Ready to start road riding?
Welcome! I think road cycling is absolutely the best sport in the world.
To help you get started, I have reviewed a bunch of bikes and lined out some of the best beginner road bikes on the market.
My reviews are different from most of the bloggers since I actually ride several times a week. I also worked in a bicycle shop and stay pretty close to the industry, even attending some of the big product events every year (I love seeing the new toys!)
I have a separate post that discusses the most affordable road bikes. This post assumes you are more serious about riding road over long distances, and, while there is some overlap, I’ve worried less about price and more about getting you a bicycle that will start you outright.
Here Are The Top Entry-Level Bikes You Can Have Shipped Directly To You:
Unlike the other review which only focuses on the absolute cheapest road bikes out there, this review is setting the bar higher.
For this review, I am only going to review those 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 ones 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.
One of the competing blogs is quick to recommend the GMC Denali. It’s bloggers like this who make me passionate about my work. Clearly, this blogger has never ridden a century (100-mile ride). He or she has never seen a new rider give up because of crap equipment. This blog article is going to fix that.
I’ve often had people argue with me over the importance quality. I know that when you are just looking at price tags and pictures it is difficult to understand why a higher-priced bike is worth the expense. If that describes you, then stop by your local shop (or ask your friend who has a road bike), and try one.
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.
Caution: this article starts off with some more expensive rides. But if you go lower, we also have some budget-friendly options.
#1 Best All-Around Road Bike For Beginners: Diamondback Tero
I want to start off this list by reviewing a slightly different bike called a cyclocross. These 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 worry about spending all of this money and then 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 the mud with less worry about flats. You can use it for riding with the kids, for fitness, for your daily commute, for cross-country 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, tree-lined, converted railway bed trail 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 it’s versatility as a benefit to get more money when selling it on your local craigslist listing!
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, disc brakes, and a steel fork setup. You don’t typically see beginner road bikes with these features, and the fact that the Haanjo Tero has it makes it an excellent deal.
Finally, it uses the Shimano Claris shifting system and drivetrain. This isn’t the top-of-the-line, but it is of high enough quality that you get trouble-free shifting in a system that should last you through years and years of use.
This drivetrain also has compact gearing. Compact gearing is a new system of carefully calibrating your gear options so you can get both high-speed gears without sacrificing your hill-climbing leverage.
Bottom line is, Tero is an excellent value and offers a lot of versatility to ensure the bike will be able to always meet your cycling needs.
S = 5’4″ – 5’7″
M = 5’7″ – 5’10”
L = 5’11” – 6’1″
XL = 6’2″+
#2 Raleigh Merit 2
I get it, the Cyclocross has you intrigued, but you really wanted a road bike.
It is easy to get too hung up nomenclature. So keep that in mind as you shop. The manufacturing companies make more money when they can subdivide us into niches.
That said, one of the benefits of a review site is that you get to see the different options that are out there. The “cream of the crop” so to speak.
And Raleigh definitely has some eye-catching plays.
There are several things with the Merit 2 that immediately attracts me to it. The first thing that jumps out is the thru-axle design.
These axles are more robust than the standard quick-release axle. Originally made popular by gravel bikes that are used in harsher conditions, it offers more control during high-speed turns. This design still allows you the ease of tire changes without tools, just like you get with the quick release.
The next thing I always check is the wheels. Wheels are where so many companies start “cutting corners” (no pun intended). Raleigh not only did the double-wall wheels, they used the name-brand Weinmann XC180’s. These reinforced wheels make this one of my top suggestions for the overweight rider who wants a bicycle that will hold up to the weight-loss journey.
The Shimano Claris shifting system is clearly entry-level, but on par with any model, your local bike shop would have. The same goes for the brakes. More than adequate to stop you, even in wet weather
Basically, the difference between this model and what you could buy locally is that for the same investment, you are likely getting a better wheelset.
With a rated weight around 24 pounds (larger frame sizes weigh more), this one has got to be one of the top options a new rider could go for.
#3 Diamondback Century 1
What kind of twisted blog is this that ranks the nicer, higher-end models down lower on the list.
I love this model. But have met very few road riders who are willing to step into the sport at this level. Maybe a few, older, doctor’s or lawyers will go for this level. Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of riders save up for years so they can afford to ride at this level.
Aside from their sexy frame lines and cool graphics, the Diamondback is one of the most reliable online bike companies that I have worked with. They have a responsive warranty company, and repairs on the models are extremely straight-forward.
Wheels: The HED brand is rapidly becoming one of the top choices amongst performance athletes. Their cheapest, after-market wheelset right now is listed at $700 on their website. Now these C2+ wheels are more entry-level, but they are still excellent. In fact, with a little research, I found a used pair selling for $350. Since they are both double-walled and slightly aerodynamic, these are wheels you could add to almost any bicycle and you would see an increase in its performance.
Gearing: This model uses the Shimano 105 groupset. Shimano 105 has long been the standard for serious riders. Many amateur racers start with this shifting system. It shifts crisply, performs reliably and is designed to last for decades of use. This model specifically uses the 50/34 compact crankset which delivers beautiful low-end gearing for hill climbs, without hurting your top-speed capability.
Frame: The frame is 7005 aluminum. Some people think the 7005 is stiffer than the 6061, but I appreciate how well it performs. These frames feel very sporty and are fun to accelerate on. Diamondback pairs this with an extremely relaxed frame shape keeps the rider comfortable and in a slightly more upright position than aggressive racing road bikes do.
I believe this bike is one of the most durable and fun bikes on this list. But that performance comes at a price. Unless you are convinced that this sport is going to be a major part of your life, you may want to start with one of the other models I’ve reviewed.
#4 Kona Essato
For most of last year, we sold the Kona Honky Tonk model in this spot.
That one sold out, so I found another Kona that was a good fit.
I feel really good about ranking this model in the #4 spot on our list. You certainly could go with #1 or #2 and I think you will be very happy with your purchase.( I am going to clarify one thing in the “gearing” section, however. )
But maybe you want a model that isn’t typically available for online shoppers. This Kona slips in here quite nicely.
I LOVE finding deals like this. The only downside is that as soon as I write about it, you guys are going to clean them out and I’ll have to go find a new bike for you guys (it is already limited to three frame sizes) Fit is the most important thing, so make sure to buy the one that is going to fit you. (We’re down to 54cm [5’5″ to 5’8″] and 56cm [5’9″ to 6’0″] and 58cm [6’1″ to 6′ 4″] sizes still in stock).
These frames are designed with a slightly more upright position for lower back comfort. I won’t get into the technical details, but in cycling history that has only been one bike design for road riders: uncomfortable. Recently, we figured out that you can tweak the frame and deliver a “comfort” road position that is still aerodynamic (all of the bikes on this list, use some variation of this more comfortable frame design).
Secondly, you have the Shimano Sora 9 speed integrated shifters. Integrated shifters are that sweet brake/shifter combo that lets you do both at the same time. When seconds count, you are going to love these. The Shimano Sora line is one of the best designs they’ve made, and hundreds of thousands of cyclists have ridden millions of miles on them. Note that the Raleigh (#2 above) has slightly lower-end shifters in that it uses the Claris. With this model, you get slightly higher-end shifting with lower-end wheels. Wheels trump shifting, in my book).
It also has a carbon front fork (this might be the only bike on this list with the carbon fork). The carbon fork helps to absorb some of the road vibrations and adds to your comfort on long rides. This is a nice upgrade over the Raleigh Merit, but you don’t get the disc brakes on this, which I know a lot of readers love.
The other big win with this bike is the reinforced rims. These wheels have that extra strip of metal installed to create a wheel that can handle the extra weight of aggressive daily commutes. The rims are Alex R500s, a brand I’ve found to be quite reliable over decades of use.
It’s these types of details that new riders don’t realize they should ask about.
That doesn’t matter because this bike thought of everything.
#5 Giordano Libero Bicycle
Here we get the budget models.
Ranked #6 on out “Best Cheap Road Bikes” article, the Giordano Libero is probably the top pick for most of my readers.
The Giordano is a solid package. Right now, they are one of the cheapest bikes I can find online with 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 it only has 16-speeds. Don’t worry about that. They’ve adjusted the gearing on this 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” (all hills qualify for this designation when you are starting out).
However, these 16-speed systems shift much better than the cheaply made 24 speed systems.
Less is more, in this case.
Probably the best feature about this bike is that it has one of the lightest frames for the money. Most of the other ones 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″+
#6 Vilano Shadow Road Bike
However, I am very pleased with the Vilano Shadow. 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.
With the Shadow you have STI — or Shimano Total-Integrated – shifters. And I love these because your hands stay on the handles at all times. The same lever that brakes you also shifts you. This gives you incredible control in any situation. Additionally, these are the industry-standard shifter and they seem to hold up well.
Secondly, I love how they built this bike with double-wall wheels. This is something that you see a lot of bikes skimp on, and instead of skimping, they went with the reinforced 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.
My only caution is that these bikes tend to need a lot of assembly. Sure, they make it sound easy, but you are likely going to need to fine-tune the shifting and brakes, and it’s not uncommon to need to tighten a head or do some other small adjustment (based on feedback from some of my readers.)
My recommendation would be to schedule a bike build at your local shop. You can order it online and drop it off at your shop and you’ll get a solid road bike that is assembled properly.
50 cm = 5’2″ – 5’4″
54 cm = 5’5″ – 5’10″
58 cm = 5’11″ – 6’1
What You Need To Know Before You Buy Your First Road Bike
DIY Sizing and Fit For Your First Road Bike
The most important thing is getting the fit correct.
And incorrectly fitting bicycle is not only uncomfortable, it can cause carpal tunnel and back injuries during repeated long rides.
Not to mention a poorly fitting machine is hard to ride. It is hard to motivate yourself to exercise on something that is unnecessarily painful.
The 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 change. The idea is, you want one that will not require you to have so much seat sticking out of the tube that it is tipping you over onto your hands (too small) or so tall a bike that you are bent too far over trying to reach the handlebars (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 a more aerodynamic position, which helps immensely with wind resistance.
If you have never ridden a road bike before, you will be amazed how much faster they are. With the tiniest of effort, you can be pedaling 5 to 6 miles per hour faster than you would be on a mountain bike. Twelve to fourteen mile per hour averages are the norm, even for beginning cyclists.
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 ones 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.
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 shops will assemble the bike out of the box for around $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 it 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 tune-ups 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.
Other Road-Related Articles:
- Single Speed
- Are Schwinn Bikes Good?
- Schwinn Prelude
- Schwinn Phocus
- GMC Denali