Shopping for a road bike can be a confusing project. There is a massive range in bike prices, and what you get for your money isn’t always immediately obvious. What we can tell you, however, is that if you’re shopping for a bike for fitness, transportation or the wind in your hair, you can get a great road bike for $1,000 or less.
When you’re looking at the broad range of road bike options available, the most expensive bikes are feather light carbon with electronic shifting, carbon wheels and a super high end groupo, which includes the shifters, brakes, chainring and cassette, chain and derailleur. Many of those features are of great benefit to someone racing the Tour de France. If you’re just getting into road biking, or you’re on a budget, you don’t need to drop $10K for a bike, but you should consider spending somewhere around $1,000.
Here are six bikes we recommend — all at or below that price point — followed by handy info and tips to keep in mind when buying any road bike.
GT Grade Elite
The adventure-ready, gravel-friendly alloy Grade Elite is lightweight, better at absorbing bumps in the road, and more versatile and adjustable than ever before. GT redesigned the rear of this bike for 2019. Its Triple rear Triangle has floating seat stays, which gives the bike better shock absorption up and down without losing efficiency when you’re pedaling. A flip chip fork lets you choose the feel of your ride, either extra stable or quick and lively. Mechanical disc brakes give you total control. Frame mounts, including top tube mounts and fork mounts, hold bags and bottles in a variety of configurations. When you’re really out there, the Grade has bonus bottle bosses on the seat stays too.
A lightweight alloy frame, a shock-absorbing carbon fork and rack and fender mounts make the Allez versatile and user friendly. Specialized calls the frame “aggressively thin-walled.” No wonder the new rim brake-equipped Allez is a pound lighter than previous versions, but just as tough thanks to trickle-down technology from more expensive models. The Fact carbon fork distinguishes itself from the pack with exceptional handling and superior cornering. For commuting, add a lightweight rack and fenders so you don’t have to shoulder your load or get splashed.
Diamondback Haanjo 3
Possibly the most versatile bike we tested, the Haanjo is fast on the road but totally capable of tackling a mega adventure like the Tour Divide. The Haanjo is fast, but with geometry that won’t stress your neck or back on a long day. The butted and formed aluminum frame is comfortable and durable, with mechanical disc brakes to let you control descents without stress or hand fatigue. The bike has a 2×9 drivetrain to make steep climbs easier without slowing you down on the flats.
State 4130 Road
If you watch Breaking Away at least once a year, shout “bon giorno” as you pedal through town, or just love the look of vintage bikes, State’s 4130 will catch your eye. It’s best for strong riders or those who live where it’s relatively flat—the bike has a 1x drivetrain, which means one chainring in the front, with eight gears in back. And it’s up for whatever riding surface you are. It’s spec’d with 25c tires but has room for gravel-ready 35c tires. Plan to spend an extra $50 to have your shop give this bike a once over when you receive it to make sure the derailleur is correctly aligned and the wheels are true. Even so, you can’t beat the price.
Raleigh Grand Sport
This bike’s eye-catching details, like it’s distinguished Brooks Cambium riveted saddle, belie its super affordable price. Hop on this classically styled chromoly steel bike for commuting, training or just cruising. It has 16 gears to tackle a broad range of terrain, rim brakes and a long wheelbase for stability on steep descents — and timeless style.
Cannondale CAAD Optima Claris
For aspiring road racers and committed enthusiasts, there’s no better bike than Cannondale’s CAAD Optima Claris. The alloy frame not only looks fast, it’s designed for speed whether you’re lining up for your first crit or just want to crush miles. The carbon fork is responsive, and the 25c tires are narrow and fast. Plenty of gears in the 2×8 drivetrain help you hang with the pack.
What to Look For in a New Road Bike
Frame: When you buy a bike, the frame is about the only thing you can’t change. The chain and cassette and even the wheels can be swapped out and upgraded as you refine your tastes, but you’re stuck with a bike’s frame until you buy a new bike. At the $1,000 and under price point, most frames will be aluminum, also called alloy. Alloy is relatively light, stiff and durable. It can also transmit road vibration through your hands, so if you’re planning longer rides, consider an alloy bike with a carbon fork, which will up your comfort over long miles. You may also come across a steel bike in this price range. Steel is typically slightly heavier than alloy, and a little more forgiving. Some road bikers like steel because it’s classic.
Gears: How many gears you need is determined by where you’ll be riding. If it’s hilly where you’ll pedal, you need more gears. If it’s flat, fewer gears or even a single gear can work just fine. Historically, road bikes had two or even three chainrings in front, and a cluster of gears in back. Some modern bikes use a single chainring in the front, and a rear cassette with a very wide range in the rear. Some road bikes are single speeds, which means there are no shifters and only one gear. If you live somewhere hilly, you may want to opt for easier gearing. If you live somewhere flat, you have more options. And if you end up with a bike that feels too hard or too easy to pedal, you can take it into your local shop and ask for your chainring to be swapped to get the gears you need.
Brakes: Until recently, road bikes used rim brakes, rubber pads that squeezed against the wheel rims to stop you. Rim brakes still exist, and they work fine. However, many road bikes now come with disc brakes. There are mechanical disc brakes—squeeze a lever, and it pulls a cable that tightens the brake pads around a rotor attached to the wheel. There are also hydraulic disc brakes, which do the same, but with hydraulic fluid rather than a cable, and with less effort. Disc brakes are far more powerful than rim brakes, and they tend to make less noise. If you’ll be riding long distances or many days in a row, consider disc brakes. They’re easier to use when fatigued. You won’t find hydraulic disc brakes under $1,000, but you will find mechanical ones. If you want a bike with disc brakes, you’ll need to buy a frame built for disc brakes.
Wheels: Wheels matter. At minimum, make sure they’re true, which means they don’t wobble when you spin them. If your wheels are heavy, it makes the whole bike feel heavy, because it’s the wheels that you’re actually spinning with every pedal stroke. When you’re shopping, ask which of the bikes you’re considering has the nicest wheels, and demo to see if you can to feel the difference.
Tires: Current tire trends say wider is better. Wider tires take up the road and spread the load better than 23c pencil-thin rubber. Get ones made for a gravel bike, and they’re also less likely to flat. Don’t obsess about what tires are on your bike when you buy it, but consider buying a gravel-style road bike if you prefer dirt to pavement, and ask your shop to show you the widest tire that will fit on the bike you’re considering. The same goes for carrying a load. If you’re paved road traveling, make sure your new bike can accommodate a wide enough tire.
Pedals: Most bikes don’t come with pedals, or if they do the pedals are very low quality. So plan to buy your own. The most efficient choice is clipless pedals, which mate a cleated shoe directly with a pedal. Clipless pedals let you pedal in circles — on both the downstroke and the upstroke — generating more force and speed. Road bike-specific clipless cleats extend out from your shoe. They’re lightweight and great for pedaling but not so great for walking. For recreational riding, gravel riding, or commuting, a mountain bike style pedal — accommodating a shoe with a cleat that recesses int the sole — can be a better choice. Flat pedals are also a good option for a rider who is going short distances, who walks a lot, or who doesn’t want to invest in additional footwear. They’re not as efficient, but they’re easy to get on and off of fast.
Mounts: If bikepacking, commuting or other forms of bike-based travel are on your radar, make sure to buy a bike with rack mounts where you need them. If all you’ll carry is a change of clothes for office commuting, there are racks that mount to your seat post and rails that don’t need braze-ons or mounts. If you’ll want to load up panniers and hit the road, look for extra mounts on the rear of the bike.
Get the Right Fit
Riding a bike shouldn’t hurt. If you have neck, shoulder or crotch pain or numbness, take your bike to a shop with a fit expert for an assessment. Sometimes a fix is cheap and easy — a saddle can be adjusted or replaced, a stem, the piece that connects the handlebar to the bike, can be swapped out. But if your pubic bone is hitting the top tube of the bike when you stand over it, or your stem is already short and angled upward but you have neck pain, the bike is likely too big for you.
Maintain Your Ride
Keep your drivetrain clean by routinely wiping it down as you spin the pedals backwards. Then put one drop of bike drivetrain-specific lube on every second link in the chain, spinning the chain. Then lightly wipe it again. Take your bike to the shop once a year to keep it in top working order. Your shop can give the drivetrain a deep clean, which will reduce wear and tear. They’ll check your tires for wear, and make sure your bike is shifting crisply. Most shops also offer a free tuneup on a new bike you buy from them after you’ve had a chance to ride if for a week or two. Cables can stretch, affecting shifting, when a bike is new. Keep a spare tube, tire levers and bike pump on hand, and learn how to fix a flat if you don’t already know.
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