Half a grand is a lot of money for a lot of people - and luckily it can get you a lot of bike.
There's a huge range to choose from at this price, from commuting cycles to long-distance tourers, but if you're looking for something a little lighter and sportier you'll be pleased to know that for around £500 you can buy a machine that'll easily cope with distance rides such as sportives, as well as your day to day cycling, with a good dose of style thrown in.
The Specialized Allez was runner up in Cycling Plus' 2006 budget race bikes of the year awards.
Specialized have used their highest grade 'A1' alloy for the Allez, the same tubing as you'll find on the more expensive Allez options, with butted top- and down-tubes. They have taken the opposite approach to Trek to achieve an upright riding position by using a taller than average head-tube that is neater by virtue of the absence of headset spacers, though of course it can't be lowered for time trialling. At just 1,430g in the 56cm size this is one of the lightest frames available on a complete bike costing under £1,000, and on that basis makes it worth strong consideration for those who are contemplating upgrading their bike's components as funds allow. The seatpost was a very snug fit in the frame, so it seems there were no issues with quality control.
The triple chainset which is standard issue on competitor bikes remains a £30 extra option on the £529 Allez. Specialized have mirrored arch-rival Trek in the use of a carbon seatpost and the Specialized Comp 143 saddle provides a great level of support for the rider's sit-bones. An eight-speed Shimano cassette means the transition to a smaller gear is a noticeably bigger step than with a 10-speed system, but our testers felt that it hardly affected their ability to maintain a constant pedalling cadence on undulating roads.
The Specialized's new and improved anatomic handlebars have tight, square bends that provide a flat surface for the wrists when riding on the hoods, and the testers felt that the shallow drops were kinder to their back muscles for long spells in the saddle.
Specialized have changed the spec of their wheels from the 2006 model, and there is a small weight saving of 120g for a pair of wheels shod with the same Specialized Mondo tyres. The spoke count has been reduced from the 28/32 combination on the 2006 model to a lighter 24 front and 28 configuration on the current model. They are of the butted straight-pull type, avoiding the need to form an elbow at the end of the spoke. The straight-pull cartridge bearing hubs look well made, and the rims remained perfectly true for the duration of the test. The Specialized Mondo tyres are slick, and though their triangular profile doesn't inspire confidence in the wet, their exemplary levels of grip when cornering on rain soaked surfaces allayed our fears.
The Specialized feels closest to the bikes costing a grand that we have tested, and although the extra 2lb can be felt on the climbs, the Allez is a very good descender and responds well to powerful bursts on the flat. The Shimano Sora chainset is heavy and would be one of the first upgrades, but the ramped profile chainrings ensure a virtually seamless transition to a larger chainring when shifting under pressure. The tight and compact bend of the handlebars positions your hands further away from the control levers than some. Smaller hands will struggle to reach the Sora thumb-lever when resting on the drops, but you can turn the screw adjuster inwards to bring the lever blades closer to the handlebars.
Compared to the previous model year, the Specialized has seen a raft of improvements which include a carbon seatpost in place of an aluminium one, together with a higher spec and marginally lighter wheels. The Allez is a compelling purchase purely in terms of performance and feels like it should cost a grand. If you are racing, the upgrade path on the Allez makes it a very attractive proposition.