5 of the Best Budget Road Bikes (under $1,000)

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

The above links will take you to eBay, where you can check prices and see some similar bikes.

What's a budget road bike? What can you get for under $1,000?

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


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.

Wheelbase


Wheelbase length = the distances between the rear axle and the front. Longer wheelbases provide stability, while shorter ones offer handling. 

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.

Chainstay Length


Chainstay length = the distance from the bottom bracket horizontally to the rear axle.

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

Stack (59.1cm)
Reach (37.8)
Price

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.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

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.

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.

Pros

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    Allows for good braking thanks to its high quality disc brakes, unlike many other budget bikes
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    great alloy frame that could be considered a steal when compared to the frames of other budget bikes
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    Chainset will do the trick and provide a smooth riding experience that’s very controllable for the user while on city roads

Cons

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    This bike may not always be priced at under $1000
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    The factory wheelset probably can’t handle extended excursions into country roads that get rough
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    Expect to purchase a replacement saddle sooner rather than later (or just to switch it out with something more comfortable)

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.

Expert Opinions

“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

Raleigh Merit 2 Review
Stack (56.2cm)
Reach (37.3)
Price

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.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

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.

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.

Pros

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    Could potentially be the bike for the best value on this list, depending on how much price is a factor for you
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    Great for cycling long distances on smooth terrain right out of the box
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    Chainset is sufficient for city biking so long as maintenance is regular and complete

Cons

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    Not always be priced at a bargain, and may sometimes be overpriced relative to the weak chainset and tires
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    Expect to calibrate the bike carefully before you can realize any of the fatigue saving features which it advertises

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.

Expert Opinions

“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

Cannondale Synapse AL Sora review
Stack (57.6cm)
Reach (37.6)
Price

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.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

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.

Pros

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    Brings a hint of racing aesthetics and form factor to a budget bike
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    Endowed with a better than average groupset for a bike at its price point
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    A relatively forgiving alloy frame that saves a bit on fatigue

Cons

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    Comes with a wheelset which will likely need replacing
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    Chainset will likely need to be replaced if it’s exposed to rough roads or gravel
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    Frame only really works when the saddle is configured and installed correctly

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.

Expert Opinions

“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

Specialized Allez E5 review
Stack (54.8cm)
Reach (38.7cm)
Price

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.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

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.

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.

Pros

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    Excellent wheelset and groupset, meaning that you won’t need to put any extra money into this bike if you decide to purchase it
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    Most comfortable for people with relatively narrow shoulders and torsos due to the width of its handlebars and compact frame
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    Relies on rider skill in posturing, turning, and braking to reduce fatigue, allowing for it to have a lighter weight while maintaining a low price despite high quality core materials

Cons

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    The frame can be prone to denting and can feel a bit heavy
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    Smoothly operating machine on roads, but its sensitive components will suffer on gravel or offroad
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    Fatigue reduction features of the E5 are reliant on rider skill rather than intrinsically built into the bike

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.

Expert Opinions

“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

Giant Defy 3 review
Stack (60.5cm)
Reach (39.0cm)
Price

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.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

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.

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.

Pros

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    Heavy, and will allow for momentum-based cruising down long straightaways
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    Typically comfortable for most riders, especially those who prefer upright riding positions
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    Sturdy sturdily and has no obvious likely point of failure even when taken off-road

Cons

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    May be too heavy for some cyclists to handle safely
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    Not very comfortable for shorter users regardless of the fitting thanks to its high standing height
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    Frequent starting and stopping of city riding mean that the Defy 3’s heavyweight works against it in those conditions

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.

Expert Opinions

“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

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