Aluminium remains a great material for making bicycle frames. At the entry-level of the road bike market, aluminium frames are almost ubiquitous. That’s because, generally speaking, aluminium frames combine a desirable stiffness level with low overall weight and relatively cheap production costs.
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Bikes such as the Triban RC120 and Vitus Razor Claris prove that a quality road bike can still be had for under £500. Spend a little more and you’ll realise mid-range bikes and the prevalence of aluminium thins out in favour of cheaper carbon fibre bikes, but it’s often the aluminium bikes at this price point that still offer considerably better value and sometimes a better ride too.
Fans of the pro peloton may have seen alloy come and go as the material of choice for the world’s fastest racers, but that does not mean alloy frames have plateaued in terms of development.
Spend well into four figures and you’ll get access to the likes of Cannondale’s CAAD13 – a showcase for the latest aluminium frame tech that can fight it out with all but the absolute best carbon-fibre road bikes.
In order to be included in this list, a bike must have scored at least 4 out of 5 stars in our testing.
The best aluminium road bikes, in order of score
- Triban RC120: £399.99 / €450
- Cannondale CAAD13 Force eTap AXS £4,800 / $5,750
- Canyon Endurace AL 7.0 Disc: £1,599
- Canyon Endurace AL 7.0: £1,199
- Giant Contend SL1: £1,149
- Rose Pro SL Disc 105: €1,599
- Specialized Allez: £725 / $900 / €86
- Specialized Allez Elite: £1,199 / $1,400 / €1,399
- Triban RC120 Disc: £429.99 / €500
- Triban RC520 Disc: £799.99 / €850
- Boardman SLR 8.6: £500
- Kinesis 4S Disc: £1,850
- Kinesis R1: £1,500
- Specialized Allez Sprint Comp Disc: £1,999 / $2,200 / €2,499
- Triban RC 500 Disc: £599.99
- Vitus Razor Claris: £549.99
- £399.99 / €450 (£349.99 as tested)
- Our favourite entry-level road bike
- Capable as a fast commuter
This is the cheapest bike in this list and yet it is one that is fully deserving of its five-star rating. The RC120 should be the go-to bike for roadies with a modest budget thanks to its superbly considered kit and impressive ride.
Whether you’re looking for a companion on long days out or an urban commuter that can accept rack and mudguards, the RC120 will do it without difficulty.
Cannondale CAAD13 Force eTap AXS
- £4,800 / $5,750
- Stunning handling
- The pinnacle of metal frames
If you want to experience the pinnacle of performance when it comes to aluminium frames then look no further than the CAAD13. With its stunning handling and smooth ride quality, this bike can match the performance of the best carbon machines.
Only the luckiest of riders will find themselves on this spendy eTap AXS model we tested at the end of last year, but the CAAD13 frame is available for considerably less with builds starting with Shimano’s 105 groupset.
Canyon Endurace AL Disc
- £1,599 current 7.0 model with Shimano 105 (£1,649 as tested)
- Great specification
- Powerful, all-weather braking
If you’re after an endurance road bike then the chances are you will already be aware of Canyon’s superb Endurace range, and this particular alloy model with disc brakes hits a real sweet-spot in terms of value.
The complete Shimano disc groupset, tubeless-ready wheels and sorted own-brand finishing kit make for an enviable spec sheet, but it’s the composed comfort and ride characteristic of this bike that truly shine.
The 8.0 model with Ultegra we tested has been discontinued, but the £1,599 AL 7.0 model with 105 is very nearly as good and costs slightly less.
Canyon Endurace AL 7.0
- £1,199 (£999 as tested)
- Class-leading spec sheet
- Efficient yet comfortable frame
The second Endurace in this list is once again here thanks to its outstanding value and ride quality. It’s light at 8.4kg for a size medium and has the most impressive spec sheet in its class, although recent price increases mean it’s not quite the bargain it used to be.
Component highlights include Shimano’s superb R7000 105 groupset and Fulcrum wheels (a change from last year’s Mavics) with quality Continental tyres.
We had to dig pretty deep in order to criticise this model, but not everyone will appreciate its understated looks.
Giant Contend SL 1
- £1,149 (£1,000 as tested)
- Great quality frameset that’s comfy and handles well
- Comfy 28mm tubeless-ready tyres
The Giant Contend SL1 impressed us a lot during testing, narrowly missing full marks.
The 2020 model doesn’t have gearing quite as low as the 2019 one did, but it’s still a great choice, offering great handling and all-day comfort.
The front and rear mudguard fittings and rack compatibility make this ideal for commuting too.
Rose Pro SL Disc 105
- €1,599 (no longer available in UK)
- Updated version of one of our favourite all-rounders
- Lovely frameset and great spec for the money
Rose’s affordable alloy all-rounder received an update in 2020, with a move to integrated cabling and tweaks to the frame and fork that include a very tidy new seat clamp.
Although prices have crept up slightly, it remains a top choice, with a really solid Shimano 105 spec and a thoroughly likeable ride quality.
Unfortunately, Rose has withdrawn from the UK market for the moment, but the bike is available elsewhere in the world (you lucky people!).
- £725 / $900 / €869 (£630 / $840 /€799 as tested)
- Surprisingly good looks
- Rack and mudguard mounts
The longstanding Allez remains a perfect introduction to road bikes thanks to top performance, sharp looks and keen pricing.
Its recently revised geometry makes it an ideal training and fitness tool and it’s pretty much perfect for sportives and longer rides.
Rear rack mounts and neat mudguard fittings make accessorising the Allez an easy process.
Specialized Allez Elite
- £1,199 / $1,400 / €1,399 (£1,050 / $1,350/ €1,299 as tested)
- An impressive all-rounder
- Practical and versatile
The Allez remains a brilliant choice for riders spending considerably more than the entry-level models ask for, as is the case with this excellent Elite spec bike.
You’ll still get better overall value from direct-sale models, from the likes of Canyon and Rose, but with the Specialized you get the advantage of a physical shop to support you through the purchase.
It looks good, offers fine performance and excellent versatility.
Triban RC120 Disc
- £429.99 / €500 (£400 as tested)
- Great for longer rides
- A little on the hefty side
Just five years ago, it would have been difficult to fathom that a bicycle as well equipped as this Triban would be available for such a modest outlay. The geometry of the alloy frame sides towards endurance making this a great choice for longer rides.
Spec highlights include a carbon fork, tubeless-ready wheels with 28mm tyres and mechanical disc brakes – it really is superb value for money. Don’t be worried about the Microshift gears either, we were pleasantly surprised by these. The compromise comes in the form of weight with a size medium example weighing a portly 11.3kg.
Triban RC520 Disc
- £799.99 / €850 (£750 as tested)
- Exceptionally well equipped
- For those who favour comfort over speed
The RC520 disc astonishes in terms of value with its carbon fork, mostly Shimano 105 drivetrain and TRP’s mechanically-actuated hydraulic disc brakes.
The geometry is noticeably more relaxed than the likes of Specialized’s Allez, meaning this is no racer, but for commuting, training or even touring purposes it’s an excellent choice.
The standard fit 28mm rubber already makes for a plush ride, though there’s room for up to 36mm tyres and the stock rims are also tubeless-ready should you want to open up gravel capabilities.
Boardman SLR 8.6
- £500 (£550 as tested)
- Tubeless-ready wheels
- Plenty of comfort
We recognise Boardman’s SLR 8.6 as one of the best budget road bikes out there due to its lovely all-round ride and general practicality.
A notable spec highlight and something that’s still rare at this price point is the tubeless-ready wheelset. The gearing is taller than some of its competitors though, so you may find yourself out of the saddle sooner on the climbs.
The frame is easily good enough to justify significant component upgrades, making this a bike that can really develop with you. It’s received some subtle updates and a new paintjob for 2021, as well as a slight drop in price.
Kinesis 4S Disc
- A bike for all occasions
- Supremely versatile
The 4S Disc from Kinesis does a great job of being a bike for all occasions, so if you’re willing to snub the n+1 phenomenon then this could be the buy for you. Available in road and gravel build options, the road-going version we tested goes without the flared handlebars and wider tyres of its sibling.
Despite this, the 4S Disc is loads of fun and is incredibly versatile, and we know it can work for year-round commuting, training, touring or bikepacking. If you’re not feeling quite so pink then there’s a more subtle blue colour available.
- Versatile road bike designed for a 1× drivetrain
- SRAM Apex drivetrain and optional mudguards
1× drivetrains haven’t really caught on for the road but their simplicity is appealing for a practical, all-weather bike.
The R1 is designed with 1× in mind and comes specced with SRAM Apex components. Thanks to an 11-42 cassette, the gear range is not lacking.
The R1 is a likeable and engaging ride that’s well suited to putting in winter miles, particularly if you opt for the full mudguards upgrade.
Specialized Allez Sprint Comp Disc
- £1,999 / $2,200 / €2,499 (£1,900 / €2,299 / $2,200 as tested)
- Stiff frame with exemplary response
- Ripe for upgrades
As Specialized’s most advanced alloy chassis, the Allez Comp Disc is known for its efficient power transfer and responsive ride. It really is a treat for the criterium racers and riders out there who want to sacrifice minimal watts. It’s also a stunning looking bike.
Specialized proudly states that this bike is not only the stiffest it has ever made, but it’s also the stiffest alloy bike it’s tested from any manufacturer.
All that stiffness means this is not a great choice for all-day rides though, and the bike’s overall performance is blunted somewhat by the standard-fit and weighty DT Swiss wheelset.
Triban RC500 Disc
- £599.99 (£530 as tested)
- Confident all-weather stopping
- Generously specced
The RC 500 Disc is one of the best sub-£600 disc-brake road bikes that we’ve tested. Naturally, the RC 500 carries a weight penalty over a rim-brake bike at this price, but the Shimano Sora transmission components it uses are still commonplace on bikes costing a lot more.
It provides an engaging, comfortable and reassuring ride that’s ideal for commuting or general road riding.
Vitus Razor Claris
- £549.99 (£500 as tested)
- Comfortable 28mm tyres
- Proven geometry
The Razor Claris from Chain Reaction Cycles’ own brand Vitus is a top-value first road bike or year-round training tool. Simplicity is key at this price point and Vitus didn’t stray from what it knows works well.
The alloy frame of the Razor inherited its dialled geometry from more expensive bikes in the Vitus line-up and the 28mm tyres it’s fitted with mean plenty of comfort.
The frame and carbon fork are ready to accept mudguards but not racks. Like the other bikes at this price, it’s pretty weighty but that’s par for the course.
Common misconceptions that surround aluminium/alloy bikes
Aluminium or alloy?
It can be misleading to call an aluminium alloy bike frame ‘alloy’, after all both steel, titanium and aluminium frame bikes will be made from metals that are alloys. Despite this, calling a bike with an aluminium frame an alloy bike is still considered the norm.
Aluminium bikes being excessively stiff
One common misconception that surrounds aluminium alloy frames is that they provide a ride character that is excessively stiff.
It’s true that some early aluminium frames were brutally stiff but those days of experimentation have long since passed.
In truth, a frame’s stiffness is dictated by far more than just the material it is made from, with sizing, tube shapes and material grade being some of the many other crucial variables.