If it’s a first serious road bike you’re looking for or upgrading from a department store clunker, buying an entry-level road bike could be daunting with so many options to choose from. Entry-level road bikes, unlike high-end race machines, are a little tricky to pick. In part, this is because true entry-level road bikes are lumped up with all kinds of road bikes that fall below a certain price point. It works well for sales people but makes picking an entry-level road bike confusing. You can spend $400 on one or triple of that amount — what’s the difference, they all look about the same, right? With so many choices, it’s easy to get lost and end up with a bike that will be a pain in the neck to ride. Often, this pain won’t be metaphorical if you pick a wrong bike.
A Common Mistake Made Choosing an Entry-Level Road Bike
As a beginner cyclist, the most common mistake you can do is base your buying decision mostly on price and go for a cheap road bike. Some of the reasons you might come up with to justify your thinking could be something like:
- I’m not sure if I’ll like road cycling or not, so I’ll spend the least possible amount of money before I make up my mind;
- I’ll upgrade later if I like road cycling;
- I’ll only ride couple of hours a week, any road bike will do;
- I need something simple and cheap;
- Good road bikes are designed for racing and since I’m not going to race, I don’t need a decent road bike.
Sounds pragmatic and thoughtful, and it is, except not every pragmatic and thoughtful approach works with road bikes. Here’s why:
You get what you pay for
Part of the joy of riding a road bike is having a well-functioning machine under you. Cheap road bikes begin to misfire soon after you purchase them. Before you have had a chance to get into the groove of things, you’re off to your local bike shop to fix a broken spoke, true the wheel, tune your gear shifting because it’s out of synch with the indexing mechanism, do something about a squeak that drives you crazy on your rides, or look at the brakes that don’t return or rub on your wheels.
Not only the amount of money you saved on a cheap road bike is now gone to the bike shop, the ongoing problems will drive you away from the sport.
Do the math
The “spend little now and upgrade later if I like cycling” thinking may sound reasonable at first glance but is more expensive than it should be if you do the math: you drop $400-600 on a cheap bike and then another $1,000-1,300 on a good one later, making the total outlay close to $2,000 (or more with all the repairs). Why would you do that? What are you going to do with the cheap bike after you upgrade? Sell it? Good luck with that. With the good bike though, you should be able to sell it second hand for at least half the retail price you paid if you decide not to ride anymore.
Sooner or later, a dodgy bike will catch up with you
If you plan to ride only couple of hours a week, the consequences of riding an unreliable road bike will be delayed, but they’ll come sooner or later. You’ll face either unnecessary expenses or will have to buy a better bike anyway.
Simple and cheap they’re not
If you want something simple and cheap, a cheap road bike is cheap alright, but not simple. Just like any modern road bike, it’s made with index shifting, free-wheel cassette, integrated headset and bottom bracket. Unless these components are well made, properly installed and tuned, they’ll spoil your riding once they start to misbehave. If you really want something simple, you’ll have to look for a single-speed bike.
Quality is important in road bikes, entry-level or not
Good road bikes are not designed for racing alone. You can race them, for sure, but they’re designed to be ridden on all kinds of roads and conditions for long periods of time with minimum maintenance. Which is what you want should you fall in love with road cycling. And you will if you get yourself a decent road bike.
What Is an Entry-Level Road Bike?
With these thoughts in mind, what is a good entry-level road bike for beginners?
I believe the 3 most important requirements a road bike must meet to be an entry-level bike are:
- Components: Shimano 105 or a similar level components group (e.g. SRAM Rival or Campagnolo Veloce). Watch out for models designated “105” (referring to Shimano 105) with only the shifters from the Shimano 105 components group;
- Robust wheels;
- Frame built by an established, respected manufacturer.
To help you decide what entry-level road bike to buy, I researched what’s available from online retailers and made a list of 5 bikes for you to consider.
Contrary to what some people believe about buying a bike online, it’s not necessary to test-ride an entry-level road bike to make an informed buying decision as long as you get the frame size right when you buy online (more on this later).
Let’s start with Vitus Zenium VR Disc from Chain Reaction Cycles:
Sean Kelly made Vitus bikes famous by winning almost every major pro race in the 1980s and 1990s. The brand went through a quiet period after that but today is back on the road with a range of products built for all types of road cycling.
Zenium VR Disc is a solid bike equipped with reliable Shimano 105 components. Unlike a lot of other entry-level road bikes, Zenium VR is sold with a great pair of wheels — Fulcrum Racing Sport built by Campagnolo.
The disc brakes is an icing on the cake. All for US$1,139.
Vitus Zenium VR Disc Highlights
- Light 6061-T6 triple butted alloy frame
- Carbon fork
- Shimano 105 11-speed groupset
- Fulcrum Racing Sport Disc wheels
- TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes
You can’t go wrong with this Diamondback Century 1 105. Wide (23mm) HED Flanders C2 rims with plushy Michelin Dynamic Sport 28mm tires, you can take this machine on anything that looks like a road and come home in one piece without too much trouble.
With an aluminium fork, it’s a bit heavier than similar entry-level bikes but it shouldn’t worry you too much unless you want to compete in the Tour de France on this beast. At US$1,099, do you think you can find a better deal anywhere?
Diamondback Century 1 105 Highlights
- The wheels, this is the highlight, with 23mm-wide HED Flanders C2 rims shod in 28mm Michelin Dynamic Sport tires
- Shimano 105 11-speed groupset
- Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes
You can get a great bargain when you find a retailer trying to unload an older model bike. Fuji Altamira 2.5 is one such bargain. It’s a 2014 model and because of that, you save a cool $1,000.
For US$1,199, you get a nice, fat carbon frame equipped with Shimano 105 and Oval Concepts gear. The frame geometry is closer to a racing machine than what you’d expect from an entry-level offering, yet with the right setup this bike can be used and enjoyed for fitness and recreation.
Fuji Altamira 2.5 Shimano 105 Highlights
- C5 high-modulus carbon fiber frameset
- Shimano 105 shifters, front/rear derailleurs and brakes
Stylish carbon frame with a full Shimano 105 groupset, Eastway Emitter R3 is a 7.8kg package that will please the most demanding road cyclist. Rich saddle? Check (Fizik Aliante). Replaceable rear derailleur hanger? Check. Ritchey handlebar and stem? Check. Will it cause a divorce? Over US$1,374 for a bike that good? Well, you should know better.
Eastway Emitter R3 Highlights
- Good-looking, raw uni-directional carbon frameset
- Shimano 105 groupset
- Shimano RS11 wheels
- Fizik Aliante saddle
- Ritchey handlebar and stem
Next on the list is a carbon fiber frame manufacturing pioneer—Kestrel.
Back in 1986 when everybody was still welding steel frames, Kestrel was the first in the bike industry to start building bicycle frames using bladder-molded monocoque carbon structures. If anybody knows how to design and build a carbon fiber bike frame, these guys are it.
Kestrel Legend Shimano 105 is equipped with Shimano 105 and Oval Concepts components except for the brakes which are made by Tektro.
Kestrel Legend Shimano 105 Highlights
- High-modulus carbon fiber frameset
- Shimano 105 11-speed shifters
- Shimano 105 rear and front derailleurs
- Oval Concepts 327 wheels
Looking at the pictures, you probably noticed none of the bikes come with pedals. This is normal practice because there are different, incompatible pedal/cleats systems. If, for example, you already own shoes with cleats from one system and the bike is sold with a different system, there will be a problem. This is why pedals (which come with cleats) are sold separately.
In my opinion, the best pedals to go on a beginner’s bike are Shimano R550 SPD-SL.
They’re well-made, durable, inexpensive and will serve you for a long time.
Frame Size Guide
Getting your bike’s frame size wrong is as bad as getting wrong size shoes. Unlike choosing the right shoe size, you don’t have to nail your bike’s size 100%. As long as you get it close enough, you’ll be fine. If the size is slightly off, you can adjust your position on the bike by:
- changing the saddle height
- changing the saddle’s fore-aft position
- changing the stem height, or
- changing the stem length
Road frames used to be measured in centimeters by the length of the seat tube. With the advent of compact (slopping top tube) frame design in the 1990s, frames are now measured by the length of the top tube.
To keep with the cycling’s tradition of not having any standards, some manufacturers continue to use metric measurements while others adapted a naming convention of “small”, “medium”, “large” and so on.
Here is a guide to help you pick the right frame size:
|Your Height||Traditional Size||Compact Size|
| 5’2” – 5’4”
(157cm – 163cm)
|48cm – 50cm||XS|
| 5’4” – 5’7”
(163cm – 170cm)
|50cm – 54cm||S|
| 5’7” – 5’10”
(170cm – 178cm)
|54cm – 56cm||M|
| 5’10” – 6’0”
(178cm – 183cm)
| 6’0” – 6’3”
(183cm – 191cm)
|58cm – 60cm||L|
| 6’3” – 6’6”
(191cm – 198cm)
|60cm – 64cm||XL|
On that note, happy riding!
Disclaimer: Please know that my links to online retailers in this post are affiliate links and I do earn a commission if you purchase through them. This will not cost you anything. If you do make a purchase, please send an email to me through my contact page so I can personally thank you.