5 Top Entry Level Road Bikes Compared

How’s an entry level cyclist going to know which road bike is the best without digging through thousands of reviews online? Lucky for you, we’ve combed through the best entry level road bikes—overall, it’s the 2017 Cannondale Synapse. Check out the rest of our article to see why we chose that bike as the best for beginners. 

5 of the best entry level road bikes

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

What should you look for in an entry level bike?

5 of the best beginner bikes compared

Let’s compare some of the geometrical nuances of these five bikes to quantify differences in riding experience. To do that, we’re comparing models as close to the same size as we can get. We’ll be using the 54cm versions of the Synapse and Domane, while we’re going to use the medium size for the Haanjo, which is a 53cm bike. The closest size the Talon comes in is 55cm, and for the Giant Defy 5, we’ll be looking at the large size, a 53.5cm bike.

Stack & reach


Most of the bikes here are relatively similar regarding their stack length and also their reach. The Giant Defy 5, of course, is the major outlier here. The stack is quite a bit higher than the rest of the pack, making it best suited for taller riders. It’s worth remembering it’s a big bike overall, and that Giant’s sizing has always seemed a bit wonky to me, so discussing a Giant's geometry in isolation is more difficult. The high stack doesn't necessarily mean an aggressive riding position in a Defy 5, for example.

Interestingly, the Kestrel Talon has both a shorter stack and longer reach than the rest of the bikes, which, as far as fit is concerned, likely balances each other out a bit (instead of the longer reach contributing to a significantly more aggressive riding position). The other three are pretty similar.

Effective Top Tube Length


Effective top tube length = the distance from the saddle to the stem on a horizontal plane. 

The effective top tube length (ETT) entry-level bikes mostly hover around 54cm. The outlier is the Giant Defy, whose top tube reaches almost 57.5 cm, making either a bit better suited for taller riders or a lot more aggressives for normal-sized riders. The Kestrel Talon has a slightly longer ETT as well, although not significantly so, but it could flatten out your riding position a bit.

Chainstay Length


Chainstay length = the measurement between the bottom bracket and the rear axel

The chainstay lengths don’t vary much among these models, with a tight distribution of lengths around 42cm. The Diamondback’s 43cm chainstay might translate into a slightly more comfortable ride at the cost of some marginal cornering ability, but it’s debatable how much difference one centimeter can make.

The shortest of the chainstay lengths belong to the Kestrel Talon and the Cannondale Synapse, each with 41cm. Again, not a super big difference, but you may notice a bit better power transfer with these bikes.

Wheelbase Length


Wheelbase length = the distance between the front and rear axles. 

There’s a bigger spread of wheelbase measurements among these bikes, ranging from the 103cm on the Diamondback’s wheelbase to the tighter 98.9cm of the Talon. Longer wheelbases are going to give your bike a more relaxed ride at the expense of being able to corner quickly and use your bike nimbly. For entry level riders, the stability offered by longer wheelbases may add to overall riding comfort.

Bike Weight


Of the bikes we’re reviewing, there’s a widespread range of weights, from the lighter frames of the Kestrel at 18.5 lbs to the heavier Giant Defy’s 24 lbs, although none of them are especially light.

It’s worth noting that weight is often the biggest difference between bikes of different price ranges, and if you’re shopping around, you’ll probably find plenty of bikes that weigh less than these entry level options. In fact, it’s a good bet that most top-tier bikes will be lighter than all the bikes on this list, and that’s simply because lots of what you pay for when you move up in price is weight reduction.

That doesn’t make these bad options by any stretch, and heavier bikes also have some benefits (a bit less willey, can be more durable, etc.).

Cannondale Synapse Disc Tiagra Review

Cannondale Synapse Disc Tiagra Review
Stack (57.6cm)
Reach (37.6cm)
Price

Cannondale’s Synapse is an endurance road bike designed to marry performance and comfort, which is especially evident in the standout suspension. It’s not the most aggressive or stiff bike you’ll ever ride, but that may not be best for a beginner anyway. They’ve also include quite a few little innovations that help squeeze respectable performance out of a pretty comfortable bike.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

The Cannondale Synapse Disc Tiagra uses a Schwalbe Lugano 700x25c wheelset

This wheelset can do well in lots of different kinds of terrain, which means that if there’s a chance your bike will be used outside of the city, they won’t need to be changed out. It’s certainly not a top-end tire, however, and some riders report durability problems.

Something not mentioned so far is what Cannondale calls the “power pyramid” bottom bracket, which is a bottom bracket that splits the seat tub (kind of looks like the seat tube has two legs), which does a nice job limiting torsion of the seat tube and transferring more pedaling power into the drivetrain.

The frame is one of the major selling points for us. It performs well, but it also just looks slick. The wheelset ads versatility, and the innovative design of the bottom bracket makes pedaling more rewarding.

Pros

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    Uses Cannonadale’s premium SmartForm frame, which adds performance and looks amazing
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    Cassette sits in a “sweet spot” for entry-level riders
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    The disc braking system of the Cannondale provides great stopping power while remaining balanced

Cons

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    The alloy frame of the Cannondale Synapse may be very expensive depending on where you buy it
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    The disc braking system of the Cannondale may add more weight than is necessary

The Cannondale Synapse is a slightly upgraded bike for someone looking at entry level cycles. While there are some standout features, the Cannondale’s price might be a turnoff to some, though the disc braking is likely a blessing in disguise for novice bikers, and the cassette works beautifully for riders at this level.

Expert Opinions

“Cannondale put together a lot of really nice engineering solutions onto this bike to accommodate the brake discs.”- Warren Rossiter, Senior Technical Editor of Cycling Plus

“Everything you would expect from the synapse is very very light – and it all just really makes the bike pop.” - Scotty Cranmer, Velocity Bikes

“Everything about it so tidy and so beautifully soft and light.” - Joe’s Cycling Reviews

Trek Domane ALR Review

Trek Domane ALR 5 Review
Stack (57.5cm)
Reach (37.4cm)
Price

The Trek Domain ALR is good for long distance rides and exploring amidst tougher more diverse terrain for riders who enjoy riding in an upright posture. Its designed to reduce rider fatigue and features a relatively short reach, making for a more upright ride. The Domane also features a slightly longer wheelbase than other Trek models, giving it more predictable handling than other Trek options.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

The Domane uses a Bontrager R1 700x32c wheelset.

The wheelset offers puncture and deflation protection, which means that you’ll be able to stay on your long rides for longer even if you knick a tire. The wheelset is also well insulated, which means you’re less likely to feel smaller bumps on the road as much as you would otherwise; it’s a small feature that can potentially save a lot of fatigue.

Shock absorption is the name of the game here. All these little features add up to greatly reduce rider fatigue when taking the Domane out on bumpier roads, which is really nice.

Pros

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    The ALR offers tool-free maintenance and field repair in the event of an emergency
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    Includes some fatigue-reducing features, which make it ideal for long rides, even across rougher terrain​​​​

Cons

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    Almost in the fashion of a mountain bike with road bike features rather than as a road bike with mountain bike features
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    The frame, while durable, is a bit larger and heavier than some might like
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    The wheelset of the can be inefficient in the city 

If you’re looking for a road bike that you’ll use mostly on the road with the occasional off-road excursion, the Domane ALR might be the right choice for you. It’s a durable bike that might be a bit over-engineered for city road biking, but could be a good entry level bike because of its forgiving feature set.

Expert Opinions

“If you measure the amount of success that you have with a bike with some hours you spend on the road and the amount of fatigue that you get, this bike is built for you.” - Trek Bicycle

“I’ve never once been stranded on the side of the road with this bike, even when it breaks—it just keeps going.”-JayzTwoCents, Bike-Into-Shape

“Everything takes a bold approach to allow you to ride with a more upright approach to reduce your fatigue and give you better handling than with other bikes.”- BikeExchange.

Diamondback Haanjo Comp Review

Diamondback Haanjo Comp Review
Stack (57.6cm)
Reach (37.0cm)
Price

The Haanjo Comp Alternative Road Bike brings a lot of serious road bike features into an inexpensive package that does exactly what it sets out to do: provide an entry level road bike that provides substantial versatility, allowing you to ride in lots of different conditions.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

The Diamondback Bicycles Haanjo Comp Alternative Road Bike uses KMC Z99 9 Speed chain in addition to a Shimano Sora SL-3500 flat bar 2x9 speed shifter. It also FSA Gossamer Cross Mega Exo 46/36T cranks an a Tektro Lyra flat mount mechanical disc brakeset with 160mm front / 140mm rear rotors.

The brakes are a standout here; they’re mechanically actuated disc brakes and give you great stopping power in nearly all weather conditions. The chain should give you enough gearing to get you up and over most stuff you’ll reasonably come across on most rides.

If you plan on riding in lots of different weather conditions, the Haanjo maybe be worth checking out for the brakes alone, although it's got a few other nice features as well.

Pros

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    An excellent all-around package and can handle lots of types of riding
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    The alloy frame is light but won’t break the bank 
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    The sophisticated gearset allows for your riding skills to grow

Cons

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    Lacks many fatigue saving features that other road bikes in the same price range have
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    It’s a jack of all trades, which means it’s also not a specialist

This is a super-versatile bike that will do well in a variety of situations, and switching out the tires can easily boost performance on, say, off-road rides. That said, it’s not a true specialist in any area and is may start to feel average as you grow into your cycling prowess.

Expert Opinions

“The Shimano 105 10-speed drivetrain provides a great range of gears.”- Diego Rich

“My daughter loves this bike, and this is a great bike for the money. It’s going to be really hard to beat for the money.”- Justin Hendrix, Metro Bike Reviews

“The coolest feature are by far the brakes, which allow for excellent speed modulation.”- My Something Random

Kestrel Talon Road Shimano Ultegra Review

Kestrel Talon Road Shimano Ultegra Review
Stack (57.85cm)
Reach (39.5cm)
Price

The Kestrel Talon Road Shimano Ultegra is a good road bike with a few top of the line features that lets it make brief forays into the gravel without ruining its gearset. With the stock crankset, it’s likely not the best climbing bike, but the aerodynamic design makes it nice and stable on descents. If you’re looking to invest in a higher-tier entry level road bike, the Kestrel Talon might be worth checking out.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

The Talon uses a Kestrel Super Light (KSL) 800K high-modulus carbon fiber PF30 BB Frame.

Carbon fiber frames tend to have one major benefit, which is their weight. The Kestrel’s frame is no exception; it’s the lightest bike on this list. It’s also stiff, of course, which can reduce comfort, and the Kestrel already lacks lots of the fatigue-reduction features we’ve seen on other bikes.

You'll have to make a decision about the foldable wheelset here and how much that convenience is worth to you in terms of overall durability. However, the frame is wonderfully light and could make up for it.

Pros

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    Great, stiff frame with nicely designed aerodynamics
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    Getting a comfortable ride out of the Kestrel Talon Road Shimano Ultegra is easy on city roads and not very difficult on light gravel due to its strong groupset

Cons

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    This is going to be on the expensive side for an entry level bike
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    If you’re looking for long rides in the country, the Kestrel Talon Road Shimano Ultegra doesn’t have any fatigue-saving measures thanks to its one-piece, stiff, carbon fiber frame

In short, the Kestrel Talon Road Shimano Ultegra is a great bike that probably sits on the higher end of the budget for most beginning riders. It isn’t about to win any awards for comfort, either, but there are other bikes which do worse, and its other features make up for it.

Expert Opinions

“Everything is adjustable, and you’ll be able to make everything function well, even with the molded carbon fiber frame. That’s crazy, and a great deal.”-Mike, - The Bike And Try Shop

“As far as operation, it has a great functioning groupset that lends itself to user modification and playing around without getting too fancy.” - Cycle Jockey

“Normally, I ride about 25 miles a day with it and never get exhausted.” - Joe, Wera Ferat Cycle Reviews

Giant Defy 5 Review

Giant Defy 5 Review
Stack (60.5cm)
Reach (39.0cm)
Price

The Defy 5 is a bike that offers good performance, especially considering the relatively low price. The standout feature of the Defy is its riding position, which is designed to offer a good road bike experience with maximum comfort.

  • Frame
  • Groupset
  • Wheelset

The Defy 5 uses a Giant S-R4 700x25 wheelset with 14g stainless steel spokes. 

This wheelset is sufficient for city and road biking. You’ll probably want a more robust wheelset if you decide to bike a lot on country roads, as these wheels aren’t known for their structural integrity.

Clearly, this is a bigger, heavier bike, and some of these components, while serviceable, may seem like compromises. Just remember that it's the cheapest bike on this list by far, and the Giant offers quite a bit at its price range.

Pros

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    This bike may have the most comfortable riding position of any on this list
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    High quality frame that is heavy overall but feels surprisingly light
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    The bike you get for your dollar is really good, especially for entry level riders

Cons

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    If you’re looking for something aggressive and aerodynamic, this isn’t the best choice
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    If you’re going to take on lots of hills, you might need more gearing 

This is a solid entry level bike, especially if comfort is important to you. The price point is attractive, and it’s easy to ride. You probably won’t be winning any races on it, however.

Expert Opinions

“I think the Giant Defy 5 is a good entry level bike for people who are just getting into biking because of its simplicity and durability.”- Prairie Cyclist

“The Defy 5 has a variety of good positions that you can take on its handlebars, which aren’t sized perfectly, but they do offer some postures and driving moods that you’re going to love.” - Bikes and Life

“The ride is super smooth, and it’s super comfortable, and it’s pretty maneuverable too, considering it’s an entry level bike.” - Zach Swanson

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