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. Aimed at sporty female road riders, the Giant SCR3 offers a comfortable, speedy ride for just £450.
The Giant uses 6061 Aluxx alloy tubing with a smoothly ovalised down-tube and tapered stays that make for elegant lines. Teamed with the neatly coordinated carbon fork (with aluminium steerer) and sleek finish, the SCR3 looks much more expensive than it is. At 1,470g, it's not the lightest frame around, but for the sub-£500 price bracket there's little competition that can better it. Sizes are available down to a tiny 39cm with 650c wheels, designed for female riders under 5ft tall, while the three larger sizes have essentially the same frame dimensions as the men's. The SCR3 has a slightly longer head-tube to lift the riding position, and elongated rear stays that stretch out the wheelbase for better stability. The top-tube isn't as short as some other women's comfort road bikes (like the Specialized Ruby), so it suits riders who don't require a particularly small reach. There are rack eyelets at the dropouts and on the stays, although they're awkward to get to.
The component list on the Giant features the new 2007 Tiagra rear mech that offers crisp shifting with little need for adjustment. There's a Sora front mech and STI levers that have a separate thumb button for downshifting - simple to operate, but not accessible from the drops. They're still a good option for women and small-handed riders, because the reach to the brake lever is adjustable with an Allen key via an easily accessible port on the back of the hoods. For a beginner-friendly spread of gears, it's a 24-speed set-up with a 12-26t cassette and FSA standard triple 30/42/52t chainrings. In terms of women-specific componentry, there's a ladies' Selle San Marco saddle, narrow and shallow drop handlebars (widths vary depending on size), and shorter crank lengths (165mm to 170mm). Given that the men's and women's SCR3s use the same frame, on paper it doesn't seem like much separates them, and indeed some women may require a shorter top-tube bike altogether. However, these few changes go a long way to making the bike a good fit for smaller riders. Over time, as the miles rack up, the unbranded hubs, headset, and bottom bracket may need upgrading to more tried and tested components.
The Giant's wheelset is fairly basic and heavy, and with 32 plain stainless steel spokes it's built for strength and utility. The DA22 rims are on the budget side of Alex's dependable range and they have a wear line indicator too. Wide 26mm Kenda Kontender tyres gave some cushion over bad roads, but they're a weighty bit of rubber and not all that puncture resistant. If you begin to catch the road-riding bug and maybe aspire to some racing, upgrading the wheels would make the biggest difference in performance. I swapped these for a lighter set of wheels and took the bike round a 115-mile sportive course with a fast bunch of riders. First off, many commented on the bike's good looks, and they were all the more impressed when I told them how much it cost. The new set of wheels improved acceleration and dropped some weight off the bike too.
If anything, it's the hefty wheels that keep the SCR3 from reaching its full potential; a change to a lighter set would boost acceleration and give it a livelier ride. However, for an entry-level sporty bike where overall speed isn't paramount, the issue of comfort and ease of handling take precedence. The Giant has predictably accurate steering and its compact frame manages to pull off a good balance between stiffness and compliance. With added help from the carbon forks, it's easily a bike to take on longer rides and still feel relaxed at the end. The SCR3 doesn't have a carbon seatpost like the Trek or Specialized, and it's an upgrade that would enhance comfort. Bear in mind that the change from buying the sub-£500 Giant could be put towards that purchase. Braking is good thanks to reach-adjustable levers that provide a confident grasp for smaller hands.
The Giant has a great value mix of components on a lightweight, upgradeable frame that makes for an enjoyable ride. Sure, the wheels need a diet, but they suit the recreational cyclist and hold up under lots of miles. The SCR3 will see you through long rides for the fun of it, to first races and events.