A road bike doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. There’s never better a time to find a top rated beginner road bike that won’t break your wallet.
These “modern road bikes” are built with technology that would have been considered high-end just a few years ago. The internet has also made it easier to uncover hidden gems for less money than you might think.
This doesn’t mean that all beginner road bikes are created equal though. As any experienced rider will tell you, the wrong bike can take all the joy out of road biking.
To make things easy, we’ve hand-picked the top three entry level road bikes. All three bikes are perfect for a first time buyer and can be purchased online at prices you can’t find at your local bike shop.
Our Top 3 Picks
1. Schwinn Men’s Phocus 1600 700C Drop Bar
The Schwinn Phocus is a 14 speed, aluminum frame bike that’s an excellent choice for beginners. It’s built with a Shimano rear derailleur and even a carbon fiber road fork for more responsive riding.
A reviewer on Amazon called Don Draper said, “It may not be the fastest, sexiest, or most expensive road bike, but you get a lot of bang for your buck. You could easily spend 2-3 times as much for a model with similar features at an independent shop.”
As the review mentions, it isn’t going to win any awards for being the fastest or best looking road bike. It does, however, provide excellent value for money and is comfortable to ride.
2. Vilano Aluminum 21 Speed
The Vilano Aluminum 21 Speed is so popular it comes in our top picks for multiple road bike categories.
In short, the Vilano 21 Speed has the highest quality parts for a bike priced under $300.
A few Amazon reviewers joke that people might overlook this bike because of it’s low price. Yes, the bike is priced near $300, but don’t let that fool you. If you go with this bike you’re getting a solid product.
3. Vilano Shadow Road Bike
The Vilano Shadow is an attractive model that’s available in both black and white. It is built with Shimano STi brake levers/shifters and an aluminum frame. It’s an excellent option for both exercise and commuting.
The Shadow has received strong reviews from buyers on Amazon. Paulus Maximus says “Assembly was easy, very easy… must say overall this bike is gorgeous. For those debating pulling the trigger on this one, don’t.”
As with most bicycles bought online, the Vilano Shadow needs to be assembled. Most reviewers say that assembly is straightforward and fast, however, and building a bike is also an excellent way to become more familiar with individual components.
Low-quality bikes, for example, often come with poor quality wheels that are heavy and unresponsive. These usually need multiple upgrades, which can make them more expensive in the long run.
As you might have guessed, there are a ton of factors to sort through (and it’s more challenging if you’re a beginner).
Best Beginner Tips
Buying Guide For Beginners
If you’re new to biking, the complex terminology and seemingly endless array of components can make buying a bike confusing. It’s important to research gears, brakes, frames and other components before you buy, and this can sometimes be a problem for beginners.
The correct fitting is also essential – if it doesn’t fit you, it could potentially cause injury, and certainly won’t be comfortable to ride.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with simply going to a cycling shop, trying out a few models and buying one that feels fun to ride. They are expensive though, so it’s a good idea to understand the basics of why certain bikes feel or ride differently. Here are the most important factors.
Setting a Budget
The modular nature of road bikes results in a huge variation in prices. Entry level products tend to start at around $250. You need to know how much you have available to spend before you start searching, otherwise it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
It’s usually a good idea to buy the best one you can afford, although you may want to budget a small amount to have it professionally adjusted. High-quality bikes last longer and are often more fun to ride. The more enjoyable your bike is to ride, the more likely you are to use it.
Sportive or Racing
There are two main categories of road bikes. Sportive, which has a more comfortable riding position, and racing, which is the type you see professionals use.
The best type for you is a personal decision. For beginners, we recommend sportive. These are more comfortable to ride without sacrificing a lot of speed. Sportive will let you ride in a less hunched position, which also makes them the best option for anyone with joint pain.
A possible exception is if you want to enter races. While there is no reason you can’t use a sportive bike in a race – and many people do – most racing enthusiasts use a racing-style bike.
Choosing the Best Wheels
The wheels are a bike’s only contact with the road. They have the biggest impact on feel, responsiveness and speed, so are one of the most important considerations when choosing a new one.
Wheels are also expensive. While other components can easily be replaced, buying new wheels can significantly increase the cost of your bike. It is best to make sure the bicycle you buy already has high-quality wheels.
Some factors to consider when choosing wheels include:
Weight. Light wheels are faster and provide a more responsive experience.
Type of wheel. Shallow section wheels are often a good choice for beginners, as they are comfortable to ride and suitable for different types of riding. Mid or deep section wheels are faster but less suitable for everyday riding.
Along with wheels, the frame is probably the most important component of your new bike. There are several different types of frame material available, each with different characteristics (and price ranges). These are:
Aluminum. Most beginner bicycles are built with aluminum frames. This is because the material is strong and relatively cheap. Aluminum frames are an excellent option for beginners, especially if you can find a frame with “butted” tubes. This means that the tube wall thickness varies to reduce its weight.
Steel. Bikes with steel frames are often more expensive but are also more comfortable to ride. Steel isn’t as light as aluminum but is still a popular material.
Carbon Fiber. This is probably the most sought after frame material, as it is lightweight, strong and also comfortable to ride. It’s important to research the quality of carbon fiber used in a frame though – not all carbon fiber frames are the same quality.
Titanium. Frames made from titanium are nearly always expensive. The material is difficult to manufacture with, compared with other options, which drives up the price. This is a shame, as titanium frames are strong, lightweight and provide a comfortable ride.
Keep in mind that buying a beginner’s road bike on a budget is a balancing act. If you choose a higher quality and more expensive frame, other components will be lower quality.
Making sure that your bike fits is much more important than finding a bargain. While the best way to ensure it fits is to have it professionally fitted, there are a number of sizing guides online that are accurate enough for beginner bikes. Most can be bought in several different sizes.
Additional Note: The appearance isn’t a primary factor when choosing, but is still important. Road biking should be fun, so make sure you choose one you enjoy riding!
Manufacturers of different components, such as Shimano and SRAM, create “groups” of parts. Each manufacturer also offers multiple product ranges, starting with cheap entry-level parts up to professional racing grade components.
While some beginner bikes use full groups of components from major manufacturers, most use a combination of branded and cheaper parts. This helps to keep the cost lower.
Other important components of your bike include:
Chainset. Most beginners prefer chainsets with a low ratio. These aren’t as fast as racing chainsets, but make it easier to ride up hills.
Derailleur. This is the part that shifts gears. The derailleur has a big effect on how it feels to ride.
Crankset. This is the part that rotates the rear wheel. Triple cranksets have three chain rings, while double and compact cranksets have two. Triple or compact are usually the best options for beginners.
More Buying Guides
Beginner road bikes are a great way to get started with an exciting new hobby. While there are many considerations when choosing the best entry level road bike, most new riders should focus on the size, wheelset, and frame. These have the biggest effect on the comfort and performance, and also make up the bulk of the price.
If you aren’t sure which one to buy, the Schwinn Phocus 1600 700C Drop Bar is certainly an option to consider. The combination of Shimano shifters, aluminum frame, carbon fiber fork and lifetime warranty – all for a reasonable price – makes it hard to beat.