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(The Gear Loop) - Years ago, there were some absolute stinkers when it came to affordable or entry-level bikes. Incredibly heavy, with cheap approximations of high-end components making a mockery of their original purpose. Cheap front suspension on budget mountain bikes immediately springs to mind. But some road machines were just as bad.

These days, the tables have turned, with manufacturers pumping out perfectly good frames clad in a groupset that would have been premium just a few years prior for very little cash indeed. 

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Combined with supply chain chaos and a massive upsurge in demand for bikes of all kinds forcing buyers on to more premium machines, the result is that the choice of cheaper options has had to increase greatly to keep up with demand, even if some may not be immediately available. 

In short, there’s never been a better time to buy an affordable road bike. If you plan ahead a bit and hunt around for the best combination of components and availability, you’ll find something that will not only last many years, but will also transform the way you rack up the miles.

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Triban RC 120 Disc

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For

  • Good all-rounder
  • Carbon fork

Against

  • Heavier than some 
  • Mish-mash of components

The undeniable fact is that bagging a decent, brand new bike of any kind for under £500 is quite a result, but getting a versatile disc-braked bike for that is well worth paying attention to. 

Not only that, but the rest of the spec is impressive too - a carbon fork and a full alloy frame to boot. The geometry is designed for comfort rather than speed, with a shorter top tube, and in a further nod to practicality there are lugs for mudguards and panniers, making this an ideal bike for pretty much anything, from winter commuting to touring. 

Of course, Triban bikes don’t hold their value as well as the more recognisable brands, and there’s not much here in the way of premium components, but at this price, that’s not to be expected. Overall, a versatile and solid choice for the everday rider, or those just starting out. 

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Vitus Razor Claris 2022

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For

  • Great spec for money
  • Light weight
  • Versatile

Against

  • Brakes not the strongest
  • Basic gearing
  • Rims could be better

Razor by name, razor by nature, the Vitus Razor Claris crams a sharp combination of light weight and decent spec into an overall package that drops in at under £600… pretty impressive. 

Certainly one of the highlights is the 9kg total weight, which is beaten by carbon-framed bikes at three times the price, but will still be light enough to save the legs on longer rides. 

The Shimano Claris R2000 drivetrain isn’t exactly high end, but entirely serviceable, and neat touches like internal cable routing, a carbon bladed fork and Tektro brakes make this a solid package for most purposes, aided by mudguard mounts for winter commuting and training. 

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Boardman SLR 8.6

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For

  • Great looks
  • Comfortable ride
  • Decent selection of components

Against

  • Rims and tyres not the fastest

No list of affordable bikes would be complete without a Boardman, as the brand manages to cherry pick some mighty fine components for the price, meaning there’s an awful lot of bike here for the money. 

A triple-butted aluminium frame and carbon fork kick things off, and as with other bikes here, the design is intended to be a relaxed road stance, with the boffins at Boardman recently tweaking the contact points for improved, all-day comfort. 

Tektro disc brakes offer decent stopping power in all conditions, and a compact 50-34 tooth chainset and 11-32 tooth cassette give an easy bottom gear for climbing. 

If that wasn’t enough, the deep drop Tektro brakes allow clearance for up to 28mm tyres, meaning a bit of gravel riding isn’t off the table, while mudguard and pannier rack mounts crank up the versatility.

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Specialized Allez

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For

  • Clean lines
  • Retains value
  • Light bike

Against

  • Relatively aggressive ride position
  • You'll pay for the brand name

One of the best-selling and most popular starter bikes of all time, the Specialized Allez might be described as an 'entry level' ride, but that’s only when you compare it to the bleeding-edge of Specialized's product portfolio. 

There’s little compromise here, a rock-solid secondhand market offers easy cash when you want to upgrade, and plenty of options to chisel the pennies by picking up older models - even a brand new 2022 model will set you back a mere £949 (well, mere if you consider the package offered). 

For that, you get a high-end and good looking aluminium frame (450g lighter for 2022) with internal cable routing and a threaded Bottom Bracket (for easy replacement). There’s more - a full carbon fork, Tektro brakes and Shimano Claris Levers, cranks and front/rear mechs. 

It’s a thoroughly decent set-up that’ll see you right for anything from commuting to beginner club racing, and everything in between. 

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Giant Contend 1

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For

  • Shimano Sora throughout
  • Carbon fork
  • Solid pedigree

Against

  • Giant's wheels aren't great
  • Geometry doesn't suit all tastes 

Giant might be the biggest bike maker in the world, but it’s no accident this came to pass, especially when you look at bikes like the Contend 1 and 2. 

For under a grand, you get some serious tools for the job, as well as clean lines and head-turning looks. The difference between the 1 and the 2 versions is  circa £150, Shimano Sora on the Contend 1 vs Shimano Claris on the 2, and a paint job. Although we love the Gloss Rosewood of the 1.

The pricier Contend 1 sports a full carbon fork, the Giant S-R3 wheel set and Shimano Sora throughout, with a 34/50 crankset. The cheaper 2 offers the same ratios but in FSA Tempo - a well-respected and keenly priced alternative. 

Overall, there’s an awful lot of bike here for not much cash, a fact that you’ll realise if you come to upgrade after a few years - it’s a steep spending curve to improve on this setup…

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Things to look out for when buying an affordable road bike

In the frame

One of the most important things to watch for in bikes is the frame material, something you can’t change down the track, unlike groupsets and other components. 

Most lower-cost bikes tend to be aluminium-framed, which is light and strong, but stiffness does vary with design, and integrated cables are a nice design touch when available. 

Also keep a sharp eye on "carbon" forks, which range from the full-carbon jobs to hybrid designs, which are cheaper and arguably less effective at soaking up road noise. 

Weight loss

Overall bike weight is certainly something to consider, and those extra grams can be tricky to get rid of later. 

Higher weight is also often a clear indicator of cheaper components, which tend to be heavier. That said, wheels, saddles and seatposts are relatively easy to swap out for lighter/more comfortable options later, so don’t obsess too much about these when considering a new bike. 

However, do keep an eye on tyre clearances, as some models are quite snug, and you’ll ideally want to swap the skinny race rubber for fatter, comfier, less-puncturable tyres when commuting or taking on winter training rides. 

Fit for purpose

Do be realistic about your usage, too. Super aggressive time trial gear ratios will be a nightmare on long, hilly tours or randonnées, and equally, trying to break course records with relaxed touring ratios will prove an impossible task. 

This also transfers to the overall geometry of the frame (the layout of the various tubes). Some bikes are, by their very nature, a lot more aggressive, which will certainly assist in increasing overall speed, but can be a killer on the lower back, shoulders and wrists in the long run.

A lot of these entry-level machines have been designed with comfort in mind, but they are not all made equal. It pays to take one for a spin if you can, or make the most of a returns policy when buying online. 

Writing by Mark Mayne. Editing by Leon Poultney.