You need a new bike or perhaps a first bike for regular road riding, but you don’t have thousands of dollars to spare on the top of the line bikes that you see reviewed elsewhere. We know the difficulty of finding a “cheap” road bike for under $1000, so we’ve consulted the experts to come up with a range of offerings for you to pick from—our top pick is the Defy 3.
Our Picks: 5 Great Affordable Road Bikes
- Diamondback Century 1 105 Disc
- Raleigh Merit 2
- Cannondale Synapse AL Sora
- Specialized Allez e5
- Giant Defy 3
What's a budget road bike? What can you get for under $1,000?
The under $1000 price range is unique because of how large of a range of bikes it encompasses. For less than $1000, you can buy yourself a used and dilapidated fixie for $100, or a fresh and newly manufactured bike produced with some of the latest materials.
The features which end up getting compromised under the $1000 price point are typically the frame and the groupset. If you’re unwilling to pay the big bucks for the lightweight alloy frames, expect to purchase a bike with a heavier carbon or aluminum frame that will take a bit more effort to truck around and be cast from a single piece. You may have to compromise on handlebar width, too.
Being cast from a single piece means that you’ll probably lose out on the fatigue saving features that the more expensive bikes contain in their frames, which means that the bikes in the under $1000 range tend to be more tiring to ride and have uncomfortable standover heights and seat tube lengths for shorter riders and taller riders respectively.
There’s another reason that the bikes in this range are more tiring to ride: the groupsets are the other point of compromise to reach the price point.
The groupsets of the bikes for sale under $1000 will not be the highest quality, which means that you’ll suffer from awkward gear shifting, an insufficient range of gears to suit your terrain and lower quality driveshafts that can get damaged more readily than their expensive counterparts. Chainstay length is the stat to pay attention to here.
5 "cheap" road bikes compared
To compare bikes of the same class, we like to see how the geometries stack up against each other and see if we can spot any significant differences, which can help you understand what exactly you're getting for your money. To do this, we compare bikes of the same (or similar) sizes. Here, we're looking at the 54cm versions of every bike except for the Defy 3, which only offers a 53.5cm size.
Stack & Reach
It shouldn't be a surprise that the Giant Defy 3 tops the stack and reach measurements, since it's characteristic of the brand (they're just bigger bikes). The truly interesting outlier is probably the Diamondback Century 1, which has a stack only slightly shorterd than the Defy. This means the Century puts your butt a bit higher up in the air, and you'll be in more of a racing position when you ride.
The Giant Defy 3 is the outlier on this measurement as well, sporting a 102.2cm long wheelbase which will provide riders with a comfortable riding experience relative to those with shorter wheelbases. The Specialized Allez e5 has the shortest wheelbase, which means that it’ll likely be among the most maneuverable of the bunch
The Defy is longest here, which means you might have a slightly easier time getting traction while climbing and have a more comfortable ride. The shorter chainstay of the Allez, while not much shorter than the rest of the pack, provides a bit better power transfer and tackles corners more athletically.
Diamondback Century 1 105 Rreview
Diamondback’s budget offering is unique because it feels like a much more expensive bike thanks to a number of quality of life improvements and features. Disc braking, while still controversial, does add a bit of weight to the bike, but to find disc brakes on a budget bike is remarkable nonetheless.
The Century 1 105 uses a 7005 Series Alloy Enhanced Performance Geometry (EPG) frame.
This alloy frame is something that you’d find on a much more expensive bike because of its lightness and relative ability to flex under pressure, yet here it is on the Diamondback. This frame will be durable, help reduce fatigue, and should shield your body from some of the harder shocks of the asphalt.
This bike uses Shimano FC-RS500 Compact 50/34T cranks in addition to Shimano 105 ST-5800 shifters. It also uses a Shimano 105 CS-5800 Cassette and a KMC X11L 11 speed chain.
These Shimano components are budget options, but they’ll still let you smoothly shift gears and reach the proper differential that you’re looking for. The double crankset will make most operations easier, and the number of sprockets on the cassette is hard to beat on a budget bike. These components may not last very long, but they’ll work perfectly well in the meantime.
The Century 1 uses a Michelin Dynamic Sport 700x28c wheelset.
This wheelset is relatively high quality, and will give you good traction on the road while maintaining the efficiency of your pedaling. You probably won’t need to replace your tires if you purchase the Century 1, and doing so is easy if necessary.
Overall, the frame and components of the Century 1 come together in a strong, versatile package for the price. The Frame isn't stellar, but it's definitely a strong choice in this price range, and the brakes stand out in this class.
While it isn’t always on sale for under $1000, when it is, the Diamondback Century 1 105 is a quality bike in the disguise of a budget bike. You’ll be able to keep this bike in smooth but fast riding condition for years, provided that you give it a little bit of care to ensure its weaker drivetrain stays in action.
“This is a budget bike designed for the long distance rider with a relaxed geometry that makes it really comfortable to ride.”- Ryan, Performance Bicycle
“The Century 1 is a nice looking and nice feeling bike that took me where I wanted to go at the price I wanted to pay without feeling like I got ripped off.” - Carl Canner, Sick Bikers
“Everything runs good, it runs smooth, and everything about it works like you’d expect.” - Utah MTBiker
Raleigh Merit 2 Review
The Raleigh Merit 2 is a good looking yet powerful bike could potentially build (for a small additionally investment) into a workable long-range cycling rig. The price of the Raleigh Merit 2 is also the least expensive bike on this list and can sometimes drop even lower than normal.
The Raleigh Merit 2 uses a AL-6061 double-butted alloy disc frame with Thru-Axles.
This alloy frame leaves the Merit 2 relatively light and with enough flex to protect you from the minor bumps along long journeys on the roads. Sticking to smoother roads is probably advisable with the Merit 2 for reasons which we’ll discuss shortly in our examination of the groupset.
This bike uses compact 34/50t cranks in addition to a Shimano 8spd (11-32t) 11-speed 11-32T cogset and a KMC Z82 chain.
The dual crankshaft is compact, making repair and maintenance more difficult and provides you with many opportunities to have trouble while shifting gears. Likewise, the other Shimano components of the groupset are far from high quality, and will likely need repair.
The exception is the chain, which should last you longer than most of the other components within the drivetrain thanks to how little stress it undergoes throughout the rotation process.
The Merit uses a Clement Strada LGG 60TPI 700x28c wheelset.
This wheelset is relatively solid when it comes to puncture resistance; they sport a belt under their tread that defends the tube inside, which is normally very delicate. The textured center-tread with Clement chevron side-tread pattern offers serviceable grip in both wet and dry conditions, and their lightweight construction make the bike more maneuverable overall.
Even though this bike doesn't cost much money, and the components do represent some compromises, the overall package works fairly well, although it's not as versatile as other options.
The Raleigh Merit 2 is an inexpensive bike that you should expect to serve you well for long-range city riding. You should also expect to put some money into your Merit 2 if you mistreat it, as a number of its core components aren’t meant for abuse. The alloy frame is the bike’s strongest component and should last you a long time.
“It’s easy to pop tires on and off and re-pump them when they get flat, but they’ve never gotten flat on me so that’s a pretty big endorsement from me.”- Ickina
“This bike will be comfortable all day, whether it’s for a quick commute or for an entire day adventure.” -Single Speed Reviews
“The wheels are really nice, they’re textured all the way around and you can really lean all the way over on pavement and feel like you’re not losing a lick of control.” - Paolo Sica
Cannondale Synapse AL Sora review
The Cannondale Synapse AL Sora Bike is a basic commuter and leisure road bike that doesn’t try to be a racing bike while maintaining a low price point. You’ll feel a comfortable ride from the Cannondale Synapse AL Sora Bike in addition to rock-solid construction and a flashy look.
This bike uses a SmartForm C2 alloy frame.
This alloy frame is built to withstand additional shocks that would percolate into the saddle, which adds a bit of weight but also a lot of fatigue reduction which you’ll appreciate if you use the bike for a long commute or a long ride.
The frame itself is durable, offers good controllability via the handlebars, and isn’t so heavy that you’ll struggle or so light that you’ll have trouble picking up speed downhill.
The Synapse AL Sora uses FSA Vero 50/34 cranks in addition to Shimano Sora shifters. It also uses Shimano HG-50 11-32 9-speed cogset and a KMC Z99 9-speed chain.
The Cannondale Synapse AL Sora Bike’s groupset is geared toward the budget and non-racing audience that still wants a road bike that can perform better than average. The crankshaft, cogset, and chain guarantee that you won’t feel any discomfort while shifting gears, freeing you from the anxiety that often accompanies budget bikes’ groupsets.
The weakest part of the Cannondale Synapse AL Sora Bike’s groupset are its Shimano Sora shifters, which are notoriously unreliable. You may need to replace them or repair them with extended use.
This bike uses a Schwalbe Lugano 700x25c wheelset.
We’ve seen this same wheelset used in other bikes discussed in our reviews, and in general, this wheelset is not a winner. The Schwalbe Lugano wheels are going to break easily while not provide you with the bad weather traction that you might want from your wheels, but should be okay for extended city riding and commuting.
One of the trends you may be seeing here is that bikes in this class tend to compromise a bit in the wheelset. It's likely not a huge deal with the money you're saving elsewhere, but it's not going to get you the miles a higher-quality set would.
The Cannondale Synapse AL Sora is a serviceable commuter bike that you could also show off to your friends as a quasi-racing bike. Unfortunately, the bike will likely require repairs to the groupset and a replacement wheelset with rigorous use or if you’d like to transform it into an actual racing bike.
“The taper in the alloy connecting to the saddle is going to save everyone a lot of fatigue, and almost gives this budget bike the feeling of having a bit of a racing heart.”- Alan, Alans Bikes
“Quite possibly, the perfect budget road bike.” - All Terrain Cycles
“It’s got good braking, which saved me from hitting a squirrel at one point and made me think, they, that’s pretty decent.” - Running And Cycling Dad
Specialized Allez E5 review
The Allez E5 is a sexy (if we do say so ourselves) bike that’s specialized for smooth road riding at an affordable price point. The Allez E5 is packed with features that are made for your comfort.
The Allez E5 uses a specialized E5 aluminum frame with smooth welds.
The aluminum frame does a lot to bring down this bike’s price point, making it more affordable as an entry level for beginner bikers. It’s stiffer than steel, which allows for better transfer of power when riding, and the bike’s bearing frame makes the ride much smoother than in other aluminum frames.
The Allez E5 uses a Shimano Claris 50/34T in addition to Shimano Claris 2400 STI shift levers. It also uses a Sunrace 8-speed 11-32t cassette.
The Allez E5 groupset offers a high-quality combination of impressive shifting and reliable braking. While the Shimano Claris is far from top of the line, you will find it provides a workmanlike, entry-level cycling experience, with intuitive dual control shifting and a solid range of gear options to make your ride as flexible as possible.
The Allez E5 uses a Specialized Espoir Sport 700x25mm wheelset.
Unique to the bikes that we’ve discussed so far, this wheelset is overpowered rather than an afterthought given the price range. These wheels will last a long time, provide superior traction, and stay intact when you need them most.
In our opinion this compoinent set up probably gives you the best overall bang for your buck if you're looking to buy a bike under $1,000, and the wheelset is likely the best of the bunch.
The Allez E5 is a great choice for bikers who are already experienced, but there are probably better options for newer bikers. If you plan on using a bike to commute and go for the occasional city ride, the E5 can easily surpass your needs without surpassing your budget.
“You’re not going to round out the tiny components like the bolts and other bits with extended use, which isn’t true of other budget bikes.”- Cycling Weekly
“This bike demands a riding position that impels efficiency while preventing fatigue; we found that it worked quite intuitively and quite well.” - Road.cc
“We’ve finally found performance at an affordable price point.” - Tredz Bikes
Giant Defy 3 review
The Giant Defy 3 is big brute of a bike that provides a comfortable but slow ride at a price point that just barely meets our criteria. Overall, the Defy 3 a good budget bike simply because it’s probably
the most comfortable.
The Giant Defy 3 uses an ALUXX grade aluminum frame.
This means that the Giant Defy 3 uses their own proprietary aluminum construction, making for a sturdier and stronger bike frame than most other aluminum builds.
This bike uses a SRAM PG950 11x32 9-speed cassette in addition to a Shimano Sora 34/50 crankset. It also uses Shimano Sora shifters and a KMC X9 chain.
The Shimano components in the Defy 3 are budget options. They’re could be considered cheaply made, and might require replacing. Expect shifting gears to be a bit clunky, and expect changing your posture from sitting upright to be less useful than with other bikes.
The size and heaviness of the bike’s frame and its intended use case of long-haul road cycling could mean that you could get a lot of mileage—no pun intended—out of the relatively cheap components.
The Defy 3 uses Giant S-R4 700x25 wheelset.
These wheels are built for a tank, and are unlikely to be the point of failure in your Defy 3 bike. Though they are likely a bit inefficient, these wheels aren’t about to puncture or slip.
Like with other Giant bikes, the frame is one of the selling points, and the proprietary manufacturing allows them to offer more quality for less cost. The groupset is geared more toward beginner riders rather than advanced riders looking for budget bikes.
The Giant Defy 3 is a great choice for bikers who want a versatile and durable bike that they can take with them in the city for their commute or off the road during the weekend. You’ll have a hard time breaking this bike, and will appreciate its comfort features during long rides.
“Aside from issues with the bike rack, I was blown away by the bike itself because of the top-notch job that Giant did while making this bike.”- Ryan Cocoapuff
“The saddle is far better than you’d expect, and you get an exceptional value along with a great endurance rate geometry.” - Tredz Bikes
“Stiff and efficient power transfer.” - Alterraincycles