Buying an entry-level road bike can be a confusing – overwhelming, even – experience. There are near-unlimited brands to choose from, with various component levels and subtle differences between frames. Then there’s the question of buying through a local bike store vs online.
The advantage of a direct-buy bike is simple – its price. This is made clear if you compare the bikes reviewed below with those recently reviewed in our ‘Best road bikes under $1400’ test.
This brought us to the direct-buy group-test you’re now reading. We wanted to know if a factory-direct, online bought bike could compete, quality-wise, with store-bought global brands. To find this, we tested three of the biggest direct-buy brands in Australia – Cell, Polygon and Reid – taking into account the packaging, assembly, ride and components.
While all the bikes tested can be bought from the brand’s own retailers, the limited locations of these mean that many customers will opt for the low-cost, or in some cases free, shipping option. With this, it’s obviously of critical importance that your new bike arrives safe, and ready for riding (after some minor assembly of course).
All three bikes arrived in boxes, ready for minor assembly:Colin Levitch / Future Publishing
Each bike arrived boxed and ready for assembly
Below we summarise the key aspects of each bike and detail the packaging and build quality. Be sure to read the full review for each relevant bike – the Reid Falco Elite, Cell Lapa 2.0 and Polygon Helios A5.0 – as we go into far greater detail in terms of the ride and component quality, and check out the image gallery for further in-depth information.
Building these bikes is a matter of installing the seatpost (which comes pre-greased), attaching the handlebar to the stem and knowing how to use a quick-release lever to install the front wheel. The Polygon and Cell don’t include pedals, but all cranks are pre-greased and ready for them.
In the end, the Cell Lapa’s balanced handling and smooth ride quality took it to the top step of the podium. The Polygon A5.0 finished a close second, offering the lowest weight and a similar ride quality, albeit at a far higher price and with a couple component quirks. The Reid Falco Elite came in third. It’s still an impressive machine for the price, but its relative lack of refinement and fit stopped it from finishing higher.
Cell Lapa 2.0
The cell lapa 2.0 is an impressive ride – smooth, controlled and super value, just watch the build quality:Colin Levitch / Future Publishing
The Lapa 2.0 arrived well packaged, with all painted surfaces covered by protective packaging.
The assembly quality stopped the Cell from receiving a perfect score. The front brake arrived out of alignment and rubbed on the front rim, the gears skipped owing to improper adjustment and a bent rear mech hanger, and both the stem and crankset were slightly under-torqued.
We checked all the bolts with a torque wrench – most (but not all) were within tolerance, the polygon was the only one truly spot on :Colin Levitch / Future Publishing
We checked every bolt with a torque wrench – some of the Cell’s bolts were erring on the side of loose
All these issues may not be immediately recognisable to a newer rider, but each of them can greatly effect the end experience of the bike.
The polygon helios a5.0 came in a close second. it shares a similar confidence to the cell, is lightweight, built to perfection and great value – but we didn’t love the gearing choice:Colin Levitch / Future Publishing
Weight: 8.68kg (w/o pedals)
Highs: Quality frame and fork, low weight and great ride
Lows: Unusual choice of gearing and aggressive handlebars
Polygon’s exclusive Australian seller – Bicyclesonline.com.au – is a classy operation. The bikes are shipped complete from the Polygon factory to a Sydney-based warehouse, where the bikes are then unboxed and rechecked by a local mechanic. Additionally, a pre-set torque wrench is thrown into the box to ensure you’ll have all the tools to complete the assembly at home.
While the polygon includes one, a #30-$40 pre-set torque wrench is highly recommended when working with lighter weight bicycles :Colin Levitch / Future Publishing
A pre-set torque wrench normally costs between $30 and $40, and helps sooth assembly worries
The packaging quality is decent, but some areas of paint were left open. The build quality was faultless, with the gears and brakes arriving perfectly adjusted and holding that adjustment during testing – certainly quite the achievement.
Reid is proud that its bikes pass SAI Global standards, exceeding the Australian Standards for bicycles. While this guarantees that component quality, frame strength and even reflector type all hit the necessary benchmarks, it doesn’t guarantee the assembly quality of the individual bicycles – and this is a factor that we found was decent, but far from perfect.
The Reid’s packaging quality is similar to that of the Polygon: some paint surfaces left open, but still perfectly safe.
The Reid adds an additional assembly compared with the other two bikes, requiring the stem to be set straight and tightened onto the steerer. We also had to add some pre-load to the headset bearings before doing this.
How bar tape is wrapped is often the signature of a good mechanic – the reid lacks attention to detail :Colin Levitch / Future Publishing
It won’t cause you harm, but messy bar tape is a sign of a rushed assembly job
The overall build quality is lacking finer detail – bartape wrap is often the signature of a good mechanic and, while this could be cheaply remedied, the Reid’s arrived with gaps and messy finishing. Additionally, once unboxed, the rear brake was rubbing on the wheel, the front derailleur cable tapping the crank, and there was a loose front brake pad – keep this carefully in mind if you’re not mechanically minded and are looking to have the bike shipped.