The humble sub-£500 road bike has a lot riding on its bargain basement frame.
For most it represents a first foray into the enticing but frankly confusing world of road bikes. It’s a delicate situation. Provide a bad experience and the joys of cycling slip through the fingers of a wannabe rider’s newly cycling-gloved hands. Cut the mustard and it will surely be pressed into service on long unforgiving rides and need to keep up with the pack. Infect its owner with the cycling bug then it will become the winter trainer or commuter – the old reliable – when they move up a price bracket of 3.
No pressure then sub-£500 bike.
Other than the price tag, what makes a good sub-£500 bike? Let’s assume that we’re not talking about bikes from Supermarkets or Builders Merchants, to qualify as a bona fide sub £500 road bike it needs to meet some basic criteria including:
- Alloy frame from a recognised manufacturer or the own-brand of a significant cycling industry player like Wiggle, ChainReactionCycles or Halfords/Cycle Republic.
- A full complement of gears – at least 16 (2×8) – and a healthy sprinkling of quality Shimano components helps to boost confidence (but is not a deal breaker).
- Be stocked by reputable retailers – Evans Cycles, Wiggle, ChainReactionCycles etc. or a good Local Bike Shop
- Feature in some cycling magazine and websites and reviews, receiving above average ratings – OK, this one is to allow B’TWIN from Decathlon to qualify.
It’s not a hard and fast rule but a complete bike should weigh in at 9-10kg. These are good rules when buying a sub-£500 bike: look for a frame that is used in bikes upwards in the range, the entry level bike may wear a basic group set/finishing kit but if the frame is trusted by its manufacturer with a higher spec then you can too. Think of the frame as a blank canvas on which to write your first cycling adventures (I rode a £400 Bianchi from London to Paris no problems), once you’ve bonded (over a few 100 milers) you can treat yourself and new best friend to some upgrades.
Shop the sales and could find a bargain on last years model – it’s more than likely the same frame past the £500 price point
If you’re looking at a racy-little number that looks like a top-spec road bike, flash colours, race-like decals but with a ‘too good to be true’ price tag it’s because it probably is. The top manufacturers want you to be drawn to the higher spec and more expensive bikes in their range, the sub-£500 is their entry level model and won’t be the 1 that stands out. Or you could actually just buy a bike worth more than £500 – shop the sales and buy an end of season/last year’s model. The frame is likely to be the same, the odd component may not be as high spec as this year’s model but if you score a £700/£800 bike for under £500 then you can live with that.
What are the best sub-£500 bikes out there? By no means an exclusive but here’s a strong list of contenders:
B’TWIN Triban 520: Guaranteed to feature in any ‘best sub-£500 bike list’. A 9-speed triple is a rarity today but makes any hill easily conquerable. The Triban 500 SE will even get you on the road for £100 less.
Boardman Road Sport: A clean, purposeful frameset that catches the eye with Mavic wheels and FSA chainset, deserves 9-speed on a bike this good.
Mango Bikes Point R – Claris: Ever so slightly above budget the Point R – Claris has features usually seen on much more expensive bikes (i.e. internal cable routing) as well as a smooth riding clean looking frame, if a little weighty.
Verenti Technique: Wiggle’s in-house brand, overlook the retro paintjob and score a Shimano Tiagra 9 speed groupset, a tapered headtube for extra stiffness and carbon fork, a lot of bike at the price.
Vitus Razar VR: Anything Wiggle can do ChainReactionCycles can do too with their own in-house brand, except Vitus comes with a fine racing history, the downside is a mixed-up spec list.
Giant Defy 4: Big name manufacturer, big manufacturer technologies, big race winning pedigree (OK not in Defy 4 guise) delivering a high-quality frame ready for big endurance miles – a great platform for upgrades with the change left over from £500.
Felt Z95: Not even the entry level in Felt’s endurance bike range, Shimano Sora 9 speed equipped gives it the legs for sportives. The high-quality finish makes this a good long term prospect. (The ZW moniker = women specific).
Cube Attain Road: Bang up to date, being a new addition to Cube’s range – aimed at endurance rather than race – equals modern tech: tapered headtube and internal cables
There are other good manufactures out there (Raleigh, Charge, Mekk, Merida etc.) and with prices going up and down all the time, some sub £500 bikes may well fall in/out of the strict price bracket, it’s worth keeping an eye out.
The sub-£500 bike might not be the lightest, best equipped or well-engineered but as the above attest a sub-£500 need not be a compromise. Today’s sub-£500 bike, with a modern frame and group set/finishing kit that’s trickled down from range-topping bikes of 5 years ago, are something of a bargain in the context of the cycle-industry’s punchy price tags.
Make sure you do your research to avoid disappointments or nasty surprises, go for a test ride to ensure that you get a bike that’s not only the right price for your wallet and just as importantly the right size for your frame and you will have just bought yourself a ticket to a world of freedom, adventure and good health.
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