If you're keen to get into road cycling, for the fun of zooming round the lanes, for fitness or as a quick and cheap way to get to work, it is possible to decent road bikes under £550. In fact, we've found a few bargains starting from around £300, proving you really don't need to spend a fortune to get a good road bike these days.
Features to look for include an aluminium frame and carbon fibre fork, wide-range gears and tyres at least 25mm wide
Steer clear of any bike you have to assemble yourself; get the dealer to do it
This is a price range where bike quality improves dramatically with price; a £500 is far more than twice as good as a £250 bike
The Covid-19 lockdown has caused a run on budget bikes, but we've found a few that are still available
It’s quite likely that if you’re reading this you’re looking at buying your first road bike. You’ll probably have a lot of questions. A good place to start is always a well stocked bike shop where you can view the bikes in your budget and get a good idea of what is offered.
Road bikes under £550 often feature light and stiff aluminium or steel frames with good quality gears and brakes. Japanese firm Shimano is the predominant component choice at this end of the market, and the good news is that a lot of the technology seen higher up the ladder eventually trickles down to the entry level.
Weight is the main area where entry-level bikes suffer. However, with compact or triple chainsets, and the wider range of gears they offer, getting up steep hills is made easier. As a general rule, the more you spend the lighter the bike will be. Closer to £500 and you can expect a carbon fibre fork which saves weight and offers improved performance over the steel and aluminium forks on cheaper bikes.
It's slim pickings out there at the moment though. The Covid-19 lockdown sent people scurrying to bikes as a way to exploit the quiet roads to get a bit of exercise. People who didn't have a bike in the shed — or discovered they'd neglected it to death — bought new ones. As a result the bike industry is running out of bikes, especially at the cheaper end.
You can get bikes cheaper than this, but they are — frankly — not very good. If your budget is so tight this is beyond your range then should seriously consider looking for a second hand bargain (head over to eBay or our own classifieds for a look), but if it has to be new you might find something if you shop around for discount bargains.
Spend just a bit more and you get a whole lot more bike. Lighter, better equipped, and we're willing to bet nicer to ride too. This is a price point where the big specialist retailers are really able to flex their buying muscle for your benefit, and combine it with design knowledge to deliver the maximum bang for your buck.
Introduced back in 2017 by French-based sports superstore chain Decathlon, the Triban RC100 has an aluminium frame and seven-speed gears with 32mm tyres so it can tackle the odd dirt track or towpath without any fuss. It'll take mudguards and a rack so will make a serviceable commuter that can take you pootling round the lanes at the weekend.
There are plenty of bikes costing under £500 at Halfords, and pick of the bunch is this Carrera Zelos. It features an aluminium frame built up with a 14-speed Shimano groupset and disc brakes. There's a women's version too.
At its typical price of £300 this is great value for a bike with a 14-speed Shimano transmission, aluminium frame and a choice of five sizes, although it's currently out of stock. Given it's been a fixture of the range for three or four years now under a couple of different names, we'd be surprised if more aren't on their way.
Step up to this price bracket and the choice suddenly increases, with some of the bigger manufacturers now coming into contention, especially the more you approach the £500 mark. Most of the bikes at this price, though not all, will feature an aluminium frame, which makes for a lighter bike. Get closer to £500 and you can expect to see the fork upgraded to carbon fibre, saving weight and improving the ride.
Another option from Decathlon, this is the cheapest bike in the Triban RC range, with an easy-handling aluminium frame and wide-range Microshift 8-speed gears. You also get puncture-resistant tyres and a fork with carbon fibre legs that improves comfort.
Spend a little more on the £499.99 Triban RC120 Disc and you get the all-weather stopping reassurance of disc brakes.
With fatter tyres than most of the bikes here, the Limba looks like a good entry to the gravel bike genre: a bike that can take you along dirt roads and easier trails as well as being comfortably pothole-proof for the office dash. As is common at this price range, it has Tektro brakes and Shimano's Claris gears.
Boardman's base model in its various guises over the years has been one of the best entry-level sporty road bikes. This latest version has a new-design aluminium frame and full carbon fibre fork with wide-range Shimano gearing to get you up hills.
Boardman's used deep-drop Tektro brakes to make room for fatter tyres (up to 28mm) and mudguards, and there are mounts for a rack if you want to carry panniers.
The price has recently crept over our old £500 threshold (pretty much every bike you can buy has gone up 10-20 percent in the last six months), but it's still excellent value for money.
Another one that's crept slightly over our previous threshold recently, but is still worth a look, the Vitus Razor has a double-butted 6061 aluminium frame, comfortable 28mm tyres and a wide gear range for hills.
There's a women's version at the same price, with a woman's saddle and tweaks such as a shorter stem for any given size to help get the fit right.
The aim of road.cc buyer's guides is to give you the most, authoritative, objective and up-to-date buying advice. We continuously update and republish our guides, checking prices, availability and looking for the best deals.
Our guides include links to websites where you can buy the featured products. Like most sites we make a small amount of money if you buy something after clicking on one of those links. We want you to be happy with what you buy, so we only include a product if we think it's one of the best of its kind.
As far as possible that means recommending equipment that we have actually reviewed, but we also include products that are popular, highly-regarded benchmarks in their categories.
road.cc buyer's guides are maintained by the road.cc tech team. Email us with comments, corrections or queries.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.