Ready to start road riding? Welcome! I think road cycling is absolutely the best sport in the world.
And, to help you get started, I have reviewed a bunch of bikes and lines out some of the best beginner road bikes on the market.
You have probably already read my review of the top 5 cheap road bikes on Amazon. And this review is going to be quite similar. Unlike the other review which only focuses on the absolute cheapest road bikes out there, this review is setting the bar higher.
However, for this review, I am only going to review those bikes that would be equal to or better than a bike-store-quality bike.
You may not realize this, but the difference between a bike you buy at your local bike-shop, and one that you purchase from a big box store (like Walmart) is huge. Bike-store-quality bikes are stronger, lighter and designed to fit the rider better.
This means that they will not only last longer, they are easier to pedal and are less likely to inflict permanent injury in the form of strained lower back muscles or carpal tunnel.
I’ve often had people argue with me over the quality. I know that when you are just looking at price tags and pictures it is difficult to tell the difference. If that describes you, then stop by your local bike shop (or that friend who has a road bike), and try one of the bikes. The quality and comfort difference is night and day.
After all, if you want to get into road riding, you are probably rather serious about your fitness, and will likely be putting significant number miles on your steed every year.
What You Need To Know Before You Buy Your First Road Bike
DIY Sizing and Bike Fit For Your First Road Bike
The most important thing about buying a road bike, is getting the fit correct.
And incorrectly fitting bike is not only uncomfortable, it can cause carpal tunnel and back injuries during repeated long rides.
Not to mention a poorly fitting bike is hard to ride. It is hard to motivate yourself to exercise on something that is unnecessarily painful.
Fit is everything. Don’t buy a wrong-sized bike simply because it is a good deal.
Bikes are normally measured from the middle of the cranks up to the top of the seat tube and the size is then denoted in centimeters.
However, when that size changes, the top tube length — or reach to the handlebars — should also changes. The idea is, you want a bike that will not require you to have so much seat sticking out of the tube that it is tipping you over onto your hands (bike too small) or so tall a bike that you are bent too far over trying to reach the handlebars (bike too large).
When fitting yourself to your road bike, you want to raise the seat so that when the pedal is at the bottom of its stroke and you place your leg on it, there is just a slight (20-degree) bend in your knee. Too many people leave their seats too low or too high and this leads to knee pain and early leg fatigue.
Then, when you place your hands on the top of the brake hood, and look down at the front wheel, the handlebar should obscure the front axle of the wheel. This fitting is a more arbitrary measurement, however, and the upper body fit should be adjusted as much as you need until you are comfortable.
Here is the basic road bike sizing guidelines:
50cm = 5’3″-5’5″
52cm = 5’5″-5’7″
54cm = 5’7″-5’9″
56cm = 5’9″-5’11″
58cm = 5’11″-6’2″
60cm = 6’1″-6’3″
What Makes A Road Bike Different?
Road bikes are different from other bicycles because they’re lighter, and use narrower tires. Furthermore, they put the rider in aerodynamic position, which helps immensely with wind resistance.
If you have never written of road bike before, you will be amazed how much faster they are. With the tiniest of effort, you can be peddling 5 to 6 miles per hour faster than you would be on a mountain bike.
For long distance road efforts, there is no comparison.
Get Good Components
Get good-quality parts. That’s where this review comes in. You’ll want a setup that is going to last 3 years without major repairs. Most of the bikes on this list are still going to be working as smooth as butter a decade from now.
Sure, you don’t want to spend too much on this sport until you know just how much you want to ride. I get that. However, I think we can find a happy medium. And whether or not you decide to continue in the sport, these bikes should maintain good resale value for listing on eBay or Craigslist.
Start pedaling. Burn Calories. Make Friends With Other “Roadies”. Ride further than you ever thought possible. That is what road riding is all about.
Best All-Around Road Bike For Beginners
I want to start off this list by reviewing a slightly different bike called a cyclocross bike. These bikes are basically road bikes, but they are designed with wider, knobbier tires that are excellent for driving on dirt, mud and gravel.
You see, most beginning cyclists that I speak with are concerned that they may not take cycling seriously. They worried about spending all of this money and ending up with a bike that they never use.
A cyclocross bike helps to alleviate this worry because it is so versatile. You can mount skinny road tires on it and ride the heck out of it on the road. Or you can leave the knobbies on, and appreciate the flexibility to ride on gravel roads, off road, and in mud with less worry about flats. You can use it for fitness, or commuting, or touring, or for completing your first century ride. You’ll almost have to fight to NOT ride this bike.
This means in the winter, when it the cold weather makes road riding too brutal, you can opt for the more sheltered converted railway bed or back-country road. You can even enter one of the many cyclocross races that spring up every winter.
Here’s What A Cyclocross Race Looks Like. Muddy and Fun:
And if you give up on cycling entirely, you can still use this bike for commuting or use it’s versatility as a benefit when selling it on your local craigslist listing.
The Steilacoom CCX is one of the top cyclocross bikes available for purchase online.
The double-butted 6061 aluminum frame is strong enough for some of the heaviest riders, and the durable enough to handle the rough terrain of the off-road cyclocross circuit. Plus, the 6061 aluminum is a little more “cushy” than the stiff 7005 aluminum, making for a more comfortable ride.
I also love the fact that they went with top-of-the-line wheels and a carbon fork setup. you don’t typically see beginner road bikes with these features, and the fact that the Steilacoom has it, makes it an excellent deal.
Finally, it uses the 10 speed Shimano 105 system which has an excellent track-record of being one of the most reliable shifting mechanisms on the market. It shifts smoothly, without all of those frustrating mis-shifts that can be frustrating. Plus, the compact gearing provides you with a wide range of speeds to give you the leverage you need for those tall hills.
Bottom line is, Steilacoom is an excellent value and offers a lot of versatility to ensure the bike will be able to always meet your cycling needs.
Best Beginner Road Bike For A Starting Price
Ranked #3 on out “Best Cheap Road Bikes” article, the Giodarno Libero is a great one to mention in this article as well.
The Giordano is a a solid package. Right now, they are the cheapest bike on Amazon that has STI shifters. (see: What are STI Shifters?). Basically that means that you’ve finally reached the quality of components where you won’t constantly be fighting with your bike and you can actually enjoy riding it.
You may notice that this bike only has 16-speeds. Don’t worry about that. They’ve adjusted the gearing on the bike so that you still get plenty of both low and high ranges so that you won’t get stranded next time you try to climb a mountain with your bike. However, these 16-speed systems shift much better than the 24 speed systems. So this is a positive thing for the Giordano.
Probably the best feature about this bike is that it has one of the lightest frames for the money. Most of the other bikes in this price range will offer lower-quality shifting and combine it with a heavy aluminum or steel frame in order to protect their profit margins as much as possible. However, the Giordano still uses a 6061 Aluminum and weighs in at the low 30-pound range.
What I don’t like about the Giordano is that they expect 3 bike sizes to fit the whole world. And, sure, they will be able to fit most of us. But, as I study the charts, I’m going to try to scare people under 5’4″ and over 6’4″ away from this bike . I just don’t see how you could ride this sizing and be comfortable.
In addition, if you have back pain or other tweaks you are trying to work around, you might step up to the Vilano.
However, if you are excited to start riding, but are working with a tight budget, you aren’t going to find a better bike for the money.
20 inches = 5’1″ – 5’8″
22 inches = 5’8″ – 6’0″
24 inches = 6’2″+
Best Medium-Priced Beginner Road Bike
Ok, I understand that this is a pretty big jump. But there really weren’t any bikes in the under-$500 range that I feel are worth the money. You would be better off sticking with the Giordano and then upgrading down the road. (It’s that good of a model)
However, I am very pleased with the Vilano Forza 3.0. I’ve been seeing more of these around town, and I am impressed by how well they ride, and the kind of abuse they can handle.
The first improvement with the Forza 3.0 is that you get some serious shifters on this bad boy. It is mostly Shimano Sora, which I’ve had really good luck with through the years. It shifts reliably and quickly and is several steps above what the Giordano offers. Plus, once you get it broken in, it doesn’t need a lot of maintenance.
Secondly, I love how they built this bike with double-wall wheels. This is something that you see lot of bikes skimp on, and instead of skimping, they went with the re-inforced model. This is especially important if you are over 200 pounds, or if you expect to do a lot of urban riding. The wheel upgrade alone is worth an easy $120 alone. Plus, those Kenda tires should hold up nicely for about 2,000 miles.
Finally, I like how Vilano designs the geometry of their bikes. It’s a comfortable fit that is easy to adjust to your liking. You should have no problem finding your size among their bikes.
50 cm = 5’2″ – 5’4″
54 cm = 5’5″ – 5’10″
58 cm = 5’11″ – 6’1
Most Affordable Road Bike With Shimano 105
Finally, we are at the top of the list. So, what is important about Shimano 105?
As with any company, there are different levels of products that Shimano produces. The Shimano 105 is near the top, and is designed both for use by the entry-level road racer or long-distance rider. The difference between the Shimano 105 and the lower components is definitely noticeable in how well they shift and the amount of maintenance they require.
However, let’s not get all hung up on the shifting. While that is neat, one of the most important distinctions about this bike is that it actually offers a carbon-fiber front fork. The front fork is responsible for all of those hand-numbing road vibrations that translate up from the front tire to the handlebar.
It also uses 7005 Aluminum for the main part of its frame, which makes the bike much lighter, and I really like how responsive it is when you ride it. It feels like a race bike.
The wheels are higher-quality, and those little parts like the crankset have been upgraded to the name-brand FSA parts instead of the off brand parts used on the Vilano. The end result is a much, much faster ride that lets you coast while your team mates are pedalling.
They also step up the handlebars to the oversized 31.8 diameter. This gives you better control on the steering of the bike, and also allows for a more comfortable — less vibrating — place for your hands. You can’t hate that!
Bottom line, is that there are enough upgrades in quality, durability and ride-ability, that I think it is worth the extra $100-ish that you’ll end up spending. You’ll make that back on the lower maintenance costs, alone. Plus, the upgrades make this one a whole lot more fun to ride.
(NOTE: The 2015’s sold out faster than was expected. We should have some 2016’s in soon, but until then, the link above will take you to a special offer for the upgraded version with disc brakes available at close-out pricing while supplies last)
Suggested Frame Sizing:
50cm = 5’3″-5’5″
52cm = 5’5″-5’7″
54cm = 5’7″-5’9″
56cm = 5’9″-5’11”
58cm = 5’11”-6’2″
60cm = 6’1″-6’3″
Have It Professionally Assembled
These bikes come mostly assembled, but you will need to adjust the brake and shift cables. If that is something you haven’t done before, it can be really frustrating to figure it out.
Most bike shops will assemble the bike out of the box for under $75. It is money well spent in order to get it right.
Or , you can try to do it yourself, and then take it in if you can’t figure it out. You can sometimes save money by assembling the bike and then just taking it in to have whatever gears and brakes adjusted that you were unable to figure out. Typically these gear adjustments and tuneups run in the $40-60 range.
Most of these bikes have a “break-in” period. After riding it about 100 miles or so, you will notice that some of the cables have stretched and need to be re-adjusted. That is completely normal. Just make an appointment with your local shop to get them re-adjusted. After everything is broken in, it should only need adjustments every year or two.