Which is the Best Road Bike for Under $500? | 4 Beginner Cycling Options
What's a Good Entry Level Road Bike for New Riders?
You've probably seen them before: those riders on the streamlined bikes flying down the road. For anyone who loves both cycling and high speed, road bikes are absolute freedom. They are fun, lightweight and built for speed. Most bike shops will charge an arm and a leg for them, so it's nice for a newer rider to find a good quality road bike under $500 to test things out. I wanted to present you with a few options that won't let you down.
Let's be clear, if you're planning to ride a bike as anything more than an occasional hobby, it probably makes more sense for you to invest a fair bit of money in your ride. Get a bike with a proper groupset that you can update over time. That said, lots of people are looking for a basic ride, either to 'try out' road cycling, or just because they only ride casually, on occasion.
This article is meant for the latter group. We'll be looking at a few of my favorite cheap road bikes under $500, and they are all options that I think the beginner road cyclist will really enjoy. We'll go over the components, frame materials involved, and anything else you might need to know about each bike.
We will also touch briefly on the distinguishing characteristics that set a road bike apart from other models, and why that might appeal to you. Please feel free to leave comments or questions near the bottom of the article.
What the Heck Are Groupsets?
Groupsets, or 'gruppos', are a matched component set that are all tuned to work well together. In less expensive bikes, such as most of the cheaper road bikes for beginners we'll be looking at, drivetrain parts are not necessarily specifically matched.
They typically include the braking system, shifters, the crankset, the derailleurs and the rear cassette. Groupsets are a great way to buy a part sight unseen and know that it should work with your current setup.
There are also different levels. The Shimano Ultegra groupset, for example, is a lot nicer than the entry level Sora. A high quality set can really improve the ride quality, but it also affects the price tag.
How is a Road Bicycle Different? Characteristics & Traits
Even an inexpensive road bike that is $500 or less will still have some noticeable traits that set it apart from other bicycle varieties. Lately the genre of road bikes have really become a thing to themselves, and they are getting better by the year. Here are a few things that make a big difference.
This one may seem obvious, but road cycles are almost always extremely light in weight when compared to other types, particularly mountain bikes. They are built from frame materials that have a great strength-to-weight ratio, and the components are tuned to be as light as possible also. The casual rider might not notice the difference of a few pounds, but when you're trying to break your own personal records, it counts.
Some of the lightest bikes (usually carbon fiber varieties) will be so light you can lift them up with one hand. Beginner road bicycles, like the ones we'll be looking at, won't be as light because carbon is expensive. However, they will still be much lighter than traditional counterparts.
This is no cruiser bike! The road bicycle is built for an aggressive style of riding, meaning that you're positioned in such a way as to be aerodynamic, controlled and in the best position for power delivery. The typical riding position has your upper body positioned over the handlebars, and your head low.
It can take some getting used to, but you will notice the lack of wind resistance compared to an upright seating position, and you'll love the extra power the aggressive stance will give you with each rotation of the pedals. Don't worry, under $500, road bikes won't be as aggressive, so you can 'ease' into this new type of riding and get used to it.
Wide Gearing Range:
You'll have a lot of gearing options with a road bicycle, because they are meant to be efficient and capable whether you're on the incline, decline or on a flat stretch of road. Most modern groupsets will have 8 to 11 speeds paired with either a compact double or triple crank. With less expensive road bikes meant for beginners, there is less standardization, and you'll find a total gearing range anywhere from 14 to 24 speeds in most cases.
In any event, ease of shifting is important, and a lot of stress and strain will be placed on the drivetrain, so you'll want to choose one with shifters and derailleurs that can stand up to the intensity of your ride.
Giordano Libero: One of the Best, Lightweight Road Bikes Under $500
The Libero is one of my top choices for anyone seeking a versatile road bicycle for beginners in order to get their feet wet. It's fast, light and well built, and the price tag is low enough to make it an easy investment compared to some of the fancier bicycles on the market today.
Let's start with the frame, which is constructed from 6061 aluminum alloy, one of the lighter frame materials in this price range. The frame is handsome in design and features oversized tubing that looks great and ensures proper strength. I should mention that the fork is not aluminum, it's high tensile steel.
This bike does not feature a groupset, but the components are well chosen and when tuned it should run very smoothly. The shifters and derailleurs are both Shimano,and there's an RD2300 rear derailleur paired with a double crank, giving a total of 16 speeds to choose from. It features a sealed bottom bracket.
The brakes are linear pull and they're integrated with the shifter levers. They stop the bike quite nicely. The rims are aluminum alloy and double walled, and it comes with generic clincher style road tires.
All in all, the bicycle looks great and it's a lot of fun to ride. It weighs just over 20 pounds and the ride is inspiring and planted. A fantastic beginner road bike for anyone investigating the sport. It comes in three sizes, as well as a ladie's frame version.
Alton Corsa R-14: Super strong road bicycle for entry level riders
It's pretty rare to find a decent quality road bicycle for under $500, let alone one that comes equipped with a truly rugged frame. The Alton Corsa R-14 is a great bicycle with a lot of upside. The frame alone is worth investing in.
Alton is a fairly unknown brand mark, but with the R-14 they're offering a great product. This bike in particular carries a lightweight frame and fork that's made from DP780 steel. This steel is tougher than high-tension and chromoly, yet it weighs less than either.
Fortunately, it's also a sharp looking frame with fantastic paint. Definitely a looker.
The shifters are decent, though I would love to see a full groupset on it (which would undoubtedly up the price tag). It features Shimano Tourney shifters, which are integrated with the brake lever. The derailleurs are Shimano 2300 front and rear, which aren't super fancy but definitely do the job. It features a double crankset that gives a total of 14 gearings to choose between.
The wheels are actually quite nice, with double-walled alloy rims paired up to good quality, unbranded hubs. They spin nicely and feature the standard 32 spokes, so they'll be plenty strong. The tires are basic Kendas.
It's a surprisingly forgiving ride on this steel. It's quick to start and smooth across the whole drivetrain. Stance is moderately aggressive, good for fun, exercise and commuting.
On the whole it's one of my favourite entry-level road bikes around, and worth your time to investigate further.
Vilano Shadow: Gorgeous & Simple Road Bike for Beginner Riders
I really like the Shadow Sprint by Vilano for a number of reasons, not least because it's an extremely attractive bike with its tapered frame and classic inspired looks. This is another great and very inexpensive option that will get even a new road bike rider under way in no time.
Some of the features I really like: it has an integrated shifter and brake lever, which makes changing gears a lot more simple and gives the handlebars a very clean and integrated look.
The frame is quite light and constructed from 6061 aluminum, yet despite that it doesn't transmit as much vibration as you would think. I also think the riding position on this bike is very generous for a newer rider, because it's not quite as extreme, yet it's still aerodynamic and fun to ride.
It comes with Shimano Tourney TX derailleurs, which are simple yet get the job done. You'll have a total of 14 speeds to choose from with the double front crank. The brakes are a dual pivot calliper style that has a quick release for removing the wheels. The rims are double walled aluminum, and it comes with Kenda tires at 25c.
Fun and fast, available in several sizes and the choice between black or white paint, this is a great learner and a fun and inexpensive entry level road bicycle worth taking a look at.
Nashbar AL-1: Very inexpensive entry level road bike under $500
The Nashbar AL-1 and its counterpart WR-1 for women is very affordable for such a feature rich bike, and I'm a little stymied why it's available for this price. Similarly specced bikes go for hundreds more than they're asking.
It features components not usually found at this range, and it's a great ride that will last you for years.
The frame is full, hydroformed aluminum, whereas the front fork is carbon with an aluminum steerer tube. The effect is gorgeous. It comes with an integrated headset and a comfortable riding position in a very 'stealth' looking frame. The brakes are dual pivot Tektros and stop the bicycle very nicely.
The drivetrain and shifters are all Shimano Sora 3500 series, and they're a step above the other bikes reviewed in this article. The shifters and brakes are integrated, and with an 8-speed rear derailleur and cassette and a triple front crank you've got 24 speeds to work with in total.
The wheels are quite nice as well, Alex A-350s with Formula hubs, paired to Vittoria Zaffiro tires. The overall effect is a lighter and more efficient bike, and you'll notice its quickness off the start right away, especially compared to the other two I've reviewed.
It is a lithe and agile ride with the potential to upgrade as you see fit. It's right at the edge of our price range (and occasionally over it, depending on sales), but this still affordable entry level road bicycle is well worth it.
What About the Spandex & Other Gear?
If you're planning to ride anything more than recreationally, it's worth checking into the proper attire. I like recommending cheap road bikes under $500 to newer riders because they let you get your feet wet before you invest in all the fancy clothing and accessories.
However, if you get hooked on this sport, you'll quickly realize the importance of practical cycling wear, and the fitted cycling jerseys and shorts are a great thing to have. They work to make you more aerodynamic, keep your body temperature regulated, and they help to prevent every cyclist's worst nightmare: chafing.
Here are a couple of other items I highly recommend investing in:
- Get a good quality helmet. It's best to go with a fancier brand because they're lighter and more comfortable, and they tend to protect you better. There's a saying in the cycling world: ten dollar helmet for a ten dollar brain.
- Consider upgrading your saddle. I'm a huge proponent of leather bike saddles simply because they tend to be the most comfortable over time. They take a while to break in and they're expensive, but in my experience it's money and time well spent.
- Also, don't forget that bike lock. Bicycle theft is epidemic, and there isn't much the police can do for you if your ride disappears. Cheap road bikes costing under $500 are just as much of a target as fancier models, and thieves aren't picky. The best choice is a hardened chain lock, they are the hardest to cut.
If you have any thoughts or questions please feel free to leave me a comment. Thanks for reading and happy cycling.