You don’t have to spend a fortune to get your hands on a great bike. The best road bikes under £1,000 are a great place to start if you’re new to cycling or if you're unsure how much riding you’re actually going to be doing.
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There are a few things to bear in mind before you splash your cash on one, however. And perhaps the most important is that they’re not dyed-in-the-wool race bikes.
Although they look like race bikes and are perfectly capable of being raced on, they lack the more extreme touches of the machines that are uncompromisingly geared towards competition. Instead, a sub-£1K bike is intended as a beginner’s tool, a bike to introduce new riders to road cycling.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, for a start the bikes’ frames will have more relaxed geometry — they’ll have a shorter reach so you won’t be stretched so far forwards, and thanks to a longer head tube and more elevated bars, a higher front-end so you won’t be so low. In other words, you’ll be sitting in a more upright position than you would on a dedicated race bike, which is good for comfort but is helpful for getting new riders used to controlling a twitchy road bike and build their confidence.
The bikes also won’t be as stiff, won’t be as light and, typically, won’t feature as much carbon fibre as a full-on race bike. All of which are compromises made with the construction and material in order to bring the bike in at a price below £1,000. For the most part, bikes in this price range will be made of metal, usually an aluminium alloy.
Think of a sub-£1K bike as a jack of all trades but master of none. They can accomplish almost all tasks, but don’t excel in any specific area. As long as you’re riding on the tarmac, they’ll do whatever you need them to, whether it’s adding a bit of pace to your commute, dipping your toe into the waters of racing, taking on a sportive, touring or simply riding for fun at the weekends.
Read on for summaries and links to all of our highest rated road bikes under £1,000.
Eastway Emitter R4
• Price: £950
- Great value in a cycle-to-work-scheme-friendly package
- Full carbon frame and fork
- Rapid and responsive ride
The R4 is based around a carbon frame weighing just a kilo and a matched carbon fork, both of which are impressive to see at this price. Add in Shimano’s all-new 10-speed Tiagra groupset, Shimano wheels, Ritchey components, Continental tyres and a Fizik Aliante saddle and the whole package appears very appealing indeed.
It’s responsive when climbing and Continental’s supple tyres provide plenty of traction on descents, though we’d have preferred an 11-tooth sprocket to fully exploit the Emitter’s propensity for pace. Going downhill at speed, the R4 feels planted and free of the nervousness that can come into play when bikes are this quick to respond.
Tiagra delivers slick shifting and excellent brakes, the quality pads work well in the wet and dry and have plenty of responsive feel at the levers. This allows you to feed in braking power, without having to resort to heavy-handedly grabbing of the levers, for maximum stopping power.
The Ritchey bar’s compact drop is a great shape, but its top is fairly narrow and it’s wrapped in a foam-based gel tape that does little to deliver a more comfortable ride. A thicker gel tape would help, as would not winding the present tape quite as tightly. But at this price that’s really just nitpicking.
Specialized Allez E5 Sport
• Price: £750
- Wide rims and tyres make for a smooth and swift ride
- Plenty of bite and feel from budget brakes
- Shimano Sora nine-speed gearing
The E5 Sport offers an unexpected balance of comfort, control and speed. Despite weighing 9.41kg (20.75lb) it rides like a far more expensive bike.
The bike’s wheels are shod with Specialized’s own Espoir Sport tyres, which are marked 25c, but thanks to the 24.5mm-wide rims they balloon out to an impressive 28mm width. This makes the ride quality exceptional, enabling the bike to smoothly roll over poorly finished roads and remain glued to the ground.
The E5 Sport features Shimano’s Sora nine-speed gearing, and the shifting is as smooth as expected, although the shifters’ hoods are larger than those on Shimano’s more expensive options.
The Axis brakes perform far better than others at this price. While they’re likely from the Tektro brake factory, these offer a few premium features that create a snappier lever feel and more immediate braking power at the wheel.
The universally great handling is matched by a clever selection of components to create a terrific bike that will serve most everyday cyclists very nicely.
Pinnacle Dolomite 5
• Price: £1,000
- Shimano BR-R758 hydraulic disc brakes
- T6-6061 aluminium frame
- Clearance for 28mm tyres and mudguard/rack mounts
The frame is a 6061-alloy affair with minimally disguised welds, partial internal cabling, a tapered head tube, clearance for 28mm tyres and a full complement of mounts for racks and mudguards — making this a prime pick for year-round riding.
We don’t expect premium levels of refinement or race-bike stiffness at this price, but the Dolomite 5 is a solid all-rounder that won’t beat you senseless over potholes or sap your enthusiasm on the climbs. The subtly curved seatstays and skinny post do a fair job of cushioning your rear, although the saddle is a little too soft for us.
Pinnacle had to make a few compromises on the spec to get hydraulics in the mix, but the weight is still reasonable (9.2kg for the small), and none of the changes for the 2016 version undermine the likeable personality that the previous year’s version had. It’s not particularly sexy, but it’s a thoroughly capable bike that’s well suited to putting in the miles, whatever the weather.
Saracen Hack 2
• Price: £950
- Rugged, road-based all-rounder
- Mudguard and rear rack mounts
- Agile and involving handling
Saracen has taken a no-nonsense approach to the Hack 2. The alloy frame’s main tubes are subtly shaped and tapered, while keyhole-kink chainstays and relatively stout and straight seatstays provide plenty of room for big rubber.
You get front and rear mudguard mounts, and rack mounts on the back, but if you’re after a low-rider mount on the carbon fork, you’re out of luck. The wheel skewers have 5mm Allen key heads, rather than quick-release cams, for added protection against opportunistic wheel thieves.
Shimano Tiagra transmission is good value at this level, but the Tektro Mira brakes are underpowered and vague for cable disc brakes.
While the Hack is obviously designed for road, we were surprised at how well it gripped, even when charging across sodden grass and mud on shortcuts between proper gravel tracks.
Its greatest strength, though, is the way it connects you with your terrain. Handling is agile and involving, and the combination of a bar with 70mm reach and 120mm drop gives you plenty of hand positions to choose from.
Giant Defy 3
• Price: £649
- Confidence-inspiring position for beginners
- Comfortable ride quality
- Versatile enough for weekend riding and week-day commuting
The Defy 3 makes no claims to being the fastest, lightest or stiffest bike. Instead, its design focuses on ride comfort, control and being a bike to suit the ‘everyday’ road cyclist.
In its stock setup, the handlebar height keeps you reasonably upright and comfortable, without being so high to cause nervous wobbles or loss of pedalling efficiency. It’s a position that should make newer riders feel right at home and in control.
The Defy 3 does everything it should, calmly and competently, but it can be a little boring to ride. The Giant can dull the road a little too much. This dull feeling is perhaps most apparent during sprints: where other comparable bikes feel lively and spring forward, the Giant takes a pause before relaying your power to the road.
For those seeking a bike to ride to work during the week, and explore on weekends, the Defy 3 is up for the challenge. Mounts for mudguards and racks have been added to the rear of the bike with eyelets for fenders at the front too.
The Defy 3 comes with a Shimano Sora nine-speed transmission that includes a 50/34t chainset and 11-32t cassette, which offer great shifting performance along with low gears for climbing the hardest ascents. But on the descent you run in to another flaw — the Tektro brakes. These basic callipers will bring you to a stop, but not as quickly as more expensive units from Shimano.
Cannondale CAAD8 Sora 7
• Price: £700
- Quality aluminium frame
- Stiff, racey-feeling ride quality
- Impressive shifting from the Shimano Sora drivetrain
This is a budget bike with a ride quality that’s close to that of a premium racer. The Cannondale reacts with spirit when you push hard on the pedals. Little energy is wasted as your efforts are quickly turned into speed. Tip the bike into a corner and the CAAD8 holds its line with confidence, eager to be pushed harder and faster into the next. Its handling is fast, but it’s not a nervous-feeling ride.
However, hit a bumpy stretch of road and you’ll know about it. The CAAD8’s ride quality is on the stiffer side, but the positioning on the bike remains comfortable. Despite its racer approach, the riding position is rather conservative — a little taller and more upright than its siblings that are bred more for competition.
The shifting performance of the Shimano Sora nine-speed drivetrain is surprisingly precise, although the FSA crankset isn’t as stiff as the Sora model, so some chain rub on the front derailleur can be heard in the hardest of sprints.
If going fast is the CAAD8’s strong suit, slowing down certainly is not. The basic Tektro brake callipers aren’t very good and should be upgraded at the earliest opportunity. The wheels aren’t anything fancy either, prioritising durability over being lightweight.
Despite the component issues, this model proves that the frame really is the heart and soul of a good bicycle. The CAAD8 is a brilliant choice for the rider seeking a little more sport and spirit in their ride. Yes, there are more comfortable and better value bikes available, yet few of those offer as much fun on the descents as this does.
• Price: £300
- Well constructed aluminium frame
- Comfortable ride position
- A £300 bike with a carbon fork
The Rivelin comes from mega-retailer GO Outdoors’ house-brand Calibre. The drivetrain is Shimano’s Claris eight-speed and functionally it’s sound, with reliable easy shifts and a good range of gears with a cassette that goes up to a 28t sprocket.
The ride position is taller at the front and with a shorter reach than racier models, and despite the bike’s considerable heft (10.9kg for the 55cm frame), solidity and stiffness, it’s surprisingly comfortable. Some of that is down to the frame. The 6061 aluminium construction is pretty much what you’d expect of a budget machine, though the neatly shaped hydroforming of the tubing is something that you normally wouldn’t find on a £300 bike.
What does surprise though is the carbon fork (almost never seen on a £300 bike) and some good tyres for the money. Schwalbe Luganos won’t win any prizes for speed, but they roll smoothly, feel supple and have proven toughness for commuting too.
All in all the Rivelin is a good solid bike at a seriously great price. We’d suggest it’d be a good winter trainer or a cost-effective commuter — and not just because the frame includes mounts for mudguards and a rear rack, but because it’s a genuinely decent place to spend some time riding.
B'Twin Triban 540
• Price: £600
- 10-speed Shimano 105 groupset
- Mavic Aksium wheels
- Butted 6061-aluminium frame
If you saw this bike’s frankly ridiculous spec sheet there’s no way that you’d peg it at 600 quid. It has a 10-speed Shimano 105 groupset, impressively lightweight Mavic Aksium wheels and Hutchinson tyres, and that’s before you consider the new 6061 aluminium frame and carbon fork.
The drivetrain delivers consistent shifting and a positive lever action. The ProWheel crankset had us worried, but performed impeccably. The crank arms are stiff and the deep teeth hold the chain superbly; upshifts are a little slower than with Shimano, but it’s consistently secure and snag free.
Braking on budget road bikes is often disappointing, but not here. The callipers on the Triban 540 come with proper cartridge pads and offer plenty of feel.
Although the ride is lively the comfort doesn’t quite match. The ride position is well suited to long-distance riding and the Ergofit saddle proved a hit. But the front end transmits lots of vibration through to your hands.
A change of tyres may help, while the Hutchinson Equinox 2s are nominally 25mm they’re on the slim side. The frame will happily take much bigger tyres and would benefit from softer rubber.