike Shoes
- Recumbent Bike Reviews
- Cheap Fixie Bikes
- Best Single Speed Bikes