If you’re looking for advice on buying your first road bike, you’ve come to the right place.
At BikeRadar Australia, we’ve tested six of the best road bikes for under $1,400 – the Ridley Fenix, Merida Ride 93, and the Apollo Giro rode particularly well – and we spell out the highs and lows of each below. Read on to find out which of them won us over when put through their paces.
What you should look for
The biggest differences between the bikes – which will determine the model that will suit you best – lie in the geometry.
Some of the bikes, such as the Ridley Fenix, are more aggressive and racy, with a lower front end and stretched out position. Others, the Malvern Star Oppy A3 and Avanti Giro, for instance, are more relaxed, with an upright position.
What’s ideal for you depends on many factors and is something that should be sorted with a good bike fit. Generally speaking though, fitter riders with greater flexibility will be able to benefit from a lower handlebar position. Riders with existing back, neck or other flexibility issues are likely to be most comfortable with an upright positioned bike.
At this price point, all the bikes tested feature aluminium frames with carbon fibre forks. All also feature 'compact' cranks, which mean the chain rings are 50- and 34-teeth, instead of the standard 53/39. This means easier pedalling when the hills get tough.
Five of the bikes have 10-speed Shimano Tiagra drivetrains, with shifting controlled at the brake lever. The Apollo features upgraded 10-speed Shimano 105 rear derailleur and shifters, but otherwise Tiagra components.
To get a good feel for these machines, our four-rider test group rode the bikes in back-to-back loops of a popular Sydney ride in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, which features a varying landscape and road conditions.
Some of the bikes include basic toe-clip style pedals, while others don’t include any pedals. Either way, we strongly recommend investing in a decent pair of cycling shoes and the accompanying clipless pedals, this is the single biggest gear upgrade you can do to your road cycling.
All bikes were weighed without pedals.
Ridley Fenix 7005
- Score: 4.5/5
- Price: $1,299
- Weight: 9.2kg
- Highs: Brilliant frame, balanced handling, price defying performance
- Lows: Long and low position won’t suit all
The Fenix features the most radically shaped frame of all on test, with large tube profiles hydroformed with sharp edges and lines – it’s easy to think this frame is carbon. Gear cables routed inside the frame, an oversized tapered head-tube and a large BB30 bottom bracket are all features borrowed from pro-level bikes.
With such performance features, it’s little surprise the Ridley was a popular bike on test. It’s full of race attitude and so makes a great entry-level race bike, but perhaps not the best endurance or comfort option. With one of the longer reaches to handlebar on test and the possibility for a low handlebar position, this is our pick for a performance bike on a budget.
The tapered head-tube and BB30 bottom bracket add great rigidity and certainly aid in the bike’s aggressive acceleration, with little rider input wasted out on the road.
Basic Shimano R500 wheels match the Shimano Tiagra groupset, and Ridley’s own Forza brand finishes off the rest of the bike with functional kit.
Based on the frame, the Fenix just edges out the Apollo on value for money, but we still feel there are better choices for those seeking a more upright position. Our testers agree that the Ridley is one bike that would be worth upgrading overtime, with a new wheelset ready to unlock the performance this frame has to offer.
- Score: 4/5
- Price: $1,399
- Weight: 9.28kg
- Highs: Great spec, stable and reactive handling, decent comfort
- Lows: Bland aesthetics, soft brake surface on wheels
With Shimano 105 in the shifter and rear derailleur, the Apollo Giro offers marginally improved gear changing over the other bikes tested here. Most importantly, shifter ergonomics are greatly improved, with the 105 shifter sharing its shape with Ultegra and Dura-Ace counterparts. The rear derailleur strangely features a long cage at the back, ready to handle a large rear cassette size if desired. It's something to be wary of: 105 (and upwards) lose the gear indicators at the shifter that Tiagra has to offer.
The fairly basic frame features an unusual shape, with the thick down-tube tapering to a smaller diameter at the bottom bracket and head-tube – the reverse of the norm. Surprisingly this has little effect on the bike’s overall stiffness, providing a direct and efficient feeling underfoot.
The bike’s ride pleased all of us, blending a decently upright rider position without compromising on handling – cornering and descending on the Apollo is stable, yet still reactive. Pointing the bike uphill is met with a reactive and easy-riding feel.
Helping the bike’s acceleration are its Hutchison tyres and lightweight Sun Ringle rims. Unfortunately we did experience some durability issues with the rims, with the brake surface leaving chips of metal in the brake pads intermittently.
The brakes are the same as the Trek 1.5’s; however, they're fitted with higher-grade pads and we had none of the same issues with stopping distances (see below). This fact proves just how important decent brake pads are to a bike.
Our testing proved how personal saddle choice can be – half found it comfortable, while the other testers thought the slippery surface had them sliding around without a stable position.
- Score: 3.5/5
- Price: $1,299
- Weight: 9.19kg
- Highs: Great sizing, balanced handling, Bontrager components
- Lows: Braking performance, square-taper crankset
The Trek is a solid-riding bike offering precise fit and great comfort, buts it's let down significantly by borderline dangerous brakes.
The 1.5’s no-fuss frame features a safe and unassuming all-black finish. The frame, though it lacks any standout features, is the only one on test with pannier rack mounts, extending the bike’s versatility.
Ride comfort is respectable, as is the bike’s handling, with a well-balanced and easygoing ride. The fit on the Trek is fantastic, with plenty of handlebar height adjustment available, but errs on the side of upright.
Where all other machines on test have stiffer, outboard bearing-style cranks, the 1.5 features a basic square-tapered FSA crankset. This doesn’t shift quite as well as one from Shimano, and we also found it flexing just enough to hear the chain rub in some gear combinations.
Bontrager – owned by Trek - provides all the contact points and wheels for the bike: we’re quite fond of these parts and feel they are top quality for the price-point. However one tester didn’t like how shallow the drop handlebar is, with no room for your wrists while descending in the drops.
Brake calipers are the same as on the Apollo Giro, but it’s amazing how much a basic rubber block can ruin an otherwise competitive product. The cheap brake pads had little bite and stopping distances were noticeably further than all others on test. A $20-$40 change will transform the bike – and the 1.5 is an otherwise worthy ride.
Merida Ride 93
- Score: 3.5/5
- Price: $1,449
- Weight: 9.31kg
- Highs: Comfortable ride quality, high-end frame
- Lows: Most expensive on test, lacks snap under acceleration
Sitting just outside of our $1400 limit, and most expensive on test, the Merida Ride 93 is the only bike here to offer a carbon fibre seatpost. Perhaps deserving of the higher price, the frame offers features familiar from more expensive machines, including internal cable routing and a tapered head-tube for additional front-end stiffness – and a touch of high-end aesthetics.
With thin seat-stays connected low down the seat-tube and 25mm tyres, the ride quality is the smoothest on test.
The Ride 93’s geometry is endurance focused; with a tall head-tube placing you in an upright position and a longer wheelbase that results in stable behaviour. At times we craved for more responsive handling, as the great stability took some fun away from steering the bike through turns.
While it's stiff at the handlebars, there’s some frame flex at the bottom bracket. This spells a lack of urgency under acceleration and we experienced some chain rub against the front derailleur under power.
The wheels feature quality Shimano hubs that roll freely, but slowing them down is met with rather average braking performance.
Malvern Star Oppy A3
- Score: 3/5
- Price: $1399.95
- Weight: 9.28kg
- Highs: Comfortable ride quality, upright position best for some
- Lows: Vague handling and lacking quick acceleration
Malvern Star is Australia’s oldest bicycle brand – at one point Australians didn’t ride bicycles, they rode Malvern Stars. Times have changed, and Malvern Star is no longer the prominent brand it once was, but it is clawing back.
The Oppy offers an upright ride position and a comfortable ride. For us, though, it's bereft of any real urgency during acceleration and also lacks a position that caters to efficient climbing.
Cornering on the Oppy has a slightly nervous feel, with a high centre of gravity giving little weight to force the tyres against the ground. For many, this position will be comfortable for all-day riding, but it just lacks the fun of a quicker-handling road bike.
Like the Merida and Ridely, the hydroformed Oppy frame features a tapered steerer tube to increase steering precision. The ‘bling’ gold highlights across the bike polarised our test team, but we applaud the effort to stay away from the bland.
Adding to the ill-handling characteristics, the Zero branded handlebars (same as on the Avanti) unfortunately feature an awkward shape, which didn't leave us comfortable in either the hoods or the drops.
The rest of the componentry is all problem-free and should remain that way. Helping the comfortable ride quality are the Kenda Kriterium 25mm tyres, which feature decent puncture resistance and reliable grip.
Avanti Giro 3
- Score: 2.5/5
- Price: $1399.95
- Weight: 9.32kg
- Highs: Upright position best for some, secure straight-line behaviour
- Lows: tyres too wide for frame, sluggish handling and performance
Avanti is a New Zealand-based brand with strong roots in Australian cycling. Much like the Malvern Star Oppy, the Giro 3 offers a casual upright position and decent comfort for long rides with little body strain.
However, the compact, upright position that makes the bike perfect for some riders is also its greatest weakness, greatly affecting handling – which at speed feels nervous, with a high centre of gravity.
Sharing the same handlebars as the Malvern Star, hand comfort and control also suffers. Much like the Malvern Star, though, the rest of the components are well suited to the price-point and without issue – except for the tyres.
Wide tyres are great for adding comfort and increasing the stability of the bike. Unfortunately in this case the 26mm Kenda tyres didn’t fit the frame, rubbing against the white paint at the rear wheel and making wheel removal difficult.
With roughly a $100 tyre change, the Avanti is well-suited to the rider looking for a relaxed, comfortable position with the efficiency benefits of a road bike.
For a more detailed look, see the full photo gallery on your top right. For further information about buying a road bike, see the links below: