We've tested 22 women's road bikes across various price points, we've clocked up hundreds of cumulative miles, and we've come to some decisions. If you're a rider on a budget and want to know what to spend your hard-earned cash on, then check out these five bikes, which for our money represent the best performance and value available under £1,000. Coming out on top? The Liv Avail 1.
The BikeRadar Women's Road Bike of the Year Awards set out to find the best bikes in the different price categories, and the best overall bike. Each bike was put through its paces by BikeRadar's test team, and also by a panel of our readers.
For the results of our most recent test, check out our best women's road bikes of 2018 guide.
- Presenting the BikeRadar Women's Road Bike of the Year Awards
- Do I need a women's bike?
- A buyer's guide to women's road bikes
You don't need to spend thousands to get a good quality road bike. Our testers all commented that they were surprised and impressed with the performance of many of the bikes in this category.
You'll find quality gearing, well-designed frames, and surprisingly responsive rides in the bikes below, but they aren't without compromise. At this price, many of the bikes are on the heavy side owing to the materials used and the parts they are kitted with, which can make steep climbs difficult if there isn't a wide gear range provided to compensate. Some of the bikes also had lower quality brakes, which affected how confident our testers felt descending.
However, overall we'd happily ride any of these bikes, though the overall winner – the Liv Avail 1 – managed to present the best all-round performance, making it a great budget choice, or a good option if you're looking for your first serious road bike.
All of the bikes in this shortlist feature women's-specific design. While individual companies will have slightly different approaches to developing bike geometry to suit female riders, overall this means that the bikes tend to be slightly shorter and with a more upright position than unisex alternatives.
For the most part, our testers found the bikes comfortable, and appreciated the design elements such as shallower drops and narrower handlebars. However, we want to emphasise that some women will find unisex bikes fit them better, and it's always a good idea to get a bike fit to ensure your bike is set up perfectly.
If you're interested in any of the bikes on this shortlist, it's worth shopping around as a number of them are, at time of publishing, on sale, We've listed the RRP in the article, but you may well find yourself a bargain.
Top 5 women's road bikes under £1,000
Winner: Liv Avail 1
Verdict: An ideal blend of value for money, performance and comfort – overall, simply a great bike for the price
- Price: £899 (the rim-brake Avail is unavailable in the US and Australia, but the disc version is $1,500 / AU$1,799)
- Weight: 9.16kg
- Frame: Alloy
- Fork: Carbon composite
- Gearing: Shimano 105 with FSA Omega crankset
- Brakes: Tektro TK-R540 dual pivot
The Liv Avail 1 stood out in this category for all the right reasons. It's got an excellent spec for the price, it was a pleasure to ride, it performed well, and if you are looking for a great bike within this price range, we strongly recommend you check it out.
Liv is the women's bike range from Giant Bicycles, which has a reputation for making excellent alloy frames, and the Avail certainly fits the mould. The Avail 1 has endurance-oriented geometry, with a focus on comfort over longer distances rather than outright race pace.
Combine this with its women's-specific design elements and you have a bike with a comparatively short reach and upright position. Our testers found the ride comfortable, and didn't find the reach too cramped, even when on the drops.
Comfort was, as you'd hope, a notable factor in the Avail 1's success. It features a carbon composite fork and 'D-Fuse' D-shaped vibration-damping seatpost, which noticeably reduced road buzz. In terms of acceleration and handling, the Avail was responsive enough that when you put the power down it responded quickly, and was stable at speed. It's nimble in the corners, to the point that some of our testers found it a little twitchy.
One interesting element that wasn't seen on any of the other bikes was the addition of cross-top brake levers. While by no means necessary for many riders, we feel they may be appreciated by those transitioning from flat to drop handlebars. While they do add some extra weight to the bike, the Avail still tipped the scales at a respectable 9.16kg, making it the lightest bike in this category. Remove them, and it'll be even more competitive.
Many of our testers also commented positively on the look of the Avail 1. It features more frame graphics than most of the other bikes tested, in shades of blue, white and grey with white bar tape and saddle – though they didn't stay pristine for long. Testers commented that they found the Avail's looks interesting, striking, and not in the stereotypical colours you might expect from a women's bike.
The Avail 1 comes with Shimano's excellent 105 derailleurs, shifters and cassette plus FSA Omega cranks, and Tektro TK-R540 dual pivot brakes; in combination a better-than-average setup for the money. The 11-32t cassette provided a wide enough range of gears to get up most climbs with ease.
Global availability of the Liv Avail range varies. While the Liv Avail 1 is available in the UK, if you want the closest model in the US and Australia you'll need to go for the Avail 1 Disc, or the cheaper Avail 3 or Avail 4. The Avail 1 Disc comes with a similar spec to the Avail 1, but with Tektro Spyre mechanical disc brakes, widely regarded as one of the best non-hydraulic disc setups you can buy.
All in all this is a excellent bike for the money, with the best all-round performance of those we tested. It would be a great choice for women looking for a sportive/fondo bike, those getting into road cycling, and anyone on a budget.
Runner up: Trek Lexa S
Verdict: Strong all-round performance, fun, secure yet agile ride, but let down by the poor performance of the brakes
- £650 / $989.99 / AU$1,199
- Weight: 9.19kg
- Frame: Alloy
- Fork: Carbon/alloy
- Gearing: Shimano Sora / FSA Vero cranks
- Brakes: Generic cantilever rim brakes
The Trek Lexa S was popular with our testers, and it was a close battle for the overall winner between it and the Liv Avail 1, despite a significant price difference. The Lexa S features an alloy frame with carbon/alloy forks and house-brand Bontrager finishing kit, and is again designed with endurance riding in mind, making it a good choice for sportives and long days out.
In terms of ride feel, this bike certainly punches above its price tag. It feels efficient on the climbs, partly due to its relative lightness for the money – at 9.19kg, it was the second-lightest bike in the category. Gearing comes courtesy of a mixture of Shimano's reliably sturdy budget Sora components, with an 11-28t cassette, and an 50/34t FSA Vero crankset. As the bike is relatively light, most testers found this adequate for climbing, though it could be challenging for beginners on long or steep climbs. However, on the flat or on undulating terrain, it was more than enough to fly along when putting the power down.
The Lexa is available in five frame sizes from 47cm to 56cm. The 54cm frame gives a 374mm reach, which is more compact than the Liv.
While it was stable on the downhills, the main factor that lets this bike down are its generic alloy dual pivot brakes, which our testers found didn't provide sufficient braking power to allow for confident descending. Now, this is the cheapest bike in this price bracket, and there are higher models of the Lexa available, so if you want to spend a little more you'll get a bike with better brakes. It also may be less of a problem if you're a confident descender and happy with less stopping power. We felt that, despite its otherwise outstanding performance, we couldn't overlook this negative – while the brakes weren't bad enough to be downright dangerous, they could certainly dent the confidence of riders newer to the sport.
Overall, we feel the Trek Lexa S is a good budget choice and was immensely fun to ride, but the cheaper brakes ultimately let it down.
Scott Contessa Speedster 15
Verdict: Striking looks, racy geometry and aero features – but a compromise on comfort
- £899 / US & Australian prices pending
- Weight: 9.63kg
- Frame: Alloy
- Fork: Carbon/alloy
- Gearing: Shimano 105 with Shimano crankset
- Brakes: Shimano dual pivot
If you're looking for a bike that's focused on speed and racing, then the Scott Contessa Speedster 15 is one to try. Our testers loved how easily the Speedster accelerated and how stable it was at speed, though they felt that it needed a little more in the gearing department to really get the most from it.
Scott terms its women's-specific design 'women optimised'. As with the other bikes in this test, the geometry has been specifically designed to suit the average female rider's body – but in this case in an aggressive, racing position that felt great for putting the power down. The Speedster also cornered well, with a predictable feel, if a little sluggish in tight corners.
The Speedster frame and fork are both designed to decrease wind resistance, with an aerodynamic profile. On the frame, Scott claims the tubing shape gives the Speedster a 20% increase in aerodynamic performance. The fork has an aero profile similar to that of the Foil, Scott's popular aero bike.
However, there's a compromise here in terms of comfort. With a focus on a stiff frame built for acceleration and speed, we found we got a lot of feedback from the road even on relatively smooth surfaces. Most testers also didn't get on with the Syncros SL2.5 Women saddle, though this is of course a very personal choice.
The Speedster is specced with Shimano 105, with an FC-RS500 crankset from the same brand and Shimano dual-pivot brakes. An 11-32t cassette provides a plenty wide enough range for climbing. It's available in a size range from 46cm to 55cm and, we feel it's worth mentioning, really stands out from the crowd, with neon graphics against a stealthy black background.
If speed is your focus, and you're willing to compromise on comfort, the Contessa Speedster 15 well worth checking out.
Specialized Dolce Sport Disc
Verdict: Not fast, not light – but very comfortable and confidence inspiring
- £850 / $1,150 / AU$NA (closest available option is the Dolce Sport at AU$1,199)
- Weight: 10.34kg
- Frame: Alloy
- Forks: FACT Carbon
- Gearing: Shimano Sora
- Brakes: Tektro mechanical disc brakes
As the name suggests, the Specialized Dolce Sport Disc uses disc brakes – in this case Tektro's well-regarded mechanical Spyres. This was the heaviest bike in this group test, but it was also one of the most comfortable to ride, even on the climbs.
The Dolce Sport Disc felt like an agreeable workhorse of a bike in comparison to the others. It's designed with endurance in mind, and while everything performed well, it doesn't accelerate quickly.
Given the weight of this bike – it comes in a 10.34kg – we were concerned that long climbs would be a real strain. We were wrong – in part because of the wide-ranging 11-32t cassette, things were nowhere near as traumatic as we expected. While we didn't exactly fly up, sitting in an easy gear and spinning wasn't an unpleasant experience. Shifting from the budget Sora group was however clunky in comparison with the smoother 105 options on other bikes.
The bike also features robust, plump 28mm Specialized Espoir Sport tyres. The additional cushioning provided by the fatter rubber was immediately noticed by all our testers. It significantly smoothed out uneven road surfaces and, combined with other elements such as the FACT carbon fork, virtually eliminated road buzz. This also meant testers felt more confident at speed on flat sections and when descending, with lumps and bumps neither jarring nor threatening to throw riders off-balance.
Testers also commented on the comfort offered by the Specialized Body Geometry Women's Riva Sport Plus saddle, which they felt was exceptional, particularly at this price point.
If you're a rider for whom carrying luggage is a priority, the Dolce Sport Disc also comes equipped with the relevant lugs to allow full mudguards (fenders) and pannier racks to be fitted, though if you are planning on fitting a rack don't forget to get one that's compatible with disc brakes. As for the brakes, our testers did appreciate the increased stopping power, not least because this bike flew down the descents.
Overall, while heavy, and not the nimblest, this felt the most comfortable bike in our top five for this price point. It would make an excellent choice if you're looking to ride long miles, seeking a well-mannered commuter or perhaps even considering touring. It's a confidence-inspiring companion to while away the hours with.
Pinnacle Dolomite 5 Women's
Verdict: Superior braking power and control at an accessible price, but compromises on comfort
- £1000 / $NA / AU$NA
- Weight: 9.45kg
- Frame: Alloy
- Fork: Carbon/alloy
- Gearing: Shimano 105 with FSA Gossamer crankset
- Brakes: Shimano BR-785 hydraulic discs
The second disc brake road bike in our top five, Pinnacle's Dolomite 5, features hydraulic disc brakes – a significant plus point at this price. Our testers certainly felt the difference between the mechanical and hydraulic brakes, commenting that the latter gave a smoother, more controlled brake feel with greater modulation.
The Dolomite 5 Women is the female-specific version of the unisex Dolomite produced by British retailer Evans Cycles' house-brand Pinnacle. This bike is very much an all-rounder, with the disc brakes a great addition if you're planning on riding it through the winter in wet conditions. This version is available in smaller frame sizes to its unisex sibling, with women's-specific geometry and contact points, such as shorter cranks, narrower bars and a women's-specific saddle.
On paper, it's great value for money – and even more so as it is, at the time of writing, on sale. Shimano 105 gearing, an FSA Gossamer crankset and Shimano BR-785 hydraulic disc brakes are quality parts, as are the Continental Grand Sport Race tyres.
However, our testers found the bike felt unstable and top-heavy when out of the saddle and when descending, and didn't get on with the saddle (again, the latter is very much a matter of personal taste).
Nonetheless, this bike is a good choice if you're looking for a steed that can handle wet winter weather and keep you riding on through, particularly if you're planning on using it to commute. Like the Specialized Dolce Sport, it features the lugs required to fit full mudguards and pannier racks, and there's also enough space to pop in wider 28c tyres.